Towards the end of class today we touched on the "work" of the narratives of modernity. I think Deloria would say that the narrative of modernity in the settler imagination is tied to a narrative of "primitiveness" or what we were calling in class the "traditional." Deloria suggests that these two narratives are co-dependent; modernity is constructed in opposition to the traditional. History with a capital H has often coded Native Indians as frozen in the traditional and non-Indians of the early twentieth century as moving towards modernity. Yet Deloria demonstrates that Native Indians have always been modern and have always participated in the shaping of modernity. As Annita pointed out in class (if I understand her correctly), Deloria implicitly critiques the linear trajectory that begins with the traditional and then moves towards the modern. This idea reminds me of West's critique of globalization as a linear process. (This critique is evoked in the title of her book, From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive.)
To return to Deloria, these narratives in the settler imagination and their relationship to one another are important because they continue to shape non-Indian expectations about Native Indian people. These expectations in turn create and reinforce systematic racism and material injustices.
But the point that I was trying to get at in class but failed to articulate is that the "modern" as an ideological construct always functions historically and in specific geographical and cultural contexts. As such, the "modern" has not always been articulated by non-Indians as antithetical to primitiveness or to the traditional (I would contend that the "primitive" and the "traditional" are not always aligned in the settler imagination). On the contrary, early twentieth century non-Indians sometimes looked to and appropriated the "primitive" as a way of breaking away from a European past and carving out new paths towards modernity. While Picasso's use of African masks as models for his cubist paintings or Monet's use of Japanese prints as models for impressionism are clearly not American (but are easier for me to see at a distance precisely because they aren't American), I think that there is a similar approbation of the primitive in service of the modern in American contexts. I see this at work is just about every avant-garde modernist movement in American art and literature. I see it in the contradiction of giving cars (associated with the modern) Native Indian names (associated with the primitive).
This is not to say that I am dismissing Deloria's main argument about the modern, the traditional, and how these shape expectations about Native Indians. On the contrary, I think Deloria's argument is real and important. However, Deloria's project is to understand the relationship between Indians and non-Indians in broad terms, to make generalizations. This aspect of his project is what I was trying to get at in my discussion question about strategic scaling. I just want to suggest that settler narratives of modernity and Native Indians are not always and everywhere the same, although they might nevertheless lead to expectations that contribute to similar forms of racism.
Talking about the modern also made me think of Felski's "The Gender of Modernity," which I read back in my literature days. I think Felski's analysis of the connections between gender and modernity would enrich and bring nuance to Deloria's intervention.
I've gone way over the 15 minute limit, so I am cutting myself off here.