Emergent Settler and Indigenous Imaginaries: Learning to Read in TransPacific Contexts
“I believe it will increasingly become the role of literature to explain what is happening in the home of humanity, by speaking honestly to the world where those who represent us politically do not” (Alexis Wright, “A Question of Fear”: 169).
As two epigraphs to my paper, I have chosen, first, a question asked by Waanyi writer, Alexis Wright: “What songs should be sung in recognition of our national collectivity?” (Alexis Wright. “On Writing Carpentaria“: 92). The potential ambiguity in such a question—which national collectivity?– continues to haunt settler colonial societies in very particular ways, even as the question assumes new dimensions for many different parts of the world as twentieth century nation-states find themselves increasingly ill suited to adapt to the demands of the twenty-first century. With that recognition, Judith Butler and Gayatri Spivak frame a related question in their small book, Who Sings the Nation-State?, where Butler begins their dialogue by asking “What are literary scholars doing with global states?” (1). What we are doing is asking a series of questions about national and global imaginaries, human rights, democratic governance, and the responsibilities of the scholar at a time when many older certainties about divided roles assigned to disciplinary enclaves seem to be breaking down.
My second epigraph, also from Alexis Wright, speaks to the boundary-crossing potential of literary creativity. She claims: “I believe it will increasingly become the role of literature to explain what is happening in the home of humanity, by speaking honestly to the world where those who represent us politically do not” (“A Question of Fear”: 169). The relation between democratic demands and “what is happening in the home of humanity” is the concern of the Building Global Democracy program in which I am involved. The explanatory potential of literature for advancing “knowledge and practice for greater public participation and control in the governance of global affairs” (our bgd project t goal) has yet to be fully acknowledged. In the spirit of these two epigraphs, I will argue today for the value of transdisciplinary dialogue between the humanities and social sciences.
I am honoured by your invitation and inspired by the decision of your two societies, the American Association of Australasian Literary Studies and the Australian and New Zealand Studies Association of North America, to meet together to share your research. This paper will try to do justice to your collaborative and transcultural spirit. If Gayatri Spivak is correct in suggesting that comparative literary scholars and area studies experts need to work more closely together to reimagine the potential of the work we do, then your two societies, in sharing your work, are helping to realize that potential. Higher education globally is at a crossroads, facing choices about how to internationalize, engaged in debates about the advisability of deparochializing our Western-dominated knowledge systems, and reconsidering how we understand the dialectical relationships between the local and the global. Digital environments are changing how we read, and creating greater opportunities for reading across disciplinary and geopolitical boundaries, even as the borders that separate such cultures retain considerable institutional power.
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