17/06/2021 – Anthony Webster – The Understanding of a Simple Poem: Navajo Poetics, Ethnopoetics, and Humanities of Speaking

17/06/2021 – Anthony Webster – The Understanding of a Simple Poem: Navajo Poetics, Ethnopoetics, and Humanities of Speaking

We are pleased to announce that the next conference of the Society of Americanists will be held on Thursday, June 17, 2021, at 6:00 p.m. (Paris time).

Due to the health situation, this meeting will be held by videoconference. We will send you the connection link the day before the meeting.

Anthony K. Webster

(University of Texas, Austin)

The Understanding of a Simple Poem: Navajo Poetics, Ethnopoetics, and Humanities of Speaking

This talk takes its inspiration from several disparate traditions. The first tradition concerns an Americanist tradition that can be associated with Edward Sapir and provides the opening phrase of my title—which links it with both ethnography and what has sometimes been called linguistic relativity. This second tradition thus also informs both an ethnopoetic and a language-centered tradition—a tradition that attends to the words of those we work with as anthropologists. Such a perspective takes, as well, the interpretative frameworks and the situated interpretations of those we work with seriously. Finally, a third tradition arises out of the second, one of Navajo aesthetic interpretation.

This talk focuses in on a short poem written in Navajo by Rex Lee Jim and four translations of the poem. Three will be from Navajo consultants and one of those translations will be, from a certain perspective, rather surprising. Namely, why does one consultant translate this poem as if it is composed of ideophones? The fourth translation is mine. I follow this by working through the morphology of the poem in Navajo and saying something more about the translators and the process of translation. I then provide a transcript of a conversation I had with Navajo poet Blackhorse Mitchell about this poem. I use this to take up questions of phonological iconicity (punning) and the seductive quality of ideophony (sound symbolism). I suggest, in the end, the value of attending to the ways Navajos make sense of and interpret—in varying ways—the poetry of Rex Lee Jim. Following the terminology developed by my colleagues Pattie Epps, Anthony Woodbury and myself, I suggest that there is much intellectual value in humanities of speaking.

The conference will be given in English

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