Louise Erdrich | Critical Essay by James Ruppert

This literature criticism consists of approximately 20 pages of analysis & critique of Louise Erdrich.
This section contains 5,840 words
(approx. 20 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Essay by James Ruppert

SOURCE: "Mediation and Multiple Narrative in Love Medicine," in North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 4, Fall, 1991, pp. 229-41.

In the following essay, Ruppert explains the ways in which Erdrich allows readers of Love Medicine, both Native and non-Native American, to experience the Native perspective in the text.

Love Medicine is a dazzling, personal, intense novel of survivors who struggle to define their own identities and fates in a world of mystery and human frailty. In her writing, Louise Erdrich both protects and celebrates this world. To assume effectively the roles of protector and celebrant, Erdrich must mediate between two conceptual frameworks, white and Native. But as a contemporary Native American writer, she appreciates and utilizes both epistemological codes. Erdrich has at her disposal both Native American and white codes at any moment in the creation of the text. This dual vision allows her either to use one code to illuminate another, or to ignore one code and stay within another if she wishes. She can create value and meaning through a Native worldview or through a contemporary American worldview or both at the same time. Thus, her standpoint as a mediator is more complex and more open to a wide set of possibilities than authors positioned in only one culture or even authors perceived as merely standing between two cultures. She is capable of satisfying two audiences at once, commenting on two cultural systems from a position of deep understanding and knowledge. And perhaps more importantly, she can manipulate each audience so that it will experience the novel through the paths of understanding unique to each culture, thus assuring protection and continuance of a newly appreciated and experienced Native American epistemological reality.

Celebrating and protecting the stories of survivors can imply the creation of meaning in characters under the pressure of competing senses of identity. The cultural concepts of identity differ in Native American and white cultures. As Erdrich layers these identities in the text, the sets of cultural identities become visible through merging of epistemological codes which are used to create these identities. She harmoniously evokes the various story realities: each narrative grouping of the novel has the potential of being read as a psychological story and a social story (using the most common white senses of identity) or as a communal story and a mythical story (using Native American senses of identity) depending on the code and positioning of the perspective that Erdrich employs. Thus any section of the novel reveals multiple narratives embedded in the text. The mediational actions of the author serve to protect and celebrate culture by a continuing recreation of the multiple facets of identity through multiple narrative.

Mediation, as the central generative organizational principle, downplays mechanically plotted novel structure while encouraging multiple narratives. In this process the voices and ideas of a variety of culturally linked positions, a variety of identities, compete for readers' ears and thus their allegiance. This "struggle going on within discourse," as Bakhtin calls it, characterizes mediational texts, emphasizing their essential dialogic nature. For Erdrich, plot is far less important than the voices of her characters. She sets the oral tribal language against the half-breed language and the contemporary American language. Bakhtin, in his discussion of narrative discourse, clarifies the relationship of plot to languages when he writes:

In a word, the novelistic plot serves to represent speaking persons and their ideological worlds. What is realized in the novel is the process of coming to know one's own language, coming to know one's own belief system in someone else's system. There takes place within the novel an ideological translation of another's language, and an overcoming of its otherness—an otherness that is only contingent, external and illusory.

The otherness is illusory in the successful mediational novel because the plot organizes the exposure of social languages and ideologies in such a way as to allow the reader into a new way of seeing and speaking about the world. For Erdrich, this new perspective is a dynamic one where the reader can understand a variety of perspectives on a Native and non-Native cultural spectrum. Love Medicine then becomes for the reader, what Bakhtin envisions, "The experience of a discourse, a world view, and an ideologically based act." Erdrich's goals include nothing less than ideological and epistemological transposition.

To illustrate her mediational positioning, consider the mode of Erdrich's discourse. She attempts to present an oral discourse in a written format. The importance of the oral tradition to Native American cultures is well known, and Erdrich's first-person narrators talk directly to the reader as if he or she were chatting over a kitchen table. They speculate, remember, complain, come to conclusions, and describe their actions; indeed, almost all the information, the meaning, the significance of the novel is developed through this homage to the most personal and least codified elements of a vital oral tradition. Oral tradition in this book defines the nature of all knowledge; for characters like Lipsha what they hear defines who they are.

Yet Erdrich's effort is structured by a set of highly Western novelistic conventions with contemporary parallels in experimental novels, semiotic poetry, and cinema verité. Erdrich never seems to be totally content with letting the characters speak solely for themselves. The author's presence is often felt both in the omniscient point of view and in the highly structured images which organize each section, especially those images which close each section. Robert Silberman has suggested that Native American writers, and especially Erdrich, in their attempts to move writing toward storytelling have been developing the "conventions of the oral," conventions every bit as necessary for generation of the text as the conventions of realism or naturalism. He identifies the use of a dramatic present tense and the occasional reference to the second-person pronoun, "you." But an examination of oral tradition would quickly add many more elements to the list. Erdrich's constant switching from past to present tense, her shifts from omniscient to first-person narration, her episodic structure, her use of dialect, and her use of foreshadowing and of flashbacks give an evocative rendition of a traditional storyteller's art. However, considering this expanded sense of the written conventions of the oral, it is clear that what we have is a novel, a Western structure, set with the task of recreating something of a Native oral tradition, a task it can never completely accomplish. Erdrich is using a very Western mode to arrive at a Native perspective and illuminating the conventions, significations, assumptions, and strengths of both as she does so. Obviously her goal is not to be a traditional storyteller, nor is it merely to add a sense of immediacy to her novel, but only by positioning the audience to accept a discourse with oral codes can she mediate and thus prepare both audiences for valuing Native ways of meaning and thereby Native cultures, which are the ultimate source of value in the novel.

Humorous examples of the stylistic and formal aspect of Erdrich's mediation in Love Medicine are found in Lipsha's malapropisms. Lipsha, who has taken some college classes, alternates, as Albertine tells us, between using "words I had to ask him the meaning of," and not making "the simplest sense." Lipsha's malapropisms, such as referring to "mental condensation" when he means concentration, or saying he was in a "laundry" when he means quandry, represent his oral appreciation of the learned diction more appropriate to writing. Yet Lipsha can also turn around and take a common current activity from the dominant culture to create a metaphor for an internal illumination at a moment when death surrounds him. Lipsha likens his revelations about himself and the world to a video game:

You play those games never knowing what you see. When I fell into the dream alongside both of them I saw that the dominions I had defended myself from anciently was but delusions of the screen. Blips of light. And I was scot-free now, whistling through space.

His mediational style of expression reveals Erdrich's concern with every level of epistemological double-code embedding.

If one considers the larger goals of this mediational process, much of the richness of the text emerges. Central to a Chippewa worldview, and those of much of Native America, is a sense of the reciprocal nature of the relationships between man and the spiritual powers which activate the world. Man's actions in the natural world have spiritual repercussions. An Eskimo elder, worried about the actions of his people and the response of the spirit world, was quoted as saying, "No bears have come because there is no ice, and there is no ice because there is no wind, and there is no wind because we have offended the powers." The reciprocal relationship between man and nature and between man and the spirit world is also portrayed in Love Medicine, but in the novel it is manifest in the most immediate and personal manner; that is, in the gossip, the problems, and the survival of individuals as they interact with the universe in which they participate. Much Native American thought assumes that mental and physical phenomena are inseparable, and that thought and speech can deeply influence a world where no circumstance is accidental or free from personalized intent. As Paula Allen writes:

It is reasonable that all literary forms should be interrelated, given the basic idea of the unity and relatedness of all the phenomena of life. Separation of parts into this or that category is not agreeable to American Indians, and the attempt to separate essentially unified phenomena results in distortion…. The purpose of a ceremony is to integrate: to fuse the individual with his or her fellows, the community of people with that of the other kingdoms, and this larger communal group with the worlds beyond this one.

As a ceremonial philosophy, Native American thought unifies various levels of meaning which Western thought would separate. This unity of experience is what Joseph Epes Brown refers to as "A polysynthetic metaphysic of nature." Erdrich merges this Native sense of multiple levels of meaning for each physical act with a powerful belief in the mystery of events as they make manifest the sacred processes of the world, and this meaning informs all of Love Medicine (think of Nector and Marie on the path, or Bev and Lulu at the grave). Understanding slowly builds in the novel as people tell us more of their stories. Events take on spiritual, mythic, cultural, personal, and religious meanings for phenomena in which Western thought often would see only physical effects. Reciprocity between the various levels of existence ties the meanings together and helps Erdrich express a Chippewa worldview which appreciates a dynamic process of signification, or as Paula Allen so poetically puts it, a worldview which sees the "self as a moving event within a moving universe," a universe where "everything moves in dynamic equilibrium."

On the other hand, another clear goal of Erdrich is to present a complementary vision of individual will and history which is more psychologically based than communally oriented. The results of Nector's actions on those around him, the exploration of Marie through her relationship to the nun, Sister Leopolda, and King's vision of his life all suggest a psychological dimension which uses dominant-culture conceptual categories. Moreover, the novel itself clearly has a sociological agenda as illustrated by its treatment of economic development on the reservation, the influence of the white society, especially Christian religion, and the changes on the contemporary reservation such as old people living in an institution rather than with families. This use of both belief systems to illuminate each other supports Bakhtin's understanding of the novel's task, "coming to know one's own belief system in someone else's system."

As an illustration of the way these two cultural frameworks merge in the text, consider Henry Lamartine. From a white set of epistemological codes, he is clearly an example of the displaced soldier returning home; whatever meaning he holds for the text and the dominant culture could be seen in the commonplace insight that the experience of combat often destroys the soldier's sense of reality, making it difficult if not impossible to reintegrate himself into society. We know this by looking at the chronological series of events in his life, drawing a set of inferences based on causal reasoning. When he dies, we are not surprised since we have drawn a straight line from a shattering experience through his life to inevitable death. We've seen enough stories like this; it is a convention of the subject. Insights mount when the reader also considers that Henry's war was the Vietnam war with its political turmoil and disproportionately high number of minorities. White social and psychological codes give meaning to the events of his life, and the reader has an easy-to-read, satisfying text, complete with closure. When Lyman drives the red convertible into the river after Henry has drowned, the psychologically oriented reader sees suicide and a brother's desire to make a suicide look like an accident to save Henry's reputation.

Conversely, Henry's inability to resume normal life at home and his subsequent death can be seen as the result of actions out of harmony with the Chippewa sense of war, death, honor, and right thinking. As a draftee, Henry had no choice in his actions. He has not gone off to war with a vision which will give him power, nor has he danced the warrior's dance. The souls of his dead enemies will not rest. In the one military action we learn about, Henry is ordered to interrogate a dying woman who claims the bond of relationship with him. He is not prepared ritually for his departure for war, he breaks the bonds of relationship, and he is not purified of the spirits of dead enemies when he returns because his mother is afraid to take him to the old medicine man. At the end of the chapter, Henry's renewal of interest in his brother and the wild dance seem to undercut the possibility of psychologically motivated suicide. His one comment as he stands in the water, "My boots are filling up," does not have the purposeful ring of a suicide note. Perhaps his drowning performed in his unpurified state can be understood as a reciprocal response by the spiritual forces of the world around us to Henry's improper behavior, a water spirit's revenge. As the balance is set right again, Lyman's driving of the car into the river carries the weight of the custom of burying private personal possessions with the dead person. Each of the two perspectives I have mentioned has a certain level of completeness, yet the narrative's richness is revealed when each story, each narrative viewpoint on the meaning of the character Henry is seen in contrast to the other, and each complements and clarifies a different template of experience.

This use of one cultural code to illuminate the other is best shown in Erdrich's use of ghosts in Love Medicine. While ghosts are a very real part of the Chippewa worldview, when dealt with properly they do not often trouble the living. Anthropologist Ruth Landes observes: "The passage from life was considered tricky, beset with personified evils intent on murdering the wandering soul." But the proper instructions and recommendations delivered over a grave would assure the soul passage to the village of shadows. Conventional Western thought posits no existence to ghosts. While we allow them entrance into our world through literature, especially children's tales, ghosts are generally considered to be storytelling convention with no substance. So when Gordie sees June's ghost, Western epistemology is ready to posit no reality to the encounter, and we are encouraged to see this as a delusion brought on by alcohol and grief. That in his drunken frenzy Gordie should hit a deer and mistake it for June has no meaning other than the revelation of his psychological state of mind; we are not surprised that at the end of the encounter with Sister Mary Martin, he should end up running mad in the woods. However, in the traditional Chippewa worldview, the spirit world is the source of special insight and power. A dead wife returning to visit the husband who abused her is not unusual, especially if she is not buried in the appropriate manner; June's journey home at the time of her death is completed by her visit to Gordie. She visits Gordie because he has called her name and thus violated one of the most important prohibitions designed to keep the spirits of the dead on the trail to the spirit world. It is understandable that June would use a deer to aid her visit, as the spirits of animals are much closer to the world of the spirit than humans are. When Gordie clubs the deer with the tire iron, it is an action reminiscent of the times he hit June, and so his confession to the nun that he has killed June carries a ring of ironic truth and becomes more than the baseless ravings of a crazed drunk.

The psychological interpretation underlies and enriches the cultural one. Both stories' realities present valid worldviews and can stand alone to explain the meaning of the actions, yet each level of the text forces us to question exactly what we as readers believe. Can both be right? Can one be right and the other wrong? It seems clear that each reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the other code. An understanding of the psychological level clarifies the cultural framework; the cultural illuminates the psychological.

The return of Nector Kashpaw's ghost is even more mediational. Nector's sudden death leaves him without a chance to say good-bye to the two women he loves. Lipsha and Marie know that when ghosts return they have a "certain uneasy reason to come back." He visits Lulu, Lipsha, and Marie until he is admonished back to the spirit world by Lipsha. Nector's visit cannot be explained away as a drunken hallucination. Psychologically we can explain the presence of the ghost as being a figment of an imagination under the stress of grief. However, even by Western epistemological standards three independent visits observed by three independent observers come dangerously close to constituting corroborated reality. Yet the reality they tend to corroborate is one in which Western tradition places no credence. Lipsha comments on this philosophical and empirical paradox:

Whether or not he had been there is not the point. She had seen him, and that meant anyone else could see him, too. Not only that but, as is usually the case with these here ghosts, he had a certain uneasy reason to come back. And of course Grandma Kashpaw had scanned it out.

This text perfectly conveys both attitudes toward the reality of ghosts and thus the validation of each worldview and epistemological framework. It can be read as saying that it doesn't matter if the ghost was real since it was real to Grandma in her altered psychological state. But Lipsha says that the point is if she saw him, others could see him. His comment also about the ghost's motivation shows that his belief in the existence of the spirit world and of ghosts is undisturbed. There is no question he was there because, of course, his spirit is still around, but the problem is that he can be seen, that he refuses to let go of this world. The ghost needs to be instructed as to what to do, and Lipsha's admonition parallels recorded Midewiwin orations to the dead. The thrust of all this is to take a Western issue of non-truth (non-reality) and treat it with the assumptions of Chippewa reality while layering psychological motivation and cultural act. Each code is used and illuminates the other. The end result of Erdrich's technique is that we are forced to look at the multiple meanings of an event.

Clearly, the two sets of cultural codes produce a doubling of narrative textures as distinct as the two audiences Erdrich tries to reach. Each audience is satisfied in many ways, but primarily by the developing sense of identity as the readers animate the emerging characters. The contemporary survivors which Erdrich creates are people for whom growth, becoming, and identity are vitally important ways to protect and celebrate individual and cultural values. Of course, inside of any cultural code one can search for identity with an inward looking eye or an outward looking eye, and as Bakhtin has concluded, every text has two voices, the personal and the social. Thus the reader can expect to find a social and a psychological story of identity in Love Medicine. Yet as we have seen, Western codes are but half of the narrative layers Erdrich has to work with in the creation of the development of any character. When considering Native American codes, one also finds two levels of identity, but these are different from Western codes of signification. Native cultures are often observed to avoid emphasis on psychological motivation, even in a form so personal as the autobiography. Instead, Erdrich uses Native American codes to develop characters with an inward looking sense of identity, one based on family and community where kinship defines who one is, and with an outward looking sense of narrative identity that places a person in the framework of the sacred processes of the universe where the distant past and the present merge in a continuing experience on a mythic plane. Consequently Erdrich and other contemporary Native American writers have available four distinct narrative layers in which to create a sense of identify: Psychological, social, communal, and mythic. For them, part of the ideological translation of which Bakhtin wrote is to let both audiences experience the variety of culturally framed definitions of identity. While not all layers need be present in the development of any text, these possibilities define the bounds through which mediation can be realized in the text—one's own belief system in someone else's. There takes place within the novel an ideological translation of another's language.

Think back again for a moment to Henry Lamartine. How does a reader define Lamartine's identity? Surely his identity can be defined socially when he is seen as a shell-shocked veteran unable to adjust to the world back home, but as I have suggested, the reader can also see him as a warrior haunted by the ghosts of his dead enemies which he can not ritualistically exorcise. In this perspective, Henry is given a communal role, an identity based on his relation to the community and family as a young warrior and dutiful son. Each sense of identity satisfies its appropriate audience, but also because the reader holds both senses of identity as satisfactory, and the text validates both perspectives.

More central to the novel and more interesting are the stories which define Nector's identity. Nector comes from a family that is "respected as the last hereditary leaders of this tribe." His communal identity is set from the beginning, and much of his life is an attempt to live up to that identity, to understand it and grow into it. The Kashpaw sense of worth and Chippewa tradition constitute the essence of what Nector sees himself as. Socially he is the tribal chairman. While the dominant culture would assume that places him as the leader of his tribe, tribal custom does not give him that role unless he can live up to the traditional function of the leader, but Nector's psychological sense of identity undermines his social definition as leader in much the same way that his communal role as a Kashpaw supports it. As he says, "Chippewa politics was thorns in my jeans."

Psychologically, Nector sees himself as floating down a river complete with calm spots, rapids, and unexpected branchings. His sense of himself is that of a person being carried along by events, and he struggles to maintain control of the events of his life. Nector's retreat to apparent senility becomes a way that he can finally completely define himself in the midst of the river flow of emotions and the demands of politics. As Lulu says of him, "People said Nector Kashpaw had changed, but the truth was he'd just become more like himself than ever." Various layers of his identity created by the narrative are embedded in the text and held simultaneously by the reader. But while the communal, social, and psychological story is developed here, the mythic story is not.

Marie Lazarre has an identity defined by the community as one of those "dirty Lazarres." Despite her attempts to recreate her communal identity, the community has defined her role and position in its complex structure. This communal identity is contrasted to her psychological identity as molder of Nector, as defeater of Sister Leopolda, as woman defined by her kitchen and children. These two senses of identity complement each other while the social level remains mostly latent. As wife of the tribal chairman, her social position should be one of respect and leadership, but her communal identity as "a dirty Lazarre" is in contrast to it. As the wife left at home during a continuing extramarital relationship, her sense of a social identity is again undercut. As the woman who takes in lost children, she performs a social function which helps her clarify her sense of self on the psychological and communal level, but she is unable to allow this to help her develop a clearly defined social identity. Again the mythic story is not developed with this character.

Lulu Lamartine plays the communal role of the libertine. As a woman with eight boys and one girl by a variety of lovers, she is hated by the wives in the community and loved by their husbands. Though a disrupter of families, her family is vitally important to her. Her identity as libertine is contrasted by her psychological identity as consummate lover of beauty. After a grisly look at death in her early childhood, she comes to define herself as someone "in love with the whole world and all that lived in its rainy arms." What is viewed from the communal realm as irresponsible action is for Lulu an honest attempt to drink in the beauty and let it fill her up if only for a moment. Each sense of identity enriches the reader's understanding of the other and encourages the audiences to clarify their codes. Again, Erdrich has chosen not to develop the mythic or social story of this character.

In the character of Gerry Nanapush, Erdrich displays all four levels of narrative identity or story. On a social level Nanapush is the convict Indian turned political hero. As a member of the American Indian Movement, he is seen and sees himself as a social symbol to both the white and the Indian world, but he is also an individual who sees himself as a believer in justice, not laws. Psychologically he is presented as a loving husband and father. Nanapush is motivated by personal passions and definitions of self, yet on a larger plane, his actions recall the daring and rebellion of the trickster, Nanabosho, of Chippewa cultural identity while they add to his own idea of himself. Nanapush consciously takes on a mythic role and becomes a living embodiment of a trickster. His communal identity hinges on relationships as son of old man Pillager and Lulu Lamartine, lover of June Morrissey, and father to Lipsha Morrissey. As warrior against the social institutions of modern America, Nanapush presents the community an image through which it can project itself as successful and evasive, an unwilling warrior who is not destroyed by the spirit of dead enemies, however all-pervasive and overpowering they may be.

Lipsha Morrissey's character is, of course, the most obvious expression of the four stories of narrative identity. Socially, he is the outcast orphan with no clear parentage. He cares for the aged Nector and Marie out of gratitude and lethargy. His role as orphan/care-provider outlines a series of social relations which define him but against which he struggles. Psychologically his desire is to find himself a place in the family which coincides with the unique individual he senses he is. He sees himself as staying innocent and simple, but he wants to know about his roots and his background. As Lulu says, "'Well, I never thought you was odd…. Just troubled. You never knew who you were…'."

Communally, Lipsha is a healer, grandson of the powerful old shaman, Old Man Pilager. While his "touch" has been commonly acknowledged on the reservation, his identity as one of the tribe, with clear family ties and a useful function in the community, has not been. After he learns of this true parentage, he confusedly tries to join the army and become a warrior like his father, Gerry Nanapush, but it is not on the battlefields of the U.S. Army that he will fight, but on the battlefields of culture and community. He knows that he is defined by his family and communal position:

Now as you know, as I have told you, I am sometimes blessed with the talent to touch the sick and heal their individual problems without even knowing what they are. I have some powers which, now that I think of it, was likely come down from Old Man Pillager. And then there is the newfound fact of insight I inherited from Lulu, as well as the familiar teachings of Grandma Kashpaw on visioning what comes to pass within a lump of tinfoil.

With his new realizations comes a new understanding of identity in a communal field.

But ultimately Lipsha is the son of trickster Nanapush. His mythic identity is linked to the tradition of the powerful trickster/transformer whose job it is to create the form of the world, to modify its contours in keeping with Earthmaker's plans. Lipsha's medicine trick with the turkey hearts proves to be an event which has the tragedy of a trickster's actions which backfire on him. But this is an event which is also in keeping with the Earthmaker's plan for all beings. By driving Gerry to freedom, Lipsha concludes a mythic tale which will live forever in Chippewa imagination. At the bridge, Lipsha delivers the trickster Nanapush/Nanabosho physically to Canada, but the communal level of identity provides unnoticed support when it is remembered that for many Midewiwin initiates the land of the dead is also called Nehnehbush's land and the passage from the physical world to the spirit world is made over a bridge. After Lipsha delivers Gerry back to the world of myth, he takes June's wandering soul in hand and prepares to lead her to her proper resting place as he did with Nector's soul. These actions show us that his identity will be defined communally as something akin to a Midewiwin official, a healer, and mythically as a new reincarnation of Nehnehbush.

Lipsha has concluded that "Belonging was a matter of deciding to." This almost existential act unifies who he is on the psychological, social, communal, and mythic levels, and Lipsha becomes a complete human being—an experienced adult, a loving son, a healer, and a trickster/transformer. He feels all the threads of identity intertwining and blossoming:

I felt expansion, as if the world was branching out in shoots and growing faster than the eye could see. I felt smallness, how the earth divided into bits and kept dividing. I felt the stars. I felt them roosting on my shoulders with his hand.

Feeling Nanapush's touch still on his shoulder, Lipsha is transformed in a moment of splendid mythic vision. Because he is a new complete human, he thinks of June Morrissey and is strong enough to bring her home, to help her, himself, and all of them complete a journey started long ago.

This cosmic unifying vision is the ultimate goal of mediation in contemporary Native American writing. As the text embeds the multiple narrative, it forces on the reader the same perspective that Lipsha experiences, a perspective from which an individual's perception is expanded and multiple connections are revealed. When readers are placed in this perceptual position, they begin to experience something of the Native American perception. Benjamin Whorf explains this perception of the world by reference to a cognitive linguistic realm inclusive of what English calls "present" and "future" as well as "subjective":

The subjective or manifesting comprises all that we call future, BUT NOT MERELY THIS; it includes equally and indistinguishably all that we call mental—everything that appears or exists in the mind, or, as the Hopi would prefer to say, in the HEART, not only the heart of man, but the heart of animals, plants and things, and behind and within all the forms and appearances of nature in the heart of nature, and by implication and extension … in the very heart of the Cosmos itself.

From this perspective, events unfold on multiple layers of significance with multiple stories which clarify their connections. This is a worldview that Paula Allen described: the self as a moving event in a universe of dynamic equilibrium. Lipsha and the other characters of Love Medicine embrace the mystery of the world, but that mystery exists in a world and worldview where knowledge, meaning, truth, and signification already exist in a non-tangible realm which Benjamin Whorf called "manifesting" as opposed to the tangible realm where the processes of the world have already been realized as "manifested." The characters of Love Medicine perceive the world not as changing or progressing, but constantly in the process of becoming what it always was, but which we could not see; they see meaning in their lives and the world revealing itself, manifesting what has always been there much in the same way that meaning in Lipsha's life is the process of letting the forces at work in the world manifest themselves. Whorf saw the perception of a "manifesting" world as basic to the Native American worldview, a worldview where the universe is "the striving of purposeful desire, intelligent in character, toward manifestation." Robin Riddington clarifies Whorf's intentions and insights when he writes:

Whorf's observations about Hopi time could apply equally well to many of the other native cultures of North America…. Although the Hopi have their own distinctive ceremonies and traditions, these arise out of a more general Indian thought world, which recognizes a timeless, vital or mythic principle in the universe.

In Love Medicine, Erdrich shifts the epistemological perspective of the reader so as to encourage a more Native American creation of meaning and knowledge, one which values the manifesting over the manifested.

Contemporary Native American writers adopt a mediational position through the use of multiple narrative, but their ultimate achievement is to shift the paradigm of our thought, to recharge Native readers and inspire non-Native readers with an appreciation of Native American epistemology and worldview. As the text opens its mysteries to the reader, the reader's perception expands beyond the boundaries of the text, and the universe reveals itself as timeless and mythic. In Love Medicine, Erdrich successfully accomplishes what Bakhtin described as the "ideological translation of another's language, and an overcoming of its otherness."

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