Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Vicki K. Janik; Emmanuel S. Nelson | Go to book overview

marker repetitions. They are frequently mistaken as children's stories only. In addition, reading audiences cannot "see" the performance signifiers that hold meaning for traditional spectators, and they cannot grasp typical features devolved from myriad retellings of variants. Comprehension is, therefore, further diminished and fragmented.

These issues have stood in the way of making the tales accessible to modern Native and non-Native Americans alike who have shown a growing affinity for Coyote. Despite the passage of time, the enormous textual distortions, and the cultural and functional simplifications of texts, Coyote is both changed and relatively unscathed; who he is, however, depends upon who is now producing him. A second wave of written Coyote material, tales written down by Native tellers and those who understand the various cultures, is flourishing. This new work has given rise to what one Coyote connoisseur calls a "neopoetic" tradition of American Coyote literature ( Bright13).

In this context Coyote has evolved as a culture hero and a fool claimed by Indian and other American literary artists alike. He has been co-opted by dominant-culture cartoon moguls and media marketers and incarnated as Wile E. Coyote and a pitchman for a line of cafes. While these characters may not be considered bad by some audiences, they are no more Native than Tonto or cigarstore chieftains. The Coyote of the traditional mythography, however, is being reinterpreted or reinvented by modern Native American and mixed-blood novelists and poets, such as Gerald Vizenor, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Peter Blue Cloud. A few non-Native writers, including Gary Snyder, have assayed to bridge the divide between cultural consciousnesses by assimilating Coyote into their creative stewpots.

In modern performatives and in written fiction, poetry, and drama variants, Coyote has survived as the consummate representative of Native cultural sensibility, even as he has undergone cultural cross-pollination and hybridization and flourished to become one of the best-known and charismatic of endemic characters in contemporary Native and Anglo-Eurocentric American lore and literature. Perhaps the appeal of Old Man Coyote to all of us is that he is never safely dead.


NOTES
1
"Literary an literature, " as used here and elsewhere in this entry, include all genres and structures that may carry the notion of "text" and need not necessarily be "penned" or graphologically rendered.
2
Eastern Woodlands, Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, and from the Ohio River to the Gulf of Mexico; Northern, most of the Canadian semiarctic; Northwest Coastal, along the Pacific from northern California to southern Alaska; Plains, grasslands from the Mississippi River to the Rockies and from southern Canada to California in the West and touching areas of the Southwest; and Southwestern, from Texas west to the Pacific and, Southern in modern times, stopping (artificially) in the South at the Mexican border.

-164-

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