THE FIFTH WORLD OF FORSTER BENNETT: Portrait of a Navaho by Vincent Crapanzano


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Sensitive first-hand observations of a ""moderately acculturated"" Indian family straddling traditional culture and American soda-pop modernity. Several years ago while still a graduate student, Crapanzano, an anthropologist, spent a summer with Forster Bennett, a fiftyish Navaho pater familias on an Arizona reservation, keeping a notebook which in retrospect becomes an episodic evocation of the ""flat, slow quality of reservation life."" Inquisitive and introspective, Crapanzano has not attempted to expunge the personal ""I"" from his narrative; rather his own naive, often baffled attempts to understand the motivations and attitudes of his protagonist are fully incorporated in the psycho-literary quest for the ""ordinary Navaho."" Patiently he waits for Forster to reveal himself; apparently disjointed conversations gradually focus on his ambivalence toward the Squaw Dance and various Navaho ceremonies of healing and purgation -- seemingly Forster is embarrassed to show his credulity to the white man from Columbia University. Repeatedly, perhaps compulsively, Forster recalls his World War II battle experiences, furtively drinks cheap wine, and morosely lectures his inscrutable and taciturn children on the importance of education. Fragmentary conversations with neighbors and relatives sometimes produce epiphanies of cross-cultural consciousness, more often dreary and scrambled accounts of ancient legends and local genealogies with admixtures of Romance Comics and flying saucers. To the end Crapanzano's insider-outsider role in the family remains problematic and ill-defined; ""Little Bluffs is boring. Very little ever happens,"" he writes. And yet, the ""very little"" here recorded is stamped with a kind of muted authenticity which more sensationalized and polished accounts of Indian life generally lack.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1972
Publisher: Viking