1The Woman Who Watches Over the World, Linda Hogan’s “native memoir,” opens with the story of a clay woman that Hogan saw at a museum gift shop in San Martin, Mexico. The figure appealed to Hogan’s imagination as it offered an apt illustration of a powerful female healer who protected the world with her own body and at the same time, being made of clay, represented the connection between all first peoples and the earth. Hogan had the clay woman shipped to her home but, unfortunately, it arrived broken. Despite numerous efforts to fix the figure, it remained fragmented: “Her legs were broken off, the gray interior clay exposed beneath the paint. I glued them back on. Then she began to fall apart in other ways. Her nose broke. Soon one of the hands fell off.” (18) However, Hogan’s initial sense of disappointment was soon replaced by the growing realization that the broken figure in fact best communicated the truth about the state of the world: “Yes, the woman who watches over us is as broken as the land, as hurt as the flesh people. She is a true representation of the world she flies above.” (18)
2This article aims to demonstrate how the initial metaphor of the clay woman’s broken body that opens the text establishes Hogan’s preoccupation with inventing a language invested with the corporeal, appropriate for vocalizing the distinct character of Native experience and how this metaphor further develops into a concept of history that is inextricably connected with ancestral geography, replicated, like DNA, in contemporary Native bodies. Hogan offers an understanding of history expressed in terms of geographical locations as well as bodily experiences and sensations that are remembered, passed on and inherited in the same way genetic material is transmitted from one agent to another. Hence, history, memory and indigenous bodies become integral and integrated components of contemporary Native American identity.
3Clearly, the invocation of history as written into or derived from the body echoes N. Scott Momaday’s concept of “blood memory,” first articulated in the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, House Made of Dawn, and developed in later works. In the sermon delivered by the Priest of the Sun, which includes numerous autobiographical references, Aho, the priest’s Kiowa grandmother, is said to have “lived out her long life in the shadow of Rainy Mountain, the immense landscape of the continental interior,” and “all of its seasons and its sounds—lay like memory in her blood. She could tell of the Crows, whom she had never seen, and of the Black Hills, where she had never been.” (119, emphasis added) While she was never physically present in the Black Hills and had never seen the Crows, the grandmother remembers these geographical locations and people as their memory is transmitted from the older generation directly through her blood. Remembering, or blood memory, thus becomes a corporeal as much as a mental sensation, divorced from temporal and spatial situatedness, facilitating and authenticating identification with indigenity.
- 1 See Pauline Wakeham, Taxidermic Signs: Reconstructing Aboriginality (Minneapolis: University of Min (...)
4Interestingly, as Chadwick Allen rightly observes in his persuasive Blood Memory, in Momaday’s later works, the concept of blood memory becomes a successful and subversive trope of challenging and deconstructing the discourse of blood quantum introduced by the U.S. government in an attempt to “systematize and regulate Indian identities.” (Allen 177) Historically, the blood quantum discourse was developed in treaties and later reinforced by the General Allotment Act of 1887, which in practice embraced the utilization of the blood quantum in proving tribal affiliation.1 Later, apart from its political applications, the category developed into a tool of identifying “authentic” Indian identity, thus fulfilling the fantasies of both racial purity and mythical Indianness as constructed by early-nineteenth-century white ethnographers and photographers. Pure-blood Indians were seen as “more authentic” than mixed-bloods, and thus better communicated the essence of Indian life or rather of what it was imagined to be. Today, as many historians and activists observe, “standards of blood quantum represent a fundamental attack on the sovereignty of American Indian nations” and remain a site of conflict for native tribes in independently “determining their own criteria for tribal membership.” (Allen 177)
5In Momaday’s texts, as Allen claims, the blood quantum discourse becomes subversively reappropriated to collapse the government’s reductive and racist categories delineating the boundaries of “authentic” Indian identity. Momaday’s transformation of blood quantum discourse into the blood memory concept is deeply rooted in indigenous epistemologies and individual experience. “These include,” Allen writes, “the assertion of an unmediated relationship to indigenous land bases (whether or not those lands remain under indigenous control), the continuation of oral traditions (whether or not those traditions continue in Native languages), and the power of the indigenous writer’s imagination to establish communion with ancestors.” (178) For Momaday, blood memory is comprised of native spirituality, narrative and geography, and it subsequently effectuates the collapse of spatial and temporal differences. In his texts, not only does Momaday physically revisit geographically important locations but, more importantly, he also imaginatively situates himself “in this landscape, remembers the stories, and in the remembering imagines himself as playing a part in them.” (181) The most succinct example of blood memory at work is found in The Names, which, apart from numerous stories tracing Momaday’s kinship with the Kiowa people, includes a reprint of his birth certificate confirming, according to the blood quantum logic, his Kiowa identity. It quickly becomes clear, however, that it is not the government-issued document that constitutes and describes Momaday’s Native identity. On the contrary, it is acts of storytelling which situate the speaker in the sacred geography of his ancestors and collapse the temporal distance between the speaker and his kinship from pre-contact times, establishing a continuum between the past and the present moment. Thus, Momaday’s narrative “strongly suggests that he considers blood memory a marker of his Kiowa identity that is superior to blood quantum.” (186-7) Similarly, another idea that downplays the authenticity of race conceived in biomedical terms is the concept of the “imagined identity,” famously presented in “The Man Made of Words.” “We are what we imagine,” writes Momaday. “Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves. Our best destiny is to imagine, at least, completely, who and what, and that we are. The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to go unimagined.” (1970, 55) The skill of imagination allows him to write himself “out of the room” and “out of the time” and situate himself in the Kiowa realities which as a twentieth-century Native writer, he had not and could never have visited. It is again the Kiowa experience that he imagines sharing or remembers thanks to blood memory rather than blood quantum that authenticates Momaday’s belonging to his clan.
6The Woman Who Watches Over the World is informed by the Momadayan concept of blood memory which is here developed into a discourse of history/memory, similarly derived from the blood and from the body and dependent on storytelling and landscape. In the opening preceding the text, entitled “Geography: An Introduction,” Hogan states: “As an Indian woman, I have always wondered why others want to enter our lives, to know the private landscape inside a human spirit, the map existing inside tribal thoughts and traditional knowledge.” (14, emphasis added) Not coincidentally, in the very first sentence Hogan introduces geographical terminology which is applied in the context of the mental and spiritual phenomena, tribal as well as personal. In this way, Hogan implies and will later further explain that maps are not merely physical objects referring to actual geographical locations but they are to be understood in a wider context: maps are memories, stories as well as indigenous bodies, with blood and cells inside them leading to places, real or imagined, and on another level to traditions and systems of knowledge which constitute indigenous identities. Moreover, Hogan draws the boundary between “us” and the other indigenous and non-indigenous bodies, and it is clearly the latter group that is lost and needs the map that is in the possession of the Native peoples. However, while indigenous epistemologies are undeniably privileged as less abusive and corrupt, Hogan’s writing is far from presenting Native America as an idyllic landscape unmarred by disease and disaster.
7The broken body of the clay woman which could not be fixed suggests an illness whose symptoms are devouring the world’s once healthy body. The signs of this disintegration are observed everywhere: not only metaphorically in the fragmented structure of Hogan’s text but literally in the destruction of ecosystems, uncontrolled technological advancement at the expense of the natural environment, the emergence of new disease patterns which reflect contemporary lifestyles, and the dehumanization of interpersonal interactions. Although observable everywhere, Hogan concentrates on the symptoms of the world’s loss of integrity in Native communities which, struggling with the disintegration of indigenous philosophies and social dysfunction, are faced with the problem of rebuilding their Native identities and communal networks in the contemporary context. Providing examples from the life of her own family and the Chickasaw community, Hogan enumerates the symptoms of illness that afflict Native Americans today. The vocabulary that is consistently employed is one of violent fragmentation and it inevitably evokes images of the injured body. In the chapter entitled “Falling,” Hogan describes her struggle with alcoholism, which at the time seemed to be the best cure for the “inward pain” and “a broken heart.” (54) In another she reveals the story of her adopted daughters, Jeanette and Marie, the Lakota girls who, after several unfortunate episodes with different foster parents, were finally placed in Hogan’s family. The conspicuous signs of malnutrition and child neglect are a manifestation of a more serious problem which, again, is expressed in terms of fragmentation. The girls’ experiences compose, in Hogan’s words, “the fragmented stories of the broken children.” (72) Jeanette “was a five-year-old girl with a stubborn streak,” Hogan writes. “She was a wisp of a child with thick long black hair falling down her back, as if all her bodily energy had grown into hair instead of bone and flesh […] Her teeth had all decayed and were capped with aluminum. Under her eyes were dark circles […] [S]he was already broken and wounded beyond what could be repaired” (68-9). Marie, whose story follows the same pattern of fragmentation, “was a girl violated and tortured […] She had been abused, even as an infant, burned by cigarettes and hot wires, and raped […] [S]he is the result of a shattered world.” (76-7) Thus, the daughters’ bodies become texts onto which different histories are inscribed: personal (the girls’ suffering; Hogan’s inability to help them), tribal (the situation of the Lakota people today, partly a result of the history of colonization) and American (the situation of all indigenous peoples in the context of the mainstream U.S. society). As Hogan claims, “The story of my daughters began a hundred years ago.” (78)
8Undoubtedly, if the fragmentation of the world is the symptom of an illness and a disintegration, its sources are located in the past. “This is a world with a new order of disease,” writes Hogan, and she proceeds to identify the history of colonization as the cause of illness that afflicts herself, her family, her community and the entire American society. Thus, the alcoholism which devastates Native communities is caused by “the pain of an American history.” (54) So is her adoptive daughters’ traumatic experience: “She was,” Hogan writes of Marie, “a remnant of American history, and the fires of a brutal history [that] had come to bear on her. As a Lakota girl, with her large eyes that looked not at anything, she was the result of Custer’s dream, containing the American violences, the people from another continent, that entered this land without compassion.” (77) The evocation of the invasion of “the people from another continent” clearly demonstrates that Hogan locates the origins of the world’s illness in the moment of the “discovery” of the New World and the colonialist projects that ensued. “History,” in Hogan’s use of the word, encapsulates Spanish, British and U.S. colonialism and the consequent policy regulating the Native presence on the American continent which gradually and consistently led to the dispossession of the indigenous population: the Trail of Tears, the Wounded Knee massacre, the policy of forcefully sending Indian children to boarding schools, sterilization of Indian women in the 1950s and the Relocation programs, to name but a few examples. By constructing American history as an ongoing process, a repetition of abuse, whose consequences, or symptoms, are observable today, Hogan insists on seeing it as instrumental in defining Native identity in the contemporary context: “We are never not Indians. We have never forgotten this history.” (59) For Hogan, being Indian equals immersion in historical memory as it provides a building stone, a tissue, a foundation for what it means to be Indian today. “To other Americans,” writes Hogan, “this history, if thought of at all, belongs to a far past, but in truth these events are recent and remembered. We have not forgotten the past so quickly and easily.” (79)
9Clearly, accusing the “other Americans” of forgetting the past “quickly and easily” runs the risk of casting whites in the role of perpetrators and furthermore immobilizing Natives in the position of passive victims of history, a perspective so fervently discouraged by Gerald Vizenor, who detects the presence of survivance in the stories that “are renunciations of state dominance, obtrusions […] tragedy, and victimry.” (Vizenor 138) Hogan’s insistence on the significance of the past reflects her agenda of constructing history as a phenomenon that is recorded in physical space as well as in/on the body, hence giving way to a category of memory reminiscent of Momadayan blood memory. This strategy of approaching history and memory on a geographical and especially a corporeal level, apart from echoing Momaday’s concept, mirrors the way Joy Harjo emphasizes her commitment to embodiment as a means of illustrating the materiality of contemporary Native lives. As Robert Warrior observes, Harjo refers to human skin as a map that “is not policy, a political strategy, or an ideology. It is . . . the body. Flawed, scarred, and embattled, it is also beautiful, capable, and trustworthy. It is the most basic location of our memories and our stories.” (350) Similarly, for Hogan, tribal history is not merely an ideologically oriented discursive strategy but also a phenomenon that is located in the physical space and experienced in/on the body. It is a site that gives rise to a special kind of self-expression which is at the same time a way of remembering and a strategy of survival.
10Hogan’s appreciation for the corporeal as a potentially empowering gesture of communicating one’s involvement in the past is inspired, as she admits, by her personal experience of illness. The multiple injuries that she suffered and the long and difficult process of recuperation after a horse riding accident consistently draw attention to how the body is invested with meaning, how this meaning changes under the condition of illness and how the pain, here of the body but also, as Hogan later realizes, of history, preempts linguistic representation and induces new modes of expression located in the body. First, Hogan conceives of her post-traumatic body as a representation of the broken world, which has lost its integrity and balance. Enumerating her multiple injuries, she employs the imagery of rupture and literally becomes the broken clay woman who flies over the shattered world:
I didn’t even know that a brain was injured from a hard impact, hitting the ground hard enough to knock loose the bones in my ears. One of my lungs collapsed from the fall, keeping even more oxygen from reaching the brain. I broke my pelvis in several places, and suffered a broken tailbone, elbow, ankle, sprained neck, and numerous other injuries. (166-7)
11Second, the pain accompanying the injuries destroys Hogan’s language, which is potentially, through self-narrative and storytelling, the source of healing. Elaine Scarry, in a now classic study, The Body in Pain, consistently links pain with the destruction of language. “As the content of one’s world disintegrates,” writes Scarry, “so the content of one’s language disintegrates; as the self disintegrates, so that which would express and project the self is robbed of its source and its subject. World, self and voice are lost.” (35) Echoing Scarry’s views, Hogan admits that when pain renders her “reduced, as if shrunk” (169), “meaning escapes language and description.” (166) When language fails, however, it is the body that has recourse to multiple forms of expression that vocalize one’s commitment to the past. “I grew up with girls who cut or hit or burned themselves, as if it was a way to kill the self or to trade the pain of what resided within for external pain,” Hogan writes. “There was never a language to say it, to form a geography or map or history of what had happened. . . . [O]ur own bodies became our language.” (56, emphasis added) Hogan establishes the status of the body as a map in a long journey from chaos and meaninglessness to understanding one’s situation as a result of historical conditioning. The body thus is and contains an internal geography of tribal and personal history.
12The geography that cannot be expressed in terms of discourses materializes on/in the body which acknowledge the spatial dimension of their historical situatedness. Space is discovered, remembered and experienced in the same way that history is, that is in the body. The narrator in The Woman Who Watches Over the World describes a process of narrative, corporeal and geographical rediscovery, a gesture of imagining oneself, analogous to the one found in Momadays’s texts (The House Made of Dawn, The Way to Rainy Mountain, The Names), which activates the mechanisms of memory stored in the body. The trigger for the process in Hogan’s case is a trip to Oklahoma, the destination of the Trail of Tears, which she visits together with her father. The narrative also inspires numerous references to Hogan’s complex family history: the author traces her lineage to the Colberts, who vehemently opposed the Removal in the nineteenth century, and integrates into her story details from other families’ histories, like the story of Chief Joseph’s skull, which was sold and used as an ashtray. While today Hogan does not live in Oklahoma, it is a place, she declares, in “her interior.” (116) “It was not my birthplace,” she writes, “but it was my home, the place of my heart, my inner world, the place where I lived before I was born. Oklahoma was the place that shaped me with its loving people, beauty, and heat. It was where, always, I encountered kindness.” (116) The reader quickly identifies Oklahoma as more than a physical location: the moment Hogan’s feet touch the red earth of the Indian Territory, Hogan becomes one with the environment and experiences a collapse of spatial and temporal differences. She is once again with her Chickasaw ancestors and enters a communion with her tribal past:
When we arrived, I was struck, as always, by the silence and stillness of our homeland. I have always felt it; a physical line crossed where suddenly everything is changed, as if I’m an animal recognizing territory. The air is heavier than in other places, containing the sensuous stillness of land, the rich, heavy odor of nut trees, the heat and the way it rises from the fields nearby. There were fireflies, and the rich smell of red earth and leaf mold. It is an ancient place, with plant fossils along the ground, and mountains so old they are underground, covered by what came later, depression sand storms, washes of clay.
[…] We came from the mound builders, the brilliant calculators of time who stretched their hands in reverence toward the new moon and who touched the trunks and leaves of trees, their old friends, with grief to say farewell when they were removed along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma, some in wagons, some walking. (116-7)
13Not only does Hogan become one with the surroundings, but she also immediately identifies with the ancestral “we,” the mound builders who once occupied the territory. Despite the fact that the land that she is looking at is no longer in the possession of her family and now houses the Ardmore airpark, Hogan is able to see in her “mind’s world” what “had been beautiful. Creek. Pasture. Pond. Valley.” (124-5) In other words, despite changes, the passing of time and irreversible destruction, she manages to return to the unspecified past moment and cherish the place’s beauty. Moreover, by directly referring to the Indian Removal, Hogan’s journey mirrors and resuscitates in memory the Trail of Tears that she knows from numerous stories and narratives, told and retold by strangers and family members. In Other Words: American Indian Literature, Law, and Culture, Jace Weaver describes an analogous mechanism of passing on the memory of trauma through which a distant event is vividly remembered and repeatedly re-enacted: “The Cherokee can never forget the Trail of Tears—not of some genetic determinism but because its importance to heritage and identity are passed down through story from generation to generation.” (8) Clearly, Hogan evokes the importance of precisely the same kind of heritage in the construction of identity but the metaphor that she employs explicitly uses genetic and biological imagery as if to emphasize its indispensability for Native communities. While rejecting genetic determinism, Weaver nevertheless acknowledges the suitability of the body metaphor: “Such cultural coding exists finally beyond conscious remembering, so deeply engrained and psychologically embedded as to be capable of being spoken of as ‘in the blood.’” (8) Early in the book, Hogan writes, “I don’t know how the body remembers and contains the past, but it does.” (46) The act of inhabiting and embodying the place and time that Hogan could not have known and experienced empirically is indeed the very same magic moment that Momaday describes in “Man Made of Words.” It is the same mechanism of relying on imagination, blood memory, memory in the genes that facilitates the identification with the native experience, which is morally and ethically blended into contemporary native identity. Later in the text, Hogan offers a corporeal model of history, or a model of the body with genetically encoded historical remembering, which explains the phenomenon of cultural coding described by Weaver.
14Thus, returning to Hogan’s claim that Indians do not forget the past “quickly and easily,” an explanation is offered suggesting that history is not easily forgotten since, apart from being anchored in geography, tied to geographical locations, it is “inherited,” passed on in the genes and blood. “History lives cell-deep within us” (20), declares Hogan and further elaborates that
. . . history, like geography, lives in the body and it is marrow-deep. . . . It is recorded there, laid down along the tracks and pathways and synapses. . . . Those of us who walked out of genocide by some cast of fortune still struggle with the brokenness of our bodies and hearts. Terror, even now, for many of us, is remembered inside us, history present in our cells that came from our ancestor’s cells, from bodies hated, removed, and killed. (59)
- 2 See Arnold Krupat, Red Matters: Native American Studies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania P (...)
15Clearly, Hogan sees history as a genetic code reactivating and replicating itself in the bodies of the next generations, becoming an integral part of them. Tribal removal, the loss of land and cultural annihilation are real and material events that are, first of all, inextricably connected with geographical locations, and secondly detectable in the blood. Hogan’s discourse based on the geographical and the corporeal, communicates that it is “pathways” as much as “synapses” that lead to historical memory and tribal / communal identification. Thus, Hogan is in a position to declare: “I am one of the children who lived inside my grandmother, and was carried, cell, gene, and spirit, within the mourners along the Trail of Tears” (123, emphasis added), Hogan’s emphasis on the distinct character of her indigenous blood and body, rather than indulging in the essentialist thinking so vigorously attacked by Arnold Krupat in Red Matters,2 introduces a metaphor which emphasizes the Native American experience that derives from cultural and communal contexts and ways of life. Blood, cells and marrow are not just another criterion in a racist discourse of authenticity and blood quantum, but rather constitute markers of a shared and distinct culture and a unique experience which is shaped by the ancestral landscape and a distinct history of colonialism and its far-reaching consequences.
- 3 Jace Weaver, Craig S. Womack, and Robert Warrior, American Indian Literary Nationalism (Albuquerque (...)
16The image of the broken clay woman which opens Hogan’s Native memoir leads to the reinvention of the bodily metaphor that envisions Native identity as dependent on and inextricable from tribal land and history. History, impossible to divorce from the present moment, is remembered and experienced in geography, as demonstrated by Hogan’s trip to Oklahoma, as well as in the body, which becomes its illustration and its transmitter. By consistently insisting on constructing the image of the body as transmitting historical content and situated in sacred geography, and thus producing the body/history/land triad, Hogan identifies continuity (or survivance in Vizenor’s vocabulary) as a Native American attribute of power. “Unlike phantom islands and malingering worlds,” Hogan writes, “our stories and myths remain because skin isn’t where a person ends. We live not only inside a body but within a story as well, and our story resides in the land.” (204) In her musings on the corporeality of history and native experience, Hogan in fact attempts to theorize Native experience and embrace its embodied dimension. As Jace Weaver, Craig Womack and Robert Warrior observe in American Indian Literary Nationalism,3 the task, by no means easy, does deserve attention as it emphasizes the importance of Native experience in the context of the “issue of the relationship of Native texts to the social and political world their authors inhabit or to indigenous traditions of knowledge, including oral traditional literatures.” (Warrior, xxvii) Hogan’s memoir may be seen as an attempt to theorize the specificity of indigenity in its historical and social context, while at the same time remaining close to private and individual histories.