Artistry in Native American Myths
by Karl Kroeber
This challenging study analyzes nearly forty superb stories, from mythic narratives predating Columbus to contemporary American Indian fiction, ... Show synopsis This challenging study analyzes nearly forty superb stories, from mythic narratives predating Columbus to contemporary American Indian fiction, representing every traditional Native American culture area. Developing recent ethnopoetic scholarship and drawing on the critical ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin and Pierre Bourdieu, Karl Kroeber reveals how preconceptions deriving from our hypervisual, print-dominated culture distort our understanding of essential functions and forms of oral storytelling. Kroeber demonstrates that myths do not merely preserve tradition but may transform it by performatively reenacting the concealed sociological and psychological conflicts that give rise to social institutions. Showing how the variability of mythic narrative fosters communal self-renewal, Kroeber offers startling insight into Native Americans' perception of animals as "cultured, " their creation of visually unrepresentable tricksters by aural imagining, and the rhetorical means through which oral narratives may not only reflect but even redirect political change. By making understandable the forgotten artistry of oral storytelling, Kroeber enables modern readers to appreciate fully the tragic emotions, hilarious ribaldry, and haunting beauty in these astonishing Native American mythic narratives. Karl Kroeber is Mellon Professor of Humanities at Columbia University. His most recent books are Ecological Literary Criticism: Romantic Imagining and the Biology of the Mind and Retelling/Rereading: The Fate of Storytelling in Modern Times.