X-communicated subjects in Native American literature

Travis J. Tanner
Dept. of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine
July, 2010


In this dissertation I develop a theory for reading Native American subjects who are "x-communicated." "X-communication" is my term to describe a form of subjectivity that persists in situations of expulsion. Complicating the more conventional notion of excommunication, or the forced removal from a community, x-communication connotes an emergence of subjectivity within the coordinates of colonialism, but not, importantly, a departure from it. Instead, natives are seen crossing the colonial context that binds them. Each chapter explores the thematic of crossing by showing how native subjects negotiate colonialism in different ways. In chapter 1, I take up the topic of translation in the autobiographies of Charles Eastman to show how he reconciles Sioux culture with Western culture without compromising his indigenous values and beliefs. In chapter 2, I look at "disappointment" to theorize cultural survivability in two modern novels by D'Arcy McNickle. "Disappointment" is my term for the tropes of dissimulation in the novels that only seem to endorse the myth of the vanishing Indian; in truth, native subjects subvert various colonial disappointments in ways unseen by the government officials that populate his narratives. In chapter 3, I explore the notion of "enjoinment" in the poetry of Simon Ortiz. A vexed term, it speaks to the ways in which natives are prohibited from the official narrative of history yet insistent on their presence within it. Finally, in chapter 4, I explore what I call "outrageous speech" in Sherman Alexie's controversial novel, Indian Killer . A form of speech that appears to be motivated by moral outrage, it actually exposes the limitations of anger as an effective agent of change, while suggesting how language can be a medium for working-through anger in more productive ways. Together these chapters outline a new theory of subjectivity for indigenous peoples. In this context, I emphasize how the Native American narratives under consideration embrace--each in a different manner--a future oriented politics grounded in literature's decolonizing potential.