Still sickly after all these days: but on with the bloggin’ about third spaces

April 14, 2008

I had a dream I could buy my way to heaven/when I awoke I spent that on a necklace…
-Kanye West

So apologies again if you’re a regular reader; I cannot, for the life of me, get well, so I’ve been devoting my time to resting, doing things you don’t describe on the blog (and jogging to and from the restroom), and trying to keep up with my scholarly work.

I took a mulligan on an assignment this weekend because of one of those beautiful “you can drop one” policies that some professors put in their syllabi, but I feel like doing the thought work now (late) so I figure I’ll blog it.

We’re currently reading a book called The Third Space of Sovereignty by Kevin Bruyneel. The main thrust of Bruyneel’s argument is that scholars (and everyone else, for that matter) have to resist the idea that there’s a binary relationship for indigenous people in America (i.e. “part of the United States” or “independent nations”). He illustrates this tension in the introduction by using the example of Jesse Ventura and the Mille Lacs Band regarding hunting and fishing rights.

The third space, then, is somewhere in the middle. And it’s relevant.

This makes me wonder why there’s been so much flack given to my considerations of mixed bloodedness, as I would define mixed-bloods, in particular, as the vanguards of this third space.  In fact it seems that mixed blood– as a theoretical concept– gets to the heart of at least one of the issues that dominated the last book we read, Blood Narrative by Chadwick Allen.

Allen creates a triad (Blood, land, memory) that he uses to explore indigenity. I don’t personally agree with his comparisons across hemispheres (though I’ve already been criticized for criticizing), but I do see a dual-point intervention to be made for a mixed blood (like myself, part Cherokee and part European). Blood, obviously, is our major point of contention (we have SOME native blood– in many cases not enough, or not proven by enough paperwork, to be enrolled). Mixed bloodedness also touches on the idea of memory, though, as our histories and our understandings of tradition are skewed and modified– they occupy a third space of their own.

I see all these triangles emerging (curses, Aristotle!). Blood-Memory-Land. United States-third space-Tribal Government. Authentic-dependant-massmarket.

I wonder if my scholarship is turning into “native rhetoric”-Phill-“the field of rhetoric” and “native rhetoric”-Phil-“the field of native studies.” Perhaps I hover so much in the third space that no one can really figure out exactly where my work belongs. “gaming rhetoric”-Phill-“gaming studies.” “pop culture rhetoric”-Phill-“pop culture studies.”

It’s maddening!

But triangular.


Sometimes I just don’t get it…

April 8, 2008

…pour my life into a paper cup…


We had an “interesting” discussion in class today. One person dominated (look back over the blog for my thoughts on this) and I’m not entirely sure we discussed what was a very interesting text (Blood Narrative by Chadwick Allen), but there was a long breakdown interdisciplinary debate over this:

Should a “minority” writer identify as a writer, as a minority, or as both.

I felt like saying “this is shockingly similar to the dilemma I’ve been batting around on my blog, as to who can write about what, and I think it’s important to think about perception,” but I was mostly silenced by someone who needed to point out, among other things, that human beings just “deficate excrement.”

Yeah– I didn’t get that either.

This was a moment where I think the view of the rhetorician was really useful. Let’s say, just as a random example, that bell hooks were to stand up and say “I am a writer.” She is (she’s more than JUST a writer, and she’s fantastically talented), but her neglecting to say “African American” wouldn’t have nearly the impact that some of the other students in class thought it would. Anyone in the room, with the ability to see, would identify her as such, and her subject matter would also illustrate this point. It’s not like her author functionality (can we employ that term this way) can erase race. Of course I don’t think hooks would ever try, but I wanted a well known example. It might have been more ironic to choose Morrison, now that I think about it. 🙂

That is, of course, not to neglect the relevance of how one wishes to package and present herself (himself). There are many “minorities” as it were who “pass” (I’ve often asked people if I qualify as either one of these things– it’s not clear that I’m part Cherokee if I don’t point it out, unless people notice that I’m acting like a Cherokee, and that becomes a long performative argument for another post). In some sense, it becomes powerful for those people to declare themselves to be “X type of writer.” We see much more of this with gender/sexuality issues (the power of being “out” as it were, or declaring that one is transgender).

I wonder, though, if the other disciplines represented at the table (history, anthropology, American studies, Native American studies, architecture and library science) don’t give a little too much authority to what the author claims. Several people were trying to claim that one could erase ethnicity by claiming to simply be a writer.

That doesn’t work, I don’t think. Maybe small scale. Perhaps I could, in a gaming studies article, erase my Cherokee-ness (I tend to think I’d more be leaving it dormant than hiding or removing it), but if one is talking about issues of ethnicity, and is an ethnic minority, the audience is going to figure it out/construct that.

That’s why Aristotle created that triangle, isn’t it?

I really didn’t get why it was such a savage argument. It sort of distressed me, since there were a number of great things in the text (including a triangular relationship I’m going to try to write about here tomorrow– I need Photoshop and I’m too tired to Photoshop right now).


If anyone from that class is reading, sorry to dog it. I just don’t GET it sometimes.

I have to pepper in a few short ones…

April 6, 2008

Lump sat alone in a boggy marsh/totally (e)motionless except for her heart…

-The Presidents of the United States of America

Sticking with the theme but leaning toward one of my current projects: Race in World of Warcraft.

The humans, who look human, sound like they have US “recieved prounciation.”
The blood elves, who look like sexy elf people, sound vaguely British
The Orcs, who are big green monsters, sound gutteral

The lanky, tusked, lumbering trolls… sound like islanders (most stereotypically Jamacian).


The Tauren don’t SOUND specifically Native American, but those teepees, totem poles and dreamcatchers tell a different story.


*told you, a short one*

Man, that’s a weak week

April 6, 2008

I suffer dreams/of a world gone mad/I like it like that/and I know it…

So I’m one step from declaring my life a temporary emergency zone.

I am going to make seven posts in rapid succession to catch myself back up here (I hope). But here’s the deal. My laptop died. I had some major family issues. My girlfriend got sick. *I* got sick (yay, love antibiotics that make me super drowsy). I missed a conference, but luckily I sent my materials and they were displayed via video (I love digital media). I’m embroiled in some sort of dramatic exchange with a professor. It’s… the end of the semester. Yay!

So anyway, enough of me explaining why I haven’t updated every day like I said I would. Let’s get to an actual update. I didn’t have any classes, in the general sense, this week, as all our professors are at CCCC (where my video was sent). My life moved in to swallow all the time, but I did have one really interesting academic conversation with Julie.

We were dining on sushi (well, she was– I’m not that brave when I’m sick, so I had some manner of enormous plate-o-beef stirfry which was delicious) when we started to talking about how people “come out” as academics (all apologies to the GLBT community for using your metaphor, but I’m borrowing it here from another scholar on our campus). We were talking about ourselves, in large degree, when we came to the “isn’t it ironic that…”

I’m part Cherokee. And I do Native American rhetorics. We have a friend who is gay, and he does GLBT.  We have another friend who is African American. She does… yes… African American rhetoric.

So this leads me to more ask a question than to really assert any opinion. We claim in the field that we want open research and for people to not feel boxed in, but is there a sense that we still have to write/research as what we are?

Someone told me a few years ago that one didn’t need to be “black,” for example, to do African American scholarship. But in that class–which was American studies– all of the African American works and theory were written by African Americans. And as I start to learn Native American rhetoric, I’ve noticed that the Indigenous studies works that aren’t written by Indigenous people are automatically viewed with a degree of skepticism (I can even attest to being the skeptic in one case).

So it makes me wonder… CAN someone write accurately about what he or she isn’t on a race/gender/sexuality/spirituality level? And if not, are we sort of kidding ourselves when we think we can look at some other sort of community from the outside and write about it in a way that is fair?

I’m not sure… this is just a thought rattling around in my head. I thought I’d share it.


Words matter

March 25, 2008

I’m hearing what you say/but I just can’t make a sound…

-One Republic

I had one of those “wow, these people don’t like me” moments today. In my teleconference class (which is already in and of itself strange—being in front of a projected screen with most of the class on it). We were discussing indigenous politics, specifically a book called The Politics of Indigeneity by Roger Makka and Augie Fleras. The book looks at indigenous political movements in Canada and New Zealand. It’s interesting reading, but this one quote that another student pulled out for us to scrutinize bugged me on some level.

Here’s the quote, from page 32:

Immigrants differ [from the indigenous] in other ways. They have ‘voluntarily’ left their homeland, have opted to abide by the rules of their adopted country, and do not bring a government or legal apparatus that they can assert.

Now within the context of the argument the authors are making about Canada and New Zealand this seems like a legitimate statement, but the student who raised the question, and several others, made moves to equate this to America.

I said “I don’t think an American would ever write this definition of immigrant,” and the room—on TV—went silent. So I elaborated, pointing out that perhaps the most profound immigrant experience stamped into American history is slavery (which invalidates the first two criteria above) and the most currently discussed version of “immigrant” is the “border jumping” Mexican (which many American policy makers claim violate the second criteria above, and who some might argue through the way American law works DO have some measure of the final criteria).

A little more silence.

So I went on to point out, as I have several times in this course, that I am not an expert on Canadian policy or Canadian history, and that it was possible that in that construction (I didn’t get to New Zealand, but the same is true), such a reductive definition might work.

Then someone loudly asks, into the silence, “how can you claim an American wouldn’t write this?” then kept going. This class makes me totally uncomfortable because the only way to be heard is to yell over someone else (which is not my style), so I pointed out that if this were an American author, I would instantly press him or her about slavery (it would, at the very least, require a footnote if this quote were to survive more than a single reading as a rhetoric text). And I reiterated that I didn’t feel Americans could construct immigrant in that way. The person who asked the question then spoke for about ten minutes, moving in a constant line away from the question and into something else.

I asked myself, in the car on the ride home, if this intervention into class was worth it. I had a presentation in this course a few weeks ago, and instead of considering my questions/engaging with them, one of the remote site students (perhaps the same one—their faces are blurry on our screen) spent too much time being outraged about my question than discussing it.

I wrote on my notes, for the two students on my site to see, “I’m pretty sure they don’t like me,” and shrugged it off. 🙂

But I do think the point I made was important, because the text we were discussing today was (even if the prof wasn’t so sure) political science. And if we’re talking about a polisci definition of “immigrant” that one might want to utilize as an American, that definition simply will not work. America has the beloved “melting pot” (which also came up in class, ironically as some sort of support for the quote, which perhaps I’m parsing wrong—if you think so, comment). Immigrants founded this place, and in reality, it would be easy enough to make an indigenous/immigrant binary. The African slaves who later became African Americans were immigrants, if we use the term the way polisci has for generations (they weren’t JUST immigrants, obviously, and it sort of glosses over one of the true horrors of American history, but they were people relocated from one nation to another).

Ritualistic Gaming… the start of a line of thought

March 21, 2008

Ever since I could talk/I was ordered to listen…

-Cat Stevens 

Today in community literacy class we had a special guest. I guess the fact that she was a special guest isn’t such a big deal.

What is important is that she’s a mixed-blood Cherokee (like myself) and in the middle of a presentation I was making on gaming literacies and group formation, something interesting was said.

A classmate, who I think is well-versed in gaming, made a point that some gaming guilds behave on a ritualistic fashion, using the “raid” as a ritual behavior. The special guest chimed in to point out how interesting this was. And I agree, the idea of clans/guilds/etc. becoming “tribal” or adhering to ritualistic behavior IS fascinating.

 I can think of a few examples.

But I don’t think a raid is one. Allow me to elaborate. When our guest—and native scholars—talked about ritual, she was talking about activities that are repeated in ceremonial ways due to the will of the tribe (group). These are usually traditional and in many cases are sacred acts.

This is not to say we can’t extrapolate the “raid” construction over. In fact my theoretical framework would actually push us to do so (I don’t think we can let ideology collide with theory in these cases, so “sacred” as an elevation of status vs. what a group of gamers might consider ritual is an unfair/unwise theoretical move).

The reason I claim we cannot look at a raid in this way is that raids are a software/developer construction. What I mean is this: if a guild’s tradition—their ritual behavior—was to attack a specific town at a specific time, that might fit the construction. But in a game like World of Warcraft (which is what we were discussing—that style of MMORPG), Blizzard Inc. establishes what can be raided, when, and sets a small pool of rewards.The tendency to behave as “raid” teams, then, is not classically “ritualistic.” It is following the lead of the software/game rule set.

I am fascinated by the idea of gamers being ritualistic, however. It warrants pursuit. I’ll dig into this deeper in the coming days. For now, though, sleep calls.

A second pass at SCALPED or How The Fun was Lost

March 15, 2008

how’s the weather/how’s my father?/am I lonely/heavens, no!

-Tracy Bonham 

Image from flickr, taken from SCALPED writer Jason Aaron's blog 

About a month ago, give or take, I wrote an entry about the comic book SCALPED from DC. At the time I wanted to reserve full judgment until I’d seen more of the series. Now that I’ve read the first “chapter” in graphic novel form, I feel better talking about it.

At the same time, I’ve recently met a fellow scholar who works for a comic company that attempts to present things in a more positive light. I’m going to keep from naming that group just yet as I don’t want to sound as if I am singling them, or this fellow scholar who I respect a great deal, out in this particular post. I will be talking a bit about this scholar’s work later, though.

I return to the point I was trying to make initially. In fact that point has been galvanized by reading more and seeing that SCALPED actually does get somewhat worse in its depictions of things. The final page of the first graphic novel is of a woman who has been scalped.  I find of late that either what I am trying to argue to some degree is considered highly-counterproductive to people in my field. But I want to restate it, because I feel this is important. I think it might be CRITICAL to ever really making sense of things in this world.

As academics, we walk in a different space. I will not call our space ‘better’ than anyone else’s (that’s been done forever by people who presume there is an Ivory Tower and we live in it), but it is certainly different. We think about things that we seem to assume others don’t (often incorrectly, but sometimes correctly) and we press for meaning in places where meaning isn’t usually saught. When one of us– as I am, as so many are now– tries to go into a more mainstream or “popular” arena, there are things we have to remember.This is rule number one for me: if I’m studying something, I’m studying it. I’m not studying it while figuring out how I can co-opt it, and I’m not studying it reading an agenda onto it. I will read with lenses that reveal agendas (we all do– that’s how the best revelations result), but I won’t come to something and say “because this does X, it is obviously Y.” This is my defense of SCALPED; it’s a story. I have decided that I wish it were just a touch less gritty, but I continue to have nothing but love for the two most commonly associated pieces of contemporary fiction: FX Network’s The Shield and HBO’s The Sopranos. In fact I have posters from each of those two programs (they aren’t currently on my wall– they’re back in my old apartment).

I have no tie to Italian Americans, so I cannot speak from the position of their culture. I have, however, addressed general Italian-Am responses to the Sopranos in this blog before. My father, may he rest in peace, was a cop (in fact my father was a “dirty” cop, though he didn’t go as far as Vic Mackey). As such, I feel that I can fairly say that The Shield isn’t meant to speak for all police officers. The Sopranos specifically screams that it doesn’t wish to speak for all Italian Americans.

These are stories.

Given these are not stories that carry the sacred material or spiritual understanding that the stories of the Cherokee might carry, for example, but these are not meant to be depictions of what is “real.”Fiction is a form of social commentary, but it’s also a form of entertainment and can be seen in a way as the fantasy of the best and worst of us.

I doubt Stephen King was trying to besmirch the name of the automobile industry when he wrote Christine.

I don’t think Clive Barker was trying to ruin the concept of solving puzzles forever when he wrote The Hellbound Heart and spawned the Hellraiser movies.

 I will agree with what many have said about SCALPED; I don’t want anyone  to think my people ALL behave that way. Sadly, however, I know there are bad Cherokee. I’ve seen them, met them, faced their behaviors. As such, I wouldn’t want a comic book about the cliche Noble Savage to try to depict my people, either (or that part of me, anyway– a small portion of my people are Euro).I disagree that SCALPED should be boycotted, though, or that it should be outright defamed.

If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it because it’s only a marginally good story (I sort of like where it was going while simultaneously wishing it wasn’t going there). If you don’t like that Aaron is portraying a tribe as corrupt, write commentaries about it.

But I think it’s wrong to say “WE shouldn’t be presented this way,” which is what I hear many, many people saying.As a kid, I went through a period as an outcast where I identified strongly with the villains in the stories I read. I wanted to be Lex Luthor. I wanted to be Darth Vader. I wanted to be the Joker so much I asked my parents for a big black trench coat (thankfully I was old enough that the stigma that goes with that look now hadn’t hit… imagine that as a faux pas). Why should any group of people be exempt from representation as the villain?

Perhaps it’s just my twisted postmodern view, but I think part of decolonization is saying “sure, we want to appear in this medium the way anyone else does.”

Of course I’d feel better if this were an Indigenous artist creating the evil mafia-like tribe with their corrupt casino, but I think it sets us– all of us– back to claim that something should be off-limits.

The second problem is that when we start twisting things so that they fit a popular genre but they are entirely positive, we ruin the recipe. I see this all the time with educational video games (which are growing exponentially). The reason a game like Grand Theft Auto is fun is because it’s a specific sort of fantasy release for the gamer. It doesn’t mean that gamer will want to go actually commit crimes (there’s research that proves this, btw… I don’t have the citations handy but will gladly fish them up if you email me).

On some levels yes, we can sanitize and reappropriate popular genres. But on another level, we risk rupturing what is appealing about them for the sake of our tinkering.

Use SCALPED as an example of what Native Americans aren’t, but think carefully about the implications of saying “we won’t be depicted like the Sopranos or like the cops on the Shield” is really saying. It’s asking to be removed from a specific conversation.If you’re someone who wants us out of that conversation, I extend to you all the respect in the world. But I feel like *I* am embedded in that discourse. It’s part of the tapestry of my life. And in order to use it, to study it, and to feel a part of it, I see no choice but to allow things like SCALPED to become a part of what we consume and accept.  

There’s a move in the field of rhetoric to attempt to bring about social change. At times I find that sort of a strange call to arms. I love the concept, but we should be bringing about social change every day by virtue of the fact that we’re teaching others to read and write, to look at things critically and to understand how to interact with the world around them. But commenting on something like SCALPED can provide a space for social change. Sure… it’s a negative way to see any tribe, even a fictional one.

But it opens a number of illuminating dialogues:
-What does it mean to leave your land and go back?
-What does it mean to lose respect for your land and your ways?
-What is the brutal history of scalping? How does that sit in comparison to current society?
-If life looks bad on this fictional reservation, what does it look like on a real reservation?
-If a non-NDN is writing this story about a fictional tribe, how would, say, a Cherokee who liked the Sopranos write the same story? What is lost in a cultural translation? What is gained?
and the most important question…

-Why is it out there, why is it selling, and why do people keep reading?

There’s much to be learned. I don’t think we learn that by simply saying “what it says is bad.” Sure, that’s pretty obvious. I doubt anyone will read it and say “I want my people thought of this way.”But it starts a valuable conversation, and more importantly, it shows us in mainstream American culture in a way that isn’t as the Lone Ranger’s sidekick, or the X-man with the knives, or the guy in the headdress who gets big as a superpower. It’s an opening to appear in a different way. I consider it empowering. And I know some of you disagree. I love you anyway. 🙂