ALL THAT WE TOUCH, WE CHANGE

Canadian Art - - Spotlight - By Syrus Mar­cus Ware

A right-wing US pres­i­den­tial hope­ful threat­ens the re­main­ing com­fort left to the priv­i­leged few, as wide­spread en­vi­ron­men­tal dev­as­ta­tion and eco­nomic col­lapse desta­bi­lize im­pe­ri­al­ist coun­tries like Canada and the US. Fam­i­lies hud­dle in walled neigh­bour­hoods, keep­ing or­ga­nized shift-watch dur­ing nights. They work out­side the home only one day a week to avoid dan­ger.

This is the un­canny vi­sion of late US spec­u­la­tive-fic­tion writer Oc­tavia E. But­ler, as told in her in­com­plete tril­ogy Para­ble of the Sower (1993) and Para­ble of the Tal­ents (1998). But­ler’s story be­gins here, but it is by no means where it ends.

In Para­ble of the Sower, when neigh­bour­hood walls fi­nally fall, peo­ple form a com­mu­nity and, to­gether, try to fig­ure out how to sur­vive. There is a shared and ever-shift­ing un­der­stand­ing of the na­ture of change, social jus­tice, dis­abil­ity jus­tice and the ex­pe­ri­ence of marginal­iza­tion and dif­fer­ence. The lead­ers of a new, emer­gent “na­tion” are dis­abled and BIPOC (black, In­dige­nous and peo­ple of colour), form­ing an in­ter­gen­er­a­tional col­lec­tive. Nat­u­rally, they come with very dif­fer­ent ideas for mov­ing for­ward, which both aids and chal­lenges their con­tin­ued sur­vival. They are mo­ti­vated by the strong words of But­ler’s main character, Lau­ren Oya Olam­ina: “All that you touch / you Change. All that you Change / Changes you.”

But­ler her­self ex­pe­ri­enced a com­pro­mised sense of be­long­ing. She was a dis­abled, black artist, and a wo­man writ­ing science fic­tion—a field that re­mains largely dom­i­nated by men and, as But­ler of­ten spoke about, can be out­wardly hos­tile to­ward women and trans-iden­ti­fied writ­ers. But­ler’s com­pro­mised ci­ti­zen­ship in­spired her to cre­ate worlds in which those of us on the mar­gins could imag­ine our­selves sur­viv­ing. She cre­ated worlds in which we might sto­ry­tell our­selves into thriv­ing ex­is­tence.

But­ler seemed to be on the minds of many on Novem­ber 8, 2016, as they watched in hor­ror as conservative forces swept through the US elec­torate, tak­ing the pres­i­dency and main­tain­ing con­trol of the House and Se­nate, with at least one Supreme Court ap­point­ment to fol­low. Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump’s slo­gan, bor­rowed from Ron­ald Rea­gan’s 1980 cam­paign, mir­rored that of ul­tra-conservative pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Christo­pher Charles Mor­peth Don­ner in Para­ble of the Sower: “Make Amer­ica Great Again.” There are other sim­i­lar­i­ties. Don­ner dis­man­tles the “‘waste­ful, point­less, un­nec­es­sary’ moon and Mars pro­grams,” and abol­ishes “‘overly re­stric­tive’ min­i­mumwage, en­vi­ron­men­tal, and worker pro­tec­tion laws.” He gives in­creas­ing power to big busi­ness,

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