Jennifer Clary-Lemon and David M. Grant, eds.

Decolonial Conversations in Posthuman and New Material Rhetorics

The Ohio State University Press, 2022

228 pages


Reviewed by Jo Hurt

In Decolonial Conversations in Posthuman and New Material Rhetorics, editors Jennifer Clary-Lemon and David M. Grant have amassed a collection of diverse projects and insightful voices that explore possible relationships between new materialism, posthumanism, and decolonial action. In their introduction, Clary-Lemon and Grant establish that although the recent proliferation of new materialist and posthuman rhetorical scholarship demonstrates a “commitment to an ecological understanding of relationships between humans and nonhumans and their environments,” these traditions are firmly embedded in a settler colonial tradition and, as such, continue to be inadequate for addressing ongoing colonization and dispossession. The editors invite critical examinations of posthumanism and new materialism through decolonial action and Indigenous frameworks, not to determine “whether or not the decolonial could be held commensurate with the new material,” but rather “to invite change across the differences we recognize and alter the relations between the decolonial and the new material.” The essays in this collection offer perspectives, definitions, and stakes that are often complementary, but just as frequently challenge or contest each other—ultimately offering a constellation of ideas and investments that demonstrate the editors’ commitment to be “deliberately not just epistemic, but also ontological in forwarding modes of being and being multiply emplaced, rather than globally totalized.”

The first two chapters—Robert Lestón’s “The Politics of Recognition in Building Pluriversal Possibilities” and “Performing Complex Recognitions” by Kelly Medina-López and Kellie Sharp-Hoskins—demonstrate the collection’s commitment to multiplicity by offering different configurations of mis/recognition in systemic politics. Lestón interrogates state politics by comparing the incorporation of buen vivir into the Ecuadorian constitution to the Zapatista movement in Mexico: he argues that the former appropriated Indigenous knowledge to suit colonial frames of recognition while the latter focused on “the importance and meaning of restoring dignity” to Indigenous people of the region. His analysis challenges colonial forms of recognition and demonstrates the decolonizing power of “disclosing plural modes of being, feeling, thinking, and living that come from traditions that have been struggling for air since the onset of the totalizing narratives of modernist discourse.” He argues that self-affirming recognition within minoritized communities protects and proliferates pluriversal knowledges in the face of totalizing state power. Medina-López and Sharp-Hoskins then interrogate recognition as a totalizing narrative within academic systems, arguing that recognition “is itself a predetermining structure, a sociopolitical tool that limits the power of marginalized groups by setting terms of recognizability.” By using their framework of complexity—which combines Western complexity rhetorics with “the complex thinking that characterizes Indigenous epistemologies and decolonial projects”—to explore their own mentorship relationship, Medina-López and Sharp-Hoskins offer misrecognition as “fundamental to rearranging and reformatting colonial recognitions.” 

In Chapter 3, “Listening Otherwise: Arboreal Rhetorics and Tree-Human Relations,” authors Ehren Helmut Pflugfelder and Shannon Kelly examine the interdependent tree-human relations in the Elliott State Forest through a methodology they call “listening otherwise,”which “consider[s] the vulnerability of all beings and their relations without requiring that we can imagine or understand them.” In particular, they pair listening otherwise with traditional environmental knowledges (TEKs) to forward “arboreal rhetorics,” whichreconfigure human-tree relations and “amplify scholarship and narratives that represent different relational possibilities.” Christina V. Cedillo also interrogates human/non-human relations in Chapter 4, “Smoke and Mirrors: Re-Creating Material Relation(ship)s through Mexica Story.” Cedillo uses a Nahua creation story as a methodological frame: by understanding a 2019 petrochemical plant fire through the collective being of the human and nonhuman relations under which the fire was instantiated, she employs Tezcatlipoca’s story to trouble the binaries that plague new materialist discourse—particularly between the human and nonhuman.

These opening chapters and the rest of the collection offer tools and concepts from Indigenous, decolonial frameworks to ongoing conversations in rhetorical scholarship. The collection also presents several methodological interventions into rhetorical inquiry. For instance, in Chapter 5, “Perpetual (In)securities: (Re)Birthing Border Imperialism as Understood Through Facultades Serpentinas,” A. I. Ramírez uses a sensorial methodology she calls “facultades serpentinas” to interrogate the global border industrial complex (GBIC). By tracing “the history of national borders, as well as the traces left behind, both materially and affectively by border walls and border wall murals,” Ramirez demonstrates a complex methodology to take on the complexity of the GBIC—but starting at the level of sensation, of experience, of encounter with border murals. Matthew Whitaker similarly offers an unconventional methodology in the following chapter, “Corn, Oil, and Cultivating Dissent Through ‘Seeds of Resistance’: A Case Study on Rhetorics of Survivance and the Protest Assemblage.” Whitaker uses narratives from his own experiences observing and participating in the Seeds of Resistance ceremony as a “deeply rhetorical event that brings together plants, people, soil, and sky for the purpose of revising public perceptions about what the Keystone XL pipeline means.” This ceremony, he argues, demonstrates a form of decolonial protest in which corn is an active material within the assemblage of dissent—dissent from the colonizing violence of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is also an “opportunity to affirm Indigenous lifeways through the rhetorical practice of survivance.”

The final two essays foreground Indigenous epistemologies and methodologies. Chapter 7, “Top Down, Bottom Up: Ecological Restoration, Rhetorical Resistance, and Decolonization,” is a critique by Judy Holiday and Elizabeth Lowry of the ecological consequences of the “atomistic conception of personhood that  . . .  reifies hierarchical thinking” within legal systems in the West. In particular, they examine legal cases in the United States and New Zealand regarding the personhood of rivers and explore the ecological sustainability of “Indigenous epistemologies [that] recognize the consciousness of all forms of life.” Finally, Andrea Riley Mukavetz and Malea Powell conclude the volume with “Becoming Relations: Braiding an Indigenous Manifesto.” Their essay challenges “Euro-American object-focused rhetorics” by instead offering “an Indigenous relational framework  . . .  to build common ground upon which Indigenous and settler scholars can stand together.” They demonstrate this relational framework through a narrative methodology that braids together different but entangled strands of story: an account of “Indigenous thinking that is attentive to how knowledge [ . . . ] is constellated, relational, and nonhierarchical;” the formulation of—and response to—the question “what does an Indigenous scholarly orientation [ . . . ] look like?” and an interrogation of how settler colonialism stories Indigenous paradigms within the academy. Mukavetz and Powell expertly illustrate the core contributions of the collection: engaging multiple knowledges and innovative methods that are grounded in Indigenous, decolonial frameworks. 

There are, in particular, three important and ongoing conversations in rhetorical studies that the projects in this book offer to its readers and, of course, to the writers and thinkers who would take up its call to decolonize rhetoric’s theoretical and methodological mainstays: (1) critiques of the limitations—both historically and practically—of the new materialist turn in rhetoric, (2) explorations of the affinities and differences between Indigenous and new materialist frames which might productively forward decolonial action, and (3) considerations with and of practicing Indigenous perspectives and/as decolonial rhetorics. Together, these essays demonstrate the collection’s commitment to cultivating pluriversal knowledge and decolonial action, and to offering, as Clary-Lemon and Grant say, “a juxtaposition of perceived incompatible positions in order to help an emergence of shared concerns that can lay the groundwork for future writers and thinkers to follow.”