I have been inactive here because I am writing a blog for my Theory of Race and Ethnicity course as the final project. My chosen topic is how the rhetoric of otherness functions, in current events, and literature studied in the course. Here is a recent post from this blog:
In recent memory, two major politicians in North America have come under fire from their opponents and electorate for being of another country and not “real Canadians” or “real Americans.” In the case of Michael Ignatieff, this othering was done by his opponents through a series of attack ads, which placed him as an Amercian, an other, who could not and did not want to work in the nation’s interests. The Conservative party based this othering on Ignatieff’s previous residence in the United States, and his political involvement there. While this may seem outlandish to some, on account of Ignatieff’s birth in Canada and demonstratable knowledge of Canadian values and obvious interest in their political sphere, it was quite persuasive to others. Here is the foremost of the ads in question,
The rhetoric of this ad can be broken down into two componets.
Firstly, Ignatieff called himself an American while living in America, this in undeniable. But this statement carries with it a set of assumptions. When Ignatieff called himself an American, it was irrevocable (unlike Canadian identity which seems to be overridden by American identity. The statement was definitive and more important than the times that Ignatieff has called himself a Canadian before or after this event. Once you are an American, you can’t come back to Canada, at least not with good intentions, as is demonstrated by the ad’s reminder, “he didn’t come back for you.” Of course, this separation of American and Canadian identity is reinforced by the culture, Canadians often defining themselves in opposition to Americans (source). It is assumed that an individual who has lived in America has taken on special qualities related to this, the concept given a special term recognized even by Wikipedia.
It is clear that the Conservative Party also wished to convince the electorate that Ignatieff has American values, and is thus a parachute candidate, in capable of advocating for Canadian’s interests. Through a series of quotes stated without much context, Ignatieff is shown to have American values on crime and human rights. Of course, a tough on crime approach is actually much more in tune with that of the Conservative party of Canada, as their most recent crime bill would attest. Instead, Ignatieff is a member of the Liberal party, which has historically been the dominating party of Canada due to its close mirroring of the nation’s political culture. Thus one can deduce that the othering might have been easy to combat when one points out this logical fallacy, as Ignatieff did in an address specifically aimed at the attack ads he incurred.
However, this address did little to help Ignatieff, as he went on to lose his riding, and the party as a whole suffered an incredibly staggering defeat. You could argue that this video received little attention, in comparison to the attack ads funding by the Conservative Party which were incredibly widespread. However, it is through a misunderstanding of how the rhetoric which othered Ignatieff works that led to the ultimate loss for the Liberals.
It is one thing to develop such a persuasive rhetoric of otherness from an individual’s own addmission, and in keeping with the dichotomy of American values and Canadian values which informs much of the ideas for Canadian belonging. However, a much more insidious and unfounded other was created for Barack Obama throughout his candidacy and presidency. It persuaded members of the American public, notably the Tea party, that Obama was actually born in Kenya, is a socialist, and both a muslim and an atheist (the typical exclusionary lines between these two groups successfully blurred by rebulican pundits). Concepts of race and traditional American values were used to “other” Obama, undermine his authority, and misrepresent his policies, all for political gain of his opposing party. I will be examining how this rhetoric of otherness functions in my next post.
My new obsession with Margaret Atwood and my Canadian Literature course have come crashing together recently, to a great result. As part of a unit on Canadian elegies we read Mourning in the Burned House by Atwood, which was breathlessly disturbing, in the best possible way. After discussing it in class I’m sure there is no way I can properly delve into any details without first mentioning that it lends well to multiple interpretations. On first read I was under the impression that the narrator was mourning their own death, as well as that of their family, and the loss of their house. However, my classmates each had their own unique thought as to who or what was gone or still standing. Maybe such differing opinion is likely goal of the poem, as it gives rise to several questions about who the narrator is and what precisely happened and never answers them. Indeed, the narrator even makes mention that their flesh is “non-existent” (Atwood, 35), if we are to take this phrase seriously we might perceive the narrator to be a ghost, who still haunts the scene of their death, unable to move forward from their past. This questioning takes the place of a modern elegy’s typical attack on a character, narrator, or author and their work. We do not see any of these characteristics, and the questioning thus takes its place as the method by which the narrator refuses consolation. Their confusion is their torment.
The poem is also riddled with interesting wordplay, from the title, to the imagery. My favourite example is,
“The day is bright and songless,
the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread”
Not only is this a beautiful passage, but it is successfully unsettling. Watchful and songless are words carefully chosen to disturb the reader, who is unprepared for such a contrast to the bright sky (which we might picture as blue and peaceful before we have finished the sentence). Secondly, the image of dark bread is especially powerful as it lends itself to the already present suggestion that a fire, particularly a kitchen fire (in my own interpretation), caused the traumatic event. This dark bread is also powerful in consideration of the later allusion to burnt flesh. However, it may be interesting to notice that the burnt flesh of the narrator is described as, “radiant flesh. Incandescent” (Atwood, 36). This image and choice of diction reminds the reader of the previous bright sky, and thus makes the connection between light and mourning, an unconventional connotation of the word that serves to disturb the reader and any sense we may have of consolation for or from the narrator. Which is incredibly touching and powerful to me. This is certainly a favourite, and well worth mulling over if you are intrigued: Mourning in the Burned House .