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Ceremony Novel Essay Book by Leslie Silko - Term Paper
Silko continues and develops therole of Laguna storyteller in her nextbook, aptly titled Storyteller (1981). In critical reviews Storyteller has beenvariously described as a collage, a montage, or even more loosely anassemblage, and indeed the contents of the book may seem bafflingly randomand eclectic until the work is treated as a storytelling performance in which thestoryteller is depending on visual imagery to do most of the cultural work of anoral tradition. Seen from this perspective, the text is a virtual encyclopedia ofstorytelling styles and story materials adapted to textual form, all the kinds andways of traditional story and storytelling -- from the grave and formal tone ofthe old hama-ha stories like "One Time" and "Up North" to the conversational,even chatty, cadences of contemporary anecdotes such as "Uncle Tony's Goat"and "I Just Fed the Rooster." As though to make the point that these are notseparate kinds of story but rather varieties or phases of a single, familial lifeform, Silko includes several pieces like "Toe'osh: A Laguna Coyote Story" and"Storytelling" which clearly contain both kinds of material while showing theirfamily relationship.
Silko also makes a dramatic point inStoryteller of challenging the usualdistinction that most readers are conditioned to make between words and otherkinds of visual imagery, for included in the composition of this text aretwenty-six photographs which (as we are told in the opening piece of thecollection, "There Is a Tall Hopi Basket") are illustrative of this or that piece ofprose and poetry, much as the storyteller's body language may illustrate onepoint or another of the spoken text in a live oral performance. It is a techniqueshe uses at least once in Ceremony: readers will recall the black-and-white starmap that appears in the novel near the beginning of the Mt. Taylor episode, anepisode that can be read as a re-happening of the older story of Sun Man'sshowdown with the gambler katsina Kaup'a'ta, which reappears in Storytellerunder the title "Up North" -- a story that in turn features a star riddle as itsclimactic element. Silko makes this technique the formal basis for SacredWater (1993), subtitled "Narratives and Pictures," a self-published andhand-stitched eighty-pager in which each pair of facing pages shows aphotocopied photograph opposite its companion piece of prose. Speaking ofthis book in a short essay titled "On Nonfiction Prose" she says, "photocopiesof my photographs of clouds and dry washes are an integral part of the text; thephotocopy images are as much a part of my essay on water as the narrative ofthe essay . . . In the creation of the text itself, I see no reason to separate visualimages from written words that are visual images themselves" (Yellow Woman195).
At the same time, the storytellingvoice and vision in this book is, like thevoice and vision of Ceremony, firmly rooted in the land and landscape ofLaguna. In fact, the only verbal piece in Storyteller not set in the Southwestaround Laguna or its geographical and sociological neighbor Acoma is the titlestory, "Storyteller." Perhaps it is equally telling that the only two photographsin the book not taken at or near Laguna (numbers 23 and 25) are both taken inthe Arizona landscape outside Tucson, where Silko herself has lived sinceleaving Laguna and a principle setting for her three subsequent works --Almanac of the Dead (1991), Sacred Water (1993), andGardens in the Dunes(1999). Perhaps these two photos are best understood as the author's way ofillustrating how the life of a story, like the life of the storyteller who derivesfrom them and cares for them, can bridge the perceived separations not onlybetween moments of time and cultural categories but also between places.
Forays into non-print narrative withwhich Silko was involved around thetime of the composition of Storyteller parallel her concerns as a storyteller-in-print. In 1978 Silkowas the subject of a documentary film entitled "Runningon the Edge of the Rainbow," one of a series of filmings of oral narrativeperformances produced by Larry Evers at the University of Arizona, in whichshe played herself as a Laguna storyteller. Around this same time Silko beganto develop her own interest in the visual arts, in particular filmmaking, aninterest encouraged earlier in several graduate courses as well as by her father'scareer as a professional photographer. During the late 1970s and early 1980s,even while her written work was relocating itself in a much larger sociopoliticalcontext with Tucson rather than Laguna at its center, Silko's filmmaking effortsremained anchored at Laguna. There, she founded the Laguna Film Project withan eye to creating a trilogy of films, to be collectively entitled Stolen Rain. In a1978 letter to James Wright, Silko speaks of working on "the scripts whichattempt to tell the Laguna stories on film using the storyteller's voice with theactual locations where these stories are supposed to have taken place. In astrange sort of way, the film project is an experiment in translation -- bringingthe land -- the hills, the arroyos, the boulders, the cottonwoods in October -- topeople unfamiliar with it, because after all, thestories grow out of thisland as much as we see ourselves as having emerged from the land there"(Delicacy 24). In 1980, with support from an NEH grant and anticipatingeventual PBS release, she filmed and produced "Arrowboy and the Witches," asixty-minute video version of an old Laguna story included in Storyteller underthe title "Estoy-eh-moot and the Kunideeyahs" (Storyteller 140-54).5 Shefilmed it in the mesa country south and west of Old Laguna, a landscape ofcottonwoods and sandstone caves in an area locally known as DrippingSprings, which has been in the care of the Marmon family for severalgenerations. As part of the setting for this film but also partly, perhaps,fulfilling the words she attributes to her father in Storyteller -- "You could evenlive / up here in these hills if you wanted" (161) -- Silko erected a stone cottagenear the base of the Dripping Springs mesa. It burned down shortly thereafter,but its ruins are still there, along with the shell of the Spider Grandmotherdwelling that also appears in her film.
As Storyteller doesmainly in print and "Arrowboy and the Witches" doesmainly in motion-picture form, much of the non-fiction work published bySilko since Storyteller (most of it collected in her 1996 Yellow Woman andaBeauty of the Spirit) continues to integrate the conventional domains of visualand verbal art as well as the conventional categories life and land. In 1989, forinstance, an essay entitled "The Fourth World" appeared in Artforum, a journalof the visual arts, and in 1995 her photoessay "An Essay on Rocks" appeared ina special issue of Aperture magazine. As in her filmmaking, Silko's creativevision remains grounded in her years growing up at Laguna: in "The FourthWorld," Silko speculates about the connections between the high teenagesuicide rate around Laguna and the open Jackpile uranium mine, while in "AnEssay on Rocks" her story about a boulder in a Tucson arroyo ends with anallusion to the story of a similar rock on Mt. Taylor that first appeared inStoryteller (77-78). And in 1996, the Whitney Museum in New York publishedRain, a selection of photographs of Laguna faces and places taken by her father,Lee Marmon, with accompanying text by Silko.
The concept that printed wordsthemselves are visual images, and thusclose relatives of other visual art forms, is also one of the starting points ofSilko's most ambitious work to date, Almanac of the Dead (1991). The titlerefers to the Great Calendar of the Mayan tradition, a way of reckoning timethat involves creating and preserving a pictorial image (or "glyph") of each ofthe faces of time in the understanding that time is a life form that periodicallyrenews itself though transformation: "The days, years, and centuries were spiritbeings who traveled the universe, returning endlessly" (523). As Silko tells it inthe novel, the sisters Zeta and Lecha, the initial twinned female protagonists of the novel, are keepers of a surviving portion of one of these oldMayan codices, inherited from their grandmother Yoeme (the name means"Yaqui" in the Yaqui language). In this fragment, the past five hundred years --that is, the years between the time of the sustained European invasion of theAmericas and the present of the novel, published on the eve of the USColumbian quincentenary -- is predicted as the epoch of Death-Eye Dog, one ofa series of epochs comprising the Long Count; the fragment also containsannotations, made by its various keepers, of historical events that read asfulfillments of the ancient prophecy. Arguably, Silko's novel may be read as yetone more annotation on the epoch of Death-Eye Dog; from this perspective, thenovel also may be read as an introduction to the next epoch of human history, aperiod to be initiated (as in North America's own Ghost Dance prophecies) by"the disappearance of all things European" (Almanac frontispiece).
In Almanac of the Dead,Silko portrays Tucson, the novel's apparentcenter of gravity and the setting for much of the story, as a hopelessly corruptcity "home to an assortment of speculators, confidence men, embezzlers,lawyers, judges, police and other criminals, as well as addicts and pushers"(frontispiece), trembling on the edge of apocalyptic redemption thanks to itslocus with respect to the Azteca migration motif. But even in Almanac of theDead, Sterling, Silko's on-again-off-again male protagonist, is a native ofLaguna, and the novel can end only when the "Exile" of the novel's secondchapter returns to Laguna in its final chapter, titled "Home":
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Barnett, Louise K., and James L Thorson, eds., Leslie Marmon Silko: aCollection of Critical Essays. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press,1999.