Friday, January 22, 2010

HUM 221: Postcolonialism, Native American literature and some links for in-class discussion Friday and Monday (Jan. 22 and Jan. 25)

Since we didn't have internet access in class Monday, we'll postpone this discussion till Wednesday, Jan. 27.

An interview with Sherman Alexie, who wrote the screenplay for a movie we'll watch (and who is also quoted at the top of our syllabus), on what he does as a Coeur d'Alene/Spokane Indian writer. In an interview with Katherine Wyrick of BookPage, Alexie spoke of the conflict inherent in reviving Native traditions in a culture shaped by a dominant European-American society that largely eradicated the traditions. "We've lost old ceremonies," he said, "and we're casting about looking for new ones. And we don't know yet if they're going to work or not."

Alexie said he feels "trapped by other people's ideas of who I am and who I'm supposed to be ... there are so many ideas about Indians, none of which we created. It's a special situation being colonized people where the colonizers always get to define us — and that still happens." The "colonizers," of course, are European-Americans.

But Alexie said Native writers have to take part in the larger culture.
I love museums, but for me the greatest part of all this is I'm a completely active member of the culture. Forgive the immodesty, but I think it's much more important for an Indian like me to be in The New Yorker magazine than it is for me or an Indian to be in a museum [so that] we join the culture rather than become a separate part of it. It's great to talk about traditions and to see them represented and to get a sense of history, but I think it's more important to change the possibilities of what an Indian is and can be right now.

We're not separate, we're not removed, we're an integral and living part of the culture.
Alexie talks a lot about "colonialism" ... in the quote at the top of our syllabus, he told a reporter for a newspaper in California, "I'm a colonized man ... we're a colonized people" Sonoma County Independent Oct. 3-9, 1996).

Colonial. Colonized. What does that mean?

Let's find out.

The links below will take us to a website on a literary theory known as postcolonialism that will give us a useful international perspective on it.

Here's a pretty good overview by Bill Ashcroft, of the University of New South Wales; Gareth Griffiths, University of Western Australia; and Helen Tiffin, University of Queensland, the authors of an important book called "The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures" (1989). They say:
We use the term 'post-colonial' ... to cover all the culture affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day. This is because there is a continuity of preoccupations throughout the historical process initiated by European imperial aggression. We also suggest that it is most appropriate as the term for the new cross-cultural criticism which has emerged in recent years and for the discourse through which this is constituted. In this sense this book is concerned with the world as it exists during and after the period of European imperial domination and the effects of this on contemporary literatures. ... What each of these literatures has in common beyond their special and distinctive regional characteristics is that they emerged in their present form out of the experience of colonization and asserted themselves by foregrounding the tension with the imperial power, and by emphasizing their differences from the assumptions of the imperial centre. It is this which makes them distinctively post-colonial.
While Ashcroft et al. specifically leave out the United States as they focus on former colonies in the British Commonwealth of Nations, a lot of what they say about emerging literatures applies as well to Native American authors.

Ashcroft et al. are quoted at, a website at the National University of Singapore that has a lot of information on postcolonialism. We'll keep coming back to it.

Also informative is the Introduction to Post-Colonial Studies on the Emory University website in Atlanta. Authored by Emory's Deepika Bahri and students, it has essays on a variety of topics. And the English department at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan has a detailed, although somewhat "literary" and specialized, website at ...

In class Monday, we'll also read some traditional poetry in Brian Swann's anthology "Native American Songs and Poems." One is a Navajo [Dine] "Deer Song" (page 5), and we will read a report on deer hunting traditions written for Utah's San Juan school district by Clifford Marks, a Navajo student at the College of Eastern Utah-San Juan Center. If my link doesn't work, paste this address in your browser:

Joy Harjo, a Muscogee poet who now lives in New Mexico, has a poem called "Deer Dancer" ... we can learn something by comparing and contrasting it with the traditional Dine hunting lore.

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