Trickster Discourse in Narrative Chance: How Gerald Vizenor Helped Shape My Life in Academia

Allan J. Ryan


As a doctoral student in Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in the early 1990s, and just beginning research on humor in the work of contemporary Native American and Canadian First Nations artists, I chanced upon the book, Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian Literatures, edited by Gerald Vizenor. It was a serendipitous, even fateful discovery. The final chapter in this book, written by Vizenor, explored the concept of “trickster discourse”. I subsequently framed my dissertation as a trickster discourse, a spirited conversation by and about a new generation of indigenous visual artists who, as “compassionate tricksters” (another key Vizenor concept), employed humor and irony and serious play to reimagine Native American experience in the past, present and future.  UBC Press and the University of Washington Press later published the dissertation as a book titled, The Trickster Shift: Humour and Irony in Contemporary Native Art.  Gerald Vizenor wrote a very generous endorsement for the dust jacket, and was later instrumental in the book receiving an American Book Award -- the same award that Gerald received for Griever: An American Monkey King in China. I was deeply honored. In the wake of the book’s success, I was offered the position of New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture at Carleton University in Ottawa, where, for the past fifteen years I have been teaching in the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies and the Department of Art History, and where I host an annual conference on aboriginal arts. At the ninth annual conference in 2010 I had the great pleasure of presenting Gerald Vizenor, the most compassionate trickster I know.  This essay, based on a presentation delivered at a conference in his honor at the University of Vienna in 2014, traces Gerald Vizenor’s impact and influence on my teaching and research over the last two decades.   


Native American; First Nations; Postcolonial; Ojibway; Native art; Native literature; Indigenous pedagogy; compassionate trickster; terminal creed; narrative chance; survivance; Gerald Vizenor; Carl Beam; New Sun; trickster shift; trickster discourse

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Copyright (c) 2016 Allan J. Ryan