As my senior class finishes our second unit, completing our reading of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, I am already thinking about our next novel—J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace . Considering this upcoming text over Thanksgiving break, in Las Vegas no less, offered ample opportunity to reflect on colonial enterprises, their lasting effects on people and places, and attempts of all sorts to naturalize (and thereby erase) violence.
Holidays like Thanksgiving are extremely problematic and deeply contradictory for me, particularly now that I have a child. On the one hand, I love the conviviality of family and friends, especially as it is frequently unmitigated by technology when over the holidays. We spent several days, for example, hiking through Red Rocks Canyon and the Valley of Fire, we discovered our son has a love for scrambling up features that are sure to send grandparents and parents alike into full-fledged panic attacks. On the other hand, the Thanksgiving holiday is complicit in the erasure of what I think can rightly be characterized as the genocide of the indigenous people’s of the American content. So, while I teach my son to speak up in any setting for those who have suffered violence and injustice, we made no mention of such gruesome facts as we feasted on butternut squash ravioli.
It seems like in America we have a unique capacity to forget the violences, both founding and sustaining, the undergird our country and our culture. For example, it was easy to walk through the Valley of Fire, enjoy the park, and marvel at the petroglyphs without a thought that the entire region was once the home of a people that were annihilated... that is until I pick up a copy of Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony or Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The study of history and literature in particular are, in my estimation, the most effective means to combat such a willful amnesia. Rather than see the continued decline of such studies in education in general and higher education in particular as portending an even bleaker future, I choose to instead see it as a rallying call that we need a renascence of the humanities.