This piece concludes Natalie Wee’s month-long guest series on “Post-Truth Politics and the Creative Craft.”
Wole Soyinka, the first African writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, spoke recently in The Atlantic about the irony of America’s political trajectory: once a safe haven for those fleeing civil unrest like himself, the United States is now a maelstrom of xenophobia. In the article, he says, “Trump’s wall is already under construction … Walls are built in the mind.”
We don’t have to look beyond the border to see where walls are being built. This month, our writers have illustrated the various systems of power that render lived experiences invisible. Yet despite multiple first-hand accounts and the efforts of writers like Scaachi Koul to remind us that “[t]here is no Canadian exceptionalism,” myths of an un-problematic Canada persist. National narratives of multiculturalism frame events like the Quebec City mosque shooting of January 29 as outliers in Canada’s comparative utopia and elide the frequency with which hate crimes continue to occur. CanLit has its own ongoing struggles around authenticity that reveal we are no stranger to the relationship between truth and power.
Post-truth, while conveyed through language, has also been elided by it, and in that process has been allowed to operate without formal recognition until recently. The exclusionary outcomes of xenophobic post-truth rhetoric illuminate the undeniable fact that the use of language is political from the moment of conception. Many groups have resisted post-truth rhetoric long before the concept came to be formally recognized, and indeed many creators have worked in defiance of silencing and post-truth long before this call for submissions. In a time where survival has become a radical act for many, the language with which we use to communicate must be subject to scrutiny if we desire a survival of conscience.
One model of retaining the ethical integrity of the creative craft can be found in Epistemic Disobedience and the Decolonial Option: A Manifesto, in which scholar Walter D. Mignolo speaks of the “epistemic disobedience” coined by sociologist Aníbal Quijano. In the essay, Mignolo gestures to “epistemic disobedience” as a way to move toward decolonizing thought by unlinking our knowledge from colonial frameworks of understanding. This discussion is extremely pertinent, given that many marginalized groups today face the same xenophobic sentiments that have contributed to projects of imperialism.
Furthermore, as we move forward with the practice of creation as resistance, it is also important that we do so with conscientiousness. Johannes Fabian wrote in 1990, “The Other is never simply given, never just found or encountered, but made.” To truly resist with care for the marginalized, we must recognize that the inscription of threatening Otherness on brown and black bodies is an ongoing project rooted in historical colonization and imperialism. We must acknowledge the continuity of post-truth rhetoric as we work against current versions employed by various nationalist and supremacist groups.
[I]t becomes our duty to continually question the normative baselines of current social truth, and in that process create space for other truths to emerge.
Drawing on the energies of Mignolo and Quijano, it becomes our duty to continually question the normative baselines of current social truth and in that process create space for other truths to emerge. Coexisting in a post-truth era means supporting those who have and continue to resist post-truths, to learn from their creative work, and to uplift them in our own. If we do not do so, we become complicit in compounding existing marginalization with our inaction, and in the process render ideas of liberation, equality, and truth meaningless in our own creative pursuits.
I’ve noticed that a seismic shift has taken place in my own craft. Over a year ago, when I first began writing, I would submit deliberately un-politicized poetry for publications. I was keenly aware of my Otherness and purposefully rendered aspects of my own experiences invisible to be able to participate in the literary world. It wasn’t until I came across marginalized creators such as Ocean Vuong, Vivek Shraya, and Jen Sookfong Lee who wrote about experiences of marginalization that I understood the power of visibility. The fact that I am writing this today is testament to the necessity of making space for voices that challenge accepted truths.
When I think about the process of creating, Teju Cole’s 2014 tweet is what comes to mind: “Writing as writing. Writing as rioting. Writing as righting. On the best days, all three.” Indubitably a poem and manifesto both for our times.
Natalie Wee is the author of Our Bodies & Other Fine Machines (Words Dance Publishing, 2016), with her second book forthcoming from BookThug in 2018. She has been published or has work forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Drunken Boat, The Missing Slate, Room Magazine, Word Riot, and more. She has been nominated for the 2016 Best of the Net Anthology and a Pushcart Prize. Find her first book on her website.