Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dark Articles: "The Horror! The Horror?" (Part 5 of 5)

[For Part 4 of the essay "The Horror! The Horror?  The Appropriation, and Reclamation, of Native American Mythology," click here.]


The Moon Dance, which is posited as a healing alternative to "war, destruction, death, and apocalypse" (423), suggests a more hopeful outcome than the "apocalyptic prophecy" (Alexie 185) and vicious cycle of violence threatened by the Ghost Dance in Indian Killer.  Somtow's novel--the most complete model of emergent horror--can also be offset against a second-wave narrative by a writer who makes the most egregious use of comparative racism.  Jack Cady's By Reason of Darkness (a novella equal parts Heart of Darkness and Pet Sematary) reworks Stephen King's plot of two adjacent cemeteries in the woods, offering not an animal graveyard and an ancient burial ground, but a seemingly tranquil Indian cemetery leading onto a haunting ground of malevolent Chinese spirits [see Note 17 below].  Cady's rhetorical strategies, however, achieve a varidirectional denigration of both minorities.  The narrator relates that the "Orientals arrived [in the Pacific Northwest] as bond slaves.  They were excellent workers.  Enslaved Indians were not" (263).  The Negro character dubbed the Blackbird meanwhile inverts the ratio of valorization: "There's two graveyards up there.  Indian and Chinese.  I don't care for either one of 'em.  But the Indian one is special" (266).  At the same time, the Blackbird claims that the voracious ghosts from the Chinese cemetery are not all that is to be feared, and warns that one should not be fooled by the apparent serenity of the Indian cemetery: "I know Indians and their ways.  They control ravens and crows, and they get fancy on revenge....They control owls and rats and anything that bites" (278-9).

Even as the two cemeteries are pitted against one another in Cady's narrative, they are also dreaded for their interconnection.  The Blackbird's cohort, Bjorn North, conflates the spaces of the respective burial grounds when he frets: "'People experimented....
Back in the old days.  These Indians have got cousins laid out here and up above.  There's Chinese Indians, but no Indian Chinese, because'--and he breathed in sobbing snorts, fear-ridden, and finally yelling--'because there wasn't no Chinese women'" (279).  Similarly, even as the Blackbird speaks ominously about the cemeteries, a symbolic movement can be noted in the background of the hotel-restaurant setting: "An Indian waitress and a Chinese waiter made silent crossing patterns around the tables" (266).  The manifest uneasiness with cultural interweaving thus betrays the hypocrisy of Cady's novella, which itself performs cross-breeding on a rhetorical level through its employment of comparative racism.  It is important to recognize here the cunning transferal of blame, as the Native American and the Chinese immigrant are grouped as culprits rather than as victims of cultural transgression, in a narrative ostensibly dealing with America's own disregard for territorial boundaries and disruption of non-white cultures [see Note 18 below].

By Reason of Darkness forms the most forceful second-wave narrative in its deviating (and ultimately devious) use of horror's hoary burial-ground trope.  At first Cady seems to uphold the paradigm: the violation of the sacrosanct space--the disruption of property rites--yokes onto larger issues of challenged property rights (with the veterans' violent foray into the two cemeteries reflecting the "state of war" [280] in Southeast Asia).  There's even the suggestion that the contested soil of America itself represents a mass grave site: when the spirit fences have been torn down and the boundaries of the Chinese cemetery have been erased, the narrator nonetheless wonders, "was I standing on a grave?" (281).  But Cady's horror narrative is not symptomatic of a national guilt over genocidal acts against native peoples; nor is it really concerned (as Carol Clover claimed of the horror genre) with the dispossessed
dead.  What ultimately haunts By Reason of Darkness is not the disgruntled ghosts of natives uprooted by American manifest destiny but the realization that the opposition has been insufficiently oppressed (buried?) and has instead taken root in the cultural landscape.  The very first line of Cady's novella places the emphasis on a dreaded (from the hegemonic perspective) vitality and sustenance: "Now the corpses are decayed, not into dust, but have become one with the fertile and well-watered soil of the valleys" (254) [see Note 19 below].

The narrator's commentary as he passes by San Francisco's Chinatown on his way to Seattle and the haunted cemeteries also hints that the real concern here is with being devoured by an unvanquished Asian culture rather than by spiteful Chinese spirits: "Opium.  Sweatshops.  Money.  Smuggling of every commodity, especially illegal immigrant Chinese.  We fight war after war in the Orient.  The Orient always wins.  It absorbs, takes us over, we disappear into its enormous yawn" (248).  The Chinese ghosts at the cemetery sound a lot like the narrator's description of Chinatown: "The voices were like the babel of a public market, or like the disjointed buzz of a crowded street" (282).  For all its supernatural trappings, its concern with ghostly possession, Cady's narrative displays a preoccupation with real-world cultural contamination: from the American soldiers who "become Asiatic" (255) as a result of their wartime experiences, to the Negro character Albert Bird, who despite all his talk about Indian-controlled crows and ravens affects the nickname "Blackbird," wears black feathers in his hair, and is seen "[d]isplaying Indian tricks" (288) of equestrian skill.  Yet ultimately it's Cady's novella that performs the greatest trick.  Bjorn North's statement that he's "afraid there's no safe place to die" (246) is duplicitous not just because North is attempting to lure his two friends to the cemeteries so he can murder them and offer them as appeasing/
atoning sacrifices to the spirits of the place.  Contra North, the true fear expressed by By Reason of Darkness is that the white man in America now has no safe place to live.

Starkly contrast with Cady's approach, Louise Erdrich has asserted that Native American writers, "in the light of enormous loss, must tell the stories of contemporary survivors, while protecting and celebrating the cores of cultures left in the wake of enormous catastrophe" (qtd. in Smith 72) [see Note 20 below].  It proves worthwhile to return one last time here to Erdrich's novel Tracks, to observe the alternate relationship formed with one of Cady's main source texts.  From title and plot to (arboreal) setting and the narrator's Orientalist attitudes toward the so-called primtive, Cady's By Reason of Darkness makes ample allusion to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness [see Note 21 below].  Erdrich likewise invokes Conrad, but she chooses to seize not upon the darkness but on his postcolonial perspective.  Both Erdrich's and Conrad's narratives include rapacious yet anonymous "Agents" trading in Chippewa property and African ivory, respectively.  The Company in Heart of Darkness houses a "large, shining map, marked with all the colors of the rainbow" (13), and in Tracks one also finds a multi-colored map (detailing the precarious status of Chippewa allotments following the divide-and-conquer policy of the Dawes Act).  Finally, while the Belgian despoiling of the Congo that Conrad traces was a historical enterprise overseen by King Leopold II, Erdrich has the nun Pauline adopt an appropriate name when becoming an active suppressor of Chippewa culture: Leopolda.

Erdrich's recourse to Conrad is an integral part of the emergent qualities of Tracks, but it can also point towards a model for the continued emergence of Native American Gothic.  The contra-dictions of Conrad's Kurtz, who presents himself to Marlowe's imagination "as a voice" (48) yet presides over "unspeakable rites" (50) in Africa, perhaps anticipate the modern horror genre that has gone native in its appropriation of tribal mythology and bespeaks a desire to simultaneously silence and demonize (recall Kurtz's own conclusion in his report on the Suppression of Savage Customs:
"Exterminate all the brutes!" [51]).  Refusing, though, to let Native American myths and customs be darkened into unspeakable rites, a writer such as Erdrich reclaims the right to narrate their cultural significance.  Like Conrad's colonial Africa (and hopefully, as the intertextual matrix constructed by this essay has helped demonstrate), the meaning and value of such Native American
"property"--and the propriety of its usage--is still up for grabs.  By recognizing horror as a potentially subversive rhetoric to be employed in the dialogue with dominant culture, Native American writers might follow Erdrich's Tracks, staking a claim against continued dispossession and driving a stake through the heart of darkness generically attributed to tribal mythology.  By seeking to expose the ideologies of appropriation and abjection, such writers might take the vague yet frantic Kurtzian cries of "The horror!" and respond with the critical interrogation, "The horror?"

Notes to Part 5

17.King himself displays a penchant for comparative racism in Pet Sematary, suddenly likening the demonic Wendigo's eyes to those in a "classical Chinese painting" (327).  Notice, also, how the analogue with Pet Sematary formed in By Reason of Darkness surreptitiously links an Indian cemetery with King's site of animal burial (perhaps appropriately, in this light, a critically-wounded horse is buried in the Indian cemetery at the end of Cady's novella).

18.Some plot summary seems in order here: By Reason of Darkness involves a trio of veterans--the Blackbird, Bjorn North, and an anonymous narrator--haunted by the atrocities they helped perpetrate as part of an invading American military in a war (unspecified by Cady) in Southeast Asia.  This includes not only the typical murderous mayhem (cf. Francis Ford Coppola's update of Heart of Darkness in the Vietnam war film Apocalypse Now) but a rocketing of a sacred Asian graveyard and the destruction of its "spirit fences": "The small fences contained the spirits of the dead and kept away the other hungry spirits that flew across the world howling and weeping in their relentless and hopelessly eternal quests" (257-8).  North comments on the eerie similarity when a Satanic cult later pillages the Chinese cemetery in Washington state.  As this second set of spirit fences are destroyed, and as the angered Chinese ghosts awaken, North fears that they will seek retribution for his own wartime misdeeds (which include the cold-blooded murder of a pacifist monk).

19.Teresa Goddu surveys the rhetoric (from both cultural and imperial spheres--from Philip Freneau's 1788 poem "The Indian Burial Ground" to Andrew Johnson's 1830 Second Address to Congress) that has constructed a myth of the vanishing American "to naturalize the Indian's disappearance from the American landscape" (56).  Cady, though, mutates such
"naturalization," such association of the Indian with the grave/the buried past, into an unsettling outgrowth.

20.When Fleur is displaced from her sacred ancestral lands by the lumber company at the conclusion of Tracks, she carries her family's grave markers with her on her wagon and sets off toward white civilization.  Fleur, though, represents neither the vengeful (despite her "Pillager" surname) nor the vanishing Native American (e.g. she resurfaces in the Erdrich novel Love Medicine as a midwife).  Stressing notions of survival and rebirth, critic Jeanne Rosier Smith also notes that "Fleur is indeed the 'funnel' of tribal history; the one daughter [Lulu] she produces goes on in Love Medicine to repopulate the tribe and take her place as a community matriarch" (96).

21.The phrase "heart of darkness" itself is ubiquitous in horror circles, signalling the revered-precursor-text status of Conrad's short novel.  In a headnote to By Reason of Darkness, editor Douglas E. Winter invokes Conrad as "Cady's spiritual ancestor" (244).

Works Cited

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Allen, Paula Gunn.  "Special Problems in Teaching Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony."  American Indian Quarterly 14 (1990): 379-86.

Blackwood, Algernon.  The Wendigo.  1910.  The Best Short Stories of Algernon Blackwood.  Ed. E.F. Bleiler.  New York: Dover Publications, 1973.  158-207.

Bradford, William.  Of Plymouth PlantationThe Norton Anthology of American Literature.  Ed. Nina Baym.  5th ed.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.  165-204.

Brown, Charles Brockden.  Edgar Huntly.  1799.  New York: Penguin, 1988.

Cady, Jack.  By Reason of DarknessPrime Evil: New stories by Masters of Modern Horror.  Ed. Douglas E. Winter.  New York: NAL Books, 1988.  245-95.

Carroll, Noel.  The Philosophy of Horror.  New York: Routledge, 1990.

Clover, Carol J.  Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.  New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Conrad, Joseph.  Heart of Darkness.  1902.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988.

Erdrich, Louise.  "Potchikoo's Life After Death."  Baptism of Desire.  New York: HarperPerrenial, 1989.  5-17.

---.  Tracks.  New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

Goddu, Teresa A.  Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

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---. "Young Goodman Brown."  Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tales.  New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1987.  67-75.

King, Stephen.  Danse Macabre.  New York: Everett House, 1981.

---.  Pet Sematary.  New York: Doubleday, 1983.

Kolmar, Wendy K.  "Dialectics of Connectedness: Supernatural Elements in Novels by Bambara, Cisneros, Grahn, and Erdrich."  Haunting the House of Fiction: Feminist Perspectives on Ghost Stories by Women.  Ed. Lynette Carpenter and Wendy K. Kolmar.  Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1991.  236-49.

Lawrence, D.H.  Studies in Classic American Literature.  1923.  New York: Penguin, 1977.

Magistrale, Anthony.  The Moral Voyages of Stephen King.  Washington: Starmount House, 1989.

Michaels, Walter Benn.  "Romance and Real Estate."  The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.  85-112.

Montrose, Catherine.  The Wendigo Border.  New York: Tor Books, 1995.

Peterson, Nancy J.  "History, Postmodernism, and Louise Erdrich's Tracks." PMLA 109 (1994): 982-94.

Poltergeist.  Dir. Tobe Hooper.  Warner Studios, 1982.

Rogin, Michael Paul.  "Liberal Society and the Indian Question." Politics and Society 1 (1973): 269-312.

Rowlandson, Mary.  The Sovereignty and Goodness of God.  Ed. Neal Salisbury.  Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Ruppert, James.  "Indians in Anglo-American Literature, 1492-1990."  Dictionary of Native American Literature.  Ed. Andrew Wiget.  New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.  382-94.

Said, Edward W.  Culture and Imperialism.  New York: Vintage, 1993.

Silko, Leslie Marmon.  Ceremony.  New York, Penguin, 1977.

Smith, Jeanne Rosier.  Writing Tricksters: Mythic Gambols in American Ethnic Literature.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

Somtow, S.P.  Moon Dance.  New York: Tor Books, 1989.

Standiford, Lester A.  "Worlds Made of Dawn: Characteristic Image and Incident in Native American Imaginative Literature."  Three American Literatures.  Ed. Houston A. Baker, Jr.  New York: Modern Language Association, 1982.  168-96.

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