Beyond Bounds: Cross-Cultural Essays on Anglo, American Indian, & Chicano Literature

By Barry, Nora Baker | MELUS, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Beyond Bounds: Cross-Cultural Essays on Anglo, American Indian, & Chicano Literature


Barry, Nora Baker, MELUS


Beyond Bounds: Cross-Cultural Essays on Anglo, American Indian, & Chicano Literature. Robert Franklin Gish. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1996. xiv + 170 pages. $24.95 cloth.

Robert Franklin Gish declares a personal focus for his text in his Introduction: "These essays about Anglo, Indian, and Chicano literature reflect certain aspects of my own life and values, as a student of literature, a writer, and a person." He is concerned with the protean nature of personal, professional, and ethnic boundaries. As a son of American Indian parents and as a citizen of New Mexico, he sees himself as beyond all shifting boundaries. Although this personal focus is asserted strongly in the "Introduction," Gish sends mixed signals within the text when he refers to various critical theories--new historicism, magic realism, for example--but does not thoroughly explore them in relation to the texts he discusses. He gives very general introductions to each section but then moves to a very specific analysis with little middle ground.

As the title suggests, the text is divided into three sections with a brief introduction to each section. The first and third sections have connections to the Southwest. The second section seems, therefore, out of "place" in that the Native American writers Gish chooses to discuss are not from the Southwest. His book would be more cohesive, and more useful to teachers, if he had discussed Leslie Marmon Silko or some other American Indian writers from that area. As is, his readers cross boundaries which may be political popular but which leave them feeling disoriented and puzzled by Gish's choices. He does tell us that "Earlier versions of some of these essays have appeared previously" in various listed publications; however, he does not give us dates of publication or specific journals for each essay. Apparently, this text is loosely organized on the boundary theme because Gish is revising and republishing articles in book form and using the crossing boundaries metaphor to rationalize the disparate sections. This reader wishes he had spent more time on arguing and analyzing the rationalization; as is, the argument is weak and appears to be superficial.

In spite of these criticisms, interesting ideas appear in these essays.

"Part One: Anglo Visitors" is intriguing because the Anglo writers discussed--Charles F. Lummis, Erna Fergusson, Harvey Fergusson, and Witter Bynner--are often neglected and even unknown to many. This section will be of interest to teachers who want to bring into their classrooms views of the Southwest and its peoples by Anglos who visited or came to live there from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Gish is often forgiving of their cultural misreadings or what many would term "racist" views and allows them to speak often in their own voices so that we can understand their loving responses to the beauty of the land they encountered. He is particularly effective in defending these writers against the indictment of easterners such as Stanley Walker in the 1954 New Yorker and in convincing us that Walker's envisioning of these writers as victims of a landscape who end up with a style he calls "`New Mexico baroque'" is erroneous and unfair.

In "Part Two: Indian Voices," Gish presents essays on the works of Blackfeet/Gros Ventre poet and novelist James Welch and on the poet Ray A. …

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