Legal Hunger: Law, Narrative, and Orality in Leslie Marmon Silko's Storyteller and Almanac of the Dead.
Native Americans (History)
United States history (Ethical aspects)
Native Americans (Civil rights)
Karno, Valerie
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Name: College Literature Publisher: West Chester University Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Literature/writing Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2001 West Chester University ISSN: 0093-3139
Date: Wntr, 2001 Source Volume: 28 Source Issue: 1
Named Person: Silko, Leslie Marmon

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American law is not usually considered through the lens of orality. Contract law, as well as the notions of intent and consent, has in courts' efforts to establish "objective" standards of conduct, evolved away from what were seen as primitive standards of orality and commensurate visceral or spoken agreements, to a privileging of the seemingly more progressive written word. But the discourse of orality, veiled in the images of digestion and incorporation, has actually functioned critically in the legal formation and development of the United States. Influenced by biological science, [1] early American legal science considered national evolution through the terms of the body, with particular emphasis on the discourse of orality. Legal scholars distinguished between who could be incorporated into and who must be excluded from the nation based on who would feed national growth. Appealing to this primitive bodily urge for national sustenance, while often condemning primitive character in others, early legal doct rines used the Native American body as a canvas against which to map the nutrification of the nation. The law inscribed itself on the American landscape by reading Native American bodies as markers of national evolutionary potential; it determined which bodies could be consumed or needed to be expelled from the United States, and in doing so, created the law itself as a larger bodily monument to the relationship between legal subjects, nation, and geography Drawing from the recent renewed critical interest in the relationship between bodies and law, [2] this essay explores the ways in which Native American literary narratives and legal discourse intersect at the site of the body. The language of the body then becomes a powerful tool for understanding the cultural anxieties contributing to formations of law.

In the nineteenth century, the figure of the satiated Native American became a pivotal image to the consideration of evolving legal America, as the biological eating process became linked to the language of Native American assimilation and United States progress. Feeding Native Americans was repeatedly discussed in legal documents as a bodily, and consequently, political means to domination and subservience. In the later half of the century, for example, the American government was criticized for excessively wining and dining certain Native American tribal leaders. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis Walker, in an effort to explain Indian policy in 1872, retorted to critiques that it was "hardly absurd that tribes who have never yielded more than a partial and grudging obedience to the most reasonable requirements of the Government should be entertained at the national capital, (and) feasted" (Prucha 1990, 137). In order to save frontier lives, he continued, it is hardly unreasonable to "feed saucy and mi schievous Indians to repletion" (137). Commissioner Walker boldly announced that the act of feeding had a placating force, eating being, he said, an alternative to military action. Supplying the Indians with an abundance of food could replace the need for military aggression. "A general Indian war could not be carried on with the present military force of the United States," Walker says, but "on the other hand, by the reservation system and the feeding system combined, the occasions for collision are so reduced by lessening the points of contact ... and the number of Indians available for hostile expeditions [are] so diminished through the appeal made to their indolence and self-indulgence" (139). Noting the Indians' state of hunger, Walker concludes that

Had the settlements of the United States not been extended beyond the frontier of 1867, all of the Indians of the continent would to the end of time have found upon the plains an inexhaustible supply of food....But another five years will see the Indians of Dakota and Montana as poor as the Indians of Nevada and Southern California; that is, reduced to an habitual condition of suffering from want of food....They must yield or perish; and there is something that savors of providential mercy in the rapidity with which their fate advances upon them. (Prucha 1990, 140-41; emphasis added)

Of prime consideration to the legal system in the later half of the nineteenth century was deciphering how, if at all, Native Americans could ingest enough food to be peacefully absorbed into the "melting pot" of America.

Metaphors of the biological eating process became linked to the language of Native American assimilation, as legal discourse considered Indians' personality characteristics through the language of digestion and refuse, use value and waste. [3] Arguing over whether to incorporate or expel Native Americans from the United States, lawmakers debated whether the nature of the Indian character could contribute to the sustenance and growth of the country or would prove to be hopelessly extraneous. Because of the law's focus on creating a sustained and expandable agricultural nation, 1800s legal discourse aligned Native American personalities with land maintenance. Consequently, the legal imagination of assimilation and national geographic expansion overlapped, describing both in terms of residue and excess. Prevalent legal doctrine held that individual land ownership was the route to a successful agricultural economy and nation, as it required personal responsibility and eliminated the community ownership of land w hich seemed to leave the Indian soil untilled and Indian subjects untamed. Identifying unproductive land use with character flaws, law held that vesting too much land in a tribe led to the decay of moral identity and geography, as it provided excessive unmanageable tracts of land to people who could not care for it properly. Allowing for too much communal land produced residue and excess both in Indian subjects, and the American geographical imagination. Legal incorporation consequently hinged on one's ability to be perceived as integrated into an agricultural, land owning economy; and this, in turn, relied upon a demonstration of immediate use and production values. The Treaty with the Oto and Missouri Indians on March 15, 1854, portioning the Kansas and Nebraska territories, for example, demonstrates this legal association between geographic and moral maintenance. The treaty stipulated that should any person or family assigned to a portion of land "neglect or refuse to occupy and till a portion of the land, or shall rove from place to place, the President may revoke the same ... 'and eventually' dispose of [the land] as is provided for the disposal of the excess of said land" (Prucha 1990, 89). The law found that the Indian's habits as well must either be digested and used for the body of the nation or expelled as waste from the American economy and imagination.

Tribal behavior also challenged the discourse of legal evolution, as tribal wandering threatened a notion of legal movement based in straight linear progression. Stemming from the English legal tradition, based in enlightenment epistemology; legal philosophy maintained that law would linearly progress alongside the development of reason. Rooted in fixed Constitutional principles, law would evolve over time in particular and narrow ways. But from the early 1800s, legal scholars struggled with how to incorporate Indians in ways which coincided with this legal philosophy. Indian tribes whose behavior seemed to stem neither from a linear notion of progress, nor a similar theoretical epistemology; threatened American law's very foundation. [4] The very notion of roaming existed as the antithesis of the path of legal evolution and threatened the narrow course of legal development.

In part, sheer numbers of seemingly different and hence unassimilable people prompted an American fright of legal indigestion. Fearful that attempting to incorporate large numbers of different people into the legal tract would plug the system, President Monroe's Message on Indian Removal, delivered January 27, 1825, stated for example, that "in their present state it is impossible to incorporate them [Indians] in such masses, in any form whatever, into our system" (Prucha 1990, 39). Decades later though, after the Cherokee Removals forcibly moved, and thus killed many of the numbers threatening influence earlier, Indian Commissioner Medill in 1848 turned his attention away from a fear of masses to describe how Indian moral inequality stood as the impediment to digestion into the American system. In his Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Medill claimed that the incompatibly weaker Indian character prevented the Indian from assimilating into the superior white race. Medill wrote that

(a)pathy, barbarism, and heathenism must give way to civilization and Christianity; stolid and unwielding in his nature, and inveterately wedded to the savage habits, customs, and prejudices in which he has been reared and trained, it is seldom the case that the full blood Indian of our hemisphere can, in immediate juxtaposition with a white population, be brought farther within the pale of civilization than to adopt its vices; too indolent to labor, and too weak to resist, he soon sinks into misery and despair.... The contest he has to make with the superior race with which he is brought into too unequal to hope for a better result. (Prucha 1990, 77)

This turn to character as a marker of evolutionary legal potential for America identifies a switch in the dominant discourse for considering Indian assimilation--a move that has extended itself discursively in law throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Considering Indian integration into America, Commissioner Lea, in his Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs November 27, 1851, labels the character assets Indians do have which will lead to their assimilation: "The history of the Indian furnishes abundant proof that he possesses all the elements essential to his elevation; he is intellectual, proud, brave, generous; and in his devotion to his family, his country, and the graves of his fathers, it is clearly shown that the impulse of patriotism animate his heart" (Prucha 1990, 86).

The reliance upon character as a barometer for successful assimilation, while not atypical in American history, [5] betrays a legal contradiction about the law's relationship to biological discourse and primitive orality: while legal doctrine embraced the discourse of primitivism as a meaningful one with which to dismiss people as unassimilable, it also chose that discourse to show the will of national evolution. Attacks on primitive behavior can be seen, for example, in the first Indian Commissioner authorized by Congress, Elbert Herring's, 1832 Annual Report. There he accuses Native Americans of having an "unchecked spirit of rapine and a thirst for warlike distinction ... [as being a people] who recognize no restraint on plunder, no bounds to the gratification of revenge" (Prucha 1990, 63). He suggests as a remedial policy, the "institution of separate and secure rights in the relations of property and person" to move the Indians towards civilization (63). This same civilization, though, has categorically boasted of the primitive instinct inherent in and necessary for its own progress. President Jefferson's letter to William Henry Harrison in 1803, for example, declares that

we presume that our strength and their weakness is now so visible that they must see we have only to shut our hand to crush them. Should any tribe he foolhardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing the whole country of that tribe, and driving them across the Mississippi, would be a furtherance of our final consolidation. (Prucha 1990, 23)

Jefferson's intense fervor for Indian compliance, resonant of the instinctual hunger and retribution Herring is later to condemn as primitive and inassimilable in Native Americans, demonstrates the law's own ambivalent and often contradictory way of considering its relation to primitive instinct and evolution. [6]

The law's dual relationship to primitive bodily instinct, as well as its roots in the biological discourse of ingestion, digestion, and excretion, highlights the ways in which the law historically functioned as a system evolving out of its references to corporeality. For legal documents to consider how to incorporate Native Americans into a land owning culture while preserving a sense of national evolution, lawmakers literally and metaphorically read Native American bodies as indices of the possibility for future assimilation. But American law is not the only realm that has read bodies as indicators of the past and future. Native American literature has also demonstrated how the body can be viewed as a testament to history. In the works of Leslie Marmon Silko, the body is a testament that not only can be read in isolation, but also can itself be viewed as existing in a reflective dialogue with the reading practices gazing upon it.

Leslie Marmon Silko's work first provides a window into how Native American bodies can be read as monuments to the ways in which legal history intersected with biological science. In the chapter "One Who 'Reads' Body Fat," in Almanac of the Dead, Silko elevates the female fat-reader, for example, to a position of great significance. Through reading the results of ingestion on the marked body, this hefty visionary can reread history and foretell the future. Rolls of surplus flesh, or skin indentations resulting from hunger, reveal the spectrum of historical events to her, from the most oppressive to the most indulgent, as the fat-reader uses the corporeal as the architectural register of time. In Almanac, the fat-reader appears because the drug addicted dealer Mosca seeks spiritual guidance. In part to address the voice speaking to him from within his shoulder, Mosca searches out the body reader to examine the crevices of his body. As if noticing monuments to his past conduct and treatment, after touching Mos ca's hands, cheeks, forehead, and chin, the fat-reader concludes, "You used to be skinny most of your life. Until now" (Silko 1991, 608). And, after poking and prodding Mosca's folds of skin in areas she "preferred to read, the belly, buttocks, or thighs" (608) [7] she suggests to Mosca that "you tend to be thin, so you are at risk....The voice in your shoulder says, Fatten up! There's a great storm brewing in the South. In the big flood that's coming, only the fat will float" (608). Reading the body in this way, the fat-reader uses the corpus as a structure that can be interpreted for its historic meaning. And, despite the fat reader appearing in the novel as a fleeting character, the notion of examining corporeal and psychic structures trans-historically also gets represented as an invaluable format for the act of reading itself.

Alongside highlighting the importance of reading and interpreting discrete structures across time, the fat-reader is also positioned as a medium between the individual body and group identification. She herself is introduced not only for her distinctive body--Mosca having never seen one "quite as fat or quite as majestic" (Silko 1991, 607), but also against the historical narrative landscape of a larger oppressed Indian population. In addition to reading other Native American's bodies trans-historically, the fat-reader identifies herself as existing against the backdrop of historic Indian narratives of starvation and death. Fat-readers, Silko comments, suffered in tandem with mistreated Indians. At discrete historic moments readings could not be delivered because, for example, "(f)or too many years during the Spanish and Mexican occupations there had been no fat to read, only skin and bones of Indian corpses" (607). Even the spiritually prestigious position of the fat-reader itself becomes historically demea ned against the backdrop of the Spanish and Mexican occupations, as it becomes another luxurious amenity to upper class living. Forced to become ridiculous mockeries of their prior functions, "the remaining readers of fat had been enslaved or retained, often for life, simply to read the fat of the idle rich who were addicted to astrologists, faith healers, and mountain Indians who could "see" lucky numbers in the dimples and puckers of a client's body fat" (608). This reduction of reading to superfluous servitude recreates the role of reading itself. Reading the body becomes at once the most valuable and also the most expendable activity as a result of its economic affiliation. The wealthy rely upon "primitive" readings as truthful knowledge, and as a path to prosperity, while they also simultaneously expel the dangerous native culture from which the knowledge springs.

Just as the reader of fat comments upon how historic economic conditions have influenced bodies, so too is her depiction used to connect past Indian bodies to contemporary white ones. Tying the contemporary white obsession with dieting to a history of political and economic oppression, the fat-reader

was still today's people and their fear of body fat....The starvation of others had caused the killers to diet obsessively because they feared detection; they feared the starving would see how fat the rich had grown off their suffering. The rich dieted frantically lest one day they be killed for their fat by the starving people. (Silko 1991, 608)

White fat, as both the material and metaphorical register of over-indulgence at the expense of others, becomes a doubly significant asset: it must at once exist, to demonstrate prosperity, and be constantly lost, to dispel animosity. The prosperous can assuage their guilt by seeming to reduce bodily differences existing as a result of economic disparity, while never changing the conditions creating the economic discrepancies.

Native American storytelling, responding to the legal system's expulsion of Native American bodies into economically deprived situations and locales, has worked to remap the Native American subject onto American geography But rather than solely envisioning idyllic conditions, this remapping, reflective of a history of forced removal and confinement into unseemly spaces, functions to demonstrate how law has formed warped and incongruous fusions between bodies, landscapes, and time. Tied to landscapes in critical ways, yet nonetheless often improperly fitting there as a result of American legal policies, Native American subjecthood gets represented in the contemporary novel through the grotesque mismatch of bodies with particular landscapes. Alignments appear malformed and hideous, and the relationships between human biology, motion, time, and surroundings are disconcertingly strained and unnatural. Gerald Vizenor's claim that "Native American Indian stories are told and heard in motion ... on a landscape that is never seen at once" (1989, xiii) proves especially poignant in explaining how the complex relationship between historic legal policies and contemporary Native American identity makes plotting Native American bodies onto any one space in any single moment difficult. Instead, these stories map the temporal body against various landscapes in ways which simultaneously plot the motion of the developing self, the references to the historic removal and constant displacement of Native Americans, and the nods to past and present evolving America onto geography in non-linear terms. The frequent consequence of this multifaceted mapping brings forth deformed and hideous representations of the relationships between Native American bodies and their surroundings.

Silko's work highlights this form of representation, as it shows the troubled interrelationships between the Native American body, the landscape, and American law. By demonstrating how spatial and geographical boundaries have become awkwardly fused with psychological states, Silko's characters appear as testimonies to the results of law's having been superimposed as a misfit monument onto the Native American landscape. The short story Storyteller, for example, shows how white-man architecture, technology, and law exist as dysfunctional mediums through which Native Americans cannot forge relationships with the land. In Storyteller, psychological development and physical movement are both juxtaposed and melded, as the incarcerated protagonist contemplates how her immediate confined immobility and the eternal vast nature surrounding her are deeply intertwined. Locked in the small space of her cell, the jailed woman nonetheless aligns her position with the movement, or non-movement of the life-giving sun. Motion becomes irrelevant to her, in both its endlessness and its utter cessation, as having watched the slow cessation of the sun's movement on the horizon, she becomes excited when she realizes that just as she has been still for hours, so too has the sun remained in the center of the sky Protagonist and sun sit united at the center of the landscape, which has no limits or demarcated edges as "all the boundaries between the river and hills and sky were lost in the density of the pale ice ... the sky ... indistinguishable from the river ice (Silko 1981, 241).

And as the geographical boundaries surrounding the prison become indistinguishable, so too does the prisoner's place amongst the more vast geographical area. Despite being confined to a particular jail cell, the woman seems strangely diffused over the larger landscape. And even within that landscape, the architecture of the prison building fuses with the scenery, as it takes its place as one piece in a genre of transient buildings, moving with and through the steady, forever moving river current. The jail, the narrator reflects, was "like the other buildings that white people, the Gussucks, brought with them: BIA and school buildings, portable buildings that arrived sliced in halves, on barges coming up the river" (Silko 1981, 241).The transient architectural structures situated against the backdrop of the fluid current resonate of the structural impacts of the historic legal system. Changing in its forms yet static in its constant influence, the legal system itself functioned as a transient monument, affect ing all in its legal current.

The systematic resemblance of law to portable architecture notwithstanding, the law in the nineteenth century also erected smaller monuments called trading houses, which materially affected transient Native American bodies and their movements across the geography. As architectural way stations between the geography of the frontier and the temporality of evolving America, trading houses arose as a beacon to the progression and monumentality of American law. As transient structures, the trading houses could be molded and reformed to signal American dominance and evolutionary mobility. Concurrently, the architecture could function as a nod not only to temporary structures, but also to fixity. The transient building worked to assuage any American guilt about massacring indigenous people by replacing a sense of time-bound or permanent displacement of Native-Americans with false nods to structures of mutual habitability. Simultaneously, through the trading house the legal system constructed a material testimony to itself as an influential architectural scheme for progress. The house stood as a monument to the possible incorporation of Native Americans into a system of United States dominance.

The beginning of transient buildings as a signal of Native American incorporation can be seen as early as the colonial period, when issues of Indian sovereignty were mediated through the trading houses constructed and moved across the national geography. The provisions under which original trading houses were erected began in 1795 with Washington's proposal being accepted as a trial measure, and with the April 18, 1796 "Establishment of Government Trading Houses" calling for "establish(ing) trading houses at such posts and places on the western and southern frontiers, or in the Indian country, as he [the President] shall judge most convenient for the purpose of carrying on a liberal trade with the several Indian nations" (Prucha 1990, 16). Until the system was abolished in 1822, it evolved through various discursive incarnations, each stressing, in addition to its trading purpose, the function of the building as a conduit for Indian-American unity of mind. President Jefferson's January 18, 1803, message to Co ngress on Indian Trading Houses, considered the trading houses as solutions to the Indian tribes "growing more and more uneasy at the constant diminution of the territory they occupy," and increasingly developing policies of "refusing absolutely all further sale on any conditions" (21). Jefferson explains that trading houses are expedient "[i]n order peaceably to counteract this policy of theirs and to provide an extension of territory which the rapid increase of our numbers will call for..." (21). Finally, Jefferson's rhetoric aligns trading buildings with progeny, as he notes his purpose is "to multiply trading houses among them, and place within their reach those things which will contribute more to their domestic comfort than the possession of extensive but uncultivated wilds" (22). Oddly, Jefferson's motives, "bringing together their and our sentiments, and ... preparing them ultimately to participate in the benefits of our Government," (22) are presented quite differently less than two months later in h is February 27, 1803 private letter to William Henry Harrison, then governor of Indiana territory. In that letter, Jefferson lauds the trading houses as useful structures in the U.S. acquisition of land, claiming that "we shall push our trading houses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands" (22). Noting how the trading houses were linked with geography, Jefferson continues, "In this way our settlements will gradually circumscribe and approach the Indians, and they will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or remove beyond the Mississippi" (22-23). The trading houses stood as one of the first of many legal structures that both existed in architectural terms and functioned through temporality.

These monuments to incorporation, in their material forms and effects, historically affected the Native American subject on the frontier landscape but continue to be re-envisioned and replayed in Native American literary representations. In considering Native American history alongside twentieth century existence, Leslie Marmon Silko uses architectural and temporal constructs to describe how Native American subjects embody a history of legal oppression--an oppression which itself relied upon terms of architectural and biological incorporation.

In Storyteller, as she did in Almanac of the Dead, Silko uses the image of the body as the architectural monument to history. Showing the fragmented and dislocated relationship between the body and land surrounding it, Silko demonstrates how the law's path for incorporating the Native American subject has resulted in incongruity and dysfunction, both between white-man architecture and land, and Native American bodies and law. In Storyteller isolated bodily parts and movements, rather than any whole self, function in tandem with distinct aspects of the landscape, all contributing to a world of partiality: elements operate without an overall sense of fit into a larger landscape. [8] Specific parts of human bodies function alongside the misfit machines surrounding them. Human limbs and joints move grotesquely in tandem with misplaced and malfunctioning machinery. Silko describes the winter's impact on mechanics claiming, "the cold had silenced their [the white man's] machines. The metal froze; it split and shatt ered. Oil hardened and moving parts jammed solidly.... [T]he cold stopped them and they were helpless against it" (1981, 18). The stilted movement of technological machinery, heard against the contrasting sonic background of overall quiet engines and the sound of shattering metal, gets mapped onto the Native American body--a body which itself stands as another kind of architecture, existing both with contrasts and similarities to the structures of white-man technology. In Storyteller's deadening winter, machines and bodies operate in odd collusion. As the machines cease, so too do bodies halt. After depicting the frozen machines, Silko describes the protagonist's grandmother as congealing and expanding in unseemly ways as well. "[H]er knees and knuckles ... swollen grotesquely," the woman is described as "the pain [having]had squeezed the brown skin of her face tight against the bones; it left her eyes hard like river stone" (19). Her "joints swollen with anger" (19), the grandmother's frozen arthritic pain o ccurs alongside the solidified oil lodged onto the machine. Bodily and technological parts fuse in their inability to overcome their misfit existence within their respective larger narrative landscapes. The white-man machines, ill-fitted to function in the cold Alaska winter, cannot work where they should not have been placed, and the grandmother, ill-fitted to survive the white-man's world into which she has been placed, freezes as well.

Silko appeals to language as a way of re-envisioning incorporation and mending the disconnections between contemporary Native American bodies and landscapes. With language, body pieces can be reunited with a sense of wholeness, and in their completion, they can more effectively interact with the landscape. Towards the end of Storyteller, in "Skeleton Fixer," "words like bones (are) scattered all over the place ..." (1981, 242). And Old Man Badger, looking for the strewn parts of the corporeal structure, must wander across the landscape. As he "traveled from place to place" (242) trying to recreate from the fragmentary a whole bodily structure replete with history, Old Man Badger used storytelling and the reassemblance of the skeletal bones to tell "how they once fit together" (243). Having "never heard of such things as souls," and relying upon the concrete bones as the only certain purveyor of knowledge, Skeleton Fixer "never has stopped fixing the poor scattered bones he finds" (245). Words and bones fuse into the functional structures which recall and change the current of history, and as a consequence, the mere recitation of "these words are bones" revives a skeleton in "Skeleton Fixer" so that it can run away. [9]

For Silko, words can affect the body and impact it differently depending upon their genre. Through the figure ofWilson Weasel Tail, Poet Lawyer, he shows how varying forms of words can impart differing effects resulting from their structural diversity. Weasel Tail, having dropped out of law school to devote himself to poetry believes that the words of poetry will empower people to act. "Poetry [he says] will speak to the dreams and to the spirits, and the people would understand what they must do" (1991, 713). Whiteman's law, Weasel Tail claims, conversely uses words to manipulate injustice and inspire resignation. In law, Weasel Tail claimed, "the deck was stacked, and the dice were loaded . . . [it] crushed and cheated the poor whatever color they were" (714). According to Weasel Tail, the architecture of law, as a system whose linguistic foundation is built upon a history of harming the underclass, cannot lead to empowerment of Native Americans because its results are predetermined by its structure. For W easel Tail then, the differing linguistic architectures of poetry and law lead to contrasting material results, as well as differing visions of history and the future.

Legal words actually betray bodies in Almanac of the Dead as they so insufficiently account for people within their domain that the law literally loses physical specimens in the landscape. Despite trying to contain bodies by incorporating them, law cannot keep bodies within its dominion, They seep outside its system and become irretrievably lost to it. Utterly incapable of finding these missing bodies, American lawmakers in Almanac turn away from their reliance upon linear reason and seek out Native American visionaries who are able to locate the disappeared corpses. Lecha, one main protagonist of the novel, represents the Native American woman who is skilled in envisioning and locating the bones of dead bodies lost in the geographical reaches of America. In her constant state of drug use, and her role as interpreter of her grandmother's Almanac of the Dead, the disembodied Lecha is trapped herself somewhere between history and the future, the dead and the living. Hired by national crime centers and mainstre am television stations to find bodies the law is incapable of tracing, Lecha's visionary discoveries make her something of a pop culture icon, as her predictions are broadcast across the American television waves. Her words reaching across the American landscape in much the same way that her visions do, Lecha holds a privileged position in that she can detect the remnants of disorder far better than the structures of law can.

Housed within a highly fenced and guarded domicile, Lecha represents the American subject who symbolically and literally exists outside of legal perimeters because the law has excluded her type in the past and cannot account for her properly either in the present or in future projections of America. Lecha's powerful visions of history and the future transcend the linear reasoning of law which, though itself steeped in history, cannot find the dead which its exclusionary logic has helped to create. [10] Unable to account for the material effects upon bodies it has helped cause, law is unable to detect the results of its policies. Yet the visionary of history can discover those falling into the gaps of law and consequently can map those left for dead on the American geography

Lecha, being able to envision the bodies excluded from the architecture of law, presents a powerful literary challenge to the discourse of legal incorporation. Rather than relying upon primitive orality and the need to be fed, she shows an alternative route for creating an integrated American landscape. Considering bodies as not only partial contributors to, but also whole results of legality and the nation, Lecha can see a more thorough picture of America and can actually visualize bodies. The visionary can detect people's locations not because she is looking for which parts of them the nation may ingest, use, or discard; rather, she finds people as they lie in their totality, a whole and integral part of the national landscape. Despite Lecha's discovering this integrated condition at the site of the bodies of the dead, Silko's work invites an optimistic view of a more inclusive legal architecture in the future. Almanac of the Dead ends with one of the protagonists, Sterling, leaving his life of discontentme nt, returning home to his tribal camp, and experiencing serenity and completion in relationship to the landscape surrounding him. Though this ending may or may not suggest that contentment can be found only through the finalization of tribal and geographical separation that began as a result of exclusionary legal policies, it more importantly presents a possible image of coherent fusion between body and land. Sterling, the narrator tells us, "didn't look like his old self anymore" (Silko 1991, 763).As he could see himself anew in relation to the legal and architectural structures surrounding him, so too was his appearance transformed. This vision provides a redemptive model for re-examining the relationships between legal subjects and their positions in the landscape. The literary narrative affords us the possibility of imagining this redemption, and begins the discursive process of forging new architectures of law.

Karno is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Rhode Island where she teaches courses in Law and Literature and contemporary literature and culture.


(1.) For analysis of the historic influence of biological science upon legal science, see for example, Loevinger (1974, 7-25). Also see Cardozo (1931,70-120); and Holmes (1952, 210-43).

(2.) For recent work on the relationship between bodies and law, see Lopez (1996), Hyde (1997), and Cheah, Fraser, and Grbich (1996). Critical Race Studies has foregrounded the significance of bodily appearance in legal consideration see Delgado (1995) and Wing (1997). For work on the importance of the body in feminism, see Grosz (1994). Despite recent attention to the relationship between bodies and law, and bodies and feminism, scant critical work has been devoted to the role of the Native American body in the intersection of law and literature. This essay tries to begin uncovering the ways in which legal and literary narratives use the Native American corpus to register various anxieties.

(3.) language of digestion can be seen in other areas of law as well, though this article will focus on its use in Native American law. Legal philosopher Felix Cohen, while deriding certain legal scholars in the 1930s as being unwilling to thoroughly analyze legal cases, said of their legal reasoning for example, that "unfortunately they are willing to look upon decisions as simple unanalyzable products of judicial hunches or indigestion" (Cohen 1993, 223).

(4.) Additionally, with the advent of and boom of corporations in the first three decades of the nineteenth century, the legal system also struggled with how to account for and incorporate fictional "bodies" into an abstracted American landscape. The relationship between invisible corporate bodies and highly visible Native American bodies is of great importance in considering how the legal system marginalized one in order to make space for the other in the legal imagination. See, for instance, Miner (1976).

(5.) This consideration of incorporable characteristics is endemic of other cases of assimilation as well. In 1894 legal scholar John Wigmore wrote that Japanese, though not Chinese people should be naturalized as US citizens under the Naturalization Act because they were white. His rationale for Japanese being both white and assimilable was that

having as good a claim to the color white as the southern European and the Semitic peoples, having today greater affinities with us in culture and progress and the facility of social amalgamation than they have with any Asiatic people, isolated as they are today from Asia in tendencies and sympathies and isolated as they have been in racial history ... the statute should be construed in the direction indicated by American honor and sympathy. (Lopez 1996, 62)

This sort of reasoning stood in contrast to overtly racist ideology arguing that incorporable characteristics were actually those that put individuals into roles of subservience. The editor of the Fresno Republican in 1909 argued more for Chinese immigration, saying that "we find the Chinese fitting much better than the Japanese into the status which the white American prefers them to occupy--that of biped domestic animals in the white man's service" (Lopez 1996, 62-63).

Legal doctrines have also considered whether similarity of language creates an ideal setting for assimilation of one culture into the next. The Report of the Indian Peace Commission in 1868 (January 7) argued that language was the key to incorporation. "Through sameness of language," the Peace Commission stated, "is produced sameness of sentiment and thought; customs and habits are moulded and assimilated in the same way, and thus in process of time the differences producing trouble would have been gradually obliterated. By civilizing one tribe others would have followed. In the difference of language today lies two-thirds of our trouble" (Prucha 1990, 107). Interestingly, this very notion was refuted, albeit probably unwittingly, by Justice Sutherland in US. v. Thind in 1923. There, discussing whether Thind, an Indian, and technically an Aryan, could be naturalized as "white" under previous Naturalization Acts, Sutherland stated that language itself was an inadequate cause for naturalization. Contesting the idea that the word Aryan suggests any commonalities with those typically thought of as white, he stated that

the term Aryan has to do with linguistic and not at all with physical characteristics, and it would seem reasonably clear that mere resemblance in language, indicating a common linguistic root buried in remotely ancient soil, is altogether inadequate to prove common racial origin... What we suggest is merely racial difference, and it is of such character and extent that the great body of our people instinctively recognize it and reject the thought of assimilation. (Lopez 1996, 221-25)

(6.) further 20th century example of the tension around primitivism can be seen in the 1978 Mashpee case. In Mashpee, tribal identity was nullified by the courts because the tribal members had over-assimilated into their neighboring community. The court ultimately denied the tribe rights to reclaim alienated property because they had not demonstrated the sort of tribal behavior that came to demarcate the meaning of tribe. The Mashpee Indians of Massachusetts were charged with proving they were a tribe in order to reclaim alienated lands. In order to do this, the court held they had to demonstrate "racial purity," "hierarchical leadership," and "clearly demarcated geographical boundaries" (Lopez 1996, 12). Ultimately they were denied recognition as a tribe because they had, according to the court, "incorporated specific perceptions regarding race, leadership, community, and territory that were entirely alien to Mashpee culture" (12). They were denied rights, one might say, because they had relinquished the tri bal hunger required for digestion into the American system. The Mashpee case has become, in cultural studies, a foundational example of how U.S. law has perpetuated the problematic binary between Native American assimilation and difference. Using terms of visuality and relying upon the premise that Federal authority over Native Americans depends first and foremost upon the existence of an identifiable "tribe," Mashpee sought, as did its precedential antecedents, to clarify what it meant to be a "tribe." And, using terms of vision linked to the appearance of difference and similarity, Mashpee messily considered what it meant to look like a tribe. Because the history of the group was one of pseudo-assimilation, their dilemma was finding a way to show their difference.

(7.) fat-reader prefers these areas because "belly fat on a man means one thing; belly fat on a woman ... means something quite different. Fat that has always been carried by a person tells a different tale than fat that appears suddenly. ... Fat had its own timetable" (Silko 1991, 608). This suggests that fat on the body registers history and the future, in ways which need only be interpreted by a certain kind of reading.

(8.) very dynamic mimics the irony of Native American legal history within the United States legal system. Each case decided distinctly on its merits, with definitive and limited consequences, can be read in its totality as having a small impact: a mere single-limb extension of the legal body. Yet, within an overall narrative, these small legal movements do create a larger topography, mapable and visible in its landscaping.

(9.) Arnold Krupat claims that Silko's Storyteller shows her belief that stories do make things happen, and do produce material effects (1989, 63).

(10.) For further discussion of how the Almanac of the Dead addresses history, see Powers (1999). Powers says that "Silko offers a 'Five Hundred Year Map' with historical and prophetic elements embedded in a linear geographic map ... the map has moral and spiritual dimensions as well ... (and) also records the movements of people" (261-62). This linear geographic map functions to show the material realities born of history, as the Ancient Almanac says, "the image of a memory exists in the present moment" (Silko 1991, 575).Also see Irr (1999). She has suggested that "the Almanac stresses the interpenetration of past and present" (226).

Works Cited

Cardozo, Benjamin. 1931. "What Medicine Can Do For Law." In Law and Literature. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co.

Carrillo, Jo. 1998. "Identity as Idiom: Mashpee Reconsidered." In Readings in American Indian Law, ed. Jo Carillo. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Cheah, Pheng, David Fraser, and Judith Grbich, eds. 1996. Thinking Through the Body of the Law. New York: New York University Press.

Cohen, Felix. 1993. "Transcendental Nonsense and the Functional Approach." In American Legal Realism, ed. Fisher III, Horwitz, and Reed, New York: Oxford University Press.

Delgado, Richard, ed. 1995. Critical Race Theory. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Grosz, Elizabeth. 1994. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Holmes, Oliver Wendell. 1952. "Law in Science and Science in Law." In Collected Legal Papers. New York; Harcourt, Brace, and Co.

Hyde, Alan. 1997. Bodies of Law. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Irr, Caren. 1999. "The Timeliness of Almanac of the Dead, or a Postmodern Rewriting of Radical Fiction." In Leslie Marmon Silko, ed. Louise Barnett and James Thorson,. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Krupat, Arnold. 1989. "The Dialogic of Silko's Storyteller." In Narrative Chance, ed. Gerald Vizenor. Norman: Oklahoma University Press.

Loevinger, Lee. 1974. "Jurimetrics: Science in Law." In Scientists in the Legal System, ed. Thomas. Ann Arbor: Ann Arbor Science Publishers.

Lopez, Ian Haney 1996. White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race. New York: New York University Press.

Miner, H. Craig. 1976. The Corporation and the Indian. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Powers, Janet. 1999. "Mapping the Prophetic Landscape in Almanac of the Dead." In Leslie Marmon Silko, ed. Louise Barnett and James Thorson,. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Prucha, Francis Paul, ed. 1990. Documents of United States Indian Policy. 2nd ed. expanded. Lincoln: University.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. 1981. Storyteller. NewYork: Arcade Publishing.

_____. 1991. Almanac of the Dead. NewYork: Penguin.

Vizenor, Gerald. 1989. "Preface." In Narrative Chance, ed. Gerald Vizenor. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

Wing, Andrien Katherine, ed. 1997. Critical Race Feminism. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
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