Date of Degree

9-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor

Kandice Chuh

Committee Members

Steven Kruger

Ammiel Alcalay

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Indigenous Studies | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Religion

Keywords

Louise Erdrich, Tomson Highway, Anishinaabe Literature, Cree Literature, Algonquian Literature, decolonial literature, settler colonialism, United States, Canada

Abstract

My dissertation asks what the decolonial possibilities of fiction are in the context of the settler colonial imaginaries particular to the United States and Canada. The ongoing process of settler colonialism demands various forms of conversion from Indigenous people: ecological/land based, religious, educational, legal, familial, but the construct of “conversion” obscures Indigenous worldviews, and indeed worlds, which function according to different principles. I interpret Erdrich and Highway's work in the context of Anishinaabe and Cree narratives and story-structures. These offer examples of what can constitute broader decolonial imaginaries, through which perception and creation of other, more liveable worlds is possible. Fiction by Indigenous writers, I argue, acts as the expressions and creative tools of worlds that do exist, but, according to the truth-claims of settler colonial ontologies, are disavowed and suppressed.

The first chapter exposes weetigo institutions of Euroamerican settler colonialism through analysis of Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway and The Round House by Louise Erdrich. Wîhtikowipayi, the process of absorbing, accepting, and enacting cannibalistic appetites, with its gross misrecogition of others and insatiable violent greed, is a conversion demanded and created by settler institutions. The wîhtikowipayi of settler colonial institutions, then, facilitates not just individual persons becoming wîhtikow, but the production of settler colonial society itself as a process of weetigo worlding, which is how I name a the creation and maintenance of an ongoing network of political structures, nations, and epistemologies sustained precisely, if paradoxically, by these self-and-other-destructive greeds.

In the second chapter I look at the figure of Jesus and how people relate to him in Erdrich and Highway.In Highway, Jesus’ role as an instrument as well as a victim of violence, as well as the potential grotesquerie of the invitation to be “like” him, is more present than in Erdrich, while in Erdrich the potential variety of Jesus as enfleshed is slippery and startling, always in flux. Since orthodox Christianity assumes an all-encompassing worldview that contains, explains, and ordains all of space and time, literary interactions with Jesus according to radically different terms can make perceptible Indigenous worlds that are not contained by nor comprehensible within settler ontological assumptions.

The third chapter explores the how both Highway and Erdrich feature the Eucharist as a model of consumption that both diverges from and intersects with weetigo consumption. The relationship I am tracing centers around Eucharistic miracles: In scenes in Erdrich and Highway’s novels, the bread and wine change into edible meat. In both novels, though in very different ways, the person who experiences the miracle is on a gradual trajectory away from Catholic orthodoxy, and will eventually recognize and celebrate their immersion in Anishinaabe and Cree cosmology, respectively, as more significant than their Catholicism.

The fourth chapter looks at Erdrich’s latest novel, Future Home of the Living God, which describes a combined ecological, reproductive, governmental, and evolutionary dystopia. Future Home of the Living God is a narrative of and about inheritances--cyclical, punctuated, eruptive--nested within each other and operating on wildly different scales in terms of space, time, and impact. Future Home demonstrates how settler colonial nations depend upon a cycle of inheritance that is punctuated and eruptive. It halts along in repetitions that are both remarkably consistent in their ideologies and impacts, and remarkably flexible in how those ideologies and impacts are framed.

Through the stories of these Indigenous writers, I find a relationship of conversation that is counterposed to the transformative and destructive conversions demanded by Christian rules and by settler colonial institutions and imaginaries. The potential of conversation among incommensurable and disparate worlds that cannot be collapsed together at all without violence, nor fully even with genocidal violence across centuries, is itself small, partial, and particular. These attributes, I claim and hope, also make it potentially powerful, efficacious, and outside of the way coloniality continually frames and thinks about itself, and thus can make perceptible that which always exists outside of that world.

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