Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

How and What to Recollect: Political and Curative Storytelling in Silko's Ceremony

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

How and What to Recollect: Political and Curative Storytelling in Silko's Ceremony

Article excerpt

This essay examines the politically disruptive voices in Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, arguing that her storytelling, which centres on "deferred action" as illustrated through the Freudian/Benjaminian notion of the return of the repressed, both undercuts the Euro-American notion of linear time involved with colonialist discourses and envisions healing by recollecting boundarylessness.

In a 1993 interview with Laura Coltelli, Leslie Marmon Silko notes that her novel Almanac of the Dead (1991) deals with the concepts of time and history in a manner that her first novel, Ceremony, only touched upon (131). In "Narrating Nationhood: Indian Time and Ideologies of Progress," Joseph Bauerkemper posits that, although many scholars have thoroughly explored the concepts of nonlinear, circular time in Native American texts, these scholars generally ignore the socio-political significances of these concepts (28). Taking into account Silko's view of her own work and Bauerkemper's critique of literary scholars, we can explore the political significances inherent in her representations of circular time in Ceremony. Without a doubt, the issue of circularity can be approached in terms not just of time, but also of place. However, in discussing the notion of deferred action, which means the past can only be properly understood after it is repeated retroactively in the present, this essay explores circularity through the dimension of time. (1)

Since Ceremony was published in 1977, Native scholars have pointed out that Native Americans maintain their own unique notion of time that is not in accord with the Western European concept of linear time. At the annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association held in Phoenix, Arizona in 1978, Carol Mitchell, Paula Gunn Allen, Martha Kimble, Virginia Randall, Larry Evers, and Wayne Ude delivered their consensus about the issue of the Native American notion of time as circularity (Sands et al. 63-70). They pointed out that Native Americans understand the world in terms of circularity, radically different from the understanding Western Europeans recognize. Nonetheless, this essay refers to Sigmund Freud and Walter Benjamin to highlight that Native Americans view the present not as a mechanical cycle of the past, but as a "forever becoming" (Bell 49), an incessant, retroactive transformation and re-creation of the past in a deferred way. The theoretical insights and frames of reference found in Freud and Benjamin, as they pertain to deferred action, are of particular use here for illuminating the meaning of Tayo's experience of the return of the repressed with the help of a Navajo medicine man named Betonie in Silko's novel.

In Ceremony, Silko tells a story about how deferred action can serve as a disruptive and recalcitrant force against the established notion of linear and chronological time that represents the cornerstone of the Euro-American-centric progressive model of history, a model that indeed served to nourish nineteenth-century colonial discourses on the "Vanishing Native Americans" in the United States. This theme of deferred action is established through the inner sufferings of Ceremony's main character, Tayo. The novel begins with Tayo, a mixed-blood World War II veteran who is suffering from a deep sense of loss that is only worsening. His traumatic neurosis paves the way for the return of the repressed through the use of Native American ceremonies and stories. These curative breakthroughs, as executed by Betonie, are akin to homeopathic therapy in that the cure for Tayo's pain is the application of the pain itself. Namely, the conscious return of the repressed is used to free Tayo from the burden of his unconscious return of the repressed. This paradoxical, homeopathic, and repetitive relationship allows us to see Tayo's awakening of historical consciousness as well as the idea of deferred action.

Also explored in this essay is the question of what, exactly, is "the (historically) repressed" that the subject is summoned to remember as a way of envisioning the healing of the sufferings of people at both the individual and communal levels. …

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