Archive

Monthly Archives: July 2013

Have a look at Anne Troake’s latest project! I had the good fortune of meeting Anne and author, Lisa Moore, earlier this year when we were all part of a round table panel organised by The Rooms. I got to learn a bit about her project then and was completely fascinated by the conceptual possibilities.

Here , she talks about it in much more detail.

And this bit below is what not only draws me in, but grabs me and demands my full attention:

So, that’s what I’ve been pushing all my technical people to achieve visually, to get onto and into the body as a landscape unto itself, and to look at those structures and movements that are a continuum with the surrounding environment. The entire film is shot outside in various locations around here in Logy Bay, and it’s really about the body and landscape as a kind of continuum. As opposed to having beautiful dancers doing really groovy dances in gorgeous places. It’s not that. It’s trying to break down the barriers of putting a frame around a human body

Have a read. It’s completely worth your while.

And then, when you’re finished reading, meander on over to the sample that she’s posted on Vimeo.

It all happened quickly, so quickly, in fact, that I wasn’t – at the time – sure that it had happened at all.

The tram was full to bursting. There were people squashed into every corner. I had an outside seat … you know, the one where you get slapped by all the shoulder bags, purses and backpacks of all the others who climb on after you. It was hot. It was noisy. It was peak hour in The Hague (which, in general, is much better than peak hour in Vancouver, but still…). The guy standing behind me was sweaty. That much I remember. And I also remember him rubbing up against me. Subtly, at first, and then with more insistence.

There was nowhere to go, and really, it might just have been the edge of a bag. And honestly, it was much easier to think of it that way, anyway. On later reflection – and there has been much reflection – it’s pretty clear what was going on. I got off at the first possible stop.

Escape.

I thought about this episode again yesterday as I read this piece in The Guardian Online.

It was one of the more interesting pieces in a paper otherwise completely devoted to the birth of the new British prince, 3rd in line to the throne, 43rd since William the Conqueror and further, according to this article,  “also 41st in direct line of descent from Egbert, King of Wessex, who ruled from 802 to 839.” That’s some family tree, all right.

I don’t care much about Baby Cambridge.

But I do care about bodily integrity and bodily authority and the relationships between bodies and spaces. Sadly, Ellie Cosgrave’s experiences are all too familiar. Like me, she felt powerless in the moment. Indeed, as one of the posters to the article commented:

On tubes at rush hour, it’s often difficult to tell if someone’s rubbing against you because of the lack of space, or if there’s a more unsavoury reason. And as Ellie said, it often happens so quickly, it’s difficult to decide what to do.

But Cosgrave’s response – to reclaim both that space and her right to bodily integrity – is unique. And it demonstrates one way that bodies can make a resistant noise.

Of her decision to dance her resistance, Cosgrave observes:

I was responding with my body in the exact place that my body was abused, and that while I couldn’t sing or shout very loudly, I could dance loudly.

British Transport Police are listening and they’ve launched Project Guardian, a new campaign (based on similar – apparently successful – American campaigns) to encourage victims of sexual harassment and assault to come forward, in the process working to reduce the level of street harassment that women continue to experience. It’s a start, and I’ll look forward to hearing how it progresses.

Baby Cambridge likely won’t ever take public transit (unfortunate, because when it’s good, it’s a really decent way to travel). Plus, as a boy, he is unlikely to share the experiences of so many women (fortunately, because who wants to?). But perhaps he’ll be in a place where he might be able to comment on it; perhaps he can use his position as a platform for the eradication of sexual harassment and assault in all of its forms. We can only hope, right?

Cryptic, I know. But in a play on the fundamentalist Christian “WWJD” (What would Jesus do?) bumper stickers, I’m asking “WWESD” – what would Elaine Scarry do? In her influential book, The Body in Pain, Scarry suggests that pain destroys language.

It’s something that I”ve remarked on in relation to Marin Marais’ Tableau de l’Operation de la taille (1725) and in Fanny Burney’s 1812 description of her 1811 mastectomy. In each of these descriptions of pain, the intensity increases and increases until a moment of such abject horror that the voice falls silent, reality just a bit too much too bear.

Now take a look at this description:

[The sound] changes from steady drum beats to increasingly rapid successions of tremors.

These blend into continuous noise which silences just before explosion.

Sounds remarkable similar doesn’t it? The interesting thing is that this isn’t a description of human pain at all. It’s a description of what happens in the lead up to a volcanic eruption.

The body in pain, indeed. Fascinating.

Read more here.

 

 

The verdict in the George Zimmerman trial has left many drowning in its wake. Sorrow. Horror. Grief. Anger. And yet, also, predictability. There is, among the angry and impassioned responses, an almost matter-of-fact stoicism, because, after all, this verdict was nothing if not expected. And that, in the end, is perhaps the biggest tragedy.

I can’t write it as well as others have, and so instead, I offer a series of links:

Gary Younge, in the Guardian Online, who writes

Who screamed. Who was stronger. Who called whom what and when and why are all details to warm the heart of a cable news producer with 24 hours to fill. Strip them all away and the truth remains that Martin’s heart would still be beating if Zimmerman had not chased him down and shot him.

There is no doubt about who the aggressor was here. It appears that the only reason the two interacted at all, physically or otherwise, is that Zimmerman believed it was his civic duty to apprehend an innocent teenager who caused suspicion by his existence alone.

Tim Wise, on his blog:

Last night, and I am writing it down so that I will not forget — because I already know she will not — my oldest daughter, who attained the age of 12 only eleven days ago, became an American. Not in the legal sense. She was already that, born here, and — as a white child in a nation set up for people just like her — fully entitled to all the rights and privileges thereof, without much question or drama. But now she is American in the fullest and most horrible sense of that word, by which I mean she has been truly introduced to the workings of the system of which she is both a part, and, at the same time, merely an inheritor. A system that fails — with a near-unanimity almost incomprehensible to behold — to render justice to black peoples, the family of Trayvon Martin being only the latest battered by the machinations of American justice, but with all certainty not the last.

To watch her crumble, eyes swollen with tears too salty, too voluminous for her daddy to wipe away? Well now that is but the latest of my heartbreaks; to have to hold her, and tell her that everything will be OK, and to hear her respond, “No it won’t be!” Because see, even though she learned last night about injustice and even more than she knew before about the racial fault lines that divide her nation, she is still a bit too young to fully comprehend the notion of the marathon, as opposed to the sprint; to understand that this is a very long race, indeed that even 26.2 miles is but a crawl in the long distance struggle for justice. And that if she is as bothered by what she sees as it appears, well now she will have to put on some incredibly strong running shoes, because this, my dear, is the work.

Lisa Wade, on Sociological Images:

A finding of “justifiable homicide” is much more common in the case of a white-on-black killing than any other kind including a white and a black person.  As PBS’s request, Roman compared the likelihood of a favorable finding for the defendant in SYG and non SYG cases, consider the races of the people involved.  The data is clear, compared to white-on-white crimes, stand your ground increases the likelihood of a not-guilty finding, but only when a person is accused of killing a black person.

…a conclusion that might somehow “explain” (although not in any way justify, this).

Tim Wise and the Media Education Foundation are currently producing the film White Like Me. It’ll be out in Fall 2013. I’ll look forward to watching the whole thing, but in the meantime, here’s a 2:42 preview.

This summer, I’ve invited my graduate students to submit blog posts to tellingtheflesh.com. Luckily, they’ve almost all expressed an interest. They’re a highly diverse bunch and I’m really looking forward to reading and posting their thoughts.

The second of these comes from Margot Maddison-MacFadyen, a doctoral candidiate in the Interdisciplinary PhD program here at MUN. Margot, who has vicariously wandered through this blog before, is working on The History of Mary Prince, a slave narrative published in 1831. Margot is working with supervisors spread around the university: Elizabeth Yeoman (Education), Neil Kennedy (History), Rob Finley (English) and me (Gender Studies). You can find out more about Margot, her work, and her publications, here.

Like the Moon Illuminating Shadows at Night: The
Memory of Slavery in the Public Spaces of Bermuda and Prince Edward Island
by Margot Maddison-MacFadyen

At length the vendue master, who was to offer us for sale like sheep or cattle, arrived, and asked my mother which was the eldest. She said nothing, but pointed to me. He took me by the hand, and led me out to the middle of the street, and, turning me slowly round, exposed me to the view of those who attended the vendue. I was soon surrounded by strange men, who examined and handled me in the same manner that a butcher would a calf or a lamb he was about to purchase, and who talked about my shape and size in like words–as if I could no more understand their meaning than the dumb beasts. I was then put up for sale. The bidding commenced at a few pounds, and gradually rose to fifty-seven, when I was known to the highest bidder; and the people who stood by said I had fetched a great sum for so young a slave.

(Mary Prince 1831)

I’m planning a research trip to Bermuda this fall, where the memorialization of my research subject, Mary Prince, is hotly contested by the descendants of the victims of the Atlantic slave trade, the enslaved, and the descendants of the perpetrators of the trade, the slave-owners and the slave-merchants.

In short, it looks like I’m headed for a dustup.

Coming from Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada’s tiny island province, purportedly the ‘gentle’ island where lobster suppers and Anne of Green Gables form identity, you might wonder how I’ll fare, and how I’ll enter the fray.

Prince, born in Bermuda in 1788, is the first known freed black West Indian woman to author a slave narrative. She is the storyteller of The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, which was compiled and edited by an abolitionist team in 1829-30, and published in 1831.

She had five successive Bermudian slave-owners, and she lived in three West Indian colonies–Bermuda, Grand Turk Island, and Antigua–before self-emancipation in London, in 1828. She walked out of her last slave-owner’s London residence and was a free woman, at last.

I’ve already been on research trips to Grand Turk Island and Antigua where I found buildings associated with her life in those islands still standing. I also found her listed in the Slave Registers of Former British Overseas Territories for Antigua. These findings are written up in my 2012 article, “Mary Prince, Grand Turk, and Antigua,” that is published in Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies.

In June, 2012, Bermuda’s first black local government, the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), designated Prince a Bermudian National Hero. Her new status as hero, long overdue in my mind, unleashed a wave of debate, one of many in Bermuda’s current convulsion of racially-charged political tension. This is exemplified in the following excerpt from the Bermuda Royal Gazette and the comments that follow.

The article, written by Owain Johnston-Barnes, appeared in the Gazette in the early morning of June 19, 2012. Bermudian Premier Paula Cox was quoted on her announcement of Prince’s induction as Bermudian National Hero:

“Mary Prince is the hero of her own story,” Premier Cox said. “She is a woman who stood up for principle. She is a woman who stepped outside her comfort zone, and she is a woman who felt we have to become the change that we want.”

“She did it at considerable risk, cost and peril to herself and here tonight it is certainly a privilege for us all to celebrate and acknowledge and salute the 2012 National Hero.”

Reading the official proclamation, she said: “Her words live on in the pages of her autobiography, a first hand description of slavery whose publication in the UK in 1831, while slavery was still legal in Bermuda and the Caribbean, contributed to its abolition in Bermuda and the Caribbean.”

On the heels of this Gazette story, readers took to their keyboards leaving over 40 comments and an ongoing interchange in the Gazette’s comments (weblog) section to the story. The following exchange, between two participants known only by their pseudonyms – Observer and Only in Bermuda – launched this discussion. Their comments illuminate what became a much lengthier racially-charged debate.

Observer: June 19, 2012 (9:40.)
Nominating a character from a work of fiction as a national hero is an insult to real heroes and to the intelligence of Bermudians.

May as well have nominated the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny!

Only in Bermuda: June 19, 2012 (10:06)
Observer — What work of fiction?

Observer: June 19, 2012 (10:14)
Only in Bermuda — The pamphlet written and published by members of the Anti-Slavery Society in London purporting to be about a former slave called Mary Prince is the whole basis for this ridiculous and politically motivated award.

Curiously, these comments – and others posted in response to the original story – have since been expunged from the comments section. Is this yet another rewriting of history?

Dr. Quito Swan, Associate Professor of African Diaspora History at Howard University, recently published a book chapter (2012) titled, “Smoldering Memories and Burning Questions: The Politics of Remembering Sally Bassett and Slavery in Bermuda.” Although the chapter was written prior to the public controversy surrounding the nomination of Mary Prince, it illuminates the issues underlying the debate.

Sally Bassett, an enslaved sixty-eight year old black woman, was burned at the stake in Bermuda in 1730 for allegedly poisoning the slave-owners of her granddaughter, Beck. In 2009, the PLP, the same black local government that designated Mary Prince a Bermudian National Hero, erected a ten-foot-tall sculpture of a pregnant Bassett in front of the Government’s Cabinet Office. Swan attests that this was to: “memorialize the struggle of blacks against slavery” (p. 71). As in the case of Prince’s 2012 nomination, a racially charged-public debate ensued. (For images of the statue, click here)

The process of publicly memorializing slavery is fraught with contention, particularly in such a small colonial space as is Bermuda, “a society that has historically criminalized black protest but now features a black government committed to the promotion of Bermuda’s ‘national’ heritage” (Swan p. 71). These memorializations of slavery in Bermuda are hotly contested spaces of thought and culture that are reflected in contemporary issues of power, race, racism, and colonialism.

Historically, white Bermudian pamphleteers, journalists, and historiographers promoted slavery in Bermuda as a ‘benign’ institution, insinuating that in Bermuda slavery was less horrific than in other colonies. In this discourse, colonialism is legitimated, racism is downplayed, and black protest is made invisible, insignificant, or criminal. It is this depiction of Bermuda’s past that is currently contested.

Scholars are bringing forward from memory a different past for Bermuda, one that is replete with numerous instances of slave resistance, brutality, and racial division, of which the burning of Sally Bassett and the History of Mary Prince are but two examples. Significantly, these two historical figures selected by the PLP for memorialization are evocative of women and children. A gendered account of slavery recognizes that enslaved women working as domestics and, therefore, living in close proximity to their slave-owners, were subject to torture and sexual abuse.

As a result of this revisionist work, scholars are also bringing forward from memory a different past for Europeans, Africans, and South and North Americans, ones in which racial exploitation is ferocious, terrible, an abomination. In The Smithsonian for example, Henry Wiencek’s October, 2012, article, “Master of Monticello,” paints a new portrait of Thomas Jefferson, Founder of the American Nation, which he “decided from evidence recently unearthed or long suppressed” (p. 40).

A unique finding excavated from archives is that Jefferson clearly knew he was making a 4 percent profit from the births of black enslaved children, and that he fostered this, the silent profit of enslavement. Writing to one of his plantation managers, Jefferson instructs that, “A child raised every 2. years is of more profit then the crop of the best laboring man. in this, as in all other cases, providence has made our duties and our interests coincide perfectly . . . . [With] respect therefore to our women & their children I must pray you to inculcate upon the overseers that it is not their labor, but their increase which is the first consideration” (Wiencek 96).

“In his lifetime,” Wiencek relates, “[Jefferson] had owned more than 600 slaves. At any one time about 100 slaves lived on the mountain, [Monticello]” (p. 42). They had been owned by his family for generations and were all descended from the enslaved matriarch Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Hemings.

Slaves being his largest asset, reclaimed memory shows that Jefferson, purportedly the moral leader of his era, used them as collateral for a 1796 bank loan to rebuild Monticello. Like Mary Prince, who was first on the auction block at about age twelve, Jefferson’s slaves were monetized.

What’s this got to do with Canada, the True North Strong and Free?

It turns out that PEI isn’t all about lobster suppers and that hot-tempered little red-headed orphan with pigtails running around Cavendish shores.

In August, 2012, Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes, visited PEI to not only give a public talk about his craft and published works, but to be present when the municipality of Stratford held a street-naming ceremony to honour the Shepard family. David Shepard and Kesiah Wilson were two of four slaves owned by Edmund Fanning, a former PEI lieutenant-governor who first came to PEI in 1786. Many islanders descend from this couple, and the road named after them is Shepard Drive.

Shepard Drive, Stratford, PEI. Image copyright Margot Maddison-MacFadyen, 2013.

Shepard Drive, Stratford, PEI. Image copyright Margot Maddison-MacFadyen, 2013.

Fanning left the colony for England in 1813, and it is assumed that he emancipated his slaves that same year. Although slavery was legal in British colonies until Emancipation on August 1, 1834, court cases that ensued in Great Britain in the 1770s (beginning with Lord Mansfield’s 1772 Somersett v. Stueart ruling) – thus forty years prior to Fanning’s departure – implied that slavery was illegal in England, Wales, and North Briton. There was, therefore, no reason for Fanning to take his slaves with him to England.

The first slaves had arrived in the colony in 1730, eighty-three years earlier. Are we to believe that slavery here on PEI was benign, a notion clung to by some Bermudians about their territory to this day? Slavery is never benign. Owning others and monetizing them as if they were farm animals is not. The resistance of the enslaved, whether they be personal acts of defiance or group acts of rebellion, shows that it is not. And the violence perpetrated by slave-owners and slave-merchants to control uncooperative slaves teaches us that it is not.

Sally Bassett was burned at the stake. Mary Prince reports beatings and whip lashings by four members of the five different families that owned her, one a woman. A second woman, though she did not beat Prince herself, incited her husband to do so.

In her 2006 book, The Hanging of Angélique, which is a Canadian slave narrative, Afua Cooper brings forward from memory the enslavement story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a slave owned by Thérèse de Couagne de Franchville. Marie-Joseph Angélique was hanged in 1734 for the burning of Old Montreal.

In the book’s preface Cooper writes that “[s]lavery has disappeared from Canada’s historical chronicles, erased from its memory and banished to the dungeons of its past. This in a country where the enslavement of Black people was institutionalized and practiced for the better part of three centuries” (p. 7).

Moreover, George Elliot Clarke, in his forward to Cooper’s book, informs us that “slavery was practiced in a solid third of what is now Canada–in Upper Canada (Ontario), New France (Québec), New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia” (p. XVI). I would add Newfoundland to this list. In my 2012 article in the Newfoundland Quarterly, “Turks Islands’ Salt, Enslavement, and the Newfoundland-West Indian Trade,” I show that at the very least, Bermudians fishing the Banks in 1788 and using vacant fishing rooms south of St. John’s to land their catches, used slave labour brought with them from Bermuda.

My research in Bermuda, Grand Turk Island, and Antigua lies at the crossroads of public and private histories of enslavement. By examining the unfolding of abolition and contested freedom in these small island communities, I hope to be able to speak to current debates about the legacies of enslavement, not only in the West Indies, but here in Canada, as well.

I’ll do this as a white woman raised in the wealthy community of West Vancouver, with the privilege of an excellent education. My ancestry traces back to early colonists in North America in the 1600s, Ojibwa peltry brokers working in the fur trade, fishers in Newfoundland, and to British Empire Loyalists settling in Upper Canada. Certainly, some must have been slave-owners, if not slave-merchants.

My white ancestors are memorialized in Canada: pioneers, settlers, explorers, war heroes, and politicians. I see their statues everywhere. A 2010 addition on PEI is a statue of Sir John A. MacDonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, reposing on a Charlottetown bench at the entrance to Victoria Row, an area highly visible to tourists flocking off cruise ships at dock in the harbour.

John A. Macdonald statue, Charlottetown, PEI. Image copyright Margot Maddison-MacFadyen, 2013.

John A. Macdonald statue, Charlottetown, PEI. Image copyright Margot Maddison-MacFadyen, 2013.

The statue is situated right next to the Anne of Green Gables Store, which sells Anne hats, Anne calendars, Anne dolls, Anne snow globes, Anne mugs and cups. Indeed, just about anything to do with the commodification of L. M. Montgomery’s fictional character Anne, can be got at this store.

John A. Macdonald seated outside of the Anne of Green Gables store at the entrance to Victoria Row, Charlottetown, PEI. Image copyright Margot Maddison MacFadyen, 2013

John A. Macdonald seated outside of the Anne of Green Gables store at the entrance to Victoria Row, Charlottetown, PEI. Image copyright Margot Maddison MacFadyen, 2013

The Anne of Green Gables Store, Charlottetown, PEI. Image copyright Margot Maddison-MacFadyen, 2013.

The Anne of Green Gables Store, Charlottetown, PEI. Image copyright Margot Maddison-MacFadyen, 2013.

I’d like to see the ancestors of others memorialized, including black men, women, and children who came to this country enslaved, those who fled here to escape enslavement, or were freed here, either by emancipation or self-manumission. It’s long past time to see this done.

Our anonymous Gazette commenter, Observer, whose words introduced this discussion, remarks that nominating Mary Prince a national hero is an insult to real heroes–that she is a fictional character.

I would say that she’s more like the moon illuminating shadows at night.

I’d like to see a ten-foot-tall statue of her when I get to Bermuda, right next to the one of Sally Bassett. I’d also like to see a ten-foot-tall statue of Kesiah Wilson, ancestral matriarch of so many Prince Edward Islanders, at Victoria Row.

References

Clarke, George Elliott. Forward. The Hanging of Angélique. By Cooper. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2006. xi-xviii.

Cooper, Afua. Preface.  The Hanging of Angélique. By Cooper. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2006. 1-13.

Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2007.

Johnston-Barnes, Owain. “Mary Prince Inducted as National Hero.” Bermuda Royal Gazette, June 19, 2012: http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20120619/NEWS/706199921.

Maddison-MacFadyen, Margot. “Mary Prince, Grand Turk, and Antigua.” Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies. published online 26 November2012.

Maddison-MacFadyen, Margot. “Turks Islands’ Salt, Enslavement, and the Newfoundland-West Indies Trade.” Newfoundland Quarterly  104, no. 4(Summer 2012): 40-44.

Swan, Quito. “Smoldering Memories and Burning Questions: The Politics of Remembering Sally Bassett and Slavery in Bermuda.” in Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Sphere. Ed. Ana Lucia Araujo. New York: Routledge, 2012. 71-91.

Wiencek, Henry. “Master of Monticello.” Smithsonian 43, no. 6 (Oct. 2012): 40-49 & 92-97.

text and images copyright Margot Maddison-MacFadyen, 2013.

I spent a lovely weekend relaxing – well, somewhat – after completing another chapter draft early on Saturday morning. The book is taking shape as I write, and I’m excited to see it slowly coming together.

On today’s agenda: reviewing all my notes for another chapter, (re)thinking structure and organization, identifying relevant examples, ordering books from other library collections…. Today, in short, will be a day of sorting.

But, before that, some literary yumminess….

I’ve been reading Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us, the story of two women in India – an educated, upper middle class woman – Sera – and her servant, Bhima. The space between them is huge, yawning through all of their encounters. Bhima sits on the floor. Sera sits on a chair. Bhima lives in the slums, squatting on the ground of a communal toilet, rising early to fetch a day’s water. Sera lives in a comfortable home. But the space between them is also a shared space: the shared experiences of working together in Sera’s home for over two decades, the shared sorrows of unhappy – and for Sera, violent – marriages, the shared experiences of shattered dreams, of stories that might have been differently told…if only.

In the first half of the books (that’s as far as I’ve read, to this point), Bhima reflects on her only granddaughter Maya’s pregnancy and planned abortion. Maya is a college student in her late teens. She is not married and through her pregnancy, she has not only brought shame on her family, but she has dashed all of Bhima’s hopes and dreams. Every time Bhima looks at Maya, she is overcome by a complex range of emotions: rage, sorrow, love, desperation, resentment, affection… all of these tumble through her and she can hardly contain herself.

Sera knows all of this. Like Bhima, she has watched Maya grow, develop, mature. She has taken a close interest in the child. She has even supported Maya’s education so that Maya would not live the impoverished shanty life that Bhima is living. In this sense, Sera acts as a second grandmother, a fairy grandmother who grants the wish of education.

And it is Sera, too, who is called upon to find a good doctor willing to perform an abortion, Sera who has been asked to take Maya to her appointment. A fairy grandmother who, as a result of her social status, can guarantee Maya’s medical care and attention in a way that her own grandmother’s presence cannot. The space between them looms large.

In a beautiful passage, Sera reflects on the body, its memories and its knowledges. It’s worth sharing in full.

But you’re not doing this for Maya, she reminds herself. You’re doing this for old Bhima. The thought is immediately accompanied by a dull ache below her shoulder. It is a phantom pain, she knows, a psychosomatic ache, but still she feels the hurt. After all, it has been many years since the blow that made her arm swell and ache for days. On the other hand, who knows? Perhaps the body has its own memory system, like the invisible meridian lines those Chinese acupuncturists always talk about. Perhaps the body is unforgiving, perhaps every cell, every muscle and fragment of bone remembers each and every assault and attack. Maybe the pain of memory is encoded into our bone marrow and each remembered grievance swims in our bloodstream like a hard, black pebble. After all, the body, like God, moves in mysterious ways.

From the time she was in her teens, Sera has been fascinated by this paradox – how a body that we occupy, that we have worn like a coat from the moment of our birth – from before birth, even – is still a stranger to us. After all, almost everything we do in our lives is for the well-being of the body: we bathe daily, polish our teeth, groom our hair and fingernails; we work miserable jobs in order to feed and clothe it; we go to great lengths to protect it from pain and violence and harm. And yet the body remains a mystery, a book that we have never read. Sera plays with this irony, toys with it as if it were a puzzle: How, despite our lifelong preoccupation with our bodies, we have never met face-to-face with our kidneys, how we wouldn’t recognize our own liver in a row of livers, how we have never seen our own heart or brain. We know more about the depths of the ocean, are more acquainted with the far corners of outer space than with our own organs and muscles and bones. So perhaps there are no phantom pains after all; perhaps all pain is real; perhaps each long-ago blow lives on into eternity in some different permutation and shape; perhaps the body is this hypersensitive, revengeful entity, a ledger book, a warehouse of remembered slights and cruelties. (103-4)

Reference:

Umrigar, Thrity, The Space Between Us (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007)