Yesterday 27 people gathered at the University of Auckland for a symposium, 'Teaching Pacific Literature,' organised by Selina Tusitala Marsh and myself in response to what we understand as a 'crisis' in the teaching of Pacific Lit.
Yes, I think Pacific Lit is in crisis. Pacific Lit is still marginalised in the depts in which it is taught, is taught in fewer institutions in the region than those in which it is *not* taught, is hamstrung by a racist and narrow publishing machine which means the region is littered with unpublished writers and undistributed books, and all of this means that Pacific lit is - as the demographics shift in the region and in this country - becoming more rather than less out of sync with students as time goes on.
Now, not everyone thinks this field is in crisis. Some people are very excited about what they percieve is happening: these people tend to have been in the game for longer and travel around the region a lot. Perhaps they are in the habit of accentuating the positive. Perhaps they can remember far leaner times. Perhaps their wisdom means their view of a bigger picture enables a more longterm view. Perhaps they are invested in believing their own work to have paid off more than *this*. Perhaps all of these is true.
Interestingly, though, it seems that the people who think the field *is* in crisis are younger, female, PhD-trained, Indigenous and (importantly) the people who are actually teaching in the field on a day to day basis. Perhaps we're spoilt and whiney. Perhaps we're exhausted. Perhaps we are speaking truth to power. Perhaps we spend more of our awake hours with students than with any other people in our lives. Perhaps all of these is true.
Surely this is a yes or no question: it's in crisis or it isn't. Or is 'depends' a possible answer here instead? Relativism is great but it gets in the way of being able to whip up enthusiasm over responding to a set of urgent pressures (yes, even if those pressures are a matter of perception) - so is a 'strategic' yes okay here too?
The symposium was fantastic: we covered a lot of ground, student voices were literally central (speaking for themselves, first up and throughout the day, as opposed to existing in paraphrased form by their teachers), high school teachers and students were present, and there was a good buzz around the topic. The field is in a crisis, but those who think it's in a crisis are alarmed by the state of things and committed to setting things right. Rather than being a morose dissection of a series of things that are wrong, by the end of the day we were all buzzing with the possibilities of what could go right. We left with a keen sense of what we could each do in order to get the teaching of Pacific Lit back on its feet.
The question, then, becomes one of loyalty: to whom are we loyal? Our disciplines (even when they believe we don't belong)? Our scholarly elders (even when their view of things is so radically different to ours)? Our own universities and schools (even though this can only come at the expense of other kinds of configurations and collaborations)? Our communities (even if they are not sure what we're up to or how this gets to count as a 'crisis' compared to other crises we may be facing)? Our training and our own teachers? Ourselves?
Yesterday I ended up with an addition to this list: our students. We are loyal to our students. 'Our' students. Yep, mine in my classrooms and the student sitting in my office while I write this and the ones in other institutions and the ones who haven't made it to uni and the ones who may never get here.
It's idealistic but it's another angle: an angle I've found to be - to borrow a word used by several of the teachers and students yesterday as they talked about their interactions with Pacific literature - liberarting.