The Big Bang. (12/11/98)
Imagine, if you will, that every particle of matter in the universe has been drawn to occupy a single space in time no larger than the period at the end of this sentence. Whether such a condition can actually happen or not is a question human intellect cannot certainly establish. The consequences of such a condition, while also certainly unclear in every respect, can be predicted in some particular aspects of its potential occurrence. The brute mass of such an object, composed of everything that exists in the universe, would generate a gravitational field so intense, so massive, that the very concepts of space and time would cease to exist--even space and time would be drawn into the mass of the object. Gravity itself, in all likelihood, would also cease to exist as a material category. This would be true because there would be no place outside the object itself where the force of gravity would be able to exercise its effect and no thing beyond the object itself against which its effects could be said to act.
In all likelihood, such a state of affairs would inevitably create a massive destabilizing effect on the object which had come to contain the entire mass of the universe. With the disappearance of gravity itself into the object, and since gravity itself would effectively cease to exist at the moment of its disappearance, there would be no force left to hold the massive object of the universe together. The absence of gravity would therefore result in the self-dismemberment of the object as it flew apart into the components that had originally gone into its construction. It would necessarily be a self-dismemberment because there would be nothing outside the mass capable of affecting the thing in any way at all. Gravity, of course, would be (re)born along with everything else in the universe and the process of the (re)generation of the world would begin again. Gravity would (re)assert its force and things would begin to fall back into relation with each other in some new (perhaps) or some familiar forms and structures. We have no way of knowing whether the forms and structures would be new ones, or whether they would be the same as before.
The object, before it dismembered itself, would be opaque, unknowable, and absolutely mysterious. Oddly enough, many Europeans have expressed a tendency in the past to view the Other in precisely these same terms; that is, as opaque, unknowable, and mysterious. At the same time, European discourse seems to demand and expect the Other to begin a process of voluntary self-dismemberment for the sole purpose of providing disclosure of the mysteries that remain hidden from view in what Europeans perceive as a willful and active "withholding" of information and knowledge on the part of the colonized "natives." The Other, as it were, willfully conceals everything that matters most to a European inquiry meant to uncover knowledge of the secrets they demand to ascertain.
A relative truth, of course, is that natives do no such thing. At some point in the past, probably on the first day of confrontation between native and European civilization, "natives" were only too willing to open themselves and their culture to the disabling gaze of the Other. What we had to say, however, was so bizarre, apparently, that everyone who volunteered to speak was summarily executed on the spot for not-saying what the Europeans wanted and/or expected to hear. After a day or two most everyone learned the lesson and we collectively fell silent--which is exactly what Europeans now accuse us of doing willfully and by our own volition. In truth, of course, we were forced to adopt our silence. Now-a-days we are just as likely to be executed for not-speaking up. After centuries of silence, where more and more things and ideas were gathered up that we, collectively, wanted to say, an entire universe of mass, as it were, came together in a space no larger than the period at the end of this sentence and, sure enough, after severe (de)stabilization everything came apart.
Needless to say, Europeans were still dissatisfied with what we had to say. We were (re)accused of mystifying our lives and beliefs behind, not refusing to speak, but rather, behind not saying what Europeans wanted to hear. It was exactly like opening a bag, looking inside, and finding a few feathers, a polished piece of stone, some seeds, a leaf or two, all of which were covered with some mysterious yellow powder. When asked what was in the bag, the European inquisitor, who had forced the bag to open, was heard to reply: "Nothing of any significance; nothing at all really," as he shook the contents of the bag out on the ground, kicked the piece of stone into a river, and threw the bag toward the trash heap. When the big bang came for us it was a silent, invisible, un(re)marked, if not un(re)markable moment of non-event that shook nothing so much as the incredulity of the inquisitor who had expected more than a half-empty bag of trash when he embarked on his mission to re(dis)cover the true identity behind our mask of silence. He had hoped to re(dis)cover America and found that nothing much at all had changed.
The problem, of course, is that the newest ideologies of western Europe have dressed up the language a little but still say the same thing. Categorizing the attitude as only a "native" can, Asha Varadharajan (Exotic Parodies: Subjectivity in Adorno, Said, and Spivak) notes that
"the poststructuralist critique of authenticity leaves the colonized with the equally unpalatable choices of a reverse ethnocentrism or essentialism, and a resignation to absence and silence within 'white mythologies'." (25)
The question that even Varadharajan may not think to ask is: Why would we want to have presence and make noise in "white mythologies"? When did we ever give up who we are so that it would require a "reverse ethnocentrism" to get us back into it again?
Truth be told, when the lid fell off the box that held us in, the one manufactured by Eurocentric bigotry, it turned out to be empty. It was like a coffin filled, not with the body of the deceased, but with bricks and stones and sand used to approximate the weight of the body that was never placed in the coffin in the first place. We were never in the whiteman's box and went on living our lives (with the exception of those who were converted by force to Christianity) in the ways that we had always done. The idea that we desire to fill the absences, the gaps, in "white mythologies" with our bodies, that we desire to hear our own voices in European discourse, is a delusion, not of ours, but of the Europeans who have no way to fulfill their own emptiness for themselves. The reason Europeans never find anything in the bags they feel compelled to open, except a few feathers and pieces of polished stone, which appear to be worthless to them, is because they do not know how to bring anything to the ceremony of opening the bag in the first place. Europeans don't even know that opening a bag is a ceremony. Arrogance bred of the paranoia of ignorance, in other words, accounts for the fact that Europeans believe everyone else in the world desires what they have, what they believe they have accomplished.
Native Americans fashioned an identity of their own without any assistance from Europeans, a fact which must be punished because that identity does not correspond in kind to the one Europeans fashioned about us and for themselves. No amount of differential yammering will ever obliterate that fact. No amount of dialectical argument can make that fact disappear into a bag fashioned from European cloth.
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