Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In 2012, Canadian Inuk musician Tanya Tagaq was commissioned by the Toronto International Film Festival to improvise a live score for Robert J. Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922). The resulting performance, “Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook,” generated a flurry of reviews buoyed by a shared sentiment: through the power of an “authentic” Indigenous voice, Tagaq reclaims and reanimates the film’s stilted images. In this paper, I take Tagaq’s performance and associated critical discourse as impetus to rethink how settler-colonial violence and politics of reconciliation are mediated through popular art forms. I propose that the intense affective reception and perceived political significance of Tagaq’s performance are anchored by the staged play of filmic image and live voice, by the media ideologies that frame and juxtapose them (Gershon 2010), and by the way that they jointly activate sociohistorical “impacts held in reserve” (Berlant 2011). By attending to the metapragmatic construal and opposition of filmic image and voice, I show how this performative recuperation relies upon a romantic emplotment (White 1983) that organizes three moments: 1) a precontact past of alterity associated with Indigenous oral media; 2) a period of colonial violence iconically-indexed by film’s “one-dimensional depiction[s]” (Leconte 2014); 3) an imminent redemption crystallized in Tagaq’s “resurrection” of precontact oral media forms and reclamation of filmic images. Each moment hinges on a media-ideological construal; in sequence, I contend, they stage a political fantasy of multicultural reconciliation.