Lisa Brooks – “Introduction,” The Common Pot.

Citation: Brooks, Lisa. “Introduction.” The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. xix-xlvi

_________________________________________________________________ Argument  

Brooks’s introduction builds on arguments, such as that of Craig Womack, that Indigenous nations have long histories of both oral and literary traditions, and that maybe it is shortsighted to distinguish between the two forms. Brooks suggests that “the intertwining of orality and literacy” is a “spatial writing tradition.” Writing and storying overlaps with mapping space, which she proposes in order to situate the writings in the book as acts of recovering Indigenous space.

Scope/Organization/Main Points: 

Privileging Space over Time

Brooks opens with a story about being on the land with a friend, commenting that “we are all related somewhere” and further on, “We are on old trails”– a statement evoking kinship and situatedness through space rather than chronology (xix). Place worlds – based on Keith Basso’s term – introduces a privileging of space over time (much as in Deloria). It is a “fleshing out of historical material that culminates in a posited state of affairs, a particular universe of objects and events” (xxiii).
In terms of disrupting the divide between past and present, in order to emphasize space, she quotes Craig Womack from Red on Red. “Nationhood is woven in large part from the lives, dreams, and challenges of the people who compose the body politic; as such, examining the interplay of broader social issues with lived human realities can immeasurably strengthen our understandings of the complicated discourses of community. To write about family and history is to try to give voice to silenced ghosts as much as to give strength to the living” (xxix).
The voices of community bring forth interpersonal relations but also different conceptions of time and space: “The recovery of indigenous voices and indigenous knowledge is instrumental not only to the adaptation and survival of Native nations but to a deeper and more complex engagement with the past, present, and future landscape of America, however we might define it” (xxxix).

Overcoming Chronology and the Supposed Loss of Purity 

In the section titled The Map and the Book Are the Same Thing, Brooks describes how awikihigan once described “birchbark messages, maps, and scrolls” but later “came to encompass books and letters” (xxi). And further on, “books as a valid means of passing on vital cultural information is an ancient one, consistent with the oral tradition itself” (xxi).

She argues that writing is “an instrument to reclaim lands and reconstruct communities, but also a mapping of the instrumental activity of writing, its role in the rememberment of a fragmented world” (xxii), suggesting that The Common Pot is participating in this self-conscious practice.

The book’s impact is unpredictable, too: “this amikhigan may operate as an instrument, in the Abenaki sense, which, now in your hands and working in your mind, may foster thoughts and activities that I could not have imagined” (xxv). The collection is not a chronology of Indigenous textual production, but a proliferation from “written communal history, to treaties and journey journals, to a multivoiced published narrative,” and so on (xl), that represent “communal histories” as well as “formalized agreements between nations” (xli), and of which, I suggest, art might play a useful role.

Concerns about the ‘authenticity’ of Indigenous writing (ie. who is ‘really’ Native) prevents full and sustained engagement with Indigenous texts. (Her reference to Maureen Konkle is important, particularly as the idea that Indigenous writing is somehow ‘un-pure’ “is based on a temporal model of culture in which the most ‘authentic’ is that which exists only in the precontact past; this culture cannot change but can only be ‘preserved’ in the present” [xxxi].) Getting over questions of inclusion and / or hegemonic notions of belonging is crucial (xxxi). Much like Simon Ortiz, Alfred, and others, brooks emphasizes that cultures are always adapting and changing. This is a form of “cultural exchange” as well as survivance, and cultural dynamism “is long-standing on this continent” (xxxii).

How can we think about change without chronology? Or, as Brooks asks, “What does the historical landscape look like when viewed through the networks of waterways and kinship in the northeast, with Europe and its colonies on the periphery” (xxxv)?

Points of Importance/Interest:·        

  • The underlying discomfort with universality
  • Important point that getting caught up in the supposed authenticity of a text prevents engagement and stymies cultural exchange (xxxii), which fits with Ermine’s idea of the ethical space of engagement.
  • I get a sense that the persistence of native place-making is non-teleological, though richly influenced by the possibility of a different future. The changes to the present that place-making engenders, I think, qualifies as a sort of prefigurative politics as Coulthard defines it (xxx): bringing the lives of individual Indigenous peoples into focus through discussions of literature and Indigenous studies brings forth “what we might learn from those who came before us and to foster deeper understanding and strengthen relationships among all of us who are here today” (xxx). ·
  • Chronology and racination are thus interrelated.
  • Thinking spatially rather than chronologically (echoes of Deloria) is tied to colonial ideas of Indigenous cultural authenticity in really complicated ways. This means that disrupting the notion of the ‘authentic’ Indigenous identity also deemphasizes teleology: Indigeneity “lies not in the preservation of obvious markers of Indian identity but in the ongoing relationship and responsibility to land and kin” (xxxii). Concerns of cultural identity also pervade Byrd’s text, as well as Coulthard, Leanne Simpson, but perhaps clashes somewhat with Ermine’s valorization of “two solitudes.”
  • Questions of how to think about change without chronology. ·
  • She has a good quotation from Maureen Konkle: “Native peoples’ connection to land is not just cultural, as it is usually, and often sentimentally, understood; it is also political – about governments, boundaries, authority over people and territory” (2) (Konkle, Maureen. Writing Indian Nations: Native Intellectuals and the Politics of Historiography, 1827-1863.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 2.) 

 

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