Joseph F. Duggan and Jason Craige Harris
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Joe: “I hear her screaming from the hallway. As I walk into her room the nurse tells me she has been howling on repeat since she arrived at the hospital. I sit by her side and introduce myself as the chaplain. “It sounds like you’re in awful pain,” I say. “Yes,” she says, “no one gets how bad it is.” “What’s it like?” I ask. “I just want to scream at the top of my lungs.” “Let’s scream,” I say. I shut the door and we belt it out, good and loud and without restraint. She looks at me, amazed. “You’re the first person who didn’t tell me to be quiet. You listened.” She falls asleep soon after, her arm dangling into my lap. In the space between us I experience the answer to my constant thirst for the Living God. You, Hashem, are here, thick and present in the hospital. You are here flowing between hearts aching, yearning and healing. My cup runs over.”
The above story was told to me by Rabbi Shulamit Izen, a friend and former fellow CPE resident. Staff Chaplain Izen, now at Mass General Hospital, is unafraid of the raw feelings of the most enraged patient. I am wondering, Jason, how we invite, foster, and channel this kind of raw rage in Postcolonial Networks and in many other contexts around the world including universities. Of course I recognize the rage from, for example, Franz Fanon, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, James Cone, and others. The colonized and marginalized are eloquent in their raw rage. Even so, I am not satisfied with stopping with these works. Shul’s story provokes me to ask who is the patient equivalent at our postcolonial intersections? Whose rage is not being heard and requires the unexpected, unplanned intervention comparable to Rabbi Izen’s?
Jason: I honor the story that Rabbi Izen told you, Joe–for its emphasis on solidarity and raw reality, for its refusal to render rage invisible, particularly the rage of a woman. I’m grateful that you have brought this story into conversation with the stories of Fanon, hooks, Lorde, and Cone. In so doing, you’ve avoided the pitfall of exclusively associating rage and psychiatric facilities, which some might experience as an implicit pathologizing of (all) rage. To pathologize rage is to marginalize and silence it, assuming that it is unjustifiable, and that it lacks epistemic and moral merit. That danger would be intensified were we to hear Rabbi Izen’s story in isolation. Situations of unequal power relations have often facilitated the colonization of rage. This means at least two things: 1) the dominant group has often imagined the rage of the oppressed as a nearly uncontrollable destructive force lacking reason and therefore has sought to tame it, often violently; and 2) the dominant group has often systematized and institutionalized its own rage and therefore has enabled its rage to go by another, more socially acceptable name (law? order? justice? prison? capital punishment?). The ethical questions you’re asking us to grapple with, then, attune us to the relationship between rage and the disciplining force of power. Along those lines, I can’t help thinking about the historical differences between, say, white rage and black rage or men’s rage and women’s rage. Whose rage gets named as such? What are the effects of rage felt and enacted by people in different positions of power?
Joe: I appreciate your connection of the rabbi and patient’s dialogical encounter to the theoretical. The power differential of which you speak is exhibited between the patient and the chaplain in the context of Rabbi Izen’s encounter. The power of this story for me is the way Rabbi Izen offers to participate in the patient’s outcry of rage. The chaplain is not put off by the rage nor does she judge it or ignore the patient. The chaplain forms a community with the patient. The center of the community created is not the conventional language of the chaplain, but rather the less familiar language of the patient’s rage. The chaplain follows the pattern of the patient’s rage and echoes it as her sign of solidarity and ministry. The power of the story for me is that it is only in the chaplain’s participation in the patient’s rage that the patient feels heard. When heard the patient’s rage is at least partially satiated and then she feels understood to the point of silencing at least temporarily her rage. The patient’s suffering is not miraculously healed, just heard.
I don’t want to push the story/encounter parallel too far to address your question as the story will not likely sustain a rigorous decolonial analysis. Powerless rage and the response of the powerful, dominant group seems to be embedded in the nurses who pass by the patient. To your point Jason as long as the nurse stigmatizes rage the professional is able to ignore the outcry for help and fail to engage. One parallel that seems to at least provoke a decolonial question is to what extent black rage is ignored and not engaged. How might black rage or women’s rage be engaged by those who are otherwise likely to ignore or isolate? And is there anything different about the patient’s rage that might have something to say to black rage or women’s rage?
Jason: Whether we are analyzing the patient’s rage or the rage of colonized peoples–whether the individual or the collective–similar dynamics of power come to the fore. At issue here is the legibility and legitimacy of the rage of anyone or any group the power structures seek to silence, ignore, neglect, or ultimately vanquish. Rabbi Izen’s story reminds me that every day I have the choice to acknowledge the suffering of others and if I choose not to acknowledge their suffering I not only lose an opportunity for deep relationality, but I also diminish my integrity. This is not to say that my acknowledgment legitimizes their struggle and pain, but that my acknowledgement determines my own legitimacy. Who am I if I am not a radical lover and co-participant in freedom movement? Rabbi Izen provides an example of solidarity and allyship from which we can all learn, one rooted in humility and the decentering of oneself. She first had to listen to the patient’s rage. She had to recognize it as rage and as unsanitized human emotion that embodies experience of and knowledge about the world. Then she had to allow the patient’s rage to convert her, to overshadow and transform her. This willingness to be transformed by Other is profound and is, at least in this case, a bodily experience. I imagine that Rabbi Izen felt her heart, soul, mind, and body to be engaged and to be so engaged not on her terms but on the terms set by the patient. You make this point beautifully: “The chaplain follows the pattern of the patient’s rage and echoes it as her sign of solidarity and ministry.” This notwithstanding, I wonder about the limits of co-participation, of emotional and spiritual midwifery, which, as Rabbi Izen has shown, clearly have their place. I wonder whether in a different situation a ministry of presence shaped by a situational ethic might determine that the most appropriate thing for the chaplain to do is to bear witness to the rage of a screaming patient in silent accompaniment.
Your question, Joe, on the relationship between the patient’s rage and the historical rage of people of color and women moves me to consider what wisdom resides in the patient’s actions themselves and not only in the chaplain’s reactions to them. The patient is overcome with rage and rather than quell it, she releases it; she gives voice to it, allowing the rage to burst forth in sonic rupture of any expectation that actual words could contain or represent it. She leaves us with a wordless utterance that is not meaningless. Her example encourages me to make room for harmless expressions of frustration, anger, rage, pain, and sorrow. As a black man living in the United States, which has since its founding sought to police the emotional and physical lives of people of color, I have been taught that black emotion–particularly black rage and at times black joy–is always precarious territory. My racial and gender identity co-articulate in the white supremacist colonial imagination in such ways that the very possibility of my anger solicits white fear, fantasy, and ferocity. Yet, in allowing myself space to rage, in refusing to remain silent, first and foremost I experience the fullness of my own humanity, centering my needs and desires in a society that cares nothing about either, and secondarily I perform my humanity and thereby resist the dehumanizing forces of misrecognition and neglect. Making space for rage is another way for colonized peoples to reclaim their bodies and maintain the integrity and complexity of their emotional lives, which power structures have been so bent on distorting or ignoring altogether. According to some racist/sexist/heterosexist/classist myths, marginalized peoples either have no interiority–and therefore are only body–or too much interiority–and are therefore inherently unstable. To rage is therefore a way to yoke the body and mind/heart/emotion together, to resist the apartheids of self on which colonialism thrives.
Joe: I began this conversation by asking, who is the postcolonial equivalent to the hospital patient. You have answered my question Jason. Your response based on personal experience of white fear is very helpful. I hear your vulnerability and the potential danger in the presence of a racist response that would seek to judge, silence, contain, and even punish you for your black rage. Your reflections have brought a face to this encounter that I did not have when reading about a patient without a name. The way you describe Rabbi Izen’s “wordless utterance” as having a place is helpful in my silence towards you as a friend and the racism you have experienced. I want to apologize. I want to heal it. I want to fix it. I want to weep. I want to stand by you.
Your personal story brings me to silence. My silence feels very vulnerable and powerless. Vulnerability seems key to Chaplain Izen’s encounter and to our encounter with one another as friends, and as partners who co-lead Postcolonial Networks. Through this conversation I hoped that you and I would model decolonial relationships that move beyond theorization. We move beyond decolonial theory when a friend like you tells me of your black rage and the way you fear being silenced.
Our conversation reminds me of the importance of the postcolonial body performance narratives (PBPN) that we have previously published through Plural Space. I hope our conversation might again promote conversations where our members have the space to express rage. Our published PBPNs were excellent. At the same time these posts though personal were also very scholarly. I am concerned that decolonial work not always be polished as we scholars like to do, but that there are spaces where rage is expressed in all its rawness. The rage expressed by the patient comes in a very different form than the way the scholar speaks.
I also initiated this conversation in part to suggest that decolonial work needs spaces where the raw rage is welcomed and listened to without the need to quickly theorize. I wonder often if postcolonial work has raced to theorization before the colonial rage of the colonized has been expressed and encountered by colonizers. It seems like there may be the need for a decolonial parallel to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa for people who have been colonized in many contexts where the colonized like the patient is without name or face. The TRC healed relationships. How do colonizers hear the colonized when our paths never cross?
Finally, I hope, too, that not all rage must have a response and that silence is sometimes the only response. Indeed, the signature of my chaplaincy was silence. Sometimes my supervisor affirmed my silence and at other times my silence was questioned. It might be helpful to footnote to this conversation my founder’s blog on the postcolonial city emergency room and my response of silence to the rage of grief. The power structures are there for both patient and nurse, chaplain and chaplain supervisor. At the core of these power structures are assessments: the nurse’s assessment of the patient and the chaplain supervisor’s assessment of the chaplain. Raw rage is beyond clinical assessment or theorization. The encounter with rage is deeply intimate and a privileged space that provokes silence in me as my means of not taking the power away from the one who expresses rage. To be silent honors the power of the other. Rabbi Izen got her patient’s attention long enough to speak. I would say reciprocal speech in decolonial work is not necessary, but rather the privilege to hear the rage and listen.
Thank you, Jason; you have expanded the possibilities of Rabbi Izen’s story for me. I suggest we invite others to offer their feedback on Rabbi Izen’s encounter, on their own rage and response to rage.
Jason: Thank you, Joe, for a generative and restorative conversation. I have always appreciated your practice of hearing others into speech and the deep insights you collaboratively facilitate. I will be reflecting daily on the ways that I can be attentive to the rage of marginalized folk whose voices systems of power seek to silence or distort. I will, as well, be considering both the useful and unuseful dimensions of theorizing–how one mode of theorizing colludes with colonialism while another mode challenges it. I recognize, for example, that in this article we have theorized together, but the way in which we have theorized is decidedly different from oppressive traditions of theorizing. Theorizing in the way we have, following a host of emancipatory thinkers and practitioners from around the world, suggests that theorizing itself isn’t the problem; rather, it is the way in which theorizing has often been conceived and practiced that may be the problem. We at Postcolonial Networks hold each other accountable to living into more critical, liberatory, and imaginative traditions. And we also recognize that for colonized peoples, as bell hooks and Audre Lorde have argued, theory, defined broadly and not by the constraints of Eurocentric logics, is part of our survival work. At its best theorizing is the process by which we understand the roots and routes of our rage. And, having decided not to settle for the world that is, it is the process by which we imagine and actualize the world that ought to be. We invite all to engage in this process with us!
Read about Joseph F. Duggan and Jason Craige Harris here.