Date of this Version
Textual Cultures 13.1 (2020): 179–206.
In light of the global return of tribalism, racism, nationalism, and religious hypocrisy to power’s center stage, it is worth returning to the question of the relevance of bibliography. It is a time when, at least at the seats of power in the United States and some other places, books seem to have become almost meaningless. Bibliographic pioneer D.F. McKenzie’s strategy was not to constrain bibliography in self-defense, but to expand it, to go on the offense. What is our course? This essay explores bibliography’s past in order to suggest ways in which it can gain from an engagement with the methods and motivating concerns of Indigenous studies. The study of books has often functioned within a colonialist set of assumptions about its means and its ends, but at the same time, having been at times in something of a marginalized position themselves in their professions, its practitioners have developed unique tools, passions, and intellectual focuses with decolonial potential. That unusual “spirit”, in dialogue with Native people and Indigenous ideas — about media, about what constitutes a “process”, and about the historical and political meanings of recorded forms — may be key to transforming the imagination of the study of books and to enriching its place in the world.