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In Mohawk Saint, Allan Greer unfolds the life of Catherine Tekakwitha, the Mohawk, Algonquin, and Christian virgin and saint, currently up for canonization in the Catholic church. Greer masterfully constructs the inner world of a woman who has stood as a symbol of power and purity to French nationalists, Native, and Catholic Americans for three hundred years. In telling Tekakwitha's story, Greer inhabits the perspective of literary critic, anthropologist, archaeologist, and historian. Moving with grace and eloquence across disparate analytic frameworks, he retells the colonial encounter through a micro-history of Christianity as rich and nuanced as Menocchio's in Carlo Ginzburg's Cheese and the Worms. Greer shows that to understand Catherine's inner world we must also understand those of her Jesuit biographers, Claude Chauchtière and Pierre Cholenec. Juxtaposing Jesuit missionary and Mohawk saint, Poitiers and Gandaougué, Christian asceticism and Iroquoian torture, Mohawk Saint traces the formation of new selves and new worlds on the 'edges of empire.'
Mohawk Saint presents Kahnawake, 'a Christian Iroquois Community' on the St Lawrence River, as a place where Christianity was not simply imposed but rather reconfigured. Mohawk saint and Jesuit priest mutually sought to reconcile the flux and transformation of the external world through an inwardly directed spiritual journey. Catherine Tekakwitha turned to extreme ascetic practices in an attempt to transcend the contradictory categories of Iroquois, Algonquin, Christian, and feminine. A French Jesuit, Claude Chauchtière, wrote about his own spiritual experience and that of others 'to determine what came from God and what did not.' He writes Tekakwitha's life by transforming the Catholic hagiography in order to bridge the worlds of the saint and the savage, the virgin and the cannibal, the disempowered and those with transcendent power to heal. Tekakwitha and Chauchtière formed identities through encounters with 'images of an "out there"' and the 'strangely attired, dangerous "not me."'
To see these stories as coterminous, Greer proposes that historians learn to read as anthropologists, for it is 'much harder than we usually care to [End Page 418] admit for scholars ... to understand either Iroquois or European people of the seventeenth century.' To address this commensurate difficulty, Greer treats Tekakawitha and her biographers equally as objects of analysis. Chapters move from Jesuit college in west central France to longhouse in northern New York, from a literary analysis of hagiography to the archaeological artifacts that comprised Mohawk society, and from the psychology of Christian stoicism to Iroquoian practices of self-making.
Juxtaposition proves an effective method for tracing the intricacies of the colonial encounter. Greer represents France as increasingly affected by 'exotic locales and alien cultures' and New France as a site of flux and transformation. With an Algonquian mother who was captured and converted to Mohawk, Tekakwitha emerges from an Iroquoian society that is already hybrid and conducive to displacement, adaptation, and transformation. Chauchtière finishes college with a desire to travel beyond the structure of academic study and conformity. In Kahnawake, both individuals import cultural distinction into a syncretic middle ground. Tekakwitha employs Iroquoian techniques of burning into Christian mortification of the flesh; Chauchtière resolves his spiritual crisis of the 1670s through 'a deeper acquaintance with the Iroquois Christians of Kahnawake.'
Mohawk Saint exemplifies the methodological innovation and versatility needed to tell the stories of New World encounters. A few of Greer's provocative conclusions invite further investigation. First, there is a contrast in power embedded in Tekakwitha's and Chauchtière's respective practices of self-making: the latter wields a pen to narrate the former's acts of self-flagellation. Alongside Tekakwitha's search for 'knowledge and empowerment' through asceticism, what power and satisfaction did Chauchtière feel in recording it? Second, while Greer alludes to a connection between Catherine's asceticism and parallel practices among European women, there is a tension between the particular and universalizing aspects of this phenomenon that stems from an under-explored power hierarchy at the nexus of gender and race. But a book as expansive in its analysis and as careful...