In April of 2020, the novelist Arundhati Roy wrote: “The pandemic is a portal.” As we continue through the portal, navigating the emergence of new variants, it is a fertile time to collectively embrace liminality as our mode of existence. Oscillating between states of lockdown and re-emergence felt like constantly taking flight towards the unknown. In the foreword of Borealis, an essay by Aisha Sabatini Sloan published in 2021, editor Youmna Chlala reflects on the tension that exists in trying to situate oneself within the ever-changing spaces we occupy: “It is as if you are trying to land your gaze somewhere but the landscape won’t let you.” We have yet to arrive on solid ground, as we traversed another year shaped by the pandemic. As my wings expanded in the uncertainty, through blurry eyes, I scanned the landscape, passing over scenes of nourishment amidst the wreckage:
Root vegetables simmer in the pot, concocting a soon-to-be flavourful broth. My mother’s voice floats into memory, instructing me as I prepare the meal: add ginger, turmeric and a bay leaf for good measure. There is a comfort in the simplicity of the making, and in the way that soup brings differences of flavor into harmony. I am childlike in my delight, admiring the blend’s acceptance of ambiguity. From throat to gut, the warmth of the meal will have a healing power, eventually stimulating digestion. My only task, as the maker, is to wait. I have time. A friend of mine, who is a weaver, once illustrated for me the role that surrender plays in practices of art-making. Allow the medium to guide you. Listen to the heat, listen to the pot. Rejecting feelings of restlessness, I cover the pot with a lid so that the contents do not overly thicken. In the past, I have found myself put off by the appearance of a thicker soup: I experience what Julia Kristeva defined as abjection, a horror-induced separation within the self, a reminder of one’s corporeality through a state of repulsion. In Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection Kristeva writes:
“Loathing an item of food, a piece of filth, waste, or dung. The spasms and vomiting that protect me. The repugnance, the retching that thrusts me to the side and turns me away from defilement, sewage, and muck. The shame of compromise, of being in the middle of treachery. The fascinated start that leads me toward and separates me from them.”
Soup tells a story of collectivity through its rejection of linearity, hierarchy and disposability.
When a soup is too thick, it threatens to congeal. I feel repulsed by its image in the sense that I am driven back by a force outside of my own creation. Experiencing equal parts discomfort and pleasure, the distinction between repulsion as an invitation to action versus repulsion as an invitation to complacency becomes clear. I choose the former, approaching these feelings as they help me figure out the smells, textures, and flavors that work best for my body. On the other side of this is reverence, as I have come to recognize soup as a necessary allegory. As a story, soup represents the sum of what has been left over. It is a teacher of the truth that, when given time and space to boil and simmer, what was once deemed unusable can be made into something beautiful and nourishing. Soup tells a story of collectivity through its rejection of linearity, hierarchy and disposability. Soup asks for a more intuitive mode of engagement: attention beyond the confines of a recipe. As a medium, it implores you to use everything: peel the raw potato, bring in the seasoning and aromatics, scoop in that which has been left untouched, stir frequently if needed. Arrive and await the transmutation of the ingredients. I propose the soup and its making as the allegory of our year.
In its second year, the pandemic unveiled and clarified injustice on a large scale, urging us to notice the ways in which we have naturalised complacency in our collective memory. In May of 2021, over 200 unmarked graves were discovered on the lands of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. The terrifying discovery of the graves of children elucidated the depth of Canada’s history of violence against Indigenous communities. Thousands more of these graves were soon discovered on the sites of residential schools, each of them evidence of this country’s active and intentional erasure of Indigenous life and culture.
The creation of the future necessitates the resurrection of the past. Oftentimes, we contact the past through documents. However, under the conditions of distance and isolation that a pandemic requires, what would it look like to expand memory beyond documents that have been scrubbed of nuance? How has the past landed in our bodies and in the ways in which we interact with the world? Let us begin with this remembrance as recognition—an act that is too often decentered and devalued by structures that benefit from cultures of disconnection and lovelessness. And it all comes back to love, as love is the broth: the basis of the meal.
To write about remembrance is to locate the agents of silence and silencing—the institutions, monuments, the documents, the archives—that exist to conceal counter-narratives that are integral to our future. To write about the act of remembrance is to notice how love refuses silence.
In December, we experienced the loss of the beloved scholar and sage, bell hooks. She committed herself to identifying the liberatory spaces around us, always believing in our capacity to heal as a collective. In her groundbreaking essay, Love as the Practice of Freedom, her words are piercing: “Without love, our efforts to liberate ourselves and our world community from oppression and exploitation are doomed. As long as we refuse to address fully the place of love in struggles for liberation we will not be able to create a culture of conversion where there is a mass turning away from an ethic of domination.”
Another profound lesson of hooks’ work comes from her writing on the gaze. hooks framed the gaze as political rebellion, specifically within the context of black female spectators and their relationships to cinema. She taught me that it is an act of self-love to honour one’s own perspective, especially in a world that hyper-surveils racialized and gendered bodies. We have to believe in our stories while understanding that our individual perspective is one of many ingredients in the pot. Memory is complicated and we have to be willing to work within the complexity. Now is the time to abandon the silences we can no longer afford to integrate into our daily lives. We must turn towards one another. To employ the language of hooks’ body of work, we must assume our roles as catalysts of an oppositional remembrance—framing remembrance as a way to stand in solidarity with those who have historically been pushed into the periphery. And to write about the act of remembrance is to write about and against silence. To write about remembrance is to locate the agents of silence and silencing—the institutions, monuments, the documents, the archives—that exist to conceal counter-narratives that are integral to our future. To write about the act of remembrance is to notice how love refuses silence.
On land that has been stolen from Indigenous peoples and policed by institutions that are invested in distancing us from our past, remembrance is our responsibility. It is our responsibility to go beyond language when metaphor and abstraction have been weaponized and used to market the illusion of change. This calls for direct action, the centering of movements such as 1492 Land Back Lane where Haudenosaunee land defenders gathered to protest against a housing development project which was set to be built on unceded Six Nations territory.
The spirit of hooks’ work reverberates when thinking of the actionability of love. What is its role in liberatory spaces? I think of Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut novel, Open Water (2021) and how it illustrates the consequences of the narrativization of Black masculinity alongside the pain of feeling invisible in a disorienting world. And then a clarifying light seeps into the novel as Azumah Nelson exemplifies the vitality of love. Love is centered as the miracle that allows us to remember our humanness. He writes: “It's one thing to be looked at, and another to be seen." A dazzling reminder that we can begin by giving each other the gift of intimate recognition. It is affirming and listening, as simple as saying: I see you. What can be done?
Rage, twinned with love, represents the heat that can change the conditions of our lives. If you are looking, if you are concentrating your gaze, you will find yourself enraged as we emerge from a crucible of unearthing and a mirroring of the unearthings passed.
Likening the tending of a soup to the articulation of a burgeoning revolution is to beckon towards one of adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy principles: “small is good, small is all.” Consider how oftentimes, the contents of the pot require heat or more simply put, an element to change the physical properties of the ingredients. Rage, twinned with love, represents the heat that can change the conditions of our lives. If you are looking, if you are concentrating your gaze, you will find yourself enraged as we emerge from a crucible of unearthing and a mirroring of the unearthings passed.
It all exists in the pot. It all exists within its capaciousness. The wilting celery, the crushed pepper, the brown lentils and onion skin. Our lived experiences, urgent and indisposable, can similarly be transmuted into something life-giving and shareable: a future shaped by our willingness to look and remember. I shared these ruminations with a loved one, asking what she noticed within the allegory of soup herself. She offered: “It is treating the old, aging tomato at the back of the fridge the same way as the fresh cilantro that you bought specifically for your meal. It is peeling and pruning all of the violence of the past year while valuing the freshness, the new unfolding ahead. We need both for the soup. We need to take it all, let it sit while caring for the hands that have prepared the meal. The new year is brewing, the fire is lowering, calling for our bowls to be emptied once more.”
Here’s to a pungent and nourishing journey through the portal.