This article shows that Crashing Thunder (1926), recognized as the first book-length American Indian autobiography published by an anthropologist, contains multiple, nested accounts of a pivotal moment in the life of its Ho-Chunk author, Sam Blowsnake: the killing of a man in 1903. Focusing on these nested accounts, the article seeks to develop an understanding of the context that led Blowsnake to include them—examples of autobiography en abyme—in his text. First, it draws on archival research into the killing and its legal consequences to examine Blowsnake's shifting accounts of his role in this event, showing how these differing accounts respond to the contexts of the tellings and how they resonate with recent theories of agency and autobiography. Second, it examines Blowsnake's autobiography in the context of his conversion to a new religion and its discursive practices and semiotic concerns. The conclusion suggests that a reexamination of the elements of autobiography en abyme in Crashing Thunder provides a framework for investigating the politics of culture and identity that shaped both Blowsnake's text and Paul Radin's ethnographic portrait of Ho-Chunk society and for thinking about the role of autobiography in the emergence of indigeneity.
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Research Article| January 01 2012
Grant Arndt; Indigenous Autobiography en Abyme: Indigenous Reflections on Representational Agency in the Case of Crashing Thunder. Ethnohistory 1 January 2012; 59 (1): 27–49. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00141801-1435383
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