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M I C H A E L H O B B S Northwest Missouri State University Living In-Between: TayoasRadicalReader in Leslie MarmonSilko’s Ceremony Leslie Silko begins Ceremony with several poems, and in one of these—aptly titled “Ceremony”—she reminds us about the significance of stories: “I will tell you something about stories. . . . They aren’tjust entertainment./Don’t be fooled./They are all we have, you see,/all we have to fight off/illness and death” (2). The telling of stories is vitally important, but Silko seems to be addressing her quiet warning as much to the listeners and readers of stories as to their tellers and writers.1 Listening and reading are not mere forms of innocent entertainment, Silko states. On the contrary, in many instances they constitute a strenu­ ous form of struggle for psychic survival and empowerment, or as Harold Bloom puts it in The Breaking ofthe Vessels, “When you read, you confront either yourself, or another, and in either confrontation you seek power. Power over yourself, or another, but power” (13). If reading is, indeed, a confrontation and a struggle for power, then againstwhom are readers struggling and furthermore what kinds of readers most successfully overcome whatever adversaries they face? Bloom, of course, maintains that the strongest readers are misreaders or strong poets that intentionally misunderstand their precursors in order to make room for their own imaginative projects. In otherwords, to survive creatively, belated poets must overcome the great poets that have come before them. Reading such as Bloom describes seems to be a very specialized kind of interaction, one that only takes place between poet and poet, and has not much consequence beyond criticism’s preciosities of po­ etry. But the fact is that Bloom himself claims that every reader seeks power, that we all read confrontationally, and we do so in order to write our own stories no matter how strong or weak such stories may be.2The 302 Western American Literature implication is that we must write our own stories in order to survive creatively and psychically and perhaps even physically. In his “Discourse in the Novel,”M. M. Bakhtin perhaps expresses this type of struggle in a less specialized manner: The importance ofstrugglingwith another’sdiscourse, itsinfluence in the history of an individual’s coming to ideological conscious­ ness, is enormous. One’s own discourse and one’s own voice, al­ though born of another or dynamically stimulated by another, will sooner or later begin to liberate themselves from the authority of the other’s discourse. This process is made more complex by the factthat avarietyofalien voices enter into the struggle for influence within an individual’s consciousness (just as they struggle with one another in surrounding social reality). (348) Whether we are poets or plumbers, the birth of our voices and the creation of our stories involve a struggle and a liberation from others’ discourses of authority. In Ceremony, Silko’s characterized readers (as well as her character­ ized listeners-to-tales)3confront powerful and threatening discourses of authority, and their reading (epitomized by Tayo’sand Rocky’scontrast­ ing methods of textual interaction) exhibits the deadly difficulty of writing one’s own story against the pressure of such discourses. Tayo survives his confrontation because he is able to liberate himselffrom the powerful dominance of various authoritative discourses; thus, I refer to him as a radical reader. On the other hand, readers like Rocky,who read naively or with an extraordinarily undeveloped sense of hermeneutic suspicion, are quickly raked onto the ashheap as victims of whatever authoritative discourse is in the ascendancy. In order to read radically, a reader must discover ways to resist the deadly force that any authorized discourse can bring to bear against its readers. Rocky fails to resist the authority that inscribes his violent end, and so I consider him an orthodox instead of a radical reader. His orthodoxy as a reader first becomes apparent during Tayo’s recollection of a hunting trip. After remembering how Rocky disdainfully dismisses so-called superstitions associated with the killing and dressing of a deer, Tayo notes “how Rocky deliberately avoided the old-time ways. Old Grandma shook her head...


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pp. 301-312
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