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Pictography, Law, and Earth: Gerald Vizenor, John Borrows, and Louise Erdrich

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


This essay examines Anishinaabe pictography in contemporary legal contexts, challenging the notion that the law must necessarily inhere in alphabetic isomorphism, let alone in the colonialist inscriptive norms of the nation. Explaining how pictography elicits a loosened relation between sign and signified, this essay develops a semiotic theory of nonisomorphy to analyze uses of pictography in the work of several Anishinaabe scholars and writers: in John Borrows's advocacy of “jurisgenerative multiperspectivalism,” in Gerald Vizenor's conception of social irony and ironic constitutionalism, and in Louise Erdrich's figuration of ecological literacy and reciprocity. Focusing in particular on the trope of metonymy in pictographic writing, this essay elucidates the perspectival shifts and contextual metamorphoses of metonymy in the native poetics of the Americas, forming and transforming historical experience while offering colonial situations ample room to trip themselves up on their own contradictions.

Research Article
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2019

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