Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Cutting into Diane Glancy's Ghost Dance

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Cutting into Diane Glancy's Ghost Dance

Article excerpt

Those of my children who doubt will be left in undesirable places, where they will be lost and wander around until they believe and learn the songs and dances of the ghosts.

"I Bring You Word From Your Fathers the Ghosts."

Kicking Bear

Occasionally Shosoni Indians visited [Ghost Dance] congers in Nevada. One such visitor was Egon Edmo Bonatsie (1872-1939). He went on horseback to [...] western Nevada to take part in sprinting races, and afterwards attended a Ghost Dance, led by a woman. This dance terminated in what he considered a fraud: a supposed dead woman appeared in buckskin clothes and moccasins and shook hands with the dancers. However, a young man peeped into the leader's tent after the ceremony and saw how her daughter took off the dead woman's clothes.

Belief and Worship in Native North America

Ake Hultkrantz

When asked in A 2002 interview to comment on indigenous literary criticism, the Cherokee-identified writer and critic Diane Glancy responded, "I could give you one statement about the American Native, which is that we do not agree on anything. [...] Who can write, and who can't, and what you can write--these are very debatable questions. We, as writers, get into big arguments. It's war in Indian Country, it is!" (Andrews 658). Glancy's characterization of the debate in 2002 seems good-natured, but it elides her own already-polarizing role in this debate. While her career has been distinguished by many awards and honours, (1) her work has also provoked an extreme range of critical response: from puzzled non-engagement (Krupat 2005), (2) to damning faint praise (Justice 2004), to outright character assassination and charges of ethnic fraud (Rathbun 1997). The polarizing effect of Glancy's work, I will argue, is largely due to the vexed subjectivity that she explores outside or against collective cultural revitalization. To illustrate her handling of this subjectivity, this paper will focus on the use Glancy makes of the nineteenth-century Ghost Dance movement as a metaphor for indigenous identity. The paradox that Glancy refuses to resolve, and one that I will focus on here, is that the nineteenth-century Ghost Dance's revelation, its divine certainty, is a story woven out of performances, texts, and ghosts: three things that are inherently ambiguous in their expression of what it means to be human.

Diane Glancy would be, according to Kicking Bear's opening admonishment, a particularly doubtful "child." Her critical and creative explorations of mixed-blood identity often focus on indeterminacy and doubt as states of being, and her right to speak for indigenous peoples has frequently been (and continues to be) challenged by critics and other artists. (3) As someone who was raised "white" and who later came to explore her Cherokee heritage as an adult, she has frequently been criticized as someone whose ideas about indigenous subjectivity are more imaginative than born of experience. And, admittedly, some of her more playful pronouncements about her own creative process can leave her open to these charges: "As I traveled over the land those [Cherokee] voices were there. I never heard them with my ear, but in my imagination. For all my books I drive and pick up rocks. I have a wonderful collection of rocks, and I have a wonderful collection of voices in all of my books" (Andrews 651). If there is a common thread to the negative or skeptical criticism of Glancy and her work, it is the charge that she is overly fond of "absence." While acknowledging that Glancy's 2002 novel The Mask Maker was "provocative in content and richly textured in form," Cherokee-identified critic Daniel Heath Justice ultimately felt that "the book is itself something of a mask. [...] fundamentally defined more by absence than presence" ("Review" 74). In a far more ad hominem vein, non-indigenous critic Paul Rathbun, (4) in his 1997 discussion of Glancy's theatrical work, attacks Glancy as an ethnic charlatan: "Glancy's own authority hinges explicitly upon unfounded assumptions, assumptions which present Native dramaturgy as an absence rather than an ideologically obscured invisibility. …

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