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Sovereign Stories

Aesthetics, Autonomy and Contemporary Native American Writing


Padraig Kirwan

Sovereign Stories examines contemporary Native American writers’ engagement with various forms of cultural, political, and artistic sovereignty. The author considers literature’s ability to initiate vital discussions about tribal autonomy in modern America and suggests that innovative literary styles are a compelling articulation of the connection between aesthetic and political concerns. In so doing, he concentrates on fictional and poetic forms, the structure and imagery of which comment on indigenous autonomy, selfdetermination, and artistic activism. Offering original selective analysis of the fiction and poetry of Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Sherman Alexie, David Treuer, LeAnne Howe, Louise Erdrich, Greg Sarris, and Craig Womack, this book explores these tribal authors’ concern with intellectual and creative sovereignty and deftly links those interests to the broader cultural and political issues faced by Native American communities today.


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Chapter 4 “All the Talk and All the Silence”: Literary Aesthetics and Cultural Boundaries in David T


reuer’s Little […] art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.1 — Victor Shklovsky […] stories are what [Native Americans] do, as much as what we are. Stories expand or narrow our imaginative possibilities. Physical freedom won’t matter if we can’t imagine ourselves free as well.2 — Daniel Heath Justice As noted in the Introduction, critical discourse within the field of Native American Literary Studies has recently sought to interrogate the interface between cultural knowledge and artistic expression in the novel form. In a brief but comprehensive contribution to this discussion, James H. Cox, co-editor of the inf luential journal Studies in American Indian Literature, has drawn considerable attention to an ongoing deliberation between critics favoring “tribally specific literary critical practice” on one hand, and those advocating “aesthetic or formalist […] analyses of Native literatures” on the other.3 This “battle of the bookworms,” as Scott Lyons drolly describes 1 Victor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique,” Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, ed. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965), 12. 2 Daniel Heath Justice, Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 206. 3 James H. Cox, “The Past, Present, and Possible Futures of American Indian Literary Studies,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 20.1 (Summer 2008), 104. 118 Chapter 4 it, has most often been viewed in terms of a critical split between those who champion tribally informed readings of...

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