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INTRODUCTION: ETHNOCRITICISM
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INTRODUCTION: ETHNOCRITICISM

. . . the creation of alternative cartographies, a ferocious critique of the dominant culture . . . a proposal for new creative languages . . . the borderization of the world. . . .
GUILLERMO GÓMEZ-PEÑA


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In referring to the studies in this book as ethnocriticism , I take up again a concept I tentatively offered more than a decade ago in my first awkward attempt to say something about Native Americans as subjects and producers of varieties of American discourse. Ethnocriticism is the name I give to a particular perspective as this is manifested on the level of critical writing. On the pedagogical or curricular level, the ethnocritical perspective manifests itself in the form of multiculturalism , a term I take to refer to that particular organization of cultural studies which engages otherness and difference in such a way as to provoke an interrogation of and a challenge to what we ordinarily take as familiar and our own. On the level of what I will call cognitive ethics, the ethnocritical perspective is consistent with a recognition and legitimation of heterogeneity (rather than homogeneity) as the social and cultural norm. My term for this recognition and legitimation—and I take my particular sense of it from Paul Rabinow—is cosmopolitanism . Ulti-


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mately, ethnocriticism, multiculturalism, and cosmopolitanism are all oriented toward materializing their values on the sociopolitical level, contributing to the possibility of institutionalizing what I have elsewhere called the polyvocal polity .[1] I will return to multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and the politics of polyvocality in my conclusion. Here, by way of introduction, I want to define, explain, and, so, inevitably, defend ethnocriticism .

Ten years ago I found terms for the sort of critical perspective I had in mind most particularly in the historical subdiscipline of ethnohistory . "Although ethnohistory is a scholarly strategy with a long pedigree," as James Axtell has written, "it was given academic prominence in 1946 when Congress created the Indian Claims Commission" (Krupat 1979 142), which called upon anthropologists to examine historical sources in order to determine whether specific tribes had occupied specific lands, and whether they had received fair value for those lands at the time of cession. The American Indian Ethnohistoric Conference was formed, and the journal Ethnohistory first published in 1954 to fill scholarly needs in studying Indian-White relations in the history of this country. Twenty-five years later, in 1979, it seemed to me that an "ethnohistorical literary criticism," as I referred to it then (1979 142), an interdisciplinary mix of anthropology, history, and critical theory, was equally needed for the study of Indian-White relations in the literature and culture of this country.

Central to ethnohistorical work is the concept of the frontier . The frontier for the modern ethnohistorian is not defined in the progressivist-evolutionist manner of Fred-


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erick Jackson Turner[2] as the farthest point to which civilization has advanced, a series of those points apparently marking a clearly discernible line between "us" and "them." Rather, in a more relativist manner, the frontier is understood as simply that shifting space in which two cultures encounter one another. In James Clifton's recent formulation, "a frontier is a social setting," not a fixed or mappable, but, rather, "a culturally defined place where peoples with different culturally expressed identities meet and deal with each other" (24).

Of course, the two cultures which met and dealt with each other at the various frontiers noted by Western history were almost never two cultures of equivalent material power, so that an ethnocriticism founded upon ethnohistorical descriptions of the frontier must involve a recognition that the topics it takes up from an anthropological, historical, or literary perspective all must be set against the backdrop of a pervasive Western imperialism. For the study of Native American materials, this means attention to the domestic imperialism, which, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not, operated on this continent against indigenous peoples everywhere, and which, regardless of intentionalities, continues to operate to this day.

But inasmuch as the conceptual categories necessary to ethnocriticism—culture, history, imperialism, anthropology, literature, interdisciplinarity, even the frontier—are Western categories, the objection may be raised that ethnocriticism is itself no more than yet another form of imperialism, this time of a discursive and epistemological kind, and one which, by its very foundation in these cate-


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gories cannot help but falsify the lived experience and worldview of any nonwestern people, translating , in Eric Cheyfitz's broad understanding of the term,[3] "their" incoherent jabber into an eloquence of use only to ourselves. It seems to me that at the ultimate horizon, this objection is true, or at least unanswerable. Just as anthropology, in an absolute sense, cannot engage innocently with any culture—because anthropology, that is to say, turns people into cultural subjects (of inquiry, at the least), objects of its knowledge—so, too, can there, in this absolute sense, be no nonviolent criticism of the discourse of Others, not even an ethnocriticism. The question is whether, short of this absolute horizon, it is worth pursuing certain projects of inquiry in the interest of a rather less violent knowledge.

Objections to the imperialism of criticism, as it were, have been raised not only by Native American critics such as Leslie Marmon Silko, and Gerald Vizenor, but as well by non-Native critics such as Calvin Martin and Robin Ridington, who have urged a turn to "Indian" modes of thinking about culture, history, and literature[4] —a call which, as I have had occasion to say before, parallels a most decidedly Western turn to "postmodernist" approaches to literature, history, and ethnography. Best known among these latter are Stephen Tyler's call for anthropologists to abandon their production of "documents of the occult" and turn their efforts instead to the production of "occult documents"; Jean Baudrillard's denunciation of "Marxist Anthropology" for its inevitable "Domination of Nature"; Jean-François Lyotard's


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rejection of the grands récits , the overarching explanatory narratives of historicism, philosophy, and science as no more than discourses of legitimation; Richard Rorty's neopragmatic demotion of philosophy to the position of just another speaker in an ongoing conversation with no claim (philosophy's historical self-justification) to be anything more than interesting ; and Gerald Vizenor's explicit linkage of what he calls the "trickster" mode to variants of these latter postmodernist positions.[5] Although I am critical of much of traditional Western disciplinary theory and practice as these have operated in relation to Native American subjects in all the senses of that word, I continue to be in substantial disagreement with "evocative" (in Tyler's term) or "biological" (in Calvin Martin's term), or, quite simply, postmodernist orientations for criticism. The relativism of ethnocriticism is not, as these positions are, a radically epistemological relativism. For all that, ethnocriticism's self-positioning at a great many frontiers, as I hope will become clear, consciously and intentionally courts the questioning of any premises from which it initially proceeds.

For any who believe, however, that it is indeed possible to say an unequivocal "no" to the Western episteme and still do work of a specifically critical and pedagogical type, much of what follows will seem disappointing at best, fraudulent


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at worst. Nor is it likely to placate the absolutist in these matters to point to the fact that ethnocriticism, like any analytic discourse , cannot help but be implicated in what Gayatri Spivak, in a brilliant recent discussion of "post-coloniality," has (re)defined as "the deconstructive philosophical position," one "in which one offers an impossible 'no' to a structure which one critiques, yet inhabits intimately" (794). It may be that ethnocriticism is engaged in a type of catachrestical project (a rather different one, however, from that of Boas, as I discuss it in chapter 2), in Spivak's terms, one which offers "concept metaphor[s] without an adequate referent" (794); if so, I would claim, as Spivak does for what she calls "the study of a globality not confused with ethnicity" (795), that ethnocriticism may—paradoxically, to be sure—turn out to be a project particularly worth pursuing.

2

Although this topic has, of late, been much considered, it may not be amiss, here, to outline more specifically my own "discontents" with postmodernism, the better to situate the ethnocriticism I want to offer in its place.

As Jean-François Lyotard has written, "Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives" (xxiv). "Metanarratives" are those discourses which, at least from the time of the Enlightenment, have either made truth-claims analogous to those of "science," or, have made claims to "philosophical" status, offering themselves as more inclusive or comprehensive than so-called "first-order" or "natural" narratives. Philosophy has always aimed, in Christopher Norris's phrase, to operate on "a higher plane of understanding," where the subject under discussion "would yield up its true . . . significance" (15),


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if nothing else, a determination to sustain the Aristotelian distinction between logic, or dialectic, and rhetoric. It is the postmodernist's insistence, however, that philosophy's claim to produce just this sort of metadiscourse ruled by reason and logic is always trapped in the prisonhouse of rhetoric and ideology; thus any would-be explanatory account in the interest of truth or knowledge is inevitably just another occasion-bound story (rhetoric).

As it is for philosophy, so, too, is it for social science, most particularly, history and ethnography: we always tell just another story, inevitably our story. Now it would be absurd to pretend that there is not a good deal of truth to this; from the pessimist's perception of the eternally half-empty rather than half-full glass, we must either imperialistically "tell our own story" as the other's, or imperialistically speak for the other, violent translation or insidious ventriloquism, the only alternatives. But this kind of either/or reasoning, as I shall take considerable pains to argue, is itself a pure product of Western logic, and leads to the practice of what I will call philosophy and social science in the ironic mode, most particularly, as I shall explain further in chapter 2, in the mode marked by the rhetorical trope of catachresis , the figure of abusio or misuse.

This postmodernist position has, of course, been "scientifically" and "philosophically" contested, most powerfully, perhaps, by the continuing meditations on the subject of Jurgen Habermas.[6] I offer my own version of an epistemological critique, one deriving from my interest in a frontier perspective, later. Here, however, I want to argue against the politics of postmodernism—once more in the interest of ethnocriticism's very different politics.


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To reduce all discourse to voices in occasional conversation, in the Rortyian postmodernist mode, or to equivalent stories, à la Lyotard, is, as Rorty wholeheartedly admits, to privilege the paradigm of a liberal, bourgeois consensus society—one, unfortunately, that either does not anywhere actually exist or is not nearly so amiably consensual as claimed. Lyotard, as I understand him, would go much further than this;[7] he seems to see his radically relativist view as consistent with such things as justice and liberation. The logic here—for all that logic is a discredited category for postmodernism—has to do with the notion that once all metanarrative aspirations are either abandoned or undermined, then, as David Carroll writes, we will have

Hundreds, thousands of little dissident narratives of all sorts . . . produced in spite of all attempts to repress them, . . . circulat[ing] inside, or even initially, outside the boundaries of the totalitarian state. (75)

Carroll continues, extrapolating from Lyotard:

The importance of these little narratives is not only that they challenge the dominant metanarrative and the state apparatus that would prohibit or discredit them, but that they also indicate the possibility of another kind of society. (75)

But what can the social referents of such ostensibly descriptive commentary actually be? Are Carroll, and, in his own way, Lyotard thinking of what was called samizdat publi-


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cation in and out of Russia? If so, I would challenge them to name specifically not even "Hundreds, [or] thousands of [the] little dissident narratives" they have in mind but even a couple of dozen that have had any social effectivity whatsoever except to the extent that, "challeng[ing] the dominant metanarrative" of one "state apparatus," they supported the metanarrative and state apparatus of antagonist states to those in which they originated. I applaud the courage of dissident speakers and writers everywhere, but surely we need to distinguish between speaking oppositionally and toppling the state. In America, as Paul Goodman used to point out, we let everybody say or publish whatever they choose; we just restrict access to the microphones, controlling not the production of counterstories but their distribution.

As I have worked on this book over the past two years, I have many times taken a break by looking out the window, at Tomkins Square Park. From perhaps the summer of 1989 until their removal on December 13, 1989, there were a very great many speakers to be seen and heard in the park. Mostly black and Hispanic, mostly homeless, some down on their luck, some severely disturbed, or badly addicted, the park people audibly told stories to each other; to the working class young cops who, for a while, at least, were gathered here thicker than thieves;[8] to the Yuppies who,


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hurrying to their new renovations, didn't stop to listen. Until the 1988 police riot, the homeless most thickly congregated at the south end of the park, at Seventh Street; after, most of them moved their tarpaulin, box, and board shelters over to Tenth Street, the north end of the park, where I lived. The population density of the park people increased as the summer of 1989 ended. The smell of urine was strong on the southerly breeze; then it grew prematurely cold in the "big shitty," and the foremost smell was wood smoke from the "fire barrels," the garbage cans used as makeshift stoves and heaters. Walking in the park (it is quite safe by day), having Rorty and Lyotard and Carroll in mind, I tried to listen to the stories being told; I tried, too, to see these "petits récits ," the "wisps of narrative" unquestionably produced by the people in the park as "dissident" in some meaningful way, a "challenge [to] the dominant metanarrative or the state apparatus that would prohibit or discredit them." But it is their marginality and complete containment that most strike me; only the TV news, which translates for them, is widely heard.

Now, at the end of the summer of 1990, most of the park people are gone—gone from Tomkins Square, that is; doubtless they continue to produce their narratives elsewhere. Who hears them? Where are they to be heard? Of course, this is not the sort of thing that Carroll and Lyotard


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are talking about. True, no doubt, but then, why aren't they talking about these things? Now that Germans from the east and west are sharing their stories, their currency, and, apparently, their commitment to the Natopolitan world; now that Violeta Chamorro has nominally taken over Nicaraguan politics, and Islamic fundamentalists have taken power in Algeria and the Sudan; now that the Poles have followed an American whizkid economist's recommendations and lifted price controls on food and other staples, and Russians and Americans revel in the luxury of a common "enemy" like Saddam Hussein: do we look out upon a more consensually democratic, liberated world?

Is Lyotard's Paris that different from New York? Is it independent of all the rest of the world? What is Carroll's Irvine like, I wonder, that he can write what he does. So far as they "respect the alterity of the other . . . and the conflictual diversity of the social space itself" (Carroll 72), comfortable, middle-class, male, white academics can offer an example that has, perhaps, a certain value. But unless they—we—engage in something more than catachrestic narrative politics, it's all just a "language game" for the privileged, and, so far as I can see, no model for anyone, anywhere.

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To return specifically to the level of critical discourse—and it will have been obvious already that it is not possible to do more than foreground one level rather than another—the problem of the postmodernist position is not just that, as many have noted, it has been far easier to call for a non-Western, "Indian," "biological," or postmodern ethnography and historiography than actually to produce them. Nor is it even that when these have appeared, as, for example,


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in Gerald Vizenor's "trickster criticism," apart from surface differences of style, tone, and organization (to be sure, these are not negligible), they have not offered interpretations very different from those of more traditional Western criticism.[9] Rather, it is that postmodern positions, regardless of what they call themselves (e.g., trickster, "Indian," biological, evocative, or whatever), are all based upon models both of Western "scientific," "social-scientific," "rational," "historical" modes of thought, and of non-Western "religious," biogenetic, "mythic," or vaguely specified "Indian" modes, that are grossly overgeneralized—overgeneralized, so that they may be reified as categories presumptively in (binary) opposition to each other. This insistence upon what Frantz Fanon years ago called a "manichean allegory,"[10] as I shall argue in a moment, is as largely useless as a framework for understanding specific ethnographic, historical, and literary instances as it is, to my mind, politically dangerous.

For Native American materials, as Thomas Biolsi has written in a fine review of Calvin Martin's recent work proposing monolithic dichotomies between "Indian" "biological" worldviews and Western "anthropological" worldviews, "the obvious distortion is the liquidation of the astounding intertribal diversity present at any one time in North America, as well as historical change within tribes, both before and after contact" (262). A persistent attachment to the notion that Indians are inherently "natural" or "biological" people, always and everywhere in perfect harmony with their environment, or to the notion that Western "scien-


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tific" and "anthropological" desire must inevitably foul whatever it touches leads to nothing more than "sermoniz[ing] about 'the Indian mind'" (Biolsi 262), or the evils of "Western civilization."

An ethnocritical frontier orientation, however, soon shows that one of the things that occurs on the borders is that oppositional sets like West/Rest, Us/Them, anthropological/biological, historical/mythical, and so on, often tend to break down. On the one hand, cultural contact can indeed produce mutual rejections, the reification of differences, and defensive retreats into celebrations of what each group regards as distinctively its own—William Bennett and Allan Bloom are available as current illustrations of this option on the Western side of the frontier—for, as Fredrik Barth, in a classic study showed, the maintenance of "ethnic distinctions do[es] not depend on an absence of social interaction and acceptance" (10, my emphasis), and that "cultural differences can persist despite inter-ethnic contact and interdependence" (10). On the other hand, it may also frequently be the case that interaction leads to interchange, what A. I. Hallowell, in a term borrowed from Fernando Ortiz and intended to emphasize the dual directionality of cultural contact, has called "transculturalization" (in Clifton 289).

Further, whatever "cultures" or "peoples" do or don't do, particular persons—as the studies in Clifton's book, as well as work by Sherry Ortner, Peter Whiteley, and other anthropologists have shown[11] —react to the new and other with all the range of human response possible. This is not at all to reinstantiate the discredited category of the "free," "au-


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tonomous," "individual"; it is to remark that there may be a greater rather than a lesser number of variations within whatever discursive and epistemic limits one may note as prevailing. As just one example of which I am aware, let me cite the case of the Brulé Sioux historian, Clyde D. Dollar. In a paper called "Through the Looking-Glass: History and the Modern Brulé Sioux" (1972), Dollar anticipated some of the recent objections of Martin and others to traditional Western historiography as applied to Native American materials. According to Dollar,

the idea of an historical fact . . . from the Indian side of the looking-glass, is something one has been told by his elders and therefore is not to be questioned. Indeed, among the High Plains people, there is little interest in the subject matter of history per se beyond the repeating of its stories, and a deeply searching pursuit of data and facts on which to build veracity in history is frequently considered rather pointless, perhaps ludicrous, decidedly nosy, and an occupation closely associated with eccentric white men. (In D. Tyler 1)

Then a historian at the University of South Dakota, Dollar became a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Arkansas, where, I assume, in full consciousness of how "pointless," "ludicrous," "nosy," and "closely associated with eccentric white men" his studies might seem to Brulé people, he must nonetheless have engaged in something like "a deeply searching pursuit of data and facts on which to build veracity in history." Cognizant and respectful of the ways in which traditional High Plains Indian people conceptualize history, Dollar nonetheless chose to pursue researches into Western historiography. So far as this is true, Dollar would have been engaged in an exemplary ethnocritical project, attempting


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to see whether he could accommodate elements of Brulé historical theory to that of the West, and/or to accommodate elements of Western theory to that of the Brulé. Dollar's efforts to move back and forth across border lines, as I imagine them, seem far richer in their potential for criticism, pedagogy, and politics than any turn to an exclusively defined, monolithically "Indian" or "Western" way. These remarks, I hope it will be understood, do not in the least presume that the mere attempt to mediate such things as the Plains view of history and the view of history of the American graduate school must, as a function of the intensity of its desire, achieve success. Not at all. Indeed, as I shall note in detail later (chapter 5), the difficulties of mediating the view of literature held by traditional people and the view held by the modern West is something particularly vexing, to the point, it may well be, of incapacitating the full practice of the ethnocriticism I nonetheless propose.

Criticizing the European and Euramerican's "culturally patterned system of assigning individual and group identity by race" or "blood" (Clifton 12), James Clifton points out that

Originally, no native North American society subscribed to the idea of biological determination of identity or behavior. Indeed, the most common identity question asked of strangers was not, "What nation do you belong to?" or "Of what race are you?" Instead, when confronting unknown people, they typically asked, "What language do you speak?" (11)

Not only may language serve as a major determinant of identity as Native American people would "originally" seem to have thought, but, as I want to suggest, in a very partic-


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ular sense, language may serve as a model for culture as well.

I mean to indicate here a similarity although not an identity between the way Mikhail Bakhtin describes language[12] and the way—one way, at least—I would want to describe culture. This particular analogy was remarked some years ago by James Clifford (but only in a footnote!), and although Clifford has, I believe, worked out some of its implications in practice, he has not, to my knowledge, taken up the matter in an explicit theoretical fashion. So I believe something remains to be said on this matter.

What I want to instantiate, here, is Bakhtin's claim that language in society is always and inevitably a plural construct. As is well known, for Bakhtin, the language of any single speaker, one's "own" speech, can never be absolutely and exclusively his or her own, never some sort of inalienable private property. Rather, real speech—speech, I assume, as it occurs in the marketplace, in the corridors and the classrooms of the academy—is always shot through with the speech of others. In the same way, it may be useful to see culture in history—culture after the Fall, outside the gates of Eden, and so on—as never absolute and exclusive unto itself. Epistemologically, for example, it would appear that no culture could very accurately be described as entirely mythical or historical; biological or anthropological; from the point of view of social organization, there is no known culture that is or ever has been entirely patriarchal or matriarchal; and so on. "Language," Bakhtin writes,


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lies on the borderline between oneself and the other. The word in language is half someone else's . . . the word does not exist in a neutral and impersonal language (it is not, after all, out of a dictionary that the speaker gets his words!) but rather it exists in other people's mouths, in other people's contexts, serving other people's intentions: it is from there that one must take the word and make it one's own. (In Gates 1985 1)

And the same sort of thing is probably true of culture and cultural difference, which, like racial or gender difference, is better conceptualized in dialogical rather than oppositional terms—Fanon's "manichean allegory" of white/black, men/women, us/them, and so on.

It should immediately be added that the dialogical or differential view of culture I am proposing in no way assumes an egalitarianism in regard to its various constitutive elements. For all that the words we speak or the cultural practices we engage in do manifest themselves or "exist . . . in other people's mouths, in other people's contexts, serving other people's intentions" as well as our own, not everyone's words, contexts, and intentions weigh equally. The question is not so much, to borrow a formulation from Gayatri Spivak, whether the subaltern can speak but whether and to what effect she can be heard. Nonetheless, for all the care with which it must be employed in practice, the dialogical view of culture seems to me to have advantages over the oppositional view.

Not the least of these, as Dominick LaCapra has noted, is that the "undoing of binary oppositions" can provide a "critique" of what he calls "the scapegoat mechanism—a mechanism that generates purity for an in-group by projecting all corruption or pollution onto an out-group" (6).


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This important "undoing" was earlier proposed in Nancy Jay's deconstruction of dichotomized thinking, in which, extrapolating from Emile Durkheim's presentation of the absolute difference between the sacred and the profane, and, more distantly (but with more general effect), from Aristotle's principle of the excluded middle ("anything, and everything must be either A or Not-A" [Jay 42]), Jay showed that dichotomized reasoning is

necessarily distorting [in its tendency to take all difference as a matter of presence/absence, existence/non-existence] when . . . applied directly to the empirical world, for there are no negatives there. Everything that exists . . . exists positively. (48)

Just as dichotomized, binary, oppositional, or manichean reasoning once served as a justification for imperial domination, so, too, is it too often retained today to justify that form of postcolonial revisionism that produces what Donald Bahr has called "Victimist . . . history," a very specific form of narrative which "tells how one people was damaged by another" (1989 316). In victimist history, it is, of course, not the first, but the second term of each dichotomous set that is valorized, so that, as Tzvetan Todorov has noted, we still get "manichean writing . . . [but] with good and evil simply having switched places. On your right, the disgusting white colonialists; on your left, the innocent black victims" (1986 178)—or the relentlessly genocidal Euramericans, the innocent and hapless Native Americans.

At the risk of elaborating the obvious, I want to state clearly that my own critique of dichotomous logic as inadequate to the actual complexities of cultural encounter in history is not at all intended to endorse Todorov's or anyone


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else's notion that it is possible somehow to proceed "neutrally," avoiding not merely the reductionist practices of "scapegoating" and "victimizing," but as well the moral and political implications of any situated discourse. One may grant that not all Euramericans were rapacious, genocidal monsters, and that not all Indians were, in the purest and most absolute sense, their hapless, innocent victims: nonetheless, it seems to me beyond question that—all things considered—the indigenous peoples of this continent, along with African Americans, women, and many other groups, have overwhelmingly been more sinned against than sinning. If this is so, to construct one's discourse on such a premise is not necessarily to engage in the revisionist allegory of victimism. Some people have been hurt by others and if that is not the only and the most interesting thing to say, it most certainly remains something that still, today, can probably not be said too often.

4

The defining aspiration of philosophical and scientific discourse in the West has always been to rise above and resolve the contradictions of any particular manifestation of manichean logic. Currently, as I have noted, this aspiration has been condemned as futile, retrograde, and epistemologically imperialistic by varieties of postmodernist thought, for which there is no logic or dialectic, but only rhetoric, discourse clearly bound to specific purposes and occasions. For all my general hostility to the postmodern position, there is, I believe, one sense in which it is, indeed, quite accurate: for inasmuch as philosophical and scientific discourse have traditionally based themselves on the achievement of some totalized or totalizing metanarrative, these discourses, precisely in the extent of their claims, are, indeed, unaccept-


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able for secular criticism today. Not even those of us who are sceptical of the amiability of Rortyian conversations, or the pretensions to effectivity of the Lyotardian thousand bits of talk can quite be comfortable with the prospect of having to (re)assert the universal authority of any explanatory paradigm. Yet, as Nancy Hartsock points out, it is intolerable

to be imprisoned by the alternatives posed by Enlightenment thought and postmodernism: either one must adopt the perspective of the transcendental and disembodied voice of Reason, or one must abandon the goal of accurate and systematic knowledge of the world. (205)

"To put the question differently," as Todorov writes in the essay from which I have already quoted, "is there really no middle ground between worshipping dogmas as immutable truth and abandoning the idea of truth itself?" (1986 180). I don't know that there is such a "middle ground"—although I do believe that ethnocriticism's commitment to a movement between grounds may well offer something as near as one can come to what Todorov seems to be after. The question I want to raise here, however, is this: if one does indeed want to predicate one's discourse on something between truth and dogma (versions of logic or dialectic), on the one hand, and random talk ("only" rhetoric), on the other, how is one to recognize that "something" if and when it presents itself?

For no one is likely actually to admit her or his allegiance to a "transcendental and disembodied . . . Reason," or to "worshipping dogmas." By what means then are we to differentiate between discourses predicated upon the latter and those predicated upon "the goal of accurate and system-


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atic knowledge of the world" (Hartsock), or, indeed, even "the idea of truth itself" (Todorov)? A full consideration of this question is beyond my competence and, in any case, would require at least a full volume in itself. As signposts toward some answers, I will note only the importance I continue to find in Raymond Williams's insistence that the very nature of any epistemic or cultural hegemony is necessarily limited, so that rather than totalities, we always get in practice varying degrees of dominant, residual, and emerging values.[13] Here, too, I would also note the value of Jurgen Habermas's recent appeal to an admittedly ideal(ized) speech situation against which claims to rationality might be measured, and of Christopher Norris's suggestion that the actual process of any rigorous working through —be it deconstructive, Marxist, or whatever—can yield results which may make approximate truth-claims.[14]

The feminist philosopher Linda Alcoff calls this sort of working-through a form of doing "metaphysics" that "is conceived not as any particular ontological commitment but as the attempt to reason through ontological issues that cannot be decided empirically" (429). Alcoff proposes what she calls "positionality" as a strategy of self-conscious self-displacement within the epistemological and discursive frames any critic cannot help but inhabit. Alcoff's "positionality" is quite close to my ethnocritical stance and its commitment to testing itself in relation to otherness and difference may provide another route to cognitively responsible understandings, some approximation to Todorov's "middle ground."


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The point is to recognize that the difficulties currently in the way of establishing probabilistic claims to explanation, although they may be in the nature of the case, may also be a function, more locally, of our situation: not matters of essence, then, but of time, place, and culture. What we cannot see just here, just now, others may come to see readily enough. It is not yet certain that every epistemological break, in Foucault's terms, for all that it may newly instantiate the knowledge/power relationship, does so in exactly the same way and in exactly the same degree as those that have gone before; it's possible, indeed, even to read Foucault himself for this conclusion.

And it is particularly interesting for my ethnocritical position that Hartsock's invocation of accuracy, systematicity, and knowledge is in the interest of a move "Toward Minority Theories" (204). "Those of us who have been marginalized by the transcendental voice of universalizing theory," she writes,

need to do something other than ignore power relations, as Rorty does, or resist them, as figures such as Foucault and Lyotard suggest. We need to transform them. (204)

This transformation of knowledge by the hitherto marginalized in all their "concrete multiplicity" (204), Hartsock notes, is unlikely to reproduce Enlightenment metanarratives, because these various persons "are far less likely to mistake themselves for the universal 'man,'" thereby constructing "another totalizing and falsely universal discourse" (205). Of course, it is important also to resist some equally totalized and false metanarrative of absolute Otherness and the perpetuation of Difference.

This latter danger Todorov properly warns of in the essay


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from which I have already quoted, reminding us "that the content of a thought" should not "depend . . . upon the color of the thinker's skin" (177), as it should not depend upon the thinker's gender, class, ethnicity, and the like. Yet Todorov's own invocation of "the idea of truth itself," at least in his book The Conquest of America , seems to me—whatever its author's intentions—an attempt precisely to defend Enlightenment thought and Eurocentrism, constructing the ideological semiotics of the Other in an entirely manichean, scapegoating, and virtually neocolonialist manner.[15] I have no securely objective criterion for judging Todorov to be wrong : nonetheless, any critique of "immutable dogmas" that has the consequence of replicating those "dogmas"—albeit in the name of something more respectable than "dogma"—must, as the epigraph to this book from Anthony Wilden insists, be suspect on the face of it. If Hartsock looks "Toward Minority Theories," it seems to me that Todorov looks toward the reconstitution of (what once were) majority theories. What is needed is some move away from even the majority/minority dichotomy, without, however, denying the differential relations of power it seeks to name.

5

Ethnocritical discourse, in its self-positioning at the frontier, seeks to traverse rather than occupy a great variety of "middle grounds," both at home and abroad. At home, it will try to move between such positions as, for example, a persistent if (properly) contested humanism, on the one hand, and, on the other, a Derridaean/Foucauldian/de Manian virulent anti-humanism; between a Rortyian/Ly-


26

otardian/Tylerian postmodernist evocative fragmentariness, and a social-scientific aspiration to cognitive adequacy; and so on. This is all quite easy to say. Abroad, however, ethnocriticism is a much less well-equipped traveler, making trips between the best definitions it can construct of an epistemological rationalism that valorizes categories like the empirical and material as "real," and the very different epistemologies of others—ones which, to the Western eye, appear irrationalist, magical, or whatever, but which, indeed, may appear so only because they radically refuse the dualistic and circumferential categories of the West.

Ethnocriticism at home rejects all forms of manichean discourse whether of a traditional and neocolonial or of a revisionist, "victimist" kind. Thus, ethnocriticism, as I have said, is concerned with differences rather than oppositions, and so seeks to replace oppositional with dialogical models. These latter always claim that the logical principle of the "excluded middle" itself excludes careful attention to the varieties of empirical differences discernible everywhere. Ethnocritical discourse regards border and boundary crossings, with their openness to and recognition of the inevitability of interactive relations, as perhaps the best means to some broadly descriptive account of the way things "really" work in the material and historical world. Ethnocriticism thus wishes to develop and refine dialogic models whose claims to accuracy, systematicity, and knowledge would reside in their capacity, in Anthony Wilden's sense,[16] to take in more context.

This is to say that ethnocriticism does not offer itself as a master narrative, while it does not either offer itself as just one position among others. An ethnocritical perspective


27

will certainly invoke reason, philosophy, and science—in full awareness of the ways in which, in their modern Western forms, these have "failed," but also with a modest awareness of the ways in which they have "succeeded" in particular and locally specifiable instances. Given its frontier condition of liminality or betweenness, ethnocriticism by its very nature must test any appeals to "reason," "science," "knowledge," or "truth" it would make in relation to Other or non-Western constructions of these categories, or, for that matter, to any alternative categories Others may propose. As the frontier is "a culturally defined place" (Clifton 24), so, too, will "truth" likely be—so far as we may know it, whatever it may be "in itself"—a "culturally defined" place, a relative truth, therefore, but not necessarily in the sense of a full-blown epistemological relativism. Indeed, ethnocriticism seeks a position not quite (in R. J. Bernstein's phrase) "beyond objectivism and relativism,"[17] but instead somewhere between objectivism and relativism.

Just as ethnocriticism must consider other constructions of the categories it would employ, calling its own largely Western assumptions or origins into question, so, too, must it permit all who would articulate those alternate constructions to be heard. It must do this not only as a matter of fairness or decency, important as these are, but (again) as a consequence of its very nature as ethnocriticism, its constitution by the principle that all discourse, like all cultural practice and all actual speech, is inevitably plural, regardless of what is officially permitted. This need not condemn ethnocriticism to any delusively utopian absolute freedom and egalitarianism. Rather, for all the openness it values, it nonetheless admits the fact that any serious discourse pre-


28

tending to effectivity must in some degree be regulatory , and thus constrained to argue for and defend those ideas and perspectives it considers more valuable or important than others—while yet refusing to suppress those it considers less valuable or important. Obviously all of this is easier to imagine, even to articulate, than it is to put into practice. But, as I have said, imagining and articulating it, so far as one can, is already to contribute, however incipiently, to its practice and the practices it may found.

Of course, there will always be something paradoxical about a criticism that insists on its betweenness—while seeking a certain privilege or centrality; a criticism that insists upon a commitment to dialogue and the shifting processes of "transculturalization"—in the name of such apparently monologous and fixed categories as accuracy, knowledge, and truth. But this is only to recognize that ethnocriticism is not only at but of the frontier, its situation and its epistemological status the same. As I have already said, the accuracy, knowledge, and truth invoked by ethnocritical discourse will of necessity be "deconstructive," in Gayatri Spivak's sense; liminal , in Victor Turner's term,[18] expressed explicitly or implicitly in the subjunctive , mood, domain of if-I-were-you , or should-it-turn-out-that . The trope most typical of ethnocritical discourse, in the rhetorical terminology I will use at times in this book, is the oxymoron , that figure which offers apparently oppositional, paradoxical, or incompatible terms in a manner that nonetheless allows for decidable, if polysemous and complex, meaning. Standard examples of this apparently paradoxical


29

but ultimately coherent figure are such things as "thunderous silence," "dark light," "joyful sadness," or Emily Dickinson's notation of "thunders" that "hurried slow ." As a critical discourse which claims to be both on and of the frontier, traversing middle ground while aspiring to a certain centrality, descriptive and normative at once, it should come as no surprise that ethnocriticism and the oxymoron have particular affinities or, again, in Spivak's very particular sense, that a catachrestical figuration—"concept metaphor without adequate referent" (Spivak 794)—may also come into play.

6

Thus far I have attempted to define ethnocriticism at its broadest, in theory. In the chapters to follow, however, it will be seen that I practice it rather more narrowly (e.g., chapters 4 and 6), or, indeed, that I question the possibility of its full practice (chapter 5). Inasmuch as it seems fairly certain, for example, that a post-colonial, anti-imperialist, dialogical anthropology may well be achieved as a result of the conversation between Western and non-Western perspectives, I hope to have practiced ethnocriticism more or less fully in regard to anthropological discourse in chapters 1–3. In the same way, in chapter 4 I have tried to situate a Cherokee perspective in relation to the dominant American discourse of law in a manner that might question the assumptions of that discourse. Although it is a Cherokee perspective that confronts the American perspective, as the reader will see, it is a Cherokee textual perspective, one largely produced and expressed by highly acculturated Cherokee persons who may themselves already be seen as ethnocritics of a sort. When we come, however, to Native American oral literatures (chapter 5), and consider the radically different assumptions of Euramerican and Native


30

people concerning the genesis, ontology, transmission, and function of expressive discourse, it is by no means clear that any border encounters between them one might stage will be more nearly productive of a desired reconciliation—some new "invention" or synthesis—than of an altogether hostile confrontation. I have, in this book, as I suppose elsewhere, operated as a sort of perennial optimist in these matters; but I would not want to operate as a fool. I believe there is much already that ethnocriticism can do; I believe there is more it will soon be able to do; and I believe as well, however reluctantly, that there are some things that it probably will never be able (quite) to do.

In every case, the danger the would-be practitioner of ethnocriticism must try to avoid is, as I have to some extent indicated above, to speak for the "Indian," "interpreting" him or her, in Michael Castro's term,[19] in a manner that would submit her or him to a dominative discourse. This is a danger both for those (like myself) who can claim no experiential authority (i.e., they/we have no personal experience of being Indian), and also in some measure as well for those who have that experience. That is, it is always possible, as T. S. Eliot's Gerontion discovered, to have had the experience but missed the meaning—or to have provided a meaning that the experience cannot bear. Unwilling to speak for the Indian, and unable to speak as an Indian (although, as I have just said, simply to be an Indian speaking of Indians guarantees nothing), the danger I run as an ethnocritic is the danger of leaving the Indian silent entirely in my discourse. I don't know of any way securely to avoid this danger, for all that I hope it may somewhat be mitigated by a certain self-conscious awareness. It would,


31

of course, be possible simply to keep silent. In going forward with this book, it is obvious that I choose not to keep silent, for all that I have a strong sense that at this particular moment in history (I am working on revisions for this book as an American witness to what we have done to the people of Iraq; on the eve, too, of American celebrations of Columbus's "discovery" of a new world for domination) silence might indeed be the most decent choice. It is surely the best guarantor of safety.

Inasmuch as safety is bought at the price of some small usefulness, I choose not to keep silent in the tentative hope that my self-placement at some very particular frontier points, for all that it risks infuriating people on both sides of the boundary lines, may still in some degree help people on both sides of those lines in their understanding of the cross-cultural encounters I believe will increasingly mark the future.

Although I have argued elsewhere for the usefulness of retaining the category of literature as a distinct although not unique type of discourse,[20] these studies in ethnocriticism are very little concerned with specifically literary texts. This is not a change of mind, only an enlargement of interest—an enlargement that requires me to remind the reader on several occasions in the course of my treatment of anthropological or historical texts and subjects what he or she will already have surmised, that I am not an anthropologist, not a historian, and so on. Such disclaimers obviously serve the purpose of mitigating responsibility for error; such disclaimers also serve, I would suggest, as reminders of the position the would-be practitioner of ethnocriticism must inhabit, a position at the various frontier points where the


32

disciplines of anthropology and literature, literature and history, history and philosophy meet and interact.

In The Conflict of Faculties , Kant spoke, in a manner common to nineteenth-century German philosophical thought, of interdisciplinary studies as necessary to achieve the whole or totality of knowledge, the only goal sufficiently lofty to justify the existence of the University and lay claim to the scholar's devotion. Yet the actual history of the development of disciplines and fields within the University, as I have already noted—and, indeed, as Gerald Graff's Professing Literature abundantly documents—has tended to produce exclusivity and isolation rather than complementarity and community. Current trends toward interdisciplinarity, for all their commitment to community and complementarity of interest and information, do not, I believe, dream of recuperating the Kantian ideal of a totalized body of knowledge, Kant's ganze gegenwartige Feld , the whole present field, but, rather, of reconstituting the field, or reconceptualizing its divisions and unities.

This project has clearly engaged the attention of many in the Western disciplines. Consider, for example, Barbara Herrnstein Smith's title for a Modern Language Association Presidential Forum published in Profession 89 : "Breaking Up/Out/Down—The Boundaries of Literary Study." Contributors to the Forum call their individual essays, "On the Line: Between History and Criticism," and refer to "The Shifting Interaction," "Literary Revisionism," or, as in the text I shall consider just below, affirm that "Being Interdisciplinary Is So Very Hard to Do."[21] This would suggest that


33

while almost everyone recognizes that hard lines between the disciplines have softened as surely as the Berlin Wall has come down, this recognition has not as yet produced any agreement as to what this all means and whether it is, in general, a good or a bad thing.

I would suggest that commitments to interdisciplinarity—ethnocriticism, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and so on—are, currently, either determined gestures of trust, hopeful preparations for a future that will be very different from the past dominated by white, middle-aged, middle-class males, or, in a less prophetic mode, that they are quite simply sober gestures of realism. In just thirty years, to cite a fairly well-known statistic, thirty percent of the American population will be nonwhite (and women are already a majority). And, I suspect, well before the year 2020, for all that George Bush and William Bennett and Allan Bloom (not to mention a very great many professors of literature) may shout against the sea, it will not fail to break upon the shore—with all sorts of foreseeable and unforeseeable results. So it would perhaps be foolish rather than particularly brave not to be ethnocritical, multicultural, interdisciplinary, and so on.

And yet, as Stanley Fish has argued, "Being Interdisciplinary Is So Very Hard to Do." Indeed, Fish has insisted, "more than hard to do; it is impossible to do" (19). Fish's point is that each "imported product," from one discipline to another,

will always have the form of its appropriation rather than the form it exhibits "at home"; therefore, at the very moment of its introduction, it will already be marked by the discourse it supposedly "opens." When something is brought into a practice, it is brought in in terms the practice recognizes; the practice cannot "say" the Other but can only say itself. (1989 19)


34

For Fish, there is really no such thing as "traveling theory," in Edward Said's phrase,[22] no complex interaction between the place (and time) of a "product['s]" origin, its final destination, and the vagaries of the voyage. For Fish, things are distinctively what they are only if they stay where they are; should they move, they then become transformed entirely, taking on the characteristics of the place to which they have moved. It is curious to note the parallels between Fish's extreme topological determinism (to call it that) in regard to disciplines, and one version of "melting pot" theories of American culture in the period just after World War I.[23]

Then it was assumed by some that being multicultural was also not only hard but impossible to do: Italian or Polish or Chinese culture, once imported by immigrants to these shores, would be intelligibly American only as these melted down to a monolithically conceived Americanism. The new immigrants would most certainly not "open" American "discourse" or culture, or impart to it nuances or inflections it had not formerly known, for America could not "'say' the Other but . . . only . . . itself"—nor did it have the slightest intention or desire to try and do so.

Fish, of course, does not say this of persons or cultures, only of disciplinary practices. But his arguments and his conclusions are the same as those of the monocultural purists of the twenties. Philosophy might as well stay home with the philosophers, ethnography with the anthropologists; for, should they decide to emigrate to the literature faculties, they will only be melted down into a literary dis-


35

course that endlessly "can only say itself." "The American mind," Fish concludes with reference to Allan Bloom, "like any other, will always be closed" (21). The only question, for Fish, "is whether we find the form of closure it [the American mind] currently assumes answerable to our present urgencies" (21). The options seem to be to say yes, the current form of closure is "answerable"; or to say no, the current form of closure isn't "answerable" at all. If we say no, we still can do nothing but wait until the forms of closure change (by what means Fish never indicates)—and in full cognizance of the fact that they may not change in the direction of any greater "answerability."

Politically, this position is very much like Rorty's in its cheerful conviction that, here in the good old U.S. of A., things just go on as they go on—and that's not bad at all. But this position, to invoke an earlier American instance, has its more sinister side in its resemblance to Hawthorne's response to the problem of slavery. Slavery, Hawthorne wrote, is

one of those evils which divine Providence does not leave to be remedied by human contrivances, but which, in its own good time, by some means impossible to be anticipated, but of the simplest and easiest operation, when all its uses shall have been fulfilled, it causes to vanish like a dream. (In Arac 254)

And so we—who are not slaves—just wait, doing exactly what we've always done until change occurs, in God's or history's own good time. As with Hawthorne and slavery, so Fish with the academic disciplines: no change can be brought about by "human contrivances" because any attempt to do differently from what has always been done is inevitably to continue doing just exactly what has always


36

been done. I do not mean to suggest that Hawthorne's complacency about slavery and Fish's complacency about interdisciplinarity are morally equivalent: they clearly are not—although both equivalently recommend a quietism and submission to the status quo that I find wholly obnoxious. In any case, Fish's monolithic and totalized concept of the disciplines has a very bad fit with the actual world of current academic practice where, however much literary critics may domesticate anthropological or philosophical materials, these latter still retain and "say" a certain Otherness which not only can have but in innumerable cases has had effects upon literary practice that would not likely have come about without their "appropriation."

But let me leave Stanley Fish's untroubled denial of the very possibility of interdisciplinary work (and this would also mean denying the possibility of ethnographic work) to consider problems that arise when, in spite of Fish, one nonetheless attempts to engage in such work, not only crossing disciplinary but cultural boundaries as well. One of these is the temptation dilettantishly to dabble . Too many Westerners have played carelessly in the realms of Otherness, taking what they wanted—a little of this, a little of that—and blithely moving on, "savagizing" or "orientalizing" the Other.[24] Another danger of transgressing traditional boundaries is illustrated by the work of some of the contemporary French savants who occasionally seem to "savagize" or "orientalize" not the Other, but, rather, the historical record. I am thinking, here, of some of what Michel Foucault has written about the family, the clinic, and the prison, and of Jacques Derrida's accounts of the


37

fortunes of speech and writing in the West. Both of these authors, that is, often proceed so as to force one to accept or reject their arguments independently of the accuracy of the empirical data that is offered—for all that, some, if not always very much, empirical data is, indeed, offered. It is a tribute to the imaginative and rhetorical power of Foucault and Derrida that their work continues to have value even when, as has happened again and again, it is shown to be based on factually dubious or radically incomplete information. Even so, I want the ethnocritic to encourage as much frontier interaction as possible between the empirical and the logical, between concrete practice and abstract theory.

Hard as it is to get the details right in any one field, culture, or period, it is harder still to get them right in several. Still, I believe one ought to try to get as many of the details right as possible—in several fields, if interdisciplinary or ethnocritical work is properly to be pursued at home, and in foreign fields as well. For all the difficulties of the ethnocritical position, I continue to think that boundary-crossing with care, self-positioning, as I have said, at the various frontiers of historical and cultural encounter, in the interest of questioning the culture that constitutes one's "self," remains foremost among nontrivial options for cultural critics today.

7

The lines that one speaks of as marking frontiers, borders, boundaries, fields, and disciplines are very often considered to be real and tangible in their existence, not merely figures of speech. As a figure, however, the line and, in particular, its adjectival form, linear, have been used to provide generalized images for what are said to be typically Western


38

ways of constructing reality. Western lines and linearity have then been set against the circles and circularity that are, figuratively, supposedly descriptive of the Native American worldview. Having argued the case against the logic of opposition as useful for cultural analysis, I want now to argue against what I will call the metaphorics of opposition. My aim is further to undo manichean types of cultural representation, here, in their specifically figural form.

There is an abundant available history of metaphorical representation of the Western logos as linear, most particularly as this linearity is imaged as a chain or a ladder. Arthur O. Lovejoy's 1936 book The Great Chain of Being is perhaps still the best study of and along these lines. Generalizations about the Native American metaphysic or mapping of reality, in contrast, propose an apparently pan-Indian epistemology, which, so far as it may be represented, appears in no linear image, but, rather, as one or another type of the circle or circularity. So far as there is an "Indian" worldview, tribal diversities notwithstanding, it would then most appropriately be figured as a wheel (most typically a medicine wheel) or hoop (usually a sacred hoop). Sacred hoops and medicine wheels, in their seamless curvature, represent the cyclical, no-beginning, no-end, turn-and-turn-again, "mythic" view of reality of Native American peoples, one that can metaphorically be set against the ladderlike view of arché and telos , hierarchy and progression, of the Western "historical" view.

Thus, as Paula Gunn Allen has written, in an essay revised and reprinted several times, the Native American

circular concept requires that all "points" which make up the sphere of being be significant in their identity and function, while the linear model assumes that some "points" are more


39

significant than others. In the one, significance is significant, and is a necessary factor of being in itself, while in the other, significance is a function of placement on an absolute scale which is fixed in time and space. (In Chapman 116)

She continues:

In the Native American system, there is no idea that nature is somewhere over there while man is over here, nor that there is a great hierarchical ladder of being on which ground and trees occupy a very low rung, animals a slightly higher one, and man a very high one indeed—especially "civilized" man. (116)

A variant of such a view also appeared in the seventies in the autobiography of the Lakota traditionalist, Lame Deer, in a chapter called—whether by Lame Deer himself or by his editor, Richard Erdoes—"The Circle and the Square." In the late eighties, the Lumbee professor of law, Robert A. Williams, Jr., began a lengthy article "on the cycles of confrontation between white society and American Indian tribalism," in particular "the structural similarities . . . between the early nineteenth-century Removal era and the modern West today" (237), with these sentences:

As an eastern Indian moved West, I have become more appreciative of the importance of a central theme of all American Indian thought and discourse, the circle. (237)

It is "the importance of the circle in American Indian thought and discourse," Williams continues, which "particularly alerts [him] to many alarming similarities" (238) between the Removal period and the present. Finally, let me mention a recent essay by the German scholar Hartmut


40

Lutz, called "The Circle as Philosophical and Structural Concept in Native American Fiction Today." What to make of this curious agreement on the part of Western and Native scholars alike concerning the metaphorical disagreement of their respective cultures?

I should first say that from Lovejoy to Allen and after, these figural accounts of—in a phrase from George Lakoff and Mark Johnson to which I will return in chapter 6—the metaphors Europeans and Indians "live by" seem to me generally accurate—at least insofar as the Native American's worldview is determined by its material base in the seasonal/cyclical rhythms of the agriculturalist's and the hunter's perspective, and the Western Euramerican's worldview is determined by the arbitrary, strictly conventional rhythms of first an industrial and, now, a postindustrial society of consumption, information, and representational exchange. For the Native American situation, Carter Revard's astute comment that "We might well be cautious about generalizing too far, but we should not shiver inside unnecessarily narrow limits either" (92) seems to me very much to the point. And yet, for all its importance to current Indian critics and scholars, the metaphorical allegory of opposition, like its logical counterpart, seems to me devoid of any but the most general explanatory usefulness.

Just as Sam Gill's recent Mother Earth: An American Story has shown that only at an extremely high level of generalization can it be said that Native American people traditionally viewed the earth as their "mother"—something that is also taken, by now, as a virtual truism among Indians and non-Indians—so, too, only at an extremely high level of generalization might it be said that circles are, in Robert Williams's formulation, "a central theme of all


41

American Indian thought and discourse" (237). It is my suspicion that just as Native people and whites equally came to accept as useful to their mutual and antagonistic purposes what Tecumseh (in Sam Gill's analysis) and, later, Seathl (in Rudolf Kaiser's analysis)[25] may not ever have said, in the same way, both Native and non-Native scholars have been avid to generalize the Plains camp circle, tipi shape, and medicine wheel as providing a master trope governing the thought of all Indian peoples.

As Allen, whose background is Laguna, must certainly know, Pueblo people do not live in round houses—although, to be sure, the shape of the kiva is round (but, then, Hopis dance in lines as well as circles). Robert Williams currently works in Pima and Papago (Tohono o'odham) country and these tribal peoples' dwellings were not and are not circular. (Although as an eastern Indian, and so—I merely guess here—one closer to economies that are currently somewhat further away from hunting and agriculture, he may well have been impressed by Hopi and Papago economic rhythms.) Neither are Navajo blankets and rugs round; the most prized of these—highly valued, I mean to say, by the weavers themselves as well as by their Indian and non-Indian owners—have linear designs worked into them. And what of the Iroquois, people of the Longhouse? Their wampum belts and strings, it should be noted, are not worn in a circle around the waist or neck, but may depend vertically or extend horizontally. And so on. One might also go on to point out that if Euramericans square dance they also circle round their partners, and ring-


42

around-a-rosy, and so on and on. (And, historically, European agricultural economies, at least, were undoubtedly quite "cyclical" in orientation.)

But let me repeat: none of this is to deny that if one had to choose a single image to figure the reality-construction of Westerners and Native people, lines for the former and circles for the latter would , indeed, be the best choice. (And, once again, partly because even in today's world most Indian communities are a good deal closer to seasonal cycles than most Euramerican communities.) The point is that one does not have to choose. Just as reliance upon the manichean logic of civilized/savage, lettered/unlettered, or its victimist revision as biological/anthropological, primary/secondary, etc., imposes a hierarchy that both hurts people and constrains understanding, so, too, does reliance on manichean metaphorics. Further, by imposing totalized stereotypes that insist not merely upon the difference but the opposition of the images invoked, such a reliance threatens to doom Native Americans and Euramericans to repeat the past. If lines and circles can meet only tangentially , a figural or geometric imperative acting, as it were, in the place of fate, then frontier encounters between the peoples submitted to that fate must continue to be marked by misunderstanding and conflict.

Yet, as I have said, both Indians and non-Indians who participate in American, academic, critical culture seem to have a deep-seated attachment to metaphors of this kind, and so for all my sense that explanations in terms of hoops and lines, and the like, are both potentially dangerous and, as well, essentially helpless before the complex facts of Native American and Western cultural diversity, I will nonetheless take the time to suggest ways in which these figures might be construed so that they would be capable of rela-


43

tions to one another that are not merely oppositional or tangential. Consider what follows as an ethnocritical exercise in subjunctivity.

If it were the case that these figures could effectively be deployed for explanatory purposes, then it might be noted that inasmuch as a line is a potentially infinite series of points, it could not strictly be said that lines have beginnings and endings, but only that segments of lines do. Nor are lines always straight; one definition of the line is "a continuous extent of length, straight or curved " (Random House Dictionary, my emphasis). Lines, thus, need not be seen as necessarily the opposites of circles, but, rather, they may be seen as parts of circles, the line as arc ("any unbroken part of the circumference of a circle or other curved line " [R. H. Dictionary, my emphasis])—or like a chain arranged in a loop . I will not pursue this line of reasoning, which courts a certain circular logic, any further just here. In the realm of metaphor, as in the realm of speech and culture, differential interaction may be proposed both as more "realistic" and as politically more egalitarian than oppositional conflict.

8

An adequate ethnocriticism for Native American culture, history, and literature, so far as it may be established at all, I have argued, will not come about by means of a monolithic orientation to hoops and wheels, and ladders and lines, nor to dichotomized references to "biological" or "anthropological" conceptualizations of reality, and the like. Rather, such a criticism, which does not yet exist and, to repeat, may never fully exist in other than tentative, oxymoronic, or catachrestical forms, will only be achieved by means of complex interactions between a variety of Western discursive and


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analytic modes and a variety of non-Western modes of knowing and understanding. The Western modes are quite well known, and I continue to think that, in spite of some inevitable distortions, they are still, at least in some measure, useful for an encounter with Native American literary materials—more so, of course, for the written than the oral. Native modes of knowing and understanding are not well known, and that is in large measure because they have not been formulated as analytic or critical modes apart from the verbal performances they would know and understand. This is something I directly address in chapter 5 of this book.

Traditional Indian expression has many stories about stories, about aspects of language, about various words and phrases. But there are no traditional essays on the nature of language, no rule-governed explicit definitions of the various genres of oral performance, and the like. This is not, of course, to suggest a deficiency or lack, only a difference. Just as, according to Clyde Dollar (see p. 16), modern Brulé Sioux consider the "pursuit of data and facts on which to build veracity in history . . . rather pointless, perhaps ludicrous (D. Tyler 1), so, too, have Native people sometimes considered the questions ethnographers ask about why they sing or tell a song or story this, that, or the other way, and why they begin and end with certain words, and so on, rather pointless, perhaps ludicrous. (It should also be noted, however, that Native people have many times themselves become fascinated by such questions and pursued them in rich and ingenious ways.) But what might be called an "indigenous" criticism for Indian literatures remains to be worked out. Until it is worked out—and there is, as again I note below, no guarantee that it can or even should be worked out—the adequacy of the ethnocriticism I have en-


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visioned must remain at an early stage of development. Thus it cannot help but be the case that the essays in ethnocriticism I offer in the pages to follow, my own limitations aside, will be marked by this incipiency, liminality, and indeed, paradoxicality. Still, one must begin somewhere; and I hope these particular beginnings may prove of use—not only for the understanding of Native American culture, history, and literature, in themselves and in relation to the dominant culture, but perhaps as well for other frontier or border analyses.


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INTRODUCTION: ETHNOCRITICISM
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