EN 385 D
Dr. Juniper Ellis
27 January 2015
Culture and Memory
It has been said that, “those that do not learn history, are doomed to repeat it.” In the postmodernist novel, Black Rainbow, by Albert Wendt, the Tribunal attempt to revoke this renowned statement from George Santayana by altering the past and creating the future. The Tribunal brainwashes, “Don’t listen to historee, That’s all guilt and insanitee” (37). In having this mindset, the past means nothing for us, nor to the narrator in the text, who struggles to realize his true identity because of his hidden history. Thus, in traveling through time, we track our identity and use it as a compass to our relationship in society.
The Tribunal’s concept is made clear in the example of the woman trapped in the Tribunal Interrogation room. She proceeds going through door after door because, “like all of us, been raised to believe that doors were merely entrances and exits into rooms, out of rooms, into views, treasures, meanings, surprises, and so on” (106). Here the Tribunal’s message rings true. Our history is dangerous because it makes us believe in things that aren’t there or valid. If the woman had read the door she would’ve seen that there was a sign that read, “ALL DOORS ARE ABOUT OTHER DOORS. THEY ARE THEMSELVES”(108). In other words, the woman was blinded by a “cultural baggage” (65), in which she was led to believe that the door was not just a door, but her gateway to, “hope, salvation, meaning” (108).
Our narrator makes an interesting point earlier in the text. He reveals it is, “strange how we see reality through art and the other cultural baggage we carry” (65). He makes this critical connection when he notices the hill over the river resembles a Colin McCahon painting. Along with the woman, we are looking for non-tangential things—hope, salvation, meaning, what does that look like? However, if we open our eyes to look in front of us, directly in front of us, and become more aware of our surroundings, and comfortable with where in the present time we are now, we can then begin to adjust our eyes from blindly searching, to meaningfully contemplating.
How are these two accounts different? We have to remember that the account of the woman running through the doors was told from a Tribunal trained storyteller. It is meant therefore to illustrate the dangers of reading into your memory and culture, but it is indeed one sided as discovered above. The narrator’s account makes a similar notion. The memory can help shape your understanding of the world around you.
Similar to modern day, we can experience reality through art. For instance, in the McManus lobby, there are cardboard boxes cut and written on with sharpie that say, “You think you’re cold?” Attached to the posted cardboard are tattered socks and the number of homeless people in Baltimore (over 3,00). Incorporating the two ideas above, there is a dualism about the importance of culture and memory. In many ways, those boxes are decorative fixtures that take up the space of the theatre’s windows. But, they aren’t just boxes, they are a piece of our Baltimore culture that tells us that within a mile radius of our University, there are people walking around in the street without the proper winter attire. In this case, art smacks us out of our cultural baggage. Where most of us come from, we grab our coat in the morning without even a second thought. But, in seeing this visual representation, we are momentarily transported to a city street corner or along Northern Parkway, where there are many men and women holding up signs pleading for our assistance.
Thus, memory, history, and our cultural background have the ability to serve as a bridge to our perception. In traveling along this bridge, we can discover our true surroundings and our presence in the relation to the past.