Like "Reeds through the Ribs of a Basket": Native Women Weaving Stories
Reading any literature we translate the textual symbols. We reanimate them to give them meaning. But can we translate the hieroglyphs of a Native American system with the interpretive tools of a North American or continental literary or scholastic tradition? For example, the hierograms of Indian expression, the sacred symbols, stem from a particular worldview that attributes to words and sounds a spiritual element. Can we "read" these symbols correctly in a secular literary translation? The pictures we carry of literary forms, along with our glossary of common literary terms cause us to read in certain ways and not in others. We come to texts with preestablished interpretive systems. Contemporary theory enforces a certain reading of Native literature. It may not necessarily be a false reading. I believe, however, it is incomplete.
Since Indian texts best reflect the cultural center from which they emanate, we would do well to look to the texts themselves for essential cues to reading. As Terry Eagleton suggests, "literary texts are 'code-transgressive' as well as 'code-confirming': they may teach us new ways of reading, not just reinforce the ones with which we come equipped" (125). The works of Native American writers both inadvertently and self-consciously embody literary processes and genres unlike those of the old canon. Many Indian authors have chosen purposefully to ignore standard rules and forms ill suited to Native storytelling. They strive to introduce different codes. Their works teach readers and critics new ways of reading and interacting with voices on the page. The work of Native women writers especially carries a new vision as it refuses to separate the literary and academic from the sacred and the daily, as it brings to the text the unpaginated experiences of contemporary tribal reality. Writing by Native women remains infused with supraliterary intentions. As Linda Hogan proclaims in "Neighbors": "This is the truth, not just a poem" (Savings 65).
From the Essay "Like 'Reeds through the Ribs of a Basket': Native Women Weaving Stories" in
Other Sisterhoods: Literary Theory and U.S. Women of Color (1998)
Used with permission of the author.