Place and Vision
The Function of Landscape in Native American Fiction
my daughter Erin
with love and apologies
There never was a time
was not so
Excerpts from CEREMONY by Leslie Marmon Silko. Copyright© 1977 by Leslie
Silko. Used by permission of
Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc. Excerpts from HOUSE MADE OF DAWN by N. Scott Momaday.
Copyright© 1966, 1967, 1968 by N. Scott Momaday. Reprinted by permission of
HarperCollins Publishers. Excerpts
from the DEATH OF JIM LONEY. Copyright© James
Welch, 1979. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.
A slightly different version of Chapter 1 appeared originally in Journal of the Southwest 30.3 (Autumn 1988). Portions of Chapter 2 appeared originally in Studies in American Indian Literatures 1.2 (Fall 1989).
I wish to acknowledge those at the University of Richmond, in particular David Leary (Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences) and Barbara Griffin (Chair of the Department of English), who have generously provided and/or helped to arrange for all kinds of support-- research grants, travel grants, subvention funds, release time, and two generations of word processors, to name but a few--and who have been more than generous with their encouragement and enthusiasm for this project.
I wish to extend gratitude to the National Endowment for the Humanities for providing me the opportunity to attend their 1987 Summer Seminar on American Indian Verbal Art and Literature, conducted by Larry Evers in Tucson, Arizona. Larry, Bonnie, Alanna, Jim, Linda, Roger, Birgit, Joy, Ron, Toby, Andrea, and John: thank you for your support, both during and since that wonderful summer. Thanks also to David McPherson, chair of the Department of English at the University of New Mexico, who kindly arranged for library privileges during my sabbatical stay in Albuquerque in 1988. Thanks also to Rodney Simard and Lavonne Mason for their painstaking editing of this manuscript. My special thanks to Helen Jaskoski, whose close and careful reading of portions of my original manuscript is but one of many kindnesses I'm indebted to her for.
Most of the on-site research for this book took place during the fall of 1981 (Jemez), during the summers of 1987 and 1989 (Jemez and Laguna), and during June-December 1988 (Jemez, Laguna, and Fort Belknap). I want to acknowledge my gratitude to the Jemez Pueblo Council (1981), the Laguna Pueblo Council (1987), and the Fort Belknap Community Council (1988) for their generous permission to move around on reservation land during my visits there and for providing help in locating landmarks alluded to in the novels I discuss. For their help in educating me to the Way Things Move in the landscapes I have written about, special thanks to James Fox and Jim Earthboy of Fort Belknap; Randy Padilla and José Rey Toledo of Jemez; and Officer Jerome Ortiz and Delfino Begay of Laguna. Any errors remaining in this text are, of course, my own. A special thanks also, from the author and his wife, to Lee and Kathy Marmon of Laguna, in whose home some of this book was drafted and whose openhearted and openhanded hospitality over the years has been an unrepayable gift, and to Mrs. Elizabeth Wacondo, director of the Laguna Pueblo Library. May nothing I say offend any of you.
Chapter 1: The Landscape of Ceremony
Chapter 2: The Landscape of House Made of Dawn
Chapter 3: The Landscape of The Death of Jim Loney
Arising from recent academic (and increasingly
popular) debates about the issues of America as multicultural or
as "melting pot," the position of ethnic literatures in the national canon has emerged as an
essential conundrum. When
American Indian Literatures are considered --having been marginalized far longer and more
effectively than those of
any other cultural group--three writers transcend any possible dismissive consideration of the
value of their works and
contributions: N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, and Leslie Marmon Silko. In this important
study, Robert M. Nelson
offers both method and message that will help each author find his and her deserved position in
consciousness (and educational curriculum).
In speaking of "a new realism," he is literal rather than literary, and while he employs much of what is best in Post-Structuralist theory to the texts he examines in Place and Vision, Bob Nelson is never pyrotechnically self-serving; his attention is on the novels and their readers, as well as his readers, offering a rather than the access to the worlds they vitalize, worlds frequently dismissed by stereotypical and reactionary condescension or misguided perceptions of cultural exoticism. Implicit in this study is that Polyvocalism, Postmodernism, and Multiculturalism are organically compatible, and all are means for appreciation, not fortifications against the uninitiated. The three novels he discusses are those most frequently read by and taught to non-Indians, remarkable works that are "currents" in the "mainstream." This volume does not presume "ethnocentric criteria" for apprehension and appreciation, instead seeking the essential humanity beneath the cultural or tribal specifics, not ignoring Indianness but transcending it--and thus suggesting a potentially fertile and rewarding approach to many other literary texts.
Bringing a traditionally non-Indian awareness of metaphoric sensibility to his subjects, he skillfully and instructively bridges the gaps between cultures, between criticism and scholarship, and (having experienced the locations he discusses) between literary criticism and anthropology. This study rejects a specific Indian cultural knowledge as necessary for the reader while illuminating the values of a holistic Pan-Indian awareness, demonstrating the distinction that Vine Deloria, Jr., makes between "revisionists" and "reversionists." He shows how contemporary American Indian fiction emphasizes wholeness and balance, a cure, health rather than the familiar and paradigmatic illness in much recent writing that denies the concept of identity and laments loss by focusing on contagion; Place and Vision explicates a possible transcendence of dis-ease, countering meaninglessness with significance, dislocation with place, blindness with sight, fragmentation with unity. For example, "vision" in the title is both literal and metaphoric (in the Native manner), melding two ways of seeing: in reference to Ceremony, "constellation" is both noun and verb, thus embracing both being and becoming, creation and creating, text and ritual, artifact and experience. Similarly, "place" is both specific and universal, referring to a dislocation from a particular landscape but also signifying both internal entrapment and external awareness, solipsistic isolation and tribal continuity, alienation and community, concept and geography.
While Silko, Welch, and Momaday require no apologists, Bob Nelson does much to advance their wider appreciation and a less intimidating and understanding of their novels, offering, as he does, an insightful, considered, and informed means of apprehension, building on a growing body of critical and scholarly comment and adding another voice to the national dialogue. This volume is an original and important contribution, and no one who considers our American Literatures will be able to ignore it, nor will anyone fail to profit from the experience of it and its subjects.