Poetry, Power, & Research pt. 1

Poetry has power, and this is often forgotten in the conversations regarding research. How silly to forget about poetry, an essential voice of people in research, which ought to be representative of the voice of the people. Poetry is so important that Joy Harjo’s parent bought them a collection of poetry despite the only other book they had in the house being the bible. This juxtaposed with the hatred the mother (and the gifter of poetry) had for a William Blake poem illustrates the utter disdain felt for canonical literature. Canonical works fail the decolonial test, for they serve the center, leaving the art of the margins to be discovered anew by each generation of the marginalized individual. If these individuals are lucky, they are given a gift and are able to discover the art of the margin earlier.

In the introduction of her text, Smith states that “it appalls us that the West can desire, extract and claim ownership of our ways of knowing, our imagery, the things we create and produce, and then simultaneously reject the people who created and developed those ideas and seek to deny them further opportunities to be creators of their own culture and own nations” (pg. 1).

This cultural hegemony exercised by the west against indigenous ways of knowing, against indigenous arts is insidious within our culture, and within our schooling systems. We saw this with Precious Knowledge, we see this with Colin Kaepernick. Any challenge to the dominant modality of knowledge destroys the façade of white stability, exposing the thin veneer hiding the white fragility. I think ultimately this is why dominant culture steals anything they deem worthy of whitestream culture and leave the remainder of what they understand to be undesirable to the periphery to be relegated to a secondary or tertiary status. This is evident in the understanding of indigenous systems of knowledge being classified as “oral traditions rather than histories” (pg. 34). I found it quite interesting to hear the argument that Western civilization may be based on a black tradition of scholarship, redefined and appropriated as Western scholarship (pg. 46). I had never heard this argument prior to this reading.

The idea of time and of space stands out to be in Smith’s text. This might be as I am also taking a course this semester called Queer Temporalities, but the idea of time has resonance in what I have learned in my understanding of culture. Time is a cultural construct; a category of understanding the world, much like culture itself is how we understand and interpret the world. I feel like Smith begins to get to this a bit on page 46 in speaking about Foucault’s idea of a cultural archive. Smith also informs us that for some indigenous groups, such as the Maori, time and space share a word.

I find it interesting that one of the most accepted modes of racism deployed in our liberal accepting contemporary culture is one levied against timeliness. A dominant discourse deployed against people of European descent is largely one of strict adherence to a time-schedule. This is portrayed as both the normative expectation of civility (and thusly civilization), but also superior to a more laissez-faire approach to time. The project of modernity, capitalism, perhaps would not function with a laissez-faire approach to time. This approach to time and thusly the conception of space, gets scripted as the way that we need to approach time and space, and anything else is “indolent” or lazy (pg. 56). We see this practice every day. We see it in the school-bell telling our children when to leave class; we see this in the markers we have on our workday. There is no escaping the all-mighty clock, to choose to do otherwise is to reject civilization.

I had never given thought to civilization. Smith cites John Laffey, who argues that civilization was made to denote those who were not civilized, as much as it was to define those who were (pg. 69). This is an echo of the beautiful quote by Franz Fanon “we know each other well”. To me, I read this as a dialectical mode of understanding the world, something that we still inhabit today. We still rail against binaries. These binaries can be gender or sex, they can be sexuality, they can be racial. Living in a system of binaries is never a sideways operation; power (and western culture) dictates that these relationships must be hierarchical and thus one must be more desirable than the other.

 

 

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