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American Mythologies: New Essays on Contemporary Literature

William Blazek
Michael K. Glenday
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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    American Mythologies
    Book Description:

    This challenging new book looks at the current reinvention of American Studies: a reinvention that, among other things, has put the whole issue of just what is ‘American’ and what is ‘American Studies’ into contention. The collection focuses, in particular, on American mythology. The editors themselves have written essays that examine the connections between mythologies of the United States and those of either classical European or Native American traditions. William Blazek considers Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine novels as chronicles combining Ojibwa mythology and contemporary U.S. culture in ways that reinvest a sense of mythic identity within a multicultural, postmodern America. Michael K Glenday’s analysis of Jayne Anne Phillips’ work and explores in it the contexts where myth and dream interact with each other. Betty Louise Bell is one of four essayists in this collection who focus their criticism on authors of Native American heritage. In the first part of ‘Indians with Voices’, Bell carefully argues that Roy Harvey Pearce’s seminal Native American studies text Savagism and Civilization fails to acknowledge its white elitist assumptions about what constitutes The American Mind and views Native Americans along a primitive-savage binary that helped to create a twentieth-century ‘national mythos of innocence and destiny’. Other essays include Christopher Brookeman’s study of the impact of Muhammad Ali on Norman Mailer’s non-fiction writing about heavyweight boxing.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-254-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    William Blazek and Michael K. Glenday
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Northrop Frye, perhaps the twentieth-century’s most influential writer on the topic of mythology and literature, remarked: ‘The wordmythis used today in such a bewildering variety of contexts that anyone talking about it has to say first what his context is’ (3). More recently Eric Gould has suggested that the concept of myth has become a new omnibus term for our times, a term that may mean both everything and nothing. He writes of myth as ‘a synthesis of value which uniquely manages to mean most things to most people. It is allegory and tautology, reason and unreason, logic...

  5. Chapter 1 Indians with Voices: Revisiting Savagism and Civilization
    (pp. 15-28)
    Betty Louise Bell

    Native American authors, in creating a literature distinctive of their experiences and cultures, have first had to confront and negotiate their own otherness in American history and literary tradition. Strategies in this confrontation have, for the most part, refused to isolate native life and cultures from colonial history and its literatures; instead, the principal strategy has been the appropriation and hybridization of those literatures to create intertextual opportunities for political intervention. Oppositional narratives, Euroamerican or Indian, produced by the colonial or postcolonial subject can reify the racial and cultural binaries used to justify the displacement and elimination of indigenous populations....

  6. Chapter 2 Wild Hope: Love, Money and Mythic Identity in the Novels of Louise Erdrich
    (pp. 29-46)
    William Blazek

    The importance of Ojibwe² foundational myths in Louise Erdrich’s eight novels of what might still be called the ‘Love Medicine’³ series has been interpreted by critics with an increasing confidence and complexity that parallels the fiction’s own development. I first want to review a few salient features of this criticism in order to show how it might be used to further examine the relationship between traditional and contemporary North American myth within the novels, especiallyThe Bingo Palace(1994) andTales of Burning Love(1996). Besides providing insights into both the traditional mythic sources of Erdrich’s stories and the direction...

  7. Chapter 3 Float like a Butterfly, Sting like a Bee: Mythologies of Representation in Selected Writings on Boxing by Norman Mailer
    (pp. 47-62)
    Christopher Brookeman

    At the end of 1984 African Americans held world titles in seventeen weight divisions from bantam to heavyweight. This dominance was particularly visible at the heavyweight level whose contests can still constitute the single most lucrative and celebrated event for the participants in modern mass sport. Muhammad Ali received $5,000,000 for his fight in Zaire against George Foreman in 1975 (and claimed that after tax and payments to his entourage, he would have $1,300,000 for himself.) Prior to Lennox Lewis, the last time a boxer other than an African American held the title was when Ingemar Johansson from Sweden captured...

  8. Chapter 4 The Secret Sharing: Myth and Memory in the Writing of Jayne Anne Phillips
    (pp. 63-78)
    Michael K. Glenday

    In the opening chapter of his study of American myth, Jeffrey D. Mason accepts that America’s foundation myth of itself as a space of limitless promise, of agrarian plenitude evolving into material abundance, was one which could neither survive its own internal contradictions, nor its trial by the actualities of time’s passage:

    There is a certain beauty in this myth, but as a guiding paradigm it no longer satisfies, and it does not express the profound failure of the American experience. Even as early as the nineteenth century, the actual Americans found that the land denied the myth’s abundant promise...

  9. Chapter 5 The Individual’s Ghost: Towards a New Mythology of the Postmodern
    (pp. 79-104)
    Leslie Heywood

    In Brian McHale’s 1987 studyPostmodernist Fiction, the literature that the author discusses has a gender and a race although gender and race are never mentioned. While the jacket copy extols the inclusiveness of a frame that brings together Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, Fuentes, Nabokov, Coover and Pynchon, the absence of any women and particularly any women of colour leads a cultural critic to question what it is about the idea of ‘postmodern fiction’ that would produce a list so clearly inflected by race and gender but marked by the absence of acknowledgement of these issues. What particular notion of the postmodern...

  10. Chapter 6 ‘Cheap, On Sale, American Dream’: Contemporary Asian American Women Writers’ Responses to American Success Mythologies
    (pp. 105-127)
    Phillipa Kafka

    The process of becoming American always and inevitably involves confronting and relating to American success mythologies. Furthermore, since the stereotypes for what comprises ‘typical American’ are based on what American success mythologies valorize, American success stereotypes are always and inevitably the byproducts of American success mythologies. Historically, Asian Americans and other immigrants have wanted to believe that they could somehow become accepted as ‘typical Americans’ if they only tried hard enough to assimilate.

    All the contemporary Asian American women writers whom I will discuss in this essay reveal the attractions as well as the pitfalls awaiting immigrants from Asia who...

  11. Chapter 7 ‘No Way Back Forever’: American Western Myth in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy
    (pp. 128-156)
    Peter Messent

    All the Pretty HorsesandThe Crossing, the first two parts of Cormac McCarthy’sThe Border Trilogy, were published in 1992 and 1994 respectively. They transformed McCarthy from a writer praised and appreciated by a minority to a cult author read by a mass audience.All the Pretty Horseswon the National Book Award for fiction and received the highest critical praise: ‘up there withCatch 22andRabbit at Rest; one of the great American postwar novels’.¹The Crossing, too, became an immediate bestseller.

    The most obvious feature of these two novels is their use of the conventions of...

  12. Chapter 8 Native American Visions of Apocalypse: Prophecy and Protest in the Fiction of Leslie Marmon Silko and Gerald Vizenor
    (pp. 157-167)
    David Mogen

    Responding in part to the quincentennial of Europe’s ‘discovery’ of the ‘New World’ and a cultural environment charged with millenial expectations, Native American writers such as Leslie Marmon Silko and Gerald Vizenor have ironically reshaped traditional American mythologies of apocalypse. Like Silko’sAlmanac of the Dead, Vizenor’sBearheart,Dead Voices, andThe Heirs of Columbusutilize apocalyptic and futuristic themes to comment on cultural conflict and world-view dislocations. Yet these fictions also dramatize conceptions of time, space and causality that question the very models of linear history structuring traditional Western treatments of apocalypse and the future.² Most fundamentally, all of...

  13. Chapter 9 The Brave New World of Computing in Post-war American Science Fiction
    (pp. 168-201)
    David Seed

    In a pamphlet of 1784 designed for those who were considering emigration to America Benjamin Franklin took obvious pride in declaring that in the new country ‘People do not enquire concerning a Stranger,What IS he?butWhat can he DO?’ (Franklin’s emphasis). Franklin was helping to formulate a national ideology of useful action based on the premise that ‘God Almighty is himself a Mechanic’ (977). ‘Doing’ for Franklin involved the comforting conviction that all problems could be solved through pragmatic improvisation. In his writings the term ‘mechanic’ has entirely positive connotations of individual inventiveness. We might consider this a...

  14. Chapter 10 Mythologies of ‘Ecstatic immersion’: America, The Poem and the Ethics of Lyric in Jorie Graham and Lisa Jarnot
    (pp. 202-225)
    Nick Selby

    Writing in his 1844 essay ‘The Poet’, Emerson famously declared that ‘America is a poem in our eyes … its ample geography dazzles the imagination’ (224). This essay examines the most recent collections of two contemporary American poets – Jorie Graham’sSwarm(2000) andNever(2002), and Lisa Jarnot’sRing of Fire(2003) – in order to investigate the implications on twenty-first century poetics of America’s mythologization of itself, and the ground it occupies, as a poem. Its reading of these collections will show how American (poetic) mythologies are bound together with ideas of the geographic, and with the ground (both real...

  15. Chapter 11 Whose Myth is it Anyway? Coyote in the Poetry of Gary Snyder and Simon J. Ortiz
    (pp. 226-242)
    Mark Shackleton

    Gary Snyder’s use of Native American myths and legends has been seen as a classic case of appropriation. Geary Hobson points out that the ‘white shaman’ fad among mainstream American poets seems to have begun with Snyder and his ‘Shaman Songs’ sections ofMyths and Texts(1960), while Leslie Marmon Silko has advised Snyder to look into the history of his own (white) ancestors in his search for a genuine American identity, rather than borrowing from the myths of Native peoples. This essay will evaluate the arguments made against the mainstream use of Native myth, the so-called ‘appropriation of voice’....

  16. Chapter 12 Aging, Anxious and Apocalyptic: Baseball’s Myths for the Millennium
    (pp. 243-266)
    Deeanne Westbrook

    I have argued elsewhere that baseball – the game and its texts – constitutes a genuine American mythology and that as a mythology baseball becomes a mirror of sorts for Americans and their culture, one in which, to use Richard Wilbur’s description of nature, ‘we have seen ourselves and spoken’, and wherein we have seen or may yet see ‘all we mean or wish to mean’ (‘Advice to a Prophet’).¹ As myth, baseball narratives seek to interpret and assign meaning to experience, to provide narrative order to a chaotic flux of events, and to reconcile the opposites of existence – in Lévi-Strauss’s terms,...

  17. Chapter 13 Finding a Voice, Telling a Story: Constructing Communal Identity in Contemporary American Women’s Writing
    (pp. 267-294)
    Lois Parkinson Zamora

    Willa Cather, in her 1925 introduction to Sarah Orne Jewett’s collected stories, repeatedly uses the metaphor of voice to praise the Maine writer’s work:

    Pater said that every truly great drama must, in the end, linger in the reader’s mind as a sort of ballad. Probably the same thing might be said of every great story. It must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure; a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer’s own, individual, unique. (8)

    In her comments about Jewett’s fiction, Cather says that ‘good writing’ possesses ‘the kind...

  18. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 295-298)
  19. Index
    (pp. 299-305)