- Mixedblood Messages: Literature, Film, Family, Place
Louis Owens’s new collection of essays explores issues of Indian identity and mixed heritage while providing insight into crucial concepts underlying Indianness. Blending autobiography, critical theory, literature, film commentary, and environmental reflections, the author “crossreads” long-defined terms in the literature of white America, such as frontier, territory, mixedblood, and wilderness. He argues for a literature that is unstable, multidirectional, [End Page 596] and hybridized in contrast to a literature that tends to confine and map the Indian, making him a simulation of the real, or—as Gerald Vizenor puts it—a hyperreal. Looking beyond cultural barriers, Owens “rereads” pivotal figures in Native American literature, such as Mourning Dove, Darcy McNickle, Leslie Silko, N. Scott Momaday, and Gerald Vizenor, among others, showing how their most representative works participate in this transcultural discourse aimed at reinventing the monologic authoritative utterance of Euramerica. As innovative as the book might appear, Owens’s collection of essays remains faithful to a traditional pattern frequently adopted by Native American novelists who experiment with literary genres in order to come to terms with their mixed identity. In the context of Native American literature, the book conducts dialogues with works like N. Scott Momaday’s The Names, Leslie Silko’s Storyteller, and Gerald Vizenor’s Interior Landscapes; in the context of the author’s life, it continues his journey through mixed heritage and “shared blood,” incorporated earlier into the novels Wolfsong, The Sharpest Sight, Bone Game, and Nightland. The autobiographical anecdote that frames the preface, “Crow Love,” sets the pervasive theme of the entire collection: the importance of having voices and articulating through language our own imagined worlds in order to understand our relationship with the universe we inhabit. For 500 years, Native people’s voices have been silenced by Euramerica’s deliberate effort to erase Indian cultures, a project that, according to Owens, is still going on today. Analyzing representations of the Indian in film, Owens points out how, within the Hollywood golden conception, the Indian is still supposed to be the Vanishing American, “a colorful residue of the past,” whether he is portrayed in John Wayne’s movies or in Kevin Kostner’s widely acclaimed Dances with Wolves. Both representations, he claims, reenact Euramerica’s desire to subsume Indianness into the Euramerican self, erasing Indians as actual, living people of this continent.
Five hundred years of deliberate genocide, Owens notices, have not succeeded in eradicating the Indians. Despite all attempts to part Indigenous people from their tongues, their voices have not been silenced. Indigenous people have survived, telling stories to themselves and to the world, learning to speak the master’s discourse, abrogating its authority, and shaking the stability of the fixed center. As we approach the millennium, new responsibilities face us, particularly those related to the life of our fragile planet. For the global community to live, Owens states, it is imperative that individuals read across lines of cultural identity, share “mixed messages” in literature and other media, and begin to listen to the so-called marginalized voices that are now writing back to the center.