Life Beside Itself

Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic

Lisa Stevenson
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw0bj
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  • Book Info
    Life Beside Itself
    Book Description:

    InLife Beside Itself,Lisa Stevenson takes us on a haunting ethnographic journey through two historical moments when life for the Canadian Inuit has hung in the balance: the tuberculosis epidemic (1940s to the early 1960s) and the subsequent suicide epidemic (1980s to the present). Along the way, Stevenson troubles our commonsense understanding of what life is and what it means to care for the life of another. Through close attention to the images in which we think and dream and through which we understand the world, Stevenson describes a world in which life is beside itself: the name-soul of a teenager who dies in a crash lives again in his friend's newborn baby, a young girl shares a last smoke with a dead friend in a dream, and the possessed hands of a clock spin uncontrollably over its face. In these contexts, humanitarian policies make little sense because they attempt to save lives by merely keeping a body alive. For the Inuit, and perhaps for all of us, life is "somewhere else," and the task is to articulate forms of care for others that are adequate to that truth.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95855-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Prologue: Between Two Women
    (pp. vii-viii)

    In the midst of a Thanksgiving dinner, with people splayed out on the floor—a middle-aged man with his back against the legs of a chair recounting a road trip across the southern United States, a teenager twisting her hair around her finger and gazing inertly in front of her, a couple of kids lying on their stomachs, engrossed in their own densely laid world of right and wrong—and everyone eating and talking and bickering as most families, happy or sad, eat and talk and bicker, in the midst of all that, two women face each other. The younger...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    Sitting around a smoking fire of Arctic heather and driftwood, a young boy, Paul, told me the story of his best friend’s death.¹ He was racing his snowmobile when he hit a guide wire. It caught him at the neck. Paul had been to the hospital to visit his friend, and his friend had tried to speak to him but no words would come out.

    Our conversation around the fire soon moved to other deaths and other stories. But a little while later, reflecting on what happens after death, Paul remarked, “My sister used to say my uncle came back...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Facts and Images
    (pp. 21-47)

    On August 10, 1956, an Inuit woman named Kaujak left the Inuit community of Arctic Bay on the ship theC. D. Howeto begin her journey to the Mountain Sanatorium in Hamilton, Ontario.¹ For months Kaujak had been getting weaker and weaker. She was increasingly unable to hunt and fish, and the medical personnel on the patrol ship had diagnosed her with tuberculosis. Her grandson Sakiassie, standing on the shore, followed the ship with his eyes until it passed out of sight beyond Uluksan Point. He never saw her again.

    In June 2008 I received an email from Anna,...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Cooperating
    (pp. 49-73)

    There is a genre of self-deprecating stories that Inuit tell that make people laugh until they cry. The ones I have heard range from one about an old man who spoke no English going to the NorthMart to buy Band-Aids for a wound and coming home and unwrapping a stethoscope, to a story about a whole community that plays volleyball without ever inflating the balls. “They think it’s normal,” the storyteller says as we are falling asleep in a tent one night. That image, of misshapen balls streaking over the nets of unsuspecting volleyball players, triggers an attack of gasping...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Anonymous Care
    (pp. 75-101)

    I was constantly on the move when I lived in Iqaluit. The housing shortage was acute, and I had neither the money to rent one of the few privately owned apartments, nor a job through which to secure subsidized housing. On one occasion, while house-sitting for an Inuit friend who was out of town, her brother flew in the open door without knocking (doors were often unlocked in Inuit communities, and I was told that the only people who knock are the RCMP or social workers) and was startled to find me sitting alone in his sister’s kitchen drinking tea....

  9. CHAPTER 4 Life-of-the-Name
    (pp. 103-127)

    Sila, my young friend who is also known as Nasuk, told me the story of the night her brother died. She has been marked by this death, a death she narrowly escaped, and one she turns over and over in her memory.

    I had nowhere to go so I went [to find] my brother. They were drinking at this place. And I was just watching them drinking. I was waiting for my brother to go home so I can walk with him or whatever. Get a ride or something. And when the bottle was gone, my brother didn’t look very...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Why Two Clocks?
    (pp. 129-147)

    I was calling Bobby but Sila answered instead. Her voice was low and flat.

    “What’s up?” I asked, trying to be upbeat.

    “I’m bored.¹ I’ve been trying to have a shower for a while now.” The dullness of her voice is a concrete wall, gray and impenetrable.There’s nothing to do. Can’t get out of bed. Can’t take a shower. Can’t quit smoking. Can’t leave Bobby. Can’t go to school. Bored, bored, bored.

    Months later, the wail of her voice will assail me over and over as I try to get her to leave her bedroom.Leave me alone. I...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Song
    (pp. 149-169)

    It’s 2 p.m. on a Monday. The afternoon sun is pale yellow, an egg yolk hanging in the sky. The cold makes everything still even though the town is still moving, motors running, people still working. The smoke comes out of chimneys in straight lines, just like the drawings we used to make as kids. Funny thing is, the houses are boxy like that too. I stamp my feet to keep the blood moving.

    Where are they? I am standing on the hill by the high school, waiting. To my right is the jumble of buildings that are known as...

  12. Epilogue: Writing on Styrofoam
    (pp. 171-174)

    One night in Iqaluit, in the fall of 2003, Monica, Jesse, and I were hanging out at the place I was house-sitting. We were in the living room, that standard Iqaluit living room with a tightly stuffed blue couch and matching armchair, a glass coffee table, and a television. Government housing. We were talking about one thing and then another, arranging ourselves on the couch, on the floor, moving back and forth to the kitchen to bring out plates of food. Monica, still besieged by the death of her best friend, tells me a dream she had just after her...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 175-216)
  14. References
    (pp. 217-242)
  15. List of Illustrations
    (pp. 243-244)
  16. Index
    (pp. 245-252)