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“Romantic Entanglements, Irreconcilable Differences: Indigenous Translations”: a collaborative review of Nikki Hessell's Romantic Literature and the Colonised World and Kim TallBear's “Dear Indigenous Studies" by Matt Hooley & Dawn Morgan

Wednesday, September 1, 2021 - 07:54

Nikki Hessell, Romantic Literature and the Colonised World: Lessons from Indigenous Translations. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. 269 pp. including apparatus. (Cloth ISBN 9783319709321. eBook 9783319709338 Kim TallBear, “Dear Indigenous Studies, It’s Not Me, It’s You: Why I Left and What Needs to Change.” Critical Indigenous Studies: Engagements in First World Locations. Ed. Aileen Moreton-Robinson. Tucson: U of Arizona Press, 2016. 69-82.

“Romantic Entanglements, Irreconcilable Differences: Indigenous Translations”

Matt Hooley, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina


Dawn Morgan, St. Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada


Dawn: Both works are exciting to read partly because it’s not clear at the outset how the risks they undertake can be successfully managed. How can Hessell claim to read Romantic literature translated into Indigenous languages of which she has incomplete command? How can TallBear justify her withering attack on the fledgling discipline of Indigenous Studies of which she is beneficiary and product?

Bristling with implications for scholarship in general, and our literary periodizations of the colonial era as eighteenth-centuryists, Romanticists, and Modernists in particular, neither Hessell’s book nor TallBear’s article comfortably reinforce what we know or what’s already been said about the intolerable asymmetries of the colonialized world as we find it. Instead they unsettle the fields and potentially re-focus and energize us for the challenges of re-situating or moving towards a decolonized or “trans-Indigenous” literary studies.

Hessell and TallBear each directly address methodological questions and develop or point to substantive implications of the options, from adopting what is variously called Decolonising Methodologies (Linda Tuhiwai Smith, 1999), Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies (Chadwick Allen, 2012), or just plain “Indigenization,” (my University’s Senate Committee on Reconciliation has made the decision to capitalize the term in its various forms, including “Indigenous,” as I do here, to assert its equation with terms of identity like “English,” British,” and so on). Note how the always essential preamble and qualifiers about vocabulary amplify the methodological trouble at hand. Hessell and TallBear show this to be “good trouble.”

Interestingly, the works by both writers emphasize empirical, even forensic, evidence-based scholarship, Hessell in practice and TallBear in the substance of her argument with the practitioners of “Indigenous Studies,” which she casts as a soured romance that is no longer good for her or any other Indigenous people. While both take ideological and epistemic considerations into general account, ideology and the ordering of knowledge per se are not their immediate subject matter and do not produce undue anxiety for either writer.

Hessell readily and unproblematically anchors her literary analyses in more or less canonical Romantic texts, their translations into non-European Indigenous languages, and extra-literary journalism and biography to build a body of evidence in support of what proves to be her revelation of the already functioning Indigenization of scholarship (in literature and other disciplines, from botany to medicine to architecture). TallBear just as unproblematically grounds her scholarly investment in the scientific methods of the life sciences as if the old dualisms of body/soul, matter/thought, and so on are inoperative and irrelevant, or at least vulnerable to being overcome by Indigenous knowledge, if only it can be activated.

For TallBear, if I have this right, normal “techno-science” should be adopted and adapted by Indigenous scholarship because of the power it wields in colonial modernity, and Indigenous peoples need power if they need anything. Her unflinching grasp and appropriation, if that’s what it is, of the knowledge-power nexus of scientific modernity to serve Indigenous needs and purposes is breath-taking. The model of TallBear’s own practice is cited in her 2013 book, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science (U of Minnesota Press). Hessell displays an operative conception of the literary humanities that spans the divide between the humanities and the physical sciences. The divide is overcome in her discussion, for example, of John Keats’s botanical or “pharmacopolitcal” poetry that becomes visible and available only through the Indigenous translation she examines of his poem “Isabella, or The Pot of Tulāsi” [Basil]. By contrast, Tallbear is motivated, not to say on fire, as indicated by her title about her break-up with Indigenous Studies, by what she views as the dangerous neglect of the physical sciences by Indigenous scholars and scholarship as currently housed in Indigenous Studies.

The simultaneous contrast and complementarity of the two authors and works has my hair on fire. Hessell, the non-Indigenous settler-scholar (a term in use in Canada), seems to perform the very kind of scholarship that TallBear demands of her colleagues in Indigenous Studies. Hessell provides a model of scholarship in which Indigenous translators of Romantic literature speak and re-shape our reading and relationships to the texts and contexts that are her object of study. Hessell addresses both Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and readers, whereas TallBear primarily addresses fellow Indigenous scholars and delivers her argument rhetorically in the literary form of a romance.

Hessell challenges us to acknowledge and comprehend how Indigenous readers, as fellow subjects of colonialism, have already played a role in the formulation of literary studies, however periodized. TallBear challenges Indigenous scholars to get real (i.e. ditch the romance, or stop being romantic) about taking power for themselves and their communities by appropriating the physical sciences and the power it wields in relation to knowledge, whether produced by humanities or physical sciences disciplines. 

Matt: Dawn, I appreciate so much about how you’ve framed the really interesting and perplexing comparison of these two texts. You’ve already given us a framework for thinking about the questions and challenges and what you call the sense of “risk” that both texts share. I also want to start our collaboration about these texts, by underscoring the point you also make here about how much these texts do not or cannot share. For instance, while one of the most exciting questions that you’ve highlighted as a through-line in these texts has to do with “moving towards” a multi-disciplinary Indigenous Studies or towards “decolonized” non-Indigenous disciplinary formation (e.g. literary studies or science), in some sense, these two writers will not or cannot come to a shared sense about this in part because they both so clearly outline the limits of their own relationships between their work and disciplinary belonging.

Hessell is very clear that her work does not belong in Indigenous Studies in any simple sense—a line she draws in her stirring meditation about the relation between identity and scholarship. Hessell, who is not Indigenous, cites Lilikalā Kame’eleihiwa who cautions that non-Indigenous scholars should not try “to become us” but rather “honor [their] own ancestors” (Hessell 10). Then, Hessell continues: “this book reflects a desire to honor my own ancestors, and the contribution that the book attempts to make is thus to British Romantic studies rather than indigenous studies.” TallBear, on the other hand, is just as clear that at the same time her work could belong within Indigenous studies, she (for the time being) disavows that positioning, even as she clarifies that there are real limits to the possibility that her work can belong to science or anthropology, as conceived of as regulated by white/colonial institutional structures. 

So, while both writers are thinking about disciplinary horizons and both are in some sense uninterested in transcending them, their reasons are fundamentally different. This is an obvious point I’m making, but it’s maybe useful as a place to begin in part because as we begin to work toward the (e.g. methodological and political) points of convergence between them, neither text identifies the possibility of a position of comfortable disciplinary interiority. Of course, in this sense, the difference between the texts is also a kind of disposition toward the question of disciplinarity that they share, and it’s a really important place for each of them to begin. In fact one of the things that excites me most about reading these texts together is the possibility they model for doing grounded and careful scholarship starting from “unsettled” disciplinary positions. 

Beginning from an unsettled or disavowed disciplinary position, I think, opens up what each writer is doing methodologically, as you point out. And I am interested in thinking more sustainedly in our next exchange about what we think Hessell’s guiding theory of what translation is, and similarly what we understand science or anthropology to mean for TallBear. For now, I just want to underline a point you made—that one of the stakes of Hessell’s work is to use translation as “evidence…of the already functioning Indigenization of scholarship,” which is to say, to approach translation as criticism or scholarship that often articulates powerful decolonial critique but within an epistemic framework that implies commensurability, similitude, or continuity. I’m wondering what you think about this. Is something like this formulation right: that Hessell theorizes translation contrapuntally, in order to bring out a long history of Indigenous contrapuntal reading. If that’s approximately right, I wonder if we could think more about the relationship between translation and periodization as it functions in English literary studies. I’m so struck by Hessell’s claim that these translations help us insist that the Romantic period isn’t over yet. What are the implications of this for the possibility of a decolonial literary scholarly practices in our fields? 

Dawn: I think we can approach the questions you raise about “disciplinary horizons,” as they are altered when starting from “unsettled positions” of identity, by addressing the theories of translation and the sciences operative in these works.

Hessell attempts to reverse what is referred to as “translation-as-violation” (Spivak) by reading Indigenous appropriations of British texts rather than the other way around. She admits her reversal does not entirely do away with the violence involved, since the originals are only available to Indigenous readers as a result of colonisation (9). But she defends her reversals as creating “a degree” of space for Indigenous voices to speak, and this is backed up by her rich findings about what the translations have to say about not only the Romantic texts but about the pre-colonial and colonial experience of the Indigenous readers addressed. She makes use of Heidegger’s theorization of translation as a “trial of the foreign” that reveals a “work’s most original kernel.” Hessell interprets that kernel of Romantic literature to be precisely a “meditation on colonisation” that the Indigenous translations draw to the surface (6-7).

On this view, I am not sure we are talking about contrapuntal translations in which we read Indigenous and non-Indigenous Romanticism simultaneously and as two entirely distinct accounts of colonial experience, as you propose. Instead, the reading of Romantic texts is changed to encompass and include the Indigenous reception and experience of colonisation, and Romanticism re-defined by and as a record of colonial experience, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Other differences the Indigenous translations make to notions of Romanticism include their challenge to its temporal periodization. In limiting the time frame of translations to the years 1850-1939, Hessell finds they implicitly or explicitly propose an “era of colonisation” that continues to this day instead of the “period” bound by dates that are always more or less arbitrary, exclusive, and falsifying of how literature is encountered and read. The implication is that we could see disciplines re-organized into pre- and post-Indigenization (my terms, not Hessell’s), which retain vestiges of temporal markers but decenter the disciplinary perspective from the coloniser to the colonised.

Interestingly, as Hessell notes, an “era of colonisation” as the organizing principle or reference point for studies in the humanities and the physical sciences would to some extent emphasize continuities rather than ruptures between periods, as do the translations in this study (6). When translated back into English, Hessell’s selected translations reveal previously unnoticed aspects of Romantic works, and of Romanticism and the Romantic period as conventionally constituted. A “rewriting of a complex dialogue, told from the other side,” the translations open for consideration complexities of the colonial relationship not otherwise available (11).

I can respond to your point about formulations of the physical sciences by going back to my characterization of TallBear’s appropriation of the “knowledge-power nexus of scientific modernity to serve Indigenous needs and purposes” as “breath-taking.” I was thinking of the voluminous and ponderous bulk of scholarship that has worked and worried over the dualist metaphysics of Newtonian (and post-Newtonian) scientific research and applications, which has been highly productive in generating critique, including my own, but not in discrediting, let alone mitigating or displacing scientific authority and practices up to the present day. So TallBear’s breezy (in a good way) assertion that Indigenous knowledges can remedy the blindnesses of science is refreshing. By entertaining a “more promiscuous” range of allies, such as “nonhumans,” and taking an interest in their “actual materiality” and the “New Materialisms,” Indigenous knowledge has the potential to develop, and the historical authority to reconfigure, the techno-sciences that dominate life both inside and outside the academy, imprisoning us all in the era of colonisation as ongoing, if not perpetual and inescapable (79-80).

Matt: Picking up with the generative set of readings and questions that you gave us last time about how to conceptualize the extent to which the Hessell and TallBear texts are interested in something like a trans-disciplinary Indigenous studies and/or the possibility of disciplinary decolonization in conventionally western/white fields, I want to keep thinking with you about how both texts move between politically and ideologically formalized knowledge systems. As we both said, for Hessell, this is a matter of translation, and I think you’ve captured her sense of that in both its ideal (e.g. her interest in Heidegger’s “trial of the foreign”) and more problematic articulations. (I especially appreciate the way you put it: “the reading of Romantic texts is changed to encompass and include the Indigenous reception and experience of colonization, and Romanticism re-defined by and as a record of colonial experience, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”)

Before I turn back to Hessell, I want to underscore that TallBear—in her essay about working in Indigenous Studies and then in a conventionally western/white science program—refuses the framework of “translation” to describe the disciplinary motion or range or relation of her work. She writes that she assumes that those who hired her into the science program wrongly assume “I am here to help translate, he thinks, his science for nonscientists so we can all better apply his work in the world. He is the fertile mind” (78). Translation, in this sense, aligns with moralizing and implicitly proprietary modalities of relation like those that she names: “chauvinism,” “monogamy,” and falsely naïve investments in methodologies of “cold neutrality” (77). I appreciate the boldness of TallBear’s move here, to name translation as a manner of epistemic and political relation that is almost always regulated and regulatory, that is almost always methodologically normative, that almost always repackages the seizure of intellectual and cultural practices under the politically exculpatory, liberal rubrics of access and archive. It is hard to say, of course, exactly how broad TallBear’s critique of translation runs here, although perhaps it is enough to note that translation is something she describes as intrinsic to the operation of the white academy and is not part of the range intellectual practices she associates with Indigenous Studies.

I am interested in this aside in TallBear because the boldness and clarity of the formulation helps me think about Hessell’s project of accounting for the political and epistemic stakes of Indigenous translations of British Romantic texts, without being, herself, culturally or linguistically situated in the Indigenous lifeworlds animating those translations. It is a project that we might describe as ambitious, as usefully drawing attention to and even helping archive a tradition of Indigenous critique. At the same time it might be described as a project whose political aspirations are at odds with its methodological framing. I was struck how, for instance, in the third chapter, “Singing: Global Indigeneity and Robert Burns,” Hessell’s analysis of translations like those made by Māori thinker Reweti Kōhere end up consolidating or abstracting analytical categories that her project ostensibly sets out to clarify. The way Hessell describes Kōhere’s invocations of the corporeal or of mourning do not change interpretations of Burns’ work as much as they become unclear and expansive categories that are said, now to include Māori experience. This approach is at its most problematic for instance where Hessell describes a “blur” of interpretive meaning around the body in which “Burns becomes Māori” (65).  Elsewhere in the chapter this same kind of methodological abstraction and expansion occurs via Hessell’s tracking of “parallels” between Kōhere’s words and Burns’, and in the way “colonial” (the political category the translations are ostensibly supposed to elucidate) becomes an utterly generic and unclear modifier. At moments Hessell invokes a “colonial moment” or “colonial nuance,” I worry that her unpacking the political insights of Indigenous translation has not disrupted but reproduced the alignment of western knowledge with universalizing and transcendent abstraction. 

Dawn: The attention you draw to TallBear’s refusal to merely translate western science for the (dubious) benefit of Indigenous readers and scholars, and to a worrying tendency of Hessell’s Indigenous translations to reproduce “universalizing” abstractions, demonstrate that our discussion of translation has scarcely scratched the surface of the translation issues raised by these works.

Before I reply to your concerns about Hessell’s translations and interpretations as universalizing and colonizing instead of particularizing and Indigenizing, I wish to register my puzzlement about the absence of names cited and credited for the re-translations from the Indigenous languages back into English. These are the translations her interpretations are based on. Why are the re-translators not identified and credited? It may be that Hessell decided to make clear she bears full responsibility for her interpretations, but if so, I think that should be stated and the re-translators credited, however discreetly, in footnotes or elsewhere.

 As for the theory of translation operative in both Hessell and TallBear, I could cite Jorge Luis Borges’s theory as outlined in his essay on Richard Burton’s translation into English of The Arabian Nights. Borges is only partly in jest to value most highly what Burton adds to his English translation, not what is lost from that grab-bag of texts from so many promiscuous “origins” and sources. Similarly, Hessell attends to what the Indigenous translations add, to what they draw out, and how they foster re-interpretations that assert and reveal aspects of Indigenous experience in colonial conditions.

The lessons to be drawn from the Indigenous translations include our activation as readers to probe and question and adjudicate on the very questions of interpretability and translatability of entirely other orderings of knowledge. More regrettable than worrying is that colonization is what distinguishes and then brings cosmopolitan and Indigenous orders and readers into contact in the first place. Colonialism is the historical mechanism for the encounter that Hessell now equates with what we have known as Romanticism. We cannot know Indigenous knowledge or Indigeneity that does not register experience of colonialism, just as Indigenous readers cannot know English literature outside of colonialism. 

While I appreciate and agree with your caution, then, about universalizing tendencies, I find more value than re-colonizing violation in Hessell’s work. I cannot agree with faulting her for failing to show how the Māori translation of a Robert Burns poem changes interpretations of Burns’s work. I think she convincingly shows how references to the physical body in the translation refuse the Western dualism (body vs. soul) evident in the Burns original, but so normatively as to escape notice by the English reader. Burns uses the word “soul” to name the organ of mourning, which the Māori translates as “chest” (64). The male mourner of Burns’s poem is realigned, in the translation, with the re-gendered mourning function of pre-colonial Māori women (65). And in drawing out the oral resonances of the original, the Māori version elevates orality over literacy, which does not appear in Burns’s poem (66) but is consistent with the pronounced orality and greater “transportability” of Burns’s Scottish songs than his poems (81).

Hessell points out that the “blurring of the boundaries between binaries such as past and present, oral and printed, and traditional and newly composed” is typical of the resurgence of Scottish folksong through the eighteenth-century (76). She contends that a similar “blurring” of those contraries is characteristic also of “global folksong’s constant troubling of the question of authenticity” (76), and that “authenticity,” in conditions of colonialism, becomes a basis not of Indigenous authority, if I have this right, but of colonial authority to attack and even the outlaw “indigenous processes of composition (77).I admit this last connection between the “troubling of authenticity” and colonial attacks on Indigenous compositional principles and practices is not clearly or fully developed, although Hessell may be presuming what Romanticists know and take for granted about the value of “authenticity.” 

The transportability of a text, its susceptibility to translation, Hessell describes as a “flaw of colonialism” (7). Later, she links translation to hospitality, to hosting, one language by another, and translation as a modality of mediating colonial relationships, for good and ill, in her discussion of Ivanhoe (106). We could say that Hessell’s book is a sustained meditation on the questions, troubles, and risks of translation.   

 Matt: I agree, Hessell’s book absolutely prompts readers of Indigenous translation to be “activat[ed] probe and question and adjudicate on the very questions of interpretability and translateability” of texts from an endless variety of contexts and fields. It’s a compelling point, and it helps me perhaps clarify that with a couple exceptions I don’t find as much fault with Hessell’s particular articulation of this translation studies project necessarily, as much as, I guess it just leads me to worry that almost any such project that stabilizes translation as the framework for understanding what happens to knowledge when it moves and is moved through a world organized by colonialism might end up reinvesting in universalizing abstractions like the kind we discussed in the last two posts.

Even the framework of translation as hospitality that you helpfully point to maybe even risks this. In her chapter on Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and John Makini Kapena’s Ivanaho, where Hessell cites Paul Lyons—who problematizes colonial depictions of Indigenous hospitality in his book American Pacificism—she still arrives at constructions like “Translation is always a kind of hosting of the source text, just as colonization is always a kind of hosting of the colonists” (106).  Here, “hosting” becomes a frame that projects on Indigenous people both a kind consent to occupation and an anthropologically-based interpretive framework for understanding what gestures of material and affective provision mean across cultural and political horizons.

Given this worry of mine, I was interested in whether TallBear’s essay “Dear Indigenous Studies: It’s Not Me, It’s You” might offer a generative re-framing of some of these issues. I am especially interested in the genre of the essay, which is more than just a kind of breakup letter. It’s an extended metaphorization (although that might not be the right word) of TallBear’s disciplinary positioning within Indigenous Studies and then within STEM through the framing of romantic relationships, a framing I think I’m going to bookmark here as “amorousness” or “amory” because of TallBear’s excellent work elsewhere on critical polyamory and her critique of “settler sexuality”—a term she glosses “white bodies and white families in space of safety…propagate[ing] in intimate co-constitution with the culling of black, red, and brown bodies and the wastelanding of their spaces.”[1]

I am wondering if the framework of amorousness or amory might prompt more precise questions about power, violation, consent, interpretive control, pleasure, property and etc. with which to unpack histories of interpretation that traverse linguistic and colonial boundaries. TallBear broadly invites this approach by using the framework of amorous relationships to understand the politics of disciplinarity. She describes Indigenous Studies (“IZ”) as a charismatic, idealistic, and fierce companion—a figure TallBear loves but is also alienated by—in contrast to “Mr. Techno-science” who is an avatar for the politically empowered and comprehensively problematic partner whose unloveability and insouciance TallBear leverages into a measure of professional freedom and creativity. Like translation, amory describes a framework in which meaning is affective and non-unilateral. Unlike translation, amory (particularly outside the regulatory context of what TallBear calls settler sexuality) might not have to depend on hierarchies of originality, authority, or even liberal subjectivity at all.

To be clear, I’m really just asking a question here about alternatives to the framework of translation to describe how texts make meaning when they exist in multiple contexts, contexts that we receive as being defined by colonial power. Is it possible to think about a text as—even before and during its composition—inviting relations of many different kinds with many different languages; relations that we could then critically assess without recourse to the proprietary rubrics of colonial social and epistemic management? Is it helpful to think of the relations that texts have with people, languages, places, and temporalities, as histories of amory? What kinds of questions would such a framework make possible about texts like Ivanhoe and Ivanaho? Would using such a framework help us (literary critics) set aside problematically anthropological or literary historical abstractions. Or would it just replace these with new, maybe anthropomorphizing universalizations? I don’t know, but I’m grateful for the chance that reading these two texts together gives us.


In my last posting, I expressed concern about Hessell’s lack of attribution of authorship for the re-translations back into English of the translations into Indigenous languages. My concern was based on missing, on first reading, Hessell’s acknowledgements, where she does identify individuals or groups of linguists, and acknowledges her reliance on their assistance, advice, and insights (ix-x). I still think they might have more of an authorship role that might be credited, and flag this case as exposing an imperative and opportunity to disrupt and alter conceptions of originality, single (bounded, bourgeois) authorship, and conventions of citation in order to accommodate the triple translations needed to “read” the Indigenous appropriations of English Romantic literature modelled in Hessell’s study.


Your worry, Matt, about Hessell’s characterization of translation as Indigenous “hosting of the colonists” (106) with the effect of projecting “on indigenous people…a kind of consent to occupation” does not take into account how she continues in that passage on the Hawaiian appropriation of Ivanhoe. “The newspaper Ke Au Okoa hosts Ivanhoe,” she writes, “but in turn asserts its rights as host to name and recognise the text in its own language” (as Ivanaho) (106).

In this passage as elsewhere, I think Hessell attends carefully to the stakes of translation in a colonial context. Her object of study, after all, is not colonialist translations from Indigenous languages, but the translations of literary works originating in the colonial language that Indigenous writers select and transform (or reform) via translation for their own purposes. In every case, the translations illuminate and reply to the experience of colonialism.

Your idea for reframing the colonial transactions of translation as “histories of amory,” however, is intriguing. I appreciate its source in TallBear’s critical polyamory, her grounding of “settler sexuality” in the economics of private property, and her attempts to de-couple social bonds from private property to envision decolonization. For now, I feel more securely bound to the framework of translation than with what I see as the alternative abstraction of “amory” or romance. I feel secured because the medium of exchange in translation is language, the material embodiment of our social existence (in which translation is always involved, even between speakers of the same language, such as you and I) and, at the same time, language is the abstraction of our social existence in operating by means of substitutions and exchanges of physical marks and alphabetic representations.

My complaint about Hessell’s lack of attribution and citation of the Indigenous re-translators, and its possible productive resolution in compromising or compounding singular or individual authorship, may also contribute to the undoing of “hierarchies of originality, authority, and even liberal subjectivity” that you hold up as potential benefits of the alternative framework of exchange as “amory.”


Matt: Dawn, I think you capture Hessell’s project really cogently when you write “her object of study, after all, is not colonialist translations from Indigenous language, but the translations of literary works originating in the colonial language that Indigenous writers select and transform (or reform) via translation for their own purposes. In every case, the translations illuminate and reply to the experience of colonialism.” And just to summarize my own reflections about that project so far, I think I’ve been wondering about how much translation as a framework for understanding these trajectories of epistemic and political transit maybe limits what we (literary critics situated in the US/Canadian academy) can understand about what those Indigenous interpretive interventions actually reveal about histories of colonialism. For instance, while I think you’re right to point to the renaming of Ivanhoe as an important moment of transformation, I still wonder what Hessell means when she identifies that as an “assert[ion]” of the newspaper’s “rights as host.” What are the rights of a host in the context of colonial occupation? Are those rights constrained to the terms of the politics of recognition—even if they push against the limits of colonial recognition—that Indigenous studies scholars including Audra Simpson and Glen Coulthard have so generatively critiqued and that, at some level, are at least implicitly sustained when we’re working under the rubric of translation?

I think the question you are asking about citation opens some of the most interesting aspects of the politics of Hessell’s totally ambitious and generally very welcome project in this book; questions that the framework of translation (which usually understands the practice of moving between languages to be a practice undertaken by an individual or set of individuals) strains to describe. For Hessell to undertake the extremely careful and situated analyses of Māori or Malayalam translations of canonical British Romantic texts that she does, she is forging a very complex and deeply social translation system of her own in which, in order to refuse some of the more violent habits of white descriptions of Indigenous texts, her individual authority as a holder or manager of knowledge is in many ways deemphasized (10). More than that, I would imagine that in making that system she developed new and deep relationships with the other people she consulted in these analyses, a process whose decolonial political potential I think I maybe still prefer to try to think about under the terms that TallBear gives us.

For me, trying to attend to the trans-geographic and trans-historical trajectories of meaning-making that animate Hessell’s ambitious and important project, even beyond the book’s stated methodological terms, is one of the ways I want to let TallBear’s incitement toward a more expansive affective and material relationality—a critical amorousness—underline some of the most powerful interventions of Romantic Literature and the Colonised World. In the book’s utterly engaging and very brief conclusion, for instance, Hessell reiterates her introductions’ radical disavowal of the premises of narrow/western historicity implied by the construction of the period and instead turns to this brilliant formulation of “simultaneous”-ness as a way of understanding the temporalities of authorship, interpretation, translation, and re-translation that animate her readings of the book’s central texts. Thinking in terms of trans-historical and trans-geographic simultaneity opens the temporal possibilities around interpretative relations (which are always embodied, gendered, racialized, and otherwise material) outside the administrable capacity of the construct of the canon. It’s a “‘devolution of literary authority,” as she puts it, that not only unmoors the Indigenous translations she considers in this book from any sense of interpretive or authorial secondariness, but that also invites new thinking about even more trajectories of simultaneous interpretation, like those you reference, Dawn, via your question about citation, that Hessell might have given even more space to in this conclusion. To me, the stakes of this are much bigger than “listen[ing] to what a regenerated Romanticism has to say,” as Hessell puts it, and has more to do with rethinking the relational forms and political possibilities of multi-sensory, multi-disciplinary, and deeply social engagements with Indigenous interpretive traditions that do not need to be justified in western disciplinary terms at all.


[1] Kim TallBear, “Making Love and Relations Beyond Settler Sex and Family” in Making Kin Not Population, Eds. Adele E Clarke and Donna Haraway (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2018): 147.