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Initial Readings: Fall 2012

October 1, 2012

You will be assigned a date/reading for which you will be responsible for offering some initial questions or suggestions. This is not a speech or formal presentation; rather, it is a way to lead off or lead further in to class discussion–and to give you a chance to think a little bit about this in advance. Think of it as leading point on our sauntering–for about 5 minutes. The idea is to share with us some of your response to the reading, guide us into discussion, help me along the way.

To facilitate matters, before class you must post a question and/or suggestion for discussion and one link on this blog (in response to this post, using comment box below). The suggestion and/or question should focus attention toward a particular passage or section from the reading to which you might point our attention. In addition, provide a link to something out on the web that associates with the reading, the author, an issue it raises, context for a particular reference it makes. The link could be biographical context, or academic discussion, but need not be. For example, when searching/sauntering for hits on “Thoreau”  and issues of sustainability and biodegrability, I found a company that sells a wilderness toilet and uses Thoreau’s name to do so. I find that association pretty interesting, and also odd. These links might lead us nowhere; they might be something one of us gets back to for further reading for the final project. Remember what Thoreau suggests–getting lost is a good way to find ourselves.

The schedule:

Monday 10/8, Pilgrim: Katherine, Alissa

Monday 10/15, Pilgrim: Catie, Emma

Monday 10/22, Pilgrim: Nina, Max

Monday 11/5: Abram: Jeremy, Cara

Monday 11/12: Ceremony: Campbell, Ashley, Tim, 

Monday 11/19: Ceremony: Allison, Tom, Stephie

Monday 11/26: Ceremony: Aric, Emily, Sam, 

Wednesday 11/28: Cronon, “Trouble with Wilderness”: Taylor, Sierra

18 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2012 3:07 am

    Ceremony depicts the transformations of simplified lifestyles to complex lifestyles, and war’s role in the process. Also, the impact that specific cultures have on other cultures is emphasized in this novel. What really caught my interest was the Native American concept that ceremonies were a universal cure for all problems. The novel portrays the message that a proper ceremony has the potential to cure any type of sickness, whether biological or psychological, and also the potential to cure the world of the white, which the Native Americans believe were created by a conference of witches and let loose on earth like a plague. The novel left me under the impression that Native Americans treat ceremonies as a process, which will ultimately lead to happiness if followed properly. Their dependence on ceremonies caught my interest for several reasons. First off, I found it interesting because ceremonies have been a part of Native American Culture for as long as they have been around. Secondly, because even though the addition of white culture introduced new methods of curing people, the Native American continued to rely on ceremonies as a means of dealing with problems. Further, this goes to show that the Native Americans are a proud, respectable race. They have a tremendous amount of faith in their culture.

    I stumbled upon this picture while searching for images of “Native American Culture.” I found it a bit Ironic…

    It is ironic that in today’s society will dedicate days to exploring and appreciating “Native American Culture” when it was of no interest to us before when we invaded their land and essentially laughed at their cultural ways of life.

  2. November 28, 2012 3:47 pm

    Cronon attacks the idea that people have been driven so far away from the wilderness, so far in fact, that we don’t even know what the wild looks like any more. He, like Thoreau, feels compelled to argue that human society needs to find nature again. However, he argues that even if humanity were to restore their connection with natures, that the nature Thoreau writes about has been lost. Cronon’s piece digresses into the call for self-realization about nature rather than just the wilderness alone.

  3. November 28, 2012 6:10 am

    Cronon names multiple problems with wilderness but they all stem from that fact that we view ourselves as being separate from nature. At the end he says we need to learn to respect nature and become self-conscious of every use of it. An initiative called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity ( is aiming to make people self-conscious of nature. Their goal isn’t to keep people from having an impact on nature, but to make them more aware of their impacts so they can adjust their behavior accordingly.

  4. November 26, 2012 4:09 am

    We live in a nuclear age, and World War II was the beginning of that history. Thus nuclear weapons intersect the novel in many ways: they were designed to win the same war Tayo and the other soldiers were sent to win; Old Grandma tells the story of seeing the nuclear test; and the final confrontation (such as it is) between Tayo and Emo talks place at the ruins of the mine where the radioactive materials came from.

    I found a website that has a history of the Trinity Site, where Tayo goes to meet the witchery head-on: The name trinity has religious connotations and, according to this source, literary ones as well, with Oppenheimer getting the name from one of John Donne’s sonnets. These intersections of religion and literature (in the form of story) are at play throughout Ceremony.

    Old Grandma doesn’t understand why anyone would want to build a nuclear weapon, but Tayo says he does. It relates back to the story of the origin of white people- the witch created them to destroy the world. Interestingly, the story lists affects on “the still-born, the deformed, the sterile, the dead,” which are now known to be affects of nuclear exposure. This weapon seems to be, in Tayo’s mind, the fulfillment of this story.

    White culture generally views the weapons as a triumph, though, a happy ending to the story of advancement that demonstrates strength and power. The Trinity Site is a national monument now; their website says they hold open houses twice a year for visitors. The site is still radioactive, by the way, but only a little bit. This page lists all the things people are exposed to daily that give off more radiation: It seems the majority culture doesn’t think the explosion was as big a deal as Tayo and his stories do.


  5. allisonkvien permalink
    November 19, 2012 11:15 am

    I found that the way Tayo and his people were treated by the English was similar to the way that Meso-Americans were treated when the Spanish arrived. Specifically, both cultures were made to perform ceremonies out of context for the amusement of the colonizing culture. Online, I found references to this happening in the Mayan culture:

    Another point I thought was interesting was the referral of the train as “a snake crawling across the red-rock mesas” (112). I thought that this use of snake as a description may have symbolic meaning, so I read up a little on the Native American meaning of snake. Several times, snakes were referred to as a portal between two worlds. I found this quite interesting and appropriate because the train quite literally functioned as a portal between the Native American culture and the culture of the white people, or the Western culture. I also wonder if, since the author and Tayo are both half Native American and half Caucasian, the snake has meaning for them in two different ways. Western culture usually regards snakes as a source of evil, stemming from the Bible. So I wonder if Silko and Tayo also view this train in this negative way like the Western world usually views snakes? Are both the Western and the Native American views of snakes used here?


  6. November 19, 2012 6:02 am

    The idea of witchery is what caught my interest during the assigned reading. It is in this section that we get the long story of the Indian witchery and how it created the white man who had his own witchery. Most people know the ideas of European witchery and the way that they have changed throughout history, but Indian witchery is something new. The way that it is framed in the book separates it from the shamans and medicine men so I am curious about witchery as it is practiced by the Native Americans. In the story the Indian witchery is a corruption of nature, but it still uses aspects from the natural world, unlike European witchery which draws from other worlds and the supernatural. So even in their forms of corruption Native Americans retain the natural world. When one of the witches steps outside the natural world to create the white men all of the other witches claim that such a concept is too twisted for even them to contemplate. It is an interesting topic and one that requires far more research than might be needed for this book.
    In researching this topic it is necessary to narrow the search, thus I focused on the part of witchery that is devoted to taking the shapes of animals. I found several short descriptions of shape-shifters or skin-walkers that are related to Native American myths or legend.

  7. November 19, 2012 3:56 am

    Stereotypes have a terrible power in our culture today, they make it easy to commonly group personality, habits, heritage, and color into readily identifiable groups. The stereotype of Native Americans has changed over the 500 years. Yesterday it was barbarians, the red man, and savages. Today we are more subtle, we have stereotyped Natives as alcoholic, casino-owning, and of course mascots. Readers are forced to deal with this stereotyping when reading Ceremony. Tayo is a stereotype of Native American problems, he is an alcoholic, violent, and suffers from PTSD, American Indians actually serve in much larger numbers than other ethnic groups.

    The Gallup Ceremony, and other ceremonial shows that are put on for white audiences reenforce Native American stereotypes. People like to see Natives as artifacts, pretty jewelry, moccasins, the humble lifestyle of hunter gatherer society with highly spiritual beliefs. Perhaps this view is to cynical, but it is so hard to grasp Native American culture. It is vastly complicated and varies intensely between each nation, tribe, and group and of course so much of this history and tradition have been lost to time.

    People do not want to see the dark side of Native American culture today, they want to see these performances and fake ceremonies so they can feel as if they are appreciating the culture and so they can feel less guilty. Ceremony highlights the dark side of this culture, the pain, the alcoholism, the barren landscape of reservations, and the blame. Blame is a recurring theme in Ceremony and has been centered around Tayo. He blames himself for the death of both Rocky and Jeremiah, but there is also a deeper blame of being an Indian. “they blamed themselves for losing the land the white people took” (39).

    These problems are still very relevant today, I found an article on the webisite of The Fresno Bee that discussed the problems that Native American vets suffer from today. Many Native Americans still join the military and come home diagnosed with PTSD, and turn to alcohol. I also found out, and ashamed I did not know, that November is Native American Heritage Month. I had no idea, I mean, where are the posters, the flyers, the speakers, the people at lunch behind the tables asking for donations or selling ribbons, and where are the ceremonies? Maybe I have been blind and not seen them, but I believe we should all feel some guilt when we look in the mirror.

    Ceremony is supposed to show us the tragedy of being an American Indian and what hundreds of years of discrimination and relocation have done. Ceremony, for me, has been a very spiritual experience though, and I believe this is what Silko wants to relay to the reader, that ceremonies are not these superficial artifacts but that there is something spiritual and powerful in their culture that can heal and help everyone.

    Native American Vets ‘stand down

    Native American Heritage Month

    Recommended Reading

  8. November 12, 2012 2:23 pm

    In Ceremony, Leslie Marmom Silko describes a character Tayo, haunted by the visions of his time as a solider. We now know this type of reaction to service is PTSD, and can cause hallucinations and haunting memories/images. I could not help but connect these visions to the Native American ceremony I had heard of–the vision quest. The question I pose is this: could the war be Tayo’s forced, ill-timed vision quest?

    Consider the first vision Tayo has: “So Tayo stood there, stiff with nausea, while they fired at the soldiers, and he watched his uncle fall, and he knew it was Josiah; and even after Rocky started shaking him by the shoulders adn telling him to stop crying, it was still Josiah lying there. They forced medicine into Tayo’s mouth and Rocky pushed him toward the corpses and told him to look,”

    Online I found descriptions of both PTSD hallucinations and a vision quest. The PTSD one simply backs up the idea that Tayo suffered from the affliction. The vision quest link is a description of one Native American’s experience in the ceremony. There are some similarities–the visions are considered as real as anything else, there is a dose of medicine (while forced from the soldiers, it is still similar to the medicine man described), and there is a sense that it is a lonely ceremony, specific and unique to the person experience it.

    The vision quest is considered a right of passage into man-hood and essential, could Silko be exploring the consequences of the experience coming from outside the Native American culture, forced by the United States Government and brought on by trauma?

    PTSD link:

    Vision quest narrative:

  9. November 12, 2012 6:03 am

    “Thought-Woman, the spider, named things and as she named them they appeared,” (1). From the beginning, Silko injects her culture into this novel and presents us with a story within a story. We have the traditional format of storytelling of the Pueblo people but we also hear the story of Tayo, a young man struggling with his disturbing experiences fighting in WWII. I suppose that the most profound concepts that I have found so far while reading “Ceremony,” is the idea of the reciprocity and duality of the Pueblo Indian culture. Before I began reading this novel, I took time to read Silko’s essay “Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination,” and I discovered that the Pueblo people believe all organisms have a spirit and it is on the basis of mutual agreement that organisms are used by humans. There is a reciprocity to the agreement between animals being hunted and the human hunters who pursue them. This idea of mutual exchange can be seen on page 1 of “Ceremony” when the narrator is introducing her thought process while weaving this story. While the narrator writes, the Thought-Woman thinks out the story and while Thought-Woman thinks out the story, it is the job of the narrator to put the words on the page. There are other instances of reciprocity and duality within “Ceremony” like the exchange of memories that Tayo gives us as he sways back and forth from fighting in the jungles of the Philippines to living in his village in New Mexico. These show us the duality of time as we go back and forth from the present to the past until we are somewhat unsure of what time we are in. Another instance that really showed a duality of existence was on page 28 when Tayo notes that he is the dead person while Rocky is the man who lives on. Tayo’s observation shows the irony of Rocky’s death making him live on in his family while he continues to live yet he appears dead to his family.

    I found this website that shows a brief history of Native American involvement in World War II and I think this is appropriate to share since “Ceremony” focuses on a Native American war veteran.

  10. November 5, 2012 3:28 pm

    Abram seems to me to be coming into his own in this essay, it seems that his trip to Bali has given him a sudden awareness of the world. I can tell that he struggles, as many westerners most likely would, with having the easy acceptance of nature as a part of life. The way that his hosts just easily feeds the ants every morning is foreign. In a western country many people would be calling an exterminator at the first sign of infestation but because those people hold such reverence to nature, because they fully believe that life is a cycle and that their body as well as their spirit will go on to sustain another they have no trouble providing for the ants and creating an understanding with them.

    I also love the fact that he stays in the cave, during the storm, and is in awe of the spiders spinning the web, creating such order of out the chaos around him. We often over look things like spider webs, but they are such complex and beautiful structures. Abram is stunned at the webs and feels as though he is watching the creation of a universe, if that is so than spiders are phenomenal creators, many spinning a new web each night.

  11. November 5, 2012 7:40 am

    Also, this second link discusses how even taking a negative perspective can be important to our greater discovery of nature, and perhaps even of the self. Basically, there is much to learn from the mistakes that we make, and this can turn out to offer much more than the good we achieve, as much as that might pleasures us.

  12. November 5, 2012 7:35 am

    Multiple Perspectivism is an idea which permeates David Abram’s writing to its core. It is the idea of studying any subject from different perspectives to get a more rounded image of all that goes into the given subject’s design. As an example, a multiple perspective outlook on the study of the human body is taking into consideration the physiology, psychology, and biology which each define certain aspects of the body. Having the knowledge of all three of these matters together, in addition to other perspectives, can give a far more rounded image of the human being than only having one approach to go off of.

    Abram wishes to take this concept to the subject of the world’s nature. For him the world’s nature is related entirely to the perception of it, which means not only the idea of looking at the world from different field’s of study, but also from the literal perspectives of people, animals, and even plants. All living things develop different understandings and connections to the world. This is why he describe multiple perspectivism of the world as “multiple intelligences.” (822) Each of us develop our own understanding of the world, and so the idea is that, in combining at least two streams of consciousness with different stories and images making up the world that is shared between them, the two perspectives can gain from one another and get closer to a fuller definition of the world. This is even possible for humans and animals, or humans and plants, who being very different species with very different mindsets would likely have very different things to offer one another.

    Magic holds so much importance to Abram because it is, in his mind, a process of perceiving the world differently, and of showing other people new perceptions. As magic is an illusive process it means trying to look at the world differently in order to understand the process of the illusion. If magic is looking at the world differently, then it is also a, “…heightened receptivity to the meaningful solicitations…of the larger, more-than-human field.” (822) It means, “…temporarily shedding the accepted perceptual logic of…culture” (822) in order to obtain a perspective that is beyond our typical comprehension of the world. Abram is claiming that magicians/shamans/medicine men and the like attune themselves to a perspective of nature that is beyond the person who cannot understand the process of the magic the magician presents. Thus magic is really just the perception of nature in a way that no one else has yet to understand.

    Abrams elevates magicians for having this skill of connecting to nature in ways that others cannot, but for also bringing others closer to that nature with the magic they present. One might think it impossible to observe the world from a perspective so greatly estranged from the regular human’s comprehension. How can we observe the world from the perspective of a blade of grass? Well, the idea seems to be more about contemplating what that observation is like, in order to push one’s self to view the world in different ways, rather than necessarily achieving the comprehensive nature of a single blade of grass.

    In the following link, there is a video in which Abrams discusses the magic of writing. Since writing is common place to many people now, it is not always remembered that at one point in time people were completely baffled that sounds could be translated into pictures and figures only. It requires a translator function of the mind which is not necessarily inherent to the human being. After all, we must learn to read. It is not something which comes naturally. To learn to read means altering our perspective of nature, of the nature of pictures and how that relates to the nature of our voices. This all related back to the famous quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” by Arthur C. Clarke. All new ideas may first appear as magic, but only because we have yet to align our perception to the new ideas.

  13. October 22, 2012 8:49 pm

    In the chapter titled “Northing” Dillard ventures into the hills of the surrounding area to investigate the “restlessness” of the soon to be migrating birds; while on the mountain she examines many animals including Canadian Geese and the Monarch Butterfly. She marvels at the drive of these animals traveling vast distances and the sometimes odd paths that they choose to take. Dillard moves on and discusses how migration and the importance of some of these animals are to people like Eskimos’. She mentions that they depend on the fat and fur from caribou every fall migration to make it through the winter.

    Eskimo Hunters 1949

    The new 4’’ thick and fatty coats contain hollow hairs that “insulate and waterproof”. These hunts are so dependent on migration patterns that if any change in weather “shifts the northern caribou into another valley…inland Eskimo tribes may all together starve”

    The Inuit – Food and Hunting

    I do believe that Dillard is attempting to be more scientific then Thoreau, she more then likely did this type of research after completing her time at Tinker Creek, but it is useful in helping one understand the importance of the things that go on around her house.

  14. October 22, 2012 5:41 am

    The chapters “Nightwatch” and “The Horns of the Altar” deal with overwhelmingly beautiful and heinous images of nature. We move from swarms of locusts, to lovely goldfinches meticulously picking at thistle, to flesh-eating cockroaches and other parasites. Not a pleasant thing to read before bed…

    However, Dillard suggests that nature–the good, the bad, and the ugly– constantly reminds us that we are alive. “We’re all in this Mason jar together… fellow survivor[s]” (DIllard 242-3). Because we are aware of the constant “munching” of mother earth, knowing we are all vulnerable to it, we value our lives more. Ideally, with the knowledge that we are at constant odds with parasitic succubi, we are pushed to “‘breathe as hard as ever we can breathe'”: that is, live as fully and curiously as possible (Dillard 244).

    This particular video I found on Youtube shows what Dillard describes on pages 210-11: the conversion from grasshoppers to locusts, and their urge to swarm:
    This clip perfectly encapsulates the horrifying images Dillard employs in “Nightwatch.” These vivid depictions of terror and fecundity seen throughout both chapters leave an ill feeling in my stomach, and I currently feel more fearful of going outside than ever before.

    I wonder: are the horrific images Dillard creates effective motivation to live vivaciously in nature? Or is the sheer repulsion of the biological warfare enough to push us away from the natural world? Is it more effective to describe the wonders of the gorgeous and dainty goldfinch (as seen here: or to discuss the “engorged ticks and seething ham, pus-eyed hogs and the wormy nostrils of sheep” when suggesting that we live in a bold and explorative manner (Dillard 232)? Where is the line between fascinating and frightening? How far is too far? Is her point lost in the sickening imagery?

  15. October 15, 2012 1:41 pm

    “We keep waking up from a dream we can’t recall, looking around in surprise, and lapsing back, for years on end. All I want to do is stay awake, keep my head up, prop my eyes open, with toothpicks, with trees” (87)
    Placed in her chapter on “The Present,” the passage highlights the interdependent relationship between living in the present and seeing. Living in the present is equated with a deliberate consciousness which, by definition requires open eyes. I was struck by the marked resemblance of Thoreau here, from chapters such as “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” in which we see him argue that “we must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake” in pursuit of a more deliberate lifestyle. Her phrasing is highly significant, offering a mechanism through which we can achieve this awakening in nature by suggesting that trees are a tool to be used to prop the eyes open. I think these sentences offer one way of seeing Dillard’s project- that is to allow nature to teach her how to see in an awakened and present way.
    In “Spring” Dillard discusses the elusive nature of birdsong. The decoding of birdsong is still a project for many scientists, but the analysis of neurological pathways offered in response ( does little to address Dillard’s wonderment over the inherent beauty of birdsong.

  16. ksykes2 permalink
    October 15, 2012 3:49 am

    One of the images that stuck with me is of the snake skin in a knot and how, as Dillard examined it, “the knot had no beginning” (47). She invokes the image of the ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail, “a loop without beginning or end” (47). I had to chuckle when her first thought was that the snake was magic. The symbol of the ouroboros does have ties to alchemy, though. Different cultures have different meanings for it, as expected. The people of the Middle Ages used it in alchemy because they thought this symbol represented the joining of the minds, the unconscious with the conscious. It is also, as just a circle, a symbol of eternity, of a loop, a symbol Dillard keeps returning to. The book has a very cyclical nature, as the world seems to as well. Everything is connected, everything returns onto itself.

  17. October 10, 2012 1:36 am

    The notion of extravagance seems to be a recurrence within Dillard’s writing – first when she discusses the “extravagant gesture” of creation and now again when she claims “nature is, above all, profligate” (11, 66). When literally discussing extravagance, she speaks generally, rather than about any one thing in nature. But I think a clear example of this sort of ethereal display is when she mentions feeling like she’s walking “upside-down in the sky” after it snows (45).

    Dillard specifically mentions the “classical demonstration” of laying a mirror atop snow so that it reflects the sky. Outside of her text, this has relevance to scientists in Antarctica studying the reflective powers of the ice and snow:

    But Dillard’s talk of extravagance also has influence in the opposite spectrum. Artist Ali Kirsch was so enamored by and fixated with Dillard’s work that she composed pieces of art in representation of every chapter in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

  18. Katherine permalink
    October 8, 2012 1:00 am

    Dillard discusses how nature is both beautiful and cruel. I was very struck by the passage about the giant water bug eating the frog. Dillard describes how the giant water bug eats its prey alive and then suggests that it was created earnestly.
    When I researched the bug, I found that it is native to Japan (I’m interested to find out how they got to Virginia), can fly, and are nocturnal using moonlight to move around.

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