Dreams of Fiery Stars
The Transformations of Native American Fiction
Publication Year: 1999
Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Book for 1999
Since the 1968 publication of N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn, a new generation of Native American storytellers has chosen writing over oral traditions. While their works have found an audience by observing many of the conventions of the mainstream novel, Native American written narrative has emerged as something distinct from the postmodern novel with which it is often compared.
In Dreams of Fiery Stars, Catherine Rainwater examines the novels of writers such as Momaday, Linda Hogan, Leslie Marmon Silko, Gerald Vizenor, and Louise Erdrich and contends that the very act of writing narrative imposes constraints upon these authors that are foreign to Native American tradition. Their works amount to a break with—and a transformation of—American Indian storytelling.
The book focuses on the agenda of social and cultural regeneration encoded in contemporary Native American narrative, and addresses key questions about how these works achieve their overtly stated political and revisionary aims. Rainwater explores the ways in which the writers "create" readers who understand the connection between storytelling and personal and social transformation; considers how contemporary Native American narrative rewrites Western notions of space and time; examines the existence of intertextual connections between Native American works; and looks at the vital role of Native American literature in mainstream society today.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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Prologue: A Universe Perfused with Signs
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In Linda Hogan's novel, Mean Spirit (1990), a character dreams of "fiery stars" that fall to earth and terminate more than five hundred years of Euro-American domination. Other contemporary Indian authors, perhaps most notably Leslie Marmon Silko in Almanac of the Dead (1991), refer frequently to various tribal prophecies predicting the restoration of the "old world." 2
1. Acts of Deliverance: Narration and Power
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In his study of the European conquest of America, Tzvetan Todorov asks how we are "to account for the fact that Cort�s, leading a few hundred men, managed to seize the kingdom of Montezuma, who commanded several hundred thousand."2 According to Todorov, a sizeable European advantage lay in their ability to impose their own versions of truth on people who were epistemologically naive and who thus quickly "lost control of communication" to the invaders (61).
2. Imagining the Stories: Narrativity and Solidarity
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As we have seen in Chapter One, narrative management exploiting power may frustrate narrativity, the process by which a reader constructs a story based upon expectations and textual cues. Such experience, in turn, might generate in the reader an expanded repertoire of semiotic practices pertaining to texts and world. We have also seen how highly resistant narrative such as Momaday's ...
3. Re-Signing the Self: Models of Identity and Community
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Contemporary fiction by Native Americans frequently traces crises of self-transformation.2 Unique complications in the transformational process arise for Indian characters, sometimes on account of their half-blood or mixed-blood status, sometimes owing to their efforts to sustain tribal values in a white world, and other times due to their attempts to live by the rules of the dominant society.
4. They All Sang as One: Refiguring Space-Time
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As we have seen, western narrative frequently inhibits expression of American Indian realities, but contemporary Indian authors are adept in their strategies for expanding the semiotic range of western sign systems. Indeed, all semiotic forms are potentially subject to reimbrication of the sort we have considered in Chapters Two and Three.
5. All the Stories Fit Together: Intertextual Medicine Bundles and Twins
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Thomas King's collection of short stories, One Good Story, That One, graphically and verbally illustrates an intertextual principle: elements of story escape their textual bounds to spill over into life (as we have noted in previous chapters) and into other texts. King's Coyote —denizen of a vast number of American Indian stories including King's novel, Green Grass, Running Water—wanders through ...
Epilogue: All We Have Are Stories: Semiosis and Regeneration
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A quick glance at a dictionary reveals the common root of the words regenerate and genre: both derive from the Latin, generare. To "generate" is "to produce, or bring into being," while to belong to a "genre" is to be of a certain form or "genus" produced; to "regenerate" is to bring back into being, or to revive, renew, remake. An implicit theory of semiotic "regeneration" and, so to speak, ...
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I am grateful to St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas, for granting me sabbatical leave in the spring of 1997 to complete this study, as well as for supporting travel to numerous conferences, where I benefited from presenting portions of this work at meetings of the Northeastern Modern Language Association, April 4, 1997, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the Southern Chapter of the Modern ...
Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 1999
Series Title: Penn Studies in Contemporary American Fiction