GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘The Dangers of the Appropriation Critique’ By Adrian L. Jawort

“But the commercial success of Native literature proved to be a double-edged sword. After the mass-market success of the 1990 film Dances with Wolves, a memoir by Cherokee author Forrest Carter, The Education of Little Tree, was rereleased in 1991, becoming a best seller and even garnering the praise of Oprah Winfrey. Except there was no Forrest Carter: the name was the pseudonym of KKK leader Asa Earl Carter, credited with writing segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace’s infamous 1963 line, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” Stories of whites appropriating Native American stories and identities are all too common; ironically, Carter’s feel-good memoir became a bellwether for what was expected from Native writers and poets. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a white writer named Tim Barrus wrote under the pseudonym Nasdijj and racked up numerous literary commendations. Such imposters created suspicious and defensive conversations about who is or isn’t a Native writer. As such, what does or doesn’t count as Native art is sometimes defined by a narrow anthropological lens and a pressure to produce something “authentic.” Conversely, those imposters created a track that many Native artists used to become more commercially accessible.

So it’s about time the unique and diverse viewpoints, ways of being, and humor of Native people were transferred to a popular genre like science fiction. What happens when one goes, as Roanhorse does, beyond the safe and comfortable zone of 20th-century Native literature, into a place where a character’s strength is a propensity for killing and violence via a dark power bestowed upon her? When guarded artistic representation becomes challenged, the wall erected to protect tribal peoples from what they deem as discouragement and condescension from outsiders gets built taller. Distinctions between traditional and modern art styles becomes blurred, critique becomes defensive with politicized motives as primary, and the artist’s aesthetic vision is dismissed.

Because Roanhorse is of mixed African-American and Native (the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo tribe) descent, Storm of Locusts caused a stir among a collective of Navajo writers and academics regarding who should be allowed to write about tribes and cultures beyond their own. And while legitimate concerns about potentially harmful stereotypes should always be raised, the framework for what’s considered appropriation has grown significantly broader and wider in recent years, casting a shadow over the YA fiction world, where Roanhorse’s book has also been placed for marketing purposes.

For instance, the Chinese-American writer Amélie Wen Zhao’s novel Blood Heir faced a firestorm of criticism by fellow YA authors (and a “Twitter mob”) for alleged racism because sci-fi slave characters were described as “bronze.” As such, it was also deemed appropriation for a Chinese-American writer to include implications of African-American slavery in her book. Zhao clarified that the slavery in her book was meant to “represent a specific critique of the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country.” Eventually, however, Zhao relented to the intimidation: though Blood Heir had been scheduled for a June 2019 release, the author pulled her own book in January. The book’s fate is at this point uncertain; as one literary agent told Vulture, “No one wants to be called a racist, or sexist, or homophobic. That stink doesn’t wash off.” The case is the same in Native art circles: being deemed a cultural appropriator is a mark generally reserved for bilagáana people and is considered on par with being a plagiarist.

There have always been grumblings against white writers like Barrus and the late Tony Hillerman, who wrote a long-running, award-winning Navajo Tribal Police mystery series (which his daughter Anne Hillerman has continued) and was honored formerly by the Navajo tribal government as “Special Friend” of the tribe. As a Native American writer who lived on the Navajo Reservation for several years, is married into the Navajo tribe, and frequents the area often, however, Roanhorse seems an odd lightning rod (pun intended) for accusations of appropriation.

While there are cross-cultural similarities among the 573 federally recognized America Indian tribes and Alaskan Native Villages within the boundaries of the United States, it must be understood that indigenous identities are not of a one-size-fits-all, pan-indigenous nature but have diverse cultural, geographical, and language differences.

 

 

While no work is immune from critique, the Native American art world is witnessing a dangerous trend of “appropriation” arguments escalating toward de facto censorship. Many people will outright agree with and defend the statement by Joy Harjo, a Muscogee Creek and US poet laureate, who wrote in a 2017 blog post entitled “Erasure,” “What about enlarging the purview of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 to include the literary?” This act was initially proposed to prevent forgeries of Native arts and crafts. The penalty for a first-time offense is a fine of up to $250,000 in addition to a five-year prison term; a business could face up to a $1 million fine for producing counterfeit crafts. Suggesting that the IACA apply to literature would put potentially controversial art under the government’s microscope. Unenrolled tribal descendants who don’t appease the colonized concepts of blood quantum requirements would fall under this act — unless they catered to political pressure to appease cultural committees like Saad Beez Hózhǫ́’s propaganda-like definition of art should be.

While Harjo’s suggestion was made with the best of intentions — whoever thinks their intentions are meant to hurt? — her proposal could theoretically ban Roanhorse’s books from being produced: under those rules, she wouldn’t have the authority to write about Navajo culture. While it’s unlikely this suggestion would ever be deemed constitutional, it must be noted that on most Indian reservations there are few legally coded free speech rights, so attitudes like these are not an anomaly. (For instance, a Blackfeet man once sat in jail for five days after a post on Facebook complaining about tribal corruption.) Moreover, consider the optics of the US poet laureate advocating government control of literature-as-crime, while those nodding in agreement or condoning it by silence are not right-wing fascists but academics and fellow Native American writers. This is not only failing to see the forest for the trees, but also setting a wildfire to burn it down. “

[Via]

“Thanks to the postmodernists, much of the discussion of authorship in the last half century has focused on the medium of film.”

‘Thanks to the postmodernists, much of the discussion of authorship in the last half century has focused on the medium of film. This is, it would seem, largely owing to the fact that the dozens or hundreds of individuals involved in the making of a film collectively challenge the notion of films having a singular author—an auteur. More recently, this challenge has returned to other forms of art, including literature. A trend in postmodernism is to assert that each of these individuals is an author of the work in question or, alternatively, that there is as such no one who deserves the title of author. Harold Love suggests that “we need to recognize that most novels are much more like films than we are prepared to acknowledge in deserving a long roll-out of credits at the end.” Nevertheless, despite the recognition of the valuable input of others, we continue to apply the title of author and to do so very selectively.

More recently, philosophers on the analytic side of the analytic and continental divide have taken up the authorship issue with particular focus on distinguishing contributors and others from true authors, working to determine what makes two or more contributors to a given work joint or co-authors and leaving others to be, at best, acknowledged for their helpful input….

… An author is one with the ultimate responsibility for the form and content of the work, including its artistic and, where applicable, moral qualities. Put another way, we hold the author or authors responsible for the ideas being expressed and the form of that expression. This responsibility, I would suggest, arises from the author’s power to select and arrange elements as constitutive of the work.

… The difference between multiple authorship and co-authorship, I suggest, comes back to the issue of responsibility. Does an author take responsibility for just his contribution to the work or to the work as a whole? If I author an entry for the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, for example, I do not take responsibility for anything beyond my contribution. Rather, my contribution makes up a discrete, identifiable unit of authorship and can be separated from the remainder of the Encyclopedia without serious effect upon the rest of the larger work. And this seems true even if I make a joint commitment with a body of other philosophers to build the Encyclopedia in this way. If I co-author an article with a colleague, however—as I have on a number of occasions with Craig Derksen—this is not usually the case: my contribution does not consist of a discrete unit that may be separated from my co-author’s, leaving a unified whole. As such, each he and I take responsibility for the work as a whole. Indeed, my co-author and I signal this by not identifying which elements were written by whom. In general, I think it reasonable to suggest, first, that where more than one individual can be identified as meeting the conditions for authorship of a given work, that work has more than one author. Where that work is made up of discrete, identifiable units of authorship, that work is multiply authored. And where that work is a unified whole without discrete, identifiable units of authorship, that work is co-authored.’

-Darren Hudson Hick, “Authorship, Co-Authorship, and Multiple Authorship.” Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism. May2014, Vol. 72 Issue 2, p147-156. 10p.

[When a book cover has more than one pen name smacked on it]

[ How to design it:

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And, most of all, make sure there are bare breasts (geared or otherwise) on the cover to distract from your explicit efforts.]

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

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