The Ceremony Goes On
We wrapped up with Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony last class session. We discussed some important characteristics about Tayo that make him a different kind of hero than the traditional type passed down through the Western European tradition.
In the final pages, we see Tayo with Grandma quite a bit, and the latter leaves us with an ambiguous commentary. I would like to suggest that her words are a last, subtle reiteration of the difference in perspectives between the dominant, injurious culture and that of Tayo and the Laguna people. Silko writes:
“Old Grandma shook her head slowly, and closed her cloudy eyes again. “I guess I must be getting old,” she said, “because these goings-on around Laguna don’t get me excited any more.” She sighed, and laid her head back on the chair. “It seems like I already heard these stories before . . . only thing is, the names sound different." ~Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony, 242.
Given the way Silko re-figures the traditional heroic triumph, from one of killing or vanquishing the enemy to one in which a refusal to kill is defining characteristic, it seems to me that perhaps she is making a similar gesture here. It is a sad and unfortunate tendency of American culture to dismiss the wisdom of age as confusion, and to disavow the experiences of the elderly as irrelevant. Perhaps, Grandma's problem is not at all that she is getting. In fact, I would argue that she has no problem at all. With age we begin to see patterns, with experience we recognize tendencies. Grandma's perspective therefore is not a result of a foggy or faulty memory, but rather the recognition that (given the story she is referring to) we keep making the same mistakes.
On the one hand, this feels extremely pessimistic. Unfortunately, even a cursory study of history and current events seems to provide evidence for such an interpretation. We don't seem to be learning much do we, even about the most obvious matters. Our children learn about the harmful results of our obsession with plastic, horrifically demonstrated in the Pacific Garbage Patch, then they have birthday parties at SkyZone, a veritable world of plastic.
On the other hand, maybe Silko's final gesture is one of possible hope. For if the stories seem to be repeating, or at least if there is some semblance of a refrain, some patterns to our errors, then perhaps we can change, alter the apparent trajectory of self-destruction. To do so, Silko seems to suggest, we need to study the old stories, to listen to them carefully and recognize the wisdom therein.