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"Dancing the Page": Orature in N. Scott Momaday's "The Way to Rainy Mountain" Author(s): Arlene A.

Elder Source: Narrative, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Oct., 1999), pp. 272-288 Published by: Ohio State University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 12/03/2011 13:13
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Arlene A. Elder

the Page": "Dancing N. Scott Momaday's To Rainy Mountain

The Dance Dancing, He dreams, he dreams? The long wind glances, move Forever as a music to the mind The gourds are flashes of the sun. He takes the inward, mincing That conjure old processions

Orature The Way


steps and returns. (Momaday, The Gourd Dancer 35-36)

I began "Some years ago Imade a pilgrimage into the heart of North America. the journey proper inwestern Montana. From there I traveled across the high plains into the Black Hills, then southward to the southern plains, to a ceme of Wyoming at Rainy Mountain, in Oklahoma. Itwas a journey made by my Kiowa ancestors tery before" (Momaday, The Man Made of Words 118; hereafter Words). The Way long narrative and is To Rainy Mountain (1969), recreates this journey in a multigeneric author N. Scott Momaday's favorite of his books, especially, Pulitzer Prize-winning he says, for "the design, the physical design of the book" (Bonetti 139). It is a work that has intrigued many critics, particularly for its unusual tripartite narrative design. Iwould like to extend previous analyses of this structural pattern to argue that the work incorporates but moves beyond contemporary, theoretical, literary discussions to illustrate not only its author's influence by modern, Western literature but, also, his

of English and Comparative Literature Arlene A. Elder, Professor and ethnic American teaches and writes on African, Australia Aboriginal, member MELUS of the MLA Executive Committee for the Division of African

at the University of Cincinnati, literatures and oratures. She is a Literatures and Treasurer of

she was Literature of the United States). In 1976-77, for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic include The "Hin a Senior Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. Her publications and numerous articles, chapters, dered Hand," Cultural Implications of Early African American Fiction (Society and encyclopedia entries. 3 (October 1999)


Vol. 7, No.

Copyright 1999 by The Ohio StateUniversity

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qualities of orature is its combination of individual and expression. As a matter of fact, folklorist Ruth composition Finnegan judges the interplay of these two "aspects of composition and of delivery" one of the most intriguing features of orature: "It is not easy to tell, for instance, how far the verse in any single instance is the product just of a performer reproducing One of the distinguishing and communal well-known and prescribed forms with little contribution of his own, and how far it can also be put down to the arts of the creative poet; or how much one can attribute to the stimulation and participation of the audience or the emotion of the occasion it is a deeply intertextual and interoral narra self" (107). The Way To Rainy Mountain and performance values despite its tive that illustrates orature's dual composition the designated product of its renowned author. being a collection The book's literary genesis isMomaday's The Journey ofTai-me, of Kiowa myths and legends, privately printed in Santa Barbara in 1967, and its oral origin is in the mythic, historical, and personal storytelling of the author's Kiowa an cestors. Momaday credits Journey with being "the archetype of the present volume" hereafter RM) and reveals himself as the com (Rainy Mountain, Acknowledgments; of the material in this collaborative book, that consists of stories told to him by piler Kiowa elders, translated and added to by his father, Al Momaday, since Momaday even himself does not speak Kiowa (Wong 159-60). The Way To Rainy Mountain, more essentially than its predecessor, creates related, carefully-con imaginatively structed mythic, historical, and personal worlds; develops an increasingly rich iden for its narrator; and, most closely tity consciousness linking it to the educative function of orature, leads to the aesthetic, historical, and philosophical understand ing of the reader by teaching him/her how it should be entered and experienced. This interplay, as well as the book's multiple origins, exceeds M. M. Bakhtin's understanding of the dialogic text, inwhich "Authorial speech, the speeches of nar rators, inserted genres, the speech of characters are merely those fundamental com can enter the novel" (263). For positional unities with whose help heteroglossia contribution as translator and narrator of instance, in addition to Al Momaday's some of the recounted myths and historical events, the author's father helps create text even more directly by his son's incorporation of his series of this multigeneric eleven paintings that illustrate the Kiowa myths and legends. While these paintings serve many purposes beyond the decorative, one of their most important, if implicit, thematic functions is to demonstrate this written work's interpretation of the "unity of the arts," a performance value intrinsic to orature. The power of oral perfor mances, as we know, is much more than linguistic; they depend on paralinguistic features, such as tone and volume of voice, facial expressions and gestures, music, song, symbolic costuming, and dance. The paintings are necessary to the meaning of The Way To Rainy Mountain in the same way traditional face and body painting, sa cred and secular masks, hand-held objects, and symbolic costuming are intrinsic to ceremonial performances. Momaday, himself a visual artist who has exhibited in this country and abroad since 1979 (Coltelli 90), considers drawing itself a form of story telling: "writing is drawing, and so the image and the word cannot be divided"


Arlene A. Edler

also scripted the running title, "The Way To Rainy (Coltelli 96).1 AI Momaday that flows along the bottom of each page (Wong 160), always ending on Mountain," the right side with thewords, "The Way," functioning as a signpost, manipulating the reader further along into the text and deeper into a consideration of the philosophic meaning of such directive movement. Even the cover of the 1976 paperbound edition shield car helps tell the tale. It functions in a similar manner to the self-referential a remarkable relation ried lifelong by the Plains warrior, in that "The shield bears a real sense the Plains warrior is his ship to the individual towhom it belongs_In shield. It is his personal flag, as the realization of his vision and his name, the object shield is in of his holiest quest, the tangible expression of his deepest being_The volved in story. The shield is its own story. When the shield ismade visible itmeans: Here is the story. Enter into it and be created. The story tells of your real being" (Mo cover presents three buffalo of the Sun 74). Momaday's maday, The Presence shields, anticipating the three narrative segments we find within; the shields appear sides of the cover page, just as the narratives do in the text, and are of is immediately obvious, since each sizes; yet their essential connection bears the same image of a buffalo skull and decorative and symbolic elements. The title of the book runs at a diagonal, down to the right. Momaday also credits designer Bruce Gentry with the striking physical design of the book, "which I had nothing to do with ... so that you can open it at any place and you have three voices on facing pages, each in its own type face, and I think you not only hear them as different voices, but you see them as different things on the page" (Bonetti 139). It is impor tant for our understanding of Momaday's conception of his text as reinforcing as on different different pects of performance that he emphasizes here its visual, that is pictorial, and auditory friend and qualities of even its linguistic segments. Poet Ivor Winters, Momaday's mentor at Stanford University, also can be seen as contributing to the conception and final form of the book. In a letter of April 21,1965, Winters urges his fellow poet, "I wonder what would happen if you set yourself an exercise on a philosophical subject or a historical subject, to be done in a stanza somewhat like the crucifixion piece . .. Your father must [Momaday's poem, "Before an Old Painting of the Crucifix"]. have had eyewitness stories from his grandparents. That sort of thing as seen person ally and in the long view of history might be very moving" (qtd. in Schubnell 141). Indeed, it is the book's tripartite linguistic structure, established in the first sec tion and later subverted, that, inmy view, creates a dialogic performance experience for the reader and narrator, that has drawn the most consistent attention of critics, most of them noting the increasing interrelationship of the different voices present in each section. This structure, of course, demonstrates Bakhtin's notion of polyphony, that is, that texts "ought not to give priority to one dominant voice, attitude or idea" (Dentith 46). While Bakhtin's writings are hallmarks of the extremely literary institu tion of modern Western theory, the Russian critic's ideas about narrative actually echo an older understanding from traditional orature thatMomaday replicates, that is the connection of history, memory, and the imagination, and the philosophic and social significance of both individual and collaborative expressions of these experiences. as an example of contemporary American Indian auto Judging Rainy Mountain . . .multicultural one she terms, "internalized collaboration" biography, (155),

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Hertha Wong observes that its "tripartite structure reflects three narrative voices: the the historical, and the personal, each accentuated by a different typeface" mythical, has labeled his non-mythic (160). In an interview with Camille Adkins, Momaday or personal commen sections "historical commentaries and . . . autobiographical taries," (Schubnell 221) and remarks elsewhere, "There are three voices in that book, and only one is directly personal. The others are historical and, what shall I say, orig inal" (King 70). By "original," I assume he means these particular voices are those of the Kiowa ancestors who, through the centuries, repeated the stories that he learns from the Elders and, with the help of his father, translates and transcribes. As a result of Momaday's acceptance of, even reliance upon, collaboration and inter- and intra and orality, he clearly illustrates Bakhtin's polyphonic text made up of an textuality essential interplay and equality of narrative voices. It is important at this point to re iterate that "narrative" in the context of orature incorporates multigeneric artistic ex not language alone. pressions, The poignancy in the story of the Kiowa thatMomaday tells rests in their dis covery of their culture through journeying and then loss of it as a result of contact with Euro-American Western expansion: "The great adventure of the Kiowas was a going forth into the heart of the continent.... Along the way they acquired horses, the religion of the Plains, a love and possession of the open land. Their nomadic soul was set free. In alliance with the Comanches they held dominion in the southern Plains for a hundred years" (RM 4); "but the young Plains culture of the Kiowas withered and died like grass that is burned in the prairie wind. There came a day like destiny; in every direction, as far as the eye could see, carrion lay out in the land" (RM 3). Historical accounts tell us that the "carrion" were the buffalo, upon which the Plains Indians depended both culturally and for physical survival, slaughtered by the U.S. Government as a means of subduing the Plains Indians. Momaday's Pro logue reveals, "The buffalo was the animal representation of the sun, the essential and sacrificial victim of the Sun Dance. When the wild herds were destroyed, so too was the will of the Kiowa people; there was nothing to sustain them in spirit" (RM asWilliam M. Clements observes, "the death of the holistic Kiowa 3). Nevertheless, culture in 1890 did not bring about the deaths of individual Kiowa. As long as Kiowa men and women who had been living in 1890, endured, they carried with them mem ories of their way of life_Aho, Momaday's grandmother whose death inspired the retained the Kiowa lifeways in her pilgrimage which is recalled in [RainyMountain] memory until the 1960s. For these Kiowa, the culture persisted as it had existed in 1890, captured in their imaginations" (70). is as autobiography, it is If one of themost fruitful ways to read Rainy Mountain significant thatMomaday has returned here to the nonwestern, American Indian con cept of telling one's life story by constructing an individual identity inextricably con to the beliefs, memories, and experiences of his Kiowa ancestors and Iwould like to distinguish between Momaday, the author, and the unnamed, first-person narrator, who, like all such "heroes," is the product of selective memories and, therefore, a fiction, I agree with Wong's assessment that "through this unique polyvocal autobiographical narrative, Momaday constructs a communal self" nected relatives. While (159). As a matter of fact, it is Momaday's deliberate heteroglossia, which asserts


Arlene A. Edler

and illustrates his appreciation of traditional communal identity, that is replicated by the performance structures of orature on his pages. in Community here, moreover, cludes the reader, in amanner essential for the educative purpose of his book. His in clusive techniques extend the ethical dimension in the appreciated by Bakhtin polyvocal, dialogic novel, in which, he says, "the relationships between people are understood in a more profoundly sociological way than the abstractedly philosophi cal and ethical manner of 'Author and hero,' and the forms of consciousness which an author brings to bear are understood as being themselves historically formed" (13). To elucidate the development of Momaday's understanding of "forms of con sciousness" and their reliance upon an historical formation, Iwould like tomove for a moment to one of the repeating tropes in The used to ex Way To Rainy Mountain communal and personal identity construction, that of the conventional plore journey of maturation, with its related images of confinement and freedom. As quoted earlier, Momaday quickly establishes the journey motif that reflects Kiowa migration his The activity of journeying leads the Kiowa to an awareness of their tory. identity as nomadic yet grounded in an intrinsic relationship to a specific, open landscape: "The Kiowas reckoned their stature by the distance they could see, and they were bent and blind in the wilderness" seems entirely fitting for a (RM 7). This self-understanding whose origin tale, admittedly, like those of several other American Indian people is envisioned as a spontaneous movement into the world through a communities, constrained space ("They entered the world through a hollow log" RM 7) and whose first names for themselves, Kwuda and Tepda, both of which mean "coming out," (RM 16-17), identify them with the principal of mobility. Immediately in the Prologue, the narrator's own journey to Rainy Mountain, where Momaday's grandmother, Aho, is buried, is superimposed upon that of his birth and migration story. As he has said, "There are on the way to people's Rainy Mountain many landmarks, many journeys in the one" (RM 4). Two intertwined journeys being traced are those of the semireliable narrator and of the much more evolved author, the mixed-blood descendant (Kiowa, Cherokee, French) of a leg sends his narrator in search of an iden endary grandfather, Mammedaty. Momaday tity that links him surely to his Kiowa ancestors and to the Southwestern landscape where they settled. His own "mestizo" existence compels him on his creative, imag ined journey, just as it sent Momaday on his actual trip back to the site of his per sonal Kiowa history. He has called The Way To Rainy Mountain a "memoir" (King 70) and accounts for his writing it in a 1986 interview with Louis Owens by observ ing that "mixed-bloods are most naturally curious about their cultural identity" (65).2 The narrator's growing identification with his ancestors leads him to empathize with what he perceives as the Kiowa need for space and the ability to move through it: it seemed tome, was the top of the world, a region of deep lakes and "Yellowstone, dark timber, canyons and waterfalls. But, beautiful as it is, one might have the sense of confinement there_There is a perfect freedom in the mountains, but it belongs to the eagle and the elk, the badger and the bear" (RM 7). The expanses in the South west satisfied the Kiowa's spatial imagination, a consciousness that translates itself in The Way To Rainy Mountain into a conventional reassessment autobiographically of a childhood memory. When the narrator visits his grandmother's house where he

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had played as a boy, "I saw for the first time inmy life how small itwas," a psychic and personal confinement he evades by immediately beginning the journey into his historical and mythic past: "The next morning I awoke at dawn and went out on the dirt road to Rainy Mountain" (RM 12). In its original design, Momaday's tripartite narrative journey proceeds in steps but visually discrete, brief segments of text, since the para of culturally-related, graph, or "stanza," on the top of the left page contains Kiowa myth; that on the top of the right provides historical information about the Kiowa migration and settling in the Southwest; and the one on the lower right informs us about Momaday's personal family and the narrator's reminiscences of it. In The Man Made of Words, he has that "With the exception of epic matter and certain creation myths, sto commented is a principal qual ries in theAmerican Indian oral tradition are short. Concentration of their structure" (3). This pattern of short narratives follows an opening poem, ity "Headwaters," the Prologue, and the Introduction, and occurs in three main sections of diminishing length, "The Setting Out," "The Going On," and "The Closing In." establishes a quickly Trickster that (as manipulative author) he is, Momaday and apparently inviolable, tripartite design for the body of his work. apprehended for his recreation of orature's "unity of the arts," "The Setting Out" is Significantly, Al Momaday's drawing of a grasshopper, facing right, apparently ready preceded by to leap into the text. The linguistic design begins on page sixteen, left top, with the Kiowa origin myth of emergence through a hollow log. This myth and the rest of the information about Kiowa cultural beginnings takes up approximately one-quarter of the page and is followed by a large, blank area, imposing a kind of honorific silence on the voicing of the text and forcing the reader to conceptually, even physically, that is, visually, step through this distance to the top of the right-hand page where we find historical information about the Kiowa valuing of difference and their related, sym bolic custom of cutting their hair unevenly. There is a small space, indicating less narra cognitive distance between this passage and the one following, presenting the tor's personal reminiscence about "coming out upon the northern Great Plains in the late spring" and, at first being aware only of the beautiful expanse of hills and plains but, after awhile, perceiving difference, the details of "herds and rivers and groves? and each of these [having] perfect being in terms of distance and of silence and of age. Yes, I thought, now I see the earth as it really is; never again will I see things as I saw them yesterday or the day before" (17). From the solemnity of this last state ment, the reader's mind and eye are drawn down once again to the running title along the page's bottom edge, that ends with the repeated words, "The Way," and on to the top of page eighteen to experience this visual and conceptual pattern once again. To my knowledge, none of the other commentators on Momaday's style in The Way To Rainy Mountain has analyzed his repeated use of blank space for much of the left hand page, after the mythic section, of the first version of his patterning, and on the right between the historical and autobiographical segments. Iwould argue that these spaces recreate on the printed page the silences intrinsic to oral storytelling. In the Introduction to The Man Made of Words, Momaday explains the importance of this paradoxical feature of orature: "Writing engenders in us certain attitudes toward result is thatwe have developed a kind of false security where Ian language_The


Arlene A. Edler

guage is concerned, and our sensitivity to language has deteriorated. And we have become in proportion insensitive to silence. Words are intrinsically powerful," he says: By means of words can one bring about physical They are magical. But one does not necessarily speak in order to be in the universe.... changes heard. It is sometimes enough that one places one's voice on the silence, for that in itself is a whole and appropriate expression of the spirit. In the Native Amer is often first in im ican oral tradition, expression, rather than communication

In this sense, silence too is powerful. It is the dimension inwhich ordinary and extraordinary events take their proper places. In the Indian world, aword is spoken or a song is sung not against, but within the silence. In the telling of a story, there are silences in which words are anticipated or held on to, heard to echo in the still depths of the imagination. In the oral tradition, silence is the sanctuary of sound. Words are wholly alive in the hold of silence; there they are sacred. (15,16) Momaday's incorporates symbiotic of empty spaces in The Way To Rainy Mountain this power of silence in oral performance. The silent spaces slow the reader's pace, creating a "sanctuary of sound," where it is possible to "hold on to" the previously information and visual design and to "anticipate" subsequent stories encountered and structures. In oral performances, such silences are essential, educative features. of his pedagogical practice, Momaday has revealed that: "Sometimes I ask Speaking students in a class to close their eyes, put down anything they are holding, and qui etly observe the darkness for two or three minutes before listening to a passage. Hearing in this posture makes a difference" (Words 59). Momaday's original design of segments of myth, history, and personal memory is consistently repeated until page thirty-one, in the right-hand section at the top, where he subtly substitutes a remembrance of his grandfather, Mammedaty, for the more general historical information usually present in that spot. The story begins, "Mammedaty owned horses," and ends a few lines later: "Of all the tribes of the the Kiowas owned the greatest number of horses per person," making the an appropriate representative of the Kiowa so that, hereafter, any new in grandfather formation about him will metonymically speak for Kiowa culture in general. The reinforces theAmerican Indian requirement of autobiography and biogra metonym phy's emphasis on the individual's relationship to his/her community. A more com plete textual transformation occurs a few pages later (35), again at the right top, the established spot for historical information about the Kiowas, where now Momaday Plains, inserts, for the entire segment, the mythic account of the origin of the venerated talyi-da-i medicine bundles. We are being led to recognize that the mythic and the historic may be the same and indivisible, despite conventional and apparent divi sions; if so, we are guided to this idea through Momaday's cognitive subversion by this point of his original pattern, which visually remains the same. As Kimberly Blaeser rightly notes, this movement raises questions essential for Momaday's philo

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sophical and cultural theme of unity and suggests his subtle strategy of educating his readers: "Can the personal be historical? Does personal experience include history? Ifmyth can be history and history is included in personal experience, can myth also ... Does it be part of personal experience? [the changing pattern] call into question the idea thatNative American culture must remain static to be authentic and offer in stead a view of evolving myth?" (46). The structure of Momaday's story, then, follows the lead of oral performance, in that it is changing and indeterminate, and the very fluidity of this form is the "mes the same existence for some writing: sage." Bakhtin, of course, has recognized "Form and content in discourse are one" (259). The relationship of such a symbiosis in The Way To Rainy Mountain, however, goes further in creating a kinetic dimen sion due to the overall pictorial appeal of the visually discrete textual segments that must be reached through the reader traversing the blank spaces of silence. Moma day's cognitive "shape switching" dynamically engages the reader and forces move ment, just as dance steps in a ceremony would pull us into the action, recreating in the meaning of the ceremony being performed. Not only the reader's to expect a particu imagination, but our eye as well, have been trained by Momaday lar pattern of meaning; now, they must both "step" differently, not because the famil iar segments of text or silence are in different places on the page than previously, but because the fragments of the story, while remaining in place visually, have been to lead the reader to understand the relationship of the transformed conceptually historical, and personal in a richer way, to allow a conceptual movement, mythic, that is, similar to an improvised dance step that doesn't entirely break the pattern but, nevertheless, varies it in some essential way.3 Paradoxically, because the lay-out of the page remains the same, although the information has shifted, the variation here actually reinforces congruence. The Kiowas, we remember, value apparent differ ence. The reader's growing apprehension of the meaning of Momaday's subversion of his design allows us to enter the story in a creative way, accepting the author's in vitation to understand his meaning by helping to shape it, just as a participant in a traditional performance would; in Blaeser's words, he makes "the reader co-creator of the literary work" (39). Like the Kiowa ancestors and Elders, we, too, become col laborators inMomaday's meaning. reestablishes his original pattern until pages forty and forty-one, Momaday where slightly above the middle of the page on the left side, he repeats one line from an account of a peyote experience of Mammedaty, previously offered in its regular, lower right-hand spot on page thirty-nine, and on the right he gives us a drawing of a mystical creature, facing left, the direction now firmly identified semiotically with the mythic past. The drawing ends "The Starting Out" and is followed by an entire and crossed before we begin "The Going page of blank space to be acknowledged

our bodies

This middle section continues to complicate the narrative structure. On page like a tentative innovation in the dance, a step that modifies the design in a forty-six, minimal way, the information on the left-hand side could be historical or could be imaginary. The oft-quoted story of the arrowmaker who shoots his enemy outside his tipi because he cleverly discovers that the man hiding there is not Kiowa by speaking


Arlene A. Edler


to him emphasizes the significance of language in a primary oral culture and the life-giving (in this instance, life-taking) power of words; whether this story is legendary or completely imaginary is unclear. Momaday has commented elsewhere on its purpose: "it is a story about story, about the efficacy of language and the power It is about language, after all, and it is therefore part and parcel of its of words.... own subject. Virtually, there is no difference between the telling and that which is told" (Words 9,10). This self-referentiality, of course, is one of themain concerns of contemporary literary theory; as Terry Eagleton notes, "every literary work, in the act of apparently describing some external reality, is secretly casting a sideways glance at its own processes of construction" (105). Kiowa oral concepts, in their own emphasis on the educative purpose of such narrative self-awareness, however, antic

ipate and move beyond structuralist dogmas. Page forty-seven follows Momaday's original pattern. Pages fifty and fifty-one the pictorial design presented earlier by again offering a line of previous text, repeat then a picture by Al Momaday, but, this time, the combination does not end the sec tion. Another tentative transformation occurs on page fifty-three, where the second section can be considered personal history only because the narrator inserts into it an expression of his own desire to have seen in person Kotsatoah, a famous Kiowa war rior. With the pattern reverberating here, we again can see a variation that suggests the link of individual experience with communal history. On page fifty-eight, on the left-hand side, the tale of why "Bad women are thrown away" is, it is true, a story ac counting for the social customs of the community, but it does not seem to be mythic, event that happened early in the history of the rather, an account of a well-known one also involving the power of language. There is no dating of this story of Kiowas, the blind man and his "bad" wife, as there is in the following section on the top of the right on page fifty-nine, concerning incidents of 1843 and 1851-52 inwhich certain women were severely punished for real or supposed infidelity. The personal history following presents Mammedaty's grandmother, part Mexican, with blue eyes, whose assertion of nontraditional power illustrates a change in the culture: "She raised a lot of eyebrows, they say, for she would not play the part of a Kiowa woman. From slav ery she rose up to become a figure in the tribe. She owned a great herd of cattle, and she could ride as well as any man." The tentative changes, the conjuring "mincing steps," in conceptual structure in these sections can be seen as mirroring the slight historical alteration of the role of women in Kiowa society thatMomaday's grand mother effected. "The Closing In," the last major section in The Way To Rainy Mountain is pre on the left, page sixty-two, again, just above the middle of the page, by the figured repeated line, "he was transformed into a daring buffalo hunter," and across from this line, on page sixty-three by a painting of an Indian on horseback, galloping to the left, about to spear a buffalo. These images, both the painting and the line of text, af fect us visually; they create a circular movement, linking the myth and history of the Kiowa with the present-day narrator on his journey of remembrance and self-cre ation. Clearly, Al Momaday's paintings are not merely decorative, but are intrinsic of the story, indicating with a power and subtlety of their own the trans components formations suggested by the linguistic subversions of the original narrative pattern.

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On page seventy-one, right-hand side, the second section of text is not the cus tomary information about the narrator's own experiences or his family's but is a statement of empathy with the legendary figure presented in the historical top sec tion, who sacrificed one of his finest horses so that his family would be spared dur ing a smallpox epidemic: "I think I know how much he loved that animal; I think I know what was going on in his mind." Then, on page seventy-two on the left-hand side, the narrator sharply breaks the pattern again to tell of a supernatural experience is said to have had on his way to Rainy Mountain. What is significant Mammedaty and structurally here is that the personal family history is linked not thematically only with the mythic but that it has "danced" across the blank, silent space of the book to make that connection in the area conventionally reserved for the mythic. It lures the reader with it. Then, the top of right-hand page seventy-three shifts again, with more information about Mammedaty in the space where in the first pages of The Way To Rainy Mountain Kiowa history appears. The traditional, per general sonal history section following the brief space on this page, continues with Mamme daty but returns to a supernatural experience he once had and adds more examples of thus linking him with themythic figures: "Itmeant thatMammedaty had of a powerful medicine." got possession Page seventy-six, left-hand side, continues to focus on Momaday's grandfather. Then, in the top right section, one hears the story of "Little Red," the Kiowa horse a the second section captive Pawnee boy stole from them in the winter of 1852-53; a box of bones of a horse he called "Little Red" that is tells of Mammedaty storing later stolen. This tale, very obviously, links family history with the tribal and permits the narrator to align himself with both events: "There have been times when I thought I understood how itwas that aman might be moved to preserve the bones of a horse?and another to steal them away." Clearly, the emphasis here is on the narra his visions, tor's felt relationship with both his grandfather, the legendary Pawnee boy, and even with the more contemporary thief of the bones, an empathetic move we have seen before in the segment originally reserved for family history and personal memories and one suggesting the narrator's increasing ability to adopt the experiences and atti tudes of his ancestors. Page eighty, left-hand side, again subverts the original design and offers a story of Aho, the grandmother, inwhich she remembers amysterious occurrence that hap the Tai-me bundle fall with a terrible noise. Both pened to her when she witnessed the sections on the right of page eighty-one recreate family history, one directly with reference to amedicine bundle, the other with the image of the heavy iron kettle sit sees as symbolizing the Tai-me house, which Charles Nicholas continues the family history on both page eighty-two and the right (155). Momaday hand top of eighty-three, but the second "stanza" on eighty-three is a very personal and oft-quoted section of speculation that emphasizes the connection between land scape, imagination, and recollection, a tracing, really, of Momaday's method and in ting outside Aho's tent throughout The Way To Rainy Mountain: East of my grandmother's house the sun rises out of the plain. Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe. He


Arlene A. Edler

ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, towonder about it, to dwell upon it.He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it.He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of noon and all the colors of the dawn and dusk. (83) Momaday gives most of his Epilogue that follows to the voice of the hundred-year a picture of whom appears in another of his memoirs, The Names old Ko-sahn, one of the last Kiowas to remember the Sun Dance. He closes his book, lin (162), guistically, with a poem about his narrator's destination, "Rainy Mountain Ceme tery," just as he opened itwith "Headwaters," the verse that sits facing the Prologue. Hertha Wong perceptively a similar framing in the placement of the recognizes the myth of the seven sisters who were borne into the heavens painting illustrating and became the stars of the Big Dipper (RM 8) and of that depicting the Leonide me teor shower (RM 87) that occurred on November 13,1833 and "seemed to image the sudden and violent disintegration of an old order" (RM 85). Wong notes, "As well as linear progression, the illustrations provide an associational circularity" (167). This use of poems and paintings to frame his text can be viewed as another incor cyclic poration of oral narrative structures, this time, the formulas frequently beginning and ending storytelling sessions. A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff notes that formulaic expres sions are used during traditional performances "to open or close stories or to elicit audience response" (4). Moreover, her examination inAmerican Indian Literatures of genres of orature and their development over time reflects Momaday's own genre transitions in The Way To Rainy Mountain: "Stories are sometimes divided into those that are true and those that are fictional, into the sacred and nonsacred, or into some combination of these categories. Stories can include aspects of both the true and the fictional or the sacred and the nonsacred. Further, some stories originally categorized as sacred can subsequently be classified as nonsacred" (40). Indetermi nacy and movement are intrinsic to orature, as is repetition. use of repetition to establish his original patterning, his Because of Momaday's or segments', generic classification as myth, history, or memoir is im stanzas', in the reader's memory and expectations, just as Kiowa myth and his printed early and subconscious of the narrator. Momaday's tory are in the consciousness cor subsequent subversions, then, with their emphasis on cultural and philosophical respondences, dynamically involve the reader, not only intellectually but, because of the necessary silent spaces we must cross, engage us physically, with the power of Iser memory and imagination to recreate tradition. In The Implied Reader, Wolfgang sees a similar patterning in all texts; he discovers two main structural components within the text: first, a repertoire of famil iar literary patterns and recurrent literary themes, together with allusions to fa miliar social and historical contexts; second, techniques or strategies used to set the familiar against the unfamiliar....

Oral Narrative


in The Way

to Rainy Mountain


with what the reader thought he recognized is This defamiliarization bound to create a tension that will intensify his expectations as well as his dis trust of those expectations. Similarly, we may be confronted by narrative tech niques that establish links between things we find difficult to connect, so thatwe are forced to reconsider data we at first held to be perfectly straightforward.

(288, 289)
recreation of orature in The Way To Rainy This description perfectly fits Momaday's Mountain. While his reader is programmed to expect a static pattern of information in the succeeding linguistic segments, this stasis, like that of early twentieth-century social and cultural expectations of "The Vanishing Indiana is disrupted. The multi its shifting transformations of meaning, paintings commenting in the textual sections, and the typographically empty spaces of silence, reflection, and physical and cognitive transition disrupt the reader's expecta tions and reinforce Momaday's Indian quest for personal and communal American their expected decline and disappearance, as a result of their reinvigoration, despite being cut off from their sacred traditions and history. "I believe that what most . Indian is sacrilege, the theft of the sacred. . . We, Native threatens the American Americans in particular, but all of us, need to restore the sacred to our children. It is a matter of the greatest importance" (Words 76). He aids in this restoration for his reader by drawing us actively into the text, teaching us how to read it and, over the course of its pages, teaching, as well, the implications of this dynamic interaction. As mentioned earlier, the concept of journeying in The Way To Rainy Mountain provides the essential narrative movement for the "story" of the book, which, in turn, is inextricably interwoven with the narrator's acquisition of the knowledge of his an cestors, leading to his richer sense of self. G?rard Genette provides us with an ex that this method in his insistence tremely useful approach to understanding . ., "Analysis of narrative discourse will be. essentially, a study of the relationships
between narrative and story, between narrative and narrating, and (to the extent that

generic work, with on the information

they are inscribed What is interesting revelations inRainy movement into not

in the narrative discourse) between story and narrating" (29). in this regard about Momaday's and historical autobiographical Mountain is his use of shifting structures tomirror his narrator's only a personal identification with his family's stories and Kiowa and history but, also, to lead the reader to an understanding of the simultaneity myth of these apparently discrete elements. Momaday has observed that "The morality of intolerance has become in the twentieth century a morality of pity" (69); "The con

to assume responsibility for the Indian?he is willing is temporary white American on the burdens of oppressed peoples everywhere?but he is decidedly willing to take unwilling to divest himself of the false assumptions which impede his good inten tions" (Words 72). Just as there are multiple sources for The Way To Rainy Mountain journeys recounted, there are, also, many audiences. The American Indian in a traditional ceremony, is being led to remember and community, as it would recreate its life-giving traditions; the general Euro-American audience is being edu cated in the realities of a culture it probably has experienced only stereotypically. and many


Arlene A. Edler

The educative purposes of orature are implicit here. As the Epilogue states, "the .The culture would golden age of the Kiowas had been short-lived... persist for a while in decline, until about 1875, but then itwould be gone, and there wood be very little material evidence that it had ever been" (RM 85-86). The narrator goes on to the importance of memory and "the verbal tradition which transcends it" as recuperative vision against Joseph (RM 86) strategies. Positing Momaday's of such a collapse of "traditional mythology and its dis Campbell's understanding creative mythology," Charles Nicholas sees The Way To Rainy Moun placement by tain expressing "the essential continuity between these two kinds of mythology, insisting that both are acts of the imagination" (150). In an attempt to account for the universal appeal of storytelling, J. Hillis Miller observes, "With fictions we investi gate, perhaps invent, the meaning of human life" (69). This invention of reality oc emphasize curs for Momaday in language, as he believes, "we are all made of words," language "the element inwhich we think and dream and act, inwhich we live our daily being And that idea, in lives"; "an Indian is an idea which a given man has of himself.... order to be realized completely, has to be expressed" (Wong 156). He would go far the storyteller tells his ther, however: "The storyteller creates his audience_When listener a story, he creates his listener, he creates a story, He creates himself in the process" (Givens 81). As Iser has stated, all texts are virtual, in that a literary work comes into exis tence through the dynamic agency of the reader and the written patterns the author provides (274-75).4 Iser goes on to note that the memories evoked of the text are al ways modified by subsequent encounters with new patterns, in his terms, new "sen tence correlatives" (278). To extend this idea, in The Way To Rainy Mountain, "teaches" the reader how to understand his text, actually, how to create its Momaday meaning, not on the level of "sentence correlatives" but, as we have seen, by shifting linguistic and pictorial correlatives, which function inmuch the same way: or confirms an expectation it has initially [T]he more a text individualizes aroused, the more aware we become of its didactic purpose, so that at best we can only accept or reject the thesis forced upon us. . . .But generally the sen tence correlatives of literary texts do not develop in this rigid way, for the ex pectations they evoke tend to encroach on one another in such a manner that . . .One they are continually modified as one reads. might simplify by saying that each intentional sentence correlative opens up a particular horizon, which these if not completely changed, by succeeding sentences. While is modified, arouse interest inwhat is to come, the subsequent modification of expectations them will also have a retrospective effect on what has already been read. (Iser

as largely ed technique in The Way To Rainy Mountain Looking atMomaday's Walter Ong's judgment that in "a primary oral culture, educa ucative corresponds to tion consists in identification, participation, getting into the act" (16). "Getting into the act" is precisely the result of the performance of orature, Iser's understanding of

Oral Narrative


in The Way

to Rainy Mountain


the dynamic between text and reader, and Momaday's guidance of realization of the relationships among the various parts of his book. to inform our imaginative and Iser rely on the reader's memory in the narrative: "The new background brings to light new changes we had committed tomemory; conversely these, in turn, shed their background, thus arousing more complex anticipations. Thus, the

the reader into a Both Momaday encounter with

aspects of what light on the new reader, in estab causes the text lishing these interrelations between past, present and future, actually to reveal its potential multiplicity of connections" (Iser 278). links himself to his storytelling predecessors, each of whom is "con Momaday to create himself

and his audience in language" (Coltelli 93). This under of the storyteller's imaginative power is a recurrent issue for the writer: standing "When the storyteller tells his listener a story, he creates his listener, he creates a au story. He creates himself in the process. It's an entirely creative process_The in order to realize the experience to its fullest, must allow itself to be deter dience, narrative to the his written mined by the storyteller" (Givens 81). Linking of oral performance, he asserts in The Man Made of Words, "The sto indeterminacy . . . creates the storytelling experience and himself and his audience in the ryteller cerned process" (3). It is through this dynamic involvement of the reader in the story's meaning that is most successful in recreating the power of orature, The Way To Rainy Mountain of orature in a written text. While the function language is, of course, an intrinsic of traditional oral performances, whether in the form of secular and sa component cred narratives, riddles, proverbs, or chants, the full experience of orature depends involvement in responses, dance, music, and song, upon the audience-participants' text to unite to the reader's and narrator's "dancing" the page inMomaday's similar seemingly discrete segments. As Ruth Finnegan observes, "without its oral realiza tion and direct rendition by singer and speaker, an unwritten literary piece cannot or independent existence at all. In this respect easily be said to have any continued the parallel is less towritten literature than tomusic and dance" (2). a conversa Momaday's American Indian version of dialogism, then, is not only tion with the reader through the different languages of his text?Bakhtin's primary also, because of its recreation of the dynamics of oral performance, a concern?but, a unity of organic guided cognitive and kinetic movement across his pages, creating narratives and echoing silences. Bahktin's insistence "that the reader should sense an author's intention distinct from that of the narrator" (Dentith 55) is exemplified in The Way To Rainy Mountain, where it is clear that the journeying narrator, like the into knowledge already realized by the author. Finally, reader, is being manipulated text amemoir, The Way To Rainy Moun terms his multi-generic although Momaday Inmy reading, itmost resembles orature in recreating tain transcends categorization. the traditional "unity of the arts" and evoking a holistic response from narrator and reader alike that links it as much to visual art and performance as towriting. Moma an account in shorthand; it is an day has said, "In a way, history for the Indian is to reflect that concept image, a pictograph. Generally speaking, Indian writing ought literature ... ought to de of history, I suppose_But finally, of course, writing...


Arlene A. Edler

feat all expectations" (King 68). Like "Oral poetry," this text is a "kinetic ritual" that A man engages us holistically: "The body dances and sings alive with the mind.... of knowledge dances his wisdom" (Lincoln 29). The Way To Rainy Mountain replicates the creative visual and kinetic dy namism and purposes of orature even more surely than it illustrates what we under stand as the polyvocality of written texts. It is, at the same time, itself a work of visual art, a design of the mythic and cultural history of the Kiowa and of the narra tor's family, linking the present semiotically and kinetically through time and space with the most ancient past and educating the narrator and the reader through the process of this journey.

1. In this interview with whole was the man who was oral tradition which Laura Coltelli, Momaday inmore detail: "That explains this formal connection goes back probably to beyond the invention of the alphabet; the storyteller im standing with a piece of charcoal in his hand making, placing, the wonderful

literature. ages in his mind's eye on the wall of the cave, that's probably one of the origins of American He has begun to tell a story, and he develops in the course of time that storytelling in himself capacity to such a wonderful it as being somewhere in the line, in the evolution degree that we have to recognize of what we think of as American literature" (95). 2. Matthias Schubnell of Tai-me provides a detailed account of events leading up to the composition and The Way To Rainy Mountain in Chapter 5 of N. Scott Momaday: (1985). interview with of both The The Cultural

Journey and Literary 3.

Background in a 1982

relates his own sense of identity Interestingly, Joseph Bruchac, Momaday as a dancer in Kiowa ceremonies: with his participation "How can I not be an Indian? I'm a member of the Gourd Dance in the Kiowa tribe" (107-108). To Camille Adkins, in 1993, he explains, society is a very old soldier society Society in 1969. We, the dancers, wear a certain regalia, and we cause it has been a kind of restoration" (222). "The Gourd Dance in the Kiowa dance. tribe.... Iwas made a member It's been a very good thing for me be

4. Despite the validity of Iser's notion of virtual texts, we should remain sensitive to the essential differ ences between oral storytelling, and the "museumizing" of writing. As consequences performance, Ruth Finnegan points out, the very content of an oral narrative: can be greatly affected by the presence and reactions of the audience. For one thing, the type of au involved can affect the presentation of an oral piece_And to the char direct references or fortunes of particular listeners can also be brought in with great acteristics, behaviour, effectiveness dience too need not confine in a subtle and flexible way not usually open towritten literature. Members of the au to silent listening or a mere acceptance of the chief their participation


invitation to participate?they break into the perfor may also in some circumstances performer's mances with additions, queries, or even criticisms_As Plato put it long ago: 'It is the same with written words think they were speaking as if they were intelligent, [as with painting]. You would but if you ask them about what they are saying and want to learn [more], they just go on saying one and the same thing for ever.' [Phaedrus, 275 d.]... a further important characteristic of oral literature: the significance of the actual occasion, which can directly affect the detailed content and form of the piece being performed. Oral pieces are not composed in the study and later trans mitted of print, but tend to be directly involved in through the impersonal and detached medium a piece of oral literature tends to be affected by such fac of their actual utterance... tors as the general purpose at which and atmosphere of the gathering it is rendered, recent in the minds of performers and audience, or even the time of year and propinquity of the episodes the occasions

Oral Narrative


in The Way

to Rainy Mountain


harvest. Many ploited

oral recitations arise in response to various social obligations by poet and narrator for his own purposes. (10-12)


in turn, are ex

Adkins, Camille. 216-34. Bakhtin, "Interview." In Conversations Press of Mississippi, Imagination. Jackson: Univ. The Dialogic With N. Scott Momaday, 1997. The Univ. of Texas edited by Matthias Schubnell,

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