The Contemporary Pacific 13.2 (2001) 607-609
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Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific
This collection had its origin in a 1994 conference, From the Inside Out: Theorizing Pacific Literature, convened by Vilsoni Hereniko for the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. It differs from its conference origins to a greater extent than most conference volumes do, and some of this difference is expressed in the title: the "theorizing" is gone, and much else is added. The original conference title gives an obvious indication of the critical position indicated by "inside out": theory appears not as the metropolitan arbitration mechanism, translating local concerns into universal language. Rather, Pacific Islanders will effect this translation into the universal on their own, from the inside out. Or then again, maybe not. The concluding essay in this volume, Albert Wendt's "Afterword: Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body," ends with a scene of three academics discussing a paper over lunch in Auckland, when a tattooed Samoan walks by eating a hamburger. "The young man didn't give a stuff about what people were thinking of his attire, his tatau. He was letting his pe'a fly on the first real day of summer!" (411-412). There is a will, in this and in several other of the essays here, toward pure presence, [End Page 607] experience itself, in a pre- or antitheoretical space. Houston Wood's "Preparing to Retheorize the Texts of Oceania," wants the scene of Pacific cultural and critical production to function as a space of antitheory and antiliterature. Wood's call: No valorization authority for critics; decenter the individual author and the generic divisions of poetry, drama, and fiction. Decenter writing itself, so that performance, ritual, celebration, and oral forms can have the prominence they deserve. Selina Tusitala Marsh's essay, "Theory 'versus' Pacific Islands Writing: Toward a Tama'ita'i Criticism in the Works of Three Pacific Islands Woman Poets," wants to foreground a poetic voice that is at once expressive and "theoretical," though Marsh's sense of the "theoretical" is closer to "critical" than the process of abstraction or translation suggested earlier.
The critical project is less deliberately ambiguous in several of the other essays in the volume. Paul Lyons's "Fear, Perception, and the 'Seen' of Cannibalism in Charles Wilkes's Narrative and Herman Melville's Typee" is a careful typology of fear and representation: fear as a sign of power. Paul Sharrad's "Wrestling with the Angel: Pacific Criticism and Henry Dansey's Te Raukura," is straightforward about the utility of critical models developed within the broad rubric of postcoloniality, and suggests that the lack of critical attention to his particular critical object, the first Maori play, is symptomatic of gaps present in two dominant critical postures--the engagé indigeno-centric, and the purely western. The bimodality of the volume's critical project--an articulated project of anticolonial and resistant "decreation" and an affirmative, rehabilitative "recreation"--the terms are from Rob Wilson's introduction--is best illustrated in Teresia Teaiwa's fine "Reading Paul Gaugin's Noa Noa with Epeli Hau'ofa's Kisses in the Nederends: Militourism, Feminism, and the 'Polynesian' Body," which uses Hau'ofa's anus-centered tale to great rhetorical effect. But more on Hau'ofa and the buttocks later.
Rob Wilson's introduction gives a sense of "inside out" that applies to the anthology as it stands: "To turn yourself inside out is to live at the tense borders of the skin, to live in an uneasy truce of evolution and the molting of cultural identity into something unforeseen and new" (3). Indeed, in many of the pieces in "About Writers," Part I...