Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence by Gerald Vizenor, and: Postindian Conversations by Gerald Vizenor, A. Robert Lee (review)
- Western American Literature
- The Western Literature Association
- Volume 35, Number 4, Winter 2001
- pp. 428-431
- Additional Information
- Purchase/rental options available:
B O O K R E V IE W S Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence. By Gerald Vizenor. L incoln: U n iversity o f N ebraska Press, 1998. 239 pages, $35.00. Postindian Conversations. By Gerald Vizenor and A. Robert Lee. Lincoln: U n iversity o f N ebraska Press, 1999. 192 pages, $25.00. Reviewed by Elizabeth Blair Southw est State University, M arshall, M innesota Ojibway mixedblood writer Gerald Vizenor is nothing if not prolific. He has published more than twenty books in his career as a poet, critic, journal ist, essayist, novelist, narrative writer, and professor of Native studies at Berkeley. His latest books, Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence and Postindian Conversations, are intriguing additions to his body of work. Formerly a reporter of Indian affairs for the Minneapolis Tribune, Vizenor inherited his interest in journalism from his White Earth relatives, the Beaulieus, who started an Indian newspaper on the reservation in the early 1900s. His interest in the representation of Indians and in Native affairs has inspired him to write hybrid books of prose that include satiric sketches, reportage, stories, and critical essays. Vizenor’s books have been provocative, controversial, experimental, and ambitious. It will come as no surprise to readers familiar with his work that the books under review here are equally controversial and provocative. Interested in critical theory as well as cultural critique, Vizenor edited a book ofcriticism on Native American literature called Narrative Chance (1989). This book examines the relationship between postmodern critical theories and elements of oral tradition in contemporary Native American literature. In his new book of critical essays, Fugitive Poses, Vizenor proposes critical criteria for judging the representational images of the Indian in a wide variety of cultural and historical venues, whether created by whites or by Indians. In this ambitious book, Vizenor surveys works that represent the American Indian from Washington Irving’s Journal of a Prairie Year to W. S. Penn’s All My Sins Were Rehtives, from Franz Kafka’s stories to Russell Means’s recent autobiogra phy, Where White Men Fear to Tread, from Roland Barthes’s cultural theory to Andy Warhol’s silkscreens. He subjects a very diverse and sometimes surprising array of representations to his trickster scrutiny and measures them against a yardstick of authenticity that is novel enough to need new vocabulary. While Vizenor’s critical judgments are not facile or predictable, neither are they tangible nor easily understandable. Obviously, it’s risky to make major literary judgments based on newly minted critical vocabulary, as Vizenor does here. But this writer has never been one to dodge risk. He is bound to make BOOK REVIEWS 4 2 9 some enemies with both of these books because he does not hesitate to deni grate work that he believes creates romantic, static images of Natives, even if that work had been produced by his Native contemporaries. For example, in Postindian Conversations, he scolds Sherman Alexie for being obsessed with the politics of terminal identity.... [H]e is critical, for some obscure reason, ofnative authors who do not live on or near reservations, and yet, as he strains for tradition he writes hack the stories ofsimulations and silhouettes. Alexie poses close to the ancient bones, but is his pose a nostalgia for victimry? He clicks an electronic mouse with a common touch, createspostindianstories, and thenscorns other authors. These are tiresome indianposes in the literary wars. (150) Of course, Vizenor’s pointed appraisals of Alexie, Russell Means, Elizabeth Cook'Lynn, and others are likely to provoke some literary wars of their own! Most ofVizenor’s work, in one wayor another, evokes the Native American trickster figure. According to Vizenor, trickster is libidinous, greedy, contradic tory, always on the move, and immune to closure. For example, he dies repeat edly in stories and simply comes to life again in the next one—he re-creates himself. He is nonlinear, nonrational, and he lives more by intuition and libido than by logic. Because of these traits, Vizenor considers trickster, and indeed the oral tradition itself, to be postmodern or antirational. Like trickster, Vizenor himself has appropriated aspects of...