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Other Destinies: Understanding the American Indian Novel (American Indian Literature and Critical Studies Series) Paperback – September 15, 1994
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From Library Journal
A Choctaw-Cherokee-Irish novelist and professor of literature, Owens provides an important insider's perspective on ten Native American novelists. Beginning with the Cherokee author John Rollin Ridge, whose 1854 novel, The Life and Times of Joaquin Murieta, was the first American Indian novel to be published, and moving on to contemporary authors such as Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor, Owens identifies a common theme among these writers. All ten are mixed-blood Indians exploring their search for identity in two worlds, where "the individual who would 'be' Indian rather than 'play' Indian is faced with an overwhelming challenge." Owens shows how each author dealt with this marginalization through his or her characters, moving from Ridge's angry masquerade as a Mexican American bandit to Vizenor's celebration of "crossbloods" as shape-shifting tricksters mediating between two worlds. Drawing heavily on Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin's theories, Owens presents a well-written, jargon-free book on an often-ignored genre of American literature.
- Lisa A. Mitten, Univ. of Pittsburgh Lib.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
This first book-length critical analysis of the full range of novels written between 1854 and today by American Indian authors takes as its theme the search for self-discovery and cultural recovery. In his introduction, Louis Owens places the novels in context by considering their relationships to traditional American Indian oral literature as well as their differences from mainstream Euroamerican literature. In the following chapters he looks at the novels of John Rollin Ridge, Mourning Dove, John Joseph Mathews, D'Arcy McNickle, N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, Michael Dorris, and Gerald Vizenor. These authors are mixedbloods who, in their writing, try to come to terms with the marginalization both of mixed-bloods and fullbloods and of their cultures in American society. Their novels are complex and sophisticated narratives of cultural survival - and survival guides for fullbloods and mixedbloods in modern America. Rejecting the stereotypes and cliches long attached to the word Indian, they appropriate and adapt the colonizers language, English, to describe the Indian experience. These novels embody the American Indian point of view; the non-Indian is required to assume the role of "other". In his analysis Owens draws on a broad range of literary theory: myth and folklore, structuralism, modernism, poststructuralism, and, particularly, postmodernism. At the same time he argues that although recent American Indian fiction incorporates a number of significant elements often identified with postmodern writing, it contradicts the primary impulse of postmodernism. That is, instead of celebrating fragmentation, ephemerality, and chaos, these authors insistupon a cultural center that is intact and recoverable, upon immutable values and ecological truths. Other Destinies provides a new critical approach to novels by American Indians. It also offers a comprehensive introduction to the novels, helping teachers bring this important fiction to the classroom.
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For decades, centuries, the will of white America has largely expressed the desire of the politically powerful to erase American Indians from the North American landscape. Today even, if one views the efforts of such as Slade Gorton, the senator from Washington State, the effort continues. And in many ways, they have been successful. More than 50 percent of those who identify as American Indians do not live on what is today considered "Indian land," and too many have lost all contact with the land and cultures and stories of their people. But many still do retain at least vestigial and often much larger pieces of the old stories and traditions, and are working to place them back into a communal whole. For them, the mere prospect of identity must come before they would even consider the land to which their people were moved decades or centuries earlier. For everything there is a season.
In Other Destinies Owens analyzes the writings of a number of full and mixedblood Indians authors whose collective voice is growing louder with each passing year. These writers illustrate issues important to themselves; some authors are strongly rooted in place, others are only just discovering their places following the disastrous relocation Diaspora. Owens has built a sound historical and critical framework from which to examine all of these stories. These authors, like Owens, all write of their family stories and belief systems, and of the importance of place, when they know that place or adopt a new one. They are working to graft those connections into their modern lives through the power of their words.
I would describe the author as a scholar. I reached this conclusion bsed on the content of "Destiny", not a biography. It is well done, perhaps a bit stilted but this takes it into more believeable territory. It is an admirable work. Good Job.
Louis Owens writes well and communicates a perspective regarding the creative work of Native American Indian writers that is widely shared by many who study these writers professionally. His own novels are worth reading, and he seemed like a warm and friendly person when I've met him at conferences.
With all these positive attributes, why does this book deserve three stars? I disagree with Owens critical emphasis; his argument has been influential. He claims that "identity" is the central theme of Native writing. He argues that all Native writers must come to terms with their own mixedblood identity, and with consequent marginalization in two worlds. There is no question that identity is an important issue, but it is far from the central one. For many Native writers it is insignificant. For some, it is central. For others, it is an issue subordinated under other more significant issues. Identity is part of a complex of issues (land, resources, spirituality, images, and stereotypes) that are ultimately concerned with issues of self-control by individuals and communities. For tribal peoples in the United States the central issue, if there is one, is sovereignty. Because of the results of histories of denationalization (a word employed by Cherokee writers in the 1830s) many Native American Indian people are trying to find their way home (as some writers have put it). But, many others have never left home and have never suffered a crisis of self-identity. The academy, by and large, finds issues of identity a quite palatable way to accept literatures of difference because doing so does not require recognizing systemic problems in some of the fundamental assumptions of American colonization.