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Moscow, Idaho Frank Waters and the Native American Consciousness Several years ago during a televised interview series conducted by John R. Milton, the distinguished Southwestern writer Frank Waters was asked why he wrote so much about Indians. He replied simply: “I can answer only that I have lived with Indians all of my life and they interest me. And I probably justify it rationally by saying that, after all, we are all interested in our relationship to our land, to our own earth, and the Indians are indigenous to this continent. The Indian is much different from our European white, so I think that we have a great deal to learn from their expression of it in their own idiom.”1 While the Native American has indeed fascinated many of our writers from the beginning of Anglo settlement, few have had such a consuming passion as Frank Waters to penetrate the essential difference between the old and new American cultures, to express the native exper­ ience in terms approximating its own idiom, and to discover its signifi­ cance for Anglo Americans. We find that the dominating force behind much of Waters’ work, which now stands at nearly two-score books and a greater number of articles and pamphlets, has been his continuing engagement with the elusive quality of Indian consciousness. Above all Waters has sought for a grand philosophic principle by which the native consciousness can be described and related to its Anglo American counterpart.2 1John R. Milton (ed.), Conversations with Frank Waters (Chicago, 1971), p. 53. 2In the introduction to his penetrating Southwest Writers Series pamphlet, Frank Waters (Austin, 1969), Martin Bucco observed that Waters’ books are all part of “his imaginative struggle to reconcile through mystic monism such dualities as intuition-reason, unconscious-conscious, eternal-transient, mystical-technological, and red man-white man” (p. 1). J A C K L. D A V I S J U N E H. D A V I S 34 Western American Literature In his attempt to formulate a new theory of consciousness, Waters might appear a co-worker with such currently popular writers as Charles Reich, Theodore Roszak, Marshall McLuhan, Rollo May and Alan Watts, or even a disciple of such notable philosophers as Buber, Heidegger, and Tillich. Waters has read many of these men, but his explorations are uniquely his own, having their roots in his original investigations both of the aboriginal American past and the contemporary American Southwest. Much as did Roger Williams3and Henry Thoreau4 in earlier periods of Anglo American settlement, Waters seems to have become absorbed with Native American culture first as a subject intrinsic­ ally worthy of study and then for the light it sheds, often by contrast, upon the continuing struggle by Anglo Americans for adaptation to this formidable land. Both Williams and Thoreau managed a tour de force of inversion by using native culture as a referent against which the successes and deficiencies of Anglo settlement could be measured. In fact, Williams not only found in Narragansett society the basis for his stringent critique of the Massachusetts Bay theocracy, he subsequently incorporated Indian practices such as the tribal form of land ownership and usage when he established the more democratic commonwealth of Rhode Island. Emerson also recognized that adaptation to the American land­ scape required a fundamental change in the transplanted European consciousness.5 Knowing nothing of Native American mysticism, he pondered the possibility of fusing Oriental transcendentalism with Western idealism. And Whitman culminated for Anglo American culture in the nineteenth century the quest for a native, transcendent conscious­ ness which would democratize all American peoples, relating them to each other and the land in a fundamentally new and organic way. Surely it is a wonderful irony that Whitman never got far enough west to discover that transcendentalism has been indigenous to the Americas for centuries. The possibility of a fundamental revolution in consciousness has continued to attract some of our most important Anglo writers, perhaps 3Jack L. Davis, “Roger Williams Among the Narragansett Indians,” The New England Quarterly, 43 (December 1970), 593-604. 4Edwin Fussell, Frontier: American Literature and the American West (Prince­ ton, 1965), 214. 6In “An Ignored Meaning of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 33-44
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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