[Please note: this is a draft of part of a work in progress. PLEASE DO NOT CIRCULATE. Thanks, Bob Nelson, English Dept.]

Mapping the Embedded Texts

From a formal critical perspective, one of the most intriguing things about Leslie Marmon Silko's first and perhaps still best-known novel, Ceremony, is the recurrent presence of embedded text -- passages set apart from the surrounding prose narrative and typeset to look more like poetry than prose: center justified on the page, surrounded by white space, and oddly skeletal-looking in the context of the margin-to-margin prose preceding and succeeding them. Most of these parcels of embedded text are also in narrative mode, styled to read like old-time, traditional oral narrative -- what at Laguna Pueblo they often call "hama-ha[h]" stories, long-ago far-away stories.(1) Formally, their presence evokes the question of their relation to Keresan oral tradition on the one side and to the prose narrative on the other. This question is located at the heart of the broader and equally intriguing question of how contemporary Native American poetry and fiction generally relate to the oral traditions from which they derive.
        I'll have much to say about the ethnographic sources and the roles of each of these embedded texts in the coming chapters; for now, I'd like to "map" the embedded texts, as a body, with respect to the more familiar-looking prose narrative they work for, and with.
        The first step in mapping the embedded texts is to locate and identify them. Extracting the embedded material from the prose narrative yields the following sequence of embedded texts, which are here enumerated and located with reference to the pagination of the (relatively accessible) Penguin edition of Ceremony:

1 (1) (Ts'its'tsi'nako sets life in motion)
2 (2) ("Ceremony")
3 (3) ("What she said")
4 (4) (sunrise)
5 (13-14) (Reed Woman-Corn Woman argument)
6 (37-38) (Kuoosh's preamble to Scalp Ceremony)
7 (46-49) (Pa'caya'nyi introduces Ck'o'yo medicine; Nau'ts'ity'i departs)
8 (53-54) (Hummingbird appears)
9 (57-59) (Emo's war/coyote story)
10 (71-72) (making Green Fly)
11 (82) (Hummingbird and Green Fly travel to "fourth world / below")
12 (105-06) (Nau'ts'ity'i steers Hummingbird and Green Fly to Buzzard)
13 (107) (Tayo's [? Robert's? Hummingbird's? anyone's?] Gallup recall [PROSE])
14 (113) (Buzzard demands tobacco)
15 (128-30) (boy -> bear transformation)
16 (131) (note on bear people and witches [PROSE])
17 (132-38) (origins of witchery)
18 (139-41) (hunter -> coyote transformation)
19 (142) ([a] departure-side transformation chant)
20 (143-44) ([b] recovery-side transformation chant)
21 (151-52) (Nau'ts'ity'i steers Hummingbird and Green Fly to Caterpillar)
22 (153) ([c] coyoteskin-witchery connection)
23 (170-76) (Kaupata and Sun Man)
24 (180) (Caterpillar gives tobacco to Hummingbird and Green Fly)
25 (182) (sunrise song)
26 (206) (hunter's deer song)
27 (247) (Arrowboy spies on Ck'o'yo workers)
28 (255-56) (Buzzard purifies the town, Nau'ts'ity'i returns)
29 (257) (Elders' "A'moo'ooh" chant)
30 (258) ([d] unraveling the dead coyote skin)
31 (260-61) (return chant for the witchery)
32 (262) (sunrise)

        Some of these chunks form distinct groups. The longest of these groups is the nine-part departure-and-recovery story, marked in bold face in this enumeration, featuring Our Mother Nau'ts'ity'i, Pa'caya'nyi, and Hummingbird; this group forms a formal and thematic "backbone" which the prose narrative fleshes out in twentieth-century time and space, functions I treat in Chapters 3 [backbone] and 7 [backbone series]. There are also two distinct but shorter groups: a four-part Coyote transformation-and-recovery series (the items in this list identified with bracketed letters [a]-[d]) discussed in Chapter 10 [Navajo series]) and a series of three sunrise pieces that are the subject of Chapter 6 [Sunrise]. As I will argue in Chapter 5, the four pieces that occupy the first four pages of the novel also warrant special treatment as a series designed to function as formal and thematic hoops connecting the world outside the novel to the worlds within. And finally, two of these fragments are somewhat anomalous in that they are clearly cast as prose pieces rather than poetic ones; I will treat them and the reasons for including them as embedded texts in Chapter XX.
        Perhaps an even better way to imagine the formal structure of the novel, and especially the siting of embedded text with respect to the prose narrative, is to visualize a rather literal story "line" running continuously from the first to the last page of the novel, each page making up an equally-long segment of this line, and above that line add another that delineates the range of each of the six major present-time plot motions of the novel. If we do this and then additionally locate the embedded texts precisely within the space thus created, the resulting map might look something like the foldout in Appendix A, reproduced in miniature below:

Looking at the embedded text this way, we can see something of the skeletal backbone structure discussed in Chapter 3.(2) We can also see several other distinctive features in the formal landscape of the novel thus mapped. Again, the first four pages of the novel stand in special relationship to the rest, looking not so much embedded in the prose narrative as finial to it, perhaps like the warning end of a great snake,(3) but now we can see that this formal structure is reiterated at the other end of the novel in a similar cluster of four short fragments followed quickly by two final pieces, again located technically "outside" the prose narrative body of story. We can see, too, how literally central to the structure of the text is the story about the power of story even when -- or perhaps especially when -- deployed by witchery; indeed, that particular embedded text is literally enclosed within several layers of other embedded text, as though being kept under ceremonial control by both traditional story and the surrounding prose narrative in both directions, all of it required to keep this one piece of story from moving elsewhere. We can also see how, in at least three places, a piece of embedded text functions as a bridge or gateway connecting two of the major moments of the prose narrative. We can see, too, how the prose narrative seems to gather momentum from the impetus of infused embedded text, each succeeding prose moment spanning a shorter narrative length at about the same rate that the frequency of embedded text gradually slackens (before the crescendo of the final half-dozen or so pages).
        Looking a little more closely at the prose narrative structure that is in part formally shaped and highlighted by embedded text, we can see the plot as a series of movements, and more specifically as a series of departures and recoveries:

1. [1-105]: in late May (11) Tayo moves from the sheep shack to the bar near Cubero and back to Laguna land at Casablanca;
2. [107-170]: later that summer (the allusions to the Gallup Ceremonials [116-17] suggest late July or early August) Tayo moves from Laguna Village to the Chuska Mountains via Gallup, then back via Mesita to Laguna Village;
3. [176-215]: in late September (178) Tayo moves from Laguna to the North Top of Mt. Taylor and back to Laguna;
4. [218-35]: again in late May (218) Tayo moves from Laguna Village to the sheep shack (where he is located at the outset of the narrative) to Dripping Springs for the summer;
5. [235-55]: again in late September (during the time of the Fall equinox) Tayo moves from Dripping Springs to just north of the Jackpile Mine, then back via the mine to Laguna Village;
6. [256-60]: Tayo spends two days in the kiva at Laguna Village telling his story to the old men there, then returns to Auntie and Grandma's house.

        In fractal fashion, there are also patterns within patterns -- within the story of Tayo's movement from the sheep shack to the bar at Cubero ("Tuesday nights are slow" [49]) and back to Casablanca, for instance, we are given the fragmented story of Tayo's departure from Laguna to the Philippines during World War II and his return via San Diego and a stay of indeterminate time at the VA hospital there, as well as the story of the Night Swan's journey to, and eventual departure from, Lalo's Place in Cubero; the second major plot motion, Tayo's several-day departure via Gallup into the dark Chuska Mountains and his roundabout return to Mesita with Harley, Leroy, and Helen Jean via the Y bar, carries in its belly the story of Tayo's birth in, and eventual departure from, the Dantéesque cardboard city of lost souls on the edge of Gallup; and so on.
        The rhythm of departure and recovery that informs the prose narrative, easy enough to overlook in the prose narrative taken alone, is amplified by the prose narrative's juxtaposition to the embedded texts, where this motif is pronouncedly shared by several of the pieces and groups of pieces, especially by the following:

This departure-recovery motif characterizes much of Keresan (Laguna) ceremonial story; it is, for instance, a primary component of the body of stories involving Kochinninako/Yellow Woman, a figure from Laguna traditional story introduced to non-Indian critical circles by Laguna feminist Paula Gunn Allen in her 1986 essay "Kochinnenako in Academe" (The Sacred Hoop 222-44) and whom several critics have associated strongly with Silko and her work.(4) Several critics, myself included, have referred at one time or another to the element of circularity in the structure and plotting of Silko's work and in American Indian literatures generally, but I suspect it would be more accurate to conceive of this non-linear element, in Ceremony at least, as being more like an oscillation than like a circling, closer to the motion produced by dilation and contraction than by maintaining equidistance from some central point.
        Mapping the novel this way also highlights an intriguing, perhaps paradoxical, but certainly ironic feature of the relationship between Western-looking prose narrative and Native-looking embedded text that Silko imposes, I think conscientiously, upon the overall text of the novel. For as much as it may be appropriate to call these chunks of story "embedded" text, in fact it is also the case that the prose narrative is emphatically "embedded" in -- in the sense of enclosed by, and thus by extension and (to at least some degree) both formally and conceptually controlled by -- story that in text and texture is Native rather than Western. This formal device raises, and I suspect is designed to raise, an important question: which of the literary traditions, Western or Native, is functioning as context for the text being read at any given moment? Are the fragments of embedded text to be read and understood within the context of the prose narrative, or is the prose narrative to be read within the context of (the embedded representatives of) Laguna story tradition?
        Overlooking for the moment the suspect dualism of the question as I've posed it, and anticipating an alternative way of accounting for the relationship between the elements of prose narrative and embedded text in this novel that will be introduced in the following chapter, I want to end with this question because I think that once we map the formal structure of the novel we can't help but see that, whatever else Silko may be up to, she has crafted a novel wordweb designed to privilege Native Laguna story and designed too to lure her reader into the world of Laguna text and texture. Just as Silko sees to it that Tayo's Laguna Grandma gets the last word of the prose narrative, she sees to it that there's no getting into, or out of, this text except through Native ground.
        It is also, of course, both possible and extremely worthwhile to "map" the event(s) of the prose narrative with respect to the kind of map most of us think of when we hear that term, a pictorial geographic image of the places and connecting roads named in the novel -- or better yet, in the case of Ceremony, a combination of Rand McNally-type map and the kind of topographical relief map published by the U.S. Department of the Interior Geological Survey (see Appendix A for a simplified version of such a map). A map like this is enormously useful in helping to locate and to visualize the pattern of departures and recoveries which Tayo undergoes in the prose narrative; I do not, however, think it is of much immediate use in helping to locate or situate the novel's embedded texts, either with respect to one another or with respect to the prose narrative itself, and so I have chosen not to explore this kind of mapping closely in this study;(5) it is enough for now, I hope, to suggest that in Silko's novel the prose narrative and the narrative that emerges from the embedded texts move together, eventually and finally touching down at all four corners of, and like Old Buzzard in the embedded backbone story circumscribing and working to regenerate, both the literal and the spiritual landscape of Laguna.


1. For more on the idea of hama-ha stories, see Chapter 3 {backbone}; briefly but more precisely, the stories that Silko chooses to embed in her novel come mostly from the conventionally Keresan category of oral narrative called "maaíma uúbeétaányi," those "true" stories that get re-happened in the ceremonies (as distinguished from secular coyote stories and stories about talking frogs and wrens that are also included in the term "hama-ha").

2. One might also discern some visual analogy between the structure of Silko's novel thus seen and the structure of storykeeping wampum belts used under traditional circumstances in some other American Indian cultural traditions, and readers prior to {???'s 19xx exposure} might have been put in mind of the legendary Walam Olum, the encoded story of the Lenape (Delaware) people.

3. Silko's own affinity for snakes, which is congruent with Laguna story tradition (see her essay "The Fourth World" on the Great Serpent of Keresan myth in Artforum, rpt. as "Fifth World: The Return of Ma ah shra true ee, the Giant Serpent"in Yellow Woman 124-34) probably has something to do with the appearance of the "light yellow snake, covered with bright copper spots" who is "the first to emerge, carrying this message on his back to the people"just prior to Ts'eh's re-emergence at Dripping Springs (221). This interest shows up much more dramatically near the end of Almanac of the Dead, where she also incorporates the image of Maahastryu (= Ma ah shra true ee), as well in the spectacular mural she painted in Tucson in 1986-87 while writing Almanac: see "Stone Avenue Mural" in Yellow Woman 149-51.

4. See, for instance, the title of Melody Graulich's 1993 edited collection of critical essays on Silko's work, "Yellow Woman," Leslie Marmon Silko, and also the title of Silko's own 1996 collected essays, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today.

5. readers interested in an extended analysis of the relationship of Silko's prose narrative to the landscape of Laguna might start with Nelson, "The Function of Landscape in Ceremony."