I Want You to Read This

Justin Erik Halldór Smith (no relation) is a writer. I want to be such a writer someday. He is also a professor of philosophy at Concordia University in Montreal. His blog, “an archive of journalism, essays, and assorted belles lettres,” is a marvel of brilliant social and political commentary, and his command of words is nothing short of amazing.

Today’s essay is entitled “Imaginary Tribes #1: The Yuktun.” In it, Smith creates not only an imaginary Siberian tribe but the language they speak as well. He then discusses a run-in that delegates from Moscow had with the tribe’s elder shaman, a woman named Narda, back in 1933. The first thing they do after the encounter is issue a report—of course!—to the Central Committee of the Communist Party on “Shamanistic Practices and Historical Progress among the Siberian Tribes.”

This part of said report had me giggling:

The shaman is usually picked from the most unproductive, most nearly criminal element within Yuktun society. . . . They are positively hostile to labor, often grand mal epileptics, and prone to the sort of deceitfulness and evasiveness that in a socialist society can only be described as counterrevolutionary. They practice their art by convincing other tribe members that they are in contact with spirits from the ‘underworld.’ They speak in tongues and beat on drums to invoke these spirits, and their fellow tribesmen watch, spellbound. It is a magic show and a stunt, all craftily organized by the shaman to gain the maximum respect possible, and, we dare mention, the maximum remuneration in the form of gifts.

The report goes on to describe how the delegates were conned into participating in a ceremony where, by skillful use of smoke, intoxicating herbs, and disorienting glossolalia, she managed to make asses out of all of them.

It’s too long and involved to go into further detail (though it all seems to hinge on the translation of a single Yuktun word, nâk), but it’s hysterical and poignant and a true work of genius. Please do yourself the favor and read it when you get a chance.

Then come back here and tell me what you thought of it.

Categories: Shamanism, Worthwhile Reading, Writing | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “I Want You to Read This

  1. indigo bunting

    And the above quote is different from you how?

  2. Makes me feel like I need to learn how to write.

  3. IB: That’s precisely why it had me giggling.

    A: You and me both, brother.

  4. Wilder

    … why do I want to ask if you folks are from Cassadaga….,maybe because Palm Bay is so close by-ish?

  5. Wilder,

    Adamus lived in Gainesville, Miami (I think) and the Boston area. He lived in Ft. Lauderdale immediately before he moved to Palm Bay. Indigo Bunting, I guess you know, lives in Vermont. In the last decade I lived in Palm Bay, Vermont (two wonderful, terrible years), then back to Palm Bay.

    I don’t know about him, but I’ve never been near Cassadaga, and was surprised to learn just how close it is. Heck, I was suprised to learn that the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Historic District is on the U.S. Register of Historic Places.

    So what do you do in Ft. Lauderdale? Besides write embarrassingly well, I mean.

  6. I have never been to Casadega. Hell, I even refuse to spell it properly.

    Folk have tried to drag me there but I resist.

    So, Wilder is in Ft. Laud. Such a small place. So quiet. SO quaint. So utterly questionable. Do I know you?

    Don’t laugh. (Ok, laugh if you want. Why not?) I have asked that question only to discover the answer is yes.

    I have sat in a coffeehouse in Melbourne to have someone hear me say a few words and recognize me from a decade passed.

    I have walked over a hill in North Carolina to find people I had left years earlier, 800 miles away, greeting me like it was of no surprise.

    Do I know you?

  7. *grins*

    Maybe you know me ?!?

    I’m a true native of Fort Lauderdale. Born at Holy Cross, went to the scary televangelical school that’s part of the Pink Floyd church, then transfered for high school to a much more relaxed environment: Catholic School.

    Worked at an ice cream storm on the AIA strip through high school. Left for Charlotte, N.C. for six years, then rural South Cackalacky for three. Then back here five years or so ago.

    Do you know me? Lauderdale — heck, South Florida — has changed an obscene amount in the last 10 years. Would I know you?

    What do I do?

    I write for a living, but it’s non-fiction (hint, hint) and am VERY careful not to muddy what I do for work with what I do as outlets for expression.

    The x365 is actually the most I’ve stretched my creative legs since college a decade or so ago. I’m relieved that there’s folks who enjoy it.

    I talk to strangers as a way of life, so for me, the hard part is when I will have to start knocking out 32 words of the people close to me. I kinda stress about it for an hour or so each day then opt to write about folks who have affected me in passing.

  8. Wilder

    *sigh* As soon as people find out what I do for a living, they always run for the hills. I shoulda taken that job with the IRS. I coulda really helped people.

  9. Obituaries for the Herald?

  10. Wilder

    Lol. No. But I did write crime for a Herald in a different part of the country.

  11. Let’s see. You “write.” Non-fiction. People Write non-fiction books. Books is slang for betting-records. You’re a bookie!

    Or you ‘write’ life insurance policies.

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