Untranslatable Timescapes in James Welch’s Fools Crow and the Deconstruction of Settler Time





settler time, textual resistance, Euro-Western knowledge, indigenous worldviews


Since the nineteenth century, hegemonic Euro-Western ideas of time have constituted it as being linear, progressive, objectifiable, and measurable. What happens if Euro-Western readers are confronted with indigenous temporalities that do not conform to this dominant temporal understanding? In the globally published novel Fools Crow, by Native American Renaissance writer James Welch, past, present, and future are inseparable. These temporal layers constantly interact with each other and influence the story’s course of events. This essay shows how Welch’s temporalizations constitute a fundamental untranslatability in the novel. Its employment of indigenous forms of time are inimical to Euro-Western notions of it and cannot be integrated into the US American idea of “settler time” as embodying and bringing progress. In Fools Crow, Welch refuses to glorify the westward expansion of the USA, during which the novel is set, through the master narratives of the frontier and Manifest Destiny. Instead, Fools Crow offers a fictional account ­­— narrated exclusively from the point of view of indigenous Pikuni protagonists — that depicts the consequences of settler encroachment, the destruction of livelihood, the near-annihilation of whole tribes from epidemics, the massacres. This essay explores the ways in which Fools Crows’ temporal untranslatability advances insights into the economies and hegemonies of Euro-Western knowledge production. It illustrates how the novel deconstructs Euro-Western assumptions of time as self-evident, naturally-given, and universal, contrasting them with indigenous ideas of time as inimical and untranslatable to Euro-Western temporalization. This untranslatability, it concludes, helps to define and contour the limits of Euro-Western knowledge.

Author Biography

Doro Wiese, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

: Doro Wiese, PhD, is a researcher at the Department of English and American Studies at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has trained in literary studies, film studies, and cultural studies at the University of Hamburg and Utrecht University. In her monograph The Powers of the False (Northwestern UP 2014), she explores how literature can help represent histories that would otherwise remain ineffable. Her current research aims to address forms of untranslatability in the highly acclaimed and globally circulated oeuvres of American Indian authors Leslie Marmon Silko, N. Scott Momaday, and James Welch. In particular, this research will explore how their fictional configurations of time and space remain incommensurable for Western readers. Doro Wiese evinces a strong commitment to the fields of critical race studies, postcolonial studies, indigenous studies, and genocide studies. Further interests of hers include the relationship between literature and historiography, New Comparative Literature and untranslatability, intermediality, theories of affect, and critiques of (neo-)colonialism. Contact: wiesed@uni-duesseldorf.de




How to Cite

Wiese, D. (2019). Untranslatable Timescapes in James Welch’s Fools Crow and the Deconstruction of Settler Time. Transmotion, 5(1), 56–75. https://doi.org/10.22024/UniKent/03/tm.537