Powell, The Anguish of Displacement

Powell The Anguish of Displacement, Chapter 6: Rhetorics of Displacement and the Politics of Eminent Domain

Powell really takes a closer look at the policies put in place that allows for the federal government to exercise its eminent domain power. My interest in this particular chapter lies in the role of letter-writing—or writing in general—plays out in this discussion of eminent domain and displacement.

Through Malea Powell’s (Malea) work on Native American Rhetorics, Powell makes the claim that the rhetoric of the displaced is necessarily tethered to the processes of displacement generally. In other words, displacement and the rhetorics imbued in this process is a constituent feature of a displacee’s rhetoric. But reciprocally, it is necessary to include “individual stories of survivance” when charting out the history of displacement in American history: “this kind of investigation, where individual stories are woven into documented history, is of moral imperative for rhetoric scholars” (149).

Such use of letters often become evidence of knowledgeable resistance “where residents recast their identities but within existing power structures” (149). For Powerll, the displaced people from the Shenandoah National Park used epistolary correspondences in an attempt to redefine themselves within the structure itself. She later draws connection to de Certeau’s notion of tactics, particularly looking to Derrida’s notion of displacement as a tactic. Derrida’s notion of displacement ‘involves a violent intervention: turbulence, irruptions, explosion: “the deviance of meaning, its reflection-effect in writing, sets something off”’” (162). As Powell notes, the inclusion of individual stories into the metanarratives of eminent domain become a means of disruption.

Powell also pushes back against the accuracy of claims about the “inseparability of identity from place.” Such claims ignore the massive migrations and forced displacements set forth that call into question the connections between culture, identity, and place. “The postmodern view of identity recognizes the ways that the violence of forced displacement can shatter an individual’s sense of identity and the role of place within that identity” (160). Instead, Powell offers the idea of moving literacies: “people who are being displaced are moving, and with them their individual and community identities are moving” (163). By connecting emergent theories of literacy that take into account texts, contexts, power, and ‘identities of practice’ with the processes of displacement, Powell argues that “we link moving identities with moving bodies, and define a situated literacy event as one that recognizes that literacy is never stagnant—it is always already moving” (163).


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