From the Archives / On grief / war / poetics

For this month’s From the Archives newsletter, we’re taking a closer look at an issue that came out shortly after 9/11 – Issue 2.36 (Winter 2002): grief / war / poetics. While we were hoping to find work that spoke to how artists and writers respond to conflict (and we did, see some productive examples below), the issue is also a striking example of how Western conceptions of Eastern, non-white, and/or Muslim culture can fall dangerously short despite an implied commitment to progressive values. Two works in particular — experimental poet Adeena Karasick’s piece “In the Empire of Grief” and then-British Columbia Civil Liberties Association president John Dixon’s essay “Bad Free Speech Day” — are striking examples of how even writing that is ostensibly critical of American imperial ambitions can reproduce racial and cultural stereotypes. Karasick muses on the War on Terror while using racial slurs, and Dixon “defends” feminist scholar Dr. Sunera Thobani from racist backlash to her comments on 9/11 while describing her in offensive ways. In an effort to hold ourselves accountable, and consider the harms contained in our archive, this month’s newsletter includes links to work that center Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian experiences of the War on Terror, which are missing from “grief / war / poetics”: a transcript of Dr. Sunera Thobani’s speech from October 2001 and her reflections on 9/11 a decade later in September 2011; an excerpt from Poems from Guantanamo, a collection of poetry by people imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay; and “You,” by Arab-American poet Hayan Charara.

We’ve also selected three pieces from “grief / war / poetics” that we feel grapple with 9/11 more productively: American experimental writer Alexandra Chasin’s brilliant visual poem, “Towards a Grammar of Guilt,” which plays with language and subtext in order to criticize the Bush administration’s War on Terror; BC-based writer and artist Renee Rodin’s essay “Terra-ism,” an introspective meditation on the paranoia and fear—both real and manufactured—that swallowed up Western society in the wake of 9/11; and American writer Alan Sondheim’s poem “Negative Diaspora,” which responds to the U.S. Postal Service’s guidance regarding “suspicious” mail, pointing to the absurdity of state “security” measures.

Alexandra Chasin / Towards a Grammar of Guilt

From Issue 2.36 (Winter 2002)

Renee Rodin / Terra-ism

From Issue 2.36 (Winter 2002)

Everywhere reeked of rabid helplessness, as helpless as tears, eau de helplessness, of disgust, of powerlessness, of disgust at powerlessness. I too stank of insecurity — emitted a cloying noxious odour, the cult/ure of panic, whose very own perfume clung to me as I clung to it. The smell of deconstruction.

Alan Sondheim / Negative Diaspora

From Issue 2.36 (Winter 2002)

'What should I do with a suspicious piece of mail?'

Don't handle a letter or package that you suspect is contaminated. I PICKED IT UP AND PRESSED IT SOFTLY TO MY FACE.

Don't shake it, bump it, or sniff it.


 Our 50th Anniversary “From the Archives” series is headed by associate editor Jastej Luddu and supported by a BC Arts Council Early Career Development Grant.

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