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T h e R a d i c a l G e o g r a p h y o f S i l k o ’s A l m a n a c o f t h e D e a d A l e x H u n t Here thousands of individual journeys are interwoven, and the word “border” is a multiple metaphor of death, encounter, fortune, insanity, and transmutation. At times it is an abyss, a wall, or a spiderweb. Other times it is an infected wound, or a membrane. Some days it’s more like a hole, even a tunnel; and suddenly, it becomes a mirror, a bear hug, or a sudden flash. —Guillermo Gomez-Pena, “Border Culture” Poet and performance artist Guillermo Gomez-Pena’s tangle of border metaphors suggests to me Leslie Marmon Silko’s process of mapping the borderlands as a site of progressive transgression and transformation even as they are zones of exclusion and oppression. Since September 11, 2001, talk of secure borders has tempered excited rhetoric of the “global village.” Now the walls are going up and more lines are being drawn, complete with an axis of evil. More than ever, Silko’s Almanac of the Dead (1991) demands our critical attention as a novel that makes bor­ ders central. If Silko’s monstrous book was already uncomfortable, in our present climate it seems at moments chilling for its advocacy of revThe artwork featured in this essay is by Enrique Chagoya, from the book Codex Espangliensis: From Columbus to the Border Patrol (2000), a collaboration between performance artist Guillermo Gomez-Pena, visual artist Enrique Chagoya, and book artist Felicia Rice. A l e x H u n t 2 5 7 olutionary politics and revolutionary zeal. Yet to consider Silko’s novel no longer a constructive part of the cultural dialogue is to miss its point rather badly. Just as Cormac M cCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985) stands as a formidable reassessment of the history of American expansionism in the borderlands, Silko’s prophetic Almanac of the Dead considers our possible future; both novels exemplify the power of radical fiction to transform— on the level of the map— our sense of familiar terrains. More than one critic has characterized Almanac as a response to the comfortable place accorded Ceremony (1977) in popular and academic circles. While Ceremony remains a powerful geographical recentering of Laguna Pueblo within national and global contexts, it is nevertheless a novel which for many readers affirms a feel-good sympathy for Native Americans and a shallow environmental spiritualism. Almanac is in one sense, at least, consistent with the earlier novel as it elaborates the idea of “the destroyers” introduced in Ceremony.1 Yet in a starkly different manner Almanac succeeds in its anticolonial and pro-environmental politics by provoking horror rather than empathy; Silko exposes the reader mercilessly to the oppression of the subaltern, colonized America visible at the margins of the national map. Colonial power historically has sought to eradicate through geno­ cide and erase through oppression indigenous peoples’ languages, cus­ toms, and geographies. Silko’s shocking but compellingly real tabloid representation of American culture demands that the European Ameri­ can reader, in particular, must wrestle with his or her complicity in the genocide and land theft that enables his or her position. With disturbing and visceral force, Silko has turned the tables, and her novel acts through its practices of representation as a means of unwriting the colonial map. Almanac of the Dead is a performative text, deterritorializing the map to envision the possibility of a revolutionary future that will redress the disproportionate wealth and environmental destruction she associates with European American hegemony. In the largest sense, Silko’s novel uses representation to erase the dominant European American culture just as her characters use maps against the mapmakers and borders against the nation. The borderlands are a space in which such revisionist critique can be fully imagined. It is precisely where boundary lines are most emphat­ ically delineated, in what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari call “stri­ ated space,” that they are most continually challenged and subverted. Such subversions Deleuze and Guattari term...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 256-278
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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