- Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the Body
In the Introduction to Postcolonial Pacific Writing, Michelle Keown notes that, while a number of Pacific writers have received international recognition, their works (and the region itself) remain marginal within the worldwide institutions and industries of postcolonial scholarship. This assessment suggests that one of her book's ambitions is to make the case for inclusion and broadened, better-informed discussion. An implied tactic in this regard is to demonstrate how readily Pacific texts (here "Pacific" is limited to "Polynesian" and Mäori texts written in English) respond to postcolonial treatment, and how analogous Pacific texts are to other postcolonial literatures. At the same time, Keown suggests that postcolonial theory can deepen the appreciation of—and thicken the analysis of—Pacific responses to colonial incursion, without becoming a neocolonial imposition of terms. The central tactic here is to posit a dialectical relation between postcolonial approaches (the anticolonial global) and an emerging canon of indigenous texts (the pan-Pacific regional). In this dialectic, postcolonial refers to "theoretical issues" (11), and Pacific refers both to the creative texts produced by indigenous writers and the Pacific-specific sociocultural contexts, epistemologies, and narrative strategies inscribed within them.
Keown structures her book as both [End Page 461] a critical introduction to Pacific literature, engagingly angled toward students of postcoloniality unfamiliar with the region's indigenous writing, and a detailed series of close readings of established Pacific writers. Each chapter begins with a biographical headnote about the author; summarizes the author's works, trajectory, narrative modes, and principal themes, often through reference to interviews Keown herself conducted with the authors; supplies compact historical and cultural contexts for individual works; and applies concepts from postcolonial theory to individual texts.
What organizes Postcolonial Pacific Writing thematically is Keown's argument, signaled by the book's subtitle, that in Pacific literature, as in much postcolonial literature, authors self-consciously present history as registered on the body. Representations ofmarkings on individual bodies (scars, diseases, fistulas, dismemberments), along with representations ofinternalized responses to skin and body (impaired self-image, mental ailments, ambivalence, narcissism), are read as commentaries on the state (condition, health, corruption) of the indigenous body politic. Because the works selected for discussion are in several senses built around corporeal imagery, Keown centralizes theorists who analyze the body, such as Frantz Fanon and Julia Kristeva. Their approaches seem invited in that, as Keown shows, the authors she discusses have each made the Pacific body—so fetishized in colonial literature—into a locus from which to examine the wounds of colonialism in order to chart a course toward recovery from psychosocial ills.
In the first half of her anatomy of Pacific literature, Keown discusses "Polynesian" writers, beginning with an overview of Albert Wendt as the writer whose work "offers the most sustained exploration of the metaphorical properties of the human body as a medium for exploring the dynamics of colonialism and independence in the Pacific region" (16). In chapter 1, subtitled "Race, Allegory, and the Polynesian Body," Keown shows how Wendt's works reject Orientalist depictions of Islander bodies and refigure the body as "a vehicle for presenting new conceptualizations" of Islander positions in contemporary Oceania (18). In chapter 2, on "the Polynesian female body," Keown reads Sia Figiel's work as both a critical interrogation of idealized images of the Polynesian body, whether in anthropological literature or contemporary media myths, and an inside narrative of the subject formation of girls growing into their bodies within sometimes violent settings. Chapter 3, on satire and scatology as means of "Purifying the Abject Body," argues that Epeli Hau'ofa's Kisses in the Nederends (1987) "sets out to metaphorically liberate the indigenous body" (61). Through illuminating comparisons with the works of Jonathan Swift andother satirists, and a tracking of Hau'ofa's inversions of ethnographic frameworks, Keown demonstrates how Kisses embraces what has been made abject (here, a fistulated anus) as a cathartic release from exclusionary dialectics. The conclusion of Postcolonial...