“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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Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam

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