- Feeling, Disrupting
A response to Shino Konishi, “Making Connections and Attachments: Writing the Lives of Two Nineteenth-Century Aboriginal Men.” Biography 39.3 (Summer 2016): 410–428
Does that sound odd? Does that sound at all? Does that voice still echo? What feeling can we have toward a subject who starts to disrupt, to make waves, in the field of Indigenous history? What is the content of those waves, ripples of difference, untimeliness, individuality? Shino Konishi asks us to feel along with her this pull toward disruption. Toward the fleeting hunch that there is more to a life than the calcified tropes of colonial representation that serve to justify the continued caricaturization of Indigenous peoples (men in particular) as villains, drunkards, rebels, or traitors. Or else as ahistorical, flattened by the weight of the colonial archive. How to relate to what we have not lived, to what our communities cannot say, or to what we cannot know? How to relate based on the hunch, the feeling of complicity or admiration or fear that we might have toward a particular life, dispersed in time, sutured together, but always incomplete? How to tell stories of survival—with all the messiness that that entails—rather than the sanitized narrativity of the colonial tropic imaginary? What do we miss, what becomes impoverished, when we hide behind “objectivity”?
Konishi reminds us of the richness of walking along with historical subjects whose lives, whose voices, are forever inflected by the colonial administration of sounds, bodies, lands, epistemologies. She reminds us that in order to participate in a more ethical relationship with these subjects, we must actually participate. That is, we must not excise our own bodies, our own affective connections, from the way we relate and yearn alongside, or even in spite of, what the historical record can reveal. I love how Konishi describes [End Page 434] her interest in Gogy and Bungin, two subjects only intermittently apparent in the historical archive, flashes of light that unsettle the colonial penumbra. She feels “drawn” to them, “connected,” “attached,” hailed by the shared experience of racism and dismissiveness. By the shared precedent of Indigenous dispossession and perseverance. But also by their complications. I love this approach because the contradictory impulse of attachment, its inexplicableness, is something I also wrestle with. This is something many of us know first hand. As a citizen of the Cherokee Nation—but also as the son of a Native adoptee—my own relationship with those archival figures, names and CDIB numbers, genealogy charts, allotment maps, and court records, amounts to one of the few ways I am able to relate as kin to my own Cherokee family.1 It is certainly not the only way, and I have over time been able to forge personal relationships with my Cherokee family, to relate. But it is also part of the history of Native dispossession and removal, forced acculturation and racism. It is part of the forced archivization of Native people. To be reduced to parchment, scribbles of a colonial official intent on documenting Native peoples into oblivion. As oblivion.
This is what Konishi’s method gestures toward, what it opens up as possibility. It is through the possibility of a trans*historical method that the archive can begin to exist as more than a simple record of transactions of the slow death of Native life writing. Recent work in Trans* Studies—and here I’m thinking specifically of Jack Halberstam’s 2017 text, Trans* A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability—has proposed a more expansive sense of kinship that we could have, that we strive to have, in the context of the continued normalization of bodies, relations, and temporalities. The trans*historical in this sense is not only about, or limited to, trans-identified subjects—not identity—but it unfolds as a method of disruption, of questioning the recalcitrance of normative bodies and relations by harnessing the unpredictable power of the asterisk—its functionality as grapheme. A diacritical form of resistance. Of reach. My feeling here is that Native studies and Trans* Studies can nurture each other. My sense, my hunch, is that these very distinct methodologies are...