Identity and Difference
- Richard F. Fleck (Editor)
Critical Perspectives on Native American Fiction. Passeggiata Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Ana Louise Keating (Author)
Women Reading, Women Writing: Self-Invention in Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldúam and Audre Lorde. Temple University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Catherine Rainwater
Keating treats works by three self-proclaimed lesbian writers from different ethnic minorities within United States society. Paula Gunn Allen (Laguna Pueblo-Lakota-Lebanese), Gloria AnzaldÃºa (Mexican- American), and Audre Lorde (African-American) live and write from within "conflicting . . . sets of personal, political, and professional worlds." According to Keating, whose own personal identification with her subjects becomes overly worshipful at times, the writings of Allen, AnzaldÃºa and Lorde "employ transformational identity politics" that potentially alter readers’ notions of themselves as they track the authors’ own self-inventive aesthetic practices.
Drawing upon a variety of poststructuralist critical strategies, Keating demonstrates how Allen reinterprets and revises Native American cultural and spiritual practices within a contemporary feminist matrix; how Anzaldua negotiates political and personal struggles (as a lesbian chicana) in ways that shape her transformational art; and how Lorde draws upon West African beliefs and mores to construct her own aesthetic of self-invention. All three authors incorporate and variously reinvent mythic female figures from their respective (Puebloan, Mexican, and African) cultures. Keating argues persuasively for the deliberate design behind these writers’ strategies for challenging and changing readers’ modes of envisioning self. Unfortunately for this reviewer, Keating’s efforts in her final chapter to convince us of her own transformation under the seductive power of these texts seem like an immature "little sister’s" adoring tribute. Nevertheless, the book is worth reading and contains some valuable lessons about how to participate in and respond to fiction by three important contemporary authors.
Fleck’s collection of essays on Native American fiction has, curiously, been reprinted in 1997 after only four years in circulation. Like the first printing in 1993, this edition contains twenty-four essays on six major Native American writers: D’Arcy McNickle, N. Scott Momaday, Gerald Vizenor, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Louise Erdrich. Eight of the twenty-four essays are original contributions to the (1993) collection, while the others have appeared previously in a variety of books and journals. Reprinted are essays by William Bevis, Simon Ortiz, James Ruppert, Priscilla Oaks, Charles Larson, Lawrence Evers, Linda Hogan, Louis Owens, Alan R. Velie, Cecilia Sims, Kathleen Sands, A. LaVonne Ruoff, Kenneth Lincoln, Paula Gunn Allen, and Karl Kroeber. Original contributions include essays by Janet St. Clair, George Saito, Emmanuel Nelson, Kenneth Roemer, the late William Oandasan, Benjamin and Catherine Warner Bennani, Valerie Harvey, and Gretchen Bataille. The first, Janet St. Clair’s "Fighting for Her Life: The Mixed-Blood Woman’s Insistence Upon Selfhood," traces patterns in the lives of mixed-blood female characters for whom obstacles to full "selfhood" include society’s denial of their "voice, story, history, and place." Next, in "A Japanese Perspective on Native American Fiction," George Saito reports upon the state of Native American studies in Japan, and Emmanuel Nelson ("Fourth World Fictions: A Comparative Commentary on James Welch’s Winter in the Blood and Mudrooroo Narogin’s Wild Cat Falling’) calls for more global, comparative studies of aboriginal art from all over the world. In such art, no matter how disparate the locales of origin, Nelson sees many traits in common. To illustrate his point, he briefly compares Welch’s novel to one by an Australian aboriginal writer. In "Ancient Children at Play—Lyric, Petroglyphic, and Ceremonial," Kenneth Roemer investigates modes of ludic expression in Momaday’s most recent novel, The Ancient Child. William Oandasan dialogues with Simon J. Ortiz and Paula Gunn Allen on the nature of Tayo’s healing in Silko’s Ceremony, in "A Familiar Love Component of Love in Ceremony," he argues that Silko actually emphasizes Tayo’s masculinity more than previous critics have noted. The essay co-authored by the Bennanis, "No Ceremony for Men in the Sun: Sexuality, Personhood, and Nationhood in Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun, and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony," endorses Nelson’s point about the need for comparative studies; the authors review parallels between Silko’s novel and a work by a Palestinian author that communicates similar spiritual themes. A useful explanation of Silko’s references to sandpainting is provided by Valerie Harvey in "Navajo Sandpainting in Ceremony" and, finally, Gretchen Bataille traces Erdrich’s use in The Beet Queen of the American, particularly the Southern, grotesque tradition. She explains how recognizing this feature of Erdrich’s writing—drawn of course from Western literary tradition rather than American Indian—helps us to understand better both Native and non-Native characters in Erdrich’s novel.
Fleck’s volume of essays also contains an introductory section outlining the major themes of the six American Indian writers who are the subject of study, as well as a brief, only marginally useful selected bibliography of works by and about these authors. (The "works about" material is scanty and it strikes this reviewer as rather eccentrically selected.) However, the essays that Fleck has selected for publication, both the older, previously printed ones and those composed for first-time inclusion in the volume, are in varying degrees useful for scholars and students alike.
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MLA: Rainwater, Catherine. Identity and Difference. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #161-162 (Summer/Autumn 1999), On Thomas King. (pg. 220 - 222)
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