- Indigenous CollectivesA Meditation on Fixity and Flexibility
I think of theorizing as a part of a process of comprehension and reformulation, one that stimulates the creation both of narratives and of analytical narratives that are theoretical across a wide field of participation not necessarily bound by "discipline."—Dian Million, "Intense Dreaming"1
Indigenous philosophers from the Western Hemisphere seem to agree that all contents of the cosmos are related to one another—and some suggest that all things are each other.2 That is, they suggest that all "things" are not things so much as process or movement. Beings and other "things" are in a continual process of becoming and unbecoming—of trans-formation—which can be seen as a new phase of becoming. In this view, form is a temporary expression of energy or vibration; these pulsing oscillations cycle through birth, life, death, renewal, and, again, life.
To think about the nature of reality in this way begs some questions: Are there boundaries between individuals, or between a person and any other thing? Do the categories we create and the boundaries around them accurately represent our relationships? Paula Gunn Allen once implied that such divisions are fallacious and claimed, "It's my nature to transform energy through this conglomerate of critters that I like to call my body," but her insight, while accurate, may seem esoteric and maybe even a little eccentric.3 Certainly, many Indigenous thinkers have [End Page 368] resisted categories of self/other and a variety of boundaried dualisms, but to what degree can awareness of interrelationality help us melt the fixing effects of instruments of definition?
In Indigenous religious practices, participants sometimes become more intimately aware of interrelationships. In those spaces, those of us who participate often utter prayers for relatives who fly, walk on two legs or four, swim, and crawl. As I have experienced such shifts in awareness, I have also felt compelled to offer prayers for our less romantically constructed relatives: those who slip, slide, or swim in their own ooze and who, in human language (especially in English), are characterized as disgusting, alien, or monstrous. Nevertheless, these amorphous or bloblike relatives have much to teach us about relationality, social organization, kinship, identity, and Indigenous agency. They can help us identify the discourses that concretize and police such boundaries; they can help us further the interrogation into how, why, and where such boundaries are placed and help us recognize whose interests they serve.
this is not a vase
Long before I imagined myself teaching at a university, I became enamored with the process of glassblowing. Having been raised just one or two neighborhoods away from Dale Chihuly's hot shop, I benefited from the close proximity of his production glassblowers, who moonlighted as instructors in various studios around town. I enrolled in courses at Seattle Glassblowing Studio and learned first to make paperweights, Christmas tree ornaments, cups, vases, and bowls, then I graduated to using color. Like the clear batch glass that forms the foundation for any piece, glass color medium is derived from various minerals. In glassblowing, color is applied on top of the colorless base; through heat and shaping, the color becomes embedded in the whole. The melting points, the speed of motion, how much and what kind of pressure it takes to get colors to comply to shaping vary greatly from color to color, depending on the mineral. Working with color gave me extra satisfaction when I could design a piece, execute it (usually imperfectly), and then have something "unique" to give away. At the time, Martha Stewart was still in her tag-sale and thrift phase: kitsch, distressed patina, found objects, and shabby chic were trendy among DIY home decorators, too. [End Page 369] Techne (or at least the appearance of highbrow, precise, modern craft) had not yet made a comeback, so my amateurish glassworks were popular among my friends.
As with other liquids, I had a few accidents in glasswork. My favorite accident was a vase that stood about one foot tall, with large, deep red flecks on its body, the fluted lip wrapped in yellow. When a gaffer (the head of...