Books of the Year: 2013

by Nic Olson

When you finish reading a book and you know that it was one of the three greatest you’ve ever read, it is what I would, in my perpetually-single state, relate to the meeting of a soulmate. Likely better, because though the belief in soulmates is silly bit of fatalism, that book will remain in the library for at least a decade until libraries are shut down after the potash, oil, and uranium resources dry up and revenues can no longer sustain the economy and public services begin to close like Blockbuster movie rental stores after the plague of the internet. That’s love. Very rarely will a book make me cry, not out of despair or an emotional plot, but out of basic human discovery presented perfectly through dialogue. For me, this was East of Eden.

I don’t know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is a great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.
At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
And now the forces marshalled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And This I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.

-Steinbeck, East of Eden, Chapter 13.1, p130-1

My discovery of Leanne Simpson has also begun a personal interest in Indigenous thought and storytelling. Her aptitude in both fiction and non-fiction is stimulating, and a genre-blurring project that presents the tone of a piece of work unlike I have ever experienced, specifically through the songs of Islands of Decolonial Love, is a remarkably refreshing experience.

“Reconciliation” is being promoted by the federal government as a “new” way for Canada to relate to Indigenous Peoples, and it isn’t just government officials that are promoting the idea. I have heard heads of universities talk about reconciliation; I have read journalists’ op-ed pieces; I have heard mayors talk about reconciliation as they open local Aboriginal events. But the idea of reconciliation is not new. Indigenous Peoples attempted to reconcile our differences in countless treaty negotiations, which categorically have not produced the kinds of relationships Indigenous Peoples intended. I wonder how we can reconcile when the majority of Canadians do not understand the historic or contemporary injustice of dispossession and occupation, particularly when the state has expressed its unwillingness to make any adjustments to the unjust relationship. Haudenosanee scholar and orator Dan Longboat recently reminded me of this, when he said that treaties are not just for governments, they are for the citizens as well. The people also have to act in a manner that is consistent with the relationships set out in the treaty negotiation process. If Canadians do not fully understand and embody the idea of reconciliation, is this a step forward? It reminds me of an abusive relationship where one person is being abused physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. She wants out of the relationship, but instead of supporting her, we are all gathered around the abuser, because he wants to “reconcile.” But he doesn’t want to take responsibility. He doesn’t want to change. In fact, all through the process he continues to physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally abuse his partner. He just wants to say sorry so he can feel less guilty about his behaviour. He just wants to adjust the ways he is abusing; he doesn’t want to stop the abuse. Collectively, what are the implications of participating in reconciliation processes when there is an overwhelming body of evidence that in action, the Canadian state does not want to take responsibility and stop the abuse? What are the consequences for Indigenous Peoples of participating in a process that attempts to absolve Canada of past wrong doings, while they continue to engage with our nations in a less than honourable way?

Leanne Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back, chapter 1, p21