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Native American Fiction: A User's Manual Paperback – August 22, 2006
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A noted Ojibwa author and professor of creative writing, Treuer makes the case for critiquing Native American fiction purely as literature, ignoring the author's identity, and thus the cultural context in which it is written. In assessing Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine, Treuer delves into the function of symbol and symbolic language in the novel, marveling at Erdrich's ability to work in two modes, naturalistic and symbolic, thus bridging the physical and metaphysical worlds. In the same vein, he claims that James Welch's Fools Crow should be appreciated as a "delicate web being spun for us, not with the strands of culture but with the silk of language." And Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony succeeds not because of the author's "authenticity" but because of her exceptional ability to juxtapose myth and metaphor. Treuer asks that novels by Native Americans be afforded their status as literature, not cultural artifacts, an argument bound to impact Native American literature programs. (See p.29 for a review of Treuer's new novel, The Translation of Dr Apelles.) Deborah Donovan
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“[David Treuer] is mounting a challenge to the whole idea of Indian identity as depicted by both Native and white writers.” ―The New York Times
“Treuer. . . executes a searing examination of such beloved authors as Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie. His conclusion: 'Native American Fiction does not exist.' ” ―The Washington Post Book World
“Treuer asks that novels by Native Americans be afforded their status as literature, not cultural artifacts, an argument bound to impact Native American literature programs.” ―Library Journal
“His challenge to his readers is to judge Native American writers by the literary quality of their effort, their originality, and the power of their language, not by their origins or by any attempt to discover authenticity.” ―Magill's Literary Annual
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Treuer investigates a selection of some of the most influential Native American authors such as Sherman Alexie, Forrest Carter, James Fenimore Cooper, Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, and James Welch. He uses both an influence of fictional and scholarly investigation, examines the reader's process of understanding these texts, and also the intentions of the author for the text. For example, he states In the conclusion of his analysis about Love Medicine he states, "Culture, as represented by Ojubwe words, is what the characters want...those words don't communicate anything, rather they dignify something..." (Treuer 65). The simulation of Natives use of language in their text is given the "automatic thought" to be spiritual. Though, Treuer suggests that there is much more occurring here than the past.
He is asking that we free ourselves of any notion that Native American literature is only about the spiritual realm caught in the past; that we as readers do not let the outline of intellect and culture turn literature into a `surplus' of fantastical text. This surplus can be defined as producing a meaning out of an aspect of literature that is not truly intended. Above all Native American Fiction: A User's Manual unravels and uncovers the `loud silence' of Native Americans and offers solutions to give a voice to the present and the future of Native American literature.
With the rush of college and high school educators to strip bookstore shelves of the most recent Sherman Alexie novel, this book emerges on the horizon of Native American literary criticism at a very crucial time. Although Alexie is loved by all, both Native and non-Native readers, there is a growing concern amongst Native intellectuals regarding the near cultish fascination with Alexie's work, work that is often thematized around poverty, alcoholism, violence, and despair; common themes perpetuating the more widely believed stereotype. Treuer asserts that when it comes to reading Native American fiction, there is no "suspension of belief." Everything that Americans have come to know about Indians is shaped from birth by the media and literature. As a result, we are pre-equipped to interpret what we read through the dominant narrative and its prescribed imagery. Thus, the interpretive emphasis unintentially fixates on the word "Native" rather than "fiction," and when it comes to American Indians, fiction sustains the American reality: the stereotype remains unchanged. To be entertained denotes immediate gratification, critical thinking does not. American education does not teach us to question why the fictional Indian or the Indian of the American imagination is so much more compelling than the diverse and living Indian reality. Treuer calls this kind of knowledge, "A form of knowingness based on nothing."
No reader of Native American fiction should read another Native authored novel without first having given some thought and attention to Treuer's "user's manual." This work is revolutionary and integral to the elimination of racism as well as to the advancement of cultural awareness. For Native peoples, this work adds to the intellectual underpinnings of sovereignty. For non-Native readers, these insights create a new and critical genre of knowledge that carries with it an obligation of literary accountability.