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B o o k R e v i e w s Off the Reservation: Reflections on Boundary-Busting, Border-Crossing Loose Canons. By Paula Gunn Allen. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998. 262 pages, $25.00. Reviewed by Colleen M. Tremonte Michigan State University, East Lansing Perhaps best known for her nonfiction works and her collection of critical essays such as The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Literature, Paula Gunn Allen is also a poet and fiction writer, and it is in the interweaving of these latter talents with her nonfiction that set Off the Reservation: Reflections on Boundary-Busting, Border-Crossing Loose Canons, a collection ofunpublished and previously published essays, apart from her other works. Taken individually, each essay echoes Gunn Allen’s long-standing con­ cerns with Native American life, women’s issues, and spirituality; however, as a collective, they do so in tenns of revisioning—not merely restating—past observations and arguments in poetic language and storytelling fashion. Gunn Sequoyah (Cherokee) spent years analyzing his language. After identifying eighty-six sounds, he invented written symbols for them. He is shown in this 1836 lithograph holding up his alphabet. b o o k R e v ie w s 2 0 5 Allen sets the stage for this recontextualization ofpast and new writings on the relationship between Native American culture and the larger Western world in the introduction to Off theReservation aptly titled “Don’t Fence Me In.” She writes that neither fences nor reservations can, or ever could, confine Native Americans because “we are, as N. Scott Momaday has suggested, ‘an idea’ as much as a deeply defining, living aspect ofAmerican life” (7). Not surprisingly, the thread linking the essays selected for inclusion in the collection—political essays, literary criticisms, and personal reflections—is the assertion that “Indians are [and have always been] everywhere” in American society, culture, and history. Off the Reservation is divided into three general sections, with the first, “Haggles/Gynosophies,” consisting mostly of previously published essays. The opening pieces of this section, “Notes toward a Human Revolution,” “The Savages in the Mirror,” and “All the Good Indians,” were written in the sixties and are overtly political critiques of the myths and metaphors of American civ­ ilization, frontier, and history. As such, these essays provide the uninitiated reader a good introduction to Gunn Allen’s formative writings on “Indian pol­ itics” and the politics of being Indian. In the next set of essays in this section, Gunn Allen adds a gender component to her critique of western political thought and traditions. In particular, in “Haggles” and “Father God and Rape Culture,” she argues that the Western world’s relation to women—its naming of, silencing of, and violence toward—mirrors its relation to Native people. Set against the first set of essays, this group gives the uninitiated reader a way to track Gunn Allen’s own changing political stances and attitudes. But it is the last set of essays in the section that provides the reader the most coherent pic­ ture ofGunn Allen’s current thinking and positions on women, nature, and pol­ itics—on her turn toward the spiritual and the ecological. These essays are intimate and personal (though sometimes academic) reflections on the concept of gynosophy, on the “idea of a female source of social authority,” and on the notion of “society based on the Feminine” (73, 81). In each, Gunn Allen makes clear the connection she sees between the earth, the land, and the spirit (the sophia of woman). Among the best, and perhaps most relevant to students of western literature and history, are “The Anima of the Sacred” and “Radiant Beings,” deceptively simple accountings of the consequential relationship between “the Bomb” (and nuclear weapons), the land, and the people. Section two of Off theReservation, “Wyrds/Orthographies,” is comprised of various essays concerned with the status of contemporary American literature, particularly that produced by American Indian writers, within the context of academic institutions. In “Looking Back: Ethnics in the Western Formalist Situation," for example, Gunn Allen argues passionately for new university cur­ ricula, ones that would embrace the inclusion of “other” cultures and world­ views. In “Thus Spake Pocahontas,” another...


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pp. 204-206
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