Cree artist Tomson Highway will bring this year’s CBC Massey Lectures to audiences across Canada in the series’ first live event since 2019.
In his 2022 CBC Massey Lectures, titled Laughing with the Trickster: On Sex, Death, and AccordionsHighway brings its signature irreverence to an exploration of five central themes of the human condition: language, creation, sex and gender, humor and death.
Highway is a performer, playwright and author whose wide range contribution to the arts has been recognized by the 2022 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. His most recent work is Permanent astonishmenta memoir recounting the first 15 years of his life.
For the first time since 2019, the lectures will be delivered in person to audiences in five cities across the country:
- September 7: Fredericton Playhouse, Fredericton.
- September 9: DF Cook Recital Hall, Memorial University, St. John’s.
- September 14: Broadway Theatre, Saskatoon.
- September 16: York Theatre, Vancouver.
- September 23: Koerner Hall, Toronto.
Tickets will be available the first week of August at the respective venues.
Laughing with the Trickster: On Sex, Death, and Accordions will be broadcast on CBC Radio Ideas and CBC Listen in November 2022, and available like a book by House of Anansi Press.
The CBC Massey Lectures are a partnership between CBC, House of Anansi Press and Massey College at the University of Toronto.
« I think we really need to have a little laughter in our lives this year, and we know that Tomson Highway gives us both joy and also an ability to reflect on our surroundings, » said Nathalie Des. Rosiers, Principal of Massey College.
“I think this time more than ever is the time to hear what Tomson has to say,” said Semareh Al-Hillal, president of House of Anansi Press.
Uplifting message in difficult times
In Laugh with the Trickster, highway explores some of the fundamental questions of human existence through the prism of indigenous mythologies, in contrast to the ideas of ancient Greece and Christianity.
In his first lesson, On the tongue, Highway argues that language shapes the way we see the world. “Like birdsong, languages make our planet a beautiful place, a fascinating place – in fact, a miraculous place – in which to live,” he writes. Without language, we are creatures lost in a meaningless existence, says Highway – that’s why we tell stories. Language helps us create different mythologies, ways of understanding who we are and why we are here.
On Creation, the second lecture asks, « How did the place we know as the universe come into existence? What kind of god or angel or combination of these was responsible for its creation? » For the ancient Greeks, the world was created by sex, and humans were not there to suffer, but to enjoy. Christianity offered something more linear: a beginning, a middle and an end to things. The Indigenous worldview offers something else, writes Highway: us, still, today, in the very air we breathe. »
In on humor, the third conference, Highway invites us into the Cree world of scatological and wild laughter. He invokes the Trickster, a central figure in the mythologies of many indigenous communities on Turtle Island. Audiences are invited to experience the world through joy and laughter: « Welcome to the fun; welcome to the fun. Welcome to the Trickster and his sense of humor. Welcome to our world of rampant madness. »
Next, On sex and gender, explores some of the limitations that monotheism imposes on our understanding of the human body and gender. In the world of Indigenous peoples, writes Highway, “the circle of pantheism has room for any number of genres” – an idea with new relevance to understanding our own time.
Highway’s fifth and final conference is To death. Christianity, he says, offers a gloomy vision of the afterlife. The Greeks offered something a little more positive. But in the Indigenous view of our afterlife, writes Highway, when we die, we remain here on earth, “right in the middle of this circle which is our garden, the one we have the responsibility to care for when we came to the world as newborns. »
It’s an uplifting and joyful conclusion – a positive message that Indigenous worldviews offer ways of seeing and believing that make our journey on earth joyful, hilarious and rich in diversity.