Disappearing Natives: The Colonized Body Is Monstrous

By Hairston, Andrea | Extrapolation, October 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Disappearing Natives: The Colonized Body Is Monstrous


Hairston, Andrea, Extrapolation


i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me and has failed

Lucille Clifton1

Los desaparecidos. The Natives should have died off by now. Didn't modernity and post-modernity disappear them? Who are left but digital natives? To still be alive is a miracle, an alternate reality-on the bridge between starshine and clay. Can you taste two billion year-old air on your breath or smell the remnants of primordial seas in your sweat? Do you feel e-coli breaking bread in your bowels? Does your heart synch up with these words, these poetic echoes of ancient ancestors? Abstracted from our bodies, can we twenty-first century cyborgs, we colonized monsters heed incantations calling forth self and other, simultaneously ...

In this paper, I investigate the monstrous post-humanity offered up for our entertainment in films such as Source Code. I also try to conjure los desaparecidos.

The great acting teachers of my youth, Viola Spolin and Joe Chaikin, urged us to feel self with self. Chaikin and others believed we all become the places we've been, the people we've known, the characters we play.2 A Zulu saying agrees: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu: "a person is a person through (other) persons." Léopold Senghor also famously declared, "I feel the other, I dance the other, therefore I am."3

Dancing/Acting is a bridge from self to other self. Creating meaning from experiences in the world always involves a performance, a moment of embodied exchange.4 We living beings dance our meaning, act our many selves on public stages, in private encounters, and in the theatre of the mind.5

Feeling self with self in a world of pain and triumph requires more than I can manage some days. You too, perhaps? Something is trying to kill us, disappear us every day, but the Natives have not vanished.

As I sit down to write about selfhood and distant techno-information replacing local wisdom, about the mono-cultural imperatives of colonialism and global capitalism, I am bored with despair. Even an academic rant doesn't appeal. Yet, I am haunted by the blasted body of a once handsome white male soldier encased in/attached to an iron-lung-like black box. This image comes from the science fiction film, Source Code, but works as "real" to me. Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is someone I know intimately for eighty six minutes. Stevens' pain, joy, exploitation, and triumph fill the theatre of my mind/body. Actually Stevens' body is a legless torso with stubs for arms and an injured skull, the barely living remains of a helicopter pilot shot down in the Afghanistan war. A tangle of wires feeds in and out of his body, providing breath and sustenance, but also offering access to other bodies in parallel universes, where other (alternate?) realities play out. Forcing access, I should say. Stevens lives in/with the machines, but has not chosen this particular cyborg existence. Nor is Stevens' fractured, disabled being-the life of his mind/body-under his control. All that he is/was is now a component of the experimental Source Code project. Again and again for eight minutes, the protagonist-body, the person, the decorated, severely wounded white male soldier must ride a train about to blow up. He must live the explosion-death of another body, Sean Fentress, a straight white middle class male-a body similar to his own. Imagine Gyllenhaal dropping into the body of an old Chinese lesbian. Would that be a blockbuster? Imagine the story centering on the Chinese lesbian! Captain Stevens' tragic status depends on how much cultural capital he has to lose. As supreme subject, how has he come to be colonized?

In between (simultaneous to?) riding the ghost train again and again and coming to know the other passengers who get blown up, Captain Stevens is trapped in a crashed cockpit/escape pod, unaware of the black box life support, unaware of his monstrous existence. …

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