Annie May Swift Auditorium -- now named for Alvina Krause
Bill Pogue on the left, Larry expounding,
Schneideman against the back wall, myself in the seats far right
Sorting out the pile of boxes of books that spent the winter accumulating, I discovered I still hadn’t mailed the materials from Alvina Krause’ acting classes. So I called the Northwestern University archivist and made the arrangements. It was just a little too much like sending away a piece of AK, which is nonsense but feels real.
It was in the workshop classes, the little auditorium in Annie May Swift Hall that was created by a long-ago fire that burned out space, that I formed the core of my understanding of what is human. People insist on casting me in real life as a helper: mom, therapist, teacher, officer, minister, lover, partner — but when I give up trying to be what I’m not good at anyway, I have turned out to be simply sitting in the back row with my biology lab partner, Bill Shaw, who at that point intended to be a psychiatrist and ended his life (shortened by a brain tumour) as a professor of education law. He was a formidably intelligent person and a remaining presence.
Whispering and passing notes about what we saw, we thought it was about acting but I would now reclassify it as inquiry into something between morality (what ought to be done) and internal possibility (the view of the world formed in the earliest years of life, mostly unconscious, that makes us blind to everything else). What is the spine of this character, the message of the play? When one set of students performs it, it’s one thing — a different set creates a contradiction. The shuttling grasp of reality makes us all multiple. What I internalized then has more recently kept me from going quite mad. The world is a theatre. What are events but performances?
Sitting in the semi-dark, daylight leaking in through the side doors that go directly outdoors, the reflecting writers are safe or at least out of the action enough to avoid capture. This is my paradigm. It can be brutal. Others take the brunt of exposed shaping in service of some other writer. They always think the critiques are about who they are when onstage, imagining the whole thing in a way that they hope will make those in the dark “see.” Their way.
When it works — and it always worked better on a weekday afternoon on an empty stage — it was electrifying. We wanted to know how and why, questions that have carried over into “religion” which is deeply interwoven with theatre, always has been. It must have meaning for education law as well, since there are so many choices and rules in such a field. I never read what Bill wrote or attended his classes — he was far away and it was before the Internet. He was a careful, objective thinker without getting caught up in the precedent web of philosophy.
Now as I type I want to know what he would have thought about this little weed of a gray kitten whose velcro paws have attached it to my shirt front. I see it has a bit of blood in its fur from its rampages around the house in the dawn semidark — blundering, leaping, operating on pure instinct. Now it’s composed and nodding under the light next to me. I love it and see its vulnerability. We are all going to die. I’m old enough to know I might die before this fur-covered biological scrap dies, barring misadventure. I’m glad the kitten doesn’t know that, but what do I do with my own knowledge, including the possibility that I might be wrong? Now I see there is blood running down my ankle from the onslaughts of tiny claws.
From the dark distance of my end of a Twitter feed, I’m watching what I’m told is the rot of government. Yesterday I heard on vid fifty questions said to be Mueller’s inquiry to Trump and everyone drew learned conclusions. Today the same sources are saying that Trump himself made up the questions to confuse everyone. Couldn’t have been his lawyers since he fired them all.
Many of my e-messages are announcements of conferences among learned people about significant subjects. For instance, at Harvard Divinity School these are suggestions for papers about “Race and Indigeneity.” (The computer spellcheck suggests this word doesn’t exist and wants me to say “indignity.” How is it that silicone is more pedantic and moral than Harvard?)
Possible approaches include, but are not limited to, the following:
1 Explorations of a specific way of knowing, being, and engaging the world in relation to scientific and/or religious traditions and their interactions.
2 Historical, sociological, and/or anthropological analyses of the cultural processes that support a specific scientific or religious discourse or practice, its authoritative structures, and/or its strategies of inclusion and exclusion.
3 The cultural and historical discourses, articulations and developments of scientific, technological and medical knowledge, institutions, agents, exchanges, etc.
4 The cultural and historical discourses, articulations and developments of religious practices, knowledge, institutions, agents and exchanges, etc.
5 Analyses of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, sexuality, and/or gender with respect to scientific or religious texts, practices, or performances.
6 Comparative examinations of scientific and religious texts and/or their interpretations, with attention to the historical, sociopolitical, cultural, and/ or intellectual contexts that mediate and delimit different interpretative strategies and practices.
7 Analyses of the interplay between religion and scientific, moral, and/or legal discourses, practices, and authorities.
8 Critical analyses of the scholarly production and dissemination of knowledge on science or religion.
“The conference aims at promoting lively interdisciplinary discussion of prevailing assumptions (both within and outside the academy) about the differentiation, organization, authorization, and reproduction of various modes of knowing and doing science and religion.”
Kittens know nothing of these things. It’s all boilerplate. I’d be surprised if the rez occupants just over the hill took any of these suggestions. These conferences are pantomime on a table while an audience looks on. The most erudite are questioning whether “science” is a real thing, since objectivity has been corroded by money, and whether “religion” is a real thing since the very institutions are wobbly and the convictions are contradictory. Who wrote this play or is it all improvisation?
Out the window I see that a great storm of the season is gathering to make rain and lightning. The sky is the same gray as the kitten. To Blackfeet this season is religious, a fundamental of their ceremonies. Science about atmospherics is not entirely dependable. Now the kitten is asleep in my bed, snuggled into my electric blanket. It’s chilly after a week that was warm and I smell woodsmoke. How is it that we make so much out of everything and yet can’t get to stability and coherence? But why should we? Keep moving.
By living here I achieve distance literally. I’m watching. I’m not a mom nor a therapist nor clergy nor teacher. No intervention. No ideal. I just watch and respond quietly in print. Kenner’s question: what does it mean? Never answered.