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3 4 6 W e s t e r n A m e r i c a n L i t e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 6 that King and Powell worked out in their pages, particularly the tension they felt between their objective mapping (be it through charts or words) of western spaces and the subjective experience of western places that was not amenable to cartographic expression, that could only be expressed and communicated through narrative means. One of the main impressions Van Noy leaves with his readers is just how difficult it has been for observers to have an unmediated experience of the American West. Sent on survey missions by the American government, King and Powell were charged with fixing the region’s watercourses and landforms on paper; their professional position conditioned them to see the land through the interpretive lens of the survey grid and the surveyor’s transit, to construe and define it as national property and a web of future transportation routes. At the same time, they could not help but respond to the felt aesthetic, emotional, and experiential qualities of the landscape, subjective qualities of place that, in the pages of their books, supplemented and deepened the dispassionate scientific perspective put forward by their maps. In doing so, though, they consistently fell back on the conventions of the sublime, a framework of interpretation that, in its way, was just as systematic and controlling as the mathematical strictures that guided their cartographic work. In King’s case, the sublime allows him to write “an impressionist’s picture of landscape, less stable and more ephemeral than a map, yet for that moment, a narrative also more ‘true’” (78). Powell’s use of the convention, though, leads him to reinforce some common myths of the West, strengthening those popular perceptual filters: he helped “substanti­ ate the image of the West as a place sublime and heroic, images that may have inadvertently helped bolster pioneering pride and optimism about the national landscape” (102). Maps and narratives may seem like inimical modes of communication; indeed, Van Noy’s subjects needed both in order to arrive at a satisfying assess­ ment of landscape. In bringing these modes together, Van Noy both helps us deepen our sense of what constitutes a western writer and demonstrates just how firmly the West has resisted—and continues to resist—definitive understanding. Silko: Writing Storyteller and Medicine Woman. By Brewster E. Fitz. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. 304 pages, $34-95. Reviewed by Joshua Dolezal University of Nebraska, Lincoln Silko: WritingStorytellerandMedicine Woman is a book about texts, their totemic weight, and the paradoxical challenges facing a writer who wishes to protect an oral tradition. In this regard, particularly in its disavowal of exclusionary logic in Western literature, Fitz’s book will interest readers of Derrida and Foucault. The biographical material adds a decidedly new historical flavor to much of Fitz’s book, and his attention to Silko’s incorporation of law and journalism B o o k R e v i e w s 3 4 7 into her literary arsenal will also provide scholars in cultural studies with valu­ able insights into the intersection of federal policy and tribal culture. Two theses drive the book: that Silko’s textual storytelling enlivens the oral tradition (rather than compromising it) and that her mastery of written language on behalf of the spirit is a strategic defense against cultural assimila­ tion. Fitz’s comparison of Silko’s narratives to Plato’s pharmakon—the text that can poison and/or heal its author and readers—reinforces Silko’s authority within western discourse. Likewise, Fitz’s discussion of Silko’s narratives in light of Barthes’s writerly text reinforces the authority of her voice by illustrating its theoretical depth. In this regard, as Fitz makes clear, Silko is comparable to Gerald Vizenor and Louis Owens, who explicitly commingle theoretical and creative voices, engaging critical discourse with designs to transform it. Cultural studies readers will recognize similar tensions in Vine Deloria’s Spirit and Reason (1999), and one of Fitz’s most significant contributions is his attention to Silko’s...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 346-347
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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