Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Fusing the Nuclear Community: Intercultural Memory, Hiroshima 1945 and the Chronotopic Dramaturgy of Marie Clements's Burning Vision

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Fusing the Nuclear Community: Intercultural Memory, Hiroshima 1945 and the Chronotopic Dramaturgy of Marie Clements's Burning Vision

Article excerpt

There is a moment in Burning Vision in which the Dene See-er, living as he does on the east side of Sahtu (now Port Radium on Great Bear Lake) in the Northwest Territories in the late 1880s, speaks the following words from offstage:

   Can you read the air? The face of the water? Can you look through
   time and see the future? Can you hear through the walls of the
   world? Maybe we are all talking at the same time because we are
   answering each other over time and space. Like a wave that washes
   over everything and doesn't care how long it takes to get there
   because it always ends up on the same shore. (75)

It is a moment in which the See-er proposes a collective act of divination in the midst of critiquing his own divination. He at once gestures toward his power, which is his raison d'etre in his community and in the play, while asking whether "we" possess this same power. He positions himself above us, around us, on the air, but at the same time includes us in his see-ing, our see-ing. We are linked, as he says, over time and space; intercultural communication transcends the borderland walls that separate us. "We" or "us," as John Whittier Treat says, are the victims and the potential victimizers (250). We necessarily answer each other, everywhere and forever.

Clements uses the event of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, and the fact that the uranium used in that bomb was mined by Dene miners from Dene land, to suggest spiritual, political, and ethical synchronicity at three geographically and culturally distant locations: Hiroshima, Japan; New Mexico, United States; and Port Radium in the Northwest Territories, Canada. The play operates byway of premise more than plot, staging moments in world history that fall roughly between the late 1880s and the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima to argue for their connection over time. The activities and voices of over twenty characters are arranged and recombined fluidly through four "Movements," presenting narrative connections by juxtaposition. Clements's adroit appropriation of a nineteenth-century Dene See-er's prophecy reframes the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Insomuch as the two events are separated by sixty years, the play reevaluates notions of historical and cultural responsibility across times and spaces. By re-implicating otherwise incongruent cultures in the shared event of the bombing, Clements refocuses the lenses of received history and the ways in which histories are (re)constructed while emphatically reminding us that the atomic bomb, and the uranium that it contained, continues to test "the walls of the world" today.

As a work of fiction that draws from known historical events, the play works across cultural communities by evoking the possibilities of cultural memory. Clements's revision of the war-ending event triggers jarring chronological fissions, as if dramatic time and space are themselves made victims of the bombing. This effectively shifts the burden of received meaning from specific, culturally tethered historical events to spatially and temporally untethered symbolic characters (some fictional and some historical) as they coast through locations and moments. The play's chronotopic dramaturgy replaces the neo-Aristotelian unities of Time and Place as a structuring strategy to question received politico-historical knowledge: its specifically delineated spaces are allowed to fluidly and dialogically converse. The play unfolds issues of ethnic, geographical, and nationalist inclusion in the traditionally exclusive histories of Euro-North American, Japanese, and Dene peoples. After comparing a selection of post-war historicizations of the Hiroshima bombing, I want to show that Burning Vision's "chronotopic dramaturgy" reclaims one indigenous temporal and spatial logic, that of Dene peoples, displaced by European linear timekeeping and mapping systems during acts of colonization. I then want to categorize the types of characters that Clements employs and argue that they stage collective, intercultural memories that work against received Western historicizations of Hiroshima to form a matrix of dialogic conversations. …

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