Course:FNIS454/Digital Disembodiment as a Space for Indigenous reembodiment

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FNIS 454
Indigenous New Media
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This open access resource is developed by the students of FNIS 454: Indigenous New Media. Via summary and analysis of key article, this wiki explores the theoretical, cultural, socio-political, and gendered dynamics underwriting the histories and futures of Indigenous new media as it develops out of the late 90s and into the present moment.
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Digital Disembodiment as a Space for Indigenous [re]embodiment, by Nicole Jung

Indigenous bodies exist in tension in colonial space. As Lydia Cooper writes, settler colonialism has configured Indigenous lands as “both home and colonized un-home,” complexly orienting Indigenous ways of being toward the realities of love and relationality, but also those of violence and fragmentation.[1]  Addressing this tension in her discussion of Joshua Whitehead’s Full-Metal Indigiqueer, both Cooper and Whitehead importantly work to imagine Indigenous liberation as neither erasing trauma nor precluding Indigenous flourishing.  

For Whitehead, colonial reality is always seeking to eclipse Indigenous ways of knowing and being, inserting, for example, its restrictive and violent understandings of beauty over “mino iskwew:” “pleasing to the sense or mind aesthetically; of a very high standard; excellent”.[2]  Holding mino iskwew up to the colonial senses of Indigenous beauty, one realizes “they never meant to call her beautiful” (Whitehead 99).  Instead, they are meant to contain her Indigenous body by inserting colonial stereotypes as normative and by displacing mino iskwew as deviant from “the settler state’s codes”.[1]  In these processes of ‘displacement for replacement,’ we come to believe in binaries – perhaps Indigenous realities cannot exist whilst colonial ones do.  But where does that leave the Indigenous person whose lived experiences span from colonial trauma to Indigenous joy?  

It leaves them in impossible, fragmented space.  Colonial binaries would lead us to believe that the coexistence of trauma and joy is an impossibility for Indigenous peoples, that Indigenous embodiment in colonial space must either deny colonial pasts or else foreclose Indigenous futures. However, Cooper saliently points out that this strategy of fragmentation “is a consequence of imperialism, played out in the literal, bodily fragmentation of skulls and bones from art and music.”[1]  Fragmentation wrought through exclusionary binaries is a distinctly imperial/colonial strategy for obscuring and limiting the strengths of Indigenous embodiment and expression.

Here, Whitehead disrupts the limitations colonialism imposes on Indigenous bodies by envisioning disembodiment as a “third space” for Indigenous liberation.  Through zoa, Whitehead’s “biological-technological Trickster narrator,” Cooper argues the “artificial boundaries imposed by inter- and intrapersonal colonial spaces” are transcended “without damaging or delimiting their [zoa’s] essential queerness [and] Indigeneity.”[1] Whitehead can be seen to engage the digital as a third space transcendent of colonial limitations in other ways too.  Square brackets included in stanzas reminiscent of computer outputs allow Whitehead’s text to be, in itself, simultaneously embodied/disembodied, present/absent; “[de]colonialreservations:” acknowledge reserves as inseparably signifying colonial and decolonial space[2]. “:: :insertwindriverreservation[questionmark]: ::” asks you to question the presence of a question mark, should the context of Indigenous land be inserted here?[2]  Conceptualizing disembodiment, not as a space of lack or destabilization, but rather a space of empowerment reached through fluidity, digital disembodiment becomes the site of “rebod[ied]... Indigenous knowledges and sovereignties'.'[1]  Here, pleasure/pain can unite within Indigenous bodies without contradiction, fundamentally rejecting colonial fragmentation that denies Indigenous experiences as irrational. Here, Cooper’s understanding of resilience is also clearly understood: “Resilience is not an erasure of trauma; it is instead living and thriving, fierce and relentless, in the ongoing presence of colonial violence.”[1]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Cooper, Lydia (2019). "A Future Perfect: Queer Digital Sovereignty in Joshua Whitehead's Jonny Appleseed and Full-Metal Indigiqueer". Contemporary Literature. 60: 491–514.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Whitehead, Joshua (2017). Full-Metal Indigiqueer. Talon Books.