Saturday, December 26, 2009


A quick Google reveals that Professor Fox has had two main jobs since 1990. The first was four years (1990-1994) as the managing editor of “The Pet Dealer Magazine” in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The second, from 1994 until today, has been as an associate professor at “Chinese Culture University, Taipei.” His degrees are a BA (‘83) from Rutgers and the Newark College of Arts and Science; MA in Poly Sc. (‘84); M.Ed. Teaching English as a Second Language (1992) from the same school; and Ph.D. from Tamkang University, Graduate School of English (2004). His dissertation was entitled: “Writing is Fighting: the Politics of Resistance in the Works of Frank Chin.”

In Taiwan in 2007 at the International Symposium on Diaspora and Ethnic Studies, National Sun Yat-sen U., Fox presented a paper called “The Hoax that Hurts: the Pathology of Playing Indian in an AIDS Memoir.” I’ve downloaded it and read it. It is a rehash of easily Googled material, all of it criticizing Tim Barrus’ “Nasdijj” books and holding him personally and malevolently responsible for them rather than publishers, who supported the identity while knowing Barrus. Fox clearly has no insight or even information about the state of publishing in the US, the conditions on reservations of any sort (there is no evidence that he has ever visited one); or the politics of either Indian reservations or Native American writing. He’s simply recycling, mostly the LA Weekly chop job.

As Fox’s thesis title reveals (“Writing is Fighting”), he is interested in writing from an aggressive political point of view, presumably one that agrees with his own aims. Since he is in Taiwan, like James Mackay in Cyprus, he is not accountable to the usual overseers of scholarly accuracy and worthiness. Nor has he done any real research. He does not know that Sherman Alexie, the chief attacker, had previously had the same literary agent as Barrus but had quarreled with him, so that the agent had every reason to throw “Nasdijj” in Alexie’s face. He does not make a comparison between “The Blood Runs like a River Through my Dreams” (which was published in Chinese -- I have a copy here) and Alexie’s short story that became “Smoke Signals.” (They are nothing alike.) He does not note that the attack on Barrus coincided with the need for publicity for “Smoke Signals.” Nor does he note that Alexie had considered himself a cinch for the PEN prize for minority writers that “Nasdijj” won. Alexie, the white man’s Indian, never speaks with forked tongue, eh? Is too noble for human motives?

Fox, who seems to know little about publishing, believes that if a white man writes about Indians, then the Indians themselves will never get published. Actually, it appears that it was the bogus “The Education of Little Tree” which sold so well, as cliche genre will, that it persuaded publishers to try issuing Native American books, some of which became so popular (Louise Erdrich, James Welch) that they were eventually shelved with regular fiction. In fact, “The Education of Little Tree” really WAS written by a racist, (Asa Carter, Governor Wallace’s speech writer and a member of the KKK) and still sells so well that the University of New Mexico continues to publish it and is said to make millions off it.

The wave of philosophical reinterpretation that came out of Algierian and French philosophers with anti-colonial sympathies: Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Said and a host of deconstructionists, post-colonialists, and psychoanalytic reinterpreters, was so compelling that it wiped out the previous norms of narrativity and modernity. When I was in seminary, the ideas were everywhere but uninterpretable without a Tom Mix decoder ring, which was mostly a matter of attitude. In fact, this stuff was dubbed “the politics of resentment” AKA “you owe me money.” By the time it got to the reservation tribal colleges, it had been reduced to a Wheaties boxtop from which the address was missing. But the attitude was there.

Some say that’s what finally killed Native American literature because it put everyone in such a fighting mode that publishers and movie producers everywhere saw it as the “third rail” of American culture, the one that, if you touched it, would kill you. For the Indians themselves, it was probably the huge success of “Dances with Wolves,” a return to good old narrativity, that so idealized Native Americans that nothing the people themselves wrote could ever match it. They were nailed back into the 19th century genre coffin.

It seems to me that that box is exactly where Tim Fox and James Mackay want to be. They have never recovered from reading “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” which was written in libraries by a white college professor and was about the END of the prairie clearances that enabled homesteading, very much in the same way that the Scots and Irish highlands were cleared for raising sheep. “Braveheart”/”Dunbar” seized these suburban boys on their way to grad school and they’ve never been able to give it up, somehow believing that their suburban growing up was only redeemed by their enormous insight into Native Americans.

They do not know that Michigan was always Indian country or that Barrus’ “suburbs” (in 1950, that’s not what they were) was not far from indigenous village remnants. They do not know that the huge dry Western reservations are like Third World Nations where people struggle with poverty as they do throughout the world. They believe little factoids about food, like whether an Indian taco can have mutton on it (never thinking about whether fry bread in the first place is an Indian food) the same way as they decide whether they prefer red or green peppers and how definitive of identity this is. Foodies to the end!

Both Fox and Mackay have a backup favorite subject: science fiction. Fox writes papers on Star Trek. I suspect they are more reality-based than the one he wrote about Barrus. It’s interesting to me that both these men have escaped their own culture in order to live in a more exotic place. In the 19th century whites often went to live with the Indians because they could not succeed in their original milieu. The trouble is that the 19th century has ended. The only way to live with 19th century Indians now is in fantasy.

1 comment:

Lance Michael Foster said...

ain't life weird

real Indian lit is passe (except for a select few) but Little Tree and Bury My Heart etc are still going strong

I do really enjoy Josey Wales book/movie though (some of my ancestors were Missouri border ruffians and supposedly friendly to the James boys)

but this fellow with a PhD (as in Piled higher and Deeper), well that just shows the problem with PhDs

One big problem for example is that people think that PhD means you are a learned individual. Not so. You are only learned in a very narrow band of reality, whatever it is you did your PhD on.

A PhD in biology means doodleysquat when you are talking about thermodynamics or American history, and a PhD in English-Chinese literature (or whatever) means doodleysquat when it comes to Native American literature or biology

An interested and critical-thinking layman can be more educated than someone with a bunch of degrees.

Case in point-
Kunstler wrote the other day about talking about peak oil to a guy who writes a financial column for a national paper. The guy had never heard of peak oil.

The guy had also no idea what the Monroe Doctrine was. And he had a degree in history from Yale.