- Knowing Why Revolution Must Come:Digital Humanities as Poetry and Prayer
In Joy Harjo's "Eagle Poem" she observes that "to pray you open your whole self" to the world. This is an act not only of openness but also of humility: you "know that there is more / that you can't see, can't hear."1
Calling in the presence of a "more" that is beyond visual or aural proof, Harjo draws our attention to ways of being and sensorial engagements that exceed dominant Anglo knowledge paradigms. Her "more" points to the many modes of communication, the "cloud-language, cricket-singing talk, and the melodic whir of hummingbirds" that are so often overwritten by the "violent colonization process" of the English language and Anglo ways of knowing.2
Harjo also points to the ways of being, the bodies, spirits, and energies that are "more" than the binary Cartesian models of subject and personhood brought to the Americas during European colonization. To accept, to know as Harjo does, that there is more is to eschew the dominance spuriously offered by white supremacy, patriarchy, and imperialism.
Such openness may well feel like a voluntary exposure, a risk, or even a loss, especially for people who reside comfortably within dominant systems. For those who are marginalized, knowledge of the "more" is a condition of being; people inhabit traditional knowledge systems while also knowing that they are perpetually exposed to surveillance capitalism and settler logics.
How might scholarship, research, and teaching be different if it more closely resembled Harjo's model of prayer? In many ways this is a strange question for me to ask as a secular/agnostic person. I do not have a devotional or prayerful practice in any real sense. Additionally, raised in a white enlightenment paradigm that values the "hard" sciences and empirical aural and visual evidence, I feel myself resisting the lexicon of faith.
At the same time, I have been listening to people of color inside and outside academe, and I hear words like fellowship, care, kinship, and prayer. I also hear the language of desire and love weave across twentieth- and twenty-first-century feminist work. Centering all of this, I wonder how love, desire, care, and prayer [End Page 671] might transform the futures we create, how they are already transforming the presents we currently inhabit.
In addition to exposure and risk, we can understand such an opening of the self as an act of love and trust. An enactment of the belief that there is in fact more than what dominates, more than what has been delivered to us by a violent history and the ongoing violence of the present. A practice of love for others and for otherness: love for the possible futures that are not the ones imagined in heteronormative, white supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal paradigms. A trust in and love for the visions of those who have not been afforded security in current sociopolitical formations.
Despite my skepticism of the language of prayer, I find myself trusting that there is indeed more and, increasingly, demanding that we open our scholarly scope to include more. To me, this developing trust feels increasingly essential to survival. It also feels kin to visions of poetry and poetics that have long been a part of my work.
Adrianne Rich in the Arts of the Possible observes that poetry is "liberatory at its core." While poetry for Rich is not revolution itself, it is "a way of knowing" why revolution "must come."3 It is built from "supreme efforts of care" and made from "words that create rather than attenuate community."4 Working in different contexts but drawing on a shared feminist tradition, Bethany Nowviskie has also invoked "care," explicitly calling for a feminist ethic of care in humanistic and cultural heritage work. As she notes, an ethics of care "means to reorient its practitioners' understanding in two essential ways. The first is toward a humanistic appreciation of context, interdependence, and vulnerability—of fragile, earthly things and their interrelation. The second is away from the supposedly objective evaluation and judgment of the philosophical mainstream of ethics—that is, away from criticism—and toward...