Native American Autobiography and the Synecdochic Self
Although studies of Native American autobiography have become more numerous of late, no one of these has yet taken as its central focus the matter that has perhaps more than anything else occupied students of Western autobiography, that is, the nature of the "self" presented in these texts. This is not to indicate an error or omission; to the contrary, inasmuch as the centrality of the self to Western autobiography has no close parallel in Native American autobiography, any immediate orientation toward the self would inevitably have seemed ethnocentric, at the least premature. But to say that the Western understanding of the self, in its various historical representations, is neither prioritized nor valorized in Native American autobiography is not at all to say that subjectivity is, therefore, absent or unimportant in these texts. Whether or not Paul Heelas is correct in his generalization (and I think he probably is not) that "the autonomous self is universal" (48), it is very likely the case that some sense of self—perhaps Amélie Rorty's "reflective, conscious subject of experience, a subject that is not identical with any set of its experiences, memories or traits, but is that which has all of them" (11)—is indeed to
be found universally, and so, to be sure, among Native American people.
The problem is that every term in Rorty's (or in any other) description is culture-specific, inflected in its meaning by the particular cultural codes according to which we differentially "have," as historically and geographically situated men and women, our similar "experiences" as human beings. What, after all, does it mean for the Hopi to be "reflective," for the Yaqui to be "conscious," for the Chippewa to be a "subject," for the Ojibwa to "have" experiences? Humans are or do all of these things, and we are or do them in the same ways—differently. Considerations of this sort have animated work in the ethnography of the self, from its rudimentary and initially "anti-psychological" be-
ginnings in the form of "culture and personality" studies from about 1910 on, to its current existence in the form of a decidedly "psychological anthropology." Yet for all of this work, we are still far from any conceptual and terminological consensus about how to speak of the self, the individual, or the ego, the "I," or "me," the "modal personality," the "model of identity"—or, indeed, the "subject," where each of these terms signals not only a personal preference, a research interest or emphasis, but as well, as Paul Smith has recently shown, a disciplinary affiliation (subjects coming more or less from philosophy, individuals and selves from the humanities, egos and modal personalities from the social sciences, etc.). Even to the extent we do know how these terms apply to the West, we know less well how they apply (or don't apply) to the rest, whose thought on such matters is reduced (or elevated) to the level of "indigenous psychologies."
To be sure, these studies are barely a century old, so that it would be premature to abandon, as a certain postmodernist strain of thought would urge, further efforts in the direction of some greater accuracy of description and explanation. Yet it is necessary to acknowledge, here, a practical rather than a theoretical problem certain to beset ad-
vances along these lines, one akin to that Freud posited for the general prospects of psychoanalysis. I refer to the fact that while it is a fairly simple matter to convince people that their eating or greeting habits are cultural rather than natural, it is considerably more difficult to convince them that the ways in which they think and deeply feel about themselves are also more nearly culturally than biologically determined. And modern Western concepts of the self are so thoroughly committed to notions of interiority and individualism that even anthropologically sophisticated Westerners have a tendency to construct their accounts of the varieties of selfhood as an evolutionary narrative, telling a story of a progression from the social and public orientation of ancient or "primitive" self-conception (the self as social "person") to the modern, Western, "civilized," egocentric/individualist sense of self.
This tendency may be responsible for what I take as the essentially comic plot of Marcel Mauss's 1938 essay, most recently translated as "A category of the human mind: the notion of person; the notion of self." Mauss's seminal study tells a story which has as its happy ending the emergence of the "moi ," the Western post-romantic self as veritably "sacred," a construction that surpasses what Mauss calls the personnage models of the Native Americans, Mauss's chief illustrative example, and the personnalité models of ancient and/or non-Western peoples generally. For Mauss, Native American self-consciousness was minimal, or, better, de-
fined by the etymology of the word person (personne, personnage ), from Latin persona, per sonare , as this referred to the mask through which the actor spoke his role in public. Not an individual with rights and responsibilities before the law (this must await the Roman addition of the right to a personal praenomen or "forename," and the Christian invention of "the moral person"), the Indian was rather the representative of his ancestor or his clan, an actor who merely performed his appointed character. As Mauss would have it, the Indian knew little or nothing of that consciousness which is properly and proudly a self -consciousness, "an act of the 'self,"' and which, from Fichte on, saw "the revolution in mentalities . . . accomplished" (22). Mauss drew some of these conclusions from the investigations of Boasian anthropologists, and he offers particular data from the Hopi. In this regard, as Peter Whiteley has recently shown, Mauss either ignored or was quite simply wrong in his understanding of the complexities of Hopi naming practices (Whiteley 1988). For all that Hopis do, indeed, identify with clan and sodality roles, Whiteley's carefully gathered data show that Hopis also take great pleasure in the distinctive, "poetic," and, indeed, quite individualistic qualities of some of the names they formerly and continuously bestow and appreciate (Whiteley 1991). These comments are intended to suggest a complexity to the "red side" of the story greater than most commentators have thus far allowed; this is not to say that Native American and Eurmerican conceptions of the self are , after all, more nearly alike than Mauss claimed.
For, there is little or nothing in the indigenous cultures of the Americas to parallel what I will offer here as an illustration of the apogee of the "modern" Western moi , what we find in a text like Gerard Manley Hopkins's "As kingfish-
ers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame," in which the inward self appears both as actor in "God's eye," and sublimely unique romantic consciousness.
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came . (53)
But this lovely indoor self, in Mauss's tale, unfortunately was never present to the poor outdoor Indian.
In his ultimate celebration of the inward self, Mauss, as a number of commentators have noted, seems to renege on his initial promise to "leave aside everything which relates to the 'self' (moi ), the conscious personality as such," and to focus instead on the "social history" (3) of the person, the category of prime concern to Mauss's uncle and maître , Emile Durkheim, as it was to that major but—at least in literary circles—currently somewhat obscure figure, George Herbert Mead. Mead's "social theory of the self," as Stephen Lukes has remarked, sought "to explain how it can be, in all societies and cultures, that" in Mead's words,
all selves are constituted by or in terms of the social process, and are individual reflections of it [yet] every individual self has its own peculiar individuality, its own unique pattern. (Lukes 287)
In this regard, any attempt to privilege the sacred inviolability of the self by setting it in opposition to society or culture, standard Western bourgeois practice at least
since Fichte, involves, to return to Lukes, "a significant loss of understanding" of everything beyond the local/Western. To avoid such a loss, we get in the forties and fifties a redescription of the Native American sense of self by such writers as Dorothy Lee and George Devereux, among others, in ways that relativize the matter in the interest, to invoke again the phrase of Fischer and Marcus, of anthropology as cultural critique. Whatever Indian sense of self—and this is no more monolithic than any "Western" sense of self—one may describe now seems less "primitive" and retrograde than, indeed, more "advanced," wiser than what prevails in the West in its superior comprehension of the dynamic interaction, not the opposition, between any self and any society. Oddly, or not so oddly, we have, in this period, a comic narrative of identity once more—only the protagonist is different!
Before developing this point just a bit further, it seems to me useful to speak of the point Carter Revard has so shrewdly raised in regard to any narratives of Indian identity. Revard, I mean to say, has raised the important issue of demographic or topic-al influences on generic geneses. For one thing, as he writes,
I wonder how much mere demographics has to do with the differences between Native American and Western literature. I take a major fact to be that in a small, relatively classless society where everyone knows everyone else, it is redundant for anyone to offer an autobiography. I take as another major fact that cities are meant to hide lives, to make sure nobody knows what one has been doing, to try and prevent circumstances of family and parentage from constraining a person's claims on society or claims for herself. I take it that in a society where there are many people and most of them have never met or meet only for brief moments, where "privacy" means one can hide everything in the past from anyone else, THERE it is possible to offer autobiography. (Personal communication)
Any Indian sense of self we may derive from Native American autobiography must, I believe, take these considerations into account. And these considerations, as I shall have occasion to note shortly, bear on the matter of voice and text in Native American self-presentation.
To return to the particular history of the thirties and forties, however, it was Devereux's opinion that for Native Americans "maximum individuation and maximum socialization go hand in hand" (291), while Lee concluded that Lakota cultures demonstrate "autonomy and community in transaction" (1986 41). Of the Wintu self, Lee noted (her generalizations supported by impressionistically selective
"ethnoscientific" citations from Wintu grammar and diction), that it is
not clearly opposed to the other, neither is it clearly identical with or incorporated in the other. On most occasions it participates to some extent in the other, and is of equal status to the other. (1959 137)
Wintu know "society" more readily than the "self," the reverse of our Western knowledge; but most of all, Wintu seem to have found a way to reconcile what often appears to Euramericans as an opposition between self and society.
In any event, insofar as we would attempt to generalize about the Native American self from the available studies, that self would seem to be less attracted to introspection, expansion, or fulfillment than the Western self appears to be. It would seem relatively uninterested in such things as the "I-am-me" experience, and a sense of uniqueness or individuality. More positively, one might perhaps instantiate an "I-am-we" experience as descriptive of the Native
sense of self, where such a phrase indicates that I understand myself as a self only in relation to the coherent and bounded whole of which I am a part (e.g., the quotation from Lee above). Here, Jane Fajans's distinction between the "person as a bounded entity invested with specific patterns of social behavior, normative powers, and restraints, and the individual as an entity with interiorized conscience, feelings, goals, motivations, and aspirations" (370 my emphasis) is useful. Native Americans (along with most of the world's people, it would seem) tend to construct themselves not as individuals but as persons. As Carter Revard had shown over ten years ago, in his comments on the autobiographies of Geronimo and others, and as David Brumble, from a somewhat different perspective has convincingly affirmed (1981, 1989), for Native American persons, "the notions of cosmos, country, self, and home are inseparable" (Revard 1980 86).
At this point it would be possible to proceed with readings of several Native American autobiographies in order to determine whether their authors do or do not seem to conceive themselves in the ways suggested by the available anthropological and psychological literature. The danger here is that such readings tend not to be actual "readings" at all, but, instead, tautological exercises in the "discovery" of literary "evidence" for psychological or anthropological "truths" already established elsewhere, as if autobiography were no more than a museum for the self where one could peer through language as through the transparent glass of a case.
Concerned to avoid such vulgar reductionism, it is tempting to adopt the militantly formalist position of a Paul de Man, which insists that autobiography is no more than a figure of reading, an effect of language, and thus can pro-
vide no reliable information about selves—or about anything else outside the orders of language. This position denies that we can ever know another self in autobiography—affirming (what for the deconstructionist is apparently abundant recompense) that what we can know is simply the infinite play of linguistic signification.
How, then, to navigate between the Scylla of a purely realistic/referential reading and the Charybdis of a purely linguistic/figural reading? How to satisfy a thoroughly reputable interest in the subject of autobiography as biographical existent, and as cultural and historical agent, while centering one's commentary on what autobiographical texts present linguistically, the actual words from which any sense of self must be inferred? For, to speak, now, only of Native American autobiographies, one finds little or no explicit mention of who-I-am, little or no mention at all of the self as the object of conscious and developed concern.
Let me propose as one avenue of approach—and so an attempt at mediating the two positions—that we appropriate terms for the figures of language as applicable to some facts of life. With all due apologies to the reader for elaborating what may well be obvious, I want to state as clearly as I can here the potential contribution the discussion to follow hopes to make; this is also, I am well aware, to specify the grounds for that discussion's limitations and weaknesses. I mean to suggest that the West's traditional fourfold rhetorical division of elocutio and poeisis into metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony, a division invented to name linguistic relations, may be taken (metaphorically) as naming relations of an actual/"realistic" type between the per-
son/individual and others (or society) and so may provide terms for a theory of self-conception and self-situation as these appear in the texts we call autobiographies .
If it is indeed the case, for example, that there are peoples who actually do conceive of themselves as in some very real sense interchangeable with their ancestors and their posterity (the Balinese, in Clifford Geertz's account, perhaps? ), then we might expect any stories they tell about themselves to show a metaphorical conception of the self, one that constructs identity paradigmatically, along the vertical axis of analogical selection. Metonymy and synecdoche I take as terms that name relations of a part-to-part and a part-to-whole type. Thus, where personal accounts are strongly marked by the individual's sense of herself predominantly as different and separate from other distinct individuals, one might speak of a metonymic sense of self. Where any narration of personal history is more nearly marked by the individual's sense of himself in relation to collective social units or groupings, one might speak of a synecdochic sense of self, both metonymy and synecdoche constructing identity syntagmatically, along the horizontal axis of contiguity and combination.
While I am ignorant of specific instances of an ironic sense of self elsewhere in the world, I would suggest that some of what might be called "modernist" senses of self in the West may be usefully categorized as ironic. The exemplary texts here (I cite novelistic examples for the purer types fiction can construct; autobiographical near-equivalents may readily enough be found) are, at the earliest, Melville's uncanny imagination of the "confidence
man," and Dostoyevsky's story of the "underground man," these followed by a whole library, as it were, of ironic modern "characters": T. S. Eliot's fragmented voices out of "the waste land," Robert Musil's "man without qualities," Kafka's "arrested" and metamorphosed men, Virginia Woolf's disembodied monologists in The Waves , right on to Samuel Beckett's portrayals of the self as contingent to the point of virtual dissolution. In these texts there is neither the metaphorical sense of the cosmic interchangeability of persons; nor the metonymic sense of the specific uniqueness of otherwise comparable individuals; nor the synecdochic sense of personal representation of a collective entity. Rather, there is only the sense of self-identity as fact-with-no-meaning: I-am-I, but so what. Or, in the specifically antiphrastic form, I am not like him, not like her, certainly not like them, that's not me, nor that, nor am I much like anything at all.
From the perspective of a rhetorical hardliner like de Man, the procedure I have outlined represents no more than a categorical error: one cannot cross the line from language to life inasmuch as it is the very essence of figures to signify only linguistically and not realistically. That is to say, if one takes the standard illustration of synecdoche, "fifty sail" for "fifty ships," it is obvious that the figure makes no sense realistically: although one can , of course, visualize fifty sails coming across the water, the image itself is un-
likely to refer to anything one might actually see. Literally, it makes no sense. The same is true for "he is all heart," e.g., visualizing "him" as an assemblage of arteries, auricles, ventricles, etc. Nonetheless, I am making the assumption that the part-to-whole relation named by the term synecdoche and the part-to-part relation named by the term metonymy, along with the relations termed metaphoric and ironic as these are posited in language, can usefully be applied to relations we experience in life, particularly, here, the relation of the individual self, or subject to other individuals selves, or subjects, and to collectively constituted groups.
I am assuming, to put it in the phrase of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, that there are, indeed, "metaphors we live by" (q.v.); and that, as M. Brewster Smith has written, "the metaphorical texture of our views of self is part and parcel of our metaphorical construction of the world" (74). I tend to believe that there is not a radical epistemological break between the use of metaphor in life, as in Lakoff and Johnson's sense that metaphor quite unself-consciously and unambiguously involves "understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another" (5 my emphasis), and the use of metaphor in texts, as in Gerard Genette's sense of the figure precisely as "a sense of figure, . . . [whose] existence depends completely on the awareness that the reader has, or does not have of the ambiguity of the discourse that is being offered him" (54). For all that the former emphasizes the sense-constructing possibilities of figures, while the latter asserts the sense-deconstructing possibilities of figures, I take the difference as a matter of emphasis rather than one of opposition. Thus I will suggest that the
theory of tropes has value for a theory of self-conception, and that its usefulness resides most particularly in its giving us a way of speaking of the self as it is actually presented textually, in autobiography. I shall further suggest that cultural techniques of information transmission—oral as differentiated from written techniques—also correlate with particular figural preferences and particular conceptions of self.
In a provocative article, Stephen Tyler has attempted to place the "Standard Average European" preference for seeing as a way of knowing and for writing as a way of conveying what is known against the backdrop of an ignored or undervalued non-Western preference for doing and speaking. Evading the formalist-structuralist distinction between metaphor and metonymy that, at least since Roman Jakobson's famous essay on "Linguistics and Poetics," has become a virtual staple of poetics—"the irreplaceable bookends of our own modern rhetoric," in Gerard Genette's phrase (107)—Tyler focuses on a distinction between metonymy and synecdoche, not so much as parallel terms concerned
with relations of contiguity, contact, or correspondence (syntagmatic relations as opposed to the paradigmatic relations of substitution definitive of metaphor, or the antiphrastic relations of negation definitive of irony), but as terms differentiable by the kinds of relation with which they are concerned. For Tyler—and I have already accepted his account of these matters in my remarks above—metonymy is concerned with part-part relations while synecdoche is concerned with part-whole relations. Here I want to propose that while modern Western autobiography has been essentially metonymic in orientation, Native American autobiography has been and continues to be persistently synecdochic, and that the preference for synecdochic models of the self has relations to the oral techniques of information transmission typical of Native American cultures. Let us (briefly) take this second matter first.
Traditionally, the autobiographical forms (such as they were) that existed among Native American peoples—the coup story on the Plains foremost; accounts of dreams or mystic experiences —were communicated orally, Indians of the present-day United States not having developed alphabetic writing, and (therefore) publicly as well. One did not tell of one's war honors in private, to one's wives or best friends, but to assembled members of the tribe, an audience that included eyewitnesses to the events narrated who were dutybound to object to or deny any false claims. In the same way, we know that the most powerful visions (e.g., the celebrated visions of Black Elk at ages five and nine) were often enacted tribally, dramatically performed in public so that their full effect, which is to say their collective
effect, might be experienced ("done," as Tyler might say). I win honors, then, not only for me (most assuredly for me, however, particularly on the Plains, but elsewhere as well) but for us, the tribe; I am granted a vision, but the vision is not just for me, nor is any of it usable or functional until it is spoken, even performed publicly. This sense of personal eventfulness and this manner of communicating the personal orally, dramatically, performatively, in public, to the extent that they inform any written text of an Indian is very clearly more likely to privilege the synecdochic relation of part-to-whole than the metonymic relation of part-to-part. Speech always assumes a present listener as opposed to writing, where the audience is absent to the author, the author absent to the audience.
It is the part-to-part relation, however, that seems to mark Western autobiography—itself marked by writing.
As evidential shorthand, consider that locus classicus of modern autobiography, Rousseau's Confessions . "I understand my own heart," Rousseau writes, "and understand my fellow man. But I am made like no one in the whole world. I may be no better, but at least I am different" (17). The units compared are precisely that: units, one-to-one, man-
to-man, part-to-part. Rousseau does not see himself as an aberration, one who cannot accurately be classed among the genus, Man; rather, he is specifically different from other individual men, from each and every one of them, one-by-one. For all that any full understanding of Rousseau must take into account his deeply social and "communitarian" commitment—it may, indeed, reasonably be claimed that any autobiography, however "individualistic," also implies a theory of society—still, the figures of his self-representation in the Confessions tend toward the metonymic.
If we turn to Thoreau, writing half a century after Rousseau, we find much the same sort of thing. Addressing his "neighbors," in the headnote to Walden , Thoreau promises (or threatens) to "wake" them up; addressing his "readers" in the book's second paragraph, he promises to answer their questions "concerning [his] mode of life." In every case, "the I or first person . . . will be retained" in his book, for it is "always the first person that is speaking" in writing. What Thoreau would provide is what he himself
require[s] of every writer . . . a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men's lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me. (1)
"Perhaps," Thoreau continues,
these pages are more particularly addressed to poor students. As for the rest of my readers, they will accept such portions as
apply to them. I trust that none will stretch the seams in putting on the coat, for it may do good service to him whom it fits. (1–2)
It seems reasonable to read these remarks metonymically: Thoreau's model of proper speech-in-writing images the individual man addressing other individual men (there remains the problem of what women were to do with these constructions), who, while they certainly make up the generalized categories of "neighbors," or "readers," or "writers," or "students," must finally read as he writes, in the "first person," each individually "putting on the coat" to assess its fit. This metonymic construal of the individual autobiographer asserting his or her individuality against or with the individuality of others persists into the twentieth century—when, as I have noted, it begins to dissolve. "I am I because my little dog knows me" (64), Gertrude Stein wrote—but in a book she ironically called Everybody's Autobiography .
When we turn to Native American autobiography the situation is rather different. Native American autobiography, a post-contact phenomenon in its written forms, exists in two types which I have elsewhere called the Indian autobiography and the autobiography by an Indian. The first of these is constituted as a genre of writing by its original, bicultural, composite composition, the product of a collaboration between the Native American subject of the autobiography who provides its "content" and its Euramerican editor who ultimately provides its "form" by fixing the text in writing. Autobiographies by Indians, however, are indeed self-written lives; there is no compositeness to their
composition, although inasmuch as their subject, in order to write a life, must have become "civilized" (in many cases Christianized as well), there remains the element of biculturalism. In both sorts of texts, let me claim, we find a privileging of the synecdochic relation of part-to-whole over the metonymic relation of part-to-part.
At this point, the reader may well expect some illustrative demonstration of a synecdochic nature to make its entrance, a detailed reading of a single text being offered as representative of a larger body of autobiographical work. I will not fail to conform to such expectation. I have chosen to consider an autobiography by an Indian rather than an Indian autobiography for two reasons. First, it is the case that every aspect of the Indian autobiography, including the particular sense of self conveyed, is at least theoretically ascribable to its non-Native editor as much as to its Native subject. This fact raises questions it would be too cumbersome to deal with just here. More importantly, to work with the autobiographies of traditional, tribal persons—and Indian autobiographies are almost exclusively focused on this sort of person—and then to show that they are indeed traditionally tribal, relationally synecdochic, courts even a greater circularity than what is inevitable to such exercises. As noted above, Indians who write their own life stories must first have learned to write and at least to that extent been influenced by the dominant Euramerican culture. To see whether their autobiographical presentations of self therefore have also been influenced by the dominant culture—whether they have, in my terms, tended to move from synecdochic to metonymic senses of the self—seems the more interesting tack to take. I proceed now to consider the autobiographical work of the Reverend William Apes (1798–1837?).
One of the very first autobiographies by an Indian is A Son of the Forest (1829) by the mixedblood Pequot and Methodist preacher, the Reverend William Apes. This text was followed in 1833 by Apes's The Experiences of Five Christian Indians , the first chapter of which, the "Experience of the Missionary," offers a second brief autobiography by Apes ("the Missionary"). This makes no reference to A Son of the Forest but instead promises a further autobiographical volume, "a book of 300 pages, 18mo. in size; and there, the reader will find particulars respecting my life" (4). Apes was never to write such a book, although his further publications—Indian Nullification of the Unconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts, Relative to the Marshpee Tribe . . . (1835), in part an account of political work on behalf of the Mashpees, which landed him in prison, and Eulogy on King Philip, as Pronounced at the Odeon in Federal Street, Boston . . . (1836), a fierce attack on the Puritan origins of American racism—are both intensely personal. All of his writing, I would suggest, may fruitfully be read as pieces of an extended autobiography.
By 1798, the year of William Apes's birth, Pequot cultural integrity was at a low point. This is to say that aboriginal lands had been usurped or heavily encroached upon by
whites so that traditional ecological economies and cultural practices were severely disrupted where they were not entirely destroyed. Disease, alcoholism, and Christianity served as further agents undermining tribal coherence and cultural competence, with predictable effects on Native self-conception—although Apes came to view Christianity as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. Apes did not live long with his parents who tended to move about considerably. Placed with his grandparents, Apes was so cruelly treated—at the age of four, his arm was broken in three places (ASOF 12) as the result of a drunken beating administered by his grandmother—that he eventually was sent to live "among good Christian people" (13). Their goodness did not prevent them from "selling" (31) him to a judge who worked him and "sold" (35) him to someone else. I will not detail Apes's life-adventures further; suffice it to say that he eventually became a convert to evangelical Methodism, attaining to the position of licensed Methodist "exhorter" (111), although the license to preach, which he desired, was still, at the conclusion of A Son of the Forest , withheld from him.
At this point in his life, Apes seems to see himself as something like Mauss's Christian "'moral person'," virtually "a metaphysical entity" (19). Although Mauss reads the Christian stage of Western self-conception as a step on the
way toward (these are, of course, my terms, not those of Mauss) metonymic construals of self, it needs to be said that this is by no means the only reading possible. Christian tradition gives us abundant instances of solitary individuals seeking relation foremost with God (e.g., the early desert fathers, medieval mystics, Louis Dumont's "outworldly" Christian individuals), but it also gives us abundant images of individuals defined foremost by a sense of commonality and community (Dumont's post-Calvinist "inworldly" Christians). For every "I" focussed exclusively on "Thou," for everyone trying to love her particularized neighbor, there are also those who are committed to doing unto all others as they would have done unto themselves; those committed to what William Bradford called "the church or commonwealth" (39), made up of persons who believe that—I return to Dumont—"we should embody that other world in our determined action upon this one" (116).
It is this latter sense of Christian self-definition that is important to Apes, who does not fail to grasp its political implications. Toward the close of A Son of the Forest , Apes writes:
I feel a great deal happier in the new [Methodist Society] than I did in the old [Methodist Episcopal] church—the government of the first is founded on republican , while that of the latter is founded on monarchial principles. (115)
And Apes "rejoice[s] sincerely in the spread of the principles of civil and religious liberty—may they ever be found 'hand in hand'" (115). He believes that
If these blessed principles prevail . . . the image of God in his members will be a sufficient passport to all Christian priv-
ileges; and all the followers of the most high will unite together in singing the song of praise, Glory to God in the highest, &c. (115)
In this way Apes seeks to replace the lost paradise of the Pequots—what he called in the first paragraph of his autobiography "the goodly heritage occupied by this once peaceable and happy tribe" (7)—with the paradise regained in Christ. The tribe to which he would now belong, defining himself by his membership, is that of "the followers of the most high." Obviously enough, "all the followers of the most high" (my emphasis) must include Indians—at least those Native "members" of the saved in whom "the image of God" is to "be a sufficient passport to all Christian privileges." "Look brethren," Apes exhorts in his penultimate paragraph,
at the natives of the forest—they come, notwithstanding you call them "savage ," from the "east and from the west, the north and the south," and will occupy [because the last shall be first?] seats in the kingdom of heaven before you. (116)
Yet for all that Christian Indians will share equally with Christian whites a heavenly heritage in the future, those same Indians, now, in the present, are abused and discriminated against by whites. Nor is it Indians only, as Apes came increasingly to understand, but blacks and all people of color who suffer from American race prejudice. Here, the incompatibility of Christianity and racism emerges as a major theme of William Apes's subsequent writing (as it would, of course, become a theme of Frederick Douglass
and the abolitionists). I shall try to say in a moment how this bears on the question of his synecdochic self-definition.
Consider, in these regards, Apes's second brief autobiography, "The Experience of the Missionary." Addressed to the "youth," "those poor children of the forest, who have had taken from them their once delightful plains, and homes of their peaceable habitations" (3), Apes's account of his life here places a particular emphasis on those aspects of his suffering that occurred because of race prejudice. In a text of only seventeen pages, Apes's increased awareness of the problem of color in America is indicated by such phrases and sentences as "Had my skin been white" (8), "Now, if my face had been white" (9), "I would ask the white man, if he thinks that he can be justified in making just such a being as I am . . . unhappy . . . because God has made us thus" (17), "I was already a hissing-stock, and a byword in the world, merely because I was a child of the forest" (19), and so on.
In these regards, consider also that the cover of the first edition of The Experience . . . gives its full title as The Experiences of Five Christian Indians: Or the Indian's Looking Glass for the White Man . But The Indian's Looking Glass . . . is not merely an alternate title for the collection of autobiographies, but the title of a pamphlet or sermon that appears after the fifth "Experience," at the end of the book. This is a brilliant and violent attack on racism. I will quote its first two sentences; they indicate, I believe, a new strength and stylistic assurance. Apes begins:
Having a desire to place a few things before my fellow creatures who are travelling with me to the grave, and to that God who is the maker and preserver both of the white man and the Indian, whose abilities are the same, and who are to be judged by one God, who will show no favor to outward appearances, but will judge righteousness. Now I ask if degradation has not been heaped long enough upon the Indians? (53)
If this book of "Experiences" is to be taken—as the "or" rather than "and" on the cover would seem to urge—as providing a "looking glass" for the white man, then what that looking glass reflects above all are the "national crimes" (56) of white Americans. Here is the extraordinary passage in which this phrase occurs; I believe it is worth quoting at length:
Assemble all nations together in your imagination, and then let the whites be seated amongst them, and then let us look for the whites, and I doubt not it would be hard finding them; for to the rest of the nations, they are still but a handful. Now suppose these skins were put together, and each skin had its national crimes written upon it —which skin do you think would have the greatest? I will ask one question more. Can you charge the Indians with robbing a nation almost of their whole Continent, and murdering their women and children, and then depriving the remainder of their lawful rights, that nature and God require them to have? And to cap the climax, rob another nation to till their grounds, and welter out their days under the lash with hunger and fatigue under the scorching rays of a burning sun? I should look at all the skins, and I know that when I
cast my eye upon that white skin, and if I saw those crimes written upon it, I should enter my protest against it immediately, and cleave to that which is more honorable. And I can tell you that I am satisfied with the manner of my creation, fully—whether others are or not. (56)
Apes's next work (the Indian Nullification . . .) continues to be concerned with racism, announcing it explicitly as central to his life. Writing in the third person, Apes states in his introduction that the author "wishes to say in the first place"
that the causes of the prevalent prejudice against his race have been his study from his childhood upwards. That their colour should be a reason to treat one portion of the human race with insult and abuse has always seemed to him strange; believing that God has given to all men an equal right to possess and occupy the earth, and to enjoy the fruits thereof, without any such distinction. (10)
Apes now sees himself quite self-consciously as the prophet of colorblind Christianity, and this bears upon the question of self-definition inasmuch as it would seem he can be fully himself only as an Indian member of the tribe of the nonracist saved. It is the part-to-whole relation in which the self as such is validated only in its social-collective (Christian) personhood that is important to Apes. But let us come finally to William Apes's last known text, the Eulogy on King Philip .
Apes's turn to King Philip is rather a return, for the initial sentence of his first work, A Son of the Forest , had described its author as "a native of the American soil, and a descendant of one of the principal chiefs of the Pequot
tribe, so well known in that part of American history called King Philip's Wars" (ASOF 7). It was Philip's defeat in war which initiated the Pequots' loss "of the[ir] goodly heritage," and so it may come as no surprise to discover that a vindication of Philip, the narrative reconstitution of his "defeat" as a victory, now becomes for Apes the necessary condition for any recuperation of that "goodly heritage." The Eulogy proclaims Philip "the greatest man that was ever in America" (EKP 55–6), providing a revisionist history of the Pilgrim invasion: "the seed of iniquity and prejudice was sown in that day" (21), when the Pilgrims invaded these shores, Apes writes. Speaking to the descendants of the Pilgrims and Puritans in Boston, Apes would yet say:
Let the children of the pilgrims blush, while the son of the forest drops a tear, and groans over the fate of his murdered and departed fathers. He would say to the sons of the pilgrims, (as Job said about his birth day,) let the day be dark, the 22d of December, 1622; let it be forgotten in your celebration, in your speeches, and by the burying of the Rock that your fathers first put their foot upon. For be it remembered, although the gospel is said to be glad tidings to all people, yet we poor Indians never have found those who brought it as messengers of mercy, but contrawise. We say therefore, let every man of color wrap himself in mourning, for the 22d of December and the 4th of July are days of mourning and not of joy. (20)
And so, Apes continues, "while you ask yourselves, what do they, the Indians, want? you have only to look at the unjust laws made for them, and say they want what I want," which is that "all men must operate under one general law" (59). That law is to be, as Apes had earlier written, both "civil and religious" (ASOF 115), for it is the worldly implication
of Christianity as Apes understands it that the "image of God in his members" be the "sufficient passport to all Christian privileges" (ASOF 115), not only in heaven but here on earth as well—and, as he says, "first, in New England" (EKP 59).
Curiously—amazingly?—Apes's Eulogy was sufficiently popular to warrant a second edition in 1837, after which year, as I have noted, no more is known of the Reverened William Apes. So far as his writings may be taken as formally and informally autobiographical, it seems reasonable to suggest that they show him engaged in a very particular form of synecdochic self-definition. Recalling from the first a lost tribal identity and a "goodly heritage" in which all share together, he attempts with increasing self-consciousness to reconstitute and redefine his "tribe" and its "heritage" in Christian terms as a means of constituting and defining himself—this latter process, in typical Native American fashion, hardly self-conscious at all. The tribe to which Apes will ultimately belong must finally be made up not so much of Pequots or Puritans, not even only of Christians, "but [of] men" (EKP 59). In the end, as I have said, Apes is simply an Indian member of the colorblind saved, one of those nonracist Christians who, like most Indians traditionally, are usually more interested in their integration within a principled community rather than in their unique or "sacred" individuality.
Apes's synecdochic presentation of self finds parallels in a great many autobiographies by Indians. I would instance first, Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins's Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883), whose very title proclaims her individual life as comprehensible foremost in relation to the collective experience of her tribe. Then there is
Charles Alexander Eastman's From the Deep Woods to Civilization: Chapters in the Autobiography of an Indian (1916) with its conclusion, "I am an Indian. . . . I am an American" (195). Approaching the present, there is Leslie Marmon Silko's Storyteller (1981) which, as I have described it elsewhere, conceives of individual identity only in functional relation to the tribe. Silko, as a contemporary Laguna "storyteller," takes her place in a line of "storytellers as far back as memory goes" (Dedication); she is what she does to sustain her community. Finally, we may look to the ongoing autobiographical projects of the Minnesota Chippewa novelist and critic, Gerald Vizenor, who, in a number of recent autobiographical texts, as I have earlier noted, invokes the "mixedblood," or "crossblood," the trickster, and the author as categories in relation to which he may define himself. Inasmuch as, in Vizenor's view, "mixedbloods loosen the seams in the shrouds of identity" (1987 101), they have a ready relation to tricksters—those jokers, shape-changers, and limit-challengers—and to writers of fiction, poetry, or criticism who are all, if true to their vocation, focused on the powers of the imagination. And Vizenor defines himself in relation to these "tribal heirs to a wild baronage" (to take the subtitle of his The Trickster of Liberty ); for all that these each take self-definition as a loose and impermanent thing, yet they have a certain collective sense of responsibility as identity.
For all of this, I would not want to be understood as claiming that all autobiographies by Indians must necessarily be unimpressed by varieties of individualism, nor that all autobiographies by Native people must take synecdoche as their defining figure. The autobiographies by the much-
acclaimed N. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa, seem to me as metonymic in their orientation as Rousseau's, for example. In the same way, Western autobiography is hardly constrained to metonymic strategies. A good deal of autobiographical writing by Western women, it seems, and certain forms of Christian autobiography, as I have noted, are quite likely to adopt synecdochic types of self-identification, as are the autobiographies of writers whose deep commitment to political egalitarianism works to structure their self-conception in a part-to-whole manner: I think here, for example, of Prince Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, and, more recently, Assata Shakur. So far as one may generalize, however, it does seem to be the case that Native American autobiography is marked by the figure of synecdoche in its presentation of the self.