Postmodernism, Native American literature and issues of sovereignty

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Criticism of Native American literature is barely two centuries old, while criticism of Western literature boasts a history that is quite a bit longer. The questions on how to read and interpret tribal narrative and modern American Indian fiction are still urgent topics that trigger numerous debates among literary scholars. What theories to employ and what approaches to use to dispel misinterpretations of the literature are still matters open to suggestion. Postmodernism, the new world trend, has influenced all spheres of life, not excluding literature. Although it does seem to better account for American Indian voices as it shifts attention to local narratives and re-evaluation of history, the issue of whether it is applicable and favorable to Native American literature and its cause is a debatable one. Postmodern theory claims to liberate the suppressed voices including those of Native Americans, but at the same time presents the danger of limiting Native American literature to another set of frames while denying it its purpose, i.e. achievement of the establishment of Native American national literature. Many American Indian scholars insist that American Indian literature should not be interpreted using mainstream approaches, such as postmodernism, since they have already done enough damage, but implementing American Indian philosophies instead, such as nationalism. It also seems premature to apply postmodern theory since it deconstructs history and identity, which are still to be constructed in Native American literature. Tribal literature and tribal realities are closely connected and, therefore, the fight for Native American literature and how to interpret it appears to be a part of a bigger fight, the one for sovereignty, both national and intellectual. The "post" of postmodernism, as well as the "post" of post-colonialism, might simply not be present for Native American literature yet and, therefore, theories offered by nationalism can at the given moment be more promising to American Indian literature and its purposes.




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