The highly readable academic text The Decolonizing Poetics of Indigenous Literatures by Mareike Neuhaus is meant as a “handbook or manual designed to teach holophrastic reading so that readers may apply this method in their own approaches to Indigenous writing.” Neuhaus thinks of Indigenous poetics “primarily as a way of making sense of Indigenous expressions, as a set of tools that readers may use when they read Indigenous texts.” According to Neuhaus, “Indigenous storytellers working in their ancestral languages may express and event and its participants using a single word.” This is called a holophrase. “Holophrastic reading, on the other hand, is concerned with reading for holophrastic influences in English-language texts by Indigenous storytellers and writers.” Her aim is to guide readers in understanding how “Indigenous literatures grow out of different realities than do Anglo-American literatures.” Oftentimes Indigenous authors record stories with their community as their intended audience, as such, their adherence to standard English is not always the intention.
In terms of structure, this book is very well laid out, and surprisingly transparent in its uses. The first part provides the method as well as a list of the terms, which can be very useful for those not familiar with any Indigenous languages, and the second part shows how the method can be applied to different texts. After reading chapters one through three, the subsequent chapters offer insight into language influences, narratology, historical trauma and healing, literary sovereignty, and examples that depart from the norm. Each chapter exists as an individual unit, making them excellent teaching tools concerning this sort of material.
To expound upon the use of the word “decolonize” in the title of the book, Neuhaus explains that language was eradicated to remove Indigenous relations to the land that was taken. Since “the majority of contemporary North American Indigenous literatures are written in English—one of the ‘enemy’s languages’ – […it] has to be reinvented to serve the purposes of healing and empowerment.” Neuhaus creates guideposts throughout the book to keep the reader informed and engaged.
Neuhaus answers questions the reader may have just as they arrive. Neuhaus explains clearly what the terms mean, and how they relate to better understanding of the subject. She has a talent for working backwards to expose how the points connect to each other, creating a delightful circularity. She explains each new term at least three times, and uses charts and illustrations to make this book a wonderful didactic for professors and students alike. The examples of Indigenous literature used throughout the book, such as those by Louise Halfe and Thomas King, show Neuhaus’s good taste. I read quite a few Indigenous texts, and overall, I would feel very comfortable using holophrastic reading method and terms.
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