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Cross-cultural and tribal-centred politics in American Indian studies: assessing a current split in American Indian literary scholarship and re-interpreting Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony and Louise Erdrich's Tracks

By Rossitza Pentcheva Ivanova


The thesis examines the current split in American Indian literary studies between cross-cultural and tribal-centred schools of criticism through analyses of Arnold Krupat's, Louis Owens's and Gerald Vizenor's scholarship, on one side, and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn's and Craig Womack's critical work, on the other. The conflicting critical positions, despite their growing importance, have not received a consistent analysis in the critical discourse. The implications of this controversy for the future of American Indian studies and for the ways in which American Indian literature may be studied and taught have not been examined in depth. Particularly, there is little recognition of the validity of tribal-centred contributions to the field. The research seeks to address such gaps in the current scholarship: it develops a synoptic discussion of the opposing critical positions, assesses their strengths and drawbacks, and proposes a possible resolution of the controversy. The thesis argues that crosscultural scholarship (in conjunction with postcolonial and postmodern theory) has contributed importantly to the understanding of discursive hybridity as a vital aspect of American Indian existence, writing and anticolonial resistance. Yet, cross-cultural criticism has sidelined questions regarding tribal sovereignty discourse and tribal centred identity politics. Tribal-centred scholarship is making an important, and still ignored and misunderstood contribution to American Indian studies because it assists the understanding of these two important categories in American Indian experience and decolonisation. Assessing contributions and omissions of either critical position, the research posits that the current critical split could and should be negotiated to enable a more accurate and comprehensive reading of the political discourses that shape American Indian experience, anticolonial struggles and writing. The research illustrates the controversy and its potential mediation through a re-interpretation of two "representative" American Indian novels: Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony and Louise Erdrich's Tracks. Part One of the research - chapters one, two and three - analyses the debate, while Part Two - chapters four and five - re-reads Ceremony and Tracks

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