Saturday, March 26, 2011


In this second half of the semester, I'm going to be pushing the students in "Aboriginal Australia and the Idea of Religion" to get beyond simple and static ideas of "authenticity" - a word which keeps coming up. They seem to have come to terms with the first challenge to "authenticity" - the role of Western observers and media in most of what we can learn of Aboriginal cultures (at least in a classroom in New York City). But a second challenge will, I think, bother them more, and yield richer fruit: Aboriginal Christianity (or: appropriations of Christianity). As one student asked on Thursday, are not the narratives of David Mowaljarlai "tainted" by Christianity? We were discussing one of my favorites, a moiety-system refraction of Cain and Abel (Yorro Yorro 49-52):
What are they going to make of the art of Linda Syddick, then, who often paints Christian motifs like the images at the top of this post in the Australian Museum in Sydney. Apparently the scene at left shows the nativity with the magi, though it's hard not also to see the Trinity revealed to Abraham, too. (Syddick's series on Steven Spielberg's ET may trouble the students less; we'll see!)


elisamaza76 said...

The word I'll be continuing to fight this semester (at least in part 2 of my 2-quarter sequence -- we'll have to wait and see what surprises await in the new class) is "relatable," which seems to be the benchmark for everything. I'm not even entirely convinced it's a word, though dictionaries seem to be allowing it these days). What I'm quite sure it's not is the ultimate in critical analysis, which my students seem to believe it is. Does whether or not you feel like you have more in common with this authors's version of Siddhartha really seem like the only important thing about the text? And whether or not these people seem just like you is is the only important thing about *every* text, and the only lens through which you can think about *everything* in Buddhism? And you *really*, after careful reading, feel like you have more in common with that version of Siddhartha?

I wonder if they will default to relatability with the Judeo-Christian texts as well, or if, without the excuse of unfamiliarity, they will have to come up with a new way to distance themselves, which seems to be the reflex at work. The more interesting question to me is why it's so difficult to get them to see the text through any lenses besides "would I want to do this myself?" I find it really confusing and disturbing, and think I'd honestly prefer "tainted," which might at least imply a starting point other than the self...

Also? I blame you for the fact that I now have "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell stuck in my head.

mark said...

yes, the barely-a-word word "relatable" haunts these halls too.

and yes, of course i hummed some of "tainted love" when the comment was made, too.