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  • Revolutionary Enunciatory Spaces:Ghost Dancing, Transatlantic Travel, and Modernist Arson in Gardens in the Dunes

She longed for that freedom, for a fancy dance or, better yet, a Ghost Dance, the necessary violence that would inflame the stars.

—Louis Owens, Bone Game

The great underlying principle of the Ghost dance doctrine is that the time will come when the whole Indian race, living and dead, will be reunited upon a regenerated earth, to live a life of aboriginal happiness, forever free from death, disease, and misery. On this foundation each tribe has built a structure from its own mythology. . . . Some apostles have even thought that all race distinctions are to be obliterated, and that the whites are to participate with the Indians in the coming felicity; but it seems unquestionable that this is equally contrary to the doctrine as originally preached.

—James Mooney, The Ghost Dance Religion and Wounded Knee [End Page 134]

Hints of the Ghost Dance in a variety of contemporary Native American novels suggest that written narrative may function now as a ghost of the Ghost Dance, carrying out the oral tradition's revolutionary work in latter-day, performative forms that are magically real enough to be powerful. In the epigraph from Bone Game, Abby, a second-generation mixed blood, cites Ghost Dance history as a source for her desire to find forms of freedom, imagined as revolutionary environmental and cultural change, although the larger plot eventually rejects "necessary violence" as an Anglo misresurrection of the past idiom (100). Similarly, "lost ghost dance songs" are cited as one of the oral sources for Louise Erdrich's The Master Butchers Singing Club in a lyrical ending lament (388). One significant marker of Erdrich's narratives has been her ongoing attention to the ways in which narrative can work performatively in reference to the history of oral discourse, most clearly by developing a community of first-person speaking voices as in her previous novels. In The Master Butchers Singing Club, the singing of German immigrants and women from a variety of cultural standpoints, while crossing and recrossing national and familial borders during and after the world wars of the early twentieth century, enacts the intertribal gathering of the Ghost Dance movement.

The novel's ending citation of ghost dance discourse allows readers to understand the shifting narrative point of view as performing the intertribal gathering, as it slips among multiple characters' experiences and traces the mixtures of familial and communal formations across communities undergoing radical border changes. Throughout, no one character emerges as the protagonist or focal point of the narration, but the last chapter offers a kind of communal authorial energy to the previously marginal character nicknamed by her community "Step and a Half." Named for her long insomniac stride during her trips around her rural community to gather fabric scraps and other objects set out as trash, Step and a Half develops a thrift shop economy out of recycling. She has never revealed to her community whom she has birthed or whom she has found in her night explorations, but readers are offered a final revelation. As in Love Medicine, the ending thus offers a story of origins and identity in a revelation of ancestry; as in many of Erdrich's previous works, the revelation functions more as a familial trace than a foundation, with a strong emphasis in the hybrid process of cross-cultural identity formations. The legacy of Step and a Half is the mode of recycling narrative discourses as the material scraps of history, the reformations of communal knowledge and revelatory songs, whose steps echo a ghost dance of oral discourse.1

The Master Butchers Singing Club, as well as Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Susan Power's Grass Dancer, map a [End Page 135] range of events in the Dakotas associated with the history of the Ghost Dance movement, an apocalyptic, intertribal, late-nineteenth-century movement treating oral language as part of the action in environmental and cultural regeneration. Leslie Marmon Silko's 1999 novel, Gardens in the Dunes inhabits the Ghost Dance movement in the American Southwest and connects it to a larger...


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