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please note:

this is a mixture of my lazy academic reviews and personal moments as a mama going through academia, and it is all my own opinion, and has absolutely no affiliation with anybody else

writings & ramblings

Sharp As A Knife – Bringhurst

from the publisher: “The linguist and ethnographer John Swanton took dictation from the last great Haida-speaking storytellers, poets and historians from the fall of 1900 through the summer of 1901. Together they created a great treasury of Haida oral literature in written form.

Having worked for many years with these century-old manuscripts, linguist and poet Robert Bringhurst brings both rigorous scholarship and a literary voice to the English translation of John Swanton’s careful work. He sets the stories in a rich context that reaches out to dozens of native oral literatures and to myth-telling traditions around the globe.”


This book is incredibly intense. While I hate the history behind these stolen stories – dumdumdum – I appreciate being able to read them, and see the oral narrative within them. The poetry in the tellings, powerful. the movement of action and intent, like water. I am conflicted. I see the stories and see the images they create in my head, but have to understand that the transitions are into English, which loses a lot, and they are also done by an outsider, albeit an outsider who has studied and enriched his life with this knowledge. But too often I hear “it’s not that good in English,” when people are trying to translate languages for me, and it leaves me with the conclusion that English fails. So,  as good as these translations are, what are we losing still?


  • “It is a fact of life that oral literatures are fragile and easily lost. Written literatures don’t last forever either, but their erosion is often slow. They can pretend to be immortal; oral literatures cannot” (10)
  • “Once it is transcribed, oral literature looks like writing, but as every reader senses, that is not quite what it is” (15)
  • “Language is a vehicle of knowledge and a key to interlocking prisons of society and time” (420)
  • “But the view that no outsider should speak of the Haida myth tellers without Haida permission is not the view I was taught by my Haida teacher and not a view to which I subscribe” (423)


buy the book: Sharp As A Knife


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