On Reading Grace's Potiki" Erase Quotation Mark!!! (Essay) - CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture
The relationship between Indigenous literatures and postcolonial critical readings is curiously restrained. Literatures thrive in creative ambivalence and multi-faceted meanings yet much non-Indigenous scholarship and criticism withers inside unproductive paradigms and preconceptions. While Indigenous writers invite us "inside" and offer us glimpses into different worlds, many scholars and critics, enticed into Other Land and eagerly making mental notes for later scrutiny, lose sight of what they are offered by the host and eventually outstay their welcome. Others move tactfully around and watch and listen but would rather not enter into conversation because they fear they could be accused of intruding. This is, stripped of all its associated theoretical jargon, the central discursive dilemma that the production and reception of Indigenous writing still struggle with. What goes on in the translation of what the text says and what the scholar/critic "hears"? As the category "Indigenous literature" is still imbedded in a pervasive politics of culture insistent on opposing the cultural outsider's mistranslations or misappropriations of "ethnic" value, this dilemma is far from being one that posits writer and reader at clearly defined opposite ends of the dissemination process. Irrespective of the complex issue of what qualifies as Indigenous literature, it is relevant to ask the question: on what legitimate grounds may a non-indigenous reader respond critically to it? In the New Zealand context, in recent years there has been a swing away from the entrenched positions according to which non-indigenous critics, on the one side, stipulate that Maori literature is defined primarily by a writer's ethnicity and the literature's protest against the wider society's marginalization of Maori beliefs while, on the other side, Maori commentators argue that non-indigenous critics are off-limits or should acknowledge their restricted entry in the form of apology when they engage in evaluations of the Maoritanga (Maoriness) of a text. A move has been made towards a more reconciliatory focus on what the scholar/critic should aspire to gain insight into by reading Maori literature. This, of course, confers on the non-Indigenous scholar/critic the task of performing a culturally sensitive reading, of listening intently to the "beat that words ... [have]" (Grace, Potiki 184) because the postcolonial vocabulary might well be short of adequate words for translating this particular beat. If, however, the scholar/critic is aware of the frequent incompatibility of trained theory and indigenous meaning, a much welcome dialogical relationship between writer and scholar/critic on the vibrant creativity of Maori literature might begin to flourish. Rather than attempt to validate or frame Maori literature, the scholar/critic may take part in the cross-cultural dialogue that the literary text itself has in fact always invited. Perhaps, then, the "difference" of Maori literature could be seen to be further empowered rather than appropriated by the potent capacity of the critic to circulate Maori meaning.