For ten years (1990-2000) I had the most seductive job a visual artist could imagine as contract art educator at the National Gallery of Canada. The largest spaces in the gallery were devoted to the growing collection of contemporary art. So most educators included some contemporary art along with European, RCA, Group of Seven and modern art . . . in their survey tours of the collection. In the 1990s contemporary art was almost entirely postmodern and it was there in the early 1990s I experienced my own personal experience of the powers and limits of oppositional postmodernism (Altieri 1990). Perhaps I should have paid more attention that day to where the students were from. But they were an animated, interesting and interested group and the Hans Haake exhibition had just opened. I think it was Hans Haake’s (1983) controversial artwork Here is Alcan (Stephen Biko) (purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 1983) that abruptly ended my tour. This image of Biko’s severely swollen battered face haunts the history of apartheid and adds weight to the Mandela’s honouring of those heroes like Biko who sought “to redeem the pledge to give a more human face to a society for centuries trampled upon by the jackboot of inhumanity (Mandela 1997). The professor who accompanied the group of CEGEP students from Jonquiere seemed to be personally insulted by Haake’s critique of Alcan and insisted his students leave the gallery immediately.

Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversay of Biko’s death in his prison cell in Pretoria, South Africa. Biko’s friend and biographer, British journalist Donald Woods’ gruesome postmortum photo of Biko was published around the globe resulting in such international indignation that the Security Council was forced to finally enforce the arms embargo they had instated in 1963. In 1994 Nelson Mandela acknowledged that the death of Biko was the first nail in the coffin of apartheid (Conchiglia 2007).

A decade ago Nelson Mandela unveiled the bronze statue of Stephen Bantu Biko by Naomi Jacobson as a contribution towards immortalising his life:

It also gives a certain kind of joy that the financial cost of creating the statue was footed by people in the creative field, including Denzel Washington, Kevin Kline and Richard Attenborough who will be remembered for the film on Biko, `Cry Freedom’. Another contributor is Peter Gabriel whose song `Biko’ helped keep the flame of anti-apartheid solidarity alive. This collaboration of British and American artists bears eloquent witness to Steve Biko’s internationalism (Mandela 1997).

Contemporary artist Jamelie Hassan (1987) reviewed Haake’s work,

Among the other works in this survey, Void Mean has the most visual and emotional impact — perhaps because it brings home Canada’s duplicity in tolerating Alcan’s involvement in the apartheid regime. It is in works like Void Mean that the full potency and immediacy of the issues reach us (and bravo to the National Gallery of Canada, who arranged for its loan during a moratorium on the loan of works from their collection so that Void Mean could be seen in the one Canadian gallery on the Haacke tour). Alcan’s corporate presence is appropriated from its promotional material and juxtaposed to two benign sepia images of a Montreal opera sponsored by Alcan. These images bracket a central, coloured, violent news photo of the dead Stephen Biko. In the accompanying text, Alcan’s involvement in South Africa is described: ‘The most important producer of aluminum sheet and the only fabricator of aluminum sheet in South Africa. From a non-white work force of 2,300 the company has trained eight skilled workers’ (translation from the French). To underline its source, the work is fabricated from aluminum storm windows: the top panels contain Alcan’s silver logo; the bottom panels, the images of the opera and Biko, to reinforce the reality of the violence perpetrated (Hassan 1987).


Altieri, C. 1990. “The Powers and the Limits of Oppositional Postmodernism.” American Literary History. 2: 443-481.
Bois, Yve-Alain; Crim, Douglas; Krauss, Rosalind; Haake, Hans. 1984. “A Conversation with Hans Haacke.” October. Vol. 30. Autumn: pp. 23-48.

Conchiglia, Augusta. 2007. “Steve Biko, la conscience noire.” Le monde diplomatique. September 12, 2007.

Hassan, Jamelie. 1987. “Hans Haacke at The Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, May 15 – June 21.” Vanguard, Vol. 16:4, Sept/Oct 1987.

Mandela, Nelson. 1997. “Address at 20th Anniversary of Steve Biko’s Death.” East London, 12 September 1997. http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/mandela/1997/sp970912.html

Creative Commons License 2.5 Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Stephen Bantu Biko (1940-1977) Thirty Years Later.” >> speechless http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_361xsrzrh

Stephen Colbert patented the WORD unquisition in honour of Onfray. He describes the work of unquisitionists as, “Missionary secularists [who] are working hard to convince the faithful not not believe what they don’t.” (Colbert 2007).

Karen Armstrong, a prominent British author on religion, claims that missionary secularism mimics the ardor of Christianity, Islam and Marxism, all of which have at their core an urge to convert nonbelievers to their world view (Higgins 2007 ).

Michel Onfray chose Delacroix’s Jacob Fighting the Devil for the cover of his controversial book entitled Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (2007). It is one of a series of publications that are part of the rise in missionary secularists’ Atheist manifestos such as Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Michel Onfray, who has a enormous cult following as philosopher and high-priest of atheism, advocates work by Marx, Foucault, Nietzche, Gilles Deleuze, and Jeremny Bentham instead of the Bible or the Koran. His interview with Nicolas Sarkozy on Philosophie Mag has an enormous impact.

D’un côté, un philosophe athée, antilibéral, hédoniste et libertaire. De l’autre, un candidat à la présidentielle n’hésitant pas à remettre en cause la loi sur la séparation de l’Église et de l’État, un ministre de l’Intérieur rêvant au rétablissement de l’autorité. À notre initiative, les deux hommes se sont rencontrés. On s’attendait à un choc frontal, il a été question de la croyance, du mal, de la liberté, de la transgression (Nicolas Sarkozy et Michel Onfray: Confidences entre Ennemis).

In the course of the interview Onfray ceremoniously offered Sarkozy gifts of his own secular bibles:

Totem et Tabou, je vous l’offre parce que Sigmund Freud y traite du meurtre du père et de l’exercice du pouvoir dans la horde. L’Antéchrist de Friedrich Nietzsche, pour la question de la religion, la critique radicale de la morale chrétienne à vous qui, parfois, allez à la messe en famille. Michel Foucault, c’est une lecture que je recommande plus particulièrement au ministre de l’Intérieur, adepte des solutions disciplinaires. Dans Surveiller et punir, Michel Foucault analyse le rôle du système carcéral et de l’emprisonnement, puis de leur relation avec la norme libérale. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, enfin, car il montre qu’on peut ne pas être libéral sans pour autant être communiste (Nicolas Sarkozy et Michel Onfray: Confidences entre Ennemis).

Delacroix’ painting Jacob Fighting the Devil is visible on this theatrical poster for Director Sally Potter’s (1997) film The Tango Lesson.

Poster provided through Wikipedia by Sony2.

Key words: evangelical atheist, Unquisition, Atheist, Awakening Secular, Selling Nothingness, Colbert, Michel Onfray, Christopher Hitchens vs Lou Dobs,

1. This is a file from the Wikimedia CommonsThis illustration was made by Gloumouth1. Please credit this : Gloumouth1, http://gloumouth1.free.fr (An email to gloumouth1 at laposte.net would be appreciated too).

2. Wikipedia advises that the use of scaled-down, low-resolution images of posters to illustrate the film, event, etc. in question or to provide critical analysis of the poster content or artworkEnglish-language Wikipedia, hosted on servers in the United States by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. Any other uses of this image, on Wikipedia or elsewhere, may be copyright infringement. See Wikipedia:Non-free content for more information. To the uploader: please add a detailed fair use rationale for each use, as described on Wikipedia:Image description page, as well as the source of the work and copyright information. Fair use rationale:This image is being used to illustrate the article of the movie in question and is used for informational purposes only. This image is of low resolution. It is believed that this image will not devalue the ability of the copyright holder to profit from the original work. Image used for comment, reporting, and teaching qualifies as Fair Use.

3. Images are only available in the Google docs version Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. >> http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_233dqs84d”> “Unquisition: Selling Nothingness.”

Webliography and Bibliography

Colbert, Stephen. 2007. Unquisition. May 3.

Delacroix, Eugène. Jacob Fighting the Devil. Lutte de Jacob avec l’Ange. Eglise Saint Sulpice Detail. 2005.1

Hitchens, Christopher. 2007. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Twelve/Warner Books. 

“Jacob Fighting the Devil.” chapter 32 of Genesis

Kinsley, Michael. 2007. “In God, Distrust.” Sunday Book Review. New York Times. May 13.
Lacroix, Alexandre, Truong, Nicolas. 2007. “Nicolas Sarkozy et Michel Onfray: Confidences entre Ennemis.” Philosophie Mag. No. 8. >> Philomag.com

Onfray, Michel. Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Higgins, Andrew. 2007. As religious strife grows, atheists seize pulpit.” Northwest Herald. >> nwherald.com. April 13.   

The things we do with words . . .

For awhile after I had noticed my speechless blog stats reached 10, 000 (whatever that means) I couldn’t write anymore. Weeks later when I started again the stats graph revived. I have no idea how that works.

Since October 2006 I have been able to connect Flickr, Google Docs, iGoogle homepage, Google Video, deli.cio.us, Digg, My Swicki, Facebook, wikipedia through my WordPress blog while living on an Island off the West Coast.

The widget counter on my iGoogle reminds me each day that we will be packing again soon. Somehow I hope that Speechless will provide a virtual space that even mountains can’t block.

Ontological certitude has been embedded in influential pockets of academic disciplines that operate within a persistent and pervasive assumption of realism (Beck, 1992: 4). See Bauman (1994). There is a marked impatient, dismissal and neglect of highly relevant and useful contemporary theory which unsettles the notion that we can access raw chunks of reality as facts. But this is crucial in order to open up forums for debate between differing view points in a highly pluralistic society.

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman who became increasingly influential in the late 1980s (1973) argued that sociology needed to questions its own troubled self-annihilating historiography and recognise that cultural praxis is the unique domain of humans. Rather than focus on on the production of professional technocrats, sociologists need to come into direct contact with the human praxis. While Bauman (1993) claims that the human subject produced by modern management is stripped of moral purpose, he also argues that humans are uniquely situated and capable of challenging our own reality individually and collectively in order to investigate deeper meanings of justice, ethics, freedom (1973?).

In the period post-1989 has witnessed an ethical turn in the social sciences informed in part by philosophy (Mikhael Bakhtin) and political philosophy as found in the work of Paul Ricoeur, Charles Taylor, Emmanuel Levinas and the more recent works of Jacques Derrida.

Bauman (2001) discusses the complex dilemma of the stranger, the unfamiliar other in the social landscape as the European Union materialized.

He described political classes diverted the public’s “deepest cause of anxiety, that is the experience of individual insecurity, to the popular concern with (already misplaced) threats to collective identity. ” This resulted in a heightened coldness and even aggression towards the stranger next door. He compared two scenarios: Girard’s scenario for dealing with difference was to join together to create common enemies which Bauman considers to be “not just cruel and inhuman it is also ineffective.” John Rex (1995) presents one of the “public political culture and a political society ased upon the idea of equality of opportunity, but often also on a conception of at least a minimum of social rights for all, i.e. equality of outcome”.

If this is the case, then the choice between Girard’s and Rex’s scenarios is far from being just a matter of an academic interest. It involves the value which our civilisation rightly considered to be the main, perhaps even the only, title to its glory. Its past readiness to recognise sense and dignity in alternative ways of life, to seek and to find grounds for peaceful and solidary coexistence which are not dependent on compliance with one, homogenous and uncontested pattern of life. The choice between scenarios is also a deeply ethical choice; what depends on that choice, is whether the form of life the chosen strategy is meant to preserve is worth defending in the first place. The future of Europe and every part of it depends on our ability and willingness to learn to live with cultural diversity (Bauman 2001).

Slow world interrupted . . . to be continued [. . .]

Edgoose (1997) responded to Derrida in terms of ethical and legal judgment in the care/justice debate:

Derrida (1990) distinguishes between two types of justice: in French, droit and juste. Droit – “right,” “law” – resembles “justice” in the care/justice debate. It is universal and intelligible and can be written down and used to guide future judgment. But droit is not an idealization of the mechanism of law. It is not the case that droit represents the way in which unbiased and universal legal judgments are made – by the application of universal law and rights. Droit is, rather, the self-understanding that accompanies our sense of the law, but it is only a partial understanding.

Juste, on the other hand, has little to do with “justice” in the care/justice debate. But it has everything to do with the empirical openness to the Other which I have identified with Levinas and as the inspiration for the ethics of care. Yet for Derrida, as we shall see, the openness to the Other of care is involved in the process of ethical and legal judgment, and so the connotation of justice is still needed.

Like Levinas, Derrida believes that caring justice juste is born out of attention to many particular Others. It is defined by its very plurality. Derrida writes, for example, that “the condition of all possible caring justice juste” would be, “to address oneself to the Other in the language of the Other” (1990:949). But Derrida declares that in the language of the law, this is impossible, since in the law assumes a universality by which it can be applied to everyone.


Zygmunt Bauman is known throughout the world for works such as Legislators and Interpreters (1987), Modernity and the Holocaust (1989), Modernity and Ambivalence (1991) and Postmodern Ethics (1993), Liquid Modernity (2000), The Individualized Society (2001), Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman, with Keith Tester (2001), Society Under Siege (2002), and Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (2003). See a brief biography.

In Modernity and the Holocaust (1989) sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argued that genocide was the logical conclusion of a misguided, strong version of the Enlightenment project ‘Every ingredient of the Holocaust… was normal… in the sense of being fully in keeping with everything we know about our civilisation, its guiding spirits, its priorities, its immanent vision of the world – and of the proper ways to pursue human happiness together with a perfect society (Bauman 1989:8).'”


Bauman, Zygmunt. 1973. Culture as Praxis, London and Boston, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 1993. Postmodern Ethics.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 1994. Alone Again – ethics after certainty. London, Demos.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 1998. Globalization the Human Consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press. See review.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 2001. “Europe of Strangers.” Transnational Communities Programme. October.

Beck, Ulrich. 1992.

Critchley, Simon. 1992. The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas . Oxford: Blackwell.

Derrida, Jacques. 1978. “Violence and Metaphysics.” Trans. Alan Bass, in Writing and Difference. Chicago: University of Chicago:79-153.

Derrida, Jacques. 1981. Positions. trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1990. “Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority.” Trans. Mary Quaintance, Cardozo Law Review. 11:919-1070.

Edgoose, Julian. “An Ethics of Hesitant Learning: The Caring Justice of Levinas and Derrida“. Philosophy of Education Society.

Honneth, Alex. 1995. “The Other of Justice: Habermas and the Ethical Challenge of Postmodernism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Habermas. Ed. Stephen K. White: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Luce Irigaray, Luce. 1993. An Ethics of Sexual Difference, trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 1969. Totality and Infinity. Trans. Alphonso Lingis: Pittsburgh: Duquesne.

Levinas, Emmanuel . 1991. Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Noddings, Nel. 1984. Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Morality. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rex, John. 1995. “Ethnic Identity and the Nation State.” Social Identities. 1.

With our stunning window view of eagles gliding effortlessly over the waters of Finlayson Arm along the ridges and forested steep hills of Sanich Peninsula, we chose to sit side by side more like an awestruck audience than a couple ordering dinner at a restaurant. Within an hour of my arrival at the Victoria airport I felt like I was in another country. Neither the January weather nor the temperate rain forest in its spectacular topography were part of what had become familiar to me as Canadian. I’d already lived in five provinces and Canada’s newest territory but this warm land was nothing like anything I had experienced. Most of the rest of the drive along the dark and winding highway was an anticlimax to that view, that is until we came to the Malahat lookout.

Eighteen months later we are again faced with a choice. Today may be the last day of familiar habits repeated day after day. I’m not sure if I have seen, experienced and learned enough yet to be able to leave.

When I first arrived I devoured maps and trail books to lcoate myself in this unfamiliar topography. Mountain trails traced on a map are useful when you are hiking between and around rocky outcrops, ancient trees and stumps, narrow footpaths . . . Deep in among the Garry Oak, Arbutus and Douglas Fir hilly slopes and valley confuse the hiker who ends up not really knowing if she is ultimately reaching a higher level or heading downhill. Like yesterday when we heading out looking for the low trail along the shore of Tzuhalem and ending up in Genoa Bay having crossed to the other side of the mountain just by putting one foot in front of the other.

Google earth offered seemingly endless potential for locating myself in space and time. But now I realize that it is most useful for tracing where I have been. Flickr lets me geotag my digital photos and visual art works unto scaled maps so I can zoom in to exact locations. Google video lets me float my shaky images and breathless voice in cyberspace describing what I am seeing in the ‘here-and-now’ so that my future self can better remember places that were once familiar.

I have learned the names of the wildflowers that grow under the oaks, fir and deciduous trees of Mount Tzuhalem. I have learned to name it by latitude and longtitude. I know its smells and sounds. I know how to dress in layers in this ecosystem that constantly changes from cool to warm to rain, wind and sun. I know its panoramas and vistas and the names of the mountains and bodies of water that surround it. But I could still get lost here and end up far from my goal.

And this is the glitch in one’s ethical topography of self. The everyday habits, the things that make a home a home, can be taken away either by choice or necessity from one day to the next. And there you are in some unfamiliar place, re-examining again, locating oneself again.

For those who can control how their lives unfold or seem to think they can, habits repeated day after day, reinforce values and make ethical decisions automatically without a lot of reflection.

But for the nomads, the one’s who travel, the unfamiliar shakes us into thinking consciously, deliberately about entrenched habits, values, goals and perhaps even the meaning of life. This is why this phrase remains with me as a question mark, a point of departure for a line of deep reflection that will never end . . .

an ethical topography of Self and the Other based on an authentic relationship of mutual respect

It is by encountering the stranger, the unheimlich, by getting lost in unfamiliar topographies (Taylor 1989, Murray 1991) that we open ourselves to encountering the Other in a spirit of hospitality and friendship that transcends our habitual ways of knowing. It is the unheimlich that puts into perspective that which we held to be true, about ourselves, our beliefs and our values. If the stranger offers us something that resonates or is dissonant with our own beliefs we are compelled to take them out in the light of day, to examine them with new eyes. It is as if in the mirror-pupil of the Other we see ourselves reflected. If we are mutually respectful we will accept that we are answerable (Bakhtin) to that Other and will at least closely examine our own reflection in her eyes. If we are truly practicing hospitality from a cosmopolitical viewpoint (Bennington and Derrida 1997) we will examine those unchallenged assumptions about our values in a more precise and logical way. We will use more precise instruments and acknowledge that somethings were not as they once seemed and our belief in them need to be revised. Others resonate so soundly that it is evident that they are part of our authentic selves.

I see this outer topography as a metaphor for the inner self. Reconfiguring rivers in that intellectual, emotional, spiritual landscape is to me like reconfiguring entrenched habits of thought or behaviour. It won’t happen through human nature but takes a conscious act of will. Through the conscious re-evaluation of our everyday habits and by willfully changing then repeating them day after day we can more clearly evaluate values, behaviours and with greater lucidity and reason (Changeux and Ricoeur 2000b).

1. This is how I have come to internalize Charles Taylor’s moral topography of self. Psychologist Murray summarizes Charles Taylor’s concept of the moral topography of self.

2. Shields’ concept of an ethical dialogical relationship between self and the other has informed my understanding:

Dialogism offers us the potential within a more sophisticated theory of semiosis to position Self and Other, seeing their relationship for what it is, an ethical one of mutuality in the social construction of meaning.


Bakhtin. Answerability.

Changeux, Jean-Piere and Paul Ricoeur. 2000b. What Makes Us Think? A Neuroscientist and a Philosopher Argue about Ethics, Human Nature and the Brain. Translated by M. B. DeBevoise. Princeton: University of Princeton Press.

Bennington, Geoffrey and Derrida, Jacques. 1997. “Politics and Friendship: A Discussion with Jacques Derrida.” Centre for Modern French Thought. University of Sussex. 1 December.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Reconfiguring Rivers Ethics Human Nature and the Brain. >> Speechless.

Murray, K. 1991. “A Life In The World In Australia.” Australian Cultural History. 10:32-45.

Shields, Rob. 1996. Meeting or mis-meeting? The dialogical challenge to Verstehen. British Journal of Sociology: 47.

Taylor, Charles. 1989. “Moral Topography of Self.” in Messer L A Sass and R L Wootfolk (eds) Hermeneutics and Psychological Theory: Interpretive Perspectives on Personality, Psychotherapy and Psychopathology New Brunswick Rutgers University Press.