Dreams of Fiery Stars

Dreams of Fiery Stars: The Transformations of Native American Fiction

Catherine Rainwater
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Dreams of Fiery Stars
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0020-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prologue: A Universe Perfused with Signs
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    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 I borrow Hogan’s phrase for the title of this study—Dreams of Fiery Stars: The Transformations of Native American Fiction—because it concerns the counter-colonial, world-transformative efforts of writers such as Hogan. Over the past three decades, an ever-increasing number of American Indian authors...

  4. Chapter One Acts of Deliverance: Narration and Power
    (pp. 1-35)

    In his study of the European conquest of America, Tzvetan Todorov asks how we are “to account for the fact that Cortés, 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). Whereas indigenous Americans understood primarily a ritual use of language to maintain the status quo within a cyclic cosmological order, the European invaders were imperialists...

  5. Chapter Two Imagining the Stories: Narrativity and Solidarity
    (pp. 36-64)

    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 House Made of Dawn might drive the reader’s effort to decode the work beyond the margins of the text to extratextual references. Momaday’s is a useful technique for transforming the actual reader as thoroughly as possible into a projected, biculturally...

  6. Chapter Three Re-Signing the Self: Models of Identity and Community
    (pp. 65-103)

    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. In the end, such characters usually shape themselves less according to traditional models drawn exclusively from a particular culture than to models that they half-invent and half-discover through bicultural experience. Thus, in their patterns of character development, American Indian narratives emphasize flexibility...

  7. Chapter Four They All Sang as One: Refiguring Space-Time
    (pp. 104-130)

    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. Spatial and temporal codes inscribed within narrative forms constitute particularly significant challenges to Native American and other ethnic writers in their endeavors to represent worlds not in conformity with western material and mechanical notions of space and time. “Numbers, time, inches, feet. All are just ploys for cutting nature...

  8. Chapter Five All the Stories Fit Together: Intertextual Medicine Bundles and Twins
    (pp. 131-154)

    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 each of the works in the collection and even leaves “Coyote tracks,” in the form of graphic images, throughout the white spaces in the text that conventionally separate one story from another. Louise Erdrich’s novels are similarly linked together...

  9. Epilogue: All We Have Are Stories: Semiosis and Regeneration
    (pp. 155-168)

    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, “regenre-ation” has guided my investigation of contemporary American Indian literary works throughout this study. As I have shown, and as many Native American authors declare outright, Indian literature frequently includes...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 169-196)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-212)
  12. Index
    (pp. 213-220)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 221-222)