Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

The Geopoetics of Affect: Bill Neidjie's Story about Feeling

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

The Geopoetics of Affect: Bill Neidjie's Story about Feeling

Article excerpt

In this article I argue for the importance of Bill Neidjie's Story About Feeling in constituting a theory of affect in Australian poetry: specifically a theory which participates most evidently in a paradigm of land writing. I am, therefore, making a reading of the 'feeling' that the work's title refers to. By geopoetics, I refer to the localised context of the story: where it comes from. Though the book is titled as a story, I read it as a long poem. Veronica Brady compares Neidjie's story-emphasising poetics to that of William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens (42-43). The text, edited by Keith Taylor, owes something I think to Stephen Muecke's editing of Paddy Roe in Gularabulu and Reading the Country (Benterrak et al). It is not one story only, but a number of stories and observations transcribed in free verse form. It is also a 'talk poem', comparable not just to Roe, but to those of American poet David Antin, and the New York-based Australian poet Chris Mann. It is not the written form that makes it unconventional, but rather, it is special in its attention to feeling; and it is Neidjie's assertion that this poem-story comes literally from the body and through the body: literally from the heart.

Story About Feeling is largely told through the pronoun of 'e', which at times is the pronoun of the story itself. Though presumably a truncation of 'he' it does not necessarily refer to a male figure; as Muecke remarks in his notes to Roe's Gularabulu, 'Aboriginal English often does not distinguish gender in pronouns' (xi). As 'e' in Story About heeling variously refers to spirit, tree etc., I prefer to read it as being gender neutral. ('E' is also the most emphasised sound in the word 'feeling': therefore it also represents feeling on the level of sound.) The Story About Feeling begins:

This story e can listen careful and how you want to feel on your feeling

This story e coming right through your body e go right down foot and head fingernail and blood... through the heart and e can feel it because e'll come right through (1)

This is story as agent, the ambiguity of the 'e' suggests that 'e' can listen to the story, yet 'e' can be read as referring to the story listening to itself; and feeling as differentiation, feeling as different from itself: feeling as identity (Nancy 10). Neidjie writes that we feel this story 'laying down' (2), we dream, while up above stars 'work' for us: 'Have a look star because that's the feeling' (3). The stars are identified with the trees, the grass, the ground, the dirt, and this identity is love: 'I love it tree because e love me too' (4). Neidjie reads the stars, positing a telling that is aligned with the earth, as are the listeners, lying on their backs. This seems different to vertical storytelling where authority comes from the speaker. It is storytelling as reading, not as originating. It involves memory, and commentary, but is also collaborative: ' "Because that story up there; have a look! "' (7).

Through identifying the place of feeling as being under particular stars, Neidjie locates Story About Feeling in one place, yet opens up the possibility of other texts being read under other stars elsewhere on earth. The pluralised or democratic reader is lying on their back, reading in their own language. To adapt postcolonial critic Walter Mignolo, 'I Am Where I Read' or 'I Feel Where I Am'; but to adapt Mignolo to Neidjie, and to generalise this reading identity we can characterise the context as: 'E Am Where E Reads'/'E Feel Where E Am', where 'e' can be others in a collective self, or it can be a star, or the earth etc. This, then, is Neidjie's 'geopoetics' of knowledge. My use of the term 'geopoetics' is adapted from the use by Mignolo and Leo Ching of the term 'geopolitics of knowledge', and is informed particularly by Mignolo's essay 'I Am Where I Think.' My article attempts to practice a geocritical or geopoetical reading of Gagudju man Neidjie's long poem in a way that broadens readings of place in relation to Indigenous poetics. …

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