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Native American Fiction: A User's Manual

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Rather than create a comprehensive cultural and historical genealogy for Native American literature, David Treuer investigates a selection of the most important Native American novels and, with a novelist's eye and a critic's mind, examines the intricate process of understanding literature on its own terms. Native American Fiction: A User's Manual is speculative, witty, eng Rather than create a comprehensive cultural and historical genealogy for Native American literature, David Treuer investigates a selection of the most important Native American novels and, with a novelist's eye and a critic's mind, examines the intricate process of understanding literature on its own terms. Native American Fiction: A User's Manual is speculative, witty, engaging, and written for the inquisitive reader. These essays—on Sherman Alexie, Forrest Carter, James Fenimore Cooper, Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, and James Welch—are rallying cries for the need to read literature as literature and, ultimately, reassert the importance and primacy of the word. This book has been written with the narrow conviction that if Native American literature is worth thinking about at all, it is worth thinking about as literature. The vast majority of thought that has been poured out onto Native American literature has puddled, for the most part, on how the texts are positioned in relation to history or culture.


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Rather than create a comprehensive cultural and historical genealogy for Native American literature, David Treuer investigates a selection of the most important Native American novels and, with a novelist's eye and a critic's mind, examines the intricate process of understanding literature on its own terms. Native American Fiction: A User's Manual is speculative, witty, eng Rather than create a comprehensive cultural and historical genealogy for Native American literature, David Treuer investigates a selection of the most important Native American novels and, with a novelist's eye and a critic's mind, examines the intricate process of understanding literature on its own terms. Native American Fiction: A User's Manual is speculative, witty, engaging, and written for the inquisitive reader. These essays—on Sherman Alexie, Forrest Carter, James Fenimore Cooper, Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, and James Welch—are rallying cries for the need to read literature as literature and, ultimately, reassert the importance and primacy of the word. This book has been written with the narrow conviction that if Native American literature is worth thinking about at all, it is worth thinking about as literature. The vast majority of thought that has been poured out onto Native American literature has puddled, for the most part, on how the texts are positioned in relation to history or culture.

30 review for Native American Fiction: A User's Manual

  1. 4 out of 5

    lark benobi

    I began reading this group of essays first back in June, finished them in October after reading most of the novels it references, and then I read the whole book again over the last weekend. This is a complicated and open-ended and exploratory book and I recommend you read it because what I got from it might be completely different from what you get from it...in the tradition, I suppose, of all deep reading. "Native American Fiction: A User's Manual" is a remarkable work for the way it isolates, t I began reading this group of essays first back in June, finished them in October after reading most of the novels it references, and then I read the whole book again over the last weekend. This is a complicated and open-ended and exploratory book and I recommend you read it because what I got from it might be completely different from what you get from it...in the tradition, I suppose, of all deep reading. "Native American Fiction: A User's Manual" is a remarkable work for the way it isolates, through deep reading of a handful of novels, how contemporary Native American novels reflect and refract the heritage of colonialism, the heritage of genocide, the heritage of mystic nostalgia-building about Native American life...and the heritage of past writings about Native Americans, from colonialists and Native Americans alike. The book is among other things a close examination of the idea of "authenticity" in Native American works. The book tries to define what 'authenticity' really means, not by what critics and/or authors say, but from inside the text, from what can be gleaned from the novels themselves. Treuer argues that writing that evokes 'authenticity,' when examined at a text-level, has less to do with getting back to a pure and pre-colonial storytelling tradition, and more to do with writing sentences that mimic 17th-19th century white authors, like Cooper and Grinnell and Longfellow. He posits that the language of the colonizer mimics to the language of "authentic" voices, and vice versa, to the point where however great a contemporary Native American novel is, it can't be distinguished at a textual level from a novel written by a non-Native-American. Treuer carries this argument to the last possible iterative conclusion near the end of the book when he compares at a textual level the work of Sherman Alexie, champion of the idea of authenticity as an important bedrock of Native American fiction, with the work of racist charlatan Asa Earl Carter, author of the sham autobiography "Education of Little Tree." Treuer finds little to differentiate the works of these two authors that can be found within the works themselves. This is a bit mind-blowing and that is why it's important to read the whole book...there's a reason why this essay is near the end of a very carefully laid-out argument. There is so much here to make you feel either aghast or enlightened or both at once because Treuer really does blow up a lot of cherished beliefs in his quest for absolute honesty--his desire to clear the mist and romance away from our collective idea of Indian-ness. Treuer is a huge fan of Erdrich and Welch and Silko but he is also happy to point out that Erdrich's work--how her novels work--has more in common with Proust and Faulkner than with 'authenticity..' and that Welch's elevated dialogue is influenced by Cooper, and that Welch uses techniques that hearken all the way back to Homer...and Silko's mythologies are not 'authentic' but are instead made anew to suit her fictional purpose...All the while he is asserting these authors mastery and genius. This is not a take-down. It's a build-up. So in the end when Treuer states "There is no such thing as Native American Fiction," what he is saying is, I believe, that we readers need to pull back the easy assertions of 'authenticity' and to read with fresh eyes and without expectation that we know what the term 'Native American fiction' really means. Because 'authenticity' is only, Treuer seems to say, an obscurity of what is really going on in these novels. To claim 'authenticity' is in a way to diminish their novel-ness, their nouvelle-ness, their innovative greatness. One of my favorite passages of this book is a close read of an Objibwe poem and its English translations. Within that fragment of original, 'authentic' literature is such a pure beauty, even if the fragment was meant as a children's rhyme. Treuer doesn't quite say that the only true authentic Native American literature is limited to pre-colonial periods, or to works written originally in Native American languages. But he allows for what has been lost. A fascinating read, with its core thesis challenged in interesting ways by the author himself on every page, in a way that allows the reader to spin and speculate about literature in wonderful ways. It is in the end a book for readers, giving us new ways to approach and appreciate these novels as readers. Old review: More a journey than a thesis, Treuer's Native American Fiction: A User's Manual gave me, as a reader, new perspectives, rather than hard conclusions. Treuer posits motivations of fellow Native American authors and why they write what they do; these are always interesting. He also shares his assumptions about what (mostly white) readers bring to a novel written by a Native American. His suppositions are made declaratively, not self-reflectively. I loved his certainty. I loved his opinions. I re-thought my own reading experiences of the novels he writes about and came to new understandings of these. I was mostly persuaded. And I enjoyed spending time with Treuer, as he explored a topic that he has thought about deeply. This is the best kind of literary criticism--a kind that opens both worlds and words to new interpretations.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Meike

    In this book, writer and academic David Treuer (Ojibwe) makes a passionate - very, very passionate - argument that Native American literature needs to be taken more seriously as literature and that it should be more rigorously discussed in the context of pure literary merit - and then Treuer goes on to proclaim that there's no such thing as Native American literature. While many of his arguments are undoubtedly thought-provoking, I found that they are partly lacking logical stringency. Right at In this book, writer and academic David Treuer (Ojibwe) makes a passionate - very, very passionate - argument that Native American literature needs to be taken more seriously as literature and that it should be more rigorously discussed in the context of pure literary merit - and then Treuer goes on to proclaim that there's no such thing as Native American literature. While many of his arguments are undoubtedly thought-provoking, I found that they are partly lacking logical stringency. Right at the beginning of "Native American Fiction", Treuer writes: "This book does not seek to define what is or what should be seen as Native American literature" - and it's pretty obvious that from this starting point, you simply cannot reach the conclusion that "Native American literature does not exist", because of course you won't find what you didn't look for or even define in the first place. From this perspective, it is slightly ironic that Treuer is calling for more academic rigidity. Treuer argues that literature's standard should not be authentic representation, and that the literary techniques employed by Native writers are often similar to non-Native writers. The great thing about literature is that is does not serve a single aim - literature can be many things, and of course it can be a means of representation (and I would argue a very important one) and an art form employed to discuss what is essential or authentic when it comes to a culture. Why shouldn't it? Treuer is trying to pin down what the sphere of literature itself, independently from other forms of cultural expression or even culture itself, has generated in regard to Native Americans, which means he is looking at - exactly! - representation, but what is he measuring it against if not authenticity? What constitutes literary merit isn't defined here either. Talking about the literary techniques employed by Native writers (he especially talks about Louise Erdrich in that context), I was really confused by his argument: On the one hand, he argues against the cliched depiction of Natives (from a racist or romanticised perspective), against portraying them as a vanishing culture, on the other hand, he says postmodern narrative techniques speak against the existence of Native literature. Treuer goes as far as to claim that "modern" equals "un-Indian"! Native people do live in a postmodern world, they are influenced by postmodern writing, so how should they write in order for their work to be categorized as Native literature? Treuer is contradicting himself. His line of thought would mean that because German writers aren't writing as they did before 1900 anymore, German literature has ceased to exist. Is Rilke no German writer because he didn't write like Goethe, because he was influenced by non-Germans, because around his time literature started to split up into new and contradictory (!) movements, and because his only novel is set in Paris? Good luck finding anyone who would maintain this. When Treuer is trying to make the case that Native culture is a LIVING culture, ever-evolving and multi-faceted, he can't cling to some kind of static concept of it, a concept he doesn't even define. I want to stress though that I'm sure that Treuer is right about many, many things he mentions, especially about the fact that some people tend to project things onto Native Americans because they feel like they are "inconsequential" and/or vanishing, but wouldn't a counter-measure be to stress the accomplishments of modern Native writers, to point at all those writers who represent their tribes, their heritage, but also their lives today, to engage in the discussion about what identity, representation, authenticity and culture mean in Native literature and in our postmodern world? And yes, Treuer is certainly right that it is a question of respect towards these works and of self-respect for the readers and critics to look closely and discuss how well these books are executed, whether they say something meaningful and whether the formal style makes sense or not. I also love that he and his brother are making great efforts to protect, research and teach the Ojibwe language, a task that is probably hard to over-estimate in its importance. Writing is not, as Treuer claims, mere fantasy, it is always rooted in reality as it is written by real people about real issues. What they create matters. Everyone who ever read Terese Marie Mailhot, Tommy Orange, Brandon Hobson and Joshua Whitehead will have a hard time clinging to cliches about who Native Americans are.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mely

    Reassesses Native American fiction through its uses of Western literary techniques rather than as emblem of Native American culture(s). Extremely good at close readings of texts, some truth to the position of NA fiction as artifact, weakened by arguments pushed farther than texts (usually reviews & interviews, not books) warrant (suspect Bloom-worthy misprisions) and also by failure to define key terms in argument, such as "culture" and "literature" (as opposed to "Native American," which is lef Reassesses Native American fiction through its uses of Western literary techniques rather than as emblem of Native American culture(s). Extremely good at close readings of texts, some truth to the position of NA fiction as artifact, weakened by arguments pushed farther than texts (usually reviews & interviews, not books) warrant (suspect Bloom-worthy misprisions) and also by failure to define key terms in argument, such as "culture" and "literature" (as opposed to "Native American," which is left undefined deliberately). Mainly, I do not agree with some of Treuer's assumptions about the relationship of literature and culture, although I am convinced by what I think is his main argument, that N.A. fiction has been undertheorized and underappreciated as a conscious aesthetic construct.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Biiwide

    Throughout this book Treuer asserts that his goal for this book is to break down the stereotypical assumptions of what "native american" literature "is" or "is not". I would love to read that book when it is written, but this is not that book. Most of Treuer's critiques are nothing more thinly veiled personal attacks aimed at "exposing" other "native american" authors' lack of "authentic" "native american" knowledge. He repeatedly brandishes his alleged knowledge of the Ojibwe language and their Throughout this book Treuer asserts that his goal for this book is to break down the stereotypical assumptions of what "native american" literature "is" or "is not". I would love to read that book when it is written, but this is not that book. Most of Treuer's critiques are nothing more thinly veiled personal attacks aimed at "exposing" other "native american" authors' lack of "authentic" "native american" knowledge. He repeatedly brandishes his alleged knowledge of the Ojibwe language and their traditional stories as a club against those authors who are not as well schooled in the language. The only enjoyment I found while reading page after page of simple-minded vindectives was from Treuer repeatedly exposing his own lack of knowledge of "authentic" "native american" culture. Specifically, retelling a couple of dibaajimowin recorded, translated, and published by his brother, Antony Treuer, does not make him an authority on the broader body of "traditional" Ojibwe stories. There is a screaming void in the text created by his apparent lack of familiarity with the material from sources such as the Jones Texts, the Menominee Texts, the material recorded by Leonard Bloomfield, etc. His attempt at reviewing an exhibition of "native" artwork, all of which was created by regional Ojibwe artists, was stunningly sophomoric. His critique of Norval Morriseau's work as "somewhat stereotypical" had me laughing out loud. Not only was Treuer completely unfamiliar with the traditional sacred stories (aadizookaanan) referenced by Morriseau's paintings, he was also gallingly unaware of Norval's status as the progenitor of the "woodlands style", which Treuer described as stereotypical, and of the origins of that style. Because Treuer has clearly not studied the material he claims expertise in, and because his critique amounts to nothing more than ad hominem attacks, this book was a complete waste of the author's time and the time of all his readers. In my personal opinion Treuer should publicly apologize for this act of fraud both to the authors he reviewed and to his readers in general.

  5. 5 out of 5

    david-baptiste

    I've just re-re-read nearly all David Treur's Native American Fiction, in which the author, an Ojibwe of the Leech Lake MN rez who writes novels and teaches in Minneapolis, asserts that there is no such thing as "Native American Fiction," that it in itself is a fiction which needs to be read as literature and not as "Native American." Treur's thesis is not a willfully paradoxical one, but based in the Indian's historical dilemna in trying to communicate with non-Indians. That is, the Indian, whil I've just re-re-read nearly all David Treur's Native American Fiction, in which the author, an Ojibwe of the Leech Lake MN rez who writes novels and teaches in Minneapolis, asserts that there is no such thing as "Native American Fiction," that it in itself is a fiction which needs to be read as literature and not as "Native American." Treur's thesis is not a willfully paradoxical one, but based in the Indian's historical dilemna in trying to communicate with non-Indians. That is, the Indian, while "strange" and "silent" is at the same time "already known," via centuries of imagery, fictions, histories, movies, songs, poems and urban legends. The "Indian" becomes a site where others may indulge their fantasies of "indianness," and so expect to find this "Indianness" in the writings of "Native American writers." The result is that much very sophist8cateedly written literature, with antecedents and relatives in Western literature, are read-back-onto via tropes which are "found among" the various tribes of the writers' origins. Thus a device from Flaubert used by Erdrich is almost forcibly treated as a "poly vocality" of "Native oral traditions," rather than as a superb use of textual intercutting. Treuer emphasizes the double binds of Indian writing by discussing in the same terms the imensely popular Education of Little Tree, which was discovered to be the work not of an Indian, but of Asa Carter, former speech writer for Gov George Wallce and a leading memeber of the KK implicated n the catsration of a mentally challenged black man. As long as Little Tree was taken as the real work of a real Indian writer named Forrest Carter, all was well, and the book brought to millions its form of Indian "knoweldge," and thinking, a "Green" philosphy dear to the hearts of Ne Agers and Erat Firsters alike Treuer sets Carter's book side by side with the most outspoken Indian proponent of authenticicty, writer Sherman Alexie. By demonstarting how similar Alexie's Reservation Blues and Education of Little Tree are, Treuer points out that the both the haox and the "real" Indian books are based on an assertion of "authenticity," which, as long as itis believed in, makes them both "real" Indian writing, when in fact, the two books share a relationships as fictions, one of Indians by a non-Indian, the other of Indians by an Indian, and both sharing many elements i terms of plot structure, writing styles, tropes used for "Indianly" moments of "lyricism" and the like. Alexie plays a part in the discovery of an another fake Indian's hoaxed writings--those of Nasjjif, the "Navajoaxer" New Age best selling author of three "memoirs who is in fact a failed Gay writer of porn, born again as a New Age sage, filled with the waftings of burning tourist-stand Sagebrush cuttings. On reading Nasdijjif's work, Alexie said that what cued him to its being "fake" was how "real" it seemed to be, "real" that is in that it so closely embeled his own writings and those of other Indian writers. In other wrods, the fake was "too good to be true" in terms of its "reality." Yet the measure of its "reality" for an Indian writer was in how closely it resemebled his own fictions. It takes a fiction writer to catch a fiction writer to parpahrase the saying about theives. And so the "authentic" fiction writer is able to recognize the non-authentic fiction wrtier via fictions--written by the authentic writer who knows that they are in his case fictions. For Treuer, if the Indian fictions are only "real Indian fictions" if written by "real Indians," while "real" memoirs of fake Indians are taken to be authentic as long as the "fake" authors are thought to be "real", yet are not even considered "fictions" when the authors are revealed to be "fakes," how is a "Native American fiction" then able to develop as something "real?" (Fake Indians actually create over a billion dollars in revenue for themselves every year, selling "Indian artefacts," Indian "teachings," Indian "Scared objects," and the like. One of Treuer's points is that even the most praised and best selling works of "real Indians" are still treated far more as "artefacts" rather than "art.") Of course, if "fake" Indians can so easily be taken as "real"--this is another way in which the "Vanishing American Indian" is indeed , as ever, vanishing--being vanished, from an America which has hardly ever bothered to understand "real Indians" in the first place. Issues which at one level seem to be paradoxes of literary creation at another level are part of a very real historical situation of "matters of life and death." This underlying centuries old problem for Indians vanishing before both the genocidal and faked "real" and fictional White created Indians creates the dilemnas which face Indian writers in Treur's book. Treuer argues, however, that facing these dilemnas will lead to a new way--a real Indian writing--not culled from fictions and left over remnants of destroyed cultures doled out of their captivities by others. Rereading the book I found a lot more in it that i had previously, in part as since reading it two years ago many of the themes and questions which Treuer asks are ones I have asked increasingly myself. (being of a mized Ojibewe-Quebecois heritgae, of course there is an interst also in that Treuer is an Ijibwe. Ojibwe is the name given by other tribes to the Insihnabe, and means "people who write." Inishnabe means means First People, becuase they came from the East, created by the six luminous beings who emerged from the oceans.)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Linda Barlow

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and it brought me back to my favorite college literature classes. His main point is that works be viewed as literature, not as cultural artifacts that readers think give insight into Native American culture. His discussion of two of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexi added to my interest. You don't need to have read any of the books cited as he explains them thoroughly and provides quotes to elucidate his points. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and it brought me back to my favorite college literature classes. His main point is that works be viewed as literature, not as cultural artifacts that readers think give insight into Native American culture. His discussion of two of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexi added to my interest. You don't need to have read any of the books cited as he explains them thoroughly and provides quotes to elucidate his points.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jane Hammons

    If all academic writing were this clear, witty and honest, more people outside academia would read it. Treuer is an important public intellectual, and if you are interested in Native American fiction (and if not, why not?) you should take a look. It was published in 2006, so it doesn't have discussion of some of the more recent writers like Tommy Orange or Terese Mailhot, but Treuer does discuss the canonical writers like Erdrich and Momaday--and also has the best analysis of the Education of Li If all academic writing were this clear, witty and honest, more people outside academia would read it. Treuer is an important public intellectual, and if you are interested in Native American fiction (and if not, why not?) you should take a look. It was published in 2006, so it doesn't have discussion of some of the more recent writers like Tommy Orange or Terese Mailhot, but Treuer does discuss the canonical writers like Erdrich and Momaday--and also has the best analysis of the Education of Little Tree Forrest/Asa Carter in the context of Native American writing.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Travis

    As a formalist, Treuer's analysis of different works follows the same basic arc, despite the text in question. Save yourself the time of (re)reading his argument and just know that, according to Treuer, we can't read Native-authored novels for cultural specifity because to do so is to miss the 'real' point of the novel, which only Treuer has been able to fully grasp. There's plenty of provocative thinking to do with this book, but Treuer's style and tone made it difficult to *want* to hear him ou As a formalist, Treuer's analysis of different works follows the same basic arc, despite the text in question. Save yourself the time of (re)reading his argument and just know that, according to Treuer, we can't read Native-authored novels for cultural specifity because to do so is to miss the 'real' point of the novel, which only Treuer has been able to fully grasp. There's plenty of provocative thinking to do with this book, but Treuer's style and tone made it difficult to *want* to hear him out. Instead, I found myself wanting to read him the same way it seems he reads others--looking for holes or slips that I could point out and use against him (or, I mean, his argument). Just feel a little grosser and a little less enthusiastic after finally finishing this.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Benita V. Proctor

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Very interesting. The information in the book is so true. We as readers take the Native American Fiction and treat it as reality (historical information) when it is just a story. This will help me remember that Fiction Books are just stories and should be treated as such.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    A thoughtful collection of essays that breaks you out of academic ruts (in my experience) and offers something new.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Bostrom

    I feel guilty marking this as "read," because I just couldn't bring myself to finish it. Treuer makes some very valid points as to why "Native American fiction" as a concept doesn't exist - or at least, that was my take-away having gotten through half of the book. I should have known this book wasn't for me - I don't tend to care for critics and here's a man critiquing other critics. It also didn't help that I've only read one of the books he talks about, but my real issue was his tone. I get how I feel guilty marking this as "read," because I just couldn't bring myself to finish it. Treuer makes some very valid points as to why "Native American fiction" as a concept doesn't exist - or at least, that was my take-away having gotten through half of the book. I should have known this book wasn't for me - I don't tend to care for critics and here's a man critiquing other critics. It also didn't help that I've only read one of the books he talks about, but my real issue was his tone. I get how he could be frustrated...reading reviews on books by Native American authors can feel insulting when you see how narrow they allow their interpretations to be. But his tone of frustration turned to condensation far too many times for my liking. I found myself wanting to read at night but not being willing to pick up my book. So for the first time in a long time, I'm simply going to switch books - permanently. Maybe far off and into the future I'll pick up where I left off (page 89), but honestly, I don't find that very likely.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    This books made some very interesting points. However, it often bogged down into such mind numbing detail about what seemed trivial facts, that I found it a very difficult read. I ended up skimming through much of it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    really enjoyed this but want to come back to it after i've read Silko's Ceremony and Welch's Fool's Crow. really enjoyed this but want to come back to it after i've read Silko's Ceremony and Welch's Fool's Crow.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Davissimo

    I'm still contending with this book. I'll have something definitive to say by the end of the fall semester. I'm still contending with this book. I'll have something definitive to say by the end of the fall semester.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Carl Israel

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eliana

  17. 4 out of 5

    j_ay

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ella

  19. 4 out of 5

    Abi Levis

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence J.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jean Gray

  22. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

  23. 5 out of 5

    Katie Cary

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mary Shelton

  25. 5 out of 5

    Debra Redner

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ninge Engelen

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  28. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  29. 4 out of 5

    Leanbh

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

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