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Notes Towards Day 15: Literary Interpretation

Notes Towards Day 15 of Food for Thought:
Literary Interpretation, or:
"It's Hard to See the Forest When You're a Tree"

A Self-Adjusting Search Tree

I. On Thursday: begin discussion of Prodigal Summer
(have it all read, because:)

Due on Friday by 5 p.m.: 3 pp. interpretation of the novel,
from Hyde or Allen's p.o.v.:
what would they say about the novel:
how it works, what's going on, what's important?
(i.e.: what does Hyde's coyote have to do w/ the coyotes in the novel?
what would Allen say about the structure of foreground/background?)
On Wednesday night, do a posting w/
your initial thoughts about this...
a kind of "story starter"...
Something to think about
(from our two weeks of graphing-instead-of-writing):
learning to be succint/focused/keeping to the main idea

Won't ask for formal presentations this week,
but let's talk for a bit:
what do you have to say about your most recent project,
testing out ambiguous figures on your friends?
What did you learn?
Have/how have you revised your
initial reaction to Paul's presentation?

II. For today, split into six groups (sign up on board):
one to tell the Yellow Woman story 
one to give the Keres interpretation
one to give the modern feminist interpretation
one to give the Indian-feminist interpretation
two to imagine what Hyde would do with it

Then we'll have a panel discussion about
how these different accounts
align/fail to/might be useful/are not....

Is it possible for us to look using unified- or open-field perception? (consider those ambiguous figures...)

Reading Notes:

Lewis Hyde:
trickster derives creative intelligence from appetite
invents the fish trap, gets snared in own devices
incremental intelligence re: hunting--
can imagine trap because he's been prey
(evolutionary bio: predators brainier than prey--
engine driving creation of intelligence)
third role, beyond predator/prey: bait-thief tricksters
critique rules of eating game
trickster satiates own hunger, subverts all hunger not his own:
trickster's intelligence to feed self, outwit other eaters w/ non-oppositional strategy
"Raven Becomes Voracious": all who eat must be eaten (circularity)
law of appetite, of ecological interdependence
most trickster tales re: hunger and its consequences
two options: limited food or limited appetite
suffering from unrestrained appreties leads to
consciousness regarding them
Promethean sacrifice: as result of foolish trick,
humans stuck with endless hunger (origin of appetite)
sacrifice=ritual apportionment
trickster=hungry god
trickster intelligence arises from tension between predators and prey: desire to eat/not be eaten
intentional sacrifice as attempt to alter appetite:
to eat without compulsion or consequences
restraint only a partial solution
2) trickster travels aimlessly, has "context of no context,"
wanders blindlessly
vs. species knowledge: situated in space by nature
cf. animals with a way of being in the world ("nature") with
coyote, who can copy, but has no ability of his own:
"stupider," lacks inborn knowledge/is stripped of instinct--
but has a repertoire of ways: power of imitation, ability to adapt/
plasticity of behavior, can survive in shifting world
animals lie: but can't vary repertoire,
are vulnerable to predator wise to ruse
traps of instinct exploit inborn methods/trapped in own defense
having no way, trickster has many, is independent, more versatile
invention of creative lying
opportunity: "porta"/passage/entrance/opening
all theft opportunity theft: trickster a pore-seeker
--and trapper: blocking opportunity/
creating the impenetrable/non-porous
--blocking entrances: turning pores into barriers ("aporia"=contradiction/paradox)
trickster's mind: exploits/frustrates opportunity
trickster doubles back/reverses self: "confounded polarity"
tricksters/tracking=reading/writing=encoding/decoding (humor)
tricksters can change their skin (exs: shifty-skinned animals)
inflexibile=atopic; vs. tropic/turning
trickster is polytropic: "turning in many ways":
Hermes, Odysseus, Alcibiades,
each colored to fit his surroundings (so: who/what is true self?)

How does this analysis resemble/diverge from that of

who offers us a way of reading she calls
"tribal-feminism or feminist-tribalism....

Often what appears to be a misinterpretation caused by racial differences is a distortion based on sexual politics."

"The cultural bias of the translator will inevitably shape his or her perception of the short, it's hard to see the forest when you're a tree."

What's the forest? What's the tree?

"Language embodies the unspoken assumptions and orientations of the culture it belongs to..."

"The world resists language as the grain of a tree resists the saw, and saws take the form they do partly because wood is what it is. We sense the presence of things through this resistance....." (Robert Scholes)

Three Interpretations of the Yellow Woman Story
(as translated by Allen's mother's great-uncle)

"I am Kochinnenako"

    a narrative version of a ceremony related to the planting of corn, transfering focus of power, with assumptions...of balance and harmony...sense of rightness, or propriety...fundamental principle of proper order...ritual agency in conflict-phobic culture

    use of passive female figure as pawn in male bid for power...
    useful in instructing women in their obligation in revolutionary struggle
    (assumes that conflict is basic to human experience and that
    women are essentially powerless)


What are the Political Implications of this Narrative Structure?
  • tribal habit of mind toward equilibrium of all factors
  • even distribution of value among all elements in a field
  • no single element heroes, no villains
  • no chorus, no "setting" minor characters...
  • foreground slips along from one focal point to another until all the pertinent elements in the ritual conversation have had their say...
  • focus of the action shifts...there is no "point of view"....

"Perceptual modes..are more resemblant of open-field perception than of foreground-background perceptions....Traditional peoples perceive their world in a unified-field fashion that is far from the single-focus perception that generally characterizes Western masculinist monotheistic modes of perception."

How do you/we decide what's foreground/what's background?

Is it even possible for us to look this way,
using unified- or open-field perception?

"The Human Condition"
    Further exercises and examples: some ambiguous figures...

"Women's traditional occupations...more often circular than linear, more synchronistic than chronological, and more dependent upon harmonious relationships of all elements within a field of perception..."

"The patchwork quilt is the best material example...
of the plot and process of a traditional tribal narrative...."

"to be and to create of ultimate importance..."

Go and be backgrounds!