Thursday, May 29, 2014

When story is a matter of culture, can we provide critical analysis?

What is story? Story is the only real magic left in the world. That's not a metaphor. Story is magic: it creates, transforms, transports, persuades, collects, heals, anaesthetizes, placates, bides, builds, destroys, and strengthens. This is why no matter where, no matter when, pick a moment on the planet in history, you will find it.

We hold on to story. And where humans seek to enslave other humans, you will find a deliberate effort toward the erasure of the subjugated group's collective stories. Brainwashing is the deleting of one's personal stories. Its good strategy, after all, stories are powerful, and stories are survival, in particular, for communities and peoples who seek to rebuild and persevere. Ancient civilizations who have managed to evolve and remain throughout epochs have done so, in part, because of their stories. Indigenous* storytelling communities are surviving the longest and most multifaceted genocide effort, in part, through the preservation and handing-down of stories, stories which contain all the teachings, wisdom, encouragement and identity necessary to move forward as a people.

As storytelling intersects with literatures in all their formal and restructured formats- from sonnets to jazz- there comes the spectre of critical analysis. And just what is critical analysis where story is concerned? Critical analysis of a work of literature/narrative is seeking to explain the piece through interpretation in order to broaden one's understanding of the work, usually by way of examination of literary elements- plot, setting, narrative mode, etc. The use of common elements ensures we are speaking the same language and are comparing oranges to oranges.

In terms of critical analysis where Indigenous literatures are concerned, there needs to be a healthy dose of diverse literary theory and scholarship. By that I mean, we need to be amenable to evolving our understanding of meaning and philosophy. By that, I simply mean, we need to ensure that we have the right tools for the job. Which boils down to, making sure we have Indigenous tools for an Indigenous job. And why shouldn't critical thinkers and literary critics have access to and employ Indigenous methodologies, after all, everyone should be entitled to the highest quality in their profession.

If analysis is carried out as a matter of critical observation and then determining how we interact with that which is observed, it is imperative that we employ the right lens. If the camera we have set up to capture a snapshot of Indigenous narrative is not equipped with the right lens, the image that comes through is blurred and incorrect. And if we attempt to persuade interaction based on this image, then we have set up a false basis which is problematic. And in a community where stereotypes and false interpretation  have lead to our children being taken into residential schools and our women being abducted and murdered, this is catastrophic. Therefore, we need to make sure the lens fits, and there's only one real way to do this.

We are storytelling people. This is our game. The game shouldn't be dissected off the field and then compared to another sport altogether. Yes, our stories, particularly where they intersect with formal structures of novel and poem, will and do hold up under critical analysis; we are fantastic in narrative. Yes, we continue to be preeminent in the literary/storytelling world, and yes, we can successfully complete on a global scale. The question is not asking for our works to be 'set aside' or 'safe from analysis'. Rather, the question is, can western/globalized critical analysis hold up its function and form when attempting to address Indigenous story? It can, only is we as a literary community employ and push forward Indigenous standards of story and analysis, which is to say, story as medicine, story as magic.

My hat off and my hands up to my friends and family who have dedicated their lives to bringing Indigenous discourse, methodologies and wisdom to the academy. Robbie Richardson, Daniel Justice, Niigaanwewidom Sinclair, Lee Maracle, Renate Eigenbrod, and others. Thank you for bringing the participants to the field and being so patient and kind as to ensure that we all have access to the right kind of eyes with which to observe, protect and continue to make magic.

*I use Indigenous here as opposed to being nation-specific in order to be inclusive, not as an oversight of promoting a 'Pan-Aboriginal' ideal


  1. Well I am not sure how to email you but I just finished reading The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy and I just loved it. Kudos to you. I love the story but I also love the way you craft your sentences and choose your words. I can hardly wait for the next book and i will try to find Red Room.


  2. I realize I am commenting on an old post, but here's hoping you see this: Thank you for this brilliant push in the right direction.