July 15, 2004

Today read very quickly, almost skimming Tagore's Selected Writings on Literature and Language. I was looking for something that resembled some quotes I had read in Dipesh Chakrabarty's article "Romantic Archives: Literature and the Politics of Identity in Bengal." I think the essay I wanted is "Bengali National Literature," which is in this collection but doesn't really say what I wanted it to say (which I think was out of character for Tagore anyway... I wanted something on literature and political education; this is somewhat related but on literature and nation). In the meantime got interested in Tagore's discussion on language politics . He writes a lot on the negotiations between Bengali, English, and Sanskrit. Also became interested in his defenses of folk literatures. He uses wonderful, weird metaphors in his essays. Here is one from an essay called "The True Nature of Literature": "Time's cowshed has its doors open: the cow does not yield any milk, but chews up the plant. That is why that lopped plant of human hope, faith, and love sells today at such a premium in the markets of poesy. The cow, moreover, has to be scrawny, its bones showing, its horns broken, its back full of sores pecked at by crows, its tail loose-knotted and twisted out of shape by the carter. If the author carelessly allows it to be healthy and handsome, it will be branded with the stigma of mid-Victorianism, and driven through the fields of modern literature to its death at the critic's slaughterhouse."  There are a dozen of these sorts of crazy metaphors in each essay.
Also in the last few days but didn't get mentioned because I had left the copy at my office the collection Pacific Places, Pacific Histories: Essays in Honor of Robert C. Kiste. E. had recommended it to me. Or had mentioned to me that it was out. It is like many fetschrifts a weird collection of essays. The book opens with an essay by Mac Marshall in which he describes arriving in Hawai`i on a military ship (Navy father) but does not once address the colonization of Hawai`i by that same army. And then in the next paragraph describes his ties to the islands with references to family time shares and his owning land on the Big Island. This sort of sets the scene for the collection. There is a lot of talk by those who are not from the islands about how the islands are so personally important to them which is combined with dismissal at moments of Hawaiian political movements (the collection includes mainly anthropologists and most do their work in other parts of the Pacific which often get seen as more authentic than Hawai`i with its close ties to the US). David Hanlon writes how he is "a child of Wone" and his reasoning seems to be that he spent time there in the Peace Corps. (E. originally pointed this quote out to me.) Stewart Firth, whose anti-nuclear work on the Pacific I have some respect for, has an essay where he more or less dismisses Hawai`i and Hawaiian Studies. Terence Wesley-Smith opens his essay by speaking of his childhood rancor which was caused by his "marginality" as a Protestant in Ireland. At moments the essays feel like train wrecks in progress. It feels like everyone is falling into the obvious dangers of writing about the Pacific when you are not from the Pacific and have entered into it only as an adult, as an academic. There is in general almost no acknowledgement in most of the essays of resistance, to globalization or to colonialism, of any sort and also almost no acknowledgement of any sort of cross-cultural-ness (no James Clifford sort of celebrations). Few political positions are taken or stated. Little questioning of the enterprise of anthropology. But it might just be that anthropology sort of freaks me out (even as I'm not against it; I think everyone needs to study everyone else). I get nervous everytime I hear in this book a story of someone arriving from somewhere else to study and do nothing else and how everyone welcomes them (or eventually does even if not at first).
And yet at other moments I was having intense empathy. At a certain point I had to put the book down because it made me miss Hawai`i too much. I kept getting these waves of images of the beach and the water, they were located in my chest but would spread out from there, and I kept getting sadder and sadder.
The book isn't all weird, all haole. There are several other interesting essays. Teresia Teaiwa is here with her usual combinaton of complication and curtness. I was fascinated by Brij Lal's, the editor of the collection, descriptions of USP (I love the idea of USP) and Fiji in general (his essay at least seems to acknowledge some of the problems, some lack of knowledge, about Fiji despite his being born there, or perhaps his being born there and yet not Fijian has given him the crucial insight into how little he knows that is more difficult for anthropologists to admit to). Also funny play-essay by Joakim Jojo Peter. And these essays admist the others at least let the book give a picture of some of the complications of writing about place in the Pacific. 


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