Daily Archives: September 27, 2019

There There: Read from September 11 to September 27, 2019

I had never considered this subject matter before. I had never seriously thought about what had happened to the Native Americans in this country other than once and while hearing about reservation casinos or visiting pueblos in New Mexico. And when I was aware of Native Americans it was always in the traditional sense with people wearing full regalia either on TV or during cultural awareness events on campuses.

This book, however, forced me to see Native Americans, and not as some people distinct from Americans, but as just simply Americans who have to deal with and struggle with all the problems of being American but who are also trying to figure how what it means to be Native American in this America. It’s an odd place to be in because just like the title suggests that there is and yet isn’t a there there, Native Americans are there (here) and yet they aren’t, they are Americans but they are also something else, something even more American perhaps.

One of the saddest parts of this book is how so many characters struggle with some sort of addition, be it drugs or the internet, and of course this is not unique to Native Americans, but it seems to be such a part of that story of being Native American. The stereotype is that of someone drunk on the reservation and in a way this book both supports this stereotype as well as examine the why behind it. To say that only Native Americans struggle with addiction is untrue – all people struggle with it – but in this book we learn the why behind it, and a lot of it has to do with just trying to escape while being surrounded by a culture that ignores Native Americans (or thinks they are Mexican). It’s an odd thing to try to escape from people who don’t want to see you, and there’s a sense of here of wanting to be seen while also just wanting to be treated no different.

And that’s the thing here in that the characters are not any different than anyone else except for the fact that they are Native American. They love each other, they are violent towards each other, they are artists, they are abusers, and they are every kind of person there is, it’s just that they are also Native American on top of all that and they live in the cities with everyone else and so it’s hard to stand out in any way since everyone is forced to live cheek to jowl with everyone else and so it can be nearly impossible to see Native Americans unless they are wearing their regalia like during the pow wow at the end of the novel.

And then once the Native Americans are seen by the end of the novel, that’s when the violence happens. And it’s a shame that American art now must deal with the reality of American violence in the form of mass shootings. These shootings are such a part of the fabric of our culture that there is no escaping it, though what Orange does in this novel is explain how these shootings are not new, and he’s not talking about how they started in the 90’s (Columbine) or the 60’s (Kent State), but how they go all the way back to Sand Creek and Plymouth Plantation. Mass shootings are as old as America, older in fact since they go back to when we were still a British colony.

And that’s the thread of the story of this novel in that violence, specifically gun violence is what Native Americans have been running from ever since Europeans first came here and that they are still running and so it’s easier to remain silent, head down, and blend in, but that this comes at such a cost in that culture and tradition is lost that Native Americans have to hang onto who they are as a myriad people yet when they do they have to go back to running from bullets.

I never hear that one is dead

The Scream, undated, Edvard Munch
Background Image: The Scream, undated, Edvard Munch

Interesting juxtaposition between hearing and thinking, especially in relation to the image of the “yawning” “abyss” and how that echoing fading away is like one’s life fading away. When we hear an echo we often try to see how long we can hold onto its sound before it’s finally gone, and so life is sort of like a fading echo we are terrified to lose.

It’s interesting that she talks about hearing of someone who has died because often she writes about seeing someone dead in her poetry, but here it’s second-hand, perhaps gotten from a letter or obituary or in conversation. Either way she’s not dealing directly with the dead, she’s already separated from them through physical space, and now she’s also separated from them across the “abyss” between then living and the dead. In both cases there is a distance between life and death, but what that distance is is something that would drive a person to “Madness” in attempting to comprehend. This distance is something we can’t access with our senses (such as hearing), but we are still aware of its existence because we intuit that “Consciousness” is no longer present.

But then what is “Consciousness”? Here she describes it as a “stranger” and that the activity of “Consciousness”, such as holding “Beliefs”, are “Bandaged” (tied-up or blindfolded) and seems to be a jumbled stitched together horror that no “man” would dare “face”, even though it exists within all of us. There doesn’t seem to be any unity in this “Consciousness” she is describing, but rather it is something perhaps random which could mean she is saying life itself is just a random occurrence without any real meaning.

And thus her use of “hear” and “Tone” might be way of describing thought which is the sound and echo of our “Consciousness” echoing out of some unknowable and infinite “Abyss” inside each of us.

page 250 of 294 of There There

Calvin’s chapter here is basically the breakfast scene from Reservoir Dogs – even some of the dialogue is the same about the waitress and the tip. Structurally, however, this scene in the book is unnecessary, it could have taken place on the BART or whatever. The reason why the scene in Reservoir Dogs is so memorable is because the dialogue is sharp but more importantly it sets up the characters. It’s not needed here

page 246 of 294 of There There

After Edwin tells his story about Phil’s apartment getting taken over by white hipsters, we learn that the prize money is all in Visa gift cards because a check won’t work since so many people don’t have bank accounts and don’t want to lose 3% to check cashing stores. A lot of people who are outside the system but still have to negotiate the landscape anyway.

page 240 of 294 of There There

“He’s still letting the content direct the vision” is also how a good story is written when you don’t really know what you;re going to write next, you just put one word in front of the next and see what happens – so in that way life is like storytelling because we don’t know what we’re going to do next either.

page 238 of 294 of There There

Edwin and Blue, huh? She says it’s just as friends, but it seems like an odd pairing, though it has been a year since Blue left her husband and I guess I could see what she’d see in someone who probably isn’t going to treat her badly, it’s just he seems like the sort of guy who’d go the opposite direction, even if she’s clear they’re not dating.

page 233 of 294 of There There

“Indians dressed up as Indians” is interesting because up till now everyone has almost been invisible, visible as reflections at best, and so to be Indian they have to dress as Indians, but nobody is any more or any less Indian, it’s all how they feel. “He tells himself not to think” because he just needs to be “there there”.