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  • Deconstructing the Master's House with His Own ToolsCode-Switching and Double-Voiced Discourse as Agency in Gerald Vizenor's Heirs of Columbus
  • Bernadette V. Russo (bio)

Gerald Vizenor's The Heirs of Columbus is an inversion of the colonial tale of Columbus, portraying Columbus as a descendant of a Mayan and a Sephardic Jew who longs to return home—to America. Upon his landing in America, Columbus meets and has sexual relations with a healer, Samana, thereby producing the lineage that brings the story into the modern-future context. The heirs referred to by the title are the lineage of Columbus and Samana. The story progresses as Columbus's heirs endeavor to bring his bones home—back to America. Stone Columbus and Felipa Flowers are the primary protagonists who struggle to repatriate Columbus's remains. While obtaining possession of the remains, Felipa Flowers is murdered. Stone Columbus goes on to establish a free and egalitarian clinic of healing through genetic engineering that implements DNA from Columbus's remains. The section of text considered in this analysis is taken at the point in the story where Stone and Felipa enlist the aid of a young "city" shaman, Transom, in their efforts to appropriate Columbus's remains from a curator.

From the onset, The Heirs of Columbus ontologically challenges Eurocentrism through the creation of an alternative cultural memory. Within the borderless dimensions of science fiction, Gerald Vizenor's work comprises a richly woven tapestry of overt and subtle elements that serve to articulate and reclaim Anishinaabe identity and agency. I contend that Gerald Vizenor achieves a linguistic transmotion through code-switching and lexical marking in the text, a garnering of agency through transgressing hegemonic boundaries of language. Based in Vizenor's construction of survivance and transmotion, linguistic transmotion creates a Native linguistic sovereignty and empowerment.1 This is in addition to the agency afforded in the implementation of code-switching [End Page 58] as discussed in Mikhail Bakhtin's concepts of heteroglossia and double-voiced discourse. Essential to the elucidation of Vizenor's code-switching of linguistic terminology is an awareness of the context of Vizenor's technique as an Anishinaabe writer, as well as an understanding of Vizenor's use of double-voiced discourse.

framing the house that vizenor built

The use of humor, lexical subversion, and code-switching as a means of social criticism and social commentary is common within many Native American nations. Within the framework of scholarship supporting this contention, Kimberly M. Blaeser, who is of mixed German and Anishinaabe heritage, employs the term "Red English" to discuss a form of Native humor that indirectly expresses social criticism in her essay "Writing Voices Speaking: Native Authors and an Oral Aesthetic" (60). Blaeser points to Native "joking" and the subversion of English as a means of Native "struggle against established literary and linguistic structures, practices, and images" (57), which aligns with the analysis given here of Vizenor's use of "joking," lexical subversion, and code-switching. Further undergirding much of the theoretical framework surrounding Native "joking" as a form of agency, linguistic anthropologist Keith Basso's works establish the use of code-switching as a tool of textual analysis in Native American literature (Blaeser, "Writing" 60–61). In Portraits of "the Whiteman": Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols among the Western Apache, Basso's consideration of context-specific use of Native "joking" and his assertion of Native code-switching and lexical subversion as intentional, meaningful forms of expression afford critics insight into a method of articulation within Native American culture that might otherwise be mistaken for a linguistic error (9–17). These works provide a basis for the analysis of the implications of code-switching and lexical subversion in The Heirs of Columbus. Given Vizenor's position regarding colonial Anglo America from his writings, one may reason the reinvention of the linguistic lexicon into nonlinguistic roles as a "joking" of formal English speakers and, perhaps more specifically, English grammarians such as those who might have instructed Native speakers in forced mission schools.2

Serving as further foundation for the analysis of Vizenor's use of "joking" and lexical subversion, a consideration of Drew Hayden Taylor's [End Page...


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