- Storytelling and Writing in "Our Time":Scrambled Flows of Desire in Silko'S Ceremony
Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony incorporates and appropriates many "Native American" myths and legends and, yet, Ceremony still seems to resist popular theories of myth as identity-giving speech and other common approaches to American minority literatures. In fact, a close reading may reveal that Ceremony is not even a nostalgic gesture to the pre-European world of the First Peoples. Rather, Ceremony shows how the label, "Native American," only makes it seem as if a "people" already existed. In reality, minorities are always in a "process of becoming" and thus "must invent themselves in new conditions of struggle" implying that "the task of a political literature is to contribute to the invention of this unborn people who do not yet have a language" (Smith 1977, xlii). This "process of becoming" is not an "evolution[ary]" process (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 238) but a fluid process that, by definition, cannot be contained or stabilized into forms of identity or representation. Unlike the concept of being, "becoming" is "a verb with a consistency all its own; it does not reduce to, or lead back to, 'appearing,' 'being,' 'equaling' or 'producing'" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 239). What is crucial here is the possibility that Silko's writing does not "invent" a people or a new language, but it "contributes" to such in "revolutionary" ways. In the following, Ceremony is not considered through the ethnographic analyses of oral narratives. I am not interested in criticizing traditional fields which, of course, offer valuable anthropological, sociological views of myth. Instead, I am interested in how Silko's work shows that storytelling as writing participates in a becoming by "deterritorializing" majoritarian ways of being, including the territorialized domain of writing: literature. Deterritorializing is a dismantling of the operative codes of systems and structures in a way that allows for forces to flow, plunging everything and every-"one" into flux. Stated simply, "In a becoming, one is deterritorialized" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 291). In Ceremony, the traditional, or "majoritarian," ideas concerning literature's "territory"—whether on the conventional levels of form, plot, character, theme, or underlying philosophy—are dismantled by Ceremony's "poetology." Silko's writing offers a poetic articulation that defies logical rules of narrative. Deleuze and Guattari's notion of "minor literature" [End Page 261] explains how such dismantling "uncodes" the major language from within and even "scrambles" the codes. Scrambled codes open up the possibility that the uncoded and decoded codes can evade being recaptured by the same or other forces. Indeed, Silko presents the literary text as a deterritorialized space that can no longer be claimed by any one people, any one place, or any one time. I will demonstrate how storytelling as writing is an affirmative scrambling of the majoritarian codes of being, which allows for stories to reveal thresholds of becoming.
Before we proceed any further, it is important to note that Silko's use of the word, "story," is certainly not used in an esoteric sense, as it often is treated by readers who see Ceremony as a modern defense of traditional "Native American" ways. To consider Ceremony's presentation of "stories" in this way means that the full implications of Ceremony are left unexplored, giving rise to superficial readings that are guided by and reinforce stereotypes of "Native American" peoples and cultures. Such readings operate on the "making exotic" of the Laguna and other Native American peoples, and the traditions of storytelling. What is often overlooked is how stories, as revealed in Ceremony, are connected most profoundly to becoming, and we see this in the way that Ceremony opens with the cautionary view that stories are not going to be presented in the conventional way:
They aren't just entertainment. / Don't be fooled. / They are all we have, you see, / all we have to fight off / illness and death. / You don't have anything / if you don't have the stories. / Their evil is mighty / but it can't stand up to our stories. / So they try to destroy the stories / let the stories be confused or forgotten. / They would like...