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166 Western American Literature The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America. By Jamake Highwater . (New York: Harper and Row, 1981. 234 pages, $12.95.) Jamake Highwater’s ancestry includes Blackfoot, French Canadian, and some kind of Eastern Cherokee. His individual sense of self began develop­ ing when he was a child in northern Montana, where he became conscious, “like many young, nearly assimilated primal people all over the world,” of his “otherness,” or alienation from dominant, White technological civiliza­ tion. Highwater’s book is the matured expression of that consciousness, an effort to revivify his complex heritage, not merely to justify it. He sees himself as belonging to the first generation of primal peoples able to make use of the tools of Western intellectuality for such an undertaking. Previous generations made use of such tools solely for assimilation, ethnic suicide. So Highwater’s book is not autobiography but a philosophic meditation on the differences, relations, and possible fruitful fusion of the intelligence of Western Civilization with the primal mind. The latter is not “primitive,” wild, irregular, undeveloped, but operates with a sense both for the whole­ ness of the individual and for the unity of diverse human groupings, a wholeness and unity more complex and totalized than that characteristic of Western European cultures. The primal mind is simultaneously more respon­ sive than the modern mind to the subtleties of sensation, and more open to visionary experiences. The primal mind, in short, supplies precisely those strengths that Western Civilization itself has come to recognize that it lacks or unwisely has allowed to atrophy. One hopes Highwater is correct, and his book certainly articulates the position of what might be called that of the educated, urban Indian (more than half the Indians in this country now live in cities). This Indian for whom Highwater speaks, while resisting assimilation, seeks no direct return to the life of his ancestors but, instead, to transform his cultural heritage. Highwater is right to insist, furthermore, that there is a Western tradition, seen in a philosopher such as Vico and an historian such as Herder, to cite its originators, hospitable to ambitions such as his. Inevitably, Highwater treats so much complex material that he must often be superficial — as in his provocative but too brief comments on visionary literature. I miss in his book the localized poignancy characteristic of writing by Indians more deeply rooted in a particular Indian culture than he. Indian cultures, more­ over, tend to be more ethnocentric than Highwater admits. I wonder, finally, if his “primal mind” is not too close to the fiction of Levi-Strauss’s “savage mind.” But one hopes not, and surely any application of a keen, informed, sympathetic Indian intelligence to problems of modern Western culture is to be welcomed. KARL KROEBER, Columbia University ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
p. 166
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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