Gerald Vizenor, Introduction from Fugitive Poses

Citation: Vizenor, Gerald. “Introduction: Tragic Wisdom.” Fugitive Poses. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. 1-22.

Argument  Survivance through Indigenous stories is key here. “Natives have sustained over many centuries a dialogic circle of natural reason, resistance, the tease of presence, and communicative mediation over names, histories, and sovereignty” (22). Empire constructs Indigenous presence as an indian absence through things that sometimes look like censorship, or a restorying of Indigeneity.  

Scope/Organization/Main Points: 

This introduction is made of anecdotes recounting his time teaching in China (especially his encounters with censorship) as well as teaching in the U.S. Implicit in his telling of his encounters with censorship – especially what he deems trickster stories – in both countries is the concept of “Native stories” as “the traces of natural reason, not the spoils of surveillance” (1).

There seems to be an imperial bent in the silencing of anti-capitalist stories, and the promotion of Native stories as evidence of a tragic past rather than ongoing survivance – as Vizenor puts it, the “natural reason, survivance, and the transmotion of native sovereignty” (1 emphasis in original). “Missionaries and social scientists have been the masters of moralistic and causal translations of trickster stories for more than a century” (10). The way that censorship works here is interesting, because it is not only the censoring of production, but a prohibition on sharing. At Tianjin University, Vizenor was unable to supply his students with his chosen texts. At UC Berkeley, department heads removed books from the decorative display case, which, much like the way that national narratives work, edits the story that the institution tells about itself.

Art and aesthetics make an appearance. Thomas Jefferson wrote in Notes on the State of Virginia equates civility and imagination with art: according to Jefferson, “blacks” had “never seen even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture” (11). Imperialism is aesthetic. “natives were named in connection with the vast distances of an unexploited nation, and as a potential threat to the government. […] The absence of the indian in the histories of this nation is an aesthetic victimry” (12).  Whereas “Indians are the romantic absence of natives” (14), the “stories of survivance are an active presence. […] The native stories of survivance are successive and natural estates; survivance is an active repudiation of dominance, tragedy, and victimry.” Moreover, “Native transmotion is survivance, a reciprocal ues of nature, not a monotheistic, territorial sovereignty. Native stories of survivance are the creases of transmotion and sovereignty” (15).

Vizenor has some input regarding treaties: “The many treaties with natives are the documents that secure traces of transmotion and, at the same time, modernist reason of sovereignty. Treaties were historical notice and evacuation, but not mere gratuities or benefactions; treaties are both concessionary and complementary. Today, treaties are a presence, the recurrence of transmotion and intrinsic native sovereignty” (16).

Points of Importance/Interest:

  • His discussion of art, stories and treaties as mechanisms of survivance
  • The way that censorship works not only to stifle individual actors but to prevent circulation and engagement, perhaps even the agency of the stories (kept out of sight with no index)
  • Treaties as presence
  • Transmotion and intrinsic native sovereignty (16)
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