October 31, 2004

What they lack in literary style...

In the wake of reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and philosophers, such as Aristotle and William James, who I find are rather verbose and figurative, the Native American writings of my American literature class are rather uninspiring in style. The plots of creation and how the whites impugned upon them--well everything, is great, but the style is simplistic, lacking the posh oratorical techniques of Socrates, of which I have become accustomed.

I will attribute these shortcomings to the fact that Native Americans were nomads, rather than safe thinkers walled up in Athens; the Native Americans were more concerned with finding the next herd than the best phrase. And understandably so.

In inundating students with texts with difficult diction and metaphorical passages, instructors think they are challenging the class. And in most cases they are, but I have read difficult texts and I can read them (with dictionary firmly in hand); what takes me off guard is a simplistically written text.

I read too much into it, attempting to grasp something that may not even be there; for example this description struck me: "that the old man rode a white-faced bay with white hind legs and the old woman rode a brown mare with a bay colt," making me think that the colors of the animals have some sort of importance, when the author probably just meant to stress that horses are an important part of Native American culture--so much so, that when one is approaching, one not only notices the man or woman, but also their steed.

Sorry, I just had an image of Shrek. "Did you hear that? She called me a noble steed."--Donkey cracks me up.

Now that I think about it though, Native Americans were most concerned with the stories--not the style. In oral literature, the style comes from the individual, rather than the work. Telling the stories, keeping all of them for future generations reminds me of the Hebrew writers in the Bible.

Just as the Hebrews entered Babylonian captivity, the Native Americans entered the captivity of the Europeans, and later American cultures. In keeping this oral tradition alive, the Native Americans kept their culture alive. However, the Native Americans made a mistake, that the Hebrews did not. The Hebrews wrote down everything, in addition to oral history. Now, as witnessed in some of these writings, such as "How the White Race Came to America and Why the Gaiwiio Became a Necessity," question marks accent the transcript of the oral history. Though in biblical texts some words are, to use a movie title, lost in translation, however, several languages, such as Greek, Latin, and English, have been applied to the texts for a better understanding of terms ambiguous when translated.

I am all about mixing and matching classes this semester. Hebrew Scriptures, Western Cultures and Traditions, Philosophy, and American Literature all rolled into one blog. Sheesh.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at October 31, 2004 10:25 AM

If you ever get a chance, read "The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell.

Posted by: Linda Fondrk at November 1, 2004 9:10 AM

What is it about?

Posted by: Amanda at November 1, 2004 10:03 AM

This year I find my scholarly research mixing together in one intellectual stew. Nothing has been more fun this year then to drop the word "idiolect" on professor Jerz, then turing and shooting a quick coy smile at you.

I also find people writing in dialect annoying. It is almost saying "you will miss the cultural meaning if it is not spelled wrong on purpose." Well if culture is the only meaning behind a story, I recommend that person to look out his or her window and realize "culture" is a very shallow theme considering it is all around us. Linguistics has taught me that language and culture is in constant change, and it is pointless to fight change, but be a part of it. If I remember correctly, "good grammar" in the English language has changed 7 times.

Posted by: Stephan Puff at November 1, 2004 8:56 PM

Thanks. You almost make me blush.

And yes, as we are being exposed to these multiple subjects we tend to mix them all together. I think that is what acquiring knowledge is all about. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that I can put pieces of history, thought, and my own interpretations together for some kind of dialogue with others.

Also, culture can be found in the content, not always in style. I love a good stylistically challenging work, but not to the point of absurdity, as witnessed in Brier Rabbit.

Posted by: Amanda at November 1, 2004 9:15 PM

Joseph Campbell was a philosopher who researched mythology and it's ties to our lives. I have to warn you though - it's a love him or hate him deal. There's no middle ground with Campbell.

Posted by: Neha at November 2, 2004 12:13 AM
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