Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 3, Summer 2009, pp. 253-254
Kenneth Lincoln's most recent book follows his others in style and content. Here he is concerned with outlining the fusions of contemporary Native American literature and oral tradition. Starting with sections on song, poetry, and lyric, he suggests that he will steer a course between the extremes of imperialism and essentialism. Some readers will appreciate his imaginative, suggestive, free-flowing discussion of oral and literary impulses from Beowulf to the poetry of Sherwin Bitsui. The central chapters focus on what he calls "crossing texts" by some of the best-known Native writers, and the idea of fusion is his guiding principle. Yet to do this, Lincoln disavows the stampede to theory that he has found "dizzying and dismaying" in favor of weaving together disparate personal insights.
For his groundbreaking Native American Renaissance (1983), there was little theory or scholarship to draw on. Even in Indi'n Humor (1993) and Sing with the Heart of a Bear (2000), he was exploring fields new enough that you could forgive him his lack of theory and his disregard for the intellectual traditions bordering his subject; but I find it hard to do with a book that focuses on the classics of Native American literature. His imagination flies freely through these works making one suggestion after another without following them up. His refutation of all theory leaves him with really no logical organization. While he relies on many quotes from Native authors, he also grounds his discussions with mid-twentieth-century anthropologists, not the excellent work done by contemporary Native studies scholars. The insights he offers into Ceremony, The Way to Rainy Mountain, Winter in the Blood, and Love Medicine, for example, have been voiced before and more thoroughly explored, leaving the student of Native American literature wondering if he has read the scholarship, ignored it, or borrowed it without acknowledgment.