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Joe Lawrence Lembo. BERDACHE. 1982. Tempera on paper. 18" x 24". H e a r in g B a t s a n d F o llo w in g B e r d a c h e : T h e P r o j e c t o f S u r v iv a n c e in L in d a H o g a n ’s M e a n S p ir it A n d r e w S m i t h “What’s all this about bats?” —Martha Billy in Linda Hogan, Mean Spirit 1believe it is the world-place bats occupy that allows them to he of help to people, not just because they live inside the pas­ sageways between earth and sunlight, but because they live in double worlds of many kinds. They are two animals merged into one, a milk-producing rodent that bears live young, and a flying bird. They are creatures of the dusk, which is the time between times, people of the threshold, dwelling at the open mouth of inner earth like guardians at the womb of creation. —Linda Hogan, Dwellings Linda Hogan’s Mean Spirit is an underground novel, concerned with what lives in the shadowy netherworld beyond the reach of the Oklahoma sun. It explores what John Joseph Mathews called the “great frenzy” of the 1920s, the discovery of underground oil on Osage Indian land with its accompanying influx of money and Euro-American culture: sudden wealth begets violence; murder drives the plot as wealthy Indians become targets. Shortly after her killing and burial, Grace Blanket’s body disappears from its site in a cemetery replete with the holes of grave rob­ bers. The wealthy eccentric John Stink dies and is buried but then resur­ rects himself with the help of his faithful pack of dogs. The matriarch spiritualist Belle Graycloud transfonns her cellar into a sacred under­ ground space of regeneration—first for herselfand then later for her way­ ward grandson Ben. Michael Horse and the Reverend Joe Billy make their way to Sorrow, a hidden cave within a cave, where their people’s traditional bat medicine lies dormant. Even Father Dunne, the displaced Catholic priest, takes refuge in Sorrow Cave as he unlearns his Christian 1 7 6 WAL 3 5 . 2 S u m m e r 2 0 0 0 teachings. Beneath everything is the deadly organizing principle of subsurface oil rights that Terry Wilson, in The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil (1985), identifies as only the latest version of genocidal exploitation visited upon the Osage by the dominant white culture. The interior world of earth in Mean Spirit convulses to its systematic ravagement with wild belches of fire and hemonhaging blackness. When sev­ eral people bring their bad dreams to the mystic Horse for interpretation, “he remind[s] them all that earth was being drilled and dynamited open. Disturbances of earth, he told them, made for disturbances of life and sleep” (39). These ruptured undercurrents of the land in Mean Spirit are bleeding environmental and spiritual wounds for a people whose tradi­ tional beliefs are inseparable from the natural world. But the earth also contains, enshrouded in the lost language of bats, the secret necessities of the people’s healing. Hogan’s work is, like many other contemporary Native American novels, concerned with the recovery of traditional knowledge that has been lost. In this case the bearers of the old knowledge— the bats— symbolize a survival strategy: Hogan’s embrace of androgyny. As Anna Carew-Miller has argued, Hogan presents an “alternative model [for liv­ ing]” which has no “male/female power struggle ... because of the value placed on interdependence” (41). With a provocative and hopeful attempt at regeneration, or, in Gerald Vizenor’s terms, “survivance,” Hogan unleashes in Mean Spirit the teachings of the ancient bat people and also the dynamic and fluid model of living known to some native cultures as the androgynous berdache. In Manifest Manners: Postindian Warriors of Survivance (1994), Vizenor meditates on “simulations” of the invented Indian, defined by the dominant discourse: The simulations of manifest manners [the seemingly quieter, more insidious reverberations of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 174-191
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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