Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Violence and its subjects: An conversation with Yejide Kelianko, Lauren B.Davis and Linden McIntyre

In the peaceful atmosphere of the Knox Presbyterian Church, conversations of violence are usually not for the faint of heart, nor a laughing matter. However, perhaps divine interventions played a role in gathering three of Canada's most gifted storytellers and an willing audience to partake in an intimate conversation about the acts of violence. The irony redolent is perhaps that the evening took place in the comfort of a church where the issue of violence could be talked about in a light but thoughtful manner. The three authors, Yejide Kilanko, Lauren B. Davis and Linden McIntyre each read a passage from their respective books which did not introduce us to the protagonists as individuals, but rather as human beings experiencing the consequences of being violated. It was not about who they were personally, but rather about how they can come to a place of understanding of these personal violations, and how they can become better individuals from it; ultimately stopping the cycle. The passages evoked the same emotions felt by individuals despite the differences.


"What do they (the protagonists) want and why do they want it?", inquired CBC anchor Adrian Harewood to the three storytellers about the protagonists of their respective books.  For Yejide Klianko, author of the Daughters Who Walk This Path , it is about acceptance and understanding. "She wants to know why she violated in that way", referring to her character Mayaro, dealing with the after-effects of being raped by a male relative to which she later added, "Sometimes the bad things that happen to us don't make sense".


For Lauren B.Davis' protagonist Albert Erskine, in her latest work Our Daily Bread , Erskine wants the protection to be good and noble. She explains, "Does he become the abusers like those before him or the protector of his brothers and sisters from the self-same abuse he himself went through?" For Effie Gillis, the protagonist of Linden  McIntyre's Why Men Lie , it is stable intimacy with integrity, along with companionship.


While acts of sexual abuse are obviously considered violence, seeing the betrayal of trust and damaged relationships as acts of violence through Effie's relationships with men is certainly an eye-opener. To see infidelity and mistrust between men and women's intimate relationships as an violent act opened new possibilities of defining violence. However, during the conversation, it became quite clear McIntyre's Effie and her own struggle with betrayal at the hands of men is not much different from the rape of Mayaro or the child abuse of Albert. "The consequences of violence," as McIntyre pointed out, "migrate in time and space." One prominent consequence of violence that is prevalent in the three books is the inter-generational cycle of silence. Kilianko emphasized the act of silence is inter-generational and that women reinforce this powerlessness in order to keep peace in the home.


The three books examined  the prevalence of male potency of power, to which Harewood asked, “Why are they (the men in the novels) so obsessed with power?” Ideas of power as control and driven by impulse were echoed in the sentiments of the authors in the stories of their protagonists, however it was Davis who pointed out that, in these acts of violence, “there is no true power (the power that takes place in the three books), rather that it is the misuse and misconception of power that makes it obsessive”.  Indeed, while there is a sense of power that is misconstrued and misused in the novels, the protagonists themselves seem to be on a quest themselves for some type of power-relationship. Their own longing for meaning, perhaps?


As we came towards the end of the conversation, the Q&A session dug deeper into why cycles of violence and silence become inter-generational. “Shame does not only belong to the victim, it also belongs to the family”, as Kilanko suggest, “If the silence continues, there is the belief that it will go away”.  These cycles of silence  present in these books, if not broken, become what Davis called the secrets that become the beast under the bed . There was no one particular highlight from the night because it was simply an educated conversation about human experiences with violence that was beneficial for all. However, I don’t know which was better, Lauren B. Davis admitting that she writes about the stuff that bug or obssess her or the fact that Linden McIntyre proclaimed that he always wanted to take a break from writing dull, boring journalism to write about "outrageous sex."


 Listening to this conversation, one realizes that there are no "permanent" solutions or answers to questions of power relations or why acts of violence occur. There is only understanding, which is the opposite of perplexity. No matter how much we may know, as Linden McIntrye pointed out, “we are always unprepared for the majority of our lives, there is always something we don’t know”.  We who gathered in the Knox Prebyterian Church on Thursday night learned a unfamiliar definition for the term violence through the presence of these three authors. The questions were asked and now it is our job to find those answers of understanding by digging deeper into the stories of these protagonists.