- Stories:Making Soup, Baking Bread
A response to Deborah A. Miranda, “‘They were tough, those old women before us’: The Power of Gossip in Isabel Meadows’s Narratives.” Biography 39.3 (Summer 2016): 373–401
Deborah A. Miranda writes about the power of women and the power of gossip, the power of sex, and the power of narrative to offer us a way through deep colonial trauma and violence. There is so much value in what she lays before us: both the stories and a theoretical way to approach the stories. This work creates a vital bridge between “the category of ‘social sciences’ [and] the more appropriate category of ‘Literature or expressive culture’” (374)—an important conversation for me as a scholar in an academic environment that devalues Māori expressive literature but validates Māori social sciences. I note the depth of the research and the thoroughness with which the stories are excavated and examined. This is a rich archive, deserving of such meticulous attention. The unpicking of the doings of colonialism is a vast and complex task, and look at all of us, working so hard on our small piece of it. Even so, I also hear a small, insistent, impatient voice inside that recognizes how great and overwhelming the task is, a grumpy schoolyard kid who doesn’t want to do the remedial reading before she has the freedom to create anew like the other kids.1
I am tired. And that may be something to do with the head cold that keeps me in bed while I read Deborah’s essay and write in response to it, but it is more than that. I do not write of my feelings here because of any need to share my personal state of being, but because I suspect the tiredness I am experiencing is a collective tiredness. This morning before I started to write this I read about Korryn Gaines, the ninth black woman to be shot dead by police in America this year. Last night I finally watched that footage of the Khan [End Page 406] family at the DNC rally, whose Muslim US soldier son died in combat, and Trump’s bizarre statements in response (any and all of his statements are bizarre no matter the subject) and the outrage that followed. This year has been one outrage after another, atrocity and barbarity and affronts on our humanity, continuous and raw. In New Zealand we don’t often have to witness people being shot, and we do not have a flow of refugees because of our vast moat, but our babies are dying from violence and homelessness and despair, so we don’t get to elevate ourselves above what is happening in the States or Europe or Syria or Australia. Unfortunately, we still seem to think, collectively, that these things aren’t connected.
I have not encountered affective or “felt’” theory in any detailed way before. And what amazes me most about this is that as Indigenous researchers we are forced to find a way to theorize and legitimize what seems a self-evident way of understanding the world. I understand the need for this theory. The privileging of Eurocentric intellectual knowledge over other kinds of knowledge is a limited view that inhibits not just academia but also many other cultural and societal institutions. The work that Deborah does here is important and useful, providing us with a language with which to substantiate the importance of recognizing how our emotional lives tell an important story. But as I read I note the lengths we must go to, the carefulness with which we must put forward our claims, and coin them in terms that will be accepted by the academy—to simply explain that our lived experiences should be taken seriously, read for all their emotional complexity, and not used to minimize us.
My reading is informed by my own state of emotional tiredness, which in turn I read as related to a wider tiredness in my communities. I can tell this emotional state is more than personal because my patience for middle-class white colleagues and acquaintances is low, and it has never...