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Reviewed by:
  • Alanna Kathleen Brown
Gerald Vizenor, ed. Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian Literatures. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1989. xiii + 223 pp. $14.95 paper.

What is narrative chance? The essays in this collection will not provide an answer. Rather they will challenge the reader to consider what it means when Native peoples apart from a European critical tradition must write within that tradition to preserve and maintain distinctly different world views. Chance not only incorporates the postmodern shift of emphasis towards reader rather than writer, towards metalanguages rather than unquestioned truth; chance, in this collection, is the belief that a space and time and critical reflexivity exist that may enable both scholars of American Indian literatures and the Euro-American critical canon to listen to, experiment with, and let the Other inform their own reserves of critical inquiry.

The essay which most clearly addresses the distrust felt by Native American scholars is Elaine Jahner's "Metalanguages." She begins by recognizing that such scholars necessarily will be wary of the philosophic traditions which have distorted, diminished, and co-opted Native American cultures. To her credit, she then goes on to illustrate through a sophisticated discussion of N. Scott Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain, how his own process of creation echoes the concerns of Carlos Fuentes, Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva. Then, and most importantly, she examines Momaday's work on Frederick Goddard Tuckerman as foil to Emerson to show how: "American Indian writing need not always be the object of critical inquiry; it can also generate critical positions."

It is on that note that Gerald Vizenor's preface, introduction and essay, "Trickster Discourse: Comic Holotropes and Languages Games," as well as Louis Owens' piece, "Gerald Vizenor's Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart" (current title: Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles) become a clarion call. Through constant reiteration, Vizenor attacks the scientific language of monologue and isolation. He insists on the continuing power and presence of the trickster in narrative discourse in spite of "postcolonial translation, where tokens are secured. . . ." In Owens' essay, the reader is confronted with just how lively the traditional trickster can be. Both Vizenor [End Page 362] and Owens believe in the adaptive power of oral traditions. Bearheart is seen neither as a product of assimilation or cooptation; rather it belongs to the ongoing Anishisaabe storytelling tradition.

But what is such a tradition? Two essays, those of Alan Velie and Karl Kroeber, introduce readers to the structure and immediacy of oral narratives. Still staying with Bearheart, Velie compares two of Vizenor's characters with the Anishisaabe trickster figure, Naanabozho. Velie also discusses how M. M. Bakhtin's concept of chronotopes elucidates the shifts writers must make as they move from the non-durational adventure time of tribal tales towards the time/space requirements of the novel. In contrast, Kroeber is a Native American scholar committed to oral presentation and the need to know and maintain Indian languages. For him there are authentic, linguistic and historically based voices which must be the source of understanding Indian cultures. He uses Momaday's House Made of Dawn as a foil for Anthony Mattina's edition of The Golden Woman to argue that the latter transcription is the far more revealing work to comprehend an Indian sensibility.

Lodged between Kroeber's insistence on authentic historical/linguistic Indian sources and Vizenor's reviviscent enthusiasm for postmodernism, Arnold Krupat joins with Elaine Jahner in seeing the possibilities of critical discourse among postmodernists and Native American scholars. Krupat does illustrate how Bakhtin's notions of language as heteroglossic and polyvocal fit Silko's Storyteller format well. But Krupat also insists on considering the context for Bakhtin, the totalitarianism of Stalinism, and he pushes the reader to consider what assumptions, and therefore what implications, lie within Bakhtin's thought. Ultimately what Bakhtin appears to deny is what is central to Storyteller—there is "a normative voice," and Pueblo ways are a constant reference point.

Krupat's insistence on the interplay of language, culture and intentionality is reinforced by two other Native American scholars. While James Ruppert applies Wolfgang Iser's theories to D'Arcy McNickle's The Surrounded, Ruppert also illustrates...


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pp. 362-364
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