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Reviewed by:
  • Enduring Critical Poses: The Legacy and Life of Anishinaabe Literature and Letters ed. by Gordon Henry Jr., Margaret Noodin, and David Stirrup
  • Adam Spry
Gordon Henry Jr., Margaret Noodin, and David Stirrup, eds. Enduring Critical Poses: The Legacy and Life of Anishinaabe Literature and Letters. Albany: SUNY Press, 2021. 293 pp. Hardcover, $95.00.

"It is time," the editors of Enduring Critical Poses declare in their introduction, "for Anishinaabe creative and critical leanings, often transposed through the technics of Western letters and media, to re-mark the larger intellectual topography with Anishinaabe perspectives" (2). This statement of intent, made more than two decades after the initial calls of Craig Womack, Jace Weaver, and Robert Warrior for more explicitly tribal-nationalist literary criticism, not only makes a case for continued relevance of such a project but also points to the ways in which the editors of Enduring Critical Pose seek to move beyond the debates about intellectual and cultural separatism that have marked it from its inception. As the editors argue: "To say simply that manifestations of culture, language, religion; forms of survivance; and experiences of colonialism differ from nation to nation . . . is to utter a truism that should not need echoing" (4). Rather than work to make the case for the specificity of Anishinaabe literature and nationhood, the contributions in Enduring Critical Poses each seek to show how "Anishinaabe writing does not merely represent but engages with and participates in critical cultural conversations," revealing the ways in which Anishinaabe literary expression has always been a project of tribe-centered criticism (9).

The volume is organized thematically around four figures from Anishinaabe cosmology, the brothers Majikiwiz, Bakaawiz, Jiibayaaboozo, and Nanabozho, who each are made to represent multiple, overlapping modes of critical discourse. The first section, named after Majikiwiz, focuses on Anishinaabe historiography in the writings of Louise Erdrich, Maungwudaus (George Henry), and David Treuer. The second, named after Bakaawiz the performer, takes on questions of aesthetic form in the works of multiple of Anishinaabe poets, as well as in the juridical writings of Gerald Vizenor. The section named after Jiibayaaboozo (the manidoo of the spirit-world) focuses on Anishinaabe critiques of anthropological discourse and its instrumentalization of Anishinaabe culture and physical bodies. The last section, Nanabozho, examines the subversive writings of Jim Northrup, E. Donald Two-Rivers, and Vizenor, as well as communal efforts to defy the imposition [End Page 291] of blood quantum on the White Earth Reservation in the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Enduring Critical Poses represents a remarkable testament to the breadth and diversity of Anishinaabe critical expression—giving equal space to well-known writers, as well as those like Northrup, Two-Rivers, and Henry who are often left out of broader discussions of Native literature.

Framing their project around the ways in which Anishinaabe literature constitutes its own critical discourse, the editors are careful not to suggest that a tribe-centered approach isn't the only to understand Indigenous literatures. Rather they contend that Anishinaabe-centered analyses have often been overshadowed by critical discourses that universalize and instrumentalize Indigenous literatures for their own ends—oftentimes at the expense of the very communities that produced them. As such, the goal of Enduring Critical Poses is not to set the record straight by providing authenticizing analyses from cultural insiders, as much as it is to show how Anishinaabe literary expression works to engage with and ultimately counter the constricting narratives of primitivism, disappearance, or deficiency that have been imposed upon it from the outside.

An excellent example of this critical approach can be seen in Carter Meland's essay, "Anishinaabe Being and the Fallen God," which reassesses the work of nineteenth-century anthropologist Daniel Brinton. Focusing on Brinton's efforts to find an etymological link between Nanabozho and Indo-European solar deities, Meland provides an incisive meditation on the perils of academic analyses that seek to universalize Indigenous cultures, rather than actually contend with "specific relationships to specific homelands and the specific peoples who call that land home" (189). Showing how Brinton's conclusions relied on the assumption that stories about Nanabozho were mere degenerations of an ostensibly pure Indo-European religious tradition, Meland...

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