Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the Body

By Michelle Keown | Go to book overview

1

Postcolonial dystopias

Race, allegory and the Polynesian body in the writing of Albert Wendt

In embarking on this study of indigenous Pacific writing, it seems appropriate to begin with the work of Albert Wendt, the most prolific and influential indigenous writer of the wider Pacific region. As a founding member of the publication committee for MANA (a Pacific literary periodical established in 1973), Wendt has played a central role in the emergence of Oceanic literature in English, and he has edited several important collections of Pacific writing. His own creative writing also offers the most sustained exploration of the metaphorical properties of the human body as a medium for exploring the dynamics of colonialism and independence in the Pacific region. This chapter investigates the way in which Wendt uses corporeal symbolism in order to interrogate European constructions of the Polynesian body, and to explore the corruptions and complexities of post-imperial Oceania.

Wendt was born in Western Samoa in 1939. He completed his secondary and tertiary education in New Zealand (on a Western Samoan government scholarship), and after an initial return to Western Samoa where he became Principal of Samoa College, he moved on to teach literature, first at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji, and subsequently at Auckland University, New Zealand, where he was appointed Professor of English in 1988. In 2004, he took up the prestigious Citizens' Chair at the University of Hawai'i. Wendt's creative writing teaching involvements in Samoa and Fiji, together with pivotal critical essays such as 'Towards a New Oceania' (1976a), helped to shape the development of early Oceanic writing in English. As noted above, he has also edited a number of important Pacific literary anthologies including Lali: A Pacific Anthology (1980), Nuanua: Pacific Writing in English since 1980 (1995b) and Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English (2003; co-edited with Robert Sullivan and Reina Whaitiri).

In addition to publishing a considerable body of critical and theoretical writing, Wendt has produced a large corpus of literary material, from short fiction pieces and poetry published in magazines in the 1950s through to his most recent works, a novel entitled The Mango's Kiss (2003a), and a verse-play, The Songmaker's Chair (2003b). Much of

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Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the Body
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Figures xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Postcolonial Dystopias 16
  • 2 - 'Gauguin is Dead' 38
  • 3 - Purifying the Abject Body 61
  • 4 - Alistair Te Ariki Campbell 84
  • 5 - Remoulding the Body Politic 102
  • 6 - Disease, Colonialism and the National 'Body' 127
  • 7 - Language and the Corporeal 149
  • 8 - The Narcissistic Body: 170
  • Conclusion 191
  • Notes 199
  • Bibliography 213
  • Index 229
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