- Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence by T.C. McLuhan, and: Portraits from North American Indian Life by A.D. Coleman, T.C. McLuhan (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 43, Number 4, Summer 1974
- pp. 402-405
- View Citation
- Additional Information
402 LETTERS IN CANADA rights, and productions. Both volumes also include a valuable list of publishers' addresses. Not always accurate, still inevitably incomplete, the listing is invaluable in its documentation of the history of play publishing in Canada. Not all the plays included are available for distribution or examination; far too many are out of print. However, the extent of the list is ample proof of the steady growth of Canadian theatre in this century, even before the gratifying upsurge of the sixties; and here is challenge enough to serious literary criticism. (ANN SADDLEMYER) T.e. McLuhan, Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence. New Press, 185, $8.95; Edward S. Curtis, Portraits from North American Indian Life. Introductions by A.D. Coleman and TC. McLuhan. New Press, XVI, 176, $25.00 The customs, values, and beliefs, as well as what has been variously understood as the 'predicament,' of the native peoples of North America have produced responses in a number of forms during the centuries since Columbus wrote his letter to Ferdinand and Isabella. But there is a general pattern, and the earliest reaction in the English-speaking world is also one of the most typical. It is contained in 'A New Interlude, and amery, of the nature of the iiij Elements,' a play by John RasteII written in London about 1520, in which the author describes a people Which as yet lyve all bestly For they nother knowe god nor the devell Nor never harde tell of hevyn nor hell Wrytynge, nor other scripture: But yet in the stede of god almyght The honour the sane for his great lyggt For that doth them great pleasure... In his crude way, RastelI paid tribute to a certain kind of communion with the four elements which he little understood (and knew even less about) , but the importance and singularity of which he properly recognized. 'Perhaps now,' suggests TC. McLuhan in her introduction to Touch the Earth, 'after hundreds of years of ignoring their wisdom, we may learn from the Indians.' Perhaps. But there is another element in our response to the native people, and it creates a curiously earnest dislocation in what Miss McLuhan sees as our discipleship. It is in the tradition of vehement indignation which the nineteenth century adopted, and is reRected in the elegiac passage from the Book of Lamentations which has provided a motto HUMANITIES 403 for a number of books and articles On Indians, and which celebrates that sense which the Indians legitimately have that our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens. We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows. We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us ... The elders have ceased from thc gatc, the young men from their music. The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning. It is this 'inheritance' which Miss McLuhan attempts to chronicle in her texts, with obvious sincerity, and with some success. The book consists of excerpts from speeches, statements, manifestos, books, and in some cases contemporary recreations ( by eighteenth and nineteenth-century enthusiasts ) of speeches by Indian leaders and spokesmen. They are randomly chosen, and somewhat confusingly organized with little regard for a consistent presentation of particular tribal or indigenous cultural values. But, of course, they are affecting, since the situations which they expose and the values which they embody are themselves either of impressive relevance or prOVide an indulgently cathartic satisfaction, depending On one's attitude and temperament. The major COnCern of the book is the relationship of the native people to the land, and to the living elements and forces in terms of which their own lives and cultures were and are still being defined , and which sustain that sense of organic continuity which can be discovered in those lives and cultures. There is a certain nostalgia in our response to this, as we look back to that Edenic past which has nurtured so much of our imagination and so many of our aesthetic and social conventions . Unfortunately, Miss McLuhan is at times rather too anxious to achieve this effect, and her earnestness is distracting. Furthermore, the issues...