Dis/Passionate Observers


You are invited to a Pen Canada Benefit . . .

Ideas in Dialogue: Wade Davis and John Vaillant in conversation

Thursday, May 22, 2014

7:00 p.m.

Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario

Tickets can be purchased online at www.pencanada.ca  until noon on May 22.

Remaining tickets will be available at the door for $25, cash only.

Elegist, advocate, or dispassionate observer? What role should writers play in a world of transient landscapes, and ever-changing languages and cultures? Anthropologist Wade Davis and author John Vaillant consider the ethics of storytelling, reportage and bearing witness in the twenty-first century. Moderated by poet and novelist Karen Connelly.

And, speaking of dispassionate observers, an excerpt from an essay-in-progress:


#StolenSisters      #INM   #MMIW     #ItEndsHere

The full text will be published this fall in The New Quarterly

. . .  But then the man across the table said, “You cannot compare two disparate situations, like missing Aboriginal girls and women in Canada and a bunch of school kids from Nigeria, stolen away by Islamic extremists.” But the man is wrong. I am a poet as well as a prose writer. It is my job to compare disparate objects, people, and situations. The work of metaphor is to uncover the root between the dead star and the living seed, to lift the buried net into conscious language and see what stays, caught there. Then I also must look beneath the net and pick up what falls through.

As I read the newspapers, saw the Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, heard people declaim the horror of losing a beloved teenage daughter to a bunch of madmen, I felt the same kind of anger that I felt twelve years ago, in Vancouver. Except that it felt tempered by maturity.

Then some of the preliminaries findings in an RCMP report were released. In the last thirty years, over a thousand Aboriginal women and girls have been murdered or are missing. Aboriginal women and girls face much higher rates of violence than any other group of women in Canada. But there was no corresponding hashtag, Twitter, and blogosphere outrage, at least not among the majority of white people, anyway. And I no longer felt mature in my anger, or tempered. I felt kind of crazy. Disbelieving, yet knowing that it was all real, the deep concern for girls (conveniently) far away, the utter lack of empathy or even awareness for the girls and women who are our fellow citizens, the next street or province over. By email, I asked Aboriginal colleagues if this was a moment to highlight the profound disconnect that we have when it comes to violence overseas and violence right here at home. Was there a hashtag? Would they, you know, publicize one?

They must have rolled their eyes at my indignation, my bad punctuation. But they answered my emails. They pointed out how long they have been doing this, how much they have been doing. They patiently educated me. Jess Housty, a young Aboriginal leader on Haida Gwaii, wrote “Good point,” then sent me most of the hashtags that are scattered throughout this essay . . .

Karen ConnellyComment