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SHORTER BOOK REVIEWS Arnold Krupat. The Voicein theMargin:NativeAmericanLiteratureand the Canon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. 259pp. Arnold Krupat, director of the American Studies Program at Sarah Lawrence College, has written astutely and extensively on native American literature. Most of his work has been pioneering and it is usually informed by contemporary critical theory; such is the case with the much-needed The Voicein theMargin. In.the early chapters, Krupat's main focus is on the formation of the canon of American literature. Since traditional canonical texts have been primarily those which represent the values of a small group of elite Western males, there has never been much room for marginalized literary texts, such as those by native Americans. This is partly because of the way Americans have historically defined themselves, that is, "in relation to a perceived opposition between the Europeans they no longer were and the Indians they did not wish to become" (97). The flight from "Savagism,"which Krupat and Roy Harvey Pearce see as one of the key impulses to the formation of American literature and society, still colours American societyand its college curricula. But the main reason, perhaps, for the canon as it exists, is the powerful influence of New Criticism, with its focus on art as object and its depoliticization of literary thinking. Accordingly, Krupat argues that a historicist approach to American literature is more appropriate than any 'formalist turn" if we are to appreciate "the contribution of indigenous, Native American literature to American literature" (132). Krupat, a self-declared cultural critic of materialist bent, is strongly and positively influenced by Pearce, Fredric Jameson, Edward Said and Terry Eagleton. Their voices in the cogent and lucid first chapters help him move to the humanist historicism of Mikhail Bakhtin, which he puts to work in the book's central chapter, "Monologue and Dialogue." Here he shows how native American autobiographies are "the textual result of specific 112 Shorter Book Reviews dialogues ... which claim to represent an Indian subject who is the human result of specific dialogical or collective sociocultural practices" (134). He also demonstrates convincingly that Leslie Silko's Storyteller is a prime example of dialogic discourse and, not so convincingly, how Scott Momaday is committed to "hegemonic monologue." Although this chapter focuses on native American autobiographies in order to alert us to the illuminating models of the self (collective) and the text (dialogic) they propose, Krupat's larger project is to advance a way of thinking and acting that can accommodate a heterodoxy which expresses some part of ourselves as collectiveselves, alwaysinformed dialogicallyby other selves. Then we would have what he calls "polyphonic cosmopolitanism," the complex interaction of national literatures, which would be the final result of the interaction of local, traditional, tribal, "Indian" literary modes with the dominant literary modes of the different "Nation-States" in which they may appear. Krupat's concept of a cosmopolitan literary canon and, collaterally, of a cosmopolitan world order, is one that we should embrace. However, this long-range global vision may divert many from the more immediate local task: the educating of American academics, for starters, about the need to study different cultural productions, particularly native American, in all their subtlety and complexity. Krupat is well aware of this need, but his Bakhtinian analysisis so malleable--one could make it work with almost any text--that it provides little insight into the texts that he puts under scrutiny, and this does not bode well for future study. Lack of precision is a characteristic of many Bakhtinian analyses. Furthermore, contemporary theorists of almost every persuasion, including formalist semioticians and religious phenomenologists, find Bakhtin's dialogism vital to their undertaking; dialogism truly is becoming a panacea. One could argue as well (as Paul de Man has) that dialogism is essentially a formal metho~ by which to conquer formalism itself. And although Krupat wants to get us all out of the binary bind, he ends up sliding back into the binary when he agrees that "heterodoxy best makes sense as an adversary to orthodoxy" (199). Perhaps there is room yet for the insights of deconstruction (which he dismisses and mistakenly equates with poststructuralism--a much wider inter-disciplinary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 111-113
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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