Thursday, 3 November 2011

the project is bigger than all of us...

Some days it's nice to be reminded that this is a collective enterprise. While this line of work involves a lot of time hanging out with a computer or book, research and writing (and obviously teaching) are necessarily communal activities.

It was meeting # 2 of the Toronto-and-friends Indigenous Literary Studies Reading Group tonite... six of us had read Scott Lyons's book X-Marks and we spent three hours talking about it... another great session including excited, critical, question-ish and probing discussion... and near the end we talked about what it means to engage carefully, thoroughly, critically, respectfully with a book.

Of course, when one has written one's own book, one cannot help but think about the potential reception of one's book. Hmmm. 

Dan Coleman (who was also lovely enough to host us in his house this evening) shared a moment when he was about to be in a conference session where three people would be discussing his book, and he was nervous about the criticism that might be coming his way... and then he realised that it wasn't about him at all, but it was all about the project. He reasoned that if these questions we grapple with were capable of being solved and addressed completely in one book it would already have happened, because a lot of smart people have been working on this questions for a long time... instead, each book is a contribution to furthering 'the project' which is bigger than any one book but it also bigger than any of us. Any gaps are to be expected because no book could ever be the final word, and any gains are gains not for ourselves but for the project...

This reminded me of discussions with my wonderful student Emma who has been doing research on Cook Islands literature and we have talked about the lack of critical voices in the 'field' of Cook Islands literary studies... but, her research will be one part of a tivaevae which the next person will be able to come and sew their bit onto... and evenutally, collectively, something will be made which will remind us all of who we are and keep us warm.

*tivaevae = Cook Islands quilt

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