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  • Fragments that Rune Up the Shores: Pushing the Bear, Coyote Aesthetics, and Recovered History

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

—T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

That Trickster, he always carries

lost identity cards and desert flowers

and finds himself

surrounded by dawn.

Carter Revard, “Close Encounters”

T. S. Eliot’s famous line “These fragments I have shored against my ruins” has signified for critics a self-reflexive commentary on the fragmented poetic form of “The Wasteland” as well as a tenuous existential solution in the poem to the problem of social and spiritual [End Page 185] devolution. It is commonplace to say that, for the modernists, formal fragmentation was a form of realism, a correlative to the decay of the western intellectual tradition. Many have argued as well that the fragmentation of “The Wasteland” reflects not the disintegration of culture but rather the maintenance of it, through these same formal characteristics. In Terry Eagleton’s view, for instance, there are two “Wastelands”: the phenomenal text, characterized by formal fragmentation, and an alternative text behind and sustaining the phenomenal text that provides covert coherence to the poetic vision and “is nothing less than the closed, coherent, authoritative discourse of the mythologies which frame it” (226). For Eagleton, the poem’s esoteric references, which provide links between author, speaker, and reader, prove that indeed the Tradition is very much alive and well, however much the overt text of the poem may decry its decay. Eagleton argues that the ideology of “The Wasteland” lies somewhere between the phenomenal and alternative texts, in the fact that the poem shows and depends upon this alternative text but is not able to speak that text out loud. Each text radically determines the force of the other’s message.

I am not blind to the potential insensitivity of starting an article about Native American fiction with two references to one of the most famous poets in the Anglo-European canon. I start this discussion here in order to pose some questions: are there significant differences between the formal fragmentation appearing in Anglo-European and Native American texts? For the contemporary Native American writer, what are the links between fragmented form, postcolonial identity, and the oral tradition or its trace?

Diane Glancy’s Pushing the Bear (1997), as well as her other fiction and nonfiction, elicits these specific questions about the dual role of formal fragmentation in Native American contemporary literature and its difference from seemingly similar formal technique in Anglo-European modernism. Glancy is of Cherokee, English, and German descent, a mixed-blood writer raised in the Midwest as a Christian but always self-identified as Cherokee and ideologically aligned with Native American communities. 1 Pushing the Bear is set on the 1838 Cherokee Trail of Tears, following the Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) decision that denied the Cherokee the right to appeal to the Supreme Court (and which effectively allowed the state of Georgia to strip the Cherokee [End Page 186] of self-governance) and the 1832 Worcester v. Georgia decision that allowed only the federal government and not the state of Georgia to conduct affairs in Cherokee territory. This latter ruling by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall defied and was ignored by President Andrew Jackson, who allowed the state of Georgia to harass the Cherokee and eventually sent federal troops to remove them, after which their lands were opened to white settlement. In 1838 more than thirteen thousand Cherokee were removed from their farmlands in Georgia to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Historical figures of the time, such as the Reverend Bushyhead, appear as characters in Pushing the Bear, and Knobowtee and other characters allude numerous times to the events that history has recorded: how the Cherokee people, under constant pressure and threats of removal from the U.S. government, split into two factions, the Tennesee faction headed by the mixed-blood chief John Ross, and the Georgia faction headed by Elias Boudinot and Major Ridge. While Ross was attempting in trips to the nation’s capitol to convince the U.S. government to let the Cherokee stay...

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