Cover Image: Making Love with the Land

Making Love with the Land

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Member Reviews

In 'Making Love with the Land', Whitehead draws us into himself. The acute intimacy this fosters punctures all pronouns, from the elusive "I" to the boundless "you". Soon, the former transforms into the more elusive "we", leading to a burst of image and feeling so fierce that it seems almost involuntary. Meanwhile, beneath his exquisite prose and scenes of lulling destruction, Whitehead's ruminations carve notches into bones.

The first essay is somewhat reminiscent of Billy-Ray Belcourt's 'A History of My Brief Body', in that it hints at a controlled dislocation of the psyche; one that results from its capacity to hold - and crave - more than the self. The elaborate language with which Whitehead handles others' fictions about himself also points to a deeper convolution than the one enacted on the page. And while the prose may come across as uncomfortable in its own skin at times, this nurtured stiffness is an ache that is meant to first delineate, then outlast the body.

In a similar fashion, English is unmasked as a choreography of painfully stilted movements. By mixing its clunky step with Cree terms, Whitehead allows the reader to experience some of the distress that comes from being engulfed by the Other, or - as is perhaps more accurate in the case of many of his recollections  - another. Making love, then, becomes a way of blending with all that we consume and eventually regress to; an interchange that takes us out of ourselves, grinding atoms in pursuit of that silent implosion.

To achieve this, Whitehead plays around with narration and the many voices it assumes. He asks, "Who is the you, who is the one substituting both the you and the I?" By rubbing the flank that separates one from many, he shows how a voice can endure the collapse of a body, how consciousness finds its impression in the "you", in which he lives; the one he delights in, and which triumphs over him.

The body is in a constant state of lovemaking with the world, forever in the throes of the atomic coupling that allows it to persist: "…so that when I defecate I originate - I give back to those who gave to me. The belly is a world-maker, is a Fourth world, is my ancestral grounds." While self-effacing, this view is also deeply adoring of its originator. This sentiment proves vital when Whitehead later points to the underpinning of his destructive relationship with his body.

The essays are lined with countless layers of quiet contemplation as well. Most memorably, during the process of unsticking labels and language from his skin, Whitehead reflects on the creative process, which animates literature to the point of cultivating new life. The person that is stitched together from private words and inner worlds is likewise granted a body that can be experienced: "I must remember that a story can be eaten like a body."

With mentions of BIPOC trauma and grief rightfully charting the course of a shared existence, Whitehead constructs whole orbits, which bring us closer to the formation of thought, the contemplation of beauty, the flirtation with self-destruction, the devastation of desire, and the stunting of deed. While subsisting on universal states of being, the act of functioning as a cell in a persevering body exhausts the personal. This "fluidity of being" is endless, and as malleable as language proves limited.

For example, one of the essays is a love letter composed entirely from the bones of heartache. By looking back at a formerly romantic relationship, Whitehead conveys the eager fluidity of all things, from emotion to relation. It's a poignant account that indicates how sorrow is entrenched in life. To love is to be is to wither. And yet, like all his words, the sum of the author's thoughts points to persistence, perhaps even hope. 

Fellow fans of 'Jonny Appleseed' will also rejoice in the behind-the-scenes peek at the character's conception, which, like all bodied people, yields both pleasure and anguish. There's something intensely voyeuristic about consuming another's pain, but Whitehead accepts this unavoidable intimacy with a weary shrug. After all, he understands the impulsivity of the act like no one else. We are all drenched in each other's immediacy.

With 'Making Love with the Land' being largely an academic work, it's no surprise that he sets out to draw the scholarly world into the realm of experience. In doing so, he forces thought to find its physical embodiment. As a result, the author seems more exposed than ever before, but this nakedness is intangible. His vulnerability is a tear, through which we glimpse more layers of membrane; a fact that makes his work so restorative.

These layers change hues, bristle, and grow sensitive to the touch. And as Whitehead holds our hand to the most tender spots of his intellect, we reach a facsimile of familiarity. In many ways, it's only ever as powerful as the parable it feeds, and we are rarely truly intimate with our urges. With that being said, we come as close to becoming one as possible through the process of devouring the book's body. And though he may fear having given too much of himself, as all writers of his caliber do, Joshua Whitehead is an author that will be forever revered for the myths he awakens.
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I got the chance to read an advanced reader copy of the upcoming non-fiction work by Joshua Whitehead (thanks, NetGalley!). The book, titled Making Love with the Land, is comprised of essays of a variety of types, musing on Indigeneity and his writing process. 

The book demands attention. Whitehead uses Indigenous language throughout, without definition, in a Indigenizing move that is reminiscent of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, the Kenyan writer who has long insisted on retaining Gikuyu language in his translated works. Like him, Whitehead leaves the English-speaking reader to confront their own discomfort with the unknown language. We are left with the sense that this writing is not for us, in the way that the vast majority of English-language works are, and that we are honored to be given what glimpses into Whitehead’s world that we can decipher. Even his use of the English language is designed to baffle, filled with obscure vocabulary and double entendres. Nothing in this book is expressed simply – everything must be decoded through careful analysis. 

The themes in this book oscillate gracefully. Whitehead reflects on the way Indigenous culture and narrative is understood by outsiders and how he has interpreted it in his own work as an author, reflecting on his previous best-seller, Johnny Appleseed, as well as his book of poetry, Full-Metal Indigiqueer. Through his reflections on these works, Whitehead also reflects on his positionality as a queer author, and on the intersection of Indigeneity and queer identity. Overall, this is a thought-provoking book for those who have the dedication to sort through it.
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Although I’ve heard of Joshua Whitehead and his published works before, this is actually my first opportunity to read any of his writing. I admit that there were times where I couldn’t follow along due to my own personal context as a reader who’s non-indigenous, white, heterosexual, amongst other differences. However, even when I found myself a bit lost, I was still more than happy to take in the beauty of his writing. Even more appreciated was his willingness to be so honest, open, and vulnerable in this collection of essays as he touches upon a variety of subjects ranging from his own personal writing to matters of his identity as a Two-spirit. These essays felt intimately immersive in a way rarely felt when reading the musings of others. 

I look forward to exploring his poetry and fiction in the near-future, for clearly I have been missing out on quite a lot.
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This was a beautiful memoir from the author of Jonny Appleseed! Whitehead is a brilliant leader and powerful voice to be heard.
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Thank you, Univ Of Minnesota Press, for allowing me to read Making Love with the Land early!

Joshua Whitehead is a Writer with a capital W. This book evoked so many different and powerful emotions and brought me to tears. Just phenomenal.
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Joshua Whitehead, author of the fantastic Jonny Appleseed, is a Two-Spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation who holds a PhD in Indigenous Literatrures and Cultures. In this essay collection, he contemplates Indigeneity, queerness, and mental health under settler colonialism in North America. In ten artful texts, Whitehead combines the personal (familial trauma, an eating disorder and sexual assault, e.g.) with the political while challenging standards and definitions as declared by Western academia.

I have always been particularly fascinated by Whitehead's arguments regarding the nature of storytelling and how the physical and the psychological intersect when a story is manifested from a person's mind over their breath into the physical world, where narratives create and change reality. Orality and community building through experiences shared via narrative are a major concern of this collection, which is partly challenging to read when the author merges academic language, Cree expressions, anecdotes and high literature to make complex points about identity and society - but the effort is so worth it. And of course, the land that Indigenous peoples and settlers live on plays an important role in many of the texts.

Whitehead's concept to render the essayistic artful, to craft creative non fiction, is also reflected in the fact that this collection, long before its publication, was the basis of performance art.

Joshua Whitehead's Jonny Appleseed was an extremely important novel for me: It taught me so much and I really loved its wonderful, multi-faceted protagonist. "Making Love with the Land" now appeals to the academic in me, but it does so in an artistic, absorbing way. I hope Whitehead will go on writing for a long time.
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