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Issue Details: First known date: 2016... 2016 Troubling Language : Storytelling and Sovereignty in Kim Scott’s Benang
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'‘[I]t is far, far easier for me to sing than write, because this language troubles me, makes me feel as if I am walking across the earth which surrounds salt lakes, that thin earth upon which it is best to tread warily, skims lightly…’ (Scott, Benang 8). In these words, drawn from the opening lines of the Noongar author Kim Scott's Benang (1999) which won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the English language is shown to destabilize the narrator’s relation to the land, rendering it tenuous and fragile. My account of teaching the novel is therefore founded on the premise that the issue of sovereignty and its relation to language is a key node in the network of resources we use to teach Indigenous Australian literature. Taking as its point of departure Fiona Nicoll's 2004 argument on sovereignty and critical whiteness theory, my essay explores the way that the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty is performed by the relation between text and reader set up by all Scott's novels. In his work, land and storytelling, ownership and history are inextricably connected. I propose that in Benang this performance comes about through the novel's initial withholding of hospitality, in conjunction with the reader's responsibility for seeking hospitality through acts of introduction, as well as the reader's willingness to accept the text's right "not to enter into relationships, to 'not be with me" (Sara Ahmed qtd. in Nicoll). By recognizing all these relations teachers of Scott’s work may be able to reintegrate the ‘socio-historical’ and ‘literary theoretical’ approaches to Indigenous writing that have been separated and hierarchized (e.g., the idea that historical and cultural understand must precede theoretical analysis) by some recent reflections on the ethics of teaching Indigenous literatures (Ballyn 44). My own teaching practise bears out the need to acknowledge the ways in which historical, legal, and literary discourses have sustained, performed, and masked the process of colonial dispossession and its attendant violence in Australia. However, thematization of reading, writing, and storytelling in Benang, the experimentality of Scott's work, and his virtuosic use of language ultimately demand that we engage that work as literature, not as social history, for all that social history will offer us entry into, and be opened up in turn by, an understanding of certain aspects of Aboriginal experience at particular moments in the settling of Australia. ' (Introduction)

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  • Appears in:
    y separately published work icon Teaching Australian and New Zealand Literature Nicholas Birns (editor), Nicole Moore (editor), Sarah Shieff (editor), New York (City) : Modern Language Association of America , 2016 9421541 2016 anthology criticism essay

    'Australia and New Zealand, united geographically by their location in the South Pacific and linguistically by their English-speaking inhabitants, share the strong bond of hope for cultural diversity and social equality—one often challenged by history, starting with the appropriation of land from their indigenous peoples. This volume explores significant themes and topics in Australian and New Zealand literature. In their introduction, the editors address both the commonalities and differences between the two nations’ literatures by considering literary and historical contexts and by making nuanced connections between the global and the local. Contributors share their experiences teaching literature on the iconic landscape and ecological fragility; stories and perspectives of convicts, migrants, and refugees; and Maori and Aboriginal texts, which add much to the transnational turn.' (Publication summary)

    New York (City) : Modern Language Association of America , 2016
    pg. 165-178
Last amended 18 Aug 2017 07:04:34
165-178 Troubling Language : Storytelling and Sovereignty in Kim Scott’s Benangsmall AustLit logo
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