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book review


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Angela L. Cotten and Christa Davis Acampora, eds. Cultural Sites of Critical Insight: Philosophy, Aesthetics, and African American and Native American Women’s Writings. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.

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book review

  1. 1. Cultural Sites of Critical Insight: Philosophy, Aesthetics, andAfrican American and Native American Womens WritingsElizabeth ArchuletaThe American Indian Quarterly, Volume 33, Number 1, Winter2009, pp. 161-163 (Review)Published by University of Nebraska PressDOI: 10.1353/aiq.0.0040 For additional information about this article Access Provided by Arizona State University at 12/14/11 5:09PM GMT
  2. 2. Book Reviews Angela L. Cotten and Christa Davis Acampora, eds. Cultural Sites of Critical Insight: Philosophy, Aesthetics, and African American and Native American Women’s Writings. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007. 216 pp. Paper, $23.95. Elizabeth Archuleta, Arizona State UniversityAlthough one does not usually find research on Phillis Wheatley and PaulaGunn Allen in the same book, the essays in Cultural Sites of Critical Insight:Philosophy, Aesthetics, and African American and Native American Women’sWritings contribute to an emerging scholarship that is changing the ways inwhich we examine cross-cultural relationships between Native Americans andAfrican Americans. Angela L. Cotten’s and Christa Davis Acampora’s editedcollection adds to an already existing conversation by Daniel Littlefield, TiyaMiles, Claudio Saunt, James Brooks, Jonathan Brennan, and Matthew Restall,among others, on the historical and cultural exchanges between Native Ameri-cans and African Americans and works that signify on both traditions. Cot-ten and Acampora refer to a “crossblood literary aesthetics” that has grownout of these shared histories of and contact between African Americans andNative Americans, and they hope their collection encourages comparativeapproaches that examine overlapping traditions and cultures as well as aes-thetic and philosophical innovations. Their collection challenges disciplinaryboundaries that discourage comparative investigations of African Americanand Native American literatures. In addition to the editors’ introduction, the volume includes three addi-tional sections entitled “Transformative Aesthetics,” “Critical Revisions,”and “Re(in)fusing Feminism,” suggesting methods for connecting the essayscross-culturally and comparatively. Part 2 uncovers the innovative structurescreated by Paula Gunn Allen, Phillis Wheatley, and Sherley Anne Williams to
  3. 3. express healing, celebration, and their unique visions and experiences. Part 3 explores how Linda Hogan and Alice Walker revise literary and critical tradi- tions, inscribing themselves into and speaking back to psychoanalytic, femi- nist, and Marxist theories. Part 4 examines how the writing of Toni Morrison, Luci Tapahonso, and Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Bonnin) questions feminism’s nar- row focus on gender and sexuality and how their early manifestations excluded race, colonialism, violence, and poverty. The editors note a dearth of scholarship on African American and Native American women’s writing in the fields of aesthetics and philosophy, and their goal is to fill this gap by creating models for future comparative analyses. AnaLouise Keating takes a second look at Allen’s Grandmothers of the Light, defining it as a different kind of self-help book. To distinguish it from other self-help books, Keating refers to Allen’s book as a “womanist self-recovery” book that contains stories of empowerment rather than approaching it as an American Indian text. Elizabeth J. West uncovers in Wheatley’s poetry exam- ples of traditional African cosmologies combined with colonial American reli- gious views, which would become the narrative core of contemporary Afri- can American women writers. Michael A. Anttonucci finds a blues aesthetic expressed in Williams’s poetry, claiming that the blues had more of an aes- thetic and cultural impact on American culture than is currently recognized. The essays in part 3 reveal how distinct literary works signify on other texts. Ellen L. Arnold brings Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms and Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing into dialogue, demonstrating their common goal of cultural recov- ery and healing gained through ecofeminist insights that claim an alliance between women and nature. In separate essays both Barbara S. Tracy and Angela L. Cotten discuss the ways in which Alice Walker’s Meridian signi- fies on or engages in an African American call-and-response ritual with John Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks. By claiming that Walker’s novel is a revision of Black Elk Speaks, Tracy points to Meridian as a multivoiced text that refuses to silence the complexities inherent in multiraced identities. Cotten analyzes Meridian through the lens of Karl Marx’s historical materialism in order to see how Walker shares some of Marx’s perspectives for social change. In compar- ing their views on social struggle Cotten demonstrates the value of compara- tive analysis for enriching Marxian and black radical traditions. Part 4’s essays focus on women-centered themes and insights in Morri- son’s Paradise, Tapahonso’s “Leda and the Cowboy,” and Zitkala-Sa’s autobio- graphical essays published in the Atlantic Monthly. Noelle Morrissette, Mag- gie Romigh, and Margot R. Reynolds, respectively, rely on feminist criticism to reveal its manifestation in the works of women who do not claim feminist leanings. The essays offer some fresh perspectives on well-known works and will162 american indian quarterly/winter 2009/vol. 33, no. 1
  4. 4. prove useful to students and scholars in philosophy, women’s studies, and thehumanities. Nevertheless, I found myself disappointed because the collection’sessays engaged in less of an analysis of the aesthetic similarities and intersec-tions among and between African American and Native American culturesand more in a predictable and traditional approach to literary texts. How haveboth cultures intermingled to create a syncretic African Native American cul-ture, aesthetics, or philosophy? How has this cultural intermixing confoundedattempts to theorize a strictly black or indigenous cultural tradition? Althoughthe editors spoke at length on these subjects, many of the essays left what were,to me, the most interesting issues presented in the introduction unexamined.What is an African Native American aesthetics or philosophy? How does eitherchallenge the academy’s traditional view of each discipline? While these ques-tions remain unanswered, the collection does a good job in presenting newways of thinking about texts that challenge traditional disciplinary divisions. Carolyn O’Bagy Davis. Hopi Summer: Letters from Ethel to Maud. Tucson, AZ: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2007. 160 pp. Paper, $15.95. Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignIn January 1927 Carey E. Melville, a mathematics professor at Clark Univer-sity in Worchester, Massachusetts, his wife, Maud, and their three childrenleft the comforts of their suburban home for a nine-month adventure acrossthe United States. Traveling in a newly purchased Model T Ford, the Melvillesdrove south to Florida and then made the journey out west. In the summer of1927 the Melvilles arrived at the Hopi villages of Sichomovi, Walpi, and Polaccain northeastern Arizona. At Polacca Maud Melville met several Hopi artists,including a Hopi-Tewa pottery maker named Ethel Salyah Muchvo, her hus-band, Wilfred, and their children Minerva and Clifford. Unlike other touristswho had visited the Hopi villages in the past, Maud remained in contact withEthel and her family after the Melvilles returned to their home in New Eng-land. In Hopi Summer historian and biographer Carolyn O’Bagy Davis usesMaud’s journal entries, Ethel’s letters to Maud, letters written by Christianmissionaries, and Hopi oral interviews to tell the story of Ethel’s friendshipwith Maud. However, Hopi Summer is more than a story about a friendshipbetween two very different people. It is a story about survival, death, life, and aHopi women’s determination to care for her family and ill husband. In the late 1920s and 1930s diseases killed many Hopis on the reservation.Ethel’s husband, Wilfred, suffered from tuberculosis, and his illness had a dev-astating effect on their children. Having experienced the pain and sorrow oflosing eleven children to the disease, Ethel reached out to her pahaana (white Book Reviews 163