This essay considers what it means to speak into an absence. In particular, the author thinks about a series of recordings from the 1960s in which Inuit in Arctic Canada send messages to their relatives in tuberculosis sanatoria in southern Canada. The dislocation such separation caused was severe. Families who had never been apart were separated for years with little means of communication. Some Inuit died in the sanatoria. Family members had no way of knowing whether the absent were alive or dead. Many had a hard time finding words to speak into the recorder. Nonetheless, they lent their voices to the project. By juxtaposing these “soundings” with dreams Inuit youth have of their dead friends, the author thinks about the possibility of “sending” our voices to the absent/dead and the way they send their voices to us.
Sounding Death, Saying Something
Lisa Stevenson is associate professor and William Dawson Scholar in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University. She is the author, most recently, of . Stevenson is a medical and visual anthropologist whose research has focused on contemporary and historical forms of care in the Canadian Arctic.