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New Literary History 31.3 (2000) 599-613

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Unwriting Oceania:
The Repositioning of the Pacific Writer Scholars within a Folk Narrative Space

Steven Edmund Winduo

One aspect of the fragment's culture that now clearly requires retheorizing is its literature. At one level the literature of this fossil written in English is marked by a deep-seated schizophrenia or contradiction that one finds in other postcolonial literatures. In purely formalist terms, the contradiction arises from the way in which the colonised is compromised by the generic expectations, discourses, intertextual and aesthetic frames of the coloniser. 1

By unwriting oceania we are involved in reimagining the imagined oceania. So much has been written about oceania that it is easier to use the word without asking what really constitutes the word "Oceania." In this essay I will consider how "Oceania" is viewed as a contestory space for competing discourses (for instance, colonialist and indigenous) by which it is possible to see where oceania is projected as a palimpsest or as a blank sheet on which numerous inscriptions and descriptions are overwritten. Essentially there are two interconnected ways in which Oceania was brought under European surveillance. One was to treat it as a blank sheet (tabula rasa) and the other was to present it as a palimpsest. Indeed for Pacific people it is not so much the erasure of their cultures, but the overwriting of their cultures with European inscriptions. In other words, European explorer/"discoverers" did not so much erase indigenous self-representations and cultural expressions, but in most instances overwrote them. Even where erasure as a process occurred, it was never complete and uncontested, and this tension has affected the process of representation in the Pacific to the present. 2 Tiffin and Lawson see the process of erasure as a transferring of obscurity in "language to the field being described" so that it legitimates the argument: "Only empty spaces can be settled, so the space had to be made empty by ignoring or dehumanizing the inhabitants." 3 Ryan explains that erasure and cartographic practices overwhelmingly [End Page 599] legitimated "the erasure of existing social and geo-cultural formations in preparation for the projection and subsequent emplacement of a new order." 4 The exercise of power is immediately deployed in order that control is exercised, legitimated, and instituted as a geopolitical and cultural entity. Ryan sees in this exercise a "cartographic double movement, or erasure and projection, creating a blank, and filling that blank with a legend (both in the sense of a myth and a cartographical inscription) [that] continued into the eighteenth century" (124). Thus the notion of "oceania" constitutes seemingly binary oppositional narratives: "For obvious reasons of geographic reality, the Oceanic world's major production, at least as it is seen from the Western standpoint, has been narratives of sea journeying. The Pacific is figured not as a place to live in but an expanse to cross, a void to be filled in with lines of transit: ploughing the sea." 5 Having crossed the expanse of water and filled in lines and shades, the Europeans wrote their experiences in logs and journals as historical statements of geographical and political occupation. In this essay I propose to consider a discursive activity within a structure that already imagines my project. I take an alternative approach to those already authorized by astute readers of Pacific literature.

Trace of Living Cultural Memory

The "leaving out" practice of the authorities on Pacific literature baffles me. The practice of "leaving out" the writings and scholarship of Pacific writer scholars creates a trace of what and who were left out. The attitude is often one derived from a historically-determined lack of interest in anything "native" or reactionary. By "leaving out" contributions by Pacific islanders, a trace of what was there in the original space is produced. What was there as an originary is seen as a "living it" experience. Trace is a signifier of what in essence was the word for something which existed before erasure. 6 Here I am...


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