Academic journal article ARIEL

"From Many Peoples, Strength": Towards a Postcolonial Law and Literature (1)

Academic journal article ARIEL

"From Many Peoples, Strength": Towards a Postcolonial Law and Literature (1)

Article excerpt

  There is no human being who is not the product of every social
  experience, every process of education ... Indeed, even if it were
  possible, a judge free of this heritage of past experience would
  probably lack the very qualities of humanity required of a judge.
  Rather, the wisdom required of a judge is to recognize, consciously
  allow for, and perhaps to question, all the baggage of past attitudes
  and sympathies that fellow citizens are free to carry, untested, to
  the grave.
    True impartiality does not require that the judge have no sympathies
  or opinions; it requires that the judge nevertheless be free to
  entertain and act upon different points of view with an open mind ...
  Canadian Judicial Council
  Commentaries on Judicial Conduct (1991)

  You cannot just 'write the truth,' you have to write it for and to
  somebody, somebody who can do something with it.
  Bertolt Brecht "Writing the Truth: Five Difficulties"

To promote legal cultures that fulfill their mandate to create and sustain a democratic society requires rethinking conceptual, institutional, cultural, legal, and other boundaries. If culture is what people do habitually and hence often unthinkingly, then cultural critique means probing the terms, rationality, and knowledge a particular culture takes for granted, and/or enthusiastically imposes on those it colonizes. Only in understanding culture in the plural and as a set of historically contingent practices and protocols can we develop means of improving or replacing what at a particular time and place seems to be the sole or the "natural" way to think, act, and interact. Only by doing so can we confront "privileged innocence" (McIntyre) and overcome "the wall of ignorance" (Ndebele 336) constructed by colonial apparatuses and dominant knowledge paradigms that sustain domination. And the decolonization of a postcolonial law and literature worthy of the name can proceed effectively only with the assistance and authority of those construed as colonized others, as Paulo Freire among others has argued, and in the space "between law and custom" recently mapped by Peter Karsten for the "lands of the British diaspora."

My purpose in sharing my experience as a non-Aboriginal woman trained in literary study and cultural theory, teaching interdisciplinary seminars in a Law College, and working collaboratively with Aboriginal scholars is to try to rearticulate legal and literary thinking/teaching in order to further the reciprocal acculturation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal precepts and practices the Supreme Court of Canada seeks in recent groundbreaking decisions, including Van der Peet, Delgamuukw, and Gladue. These decisions show how inadequate to the task of dismantling ideological obstructions and enabling a postcolonial justice are the autonomy and good intentions of the Court. Yet it is a task in which we all have an interest--and an obligation and opportunity to use our knowledge and to learn from Aboriginal scholars and writers (to whose work I am greatly indebted) to make a difference. We have all, though not equally, been affected by what Mi'kmaw scholar Marie Battiste calls "cognitive imperialism" and have much to gain from "unfolding the lessons of colonization," learning from diverse perspectives, and seeing "the many sides of our confinement, our box" (xvi-xvii). Source of and sanction for the brutal simplicities of complex identities collapsed into the crude calculus of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal difference, for example, that colonial box constructs cultural divides that keep us firmly within the status quo. Unpacking the historical inscription of cultural divides and the law's participation in the creation of difference is the beginning of redress. As Njabulo S. Ndebele argues, "It is justice we must demand, not guilt.... The demand for justice ... is more immediately and concretely threatening: it keeps our attention firmly on the search for the actual process of redress. …

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