Everything has an incredibly complex geography. The objects and peoples that surround us are the result of a myriad of interactions that have flung this culture and peoples from there to here, and the hundreds of components of that object across the planet.

More often than not, the complexity and immensity of everyday geographies is hidden. Marx spoke of this phenomenon politically when he wrote of “commodity fetishism” — when the intricate and exploitive social relations that produced a product are veiled, and the object is treated as separate from these realities. Coming back to the geography of an object, it would be impossible (or, exhausting) to be constantly aware of the spatiality of everything and everybody you come into contact with.

I have had moments in my life, however, when the intricate geographies of the objects and peoples of a situation reveal themselves, in explicit and poignant ways. I find this happens most often when many objects and peoples from distinctly different places interact in otherwise ordinary circumstances. “Convoluted geographies” is an academic term to describe the moments when the geographic complexity of the world reveals itself. Perhaps sharing with you some of my previously experienced convoluted geographies would be more effective than describing the abstract concept.

Several years ago, I looked out over the the thoroughly designed cultural landscape of Bathurst Lawn cemetery, a Jewish gravesite in Thornhill, a 50s era suburb of Toronto, a North American banking and manufacturing centre originally inhabited by the Mohawk and colonized by the British. The cemetery and most of Thornhill was carved out of formerly agricultural land and before that, old growth forests. It was my grandmother’s (who we affectionately referred to as Bubby, a commonly used Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) term of endearment) funeral, and she was being buried alongside my grandfather Max and many other Holocaust survivors who had migrated to Canada from Poland after World War II. Framing the western edge of the cemetery are several Modernist condominiums (one of which my Bubby lived in for many years). As the service ended, and the closing prayers read in ancient Hebrew, a commercial airplane noisily crossed the sky as the clouds rolled in and out of the horizon.

And another experience of convoluted geographies: Last Friday at the First Nations Pow Wow, an annual event held in Halifax’s North Common. My brother and I,  descendants of Eastern European Jews, participated in a Miq’Maq drum circle with people of a variety of cultures in an British-Style Commons park, in Halifax, a distant outpost of the British Empire and former military base on a protected bay on the Northern Atlantic Ocean. The event was held on Canada Day, a celebration of the unity of British colonies in 1867, and during the drum-circle-song, fireworks began to go off over the Citadel, the defunct star-shaped military base that now functions as a museum and recreational green space in the middle of the city. I heard Native mothers tell their children to watch and enjoy the fireworks – fireworks celebrating the country and peoples that has historically and violently marginalized their culture, and continues to do so. But everything was incredibly far removed and glossed over from the histories and politics of violence and oppression that were present at that moment. The Pow Wow was full of Native American simulacra – vendors selling pieces, symbols of native culture, that, now commodified, have lost their connection to meaning; the defunct military base visible from the drum circle, sterilized in it’s use as a recreational space and symbol of the city – and the fireworks – impotent displays of colour and light that are far removed from their military origins.

The above-described situations were incredible to perceive in one moment — these are convoluted geographies.

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