Follow Me

Who said anything about Critical Race Theory?

interpretation is infinite because Meaning is made infinite by desire.” – Julia Kristeva1

Ihab Hassan outlines eleven theoretical points within his article Pluralism in Postmodern Perspectives used to determine the depth of postmodernism.2 Cathy’s art works decisively articulate each of these theoretical concepts, thereby establishing her work within a Native postmodern construct. To demonstrate how Cathy generates, and sustains, a Native postmodern critique – one that equally reflects and critiques a contemporary Native feminist identity – it is necessary to deconstruct each of Hassan’s points noting their trajectory and function within Cathy’s artworks.

Indeterminacy, as defined by Hassan, is defined by “ambiguities, ruptures, and displacements affect knowledge and society” (504)3. Cathy engages this perspective within her works through a fluid continuum that reconstructs Native identity by embracing the binary dialectic established by EuroAmerican pop cultural stereotypes and misrepresentations. This technique is, therefore, positioned as the departure point within Cathy’s artworks for the remaining postmodern theoretical points.

Hassan’s Fragmentation, for Cathy, captures the shards of Native cultural tradition(s) formalized as the building blocks for current, 20/21st century, artistic currency. Jean-Francois Lyotard supports Cathy’s artistic operations and use of this technique when he states, “[l]et us wage a war on totality; let us be witness to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name” (505).4 Adding to this point, William James confirms Cathy’s ability to connect Native and non-Native artistic ideologies. James states,
“[i]t may be that some parts of the world are connected so loosely with some other parts as to be strung along by nothing but the copula and…[t]his pluralistic view, of the world of additive constitution, is one that pragmatism is unable to rule out from serious consideration” (Hassan, 517).5

As stated previously, Cathy situates her work at the crossroads of Native and non-Native dialectics. Her artistic narratives are of a contemporary feminist Native dialectic realized through an artistic tradition – painting – in order to capture and invert Euro American aesthetic values to combat, dispelling, and eradicate racist/sexist Native stereotypes. Therefore, according to Hassan, Cathy articulates a Native artistic DE canonization, one that ruptures from a limited Euro American artistic canon – including manipulated racist histories, cultural misrepresentations and false identities – in order to challenge a “DE legitimation” of the master codes (read: matriarchal Euro American socio-political values) in society” (Lyotard, quoted in Hassan, 505).6 Creative operation at this level stems directly into Hassan’s aspect of Self-less-ness and Depth-less-ness as Cathy reaffirms her tribal philosophy, which absolves the self for the betterment of the tribal community.7

The Unpresentable, Unrepresentable, as witnessed within Cathy’s artistic works is the demise of the Euro American indian.8 Within Cathy’s artistic dialogue, the Indian dies a death by creative means, through aesthetic tactics and a sovereign re-reading of Native socio-political issues. Julia Kristeva confirms Cathy’s artistic function by stating,
“[t]hat which through language, is part of no particular language [read: the Indian as defined by Vizenor and artistically realized by Cathy] …[t]hat which, through meaning, is intolerable, unthinkable, the horrible” (quoted in Hassan, 506).9
Therefore, Cathy, like Vizenor in literature, recaptures the Indian fallacy through a creative process – painting – and systematically outlines a Native identity founded upon creative dynamism and currency visible within contemporary Native history. The collection of Cathy’s creative narratives expands the dialectic between traditional and contemporary Native art, which, again, is founded upon a re-presentation of Native identity – in this case a Native feminist identity. As Hassan notes,
“…[t]his makes for a different concept of tradition, [and] culture, [which] mingle not to imitate but to expand the past in the present. In that plural present [read: traditional and contemporary Native artistic aesthetics], all styles are dialectically available in an interplay between the Now and the Not Now, the Same and the Other.”10

Cathy is supported by Heidegger’s concept of equitemporality (Hassan, 507).11 which is defined as “a new relation between historical elements, without any suppression of the past in favor of the present.” Cathy, then, binds Native artistic traditions and contemporary aesthetic values together with a Native feminist critique that speaks to the equitemporality of her tribal community at the local and global level.12 Cathy’s artistic creations sculpt a subversive Native identity created, and re-created, through a polyphony of elements available within her immediate tribal community. Each of these elements negotiates an artistic performance through active Native participation without falling into, or failing toward, a Euro American stereotype of Native culture.

Cathy reveals “an energy in motion, an energy with its own shape” through a critical eye toward the inner workings of her local tribal community (Richard Poirier quoted in Hassan, 507).13 Her critique is, as Richard Poirier notes, a “self-discovering, self-watching, finally self-pleasuring response to…pressures and difficulties” that are present within the complex rhizome of her reservation life (Richard Poirier quoted in Hassan, 507).14 However, Cathy is careful not to fall victim to Native narcissism or solipsism, which many Native and non-Native artists have done in the past while traveling along such an artistic path. Rather, Cathy yields a critical review of contemporary 20/21st century Native life with such a strong fever and pointed command as to silence Euro American racist projections regarding Native People.

Her artistic construction, including process and procedures – or Constructionism as Hassan indicates within his review of postmodernism (Hassan, 507-08)15 – become the binding elements between various and diverse markers to articulate a Native identity operating within and beyond the local-global binary. Cathy’s artistic evaluation, then, of her artistic environment – and possibly for other postmodern Native artist working within the same epistemological manner – is the reality of self, couched within a glocal environment that extends beyond and eradicates colonial reservation borders through a socio-political artistic Native feminist critique of contemporary Native social (dis)order. This is realized within Cathy’s ability to capture the dynamics of cultural language – not limited to literature or rhetoric, but rather encapsulating the abundant cultural perspectives alive and thriving within Native communities – to establish a foundation of “self” (read: the complexity present within tribal identity) defined by her own creative evaluations and represented/re-presented within her resulting art. Gary Saul Morson supports these creative actions by Cathy as he notes that, “it is not meanings but appropriate procedures for discovering meaning…not particular readings, but how to read” (Morson quoted in Hassan, 509).16 This defines just how sensitive is Cathy’s reading of her local tribal environment. It is from her tribal environment that she selects issues necessary to uncover, or rather discover, and articulate the multiple cultural as well as socio-political layers of the tribal community. The critique, for Cathy, is an endless cultural exploration expressed through her art. The power or Cathy’s art and Native feminist critique resides within her artistic control of a sovereign Native identity just as her authority is founded upon the reversal of inaccurate tribal images, exploited for non-Native use. Cathy poses a critical reading, a cultural exploration – defined along the fuzzy borders of her tribal community – in order to draw attention to the realities of contemporary Native culture. Edward Said confirms this dynamic and creative process as he insists that the, “realities of power and authority…are the realities that make texts possible, that deliver them to their readers, that solicit the attention of critics” (Said quoted in Hassan, 511).17 It is from Said through Cathy that “texts” is to be understood as the reference toward tribal socio-political issues, and “readers” is, therefore, in reference to the tribal community itself. Further, it is Julia Kristeva who confirms Cathy’s critical tribal inquiry as she states that the “interpretation is infinite because Meaning is made infinite by desire” (Kristeva quoted in Hassan, 514).18 Cathy’s Native feminist lens captures projects this “Meaning” through her critical review of her local tribal community, which she then represents/re-presents through narratives founded upon a sovereign artistic politic.

It is William James who satisfies Cathy’s artistic and socio-political trajectory as he states,
“[h]e[she] who takes for his [her] hypothesis the notion that it [a pluralistic universe supported by critical cultural inquiry] is the permanent form of the world is what I call a radical empiricist. For him [her] the crudity of experience remains an eternal element thereof. There is no possible point of view from which the world can appear an absolutely single fact.”19

Cathy recognizes that there is no single Native viewpoint, no pan-Indian identity available or present for contemporary Native People. It is because of this unspoken realization that she works within a complex artistic sphere balanced upon a Native/non-Native binary. This binary itself is conducted by the plurality of representations and re-presentations of Native culture, socio-political power and creative authority. Cathy’s “passional nature,” as noted by James, is one that continues to negotiate “reason and interest, mediations of desire, transactions of power or hope” (James quoted in Hassan, 515).20 However, Cathy is not artistically satisfied with and either-or dialogue between power and hope. Rather, she creatively confirms knowledge of Native sovereign socio-political power that rests eloquently upon the creative authority she amplifies through her feminist critique.

Cathy does not arrest the image or contemporary environment of Native People. She does not paint metaphors ripe with possible misrepresentations. Her works do not conform to the stoic realities of reservation life. Rather, she gives creative birth to Native issues that both strike and caress, answer and question modern 20/21st century Native identity epistemologically through a Native postmodern ideology. Cathy is able to bind traditional Native values with a contemporary Native aesthetic that signifies a complex Native dialogue that challenges historic notions and discourse regarding Native cultures. It is from this point that Cathy meets Ralph Waldo Emerson to sing along, and imagine, a creative complex filled with the sounds of Orpheus’ song, to which Emerson states, “Orpheus is no fable: you have only to sing, and the rocks will crystallize; sing, and the plan will organize; sing and the animal will be born” (Emreson quoted in Hassan, 516).21

Post-script and after-thoughts

1. Kristeva, Julia. Psychoanalysis and the Polis, 82 – 86, quoted in Hassan, 514.

2. Hassan, Ihab. Pluralism in Postmodern Perspective, Critical Inquiry (12:3), 1986, 503 – 520.

3. ibid.

4. ibid.

5. James quoted in Hassan, 517.

6. Lyotard quoted in Hassan, 505.

7. Hassan, Ihab. Pluralism in Postmodern Perspective, Critical Inquiry (12:3), 1986, 503 – 520.

8. Vizenor, Gerald. Mannifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance, Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, 1999. Vizenor outlines a detailed ideological perspective and literary deconstruction of the meaning and term indian.

9. Kristeva, quoted in Hassan, 514.

10. Capitalization in the original, Hassan, 506.

11. Heideggar, quoted in Hassan, 507.

12. Local here is fixed within the current boarders of the La Jolla Indian Reservation. Global is used to represent a larger Native/Indigenous community connection, artistic meaning, and multiple tribal artistic values/techniques. A Native glocal (read: global and local – for more information see Lechuza Aquallo, 2009/2013) community is a more accurate description of how current 21st century Native/Indigenous tribal communities function together legally, physically, and digitally. Through dynamic involvement with the internet, constructed colonial borders no longer bind nor limit communication between tribal communities.

13. Poirier, quoted in Hassan, 507.

14. ibid.

15. Hassan, Ihab. Pluralism in Postmodern Perspective, Critical Inquiry (12:3), 1986, 507 – 08.

16. Morson, quoted in Hassan, 509.

17. Said, quoted in Hassan, 511.

18. Kristeva, quoted in Hassan, 514.

19. William James,’ The Will to Believe, quoted in Hassan, 515.

20. ibid.

21. Emerson, quoted in Hassan, 516.


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