Geography Seminar Series 2016-17 #3: Clint Burnham

March 23, 2017

Seminar #3 : Irreconciling Psychoanalysis: settler affect, the Cree mirror, and the indigenist gaze

This paper proposes to ask how we can think about a post-TRC cultural landscape in terms of psychoanalytic theory, engaging with three possibilities. I begin with the crucial role that affect plays as a “settler blockade” – that is, how what Paulette Regan calls “feel[ing] good about feeling bad”, or settler reactions to and stasis around the TRC and indigenist critiques, mobilizes a kind of immobility (similar to Ahmed’s “nonperformative”), a “white fragility” (Robin DiAngelo) that reinscribes colonial paradigms. Mired in pity, fear, and guilt, the settler subject “enjoys their symptom” as a way of neither understanding, nor taking action, on colonial histories of the residential schools and other trauma. Then, I offer the stories of the Cree mirror (Neal McLeod), a post-Lacanian scene of misrecognition that simultaneously critiques colonial technologies of vision while satirizing indigenist gender relations. In these stories, the Cree subject does not see him or herself in the mirror, suggesting the need for a new politics of representation. Finally, I propose, Jeff Barnaby’s 2013 film Rhymes for Young Ghouls paradoxically suggests the impossible gaze: “don’t look”, a character tells a young girl, and perhaps the audience, indigenous and/or settler, even as the film stages a series of genre-bound retellings of residential school traumas, political struggle, and what Kevin Lee Burton calls the “rez aesthetic” of Mi’kmaq
land. Providing an example, to adapt David Garneau, of an indigenist “irreconcilable gaze”, Barnaby’s film also marks a cultural politics of restitution, or even resurgence, without falling into easy or anodyne solutions to the contemporary moment. This paper will suggest neither a reconciliation nor even a conciliation, of indigenous cultural work and psychoanalysis, but instead attempt to work through their non-extractive negations.

Clint Burnham is an Associate Professor in SFU's Department of English, an associate member of the Department of Geography, and a member of the Centre for Global Political Economy. He writes on popular culture, theory, and contemporary art and literature. Recent/forthcoming publications include Pound @Guántanamo (poetry, Talonbooks, 2016), Fredric Jameson and The Wolf of Wall Street (Bloomsbury, 2016), and essays on the film Her (with Matthew Flisfeder, forthcoming in Cinema Journal), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (forthcoming in CanLit Across Media: Un-Archiving the Temporal Literary Event, McGill-Queen's), on the photography of Edward Burtynsky (forthcoming in Petro-Cultures, McGill-Queen's), and on Lacan and the Selfie (forthcoming in After Lacan, Cambridge).