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Humor in Contemporary Native North American Literature

Humor in Contemporary Native North American Literature: Reimagining Nativeness

Eva Gruber
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Humor in Contemporary Native North American Literature
    Book Description:

    In contrast to the popular cliché of the "stoic Indian," humor has always been important in Native North American cultures. Recent Native literature testifies to the centrality of this tradition. Yet literary criticism has so far largely neglected these humorous aspects, instead frequently choosing to concentrate on representations of trauma and cultural disruption, at the risk of reducing Native characters and Native cultures to the position of the tragic victim. This first comprehensive study explores the use of humor in today's Native writing, focusing on a wide variety of texts spanning all genres. It combines concepts from cultural studies and humor studies with approaches by Native thinkers and critics, analyzing the possible effects of humorous forms of representation on the self-image and identity formation of Native individuals and Native cultures. Humor emerges as an indispensable tool for engaging with existing stereotypes: Native writers subvert degrading clichés of "the Indian" from within, reimagining Nativeness in a celebration of laughing survivors, "decolonizing" the minds of both Native and non-native readers, and contributing to a renewal of Native cultural identity. This book will be of interest to scholars and students of Native Studies both literary and cultural. Due to its encompassing approach, it will also provide a point of entry for the wider readership interested in contemporary Native writing. Eva Gruber is assistant professor in the American Studies section of the Department of Literature at the University of Konstanz, Germany.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-799-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    E. G.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Commenting on representations of Native people¹ in Western fiction, Margaret Atwood observes that diverse attributes were assigned to them. However, “lacking among them was funny. . . . On the whole Natives were treated by almost everyone with utmost gravity, as if they were either too awe-inspiring as blood-curdling savages or too sacrosanct in their status of holy victim to allow any comic reactions either to them or by them. Furthermore, nobody ever seems to have asked them what if anything they found funny” (1990, 243–44). Looking at a wide range of texts from genres as diverse as fiction,...

  5. 1: Humor in Native North American Literature and Culture: Survey
    (pp. 7-18)

    From first contact up to the present, Native people in North America have been represented and perceived in Euro-American accounts in terms that, even today, make the expression “Native humor” appear almost an oxymoron. Indians were either fierce, brutish savages or noble, tragic victims — but certainly not funny. This lack of general, and to a large extent also scholarly, recognition of Native humor constitutes a precarious falsification, especially when considering the prevalence of humor in virtually every aspect of Native life. As Vine Deloria observes:

    It has always been a great disappointment to Indian people that the humorous side of...

  6. 2: Reimagining Nativeness through Humor: Concepts and Terms
    (pp. 19-54)

    The following chapter further explores the connections between identity, representation, and humor in contemporary Native North American writing. The discussion proceeds in four consecutive steps: First, I take a brief look at the factors that influence Native identity; second, I analyze the interconnections between representation, identity, and (Native) literature; and third, I discuss concepts or models from literary criticism and cultural studies that may be productively applied to describe Native writers’ strategies of engaging with representations of Nativeness. I conclude by looking at the role that humor plays in the sphere delineated by these parameters.

    The “overarching question of cultural...

  7. 3: Expressing Humor in Contemporary Native Writing: Forms
    (pp. 55-115)

    After these theoretical considerations, it is high time we look at some texts. While a formal analysis of humor in contemporary Native literature cannot (and should not) be conducted in disregard of thematic issues, in the following I focus predominantly on the means and strategies that authors employ to achieve comic effects — the question of how humor is conveyed. The topics, functions, and effects of such humor, that is, the question of what such humor deals with and why it is used in a specific context, is explored in chapter four. As pointed out above, most of the writers discussed...

  8. 4: Humor at Work in Contemporary Native Writing: Issues and Effects
    (pp. 116-223)

    Based on the theoretical considerations of identity and humor in chapter two, this analysis focuses on the major thematic and functional foci of humor in contemporary Native writing. While the unifying idea of reimagining Nativeness through humor runs through the entire chapter, the thematic range covered by humor in contemporary Native texts is far from homogeneous. Accordingly, rather than following a strict analytical pattern, the discussion has to accommodate the respective context. Humor is, after all, both a reaction to and a form of interaction in specific situations. Parameters for the analyses may include: the raw material or occasion that...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 224-228)

    As these epigraphs indicate, this study took into consideration not only the delight and magic that humor in contemporary Native writing sparks, but also its powerfully performative potential. Rather than only providing light-hearted entertainment or diversion (which of course it also does), humor in contemporary Native writing constitutes a strategic textual device: It promotes intercultural understanding — if often through humorous criticism — and participates in the positioning of the Native subject and Native communities in an intra- and intercultural context. Humor thus deals with serious issues, performs serious work, and should therefore be taken seriously. It is not irreconcilable with the...

  10. Appendix: The State of Research on Humor in Native Writing
    (pp. 229-234)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 235-256)
  12. Index
    (pp. 257-266)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-267)