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Deep Waters

The Textual Continuum in American Indian Literature

Christopher B. Teuton

Publication Year: 2010

Weaving connections between indigenous modes of oral storytelling, visual depiction, and contemporary American Indian literature, Deep Waters demonstrates the continuing relationship between traditional and contemporary Native American systems of creative representation and signification. Christopher B. Teuton begins with a study of Mesoamerican writings, Diné sand paintings, and Haudenosaunee wampum belts. He proposes a theory of how and why indigenous oral and graphic means of recording thought are interdependent, their functions and purposes determined by social, political, and cultural contexts. The center of this book examines four key works of contemporary American Indian literature by N. Scott Momaday, Gerald Vizenor, Ray A. Young Bear, and Robert J. Conley. Through a textually grounded exploration of what Teuton calls the oral impulse, the graphic impulse, and the critical impulse, we see how and why various types of contemporary Native literary production are interrelated and draw upon long-standing indigenous methods of creative representation. Teuton breaks down the disabling binary of orality and literacy, offering readers a cogent, historically informed theory of indigenous textuality that allows for deeper readings of Native American cultural and literary expression.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Diving into Deep Waters

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pp. xi-xxii

My elders say this is how our world was created. Before there was this solid earth on which we live, the place we call Elohi, there was only Galunlati, the Sky World, which exists high above the arch of the Sky-Vault. A long time ago, before humans, the ancient animals grew...

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1. The Oral Impulse, the Graphic Impulse, and the Critical Impulse: Reframing Signification in American Indian Literary Studies

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pp. 1-52

On a warm July afternoon north of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, I sit with Sequoyah Guess and Sam Still under a shady canopy of trees telling stories. Sequoyah and Sam, Cherokee language teachers and cultural traditionalists, are teaching me the language of my family’s kinship. As my nephew, Matt...

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2. N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain: Vision, Textuality, and History

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pp. 53-94

Offering both a critical methodology and an articulation of key critical concepts in ways that resolve the apparent binary of oral and literate elements, N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain provides a model for interpreting American Indian literature. The narrative describes a transformative intellectual journey in which a tribe reconceives...

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3. Trickster Leads the Way: A Reading of Gerald Vizenor’s Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles

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pp. 95-144

The Anishinaabe writer Gerald Vizenor begins his groundbreaking 1978 trickster novel Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart at the heart of a colonial struggle, during the 1972 takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington DC. In the epigraph above, a dialogue between Songidee Migwan, an American Indian Movement activist, and Saint...

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4. Transforming "Eventuality": The Aesthetics of a Tribal “Word-Collector” in Ray A. Young Bear’s Black Eagle Child and Remnants of the First Earth

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pp. 145-182

In the preface to Remnants of the First Earth the character Edgar Bearchild creatively blends Black Eagle Child mythology with his unique perceptions of his homeland to describe the way the Black Eagle Child settlement looks before daybreak. Bearchild, Ray A. Young Bear’s fictionalized alter...

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5. Interpreting Our World: Authority and the Written Word in Robert J. Conley’s Real People Series

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pp. 183-214

The summer 2001 issue of the Cherokee Phoenix profiles the Cherokee painter Talmadge Davis, a self-taught artist who turns for his subject matter to the traditions and history of his people. The Cherokee journalist Will Chavez writes that Davis “wants his paintings to teach people about Cherokee history.” Chavez describes Davis’s depiction...

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Epilogue: Building Ground in American Indian Textual Studies

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pp. 215-220

Dypaloh. A word, an invocation. This one Jemez phrase signals not just the beginning of N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, but a key moment in the development of a critical awareness of the relationship between oral and graphic discourses in Native American literature. Since the publication of Momaday’s watershed novel, Native...


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pp. 221-224

Works Cited

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pp. 225-234


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pp. 235-245

E-ISBN-13: 9780803234369
E-ISBN-10: 0803234368
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803228498
Print-ISBN-10: 080322849X

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 781311819
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Deep Waters

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America -- Intellectual life.
  • American literature -- Indian authors -- History and criticism
  • Indians in literature.
  • Oral tradition in literature.
  • Vision in literature.
  • Indian philosophy -- United States.
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