Ritual and the Poetics of Memory in Fred D'Aguiar's <i>Bill of Rights</i>
Pexa, Christopher John
This project addresses the poetics of remembering historically traumatic events by examining Fred D’Aguiar’s long poem, Bill of Rights (1998). I argue that the poem constitutes a ritual of anamnesis against the forgetting of the events of Jonestown, Guyana through its detailing of the violence done by and on behalf of Jim Jones. Through a fictional poetic persona who has survived Jonestown, D’Aguiar explores that community and the ways in which it left scars on the individual’s, and the collective, memories. I begin with a comparison of D’Aguiar’s work with another long poem that deals substantially with historical violence and dispossession, William Carlos Williams’s Paterson. I then situate the poetics of both Williams and D’Aguiar in the context of Shoah literature and specifically in relation to Giorgio Agamben’s notion of testimony and to Walter Benjamin’s concept of the ethical state of emergency and political contestation that is inherent in all acts of remembering the past. Finally, I engage D’Aguiar’s reading of the Guyanese novelist, Wilson Harris, and of Harris’s use of wilderness as a transformative agent, concluding that the poem, and the historical subject it depicts, constitute a stigmata that provokes further rituals of remembering.