Animist realism in indigenous novels and other literature

Authored by: Graham Harvey

The Handbook of Contemporary Animism

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9781844657117
eBook ISBN: 9781315728964
Adobe ISBN: 9781317544500


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Contradiction riddles the phrases “indigenous novels” and “animist realism”. Often, routinely and casually, indigeneity is glossed as orality and traditionalism. Indigenous religions (when this contested phrase is permitted) are said to be oral, or when they do manifest in textual form they are considered degenerate. They are almost always set over against or, rather, hierarchically beneath the literate religions eulogized as “world religions”. Locality and illiteracy are attributed to them. Indigenous cultures attract most interest when they are (supposedly) traditional, pure, unalloyed, without influence from other religions. The very notion that they might have influence or impact is negated by polemical words like “syncretism” (as if hybridity were a peculiarity rather than a norm). They are expected to be primitive or, at best, primal. They are not desirable when modern(ized). Conversely, novels and novel writing are modern. They (the things and the acts) privilege the subjectivity of individual interiority or the individuality of interior subjectivity … They are rewarded most when written and read in European languages, especially those languages that promise success in attracting global readerships rather than local ones. Even romantically rural novels seem aimed at cosmopolitan urban strangers, not at local, indigenous, intimate kin.

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