Consuming, Incarcerating, and “Transmoting” Misery: Border Practice in Vizenor’s Bearheart and Jones’s The Fast Red Road

Cathy Covell Waegner


Drawing on Gerald Vizenor's complex notion of "transmotion" and concepts from carceral theory, an intertextual reading of two rich, initial novels by first and second-generation postmodern Native writers, namely Gerald Vizenor's seminal Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles (1990; first published in 1978 as Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart) and Stehen Graham Jones's The Fast Red Road: A Plainsong (2000), reveals both systemic miseries and strategies for combatting them. In the two novels, brutal imagery and experience of cannibalization, enclosure, and displacement menace the Native protagonists, but, paradoxically, these strong images also offer modes of resourceful and imaginative action - for my purposes here particularly at territorial borders - which enable totemic laughter and viable Native "survivance," to use Vizenor's own much-quoted term.

Recent carceral theory tells us that the mapping of imprisonment must include a differentiated study of "practice" as well as of enclosed space and enforced borders (cf. Dominique Moran, 2015). Indeed, the border crossing in the two books at hand encodes centuries of discriminatory practice based on dangerously fixed stereotypes, demarcation of ethnic boundaries, and binary "terminal creeds" that Gerald Vizenor has always critiqued in his oeuvre. The miserable but epiphanic realization by Pidgin, one of Jones's protagonists, in yet another 'win-or-lose' trap that he "was consumed" (153) echoes on many levels in a synergetic analysis of the two experimental and engagé novels, which nonetheless demonstrate the creativity, transformation, convention defiance, the wisely grotesque clowning and trickery, the imagination involved in crafting and enabling Native transmotion.  


Native American; Transmotion; Postmodern; Border Practice

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Copyright (c) 2017 Cathy Covell Waegner