Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Doing Indigenous Literary Critisism

As I download articles as I find them and read them in a haphazard manner, I encountered this introductory essay to a special edition of "The Canadian Journal of Native Studies" apart from the other pieces in the journal.  It is an overview of the edition by James Sinclair Niigonwedom and Eigenbrod Renate  called "What we do, what we are: responsible, Ethnical and indigenous-centered literary criticisms of indigenous literatures".

As this was the second such special edition in the journal's history, their article begins with a review of the first edition and contrasts how thinking about indigenous literary criticism has changed.  They speak especially to the growing representation of indigenous peoples in academia and how this second special edition focuses on the creation of a, "...respectful , meaningful critical language through which to discuss the ways Native writers were are articulating their own critical realities and experiences, and using creative means to do so."  Here they reference Cederstrom and his work suggesting that there is a need to understand how indigenous people understand their cultures and not to try to understand them through the lens of the colonizer.

I have to be honest here, literary criticism overall really seems like a colonizer kind of concept, yet it is a tool that is and will be applied to the works of indigenous peoples if they like it or not.  I think they raise an interesting issue here in trying to reconceptualize this kind of work from an indigenous world view.  As indigenous peoples are producing more, much of it written, what are the standards of analysis that are appropriate?  How do the dangers/benefits of pan-Indianness play out in this sphere?  There are a lot of interesting questions in this space.

Niigonwedom and Renate  speak to the challenge of wanting theory to change the world and recognizing that it cannot, while also pragmatically giving it space as,"..it is part of the change.  Theorizing about the universe, telling stories about it and the ways others view it, is engagement.  It is listening, perceiving and creating things out of relationships forged from experiences."  I like how they bring this theory back into the space of relationship.  They situate it as a dialogue between the reader and the writer,  "...Theories, therefore are seeds that, with help and care, become trees - and then perhaps a forest, helping and participating in the sustenance of life."  I really liked that metaphor.  Sometimes theory seems so removed from reality that is become a kind of game playing with words, but I don't think that it has to be when it is accessible to those who have the talents to make things happen from the seeds of theory.

I have read a couple of pieces from this edition and have downloaded more to work through, but I thought this introduction had some interesting things to say on it's own.  What do you think about the role of theory?  How can it be made more indigenous?

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