Thursday, April 20, 2017


Tatanka Means
You can probably write about him.

My life now is writing, but I have a major problem.  It’s not “writer’s block.”  That’s just a marketing platform selling to wannabes.  

It’s more like the dilemma I had as a “dog catcher” — which is that there are two things one can do wrong:  catch a dog and not catch a dog.  It’s a more complicated problem than you might guess, hinging on social convictions about animals, the nature of individual dogs, one’s capacity to “catch,” and a failure to find options, like “catching” that isn’t “catching”.  In the writerly version of this the problem is writing a biography and not writing a biography.  The subject participates in the problem -- maybe involuntarily -- but didn’t quite cause it. Authorization is a separate issue. 

It’s similar enough to the problem of writing about Indians  (retro term) that I can use them as an example, a displaced version of the same double-bind.  Telling what I know would make trouble, even put me in danger.  NOT telling will also cause suffering . . .  to them.  If you have witnessed, how can you not testify?

1.  To write about individuals is to expose them to harm, maybe from law enforcement, but mostly from each other.  They are not harms that can always be seen by outsiders who can’t tell revenge from drug abuse from long-standing tribal rivalries from sexual jealousy.  But they can be deadly or economically erosive or just damage persons’ sense of themselves.  There are stalkers out there and they are highly cybersavvy.  Some are murderers.

2.  To write about persons is to remove their main safety (or so they believe) which is being unknown.  (Writers sometimes think it is being KNOWN that is safety.)  A rural white person here said, “if you ever write about me or my family, I’ll kill you.”  I think she meant it.  Maybe she was thinking of writers who are muck-rakers.  As far as I know, she was quite ordinary and non-criminal.  To write about the most dangerous rez people is to risk death for myself.  They will not necessarily be people considered criminal.  Like that woman, I try not to call attention to myself.

3.  The media across America today at every level is like, um, Japanese tentacle porn.  That is, it goes for the little crevices of the sensational, the destructive, the unexpectedly ubiquitous, and the unstructured but very smart — because that’s where the money is.  And today, with a president who reads and believes in the National Enquirer, he’s at least straightforward about it, not indulging in pretences of gentility.  He’s not entirely wrong about fake news, just which is which.

4.  Academic and think tank authorities are not in touch with reality.  They are arguing over our heads and far too Platonic to be relevant.  Many cannot get their own minds around the variousness of rez people or the existence of indigenous people in the diaspora or whether writing about Indians should be considered idealized anthropological essays or just flotsam and jetsam.

5.  I love these indigenous people.  It is not requited.  Their version of love doesn’t really allow white people.  Individuals might love me, but their peers will quickly suppress any sign of it.  For an Indian, to love a white person is to hand them a knife and expose your throat.  This is a secret, perhaps unconscious.

6.  The other white people who love Indians don’t much like me either because they don’t like competition and they hope to stay unique.  Mystery is marketable.  Knowing secrets makes you special.

7.  The paleobiological terms of belonging are taking on the identity of the group, which makes the belonging real.  So the little kids stolen and adopted became like their captors, which was the whole idea, especially if the demographics of the “tribe” were shrinking.  Ideas about tribes having hard edges that exclude those who are genetically different are simply wrong.  DNA testing as precondition to certifying tribal belonging is a derangement that would set people howling, because the edge is a blur of genes and SHOULD be that way.  

It’s the culture that counts and the culture has to come out of the environmental requirements for survival, so residence in the region is what really counts.  Strangely, in a modern world where so many people’s environments everywhere are a couch, a television, and the inside of a relatively new vehicle, “tribe” in an indigenous sense is lost.  Everyone shares this culture, but it is constructed, a product of the anthropocene.

8.  There are cultures and sub-groups that form spontaneously and some of them are not socially acceptable — in fact, it is the main cultures' unacknowledged appetites and practices that create them.  In the case of something like suppressed indigenous ceremonies, the repression becomes part of the identity of the event.  If it is not secret, it is no longer itself.

I can feel this myself.  The freedom to write what I like on this blog is part of the blog.  My evasion of editors is part of the point of not turning a profit because their idea of what “sells” is not mine and selling is not the point.  If I don't market, I'm invisible, so I accept that.  On a blog the kind of free-floating stigmas that invade so many comments is easily deleted before it is read by anyone.  I’m not beholden.  Of course, if I got wicked, Blogger would probably boot me out, but wickedness is not my goal and if it were, I’d hide it.

9.  The problem is injustice to those I love because they are not understood — I don't want to apologize for them, but for them to be seen for who they are, and not persecuted for what they are not.  But explaining them is exposing them.

10.  The secrecy is enforced as much by the person as by the situation.  If a person has been almost mortally punished for something they didn’t even see coming, they understand consequences for mistakes as being unbearable and will not “bear” responsibility.  Telling their story may be inviting the consequences they have evaded with ambiguity.  Knowing that, they will clam up to protect the biographer, maybe without letting the writer know what those terrible punishments might be.  But the writer might be willing to take that punishment, even flirt with death, like combat photographers. 

I found a startling example.  In terms of what I have written above, this analysis of Melania Trump’s selfies fits the dilemma in terms of safety and choice.   

What punishment for this will Kate Imbach bear?  Will Melania show up with a black eye?  

What would happen to Melania if someone did a deep biography of her?  What happens to a captive who captures her own story unknowingly, innocently taking snapshots?  

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