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Art Critique Essay Humanities Nonfiction

“Mix-Ups, Messes, Confinements, and Double-Dealings”: Transgendered Performances in Three Novels by Louise Erdrich

By Louise Erdrich and J. James Iovannone, 2009

ouise Erdrich ‘s early poem “The Strange People” portrays a dynamic understanding of gender echoed inmany of her later fictiveworks.1 Narrated by a speaker who is half antelope, half woman, the poem details the relationship between a masculine hunter and his feminine prey.The antelope-woman isnotwounded by her hunter’s weapons, as his bullets merely “enter and dissolve” (8). The only thing that can hurt her, touch her heart, is honest dialogue and exchange, representing a commingling of self and another, hunter and hunted, human and animal, man and woman. The poem suggests that gender is experienced as a wound, a site of conflict and discord, a transformation, a negotiation between men and women, masculine and feminine?an exchange that redefines and transcends both. Erdrich’s blurring of animal and human sub jectivities echoes JudithButler’s assertion that issues of identity fundamentally question who or what is defined as human and to what extent. Butler writes, “The terms bywhich we are recognized as human are socially articulated and changeable…. The human is understood differentlydepending on its race … its sex .. . its ethnicity…. Certain humans are recognized as less than human. … Certain humans are not recognized as human at all” (Undoing Gender 2). In questioning not only who or what counts as human but also, by extension, the connectivity existing between a vari ety of subject positions, Erdrich places an examination of issues of identity? Namely those of gender, race, and sexuality?at the fore frontofher project as awriter.

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