Making Political Music: Contrapuntal Constitutionalism and Indigenous-Settler Relations




Kohlmann, Neil

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This thesis applies Edward Said’s thought to Canadian settler colonialism. I draw upon Said’s idea of contrapuntal reading to understand settler colonialism as an interdependent and co-constitutive relationship between domination and resistance. Contrapuntal refers to counterpoint in music, where two or more distinct melodic lines occur simultaneously. Each line is independent as a musical phrase but sounds out interdependently in the composition as a whole. I use this contrapuntal approach as a method of analysis and as the foundation for a normative practice of reimagining and rebuilding political community. Using contrapuntal analysis, I examine the installation ceremony of Mary Simon as the Governor General of Canada and the installation ceremony of Kevin Hall as the President of the University of Victoria to elucidate the limits of the foundational logic that underpins these attempts to constitute political community. I then consider potential alternative constitutional perspectives, drawn from Indigenous constitutionalisms, that resist and do not rely on settler colonial domination. Contrapuntal constitutionalism, the outline of a political practice for Indigenous-settler relations, grows out of what my analysis discloses. By extending Said’s use of counterpoint, in conjunction with Indigenous, prefigurative, and music theories, I contend with what a contrapuntal approach to anti-colonial constitutional politics could look like. The goal of this thesis is threefold: to make the case for the importance of Said’s thought to understanding the present manifestations of Canadian settler colonialism; to illuminate the dominating tendencies of Canadian political community dressed in the guise of palliative narratives of multicultural harmony; and to disclose an alternative constitutional relationship that does not further entrench domination as necessary and inevitable.



colonialism, Canadian politics, settler colonialism, imperialism, Edward Said, Indigenous-Settler relations, political theory, music, counterpoint, contrapuntal