Saturday, March 28, 2009

Twilight:The enigmatic Native American presence

I've just seen the film "Twilight," which I know Rhonda Hammer and her students at UCLA have been contemplating for some time. I'm especially intrigued by the ways in which the film is framed in terms of an imputed Native American presence. The father-son pair of Quileute indians, Billy and Jacob Black, in their relatively brief appearances, seem to mediate the Anglo-American characters' relations with nature and with the supernatural, and to function as largely invisible protectors for the white heroine. (I understand thes themes are more extensively develop in the book/movie's sequel, New Moon).

In the film, the Quileuete are presented as descendants of wolves (with the hint that they may still be able to transmogrify into wolves). In a scene on a reservation beach (itself an interstitital space) Jacob tells the white heroine Bella that his people know the secret of the Cullen clan (the non-blood-drinking vampires) who have agreed to stay off of their land for generations, ever since they were discovered (evidently feasting on the blood of a deer they had run to ground). Towards the film's end, Jacob is sent by his father Billy to warn Bella of her romance with the vampire hero and to let her know that the Quileute will be watching her (evidently watching over her protectively).

All of these motifis are consistent with Renee Bergland's analysis in the The National Uncanny: Indian Ghosts and American Subjects (2000); as Native American communities were violently annihilated and displaced they were refigured in white literary imaginations as numinous guardian presences for the colonizing Anglo-American majority, ambiguously moving across the shadowlands between conventional and alternate realities. As Twilight suggests, this 19th century mythography has endured as a persistent white fantasy, that Native Americans, in spite of white America's long genocidal history, will still benevolently look over Anglo-Americans, as living guardian spirits intimately linked to the land.

I wonder if in this respect Twilight can be read as a new kind of American nationalist post-9/11 text; threatened by the chilling dangers of a rogue terrorist cell-like coven of al-Queda style "bad" vampires, the white American young heroine is protected by an alliance of Native Americans and "good" vampires (the latter perhaps stand-ins for the extraordinary violence and torture unleashed by U.S. intelligence services in the "War on Terror".)

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