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Reviews 367 Words in the Blood. Edited by Jamake Highwater. (New York: Mentor, 1984. 301 pages, $8.95.) American Indian Myths and Legends. Edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz. (New York: Pantheon, 1984. 527 pages, $18.95.) In spite of the furor created by the revelation of the fact that the “Indian” Jamake Highwater, a.k.a. Gregory J. Markopoulos, is a self-created, selfproclaimed entity (see “The Golden Indian,” Akwesasne Notes, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 10-12), his compilation of literature by Native American mixed-blood authors is worth our critical attention. Like Levi-Strauss’s myth-making bricoleur, Markopoulos-Highwater lives out his own mythical sense, literally putting himself together with “already-made” chunks of identities. Hence his interest in the deliberately created individual, especially when that individual is an Indian artist, and in the eclectic word-worlds created by the mixed-blood authors he chooses for inclusion in Words in the Blood. The more disparate the elements the more attractive the hybrid literary product is to Highwater. His avowed purpose in compiling this anthology is to provide “alterna­ tives to the dominant culture’s perspective.” He does this by presenting mestizo authors who “simply claim to be Indian” (he leaves out Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for instance, since Marquez “does not recog­ nize himself as an Indian”) and who produce an “idiosyncratic style, an unapologetic extension of tribal mentality into a new and innovative personal form that combines Indian history, avant-garde European and American artistic values, and absolutely anything else that provides ideas and forms capable of supporting the imagination of Indians.” One of Highwater’s most interesting assertions is that all Americans are to some degree and in some essential way Indians and, so, too, of course, Indians are now Americans. He bases this cross-cultural fertilization process on the idea that “the transformation of European settlers into Americans was impelled by exactly the same sublime land and rivers, the same environmental influences that shaped America’saboriginal peoples.” The Indian voice in this process of identifying the American consciousness has long been missing and “could not begin to surface” in literature until Indian writers became “com­ fortable with their complex identities as an ancient people living in both the world of their forebears and in the ‘new world’of European settlers.” Jamake Highwater successfully acknowledges that although our customs and languages may insist upon one kind of reality, when we put them down on paper they “almost inevitably change into something else—something that fits the expectations of the dominant culture.” But unfortunately the collec­ tion, American Indian Myths and Legends, selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz, fails to demonstrate this consideration for the complexities of storytelling. Perhaps these tales might be of passing interest to someone who has never before read an Indian myth and needs some sort of start, but even then this collection would do him a disservice, and his time would be better spent in reading the careful considerations of the subtle aspects of Indian storytelling such as Dell Hymes’s “In Vain I Tried to Tell 368 Western American Literature You,” Dennis Tedlock’s The Spoken Word and the Work of Interpretation, or in viewing Larry Evers’s videotaped series, Words and Places. The stories in the Erdoes/Ortiz collection are Anglicized, condensed versions shorn of any real reference to time, place, and circumstance of telling. The meta-narrative elements such as pauses, silences, variations in tone, repetition of phrases, and framing formulae peculiar to Indian narrative have also been eliminated. The selections, without their situational or performance contexts, soon begin to run together, and the reader is overwhelmed by the massive volume rather than impressed by the unique aspects of each tale which should have been there. The reader may suspect that American Indian Myths and Legends is a collection of old notes that had not been used anywhere else by Erdoes or Ortiz. These two anthologies prompt us to re-evaluate the editor’s role in com­ piling an anthology. Jamake Highwater eloquently articulates his purpose and carefully choose his selections. The Erdoes/Ortiz collection is loosely organized with no precisely stated...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 367-368
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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