Maybe the better word is fabrication and history because history has a natural dose of fantasy. Every history involves the imagination. History includes specific information that is often at question for adoptees. Reports from social workers or agencies may be accurate or not, truthful or not. Place of birth, stories about parents may or may not be true. We know this.
Confirming information and establishing the beginnings of historical knowledge affects the fantasies we naturally construct around our origins. Learning names, hearing the sounds from native countries, provides a grounding, a feeling of reality, so often missing. Often we know perfectly well that the fantasies we make-up are pure fabrications. Sometimes we are not so sure how much is really a fabrication or not. Concrete details provide an actual content for our history in contrast to our fabrications. We can believe there is some truth in our imagination and not merely fantasy (fabrication).
Given that society has in general conveyed to adoptees, domestic and international, that fabrications, mere fantasies about one’s origin, are sufficient for human self-discovery, what does this imply to you about society? Is society saying that fantasies are as good as history?
For those who have acquired historical information, did that provide new experience? Did history feel different from fantasy?
I’ve been preparing for the Adoption Initiative Conference next week here in New York, and one whole section of my presentation is devoted to mapping adoption onto the political and economic desire to restructure society, with “family creation” being only the absolute latest aspect of adoption, which has its roots more in servitude, colony population, indigenous eradication, and the secreting of “bastard” children.
From here it is not a major leap to map such restructuring onto the goals of the current economic and political system that has shaped our planet for the past 500 years or so. Once you do that, then the “mythological” doggerel of how adoption is marketed becomes very sinister indeed.
Such that when you ask “what purpose does ‘fantasy’ serve in adoption”, and “why does our culture allow this ‘fantasy’ as a stand in for actual history”, my gut reaction is to say “for the same reason that the U.S. allowed the pillaging of the National Library in Iraq”, or “for the same reason no one in America has ever heard of Shays’ Rebellion, or Paul Robeson, or Emma Goldman”.
This annihilation is basically the chaos of Marx’s “creative destruction” which is now actually applied; that which was described as a side effect is now seen to be effective as a weapon, and it is deployed as such. The dominant discourse as it were will effectively remove resistant or conflicting “histories”. Or, as George Orwell wrote in 1984, it is “rectified”.
What happens on the macro level recursively shows up on the micro level. And so our adoptions reflect this top-level destruction. The history of South Korea is destroyed as much as that of Korean adoptees; the history of assimilated peoples is destroyed as much as that of domestic “white” adoptees. It’s the same thing.
Daniel: I want to problematize some of what you’ve written because I want it to become even more useful for me in engaging with the world. When you note that “no one in America has ever heard of Shays’ Rebellion, or Paul Robeson, or Emma Goldman” the first thing is: “some people have, but it’s not enough people or they are people who don’t matter”. US route 22 through Pelham is called Daniel Shays Highway. The issue is more HOW these things are remembered (including being not remembered at all) more than whether they are or not known: Helen Keller is the most obvious example of that I know of.
This, the current milieu, is more a consequence information glut than paucity. Anyone can now look up Shays’ Rebellion, Paul Robeson, Emma Goldman, Helen Keller on Wikipedia, and the cultural ethos can ascribe guilt to those who either didn’t already know, because they should have, or who still don’t know, because they didn’t available themselves of the information now that they know it’s available. This is a variation, finally, on the groundless and bogus notion of the authoritarian personality. Any attempt to blame a populace for how it responds to the structural cultural arrangements enforced by those with access to guns and weapons amounts to an apologia for that structural enforcement. Information glut has the interesting quality of seeming to be “open” but in fact it is perhaps even more effective than outright censorship, in that there is a leveling of all value of everything. Nothing on Wikipedia, for instance, or on the Internet appears simply by virtue of being there more important than anything else. Wikipedia itself, under the structural conceit of an encyclopedia, purports to give an objective account of a topic, sot hat when one looks up say eugenics or IQ testing, one is obligated by the form to include the scientific racists’ propaganda as if it were part of the material discussion of a topic.
But information glut also means, as a consequence of this leveling, that whatever might be “true” vanishes over the horizon of demonstrability. This is a feature of postmodernism, which Wikipedia (as a publicly generated encyclopedia) is an authentic phenomenon of. This abets the current tendency for cultural amnesia, which one can see raised to a fever pitch in the current US president race, as each new day features pundits spinning out how nothing from yesterday (or prior) has any meaning any more. Everything has changed (overnight). Not all the media elements resort to this, of course, but it’s a noticeable trend.
And this desire to forget (or this habit of forgetting, if it is not something necessarily done with intent) massively abets the operations of neoliberal globalization–let’s start another war in Syria, or Iran (which Biden was adamant about opposing last night, and which Romney/Ryan refuse to take a stand against). But on the personal plane, it abets a (false) sense of freedom, insofar as I needn’t think of myself as accountable to yesterday or tomorrow. This also is a significant affect of postmodernism–which, by the way, in my opinion is not “post” at all. The current myth is that the means of the production of cultural meaning now reside in every individual’s paws–anyone can say anything (as comment threads, online customer reviews, blogging, &c), and the conceit is that this ownership of a means of production matters. But notwithstanding that it’s now obvious that the Founding Fathers should have provided a provision for free listening along with free speech, ownership of the technical means of distributing that cultural meaning is not owned by everyone (obviously), and the infrastructure that makes such cultural meanings known far or wide are not owned by everyone, &c.
It’s ironic that Republicans are so anti-entitlement, because entitlement is the name of the game in the US these days. USers love to say, “I have a right to …” fabricating out of thin air some legal right for what amounts merely to license. And if the Right racists fault the 47% for feeling entitled to government assistance, they themselves act just s entitled to the “right” to club everyone else in the world with their property. The arrogance of “property rights” (to the point that corporate personhood became a literal doctrine) is so endemic as to be virtually invisible. Children encounter this in abundance, as parents make unchallenged claims over them–claims that take the ugly turns many of we adoptees know too well. Entitlement begins at home.
But let’s consider this. The fact that Shays’ Rebellion, Paul Robeson, Helen Keller, are known in the way they are could be put to good use. To be ignored (i.e., subjected to that particular kind of “remembering”) makes them less co-opted. The most racist neoliberal could make some kind of supercilious acknowledgment of Robeson or Goldman, merely to “put them in their place” historically (i.e., as a minor phenomenon, of no material interest–a blip on the radar). With Shays’ Rebellion, it provides us with a strategy: it was particularly badly treated war veterans who staged the protests that became the Rebellion. And since real autocratic power rests in those with the guns, there is nothing smarter than getting those who used to wield guns to protest.
Last night, Joe Biden said the government has only one sacred duty (that was his word “sacred”), and that was to care for those “we” have put in harm’s way. Paul Ryan was equally pious. And of course, this is the rhetorical ass-kissing that government must make to militaries, because militaries are the best prepared to throw a government out overnight, etc. but the point is that that piousness is leverageable. The strategy of using drones and robots for war is a way to avoid the threat of protest and military uprising, etc.
Which is all to say, if Shays’ Rebellion were widely well-known, it might already have been neutralized as a failure. Currently, it is a historical example that could be used to inspire protests. And perhaps the same is true of Robeson, Goldman, Keller, &c–they are already being used that way people people who are under the radar. But whatever good that is doing, such figures are also being “remembered” in the main information-producing centers (universities particularly) to make these figures into nullities. In an information age, to be not-known can be a boon, to the extent that the unknown is less subject to control (even when it is more subject to anxiety). This is true even for adoptees–the unknown of of origins makes us less subject to whatever control would follow from being bound to those origins, as your worries about family obligations point to. This is (I’m realizing) part of what’s behind my question about fantasies, because those are informations that we then bind ourselves to, even as they evolve, change, &c.
I apologize for condensing much and leaving a lot unsaid. This is a subject which I am obsessed with, especially as concerns those who resist the dominant discourse in any way; I would argue that they are not being forgotten so much as willfully expelled from History.
Paul Robeson, for example, was given a commemorative postage stamp; the booklet concerning the series of stamps ignores how this country treated him, and his exile. Malcolm X was also given a postage stamp, after a campaign by his surviving family; the booklet made sure to mention his time spent in prison, as well as the fact that he was a Muslim.
This post-mortem assignation of honor (like the highway name) is always done when the danger of resistance is long gone; for example, Emory Douglas of the Black Panther Party has been revived by graphic designers as a “brilliant” artist, and his form is celebrated while his content is forgotten.
All the same, Malcolm X manages to survive as a symbol of resistance, whereas I am ashamed to say that I grew up in the town where Robeson studied and had no idea of his existence until some six years ago (although I was familiar with his rendition of “Ol’ Man River”.) My question thus becomes: How do we instill these symbols of resistance in a way such that they are not able to be forgotten?
I don’t agree with the idea that “anyone” can look up information on these people; worldwide a minority has access to the so-called “data superhighway”, which is also tending to be reductive in terms of what is spews out. Meanwhile, entire towns are shutting down their libraries, etc. The digital realm to me is the equivalent of a garbage Dumpster of endless documents; Google attempts to make sense of this but ignores the selection process that limits what it presents. It’s like the supermarket which pretends to give us “choice” when what we have are simply variations on a few themes.
I agree with what you are saying about post-modernism, but I would extend that to say that history as such is something that needs to be targeted as having little cultural value. If I can destroy your history and provide you with the alternative, than you are beholden to my interpretation of things. This is why I mentioned the national library in Iraq which was allowed to be pillaged, meanwhile the oil ministry was heavily guarded during the invasion in 2003.
We see this in adoption history revisionism as well, where the myth of family creation has taken precedence despite the fact that nothing in the history of adoption escapes the basic economic and political needs of imperialism and capitalism.
So I am willing to take a chance that something or someone be “neutralized” itself or themselves, because I know that if all were presented historically speaking, meaning, if historical context were given in an even-handed way, then there could be no neutralization in the first place.
I guess I am arguing that there is a big difference between “forgetting” and “never having known”. Fantasy becomes less valid the more we know.
“…history as such is something that needs to be targeted as having little cultural value.”
That is something to focus on.
Part of me wants to say, how are the fabrications told to adoptees distinct from fabrications told to non-adopted children? The latter simply generally have greater ease of access to stuff that is likely to be taken as “factual”. But I don’t want to be opening the can of worms that is the same as merely banally suggesting that all history is fabrication. The “stuff” of history starts with a concern for actual events–for instance, the Stonewall riots DID occur at a given place and time involving certain people, whatever additional details we adduce about how or why they occurred when or where or who those people really were. For those events that we only have indirect access to (like the rulership of Sumer), various circumspections come into play, but the attempt remains to establish the when and where and who of the events, whatever else we might adduce about that. In this respect, biblical history gets exposed as a fabrication insofar as there is no where or when (and probably no who) associated with the “events” about which the bible adduces all kinds of additional details. (By no “who” I mean specifically no Abraham, no Moses, and no Jesus. Other biblical figures, in Kings, Chronicles, and Judges, are likely historical.)
The salient point: agonizing as it may sometimes turn out to be, our opportunity as adoptees to recognize that “stories told to children” (whether adopted or not) needn’t be monolithic, single-voiced, much less “true,” gives us a major leg up on non-adopted children. (I keep finding myself typing “biological children” and then deleting it, because as human beings we are all “biological”.) So the question isn’t only what function such fabrications serve society for only adopted children, but all children (which points also to Daniel’s point below). A major trope I note in non-adopted children is their helplessness in the face of family. They say “family is everything” and “blood is thicker than water”. Whatever family history is,t hey are bound by it and bound to it. It is a chain, a slavery. (The word “family” derives from the Latin famulus, i.e., “house servant” or “slave”.) As I noted below, to be known makes one more subject to control, so that knowing one’s origins makes one beholden to those origins. For adoptees, this can be almost voluntary; for non-adoptees, family is everything. “In this family, we do things this way.” And all the rest. Of course, not having that chain means the threat of not feeling anchored, and it also means that we look different to everyone wearing a chain. They might look at us with venomous envy, they might be patronizing and lament our sad condition of “lack,” or they might simply be incapable of relating–all of these responses are familiar to adoptees. They constitute problems for us because our minority status cannot shout-down the majoritan point of view. Thus, we congregate to stay sane or find our own inner routes to peace–by “peace” here I mean only (at least initially) that avoidance of the dis-ease society presents.
I think one of the binding “chains” is the “red chain” – i.e., the blood, that passes through generations. The blood is the story that inhabits humanity and may infect relationships, especially when adoption occurs. The unknown origins of the adoptee’s blood will reveal an unknown history carried in that blood. The myth of the blood expresses itself in gestures, like runes, that adopters and society interpret. In these gestures and behaviors parents and friends construe a story passing through the blood. Fantasy, then, becomes rooted to behavioral facts and this in turn affects adoptees, who start to feel bound by these interpretations, which may or may not be true.
Certainly not all adoptees have felt this! The sort of fantasies and fabrications can get out of hand. Keeping a cool head, keeping the fantasies in place, may be salutary.