- Muting White Noise: Native American and European American Novel Traditions
In the wake of Robert Warrior and Craig Womack—whose theoretical ideas have become staples of academic work on American Indian literatures—comes the ironic contribution of James Cox. I say ironic because Warrior and Womack, each in their own way, emphasize a privileging of native perspectives and argue for readings of native texts that originate from within native contexts and depend largely, if not exclusively, on native knowledge. I am referring here to Robert Allen Warrior's Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions (1995) and Craig S. Womack's Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism (1999), both of which are seminal texts in native literary studies. Cox's extension of their work, Muting White Noise, operates from within this "separatist" tradition, but is written by an avowedly non-native scholar. To make too much of this irony, of course, would be to make "straw men" of Warrior and Womack, whose positions on native separatisms are in point of fact less "separatist" than one might imagine at first glance. Additionally, pointed as it may be, the irony of authorial identities in this case does little to diminish the significance of Cox's achievement in his text, which itself stands as a compelling intervention into the study of native literatures, the novel in particular, and colonial discursive technologies in general.
Cox is every bit as adamant as Warrior and Womack about privileging native theorists in his own work, maintaining an effort there to rely on them as much as possible. Exclusivity in this regard would be nearly impossible in the end (he also cites Edward Said, Michel Foucault, and Bill Ashcroft, et al. where they are appropriate and useful), but Cox does an admirable job of ensuring that native theorists and writers are given the lion's share of attention. These native intellectuals include Warrior and Womack, of course, but extend also to Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Paula Gunn-Allen, Gloria Bird, Phil Deloria, and Vine Deloria Jr., among others. Finally, and I truly intend this as a compliment rather than a criticism, there are distinct echoes of Gerald Vizenor throughout the text.
Of particular interest in regard to theoretical sources is Cox's insistence on the value of fiction writing as literary criticism. Here he is no doubt influenced in part, or in whole perhaps since he is listed in the acknowledgements [End Page 524] page, by Gerald Vizenor's own work, which actively blends the traditional genres of analytical writing and storytelling. This collapsing of non-fiction and fiction is in a way essential to Cox's concept of "revision" which itself forms the guiding principle for Muting White Noise.
The notion of revision as a literary strategy, as Cox uses it here, represents a subtle deviation from the idea of resistance and, as such, is an interesting reconceptualization of cultural insurgencies in Native America. As he describes it, revision includes the act of writing counternarratives and counterhistories, but extends beyond that to also include "the extensive revision of specific colonial genres, such as discovery and emigration narratives, and . . . to the intervention in and rewriting of specific texts, such as a novel or a film" (5). One example of such revision is Vizenor's Heirs of Columbus that rewrites the tale of Columbus's "discovery" of the New World from a decidedly comic native perspective, a perspective which overturns Euro-American romances of Columbus's trek across the ocean. Along the way, Cox intends to demonstrate the link between mythological discourses on and about native people and a Euro-American will-to-dominate. He sees revision, as a literary strategy, as being not only a valuable critique of those non-native mythologies, including discourses of disappearance and discovery, but an active counter-instantiation, or substitution, of native histories in their place.
Chapter one includes a reading of several early native novels including John Rollin Ridge's The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, The Celebrated California Bandit...