Contemporary Native American Fiction: Stream of Consciousness
Contemporary Native American Fiction
Contemporary Native American novelists' contribution toward a definition of American society is invaluable in that they present a third world view from within. They have enriched American literary style by giving a new and deeper dimension to the technique of interior monologue or stream of consciousness, a new and deeper dimension to the techniques of time fusion through symbolic petroglyphic layering of character and action and of images of landscapes and inscapes of the mind. Petroglyphic layering is a critical term stemming from ancient petroglyphs carved into sandstone hundreds of years ago, but underneath newer carvings are older ones and even older ones under those.
Louise Erdrich is a master of petroglyphic layering. In her novel Tracks, for instance, she describes a mythological water monster known so well to all Objiway people: "In the spring of that year, Misshepeshu went under and wasn't seen in the waves of the lake anymore. He cracked no boats to splinters and drowned no more girls, but watched us, eyes hollow and gold." The reader is quickly alerted to the fact that some people living today may well be part Misshepeshu. Take her character Lulu Kashpaw, for example, with eyes which blazed as bright as those of the water monster. She had the pride of Misshepeshu as well, and she could stand up to the fiercest of human beings.
Leslie Silko's stream of consciousness is truly in the tradition of Proust, Joyce and Faulkner. When Tayo (of Ceremony) returns to the reservation suffering from the trauma of World War II, the reader experiences a geological layering of time through Tayo's river of thoughts which flow deeper and deeper into a canyon of time from a painful boyhood to joyous ranching and excruciating soldiering; however, the layers of time are not linear. The reader must be on the constant alert if he wishes to grasp the narrative thread which constantly weaves a mythic pattern through the present moment.
Magical Realism is very much part of Native American fiction. White man's concept of urban reality (as hard as stone) is pitted against ancient mythological reality whereby the reader gains a new perspective on what is real and what is unreal. Gerald Vizenor's Darkness of Saint Louis Bearheart or Leslie Silko's short story "Yellow Woman" are intriguing examples of Magical Realism where the here and now fuse with the then and there. Mythological presences constantly intrude into modern life. In Silko's story, a young Pueblo woman, weary of raising her children, takes a walk to get away from it all to encounter a Navajo stranger. They run off together to reenact the ancient story of a yellow woman going astray with katsina spirit from the mountains.
Name almost any Native American novelist, and you have a good example of a fascinating craftsman of magical realism through the fusion of time and place.
Kenneth Roemer, of the University of Texas at Arlington was the first critic to coin the term "petroglyphic layering."
For those wishing to dig deeper into Native American novels, my book Critical Perspectives on Native American Fiction (Three Continents Press, 1993, 1997) may be of interest.
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