“Worms” is a response to Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie’s ecopoetry that I wrote for a class on ecopoetics in Spring 2020. It is mostly inspired by her poem “The Spider” which struck me because it renders its true value to a spider, a generally strongly disliked being. It addresses the spider’s importance in the animal kingdom and humans’ unjust aversion against the arachnid (Jamie, 175). “Worms” follows the same dynamic of calling out wrongful antipathy and disgust. The piece deals with a young girl who, as opposed to her peers, is not repulsed by the worms but rather considers them her friends, more so than her fellow humans. I chose to play with pronouns; I employ several occurrences of “they” and “she”. On one hand, this opposes the young girl and her peers, from whom she feels distant. On the other hand, “they” is used for both worms and humans, eliminating their difference and bringing them onto the same level. The girl picks up the worms and tries to protect them, while the other children cry of disgust. She is angry. They step on the worms for the sole reason of being greater in size. She calls them out. The fifth stanza of the first visual shape is a reference to WB Yeats’ Chambermaid songs, the first one of which compares a human being to a worm
God’s love has hidden him Out of all harm, Pleasure has made him Weak as a worm. (Yeats, 307)
I have reversed the simile in the last line and made mankind itself the vehicle of the trope. Humans do not become as weak as worms: for their contempt, they become as weak as themselves. The sixth stanza alludes to Goethe’s “Heidenröslein”, a metaphor for rejected love. A young boy espies a red rose on a heath and finds her so beautiful as to break her. The rose stings him in return, in vain, because she remains, however, broken (Goethe, 307). I find this image oh so representative of many plant and animal deaths, be it roses or bees or ants. The defence mechanism does not suffice against humans who are much more sizable than their fellow species. Consequently, humans need to take even more precautions to recognise and sustain other beings. I have juxtaposed the worms and the heathrose by making my poem “shud” the flower’s pain, giving the worms strength and protecting them from heathrose’s fate. The second visual worm takes the poem back from Goethe’s time to modern day. The worms still come out in rain, expecting no harm. In this stanza, a car kills the annelids, which echoes with Jamie’s “Frogs” (Jamie, 133). I have inserted internal rhymes in these lines; “flood”, “up”, “guts”. They contain plosive sounds which highlight the violence of the content dealt with in the stanza. This intention of drawing in one’s mind mirrors human blindness towards ecological or ethical issues. They are unmistakable, and yet, humanity often fails to pay attention to them. In the last stanza of the poem, the young girl is grown up. To mark this change, I have changed the preposition preceding the pronoun “as she” into “when she”. She still sees the worms, her old friends, and when her eyes meet their suffering, she still cries out.
Works cited: – Goethe, Johann W. v. “Heidenröslein”. Goethe’s Schriften: Achter Band, Georg Johann Göschen, 1789, pp.105-106 – Jamie, Kathleen. Selected Poems, Picador, 2018 – Yeats, William B. “The Chambermaid’s First Song”. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats: Volume I: The Poems, 2nd Edition, Simon and Schuster, 1997, p.307
Oh, to be born a daffodil, An emerging seed of sundust Waking from a numbing sleep Reaching, slowly, the promises of the surface Gently crackling the thin iced reminiscence of a silent winter.
The silky honey-coloured petals Gracefully introducing the son of Céphise To the distant sound of foreseen decay For Narcissus’ reflection can only last for so long Under the sky of spring.
Oh, to grow under the name of a rose, Cursed symbol of serendipity; Bound to hear the countless selfish soliloquies Premises to dissatisfied infatuation. Forced to see the solitude glowing in eyes that once knew love.
Does dusk know that dawn exists? For the rose surely is unaware of the adversity of winter And the daffodil is ignorant of the pain of thorns And yet, –
The Creator never realised there was nothing before there was something. All these matters and colours scared him. Time was flying by too fast. So the Creator closed his eyes and slept.
II. The Alchemist
Aeons came and went, and men started wandering inside Creation. Amongst them was an Alchemist. The Alchemist knew many things but wanted to see the Creator, thinking that there had to be meaning to all of existence.
Everybody said that the Creator lived at the top of the Mountain, so the Alchemist set forth to find and greet him. So he climbed the Mountain. For three days, he climbed, and, arriving at the top, he only found wind and loneliness. Cursing and screaming, the Alchemist wouldn’t believe there was Nothing where there could have been Something. So he decided that he would create.
The Alchemist roamed the Earth amongst men and spirits, craving knowledge beyond the comprehension of anybody. He met monsters and beasts and tamed them all. He was growing in power, but he always wanted more. He wanted the Creator’s power, even if he didn’t think He existed.
III. The Lovers
The Alchemist met two Lovers, a man and a woman. They had spent their whole lives together, and, despite their age, they still looked very young. They wanted their love to endure and were scared to see all their friends lose their love. So, having heard of the Alchemist, they asked for his help.
The Alchemist felt blessed by the request of the Lovers to help them, as he could finally use his immense powers to create. He cursed the Lovers with an Eternal Love, but not the way they wanted: the man impregnated the woman, the first to do so. And when the woman gave birth, she died. She was also the first to do so.
IV. The Liar
Having lost his wife, the Lover was so full of rage that he did not care for his child, who died quickly after birth. The Alchemist was cast away and seen by all of humankind as a Liar. The Lover chased him to the end of the world and battled him to death. Their battle was so violent that it awakened the Creator, who looked upon Creation and wept.
V. The Thief
The tears of the Creator flooded Earth and destroyed most of civilisation. Only the Alchemist and The Lover left, battling in eternity, not even remembering why. One day, once the Creator stopped crying, they saw that the storm was gone, and the Alchemist tricked the Lover into making peace with him.
Easing up, the Lover let his guard down, so the Alchemist stroke: using a powerful spell, he snatched the Lover’s soul from his body and attached it to his own. He did the same for all the souls roaming on the now-dead Earth, and, seeing that there was nothing left to make him grow more powerful, he retired at the top of the Mountain.
VI. The Conqueror
Aeons passed once again, and humanity was born again. Asleep at the top of the Mountain, the Alchemist was disturbed by a warrior calling himself Conqueror. He told the Alchemist he wanted to find the Creator at the top of the Mountain. The Alchemist was amused by this naive warrior and presented himself as the Creator.
The Demiurge saw this and, for the first time, decided to mingle in the business of mortals.
VII. The Devil
The Creator sent the Devil, his agent, down on Earth to bring him the Alchemist. But the Devil had a will of his own and was jealous of the Creator. He wanted all of Creation for himself, to pervert it into what he found beautiful. The Devil, on Earth, found a woman, Eve, and seduced her, promising her Destiny and Meaning to help him in his dark deeds.
The Devil then visited the court of the Conqueror, who thought the Creator blessed him and offered him Eve. Understanding she had been tricked, she tried to fight back but couldn’t do anything: the Conqueror wanted her for his pleasure.
VIII. The Rapist
The Conqueror impregnated her and thrived, invigorated by the woman’s suffering. Eve couldn’t take it anymore, so she killed herself, as it was the only way for her to be free. The Devil, disappointed by her lack of will, extracted the child she had been impregnated with from her womb and placed it in his own until it was ripe.
IX. The Disintegrator
The Devil gave birth to the Disintegrator, a child of burning grotesque masses, made of visions of rape, murder and perversion, and let him loose on the Earth. The destruction provoked by the Disintegrator forced the Creator to incarnate himself on Earth to stop him, but humanity feared him and quickly killed him. The Devil laughed as humanity crucified him and, now that the Creator was gone, started the journey to the top of the Mountain to claim the title of Creator to the Alchemist.
X. The Hanged Man
Since it was imperfect and perverted, the Disintegrator eventually died once he had destroyed humanity once again. The Devil climbed to the top of the Mountain and found the Alchemist there. The Alchemist was enraged by the Devil’s doing, so they started fighting. The Alchemist, now almost all-powerful, was an equal match for the Devil. They broke each other down and fought until they couldn’t walk. Using a trick, the Devil managed to take the upper hand and murdered the Alchemist. Bleeding out, the Devil then hanged the corpse of the Alchemist to a tree to make it the totem of his victory against the Creator. He then sat down beside the hanged man’s tree, and, listening to the deafening wind, feeling his wounds soothe him, he drifted off into sweet Death.
Ever (gasp!) cheated on an exam? Ever seen someone else cheat? Or did you ever fail miserably and dramatically at an exam? You’re not alone! UNIL students tell us all about their scandalous secrets and epic fails surrounding their past exams. Don’t tell anyone!
✍👀 “For some reason, when I was a kid, my classmates always thought I was really good at tests so they always wanted to copy my answers. However, growing up, I very quickly developed a very adult-looking and not always very legible hand-writing which prevented others from copying my answers and these kids had the AUDACITY to ask me to write more legibly so they could copy my answers. Shaking my head.”
🕵️♂️🎧🎥 “Not me but a friend, who cheated on a German written exam so hard that they got a team of friends to help them: They wore long, baggy clothes under which they had set up a receiver for an earpiece (FBI-style), as well as a concealed camera which could capture images of the test sheet. One friend would get a streamed video of the camera’s feed and work on answering the questions in German. Another friend worked with a microphone to transmit the answers to my friend who would then copy them out. Two other friends were there to stand watch and make sure that the relay team wasn’t found out by the examiners. They ended up passing their exam :)”
🙊 “To this day after years here I still put my name where I have to put my surname and vice versa. But worst of all I put my student number where the teachers should put my grade”
🧾🦵 “When i still was in middle/high school, the best strategy was always the post-it note on the chair, in between the thighs. Just slightly spread your legs, and poof, get all the knowledge you need.”
📝✔ “My high school math teacher was too lazy to give us test sheets, so she’d always just tell us to bring a pad of sheets of paper. A few times we had to learn proofs of theorems by heart, so just copied those demonstrations on the last pages of the pad, and discretly check those out. I even once directly used a sheet with the proof pre-written and turned that one in.”
📱👻 “I don’t know why, but during a preparation for my oral exam I found out that my phone was still in my pockets. I was prepared so I didn’t use it but I still sent snaps to all of my friends telling them about it. I was much more worried about hiding it once I entered the class LOL”
🚪🔒🥶 “I had my very first oral exam ever in 32 years of life this past exam session. I was really nervous for weeks leading up to it. The morning of the exam, about 10 minutes before go time, I stepped outside for a breath of fresh air on an Anthropole 5th floor balcony. I was nervous & distracted, & figured I should check to see if the door automatically locks from the outside after it was already closed. I locked myself out in the cold until the supervising prof came by and kindly let me back inside…. so beware of balconies with no ash trays!”
🎒🔊🎶 “I’m a nightowl, which means my alarms are set pretty late in the morning since I go to bed pretty late too. So, I had a written exam once starting at 8am. Around 10am I start hearing some Billy Joel music, and I was like ‘oh someone is listening to Billy Joel outside, NICE!’ and then it occured to me that it was my alarm coming from my phone in my backpack that was chilling against the wall x)”
😬📐🤦♂️ “I’ve always been terrible in maths. In high school the day I was going to pass my oral math exam I got to school early and ran into my maths teacher and the expert who was this little old man who seemed very kind. My teacher introduced us and told him that I was going to pass my exam with them later in the day, and I looked at the expert and told him ‘I’m really sorry for what you are about to witness.’ He laughed and with a sweet smile and look in his eyes answered that he was sure it was going to be okay and that I was just stressed out. I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t and that I simply already knew I was going to fail big time, and he wouldn’t believe me. Fast forward to my exam. It was going so bad, the little old man was growing more desperate and impatient and restless by the minute. He must have stood up 3 or 4 different times to come to the blackboard and correct everything I was doing wrong while growing frustrated at my lack of skills. My maths teacher was laughing the whole time. He knew how bad I was and I guess he was expecting this entertainement hahaha”
👀❓❔⁉🤔 “During a written exam I once noticed another student acting a bit sketchy. I couldn’t quite figure out what they were doing and to this day I’m still not sure. They had a bunch of small cheat sheets, and they also seemed to be filming or taking pictures of their paper with a small device (it looked too small to be a smartphone, might have been an old timey phone or an iPod), while holding their exam sheet upside down for some reason (?!). They also kept looking around them which made them look extra conspicuous. An invigilator eventually noticed their strange behaviour. When I got out of the exam and met up with classmates I asked them if they had noticed and if they had understood what the heck was happening, turns out they were just as confused as I was :’) It shall remain a mystery.”
🤭 “It’s always a kinda funny when you meet a classmate for the first time at a department-wide end-of-year exam, and you had never seen them at any of the compulsory courses in the department. How did they manage to get a better grade than I did when they hadn’t ever turned up at any lecture or class?”
🙊❌📚 “So I turn up at this written exam, super stressed out because I know I haven’t memorised everything well enough. When I walk in the class everyone but me has big binders on their desks, and I notice they’re not putting them away when the exam starts. Turns out it was an open-book exam and I managed to miss the information, so I turned up with nothing but my pencil case 🙃 (spoiler: I did not do well at that exam)”
😴💤 “So for the maturité end-of-year exams we had all the 4-hours written exams in the span of a week (maths, French, English, German, option spécifique) and they all started early, and that meant I had to get up at 6 am to get there on time. My sleep schedule being terrible I never managed to get more than 5 hours of sleep for the whole week, and sleep deprivation causes me to fall asleep anywhere. Long story short I feel asleep face first right on my table at each and every one of my written exams. An invigilator once came to check up on me, they were scared I had fainted or something. But I was just taking an accidental power nap, oops. I passed all my exams nonetheless, so next time you find yourself nodding off during a long written exam, consider taking a quick lil power nap ;)”
🍁🚬 “I fantasize about getting really, really high before an exam and acing it.”
💌🥰 “A cute anecdote: I was asked on a date after the exams in January by a guy I met once before and who was in the same exam room. He found my email address and emailed me right after the end of the exam. And now he is my boyfriend.”
*responses have been edited for clarity and length
Tonia Ramogida: Thank you for accepting to do the interview. I was really looking forward to speaking with you.
Cécile Heim: (laughs) I was really surprised that you asked me! I’m at the end of my contract now—I have, what, ten days left on it? (laughs) I’m going to defend my dissertation, my PhD, at the end of April. I’m at the end of my time at university, really.
TR: Oh, wow. So, you’re all done? You’ve written it?
CH: Yeah, I’m essentially done. I’m putting the final touches on my dissertation as we speak. I just came from it. I’m taking a break now.
TR: Cheers! Congratulations!
CH: Thank you! My goal is to finish everything this week and send it, so my experts and professors will have a full month to read through everything again, and to prepare for the soutenance. So, I’m at the very end of that journey.
TR: Oh, wow. It’s a book? It’s long?
CH: It depends on how you define a book. In terms of length, it’s definitely a book; it’s probably an encyclopaedia. (laughs) Without the bibliography, the first version was 369 pages which is awfully long. I’m trying to shorten it now by cutting out everything that people have found repetitive. But it’s not a book in the sense that it’s not published. I can turn it into a book afterwards if that is something that I want to do. But yeah, it’s long.
TR: You must feel a great sense of accomplishment.
CH: I mean, not really. Frankly, when you hand it in the first time, you’re just super happy that this huge weight is off your shoulders. And then you have to get back to it. For me, it’s the revision part that I found awfully difficult.
Before I even started the PhD, I heard so many horror stories about writer’s block, and people not being able to motivate themselves for five years, and then having to rush for one year to finish their dissertation.
Luckily for me, that never happened. I never hit writer’s block. I was always happy to work on my dissertation, all the way until I handed it in the first time which was on the… 17th of December, just before Christmas. And then it was like, “Ah! Finally, I can breathe again!” Then I had the colloque in early February, and when I had to get back to it, I had a really, really hard time. I couldn’t for many weeks.
You don’t really get a sense of accomplishment because you’re never done anyway. The kind of work that we do is not the kind where you can tick a box at the end. It’s never done. You could always pursue it; you could always take it further. You could always just improve on whatever you’ve done, no matter how much of a perfectionist you are.
Everybody has a different opinion, so you can have ten experts and you’ll have ten different opinions—sometimes contradictory, and sometimes they will agree…. Essentially, at some point, you just have to stop yourself. If you wait for the moment that you’re done, that’s never going to happen.
For me the struggle was to wind back in my brain, to put the backwards gear in, and to go back to the dissertation before moving on to the next step, which is applying for jobs… and just trying to plan the rest of my life. (laughs)
TR: Yeah, that’s, um… No Pressure.
CH: No pressure at all, yeah. (laughs) No pressure at all.
CH: Oh, yeah, I’m so happy with that. It’s fantastic.
The advantage that we have when we study and work in Switzerland is that it’s a really small community. Everyone knows each other, and they’re all super nice and very supportive, generally speaking, of young scholars. And a lot of it is just sheer coincidence. For example, I got a position with the Swiss Association for North American Studies (SANAS)—I’m the Swiss delegate for the European Association of American Studies (EAAS). It’s a fantastic job. I absolutely love it. But I only got it because Boris resigned at the right time, and because Agnieszka was supposed to take it but couldn’t for personal reasons. So, they asked me, but it was a “Shit! We don’t have anyone—what about Cécile? Let’s ask her” kind of thing. It was a complete coincidence. I ended up having a fantastic time and I loved doing it.
And that’s how the DICE Network came about. It’s a network that I co-founded with Prof. Aleksandra Izgarjan from the University of Novi Sad in Serbia. It’s sponsored by the EAAS. We’re not an academic association per se, because we’re a non-profit, non-money-holding-in-any-way kind of network. But we’re working through the EAAS, who are a recognized association, to connect people within Europe or people interested in working with Europeans on these fields. The goal is to work across fields.
You know, there are quite a few people in Europe who work on Indigenous Studies or on Black Studies, but they all are in their little corners, and that’s why, very often, they feel isolated. But when you actually start looking around and working with various associations, you realize that these fields are growing really fast and there are actually an increasing number of people working on them—it’s just that they don’t necessarily know each other or know of each other.
With the Serbian delegate, we had this idea of creating a network. We did, and it just took off overwhelmingly. Now, all of a sudden, we’re managing more than 150 members—which is fantastic—but we never expected it to take off like that. It just proves how necessary it was and how big the demand is.
In a couple of weeks, there’s the EAAS biennial conference. This year, it’s in Madrid. We decided to ride the wave. We’re going to have our first public appearance as a network. We created a few panels; we’ll have a round table, and… our first general assembly where we’re going to vote on the network’s articles. It’s going to be a thing—a real thing!
TR: That’s awesome!
CH: Yeah, it’s really cool.
I mean, I think a big part of what academia is, you just walk through it, and hold on as much as you can. Opportunities pop up and you can take them or leave them. Sometimes you get really lucky and sometimes you get horribly unlucky.… I just got really lucky, I think.
TR: I have a question from the editing team at MUSE: what do you take away from your time at UNIL? You’ve been there a number of years now. How many years in total?
CH: I did all of my studies there—except during my BA I went away for a year to Glasgow, and then during my MA I went away for six months to Vancouver, to UBC, your home town.
CH: I worked for a year and then talked to Agnieszka. I was like, “Okay, let’s do a PhD if you’re still up for it,” and she said, “Yes, but there is no available assistant position right now, but we are still seeking for someone to go on a Teaching Assistant exchange at Buffalo, in the state of New York.” I said, “Sure, let’s do that.” I did that for two years and then I came back and worked for a year at UNIL as a chargée de cours, and then as a regular teacher at a different school. Then I started the contract that I have now, which I have been on for five years. So, yes, it’s an institution that I’ve been in and out of for many, many years. It’s been one of these on-off relationships….
TR: Ah, yes… those.
CH: (laughs) So what do I take from that experience?
I take from it pretty much what you would take from all on-off relationships, which is that you love it and sometimes you also realize that you need a break from it. That it doesn’t only do you good, or that it’s time to move on.
It’s hard to summarize what I take from it in a few sentences because I learned so much there. You know, I very much became – … I think one could say that I very much grew into to the adult that I am now at UNIL. And thanks to UNIL. And thanks to the teachers I had at UNIL. But also, especially, the texts that I read and the opportunities that UNIL created for me.
So I guess I’m just slightly more… slightly wiser than I was before. It’s hard to say.
I was a student there. I became a teacher there. I became a researcher there. I had really good times. I also had some of the toughest times of my life. Not just because of UNIL… a lot converged at one point in my life—it was private stuff, but also stuff at work—and it just felt apocalyptic…. So, yeah… I take a lot from it. (laughs)
CH: Jenn and Agnieszka did an incredible job with that series.
I really regret that I couldn’t be there for more events because of that bloody dissertation. (laughs) No, no, it’s not bloody at all (laughs), but I needed to work so I really couldn’t join for more events.
I hope they’re going to do more stuff like that. It’s absolutely fantastic what they’ve done. I think it’s the kind of topics that students are really concerned by, not just for research purposes or whatever, but because it is a struggle everyday in their lives.
I think there are many topics like that that people don’t talk about enough just yet in academia as research or as material that needs to be taught.
I think it was a wonderful event and I hope that there’s going to be more. Having said this, I would understand if they just couldn’t create more because every time teachers create events like this, this is on a purely voluntary basis—they don’t get paid more, they don’t get any kind of discharge of teaching or anything like that. It’s a tremendous amount of work, in addition to the full-time job that they already have. It’s a huge investment on their part and I think that was fabulous.
TR: How did you come to study what you study?
CH: That’s a good question. It’s a question I try to answer in my dissertation.
Part of the answer is that I was always frustrated with hearing only one side of the story. When I started my studies in English, I had a great time. It was all good, but it was mainly white, male authors that we read. You had a Black author once in a while. This is not to say that these are not fascinating subjects or texts to study—but I just felt like it wasn’t answering a lot of the questions I had. And I think it was when I started going abroad during my exchanges that I started realizing what direction I needed to go in to find the answers I was looking for.
If I had to pin-point a moment, I’d definitely say it was my exchange at UBC in Vancouver, my six months there, that really started it all. That’s when I had my first classes in Indigenous literatures… and I volunteered there at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC).
TR: Did you?
TR: Oh my God, really.
CH: It was a fascinating experience.
It was really easy for me to talk to one teacher at UBC—she’s still there, her name is Lorraine Weir. She was a great teacher and we talked a lot together. She said, “You should really go and have a look at the DEWC because you seem interested in working with Indigenous women, and you seem interested in topics such as sexual violence or domestic violence or just gender violence in general. Maybe you’d be interested in hearing some of the stories women have to tell there.”
I quickly realized what kind of place it was, but I didn’t shy away from it still. It was an incredibly fascinating experience. This is where I started seeing the importance between research and activism. And the kind of impact that volunteer work can have on your research, and on your work as an academic and as a teacher.
I then wrote my MA thesis on Indigenous women’s plays, on the tropes of movement and mobility. It was a shit MA thesis—like, don’t go and look it up. (laughs)
But, yeah, I think it all started in Vancouver for me.
TR: I’m curious, what are your thoughts on Canada as a settler-colonial project? And, again, no worries if there’s anything you say that you don’t want published.
CH: Well, I mean, pretty much everything that I say here I will have published even worse versions of already, so no worries. (laughs)
I mean, everything I say about Canada is true as well for other states, like the United States, but also South Africa—although the situation there is slightly different—or Australia and New Zealand. Even here in Europe. Or even non-settler-colonial states.
I think there are interesting parallels in policies and ideology to be drawn between settler-colonial states and European states. Obviously, settler-colonial states are very much influenced by the originally colonizing continent of Europe. Let’s talk about these connections a little bit later.
These states are not post-colonial. They are still colonizing the lands of people. So, for me, the Canadian, and American, and Australian states are illegitimate in that sense. Unless they are able to acknowledge Indigenous peoples and their governments in addition to their own relation to Indigenous peoples, they remain illegitimate.
I think it’s fair to say there is a colonial relationship between the contemporary states of Canada or the US and that this relationship can still be described in many ways as genocidal.
Do I think that… all government people in Canada and the US are complete pricks who… actively want to kill off all Indigenous peoples? No. I do think that some of them—I don’t know how many—have sincere intentions of trying to create a good relationship. I also believe that a lot of politicians really believe that by enacting certain laws or policies they think they’re improving Indigenous peoples’ lives, even though they clearly aren’t. I think it’s a lot more complicated than black and white, obviously.
I think that states such as Canada and the US are so far behind in their understanding of themselves. And this is where literature comes in. Here I know a little more about the US than I do about Canada—but I think it’s fascinating to try to understand how narratives come into play when it comes to creating national identity and national history—which ends up being monolithic, linear, and sanitized in many ways.
You have stories and theories such as the Frontier Thesis, or the City on the Hill, or the Promised Land, or Manifest Destiny. These are all narratives… stories that people tell themselves to rearrange the world in a way that makes sense to them. And very often, excluding any other vision of that.
TR: What you say about nations like Canada not understanding themselves is interesting.
On Canada’s first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation last year, Justin Trudeau ignored two invitations from Kúkpi7 Roseanne Casimir, chief of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation, to attend one of the country’s biggest events in Kamloops, British Columbia. A couple months earlier, they found the unmarked graves of 215 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
He nevertheless decided to take a 6-hour flight from Ottawa to British Columbia to spend the day vacationing with his family in Tofino, a rural surfing town on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
This man positioned himself as a ray of hope for a progressive, feminist kind of politics. It’s upsetting.
CH: Hugely. But he’s by far not the only one. We actually see a lot of those.
I think that people like Trudeau—like Emmanuel Macron in France—I’m half-French, my mom’s French, so most of my family now is in France, except for my brother who’s here, and my niece… anyway—people like Trudeau and Macron are typical products of the neoliberal state.
I think they are exceptional failures—no, sorry, they are not exceptional—they are precisely the result of the logical failures of neoliberal, very often socialist politics.
These are children of politicians who thought that it was enough to just have a diverse government to be fair and not be oppressive anymore. These are people who thought that you just need to have enough women in your government in order to not be sexist anymore. These are typical neoliberal moves where a lot is done for the show, for the appearance, or because it is trendy to do so, without actually understanding the systemic repercussions of oppression. Without actually understanding that violence is something that is structural or that oppression is something that is systemic. These are people who want to find quick solutions for profoundly embedded ills.
I mean, the kind of oppressions that Indigenous people face—but also that women face in many of our European countries—or that People of Colour face—this violence, this kind of oppression is something that stems from centuries ago, that does come from colonization. This is profoundly embedded. This is actually inscribed in the very structure on which our societies function and are based, on which our laws are written. To think that it is enough to have one Black person or one Indigenous person in your government to solve all problems of oppression against People of Colour or Indigenous people or whoever—is ludicrous.
This is a typical neoliberal attitude of, “Oh, let’s just be multicultural, and that’s the solution to everything,” without understanding that these are institutional, systemic, structural issues that need profound reworking.
Where did I read this lately? I think it’s in Histories of Racial Capitalism—it’s a book that just came out—and they say in there that there never existed any form of capitalism other than racial capitalism. And to actually create an egalitarian society—that is, a non-racist society—one doesn’t just need to be anti-racist, one needs to redistribute wealth. Our current economies are founded very much on slavery. But, of course, this is an absolute taboo.
TR: I took a class with Dr. Enit Steiner last semester and we read a book by Olaudah Equiano, which brought to light the economic and industrial side of slavery. My partner and their sibling got into roasting coffee beans, buying green beans direct, and researching the coffee market. And then you find out that coffee is the second most-traded commodity in the world after oil—and you’re like, hold on, wait—
TR: Are all these coffee harvesters happy people?
CH: Yeah. Do you remember how coffee came to Europe?
TR: Oh, God. I don’t.
CH: Well, it was part of the triangular slave trade.
TR: Oh, was it? Yeah, there we go.
CH: Yeah, so these coffee harvesters are probably not very happy….
But what do we do now? You know, that’s the thing. We can create all of that knowledge which is important and which we need to do. We can educate people. We can write articles on it—which is a crucial task—but it’s still not going to be good enough.
The truth is, I have reached a point—and maybe this is just too tainted by everything that’s going on in the world—I have reached a point where I don’t honestly think that we’re ever going to be capable of creating a fair and just society for all. There’s too much work to be done. Every time we take a step forward, we go two steps back. There was a huge backlash after Barak Obama, for example, even though he wasn’t the most anti-racist kind of president.
I hit the point where I just raise my hands to the sky and say, “I don’t know what to do now,” because we have all that knowledge. We also know about climate change—we’ve known for years. We know about mass extinction—we’ve known for years. Does anyone do anything against it? No, not really. Does it stop people enmasse from taking the plane to go somewhere? No. Does it stop me from going anywhere? No, not really. I mean, what the fuck does it take for us to change?
There are things that I do to try to prevent climate change. It’s nowhere good enough. There’s still more I could do, so why don’t I do it? Why don’t we do it, generally, as a society? Why don’t we move away from excessive consumerism? Why don’t we move away from fishing out the oceans? Why don’t we move away from relating to the land in extremely extractive ways, and start relating to it in more equal ways? Or start to respect it as a living being, instead of as a resource to be exploited?
I don’t have any answers. Bourdieu would say it’s habits—we have been socialized, acculturized like that; it’s just our habit to do so. Habits sound harmless—but they’re extremely difficult to break. And I think it’s more than this. I think it’s just that deep down, we don’t really want to change.
TR: Something I’ve noticed, among a couple of the women I know here—who are maybe, like, 10 or so years older than me—so, early to mid-forties—a couple times when I brought up the topic of feminism… the response was, “Oh, no, je suis pas du tout féministe mais… I negotiated a higher salary for myself, or, I have my own place and my independence and don’t want to live with my partner,” you know? So, is ‘feminist’ still a ‘bad word’? What’s the deal with that?
CH: Well, it’s really funny you should say that, because I had almost the reverse experience.
I’m 35 now and was talking with younger women who are in their late teens or early 20s. This was a few weeks ago, when I did a substitution at a high school here in Fribourg.
I taught an English class and wasn’t given the programme. I’m like, “Okay, I’m just going to do whatever I want,” so I gave them some Emily Dickinson to read, some Harlem Renaissance poems, some this and that…. I had a great time with them. We didn’t at all do the grammar program we were supposed to. (laughs)
Anyway, I had a few conversations with them about feminism. They all say, “Yeah, I’m a feminist! I’m a feminist!” And I’m like, “Great, what does that entail? How would you define being a feminist?” And they’re like, “Well, I’m the same as a man. I’m equal to men.” And I’m like, “Great, absolutely.” And I say, “So why do you always dress in the sexiest way possible? Why do you always have to keep sexualizing yourself?” And some of them are like, “Well, that’s just my style.” And I’m like, “Great, that’s a cool style to have…. Is there anything to it? Why do you girls on Instagram do the duck mouth picture all the time? What is feminist about that?”
It was very interesting for me, because I had a generation in front of me who wasn’t shy about claiming themselves as being feminist. But I didn’t really see a lot of feminism in how they were behaving in their day-to-day workplace or high school. …
That’s where I would differentiate between feminist theories or feminist discourse and the identity of feminist. I think these are two different things and I think that emerges from what you and I have been saying just now.
You can face someone who lives in the most feminist way possible without identifying as a feminist, because, for that generation, to be a feminist meant being lesbian—not that being lesbian is bad in any way—but there was the social stigma that came with that. For that generation, being feminist meant never being in a relationship…. In French, feminists were often called les mal baisées or things like that. It was as if being a feminist stemmed from some kind of discontent or from an eternal state of unhappiness that was self-induced.
These women are now 40 or so, but they’re from the 70s, right? That’s second-wave feminism—and after that came a huge backlash. The 80s and 90s are a huge backlash for feminists, historically speaking. So, I understand if people who became adults during a time when feminists suffered a huge backlash don’t want to identify as feminists even though they do live in a very feminist way.
And now we can maybe see a little bit of the contrary. People who become adults now do want to claim that identity because it’s cool, because we have the hashtags, the massive social media movements, the Journée de la Femme. We live in moment in our society where it is cool to be considered a feminist. But I don’t think that everyone who actually claims that identity really understands what it entails. Some of them certainly do. But I don’t think that all of them do.
I think that’s where we have to differentiate between claiming an identity—being feminist—or being queer—or being any other kind of identity you might want to claim—and actually acting or living according to that identity.
Another question that raises is: what does it mean to be a feminist?
When you claim that identity, are you not a feminist when you walk around in sexy clothes? Was I wrong to ask that question to my students? Of course, I would never say that someone who walks around in a hyper-sexualized way is a bad feminist, if they then advance the cause, or if they don’t accept subordination. But then, who am I to make that decision?
To answer your original question—whether ‘feminist’ is a ‘bad word’—no, not anymore. But then, it’s changed. And I really wonder what it means to claim that identity.
Would I claim that identity? Absolutely, yes.
Why do I claim that identity? Well, because I’ve studied feminist theories; my research is heavily influenced from that. I would consider my work to be feminist work. Because I try to fight inequality between men and women wherever I can. But does it take all of that to rightfully claim being a feminist? I really don’t know.
This is where I find Roxanne Gay’s book Bad Feminist really interesting. It had very good and very bad critiques, but I think it raises interesting questions. Again, I have no answer.
This will be the most frustrating interview you will ever do. Whatever question you will ask me, I’ll ask you fifty back.
TR: Fine by me.
Being Canadian and a bit homesick, I got really caught up in following the Truckers’ Protest—the Freedom Convoy—that took place in Ottawa in January and February 2022. Some convoy supporters said they wanted this to be a Canadian version of the January 6th attempted insurrection in Washington, DC.
It was crazy to see a super-disruptive protest movement literally shut down parliament and the downtown core of the nation’s capital—and to have that go on for nearly a month without any serious intervention from police.
TR: Yeah. In November 2021, militarized police troops with attack dogs, helicopters, snipers came down on a relatively small number of peaceful, unarmed land defenders. They used a chainsaw to break through a door and put journalists in jail.
(You can find the land defenders’ video of the raid here; please note the content warning for police violence against Indigenous women. This video provides further commentary.)
One of the issues raised was the double standard in terms of who is allowed to protest, to be disruptive. What were your thoughts on that?
CH: That’s a really interesting question.
I didn’t really think about the Canadian example as much as about the French example, which is very similar.
In 2020 and 2021, there was a huge wave of Black Lives Matter protests that came all the way here to Europe. In France, these protests lasted for a while, because there were a few incidences of Black—especially young men—who had been hurt, and a few of them killed, by the French police, in similarly unjustified circumstances as in the United States.
When these protests happened, the crackdown from the government was massive, really massive. They were deplored in the media in general. There were very few media who were sympathetic to these protests. Nobody understood why statues like Colbert would be put down—you know Colbert?
TR: You’re going to have to explain that one to me.
CH: Colbert was an economic minister in France under Louis XIV. At the same time, he was also one of the founders of the triangular slave trade. He’s the author of the Code Noir—which is kind of like 18th century French Jim Crow laws—which justified slavery.
During these Black Lives Matter protests, statues of Colbert were pulled down and desecrated. French people were like, “No! But why? This is holy!” Black Lives Matter protests were received very negatively.
Even to this day, as soon as you start talking about decolonization, about anti-racism, about systemic racism—these are ‘bad words’ in France.
People will tell you that you’re some sort of woke academic or woke leftie who just wants to follow the ideological fashion of the day. Or they’ll tell you you’re completely exaggerating.
But then, something like three weeks ago, there were massive independence protests in Corsica. People from Corsica attacked the police, and put quite a few of them in hospital. And the French media and public opinion were like, “Aw, so cute! Little independentists! Aren’t they cute and lovely? Look at their beautiful little island! We love them so!”
The difference in reaction—the double standard, precisely—is just ludicrous. So that is very similar to the double standard that you were talking about between the Truckers who are considered almost cute—
TR: They blocked the Canada-US border at three spots.
CH: And they probably did a lot more damage than a lot of the Indigenous protesters, protesting pipelines or water dams or any kind of project.
The double standard exists. It’s undeniable. It is there. It is horrifying to see. It’s simply impossible to deny that it exists and that people aren’t treated in similar ways. This is the proof.
What’s fascinating is that this is so strongly connected to public perception as well. This kind of public discourse doesn’t just come from politicians. It is also media representation.
These are representations that are circulating differently through media who are supposed to be independent from politics, which leads me to say, it’s not just about politics, is it? It’s not just about law. It’s really very much about discourse, representation, about perception, about ideology, about the symbolic part as well as the nitty-gritty legal, technical part.
TR: I went to an all-girls Catholic high school which turned me off the religion for one lifetime. In June, I found out that the nuns that founded my school actually founded the Kamloops school—
CH: —the residential school?
CH: Oh, shit.
TR: Yeah. They founded or staffed at least 5 other schools in BC, and one in Alaska. They found 215 graves at the Kamloops school, 160 at the Kuper Island school, and most recently, 93 at the Cariboo school in Williams Lake.
Every year, my high school took the Grade 11 class on a trip to Vancouver Island to see stuff related to the order’s history like the convent and the ‘pioneer schoolhouse’—which is a small, 1840 log cabin located on the grounds of the Royal British Columbia Museum.
So, we went to see what is basically a glorified shed built by these so-called bringers of hospitals and schools who voyaged out West from Quebec to provide services to people during the Gold Rush, or whatever.
We visited Providence Farm, which is now a community farm for people with disabilities. Back in the day, it was a residential school, and later also an orphanage for Indigenous children. We were never told any of that. Or about their involvement in the residential school system. The story we got was ‘Pioneer Nuns’….
CH: (laughs) … Pioneer Nuns…
CH: It’s funny how they try to make it a feminist thing—
TR: —and they did! There was this weird feminist/anti-feminist thing going on. They were really good at instilling anxiety in girls. It’s the creation of the character that gets me: the Pioneer Nun. I mean, what were these nuns actually doing?
CH: If you start reading Black feminist theories or Indigenous feminist theories, the degree of complicity of a lot of whitestream feminist theories with imperial or settler-colonial projects is absolutely horrifying.
One example is the slave mistress who fights for her rights while subduing Black people as a free labour force. There are also many accounts of the on-off relationship between the whitestream feminist movement for voting rights in the US and the abolitionist movements.
If you read Angela Davis’s Women, Race and Class, she has a very detailed account about that relationship—how whitestream feminists at first were keen on working with abolitionists to end slavery and to gain the right to vote for Black people as well as women. As soon as Black men started receiving the vote, they became major racists because they were like, “They’re becoming our enemy now, because they are taking the voting right away from us.” That’s obviously a simplistic, reductionist version of their logic, but it’s not as shocking and as despairing as it might seem. You’re like, “How is it that when you fight one oppression, you end up creating another one?” That’s horrible; that’s not the point. But it’s by far not unheard of. This is common.
The Pioneer Nun—it’s one of these feminist histories that one has to be very, very leery of. I think that this is also a kind of divide-and-conquer strategy of the settler-colonial ideology in general. If you have minorities fighting against each other, they won’t bother you too much by trying to actually change things. That sounds very conspirationist, but I think that’s what it is.
The Pioneer Nun image. Well, it’s a ridiculous image. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I just don’t see how you can be Catholic and feminist at the same time. These are profoundly opposing value systems to me. If anyone can explain it to me, that would be lovely. But I haven’t been able to create that connection just yet. While it is ludicrous to me on that level, in addition to that, I think it’s very perverted on the settler-colonial edge that it takes.
TR: After the discovery, there was a letter written by an alumna who’s an investigative journalist now. She’s done work on fake Indigenous art.
The letter was signed by over 1000 students and alumnae and called for the school to make specific changes, like ceasing all visits to the Farm, implementing the Truth and Reconciliation CommissionCalls to Action by developing ongoing curriculum on residential schools and the Sisters’ involvement, as well as editing school material and signage that “glorify colonization.”
It goes to show how deep that ideology goes. I grew up right next to a First Nation and knew nothing about it.
CH: You’re not the first person I’ve heard that from. When I was in Buffalo, I heard very much the same.
While I was in Vancouver, I met a good friend of mine who also came from Lausanne. We both studied at UNIL at the same time, in different years. But it’s only in Vancouver that we met. We had very different experiences of Vancouver.
I took these classes on Indigenous literatures. I became more and more involved in Indigenous issues. I went to protests. And, of course, I did the internship at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre where there were a lot of Indigenous women.
My friend didn’t have that experience at all. She said, “Oh, I didn’t realize the Downtown Eastside is full of poor Indigenous people. This is something that passed me by. I was just told, ‘Don’t go into the east side of downtown.’ Nobody told you why, and I felt I was happy with that information. I felt like I didn’t need to know anymore.” She had a very, very different experience from me. I think to this day she perceives the city in a very different way than I do.
And I think it’s part of the identity that settlers have created for themselves. For them to legitimately inhabit that place, they need to ignore Indigenous people. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.
TR: There was an episode on a Canadaland podcast series called “The Police.” It dealt with the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
TR: —it’s grim.
CH: Yes, the RCMP. I hated them before I fully understood who exactly they were. (laughs)
Do you know the book by Maria Campbell? She’s a Métis author and she wrote what is essentially an autobiography called Half-Breed. … It was quite a big success from the start. She published the book for the first time when there was a growing interest for Indigenous authors and Indigenous life narratives.
Maria Campbell is still alive. They interviewed her after they found the passage and were like, “Did you want to take this passage out?” And she was like, “No! I wanted to keep it in!” It was silently edited out. The publishers cut it out without her consent.
It’s a passage that talks about her rape by two RCMP officers in her own home. I don’t know what the publishers decided. I guess they thought it put the RCMP in too much of a bad light.
It’s funny, because everyone who has read the first version is like, “Something is missing. Something is not making sense…. Now that we know about this passage, everything falls into place.” Maria Campbell says, “Yeah; that’s why I didn’t want it cut out, because it didn’t make sense without it!”
The RCMP is a very dangerous, executive part of the settler-colonial government. It’s dangerous because they’re not tied to a specific territory. They can go wherever. Within their larger organization, they have smaller jurisdictions, but as an organisation, they’re entitled to go pretty much anywhere. There’s very little oversight. It’s a tightly-woven network of buddies—most of them men, most of them white. For a long time and still now, they enjoy a massive amount of prestige because it’s called ‘Royal.’ To me, it’s one of the more dangerous institutions that Canada has. Maybe even more so than the actual police.
Content Warning: The following two questions and the links within them deal with subject matter that may be triggering for some readers. These portions touch on police brutality against Indigenous peoples and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
TR: APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) News did an investigation recently where an Indigenous woman spoke out about how she did sex work and had dealings with active police officers.
It touched on this idea of certain cases not being investigated properly, because how many of the perpetrators are actually the cops themselves?
CH: Oh, absolutely.
The amount of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women in Canada, but also in the United States—if we limit ourselves to North America—Mexico being quite a different context, so I’m not going to speak too much about that—the number of women and girls who have disappeared is massive, massive, massive.
Such governmental bodies as the police and the RCMP are not innocent in that.
There have been some inquiries, occasionally.
For example, there was a fairly famous case in Northern Manitoba—Helen Betty Osborne, in the 1970s.
She left her community to go to school in town to become a teacher. One night she was walking home from a friend’s and she was assaulted and brutally raped and killed. When she was found, it was obvious there was foul play. But the police didn’t really do anything. Her relatives had to push them. And then the police were like, “Yeah, okay she was attacked and killed.”
It took years and years for them to bring the perpetrators—and they very well knew who they were—to justice, but they got off pretty much scot-free.
There was a huge outcry again from the Indigenous population and the story managed to somehow reach the national news. This led to an inquiry against the RCMP who handled the investigation and butchered it. I mean, they did a shit job. Like they couldn’t care less. And they’ve done that over and over and over again.
TR: Of course, yeah. There was a report recently on APTN about Indigenous men and boys who’ve gone missing along the Highway of Tears, in addition to all the women. Which is why your work is so important. It’s not only women, it’s everyone.
CH: It is absolutely everyone.
I think that the case of gendered violence highlights the colonial character of it even more. Which is why I decided to focus on that. It connects pillars—foundational values of settler-colonial society—to the form of violence that Indigenous women experience today. I can talk a little bit more about that later on.
The Highway of Tears is an example of the location of mass disappearance. Winnipeg’s Red River is another one. Hudson’s Bay is yet another. There are all these places—which end up just being Canada, in general—where Indigenous people disappear enmasse. And hardly anything is done against it.
(This documentary film provides further information about The Highway of Tears, the Downtown Eastside, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada.)
It’s about Indigenous peoples’ death in custody. The last chapter is on freezing deaths. Obviously, it’s not a fun read… but it sheds some light on the particularly colonial character of the police and the RCMP. But also, how they work not just individually, but as a network, as an institution.
(In addition to the National Film Board documentary linked above, this podcast episode provides more information about freezing deaths or ‘starlight tours‘.)
It’s very sweet of you to say that my work is important. I think the topic is. I don’t think that my work about it is.
Maybe this is the PhD syndrome that I’m experiencing but I just don’t really see the impact that I’m going to have. You’re pretty much the only person I know who cares about my work right now. (laughs)
Obviously, I’m interested in the topic. Obviously, I think it’s crucial. Obviously, I’m happy to spend years of my life working on it, researching it, trying to understand it, to fight it. I just don’t think that my contribution to it is that important. Also, it would be arrogant if I did. (laughs)
TR: Probably. (laughs)
TR: So, there’s a photo of a horse on your personal website.
CH: (laughs some more)
TR: Who is that horse? Because he looks very friendly with you.
CH: Oh, that horse. (laughs) It was love at first sight.
His name is Brew. And he was a massive, massive Shire horse. I didn’t know him that well but I immediately fell in love with him. It was when I was in Scotland, in 2009. At the end of my exchange year—after I finished courses and my job at a hotel—I took several weeks and I travelled around Scotland. I went to the Outer Hebrides. The picture was taken on the west coast of Lewis. I was staying at a youth hostel with a friend. We were the only two guests there—it wasn’t quite summer vacation yet. There was Apple—the donkey—and Brew, the Shire horse.
They were the friendliest inhabitants of the island. (laughs)
The Outer Hebrides is quite the place. It’s very austere. When you arrive with the ferry on Lewis, people will not speak in English around you; they will immediately switch to Gaelic. It’s a very closed community. I wouldn’t say unfriendly, but not the most welcoming.
But I had a blast with Brew. I always brought him an apple.
I love horses. I’ve been riding horses for many years now.
TR: What do you do? How do you ride?
CH: Jumping, dressage, hiking, trekking.
TR: Oh, wow. You do it all!
CH: Yeah, I love it. Very much. Some of the most important relationships that I’ve grown up with have been with horses.
TR: I hear you.
CH: They taught me so much.
TR: Like what?
CH: They taught me not to hold a grudge. They never do. I feel like they live so much better for it. They taught me patience. They taught me kindness. They taught me self-control. When a horse gets scared, it flees. When you want to keep your horse under control when it’s scared, you cannot let it feel that you’re scared. You have to tell them that everything is all right. You have to override your own emotions to make sure that you can control the horse’s.
One of the most important lessons is that they taught me a whole different language. One that doesn’t work through words. But that isn’t any less meaningful because of that.
Animals are really wise. It’s a shame that we haven’t learnt to listen more to them. Horses are great teachers and companions. And they’re just lovely.
TR: Do you have a horse now?
CH: No, I could never afford it.
I still haven’t quite come to grips with that sport that I love so much which is riding horses. I’m like, “If you really love horses, wouldn’t you prefer for them to be free and happy, without having to carry humans around on their back—humans that very often mistreat them?”
I also don’t want to enter that entire horse economy which treats these beautiful beings as commodities. I’m profoundly against that. At the same time, I love them. I want to be with them, and spend my free time with them. It’s hard to do that without entering that economy. I haven’t found a good way of doing that yet.
I don’t think I could have my own horse unless I have my own stables. But that requires way too much money that I’m never going to have.
Anyway, ‘no’ is the short answer. (laughs)
TR: I had rats. And I had them free-range, no cage. When I moved to Switzerland, I shipped my rats here, because, you know, I couldn’t leave my rats. They’re people. They don’t live long. Definitely not as long as horses. But they’re empathetic, intelligent little beings. If you take the time to interact with them on their level, within their boundaries, they’re incredible. They’re little spheres of personality, full individuals. I understand those relationships that you can have with them.
CH: I think all animals. Cats are the same. Dogs are the same. Birds are the same. All animals are like that.
The only kind of animals I haven’t really had a connection to yet are fish—I find them fascinating, but it’s hard to communicate with them in the same way. (laughs)
Snakes scare me a little bit.
I try to love all insects, but I really hit my limits with mosquitoes. (laughs)
TR: (laughs) Especially the one at night in your ear.
CH: Fruit flies… (laughs) I try to love them all. It’s difficult sometimes.
We didn’t have animals at home and nobody else in my family rides. I don’t know where that comes from. My family, they weren’t very wealthy—and I always loved horses….
I didn’t cry a lot as a child. I was a weird, spaced-off, sing-song-y kind of child, but I didn’t cry a lot. The times that I cried were, obviously, when I was hurt very badly, and when a horse came by my window, and I couldn’t touch it and be with it and ride it. That would break my heart, every time.
When I was seven, my mom was like, “I’ve had enough! I don’t know what to do with you anymore!” (laughs)
TR: Riding lessons!
CH: (laughs) She brought me to the nearest barn and there they were, like, “Oh, she’s too young to ride still, but she can do de la voltige”—which is like gymnastics, but on a horseback. I did that until I was nine and was finally allowed to start riding lessons. …
First it was one lesson per week. Obviously, that wasn’t enough very quickly. So, I struck a bargain with the barn owners and said, “What if I come and clean the stables so I can ride for free?” They said, “Let’s do that.”
That was the beginning of a very intense riding career. I was really glad that my mum finally gave in! (laughs)
TR: That’s really sweet.
CH: Whenever I hear people say stuff like “Animals are really like humans,” I’m like, “Really? You haven’t realized that before?” What the fuck took you so long to realize that animals have feelings? That they’re intelligent? That they can interact? Why does it take us so long? Why are we always so surprised when we realize how clever beavers are? Of course, they are! How arrogant of us to not think any different!
TR: The thing that gets me is when I think about how much space rats actually need and how they’re kept in labs. Shoeboxes.
CH: Do you still have them?
TR: No, they passed away. I needed to just stop myself because I go overboard. They take over the house, and I’m home-making them organic food. I loved them so much. I don’t think I loved anything as much as my rats. Don’t tell my partner.
CH: (laughs) Your secret is safe here.
CH: A few months ago, we voted on whether we wanted to get rid of all animal experiments in Switzerland. Did you follow that?
TR: No, I didn’t; but I remember hearing about it.
CH: Exactly. I talked to friends about it who are biologists or who work as scientists. And I was like, “What do you think of it?” They’re like, “If that vote comes through, I’m going to be jobless very quickly.” They’re like, “It would put Switzerland back into the Middle Ages when it comes to medication, beauty products, etcetera. It would really not be good. And it wouldn’t just be that in Switzerland we couldn’t have animal trials, it would mean that we would not be allowed to import products from abroad that have been created based on animal trials, so that would cut us off completely, etcetera.” I’m like, “I don’t care! I vote yes! Let’s do this! We’ve got to find another way!” (laughs)
TR: Did it pass?
CH: No, of course not. (laughs)
TR: (laughs) … The industry is huge….
CH: The pharma industry in Switzerland is way too massive for that kind of thing to pass. Way too massive. I mean, we have, what? Three or four of the world’s biggest pharma industries, here, in our tiny, tiny country. It’s ridiculous.
TR: Not to mention the reputation of beauty products overseas. I know of one company that ships massive amounts of product to China. That’s basically their entire business. Everyone wants Swiss beauty products, apparently.
CH: And here people can’t even afford them. (laughs)
TR: No, of course, not (laughs). Okay, I think I’m going to stop the recorder.
CH: You have enough material?
TR: Oh, yes, I think so. We’re good.
Thank you, Cécile, for taking the time to speak with me. I definitely enjoyed it, and I think our readers will as well.
The smell of grass The smell of gasoline The smell of garlic cooking with just a touch of olive oil and herbs
Tuna sandwiches The change of seasons in every breath I take Smoking cigarettes in winter while your whole body freezes in pain and coldness Smoking cigarettes in the warm and sunny beach after a long swim in the ocean Smoking cigarettes anytime
The ocean Its salty taste, the aggressiveness that gets in your eyes, your nose, your skin
Rainbows Trees Birds, how they walk It’ll always make me smile But also dogs, yes Dogs
Driving in the city, at night Thunder when in bed Sex Radiohead songs How they understand me The fact that it could always be worse
My sick father My dead mom Movies Terrence Malick’s existential dread that is present in each of his works
Paris Oh, and Spain Yes Gregorian Chants Flamenco The hope that I will once understand the lack of meaning and fulfillment in my existence Tolstoy and Dostoevsky books Poetry, any kind, any form but poetry
Van Gogh, O’Keefe and Hooper paintings The hope that one day I will taste the lips of that blonde girl on the 9h37 metro Mozart’s Requiem In D Minor K.626 Italian girls The fact that I will end up dying anyway
It’s too expensive Too messy Too lame Too frightening
I still haven’t brushed my teeth
Yes Those are fine reasons Today? No, not today Tomorrow? Tomorrow is another day And I, and the morning light, we will change
I wish I was a ship Captain To sail afar and leave at sea, To run away and once be free; To escape shores I’ve known too long To realms I may feel to belong. My crew will hear: raise the anchor! Do not turn back, have no rancor! Full speed ahead, to the unknown! New lands out there have to be shown.
If just I was a ship Captain I’d have all I dreamed of, for sure I’d feel the wind of adventure Swells up my sails and shakes my ship And sends me on my one last trip. To islands of the purest sand Under sky made of artist’s hand. New shores never by man explored Of mysteries too long ignored.
I wish I was a great Captain To seek far off and primal woods Hiding magic misunderstood. Remote jungles so exotic Colors and scents are erotic; Dazing taste of forbidden fruits Bringing back to humankind’s roots. All treasures I could bring back home Once I would have finished to roam.
I wish I was my own Captain So I could choose where I’d sail; So I could write down my own tale. With the night sky as only guide, And my dearest friends by my side, I’d stir my vessel off its path And fight against every wave’s wrath. I wished I was, but I am still A shipless sailor that hopes will, One day, be Captain by all means Riding his raft made of dead dreams.
Spells Toppled by storms And strands Born to brush a little with your feet Sometimes with your hands But never with your eyes
Sheets, smells You kick with your feet And you reach for those hands But the touch is too far to keep away from those
Those voices I hear They can breathe And sometimes think And often drift Into that land of dreams
But when my hands rejoin To something offscreen And try and stay awake By that touch of fatigue And I try and stay awake Thinking of those brave, brave men And the spikes in the bush And the fire of that dream Thinking clean Thinking clean A touch of a spleen
And those souls lost in paradise How shall I think of thee And that touch oh so dry And that mouth oh so still Only dreaming Only dreaming To that still of a hill
But when I try, when I try When I try To dream far Just a foot Just a touch Of that fiery hill
A slight subtle move, barely noticed… at first. A small gentle pulse, slowly leaving the hidden side of the heart; less than a low murmuring rumble, but still… echoing throughout the whole chest and silently crawling its way along the shivering nerves.
Emerging from its long lasting slumber, it raises its head and stretches its neck, its back and tail, twisting and rolling as the dreams fade away. It coils around a now constricted beating core, sneaking in-between the drunk liver, hissing lungs and the addicted spleen, bumping against the bars of its thoracic cage.
It’s locked still.
But yearns to free itself. So it grows, enlarges and soon fills every inches of space. It strikes in despair at the walls of its prison like a trapped animal; and beats, bangs and bashes, smites, slaps and punches… until one rib dislodges itself from the spin. One, two, three… and the beast is free. Gnawing its way up to the base of the skull, up to the inner ear, it whispers to the soul in a long cold sepulchral breath:
“Let… me… out.”
One, two, three more sips to drown the pest and wash any thoughts away; its existence has to be forgotten once more. Four or five in the early morning, the hour glass is flooded and time is mired in sand. There is no escape. And the end is creeping closer and closer. The pressure both from in and out compressing the brain in anguish, forcing it to kneel and cower on itself. Six or seven, less than ten… that’s how many seconds it has left. And the mind knows; the mind fighting still in agony, the mind losing the game and still, itself; the mind trying to hold onto its dying corps knows what lies at the end.
If it wins.
It scratches, tears and rips the flesh with its claws, eating its way out to burst out of its host. Wearing only bloody skin and shadows upon its bony unworldly body; hidden in the shade, hidden on the dark side of the heart; it awaits its time. And under its gloomy glowing eyes smiles but a grin of pure darkness and warped teeth, drooling of anger and rage.
Complete the titles or authors’ names of the following works:
I Know Why the ___ ___ Sings by Maya Angelou
The ___ Land by T. S. Eliot
Moby Dick by ______ _____
___ Lost by John Milton
“The ___ Speaks of ___ ” by Langston Hughes
Little Women by _____ ________
The ___ Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Le Morte d’Arthur by _____ _____
A Rose for Emily by ______ _____
Pick the right answer for the ending of each of these stanzas:
From William Blake’s “The Tyger”:
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
And when thy heart began to beat, / What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the anvil? what dread grasp, / Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
What immortal hand or eye, / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
From Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death”
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
We passed the Setting Sun –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
From Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door— / Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;— / This it is and nothing more.
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted—nevermore!
Guess the work and author the following summaries come from:
Emotionally damaged young adult boy drops out of school, consistantly rants about adults being a bunch of fakes, befriends a prostitute and a couple of nuns and keeps nagging everybody else about the ducks from Central Park asking them where the hell do they all go in the winter. Last but not least, he desires to preserve a child’s innocence.
Young prince deals with an existential crisis while his widowed mother marries his uncle (who we don’t like by the way) and his father’s ghost visits him every now and then to spook him into avenging his death. And of course, his solution to it all is (drumroll please) to pretend to go all nuts, procrastinating on killing his uncle, accidently stabbing the wrong dude, dramatically harassing his mom, driving his ex to insanity, and talking to himself instead of taking action.
2. Last name of the author of “Bright Star”. 4. The Faculty of Arts’ favourite animal. 7. One of the three rivers on campus. It is the Western-most river of the three. It has its source near Cheseaux. 11. Last name of the author of “Recitatif” and “Beloved”. 12. Le Château de ……. 13. UNIL’s shepherd, Bob …… 14. The linguist who theorised the cooperative principle and the eponymous maxims.
1. The English students’ association. 3. The number of printed MUSE editions there have been, including this one.* 5. One of the three rivers on campus. Etymologically, this river’s name means “crayfish river”. 6. Virginia Woolf’s androgynous character. 7. UNIL’s favourite animal. 8. William Warder’s last name. You know, the guy who created the publishing house that’s responsible for all the big books we have to buy in first year. 9. The Canadian city Cécile Heim went to on exchange during her MA.* 10. Harry Potter’s owl. 11. One of the three rivers on campus. This river is the only one that does not have a metro stop named after it.
Clues marked with a * correspond to answers that can be found in this edition of MUSE.
Across 2. Keats 4. Fox 7. Sorge 11. Morrison 12. Dorigny 13. Martin 14. Grice