[Colonial & Postcolonial Theory]

The Performative and Processual: A Study of Hypertext/Postcolonial Aesthetic

Passive Encounter -- Active Encounter of Interstitial Spaces/Contact Zones

Part Two: Refiguring the Past: Oral Storytelling in Almanac

Jaishree K. Odin, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Leslie Silko's narratives focus on just this sort of repetition of the past but not in the form of performance but in terms of enactment which involves a refiguring of the past that interrupts and renews the present. In her texts, legends and stories of the past and the future are interwoven in the contemporeneity of the present moment. In Almanac, the key fragment that Lecha must use to decipher the old almanac describes the sacred moment as the present moment. Silko's "sacred present moment" can be seen in terms of Bhabha's concept of the "third space" which marks the space of encounter and hence is characterized by hybridity. As an act of encounter the third space is the zone of transformation which is always in a fluid state, and hence, can not be described in any essentialist terms. This space, unrepresentable in itself, "constitutes the discursive conditions of enunciation that ensure that the meaning and symbols of culture have no primordial unity or fixity, that even the same signs can be appropriated translated, rehistoricized and read anew" (1995:208)

The Pueblo Indian oral tradition that informs Silko's texts encodes the cultural experience of her people, and the telling and retelling of these stories continuously grounds them in the day of day narratives of the people which involves them in a complex ongoing negotiation with the dominant culture. Silko notes "the ancient Pueblo people depended upon collective memory through successive generations to maintain and transmit an entire culture, a world view complete with proven strategies of survival. The oral narrative, or story, became the medium through which the complex of Pueblo knowledge and belief was maintained" (1996:30). Old stories are thus kept alive by adapting to the changing context of the people's lives. Silko notes stories that exist outside the day to day experiences of the community are dead stories. Thus if a story "is really important, if it really has a kind of substance that reaches to the heart of the community life and what's gone before and what's gone later, it will be remembered. And if it is no longer remembered, the people no longer wanted it, or it no longer had its place in the community" (Barnes 51).

Oral story telling operates at two levels-at one level it is the representation of an incident that happened a long time ago and at another level it is the actual enaction of the incident itself. Due to its improvisational character, the storyteller, the participants and the occasion are all important in determining the direction the story will take. This interacting whole does not aim to describe some final state to be reached, but the process itself which has fluid boundaries in an essentially open structure. Each story is a part of other stories and reflects other stories, even as at the same time it reflects the landscape.

The storytelling that Calabazas in Almanac remembers his aunts and uncles engaged in involves everybody. Thus, everybody "one by one, ..contributed some detail or opinion or alternative version. The story they told did not run in a line for the horizon but circled and spiraled instead like the red tailed hawk" ( 224). Unlike Calabazas' storytellers up in the mountains where one story multiplies into many stories, the storytellers in Sterling's Laguna reservation reduce all stories to one story. The Tribal Council's world view is frozen in time and they have lost the ability to make new stories that would fit the current times and rejuvenate the culture from within. This inability to make new stories leads to the decision of banishing one of their own. It is finally the characters who are capable of remembering multiple versions of the same story rather than those who turn all stories into one story who are capable of change and growth.

Postcolonial OV PoCo Theory Themes