The Anguish of Snails: Native American Folklore in the West

The Anguish of Snails: Native American Folklore in the West

The Anguish of Snails: Native American Folklore in the West

The Anguish of Snails: Native American Folklore in the West

Synopsis

After a career working and living with American Indians and studying their traditions, Barre Toelken has written this sweeping study of Native American folklore in the West. Within a framework of performance theory, cultural worldview, and collaborative research, he examines Native American visual arts, dance, oral tradition (story and song), humor, and patterns of thinking and discovery to demonstrate what can be gleaned from Indian traditions by Natives and non-Natives alike. In the process he considers popular distortions of Indian beliefs, demystifies many traditions by showing how they can be comprehended within their cultural contexts, considers why some aspects of Native American life are not meant to be understood by or shared with outsiders, and emphasizes how much can be learned through sensitivity to and awareness of cultural values.

Winner of the 2004 Chicago Folklore Prize, The Anguish of Snails is an essential work for the collection of any serious reader in folklore or Native American studies.

Excerpt

As you can see from the lengthy dedication, The Anguish of Snails is more than a book about Native American folklore in the West: It is a work of obligation to those from whom I have learned about everyday Native American life and custom—many of them members of my own family and the Navajo family who so readily adopted me in 1955 when I was a lost nineteen-year-old uranium prospector who came down with pneumonia in their canyon. It is also a work of obligation to my colleagues in folklore and anthropology, many of whom, I believe, have inadvertently distanced themselves from the richness of the Native cultures they study in the name of objective research. This book, then, is an expression of personal responsibility and gratitude to those who saved my life—bodily, spiritually, culturally, and professionally—as well as a professional commentary on the validity and necessity of subjective involvement in the analytical discussion of cultures.

For these reasons, the book contains more than a little emotion and personal bias and demonstrates a less than standard reverence for academic circumspection. I admit these things freely in advance, and I ask scholarly readers in particular to spare me the automatic sermon on objective empiricism. Or spare me at least until we have had a chance to discuss more thoroughly the extent to which scholarly objectivity and emotional distance have really benefitted our attempts to understand the people we so comfortably scrutinize in our writings (where we publish as they perish). My fieldwork experiences have probably not been much different from those of many scholars who have discovered that culturally shaped expressions often defy objective analysis; in fact, we all run into unexpected events which totally change the picture we think we see, which almost derail the project, which confuse or disappoint us. In my case, these unpredictable, uncontrollable moments became so central to . . .

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