- Unpacking our Libraries:Landlocked, Waterlogged, and Expansive Bookshelves
Can we rememberthe ways we expanded our islandsto the fullness of their environments?Birds, sea, sky, coral reef, where the oceansare our pathways to each other?
And when we find ourselvesin single file city streets,how do we move as a collective?
How do we find our pathwaysto each other?—Karlo Mila, “Finding Our Way”
Why should American studies and Native Pacific studies be engaged? There are political arguments, cultural arguments, proximity arguments, familiarity arguments. There are reasons that have to do with shared experiences and reasons to do with shared colonizers. There are higher education questions about the value of a PhD in each, and about whether these are disciplines, interdisciplines, multidisciplines, antidisciplines, or just plain old undisciplined. Productive engagements could focus on individuals, specific spaces, key events, particular industrial complexes, or crisscrossing themes. There are Pacifics in America, and Americas in the Pacific. The water and the land have a lot to learn from each other. The possibilities are oceanic; they’re continental.
But this special issue focuses not just on “America” and the “Native Pacific” (or, indeed, the plain old “Pacific” or even “Oceania”), but on American studies and Native Pacific studies. While we can—and should—talk until we’re blue in the face about the relations between “American” and “Native Pacific,” it is worth thinking about the word both fields share: “studies.” In his discussion of New Zealand studies, Danny Butt defines studies as “the process of academic labour”:1 not just the academic labor itself but “the process” by which [End Page 645] it is undertaken. I don’t take “process” here to mean something as specific as method or methodology; in his piece, Butt focuses on the fundamental ways in which an academic labors and the political and cultural underpinnings and orientation of this labor. But what “process” is shared by all academics who labor? Some scholars focus on a specific person or place, some scholars focus on entire communities or regions, and some focus on theories and ideas. Most scholars find themselves doing all these kinds of research in different research projects. Different scholars will have different methods and methodologies and will have positions on whether what they are doing is (1) qualitative, (2) quantitative, (3) theoretical, or (4) none of the above. All of them, however, will have one thing in common: a bookshelf.
Yes, we’re unpacking our libraries again. Like Walter Benjamin, like Homi Bhabha, we sit in front of our bookshelves—or unpack them out of crates—and find that it is worthwhile to reflect on the books themselves, as well as the circulations and habits by which they arrived. Benjamin begins his essay “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting” with the observation that his “books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order.”2 The production of new kinds of work—new books—is one thing, but what Benjamin urges here is the possibility of deliberately reshuffling existing books. Decades later, Bhabha’s reflective response, “Unpacking My Library Again,” reenacts the literal and literary work of “book unpacking” undertaken by Benjamin’s essay; while he unpacks his apparently randomly packed books, Bhabha draws attention to the “most unlikely pairings” he finds there.3 As we unpack our libraries, we join Benjamin and Bhabha in thinking about the coincidences, diversions, resonances, disjunctures, and what Chadwick Allen would describe as “productive juxtapositions” between them.4 I began my dissertation, several years ago now, by reflecting on my own bookcase:
In my study in Ithaca, I have a five-shelf bookcase into which my books are piled. The bookcase is very heavy when it’s full so whenever I move it around my study, or take everything out to dust properly, I put all the books on the ground and then once the bookcase is ready I load it up again. Of course, everyone has their own system for arranging books that reflects their hierarchies and priorities, and because of who I am, the books on the top shelf are my Māori...