- Red Matters: Native American Studies
In the preface to Red Matters: Native American Studies, Arnold Krupat states unequivocally that "you just can't understand America, more specifically the United States, without coming to terms with the indigenous presence on this continent" (viii). He is correct. For going on twenty years Krupat has labored to help his audience come to terms with this "indigenous presence" as it is articulated in and by Native American literatures, cultures, and Native American studies. More recently, Krupat has also worked to articulate his own relationship to that which he is committed to studying and, let it be said up [End Page 492] front, championing. Red Matters is, then, part of Krupat's ongoing and important effort to position his work—and the work of those who study, write about, and teach Native American literatures—in relation to Native texts, cultural contexts, and theory. Following a chapter that sketches three perspectives on Native American literatures—nationalism, indigenism, and cosmopolitanism—Red Matters considers and attempts to theorize the history of translating Native American song and story into English, examines native and nonnative approaches to history while calling for a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of that category and what it counts as legitimate evidence, and offers contextualizing readings of Mourning Dove's Cogewea: The Half-Blood (1927) and Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer (1996).
If I stress relationships, it is because Krupat is committed to a critical cosmopolitanism, as against either a strictly nationalist or indigenist perspective, that exists only insofar as it articulates relationships and connections between perspectives and approaches. Krupat's commitment to cosmopolitanism has been evident since at least The Voice in the Margin: Native American Literature and the Canon (1989); there he makes clear that cosmopolitanism pays attention to and is grounded in the local, without reifying it, in order to move to the national and then, rather than to the universal, to the international (198-201). Krupat has gone to great lengths, particularly in Ethnocriticism: Ethnography, History, Literature (1992), to distinguish his critical cosmopolitanism, which he has also termed ethnocriticism, from the liberal cosmopolitanism of David Hollinger. The latter can all too easily, and dangerously, tend to speak from and desire transcendence and an unexamined and uncritical liberal humanism. Critical cosmopolitanism, or cosmopolitan comparativism, eschews transcendence and is self-conscious and self-critical as it makes connections between the local and the historically situated in order to fashion an anticolonial and anti-imperial discourse and praxis.
This is not to say that Krupat's cosmopolitanism sees no value in either a nationalist or an indigenist approach to Native American literatures. Indeed, a commitment to cosmopolitanism necessitates that one see the value and meaning of both these approaches and be willing and able to link them. Thus, even as Krupat takes issue with the literary separatism called for by Craig Womack, among others, he stresses that the cosmopolitan critic would agree with Womack's emphasis on the importance of place and landscape to a people's stories, that the study of a nation's literature should be grounded in that nation's culture and worldview, and that there is a critical connection between literary sovereignty and national sovereignty. Even as he recognizes the complexities involved in an indigenist perspective, Krupat also recognizes that indigenists have "different bodies of [End Page 493] systemic knowledge" that the cosmopolitan critic must consider and labor to translate without violating (7). In short, the cosmopolitan needs the nationalist and the indigenist, and "the nationalist and the indigenist also need the cosmopolitan. Each of these perspectives requires the others to achieve its full discursive effectivity" (x).
Krupat's cosmopolitan comparativism leads him to read Cogewea in the context of race, racism, and identity of the 1910s and 1920s in America. Agreeing with Louis Owens's assertion in Other Destinies (1992) that Cogewea leaves unsolved the "dilemma of the mixedblood" (Owens 48), Krupat indicates how the allotment period and prevailing ideas with regard to blood quanta prohibited Mourning Dove's text from offering a solution. Krupat articulates the experiences of African...