Contemporary American Indian Literatures and the Oral Tradition

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Because American Indian literatures are largely informed by their respective oral storytelling traditions, they may be more difficult to understand or interpret than the more text-based literatures with which most readers are familiar. In this insightful new book, Susan Berry Brill de Ramírez addresses the limitations of contemporary criticism and theory in opening up the worlds of story within American Indian literatures, proposing instead a conversive approach for reading and understanding these works. In order to fully understand American Indian literatures, Brill de Ramírez explains that the reader must become a listener-reader, an active participant in the written stories. To demonstrate this point, she explores literary works both by established Native writers such as Sherman Alexie, N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Luci Tapahonso and by less-well-known writers such as Anna Lee Walters, Della Frank, Lee Maracle, and Louis Owens. Through her literary engagements with many poems, novels, and short stories, she demonstrates a new way to read and understand the diverse body of American Indian literatures. Brill de Ramírez's conversive approach interweaves two interconnected processes: co-creating the stories by participating in them as listener-readers and recognizing orally informed elements in the stories such as verbal minimalism and episodic narrative structures. Because this methodology is rooted in American Indian oral storytelling traditions, Native voices from these literary works are able to more directly inform the scholarly process than is the case in more textually based critical strategies. Through this innovative approach, Brill de Ramírez shows that literature is not a static text but an interactive and potentially transforming conversation between listener-readers, storyteller-writers, and the story characters as well. Her book furthers the discussion of how to read American Indian and other orally informed literatures with greater sensitivity to their respective cultural traditions and shows that the immediacy of the relationship between teller, story, and listener can also be experienced in the relationships between writers, literary works, and their listener-readers.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A very ambitious book, a David taking on Goliath . . . For those wanting to learn how to read Native American literature conversively, for those who are admirers of Wittgenstein's thought, and for those who are troubled by aspects of structuralism and deconstruction as literary theories, Contemporary American Indian Literatures and the Oral Tradition will be a provocative, stimulating read." —Modern Fiction Studies"She offers new insight into each work she presents. Particularly useful in her treatments of Silko's 'Storytelling' and 'Storyteller,' Louis Owens's novel Bone Game, and the poetry of three Navajo writers, Nia Francisco, Luci Tapahonso, and Esther G. Belin . . . Highly recommend[ed]" —Western American Literature
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816519576
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 274
  • Sales rank: 1,063,720
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Berry Brill de Ramírez is Associate Professor of English at Bradley University and the author of Wittgenstein and Critical Theory: Moving Beyond Postmodern Criticism and Toward Descriptive Investigations.
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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Conversive Beginnings: Wittgenstein, Semiotics, and American Indian Literatures 21
1 The Emergence of Conversive Literary Relations: Wittgenstein, Descriptive Criticism, and American Indian Literatures 23
2 Semiotic Significance, Conversive Meaning, and N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn 41
Pt. 2 Conversive Relations with and within American Indian Literatures 67
3 Conversive Storytelling in Literary Scholarship: Interweaving the Navajo Voices of Nia Francisco, Luci Tapahonso, and Esther G. Belin 69
4 Relationality in Depictions of the Sacred and Personhood in the Work of Anna Lee Walters, Leslie Marmon Silko and Luci Tapahonso 89
5 Storytellers and Their Listener-Readers in Silko's "Storytelling" and "Storyteller" 129
6 The Conversive-Discursive Continuum in the Work of Louis Owens, Lee Maracle, and Sherman Alexie 155
Pt. 3 Transforming Literary Relations 201
Epilogue: Conversive Literary Relations and James Welch's Winter in the Blood 203
App. 1 Conversive Literary Structures 221
App. 2 Grammatical Rules for Literary Scholarship (Encompassing Both Textually and Orally Informed Traditions) 224
App. 3 Circular and Spherical Realities: A Brief Geometric Sketch of the 'Language Game' of Conversive Relations 227
Notes 229
Bibliography 239
Index 253
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