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Body Burdens: The Materiality of Work in Rita Wong’s Forage

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Poetry and Work

Part of the book series: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics ((MPCC))

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Abstract

This chapter considers materiality and corporeality in forage (2007) by Rita Wong. Poetry in this collection addresses the social and environmental injustice of consumerism by following the disguised and mystified routes of supply chains to reveal the materiality of work and the body of the worker, and exposes the interconnectedness of social, subjective and ecological damage. The chapter draws from new materialist thought to address both the vibrancy and agency of matter, and also the absolute entanglement of the human and the social in the materiality of the living world. Stacy Alaimo’s theory of ‘trans-corporeality’ is used to describe the movement of materials between bodies, advancing a new way of seeing work and exposing capitalist complicity in human suffering and environmental degradation by making the materiality of labour exchange visible. The forms and techniques of Wong’s poetry—including ruptured lyric, found text, open field poetics and citation—expose the movement of materials around the world, at the same time as they attend to the experiences of an effectively indentured and migrant workforce exposed to noxious materials and degraded environments. Materiality emerges as a fundamental consideration in any theory of work, proposing a counter narrative to theories of automation, deterritorialisation and dematerialisation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Rita Wong, “Provisional Mobilities: Rethinking Labour Through Asian Racialization in Literature,” Unpublished Thesis (Simon Fraser University, 2002).

  2. 2.

    Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (London: Bloomsbury, 2000).

  3. 3.

    Ken Saro-Wiwa, Genocide in Nigeria: The Ogoni Tragedy (Port Harcourt: Saros, 1992), www.turntowardlife.org/essays/chapter5/chapter5.pdf, accessed 11 May 2018.

  4. 4.

    Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2011), 1.

  5. 5.

    Morton, The Ecological Thought, 15.

  6. 6.

    Lawrence Buell, ‘Toxic Discourse,’ Critical Inquiry, vol. 24, no. 3 (1998), 639–665.

  7. 7.

    Stacy Alaimo, Bodily Natures: Science, Environment and the Material Self (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2010), 117.

  8. 8.

    “Global Commission on Pollution and Health,” Pure Earth Blacksmith Institute, www.pureearth.org/global-commission-pollution-health/, accessed 11 May 2018.

  9. 9.

    Jennifer Beth Spiegel, “Subterranean Flows: Water Contamination and the Politics of Visibility after the Bhopal Gas Disaster,” in Thinking with Water, eds. Cecelia Chen, Janice MacLeod, and Astrida Neimanis (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2013), 91.

  10. 10.

    Vandana Shiva, “Bioethics: A Third World Issue,” Native Web, www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/shiva.html, accessed 11 May 2018.

  11. 11.

    Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, Politics (Durham and New York: Duke University Press, 2010), 31.

  12. 12.

    Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Planetarity,’ Paragraph, vol. 38, no. 2 (2015), 290–292.

  13. 13.

    Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 2.

  14. 14.

    This quote is taken from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Wong, “reverb” forage, 60.

  15. 15.

    Wong, “after ‘Laundry Song’ by Wen I’to,” forage, 22.

  16. 16.

    Stacy Alaimo, “The Naked Word: The Trans-Corporeal Ethics of the Protesting Body,” Women and Performance, vol. 20, no. 1 (2010), 23–24.

  17. 17.

    Spiegal, Thinking with Water, 86.

  18. 18.

    Alaimo, “Naked World,” 15.

  19. 19.

    Lynn Keller, “A. Rawlings: Ecopoetic Intersubjectivity,” Jacket2 (2015), jacket2.org/article/arawlings-ecopoetic-intersubjectivity, accessed 2 December 2016.

  20. 20.

    Morton, The Ecological Thought, 61.

  21. 21.

    Muriel Rukeyser, The Book of the Dead (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2015).

  22. 22.

    Rita Wong, “Declaration of Intent,” Undercurrent (Gibsons: Nightwood Editions, 2015), 14.

  23. 23.

    Wong, “value chain,” forage, 11.

  24. 24.

    Michael S. Bank, ed., Mercury in the Environment: Pattern and Process (Oakland: University of California Press, 2012), 9–10.

  25. 25.

    Wong, “flourine,” forage, 14.

  26. 26.

    See Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988).

  27. 27.

    For starting points, see Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2000) and Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983).

  28. 28.

    Rita Wong, “sort by day, burn by night,” forage (Gibsons: Nightwood Editions, 2007), 46.

  29. 29.

    Wong, “chinese school dropout,” forage, 51.

  30. 30.

    Renqui Yu, To Save China, to Save Ourselves: The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance of New York (Philidelphia: Temple University Press, 1922), 9.

  31. 31.

    Wen I’to, “The Laundry Song,” in Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry: An Anthology, trans. and ed. Kai-Yu Hsu (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963), 51.

  32. 32.

    Wong, “after ‘Laundry Song’ by Wen I’to,” forage, 22.

  33. 33.

    For example, see Lu Xun, “The Real Story of Ah Q” in The Real Story of Ah Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun, translated by Julia Lovell (London: Penguin Classics, 2009), 79.

  34. 34.

    Dong Xiwen, Thousand-year Old Earth Has Turned over, date unknown. Watercolor, in Liu Ding and Carol Yinghua Lu, ‘From the Issue of Art to the Issue of Position: The Echoes of Socialist Realism, Part I,’ e-flux Journal 55 (May 2014), 4worker01.e-flux.com/pdf/article_8975853.pdf, accessed 14 May 2018; Mao Zedong, “Talks at the Yan’an Conference on Literature and Art. May 1942” Marxists Internet Archive, www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-3/mswv3_08.htm, accessed 14 May 2018.

  35. 35.

    Wong, “value chain,” forage, 11.

  36. 36.

    ‘Worker Agnes Wong of Whitecourt, Alberta, assembles a sten gun produced for China by the Small Arms Ltd. plant, Long Beach, ON, April 1944. Source: Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced in forage, 24.

  37. 37.

    Wong, forage, 8.

  38. 38.

    Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. Ben Fowkes, Vol. 1 (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1990), 128.

  39. 39.

    Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 127.

  40. 40.

    Wu Xia, “Sundress,” in Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Worker Poetry, trans. and ed. Eleanor Goodman (White Pine Press: Buffalo, 2017), 165.

  41. 41.

    Wong, “sort by day burn by night,” forage, 46.

  42. 42.

    Wong, “perverse subsidies,” forage, 21.

  43. 43.

    Wong, “perverse subsidies,” forage, 21.

  44. 44.

    Madhu Krishnan, “Affect, Empathy, and Engagement: Reading African Conflict in the Global Literary Marketplace,” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, vol. 52, no. 2 (2015), 215.

  45. 45.

    Martha Nussbaum, quoted in Krishnan, ‘Affect,’ 216.

  46. 46.

    See Matt Collin, “What Is ‘Poverty Porn’ and Why Does It Matter for Development?” Aid Thoughts (July 1, 2009), aidthoughts.org/2009/07/01what-is-povertyPoverty-porn-and-why-does-it-matter-for-development/, accessed 11 May 2018.

  47. 47.

    Krishnan, “Affect,” 5.

  48. 48.

    See Linda A. Kinnahan, Lyric Interventions: Feminism, Experimental Poetry, and Contemporary Discourse (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1998).

  49. 49.

    John Wilkinson, The Lyric Touch: Essays on the Poetry of Excess (Cromer: Salt, 2007), 120–142. The phrase “ingrowing into ourselves” is taken from Andrea Brady.

  50. 50.

    Keston Sutherland, Complicities: British Poetry 19452007 (Kindle Locations 4535–4540). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.

  51. 51.

    Wong, “chaos feary,” forage, 37.

  52. 52.

    Wong, “reverb,” forage, 60.

  53. 53.

    Alaimo, Bodily Natures, 117.

  54. 54.

    Wong, “after ‘Laundry Song’ by Wen I’to,” forage, 22.

  55. 55.

    Operations in Guiyu were shut down suddenly in December 2015. It is unclear where the production site has shifted to. For more information see Basel Action Network, www.ban.org/news.

  56. 56.

    Wong credits these images to credited to LaiYun and Greenpeace.

  57. 57.

    Matthew Zantingh, “When Things Act Up: Thing Theory, Actor-Network Theory, and Toxic Discourse in Rita Wong’s Poetry,” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, vol. 20, no. 3 (Summer 2013), 624.

  58. 58.

    Zantingh, “When Things Act Up,” 625.

  59. 59.

    Wong, “sort by day burn by night,” forage, 46–47.

  60. 60.

    Wong, “sort by day burn by night,” forage, 47.

  61. 61.

    Wong, “sort by day burn by night,” forage, 46.

  62. 62.

    “Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia,” Basel Action Network (May 2013), www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDSWGV3jGek, accessed 11 May 2018.

  63. 63.

    Basel Action Network. Web, www.ban.org/what-we-do/, accessed 2 May 2017.

  64. 64.

    Wong, “canola queasy,” forage, 36.

  65. 65.

    Wong, “canola queasy,” forage, 37.

  66. 66.

    Tsing, Mushroom, 63.

  67. 67.

    Anna Tsing, “Salvage Accumulation, or the Structural Effects of Capitalist Generativity,” Cultural Anthropology (30 March 2015), culanth.org/fieldsights/656-salvage-accumulation-or-the-structural-effects-of-capitalist-generativity, accessed 11 May 2018.

  68. 68.

    Tsing, “Salvage Accumulation”.

  69. 69.

    Wong, “for Lee Kyung Hae, Korean farmer martyred in Cancun (1947–2003),” forage, 62.

Works Cited

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  • Spiegel, Jennifer Beth. “Subterranean Flows: Water Contamination and the Politics of Visibility After the Bhopal Gas Disaster.” In Thinking with Water, edited by Cecelia Chen, Janice MacLeod, and Astrida Neimanis. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2013, 84–103.

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    Google Scholar 

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Walton, S. (2019). Body Burdens: The Materiality of Work in Rita Wong’s Forage. In: Walton, J., Luker, E. (eds) Poetry and Work. Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26125-2_9

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