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CR: The New Centennial Review 3.3 (2003) 205-233



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Falling in Love with Indians
The Metaphysics of Becoming America

Karen M. Gagne
State University of New York, Binghamton


As the world becomes more crowded and corroded by consumption and capitalism, this landscape of minimalism will take on greater significance, reminding us through its blood red grandeur just how essential wild country is to our psychology, how precious the desert is to the soul of America.
—Terry Tempest Williams, Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert
The presence of the Negroes beside the whites is in a way an insurance policy on humanness. When the whites feel they have become too mechanized, they turn to the men of color and ask them for a little human sustenance.
—Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Mask
[T]he New Age's greatest intellectual temptation lies in the wistful fallacy that one can engage in social struggle by working on oneself.
—Philip Deloria, Playing Indian
[La Escapía] had written "Friends of the Indians" across the front cover of the notebook as a joke. Friends of the Indians! What a laugh! The clergy and [End Page 205] the communists took credit for any good, however small, that had been done for the Indians since the arrival of Europeans. The world was full of "friends of the Indians."
—Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead

ROBERTO FERNANDEZ RETAMAR ARGUES IN CALIBAN AND OTHER ESSAYS (1989) that the image of the Carib/cannibal, a "bestial man situated on the margins of civilization," is contrasted with that of the Arawak/Taino, the peaceful, meek, and even timorously cowardly native. This Taino, he writes, would be transformed into the paradisiacal inhabitant of a utopian world—as in the world of Thomas More in 1516. Further, this notion of an Edenic creature would serve as a "working hypothesis for the bourgeois left, and, as such, offers an ideal model of the perfect society free from the constrictions of that feudal world against which the bourgeoisie is in fact struggling." The vision of the cannibal, then, corresponds to the right wing of that same bourgeoisie. Retamar writes, "It belongs to the ideological arsenal of politicians of action, those who perform the dirty work in whose fruits the charming dreamers of utopias will equally share" (7; my emphasis). Both of these visions, as Shakespeare was to address in The Tempest, were perfectly reconcilable.

The first epigraph I include above came from a book I found recently at a feminist bookshop. While I had hoped to find some literature to support my topic, I hadn't expected to find one quite so precisely related to my premise concerning both "falling in love" and "becoming American." But there it was, right on display near the register. Upon reading it, I considered it a different angle on the subject of representing Native Americans than that provided by Ian Frazier's On the Rez (2000), and realized that both works provided contemporary examples of becoming American by falling in love with "natives." Its author is an "acclaimed environmental activist and essay writer," and the book is titled in very simple letters, Red. The subtitle, in much smaller letters, is Passion and Patience in the Desert (Williams 2001).

The title of my paper is a twist on Richard Drinnon's Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building (1997). I argue that both [End Page 206] Indian loving and Indian hating constitute two sides of the same racialization of the indigenous populations of the Americas, as well as two sides in the racialization of the colonizers. This duality has been significant to the process of the Self-development of the colonizer. Far from being a process of psychological development of the individual European, however, this process is the "collective attitude" that is the history of the Americas, to use a phrase by E. Franklin Frazier, cited by Greg Thomas (1999); it is "part of American psychology and the mentality of America," to quote Robert F. Williams, cited again by Greg...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1539-6630
Print ISSN
1532-687x
Pages
pp. 205-233
Launched on MUSE
2004-02-03
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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