This book is the transcription of Tomson Highway’s 2015 Henry Kreisel Memorial Lecture. In the forward to the lecture, Christine Sokaymoh Frederick is quoted:

“In this event we come together, listen with more than our ears, remove blinders and become part of the celebration, expand our thinking and feeling of inclusion, and build relationships.” (Page V)

In A Tale of Monstrous Extravagance, it is hard not to imagine multilingualism since words from seven languages are used throughout the text – eight, if you count music as a language and one must since Highway considers music to be the only universal language. This frolic of languages – including words that I could not even say – makes for a rollicking good read.

My favourite lesson from A Tale of Monstrous Extravagance is about gender:

“European languages are obsessed by the question of gender. They divide the universe into that which is male and that which is female – in English less so than in French or German, say, but the division is still there. In the monotheistic superstructure that they define, God is Male with a capital M, then there is male with a small m, followed by female with a small f, follow by nature – and hell, for that matter – which are genderless. They are, in other words, “its”. Now, the question students always ask me is: where, in this superstructure is Female with a capital F? The answer? Nowhere. There is no such thing as Female with a capital f in such a design. Because this design, in the final analysis is a phallic superstructure, a hierarchic straight line that goes from God to Male at the top to male to female to neuter at the bottom, with one level of power having complete and utter power over the next. And there is room for two genders only, with one at the complete mercy of the other. And god help the person who tries to cross that gender divide.

Aboriginal languages, on the other hand, divide their universe not into two genders but into that which is animate and that which is inanimate – things, that is, that have a soul and things that do not. The gender or a hierarchy thereof has no significance. We are all, when all is said and done, he/shes, as is God, one would think. The resulting superstructure is thus not the straight line of monotheism but the circle, the womb of pantheism, a system wherein God is nature, God is biology, God is the land. A yonic superstructure, that is to say, as opposed to one that is phallic. It is a design, in other words, where there is room – and plenty of it – for the notion of God as Female and for more than just two genders. And so goes the argument.” (pp.15 -17)

I realize that most of my review is just copying out that lesion but what a great lesson!


(Note: I read the 2015 University of Alberta Press with CLC edition of this book.)

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