“Rhetorics of Survivance: How American Indians Use Writing” Malea Powell

Malea Powell begins this article by articulating the transformative potential of stories to construct “new histories and theories” in our discipline, which in adhering to The Rhetorical Tradition maintains a Western Eurocentric perspective and contributes, perhaps unknowingly, to the US imperial process. Powell draws on Vizenor to explain that the contemporary American Indian “situation” should be thought of in “paracolonial” terms, “ a colonialism beyond colonialism, multiple, contradictory, and with all the attendant complications of internal, neo-and post-colonialism” (399). As part of the anti-paracolonial project, Powell listens to the language of survivance (survival + resistance) used by Winnemuca and Eastman to reimagine, and refigure the “Indian.” Powell argues that their language use “transforms their object-status within colonial discourse into a subject status, a presence instead of an absence” (400). To support this argument, Powell teases the ironic manners Winnemucca and Eastman use to imagine a new “Indian” in their rhetoric of Native resistance and survival—a rhetoric that uses tactics to “insinuate” themselves into the hegemonic systems in which they were caught (405). She demonstrates how Winnemucca and Eastman use their writing to create texts that reproduce commonly held beliefs about Indians in order to create a new kind of “Indian-ness.” While Winnemmucca uses this “Indian-ness” to create difference in arguments for policy changes that benefit of the Norhern Paiutes, Eastman uses “Indian-ness” to create difference in arguments for the synthesis of Euroamerican and Native cultural values (405). In demonstrating these deliberate uses of language, Powell aims to demonstrate how American Indians have used the same policies and beliefs about “the Indian” intended to “remove, reserve, assimiliate, acculturate, abrogate, and un-see” American Indians as tools through which to reconceive American Indian history, to reimagine Indian-ness, to create and re-create American Indian presence in this country (428). In Audre Lorde’s words, Powell shows how the master’s tools can dismantle the master’s house or at least make laudable efforts in the attempt. Powell’s hope is that rhetoric and composition scholars can learn from Winnemucca and Eastman. We can “reimagine ourselves, our pedagogies, our scholarship, our discipline in relation to a long and sordid history of American imperialism” (428).

Questions and Thoughts:

This text raises so many thought-provoking points that I have chosen to present this week on Native American Rhetorics in our class. Thus rather than share all my thoughts here, I will raise just a couple of questions.

In this article, Powell creates exigency for revisionary work in our discipline. The work of “reimagining ourselves”—reflecting, rethinking, revisting, and revising the stories that create who we are—is not only important but necessary if we want to combat American Imperialsim. Articulated in this light, Powell makes revisionary work a responsibility that we cannot ignore. She also makes rhetorical and comp scholars complicit in the ongoing American Imperial project and urges us to begin listening not only to how American Indians have used writing in the past but also to listen to how scholarship both within and outside our field has used and continues to use writing for imperialist endeavors.

What risks does Powell take in articulating this political exigency for revisonary scholarship? In terms of her own rhetoric, how does Powell’s political stance strengthen or weaken her recovery of Winnemucca and Eastman’s rhetoric? Drawing on a question I asked last week, what do we learn from Powell about the role argument plays in social history?

I am very interested in the distinction Powell emphasizes between strategies and tactics. How useful to do you find this distinction? What are the ways that Winnemucca’s rhetorical tactics parallel and diverge from the feminist rhetorical traditions we have been learning about? Would you categorize Eastman’s rhetorical style within the feminist rhetorical tradition? Why or why not?

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9 Comments

Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam

9 responses to ““Rhetorics of Survivance: How American Indians Use Writing” Malea Powell

  1. Thanks, Laurie!
    To get at one of your questions, I wanted to direct us to the last paragraph in Powell’s article where she writes:
    “… do we, can we, take what we do best as a discipline – reflect, rethink, revisit, and revise the stories that create who we are? My hope is that we can begin to reimagine ourselves, our pedagogies, and our scholarship, our discipline in relation to a long and sordid history of American imperialism” (428).
    As I write out the passage and think about your question about the consequences of Powell’s “political stance” and exigency I begin to think about two things in particular –
    1) the ways in which it might be useful for social histories of rhetoric to consider the notion that meaning is found, uniquely, in consequences (I’m thinking of Kevin Porter whose book just arrived here a few days ago) and so the counterbalance to exigency might be attention to the multiplicity of consequences.
    2) that history and historiography, like writing and rhetoric itself, is political… and the kind of revisiting that Powell calls for seems to point (indice jokes to follow) to the unique opportunities of rhetoric to transparently take up such dynamics
    In those two contexts it seems that Powell’s political disclosure enriches her own work…
    She attends to not only the demands for transparent methods but to disclosure that itself IS exigency…
    (If this doesn’t make ANY sense chalk it up to my presently killer headache…)

  2. Eileen E. Schell

    We lucked out and got to hear Malea give a version of this article a few years ago when she came to campus.

    I like all of your questions, Laurie, and I’ll try not to be pre-emptory and answer them. I wanted pose another one, though. Malea begins her work often with the statement. “This is a story.” What resonance does this have for American Indian rhetorics. Why this choice? How is a rhetorical situation created by that statement?

  3. zstuckey

    I have always heard of tactics in relation to direct political protest (direct action)whereas strategies are overarching–more general–ways of approaching injustice. It is interesting then to think of rhetoric as one or the other. Do we have responsibilities to involve ourselves in direct action?

    Trish, i want to hear more about what you are saying about the connection between purpose and consequences.

  4. Eileen E. Schell

    A story is something we read, but something we listen to as well. Note, too, how Powell frequently states she will “listen” to a text. This sets the tone throughout–the idea of rhetorical listening, which I’m borrowing from Krista Ratcliffe’s work. But there is something more edgy and political about what Powell is saying about listening.

  5. legries

    I’d like to talk tomorrow about listening as a method and methodology that is useful for social history. I’m really intrigued by all the useful concepts, theories, methods, and methodologies offered by Powell and all the scholars in this week’s readings, which we can both use and listen to.

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