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Paul A. Harris (Los Angeles)

Fictions of Globalization:
Narrative in the Age of Electronic Media

Fictions of Globalization: Narrative in the Age of Electronic Media
This paper attempts to look at two intricately related developments: the historical and cultural processes which have gained currency under the term 'globalization' and the changing role of literature in a culture more and more defined by computers. The main focus will be on different "fictions of globalization", that is fictions on the one hand that depict or exemplify specific aspects of the cultural condition we evoke with the word globalization, but also, on the other hand, fictions which belong to globalization because they are created by and symptomatic of the forces that drive gobalization.

I. A Brief Theory of the Globe

This paper presents a speculative and free-ranging attempt to describe and analyze some characteristics of what we simply call globalization, and to reflect on the role that literature plays in a culture ever more defined by the digital computer. The global, even evolutionary scale on which my own narrative operates runs counter to both postmodernist thought, with its emphasis on historical rupture and its suspicion of metanarratives, and inimical to cultural studies, at least when this discourse concerns itself with the boundary conditions of particular peoples or cultures. And maybe a freewheeling American style appears particularly foreign to a German intellectual context. But the premise behind the kind of thinking I will pursue here is simply that we find ourselves within a peculiar fold of history, and that in order to map out the nature of this fold, we need to trace long temporal arcs that are transhistorical, evolutionary, geological, and even cosmological and eschatological in scale.

When I speak of a fold of history, I mean a kind of momentous, qualitative change in the nature of humans and life on the planet. At the beginning of the 20th century Henry Adams depicted history as a precipitously increasing rush of forces, and according to his calculations, the "human mind would need to jump" in order to adapt. Now perched on a millenial cusp, we experience a similar dizzying increase in technological capability, but the problem is no longer one of human epistemology or knowledge, as it was for Adams, but human survival. Disoriented, uprooted, uncertain of the future of the species and planet as a whole, humans have become aware of themselves as a collective living force in the history of the earth. The need to locate ourselves, both spatially and temporally, can be answered most adequately not in relation to the boundaries of nations and cultures but by embedding present or local contexts in the folds of several timescales. Everywhere we see signs that the rhythmns of life on many scales are out of synch, from multiple personality disorders to global warming. Clearly, our biological clocks are being entrained to a pace that disturbs our psychological makeup, and the unfolding modern history of humans has suddenly irrupted violently into geological and climactic histories.

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The convenient and already conventional point of reference for the current historical fold is the digital computer: how, we wonder, is the computer and its attendant technologies and consequences impacting how we think and live? It is difficult to get any distance on the question simply because the continual, exponential increase in the amounts of information that is exchanged today keeps overrunning our ability to adapt to it. Economist and complexity theorist Brian Arthur recently compared the rates of biological evolution and technological innovation, and estimated that technology evolves roughly 10 million times faster than the human organism.

The implosion of the virtual sphere of information into the biosphere is perhaps the definitive characteristic of globalization, and it obviously changes the texture of human lives. This texture could be conceptualized as double-dynamic of contraction and dispersion, of splintering and realignment. To speak of the contraction of the globe is by now a banality, a self-evident attribute of a technologized environment where information is transacted instantaneously across the world. A fitting image of global contraction is the Geographical Information System - a tool that will map your location in relation to spatial configurations that range from the infrastructures of architecture to those of cities, and can also track the movements of tidal systems, military systems and the solar system. But as the globe can be contracted to the precisely pinpointed position of an individual, the individual person begins to experience a dizzying dispersion - one suddenly is distributed into several orders of space simultaneously. A fitting image of this psychic dispersion is so-called 'multitasking': having to operate on many levels at once, perhaps operating several machines or functions of a machine simultaneously. Multitasking leaves people sounding like this posting by a member of a Multitasking Victim Support Group: "Maybe we should all just ... yeah, I'm back. No - Could you fax this? Thanks. Who are you? Okay ... get used to technology-induced schizophrenia. Delete. Hello?" (cited in Rotman, 12).

The dynamic of contraction and dispersion can be felt in the literary domain as well, through the impact that the computer has on how we process texts. In addition to being writers and readers of texts, we have now become 'screeners' - manipulators of pixel-words in a digital medium, skilled at deciphering the strange languages of email, word processing programs, chat rooms and web sites. But to the degree that semiotic storage capacity and mobility increase, we experience a corresponding effect of dispersion. Reading narratives that relate a single storyline has been displaced by the subtle art of pointing and clicking, whether we are handling the mouse or the TV-VCR-Surround Sound Stereo remote control.

Precisely because the human organism's capacity to evolve is so slow as compared to the speed of technological innovation, however, the dispersion effect of information overload gives rise to a desire or need for stability. While many people either proclaim that the digital computer spells the end of print narratives, I think that some form of 'literature' will continue to thrive in the digital age not in spite of its relatively slow, stable features but because of them. Literary narratives will remain a vital human technology in their own right because they provide a means of 'tuning,' a term I use in several related senses. From an evolutionary standpoint, narrative is a tool humans use to tune worldly dissonance into a coherent resonance; it helps align the frequencies of our multiple internal clocks and the frequencies of the many waves and signals constantly coming our way. Tuning has become a quasi-technical term in American psychological discourse, denoting the ways in which a person adjusts their conscious and affective disposition to various demands placed on them by the surrounding environment.

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To think of narrative as a tuning device is on one level just another way of saying that it is a way we make sense of the world. However, the changing conditions of both our culture and planet make different demands on our minds, so the process and level of sense-making shifts accordingly. Narrative no longer seems to work by imposing the telos of plot on the contingencies of the world, but by sifting through dispersed bits of discrete input and rendering them intelligible and coherent. In the final analysis, this process of narrative tuning ultimately functions on a global, anthropological and even visionary level - narrative ultimately becomes a tuning in to the world which rediscovers and reestablishes our place, our home in it.

II. Steps Toward a Cognitive Ethology of Mind

The two issues I am raising - the general human change wrought by the computer and its specific effects in the realm of narrative- can be addressed within a mode of analysis that evolutionist Merlin Donald calls a "cognitive ethology of human culture." In his 1991 book The Origins of the Modern Mind, Donald conceptualizes cognitive ethology as the study of how the mind evolves in its ongoing relations to the symbolic tools cultures produce, from cave paintings to diaries to mainframe data bases. Donald argues that "We act in cognitive collectivities, in symbiosis with external memory systems. As we develop new external symbolic configurations and modalities, we reconfigure our own mental architecture in nontrivial ways" (382). Or, as Brian Rotman explains the idea: "the ways we technologize our environment . . . become the channels by which we install bodily regimes and re-configure, i.e., rewire, our brain; establishing mappings between our neuro-physiology - the insides of our heads - and the technological milieu . . . in which those heads operate" (Rotman 6). One could say that Donald's cognitive ethology represents a kind of neo-McLuhanesque approach to how media interact with human minds. Cognitive ethology adds an evolutionary twist to media studies though through its interest in how the wetware of the human organism, especially the brain, adapts to the very "external memory systems" it invents.

The approach and premises of cognitive ethology only become thinkable within the context of a specific notion of the human mind as being composed largely from the outside, as it were, and whose internal workings are able to 're-wire' themselves. In essence, to imagine that brains evolve in conjunction with the symbolic environments they create, is to think of human minds not in terms of interior identity or a central cognitive agency but to accept an 'ex-centric' image of the mind and subject. In theoretical discourses ranging from Lacanian psychology to the many strands of post-structuralism, the modernist self gave way to an ex-centric subject composed from the outside, as it were, by lines of linguistic and ideological force.

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This work on the subject converges now with work from the cognitive and neurosciences which posits a bottom-up model of the brain. The brain is perceived as a complex system that evolves from a relatively undifferentiated mass of trillions of cells into neuronal groups that assume more specialized functions over time. Within the model of the brain as a complex system composed of several densely interconnected subsystems, high-order cognitive operations such as consciousness or conceptual thought appear as emergent properties of neurophysiological organization rather than the result of fixed or innate mental abilities. In the neuroscientific view, the definitive characteristic of the brain is its ability to modify the forms of its own internal organization. Gerald Edelman describes this as a process of "reentry mapping" whereby different neuronal groups and topographical regions of the brain are fed through one another, giving rise to rich webs of interaction that result in the appearance of new categories or functions for neuronal groups- which in essence mean new concepts or modes of thought. Rather than a stable subject or self, then, the human organism lives in a dynamic state of what Edelman terms "recursive synthesis," a kind of ceaseless selection process where impressions, thoughts and ideas emerge out of the tangled play of bottom-up interactions.

It is when we consider Edelman's model of recursive synthesis in the light of Donald's cognitive ethology, that we take a decisive step toward a cognitive ethology of mind. If we connect up the neural circuitry of Edelman's reentry mapping to Donald's external memory systems, then we can model an 'exo-brain,' a term I am stealing from Brian Rotman and Rich Doyle. Work on the exo-brain would examine the predominant or emerging external memory systems of contemporary life, and then investigate how are they reconfiguring the lines and patterns of our thinking, as well as the narratives we produce about the world. With these considerations in mind, I will turn now to discussing two very different 'fictions of globalization.' By a fiction of globalization, I mean of course fictions that depict or exemplify some aspects of the cultural condition we evoke with the word globalization, but I also mean globalization's fictions, the fictions that belong to globalization because they are created by and symptomatic of the forces that are driving globalization.

III. Ecotechnology and Telepresence

The first fiction of globalization I want to discuss is a site on the World Wide Web called the TeleGarden. Designed by Ken Goldberg, a roboticist and installation designer, and Joseph Santarromana, an artist, the Telegarden is a tele-robotic installation that allows World Wide Web users to view and tend a living garden. When you log on to the site, you see images of a small, circular garden called the Commons, and an industrial robot arm equipped with a camera, a water-spraying device, and a gizmo that pokes holes in the ground and then retrieves and plants seeds in the hole. When the site first went online, any interested web user could participate in planting and watering the garden by using their computer mouse to manipulate the robot arm, camera, water sprayer and seed planter. But as the site has become more popular, it has become necessary to limit the number of Telegardeners- now one must revisit the garden for a week and use the viewing camera numerous times before becoming a 'member.' The site also includes a chat room called the Village Square, a log of user's comments and exhanges. The physical installation itself, by the way, is currently on display at Ars Electronica in Linz.

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Considered as a fiction of globalization, a central theme of the Telegarden is clearly the interplay between the virtual sphere and the biosphere. The Telegarden was designed, Goldberg and Santarromana attest, to "add an organic element to the hightech Web." This phrase sounds like a paradox if not an oxymoron, but through this very contradiction the Telegarden draws attention to the rigid opposition that exists now between two different discourses. On the one hand, there is the popular and politicized image of the World Wide Web as an 'information highway' as a cornerstone in Clinton and Gore's "'bridge to the 21st century.' This discourse figures the web in primarily economic terms, as if the sheer quantitative increase in the capacity to exchange information in itself means 'more' for more people. Setting up a living ecology that can only be tended through the Web disrupts this burgeoning economy with a reminder that technology too often develops at the expense of ecology.

The Telegarden expresses the fact that, as ecologist William Irwin Thompson says, "The true historic interface now is not between the American and the foreign corporation but between the world economy and the biosphere" (59). On the other hand though, the intrusion of virtual technology into the biosphere has generated a backlash, a reaction that ranges from technophobic Heideggerian critiques to deep ecology. Work in this vein could interpret the Telegarden as an image of cyberspace swallowing nature inside itself: the tiny, distant physical garden gets reduced to a pixel image, transmitted by satellite onto the computer screen. Much of this work faces a certain impasse though: in adopting a strong ecological viewpoint, this work can only think about technology as the 'other' to life. It is as if a discontinuity were interposed between creatures and the machines they themselves fashion.

Goldberg and Santarromana, of course, have a much different vision of the Telegarden. For them, it is an artwork, a hybrid form spawned from splicing together the natural beauties of plants with sophisticated technologies, whose purpose is to induce a different use of the World Wide Web. As the site's introductory screen says, the habitual mode of internet behavior might be characterized as "'hunting and gathering.'" Here the cutting-edge present is mapped into an anthropological time-scale, as the Telegarden seeks to break this habit of transient hunting and gathering by cultivating a new evolutionary phase of Web 'agri-culture,' where visitors of the site plant seeds and become returning, regular members. The site's collective principle is built into its design in many ways- for instance, visitors can view a map that tracks where other visitors are at that moment. And the site has proved an unexpectedly big success, as a spontaneous sort of community has grown around the garden. Goldberg and Santarromana inform us that what began as an "experiment in electronic community grew, without any preset rules or top-down management," into a well-maintained garden with 9,000 members who exchange information about how to use the site's technology most effectively and carry on sporadic conversations about their lives. The optimistic spin on the Telegarden, then, would be to take this self-organizing community of committed members as an example of an emerging eco-ethos of collaboration made possible by the Web's capacity to accomodate new forms of alliance and cooperative action. Of course, this "community" is limited to those who have access to the technology and the free time necessary to tend the Telegarden, so its function as a political model remains as limited as its membership.

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The real power of the Telegarden, I think, remains heuristic. It is a fiction of globalization that depicts in a literal way the mutual entanglement between technology and ecology now played out on a global scale. The fact that we can plant seeds by clicking a mouse indicates the human species's sudden evolution to global proportions, to the point that its actions immediately impact the earth's ecology. The familiar slogan "think globally, act locally" now might be revised to read, "click locally, act globally." Using the advanced technology of the Web to grow a plant expresses the fact that earth's ecology constrains cultural growth not, as in former times, as something to be conquered or tamed, but as something finite and fragile that demands our foresight and care.

Shifting interpretive levels now, we can also look at the Telegarden in terms of the pattern of contraction and dispersion that characterizes the effect of globalization on humans. The Telegarden exemplifies the emergence of a truly 'global present,' an extension of human presence generated by a dynamic in which communications technologies span greater distances in shorter times, widening and deepening the net of global interconnection. On one level, the Telegarden realizes in a new way what McLuhan envisioned as media contracting the earth into a Global Village. Users logged into the Telegarden site share a form of what has become known as 'telepresence.' Telepresence is best defined within a brief history of technological prostheses or technology-human interfaces. First there was telematics, which refers to the extension of human senses across distances; examples of telematics include the telescope or telephone. Next came telerobotics, which allows someone to act on something else from a distance, or to give a remote order for something to happen. Telerobotics originated in the West with the testing of bombs, which demanded the means to detonate a device from a safe distance. Now we have telepresence, which is like a combination of telematics and telerobotics: it entails the technological extension of not only our senses but our ability to act on something at a distance, as if we were actually at the place. Telepresence in the Telegarden means that one is able both to view it and to act on it physically.

But on another level, telepresence not only extends the reach of a human hand across the globe, but it also stretches out and distributes human 'presence.' Telepresence and the temporal concept of a global present are not coherent temporal points so much as constantly fluctuating results being produced by several parallel processes, and these processes operate on a number of multiple, embedded temporal scales.

The Telegarden provides a clear illustration of this temporal dynamic. Within the site, a kind of technological temporality (the speed of machines) converges with organic cycles of plant growth and decay- the Telegarden's garden in fact follows a calendar of 2-6 month planting and cultivating seasons. From the standpoint of the web user, to speak of telepresence in the Telegarden seems like a misnomer, for one's actions are hardly instantaneous. The connection between the Web user and the Telegarden has a lag-time of at least 20 seconds between the issuing of instructions to the robotic arm and the machine executing the instruction, and there is another delay before you actually see the result of your instruction appear on your computer screen. This delay results from the fact that telepresence depends on several machines being linked together: the Telegarden runs on six computer servers and several software programs, and the site as a whole is interfaced with a user's computer, which involves the relative speeds of the computer's central processing unit, modem and Net connection.

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This diffusion of the global present, then, points to an inverse relationship between the planet and the individual: to the degree that globalization contracts the earth into a more and more vastly interconnected entity, the human individual gets dispersed, becoming more and more multiple. It seems almost ironic that the experience of logging in to the Telegarden practically encourages a multitasking kind of behavior as a reaction to the delays one must endure in navigating the site. Our reentry mappings become atrophied when projected into this external memory system and its several parallel, distributed processes. The Telegarden works well as a fictional representation of globalization, and perhaps the hitches in its machinery are themselves a significant reminder that the seemingly weightless and instantaneous medium of information has its own materiality as well.

IV. A Brief History of Narrative

Turning from a discussion of globalization and the high-tech web, it might seem like a nostalgic step back now to take up the question of narrative. Indeed, for some theorists the digital computer and the external memory systems it makes possible spell the end of printed texts and traditional narrative structures. But to resign oneself to the end of literature or the death of narrative is to underestimate the importance of narrative as itself among the most persistent, telling "external memory systems" that humans have evolved. For Hayden White, narrative is not simply one cultural code among others but a "metacode," and so "to raise the question of the nature of narrative is to invite reflection on the very nature of culture and, possibly, even on the nature of humanity itself" (White 1981: 1).

So rather than anticipating the end of narrative, we should perhaps watch for narrative mutations, to see what forms of narrative are emerging as adaptive responses to globalization and technological innovation. Answers to the question of how the digital computer impacts the world of print texts are frequently formulated through an analogy: the appearance of the digital word is to print culture as the printed word was to oral storytelling. Very briefly, I would like to sketch out such a history of narrative in terms of its evolution from oral stories to the printed word to the electronic word.

Oral stories are characterized by a sense of immediacy: the teller is present to the audience; the tale is often familiar to all; the situation in which the story is told is often incorporated into the story itself. More radically though, oral stories entail a different concept of the materiality of language. David Abram, an ecological philosopher, argues in his 1996 book The Spell of the Sensuous that "language, in indigenous oral cultures, is experienced not as the exclusive property of humankind, but as a property of the sensuous life-world" (Abram 1996: 154). Oral stories are the legends that both myths and maps are made on- like the legends that explain what the symbols on maps represent in the terrain, oral stories provide maps of the animate landscape. Aboriginal Dreaming songs, for instance, track the optimal routes through the land where water and food can be found. The pace and rhythm of these stories even unfold on a carefully calibrated scale, so that as one recounts the story one finds the place being spoken of, and onomopaieic words mark the animal sounds to be heard. Abram points out that just as the songs "provide an auditory mnemonic (or memory tool) - an oral means of recalling viable routes through an often harsh terrain," so too does "the landscape itself [. . .] provide[s] a visual mnemonic, a set of visual cues for remembering the Dreamtime stories" (Abram 1996: 175). Land and language are, in summary, "experientially coupled in a process of mutual invocation" (Abram 1996: 177). In oral cultures, then, language persists both inside and outside the body; it is a connective tissue woven into the animate web of the whole wide world.

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By comparison, the invention of writing seems to sever this intimate connection between language, body and landscape. Writing fixes language in an external, material form, and makes possible a mutation in the human- the 'self' of language is born. As Abram puts it:

In contact with the written word, a new, apparently autonomous sensibility emerges into experience, a new self that can enter into relation with its own verbal traces, can view and ponder its own statement even as it is formulating them, and can thus reflexively interact with itself in isolation from other persons and from the surrounding, animate earth. (Abram 1996: 255)

Writing establishes absence (the writer absent from reader, the sign absent from its referent) and demands narrative conventions to give it shape, the linear train of plots with beginnings, middles and endings. The written word also produces a self-reflexiveness, a mirroring space where an 'I' can assume multiple forms, and interiority takes on many-layered depths and nuances. This 'I' is disembodied, "hermetically sealed within this new interior" in Abram's words. While language opens up one world, it does so at the expense of our immediate, sensuous connection to the earth.

Now, as writing shifts from print to the medium of the digital computer, the fixity of print gives way to the ubiquitous play of the pixel. The linear trajectory of printed stories dissolves into a sheer mobilility; the 'sense of an ending' is displaced by a potentially endless semiotic circulation - in video games, web surfing sessions and hypertext reading alike, imposing an end is often an arbitrary act. The electronic text can remain virtual and potential rather than actual and fixed, leading Jay Bolter to say that as we move from print to digital text we must move from the concept of "a closed and unitary structure . . . to conceiv[ing] of a . . . text as a structure of possible structures" (Bolter 1991: 144).

Proponents of the electronic word see in its mobility a certain 'freedom' for the reader, or 'screener.' George Landow attributes to digitalization "the potential to prevent, block, and bypass linearity and binarity, which it replaces with multiplicity, true reader activity and activation, and branching through networks" (Landow 1992: 21). Similarly, Michael Joyce claims that "every reading by every reader becomes privileged and authorized. Reading becomes (and therefore alters) the system of the text" (Joyce 1995: 192). The ethos of freedom we find here among theorists of hypertext is a pervasive feature of cyberspace culture in general, from John Perry Barlow's axiom that 'information wants to be free' to the idea that Net surfers are free to invent new selves - to assume different 'nymns' (short for pseudonymns), not to mention other racial and gender roles.

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But from another standpoint, the mobility and freedom of the digital medium depends on a complete disembodiment of the screening subject. Thus, if, as Abram argues, writing instantiated a medium between humans and the world in which a new, hermetically sealed 'self' circulates, then the digital word gives this disembodiment of a writing self a new twist. On a sensuous level, the immersion of the listener or singer of oral songs in the open landscape gives way to the silent, visually closed space of the screen. Language also becomes increasingly visual in its orientation, as the screen fills with icons and the graphic design aspect of the text we work with becomes foregrounded. But with this visual mobility comes a certain loss in semantic weight - it seems harder to make words dense with meaning when they can be so easily generated and moved about so freely.

The disembodied screener embodies a culture where the body is not forgotten though but despised. In William Gibson's Neuromancer, the book that invented cyberspace, we see two sides of the protagonist Case: the physical Case who sits at his computer, gets tired, has a worn out, chemically altered body that he calls "meat," and the virtual Case who jacks into cyberspace, a weightless medium, and goes into video-game mode to navigate through configurations of information in the virtual world. The screener self, then, does not really exist but persists as a projected, prosthetic extension of the organism; and if the screener enjoys a frictionless fluidity and circulation, it also reminds the human meat of its own mortality.

This brief history of narrative is not meant to imply that the oral-written-digital evolution is simply sequential though. This history is of course not linear but cumulative, for new narrative media and forms do not replace old ones but become embedded in them. Recursive arcs of mutual influence between computer writing and print culture are already quite apparent: the digital medium makes possible new narrative media such as hypertext, but the uses to which we put the new tools grow out of already existing narrative forms. In retrospect, experimental print narratives that disrupt the medium's fixed linear sequence (such as Cortazar's Hopscotch) seem like precursors of hypertext. New media have been put to relatively conventional literary use simply because the rate of technological innovation outstrips the pace of literary history - new tools appear much faster than new narrative conventions and habits are formed.

V. Fictions of Globalization

I would like to conclude by showing how many strands of my talk converge in the contemporary American novel. While I will use Leslie Silko's 1982 novel Ceremony and Richard Powers's Operation Wandering Soul (published 1994) as complementary case studies as it were, I will focus on the former. These fictions of globalizaton express many of the themes I've touched on, from how technology has been used in ways that destroy the planet's ecology to the search for a contemporary mode of thought or identity, from the use of narrative as an external memory system to transmit cultural knowledge to the invention of new narrative forms. For lack of space I will offer only a few general remarks about the novel form as such and then do a brief reading of Ceremony with some comparative links to Power's novel.

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Both of these books exemplify how the novel genre responds to the pressures of globalization. The depict the globe contracting to a single setting, while the characters experience a disorienting dispersion in their lives that leaves them out of synch with their environments. The texts both suggest that to understand the present it must be placed in a whole series of temporal scales that stretch to the evolution of the species and the possible end of time. These novels thus weave one tale in the narrative "present" into a complex fabric made up of several parallel storylines from a range of historical settings and stylistic registers. Powers, for instance, intersperses the story of a pediatric ward in Los Angeles with tales of abandoned children throughout the ages, including a group of orphaned schoolchildren evacuated from London during the Blitz, a Medieval crusade of children, a Vietnamese boatgirl, and several versions of the Pied Piper. This narrative framework suggests that in order to grasp the scale of human self-destruction currently occuring, one must see contemporary life in terms of historical analogues. The narratives thus perform a tuning of the present, measuring how the present resonates with similar episodes from the past.

These novels also reflect an intricately recursive turn in the nature of print fictions. While the multiplicity of parallel storylines reflects the need to think on several levels at once - to become multitasking readers - the underlying tone the narratives assume is that of the oral tale. That is, both texts are narrated in an oral, performative mode - in the case of Powers, he uses the scene of a child being read to before bedtime as a motif for telling several different tales in his novel. We might say that the content and structure of print novels are pulled forward, as it were, to express global contraction and dispersion, but that in form they revert to the oral origins of narrative in order to reground narrative. The oral, performative quality in these novels is at first glance merely a contemporary metafictional flourish rather than a return to old forms, for in both books the staging of the story is incorporated into the storyline itself. But here the self-reflexiveness is not simply self-referential, for the performance of the stories is depicted as having material presence in the world - their self-reflexive subtleties would be pointless, the books seem to say, if they did not contribute to the survival of the species.

Let me begin reading Silko's novel by remarking on its oral, performative quality. First, the text's title announces the book's formal and thematic concerns: on one level, "ceremony" refers to ceremony performed to cure Tayo, a mixedblood Laguna Pueblo who has returned to the reservation still suffering traumas from fighting in the Pacific in the Second World War. But Silko's title also declares the text's cultural function - Tayo's story becomes part of a larger ceremony that the novel is performing to cure self-destructiveness in humanity as a whole. The cultural and political ethos that informs Silko's narrative is expressed by Betonie, a mixedblood Navajo medecine man whose hogan is crammed with phonebooks, calendars and coke bottles: Betonie declares that "'The people nowadays have an idea about the ceremonies. They think the ceremonies must be performed exactly as they have always been done. [. . . ] But long ago when the people were given the ceremonies, the changing began [. . .]. Things which don't shift and grow are dead things'" (Silko 1982: 126). Likewise, Silko's narrative is a "ceremony" that changes by assuming the form of a novel, and the novel form itself is likewise induced to "shift and grow": Silko's text is a hybrid of oral story and print narrative, and it draws on several narrative traditions, mixing together poems, Pueblo myths, and the modern novel form. The text's opening lines mark its performative, ceremonial nature: "Ts'its'tsi'nako, Thought-Woman,/ is sitting in her room/ and whatever she thinks about/ appears." "Thought-Woman, the spider, named things and/as she named them/they appeared." (Silko 1982: 1)This evocation is followed by a page that also bears the heading "Ceremony," so that the story we hold in our hands is what Thought-Woman is weaving; the novel is the ceremony and the ceremony is the story.

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The opening pages trace the completely disoriented thoughts of Tayo as he experiences flashbacks of fighting in the jungle during World War II and recalls incidents from before he left, setting the tone for a disjunctive text that begins to shift suddenly between different plotlines. The result is a narrative distinguished by a strange mix of seamlessness or continuity and abrupt jumps. Ceremony lacks conventional chapter or section divisions; Silko simply deploys blank space on the page to break from one episode, voice or form to the next. Using the familiar distinction between linear narrative time and the cyclical, mythic time proper to oral cultures, we might say that Silko embeds the linear story of Tayo in a series of cyclical contexts: the text traces Tayo's story sequentially: his initial illness, the healing ceremonies given by Ku'oosh and Betonie, and the journey he undertakes to retrieve a herd of cattle he had promised his Uncle Josiah he would tend. This leads to a climactic scene at a uranium mine where Tayo witnesses a brutal murder, and his subsequent return to the kiva, the tribal home. The function of the ceremony the text is performing is, on the level of how the plot resolves itself, to return Tayo to his home, to reroot him in the landscape and his native language and culture.

It is difficult to summarize quickly the full range of mythic, historical, and personal registers that weave together and form the web woven by Thought-Woman, the spider. Tayo's ceremony becomes inscribed in multiple contexts: the family and tribal history characterized by the crossing Laguna, white, and Mexican cultures becomes, when Rocky convinces Tayo to enlist, caught up in the global conflict of World War II. Silko crosses together the Japanese and Laguna histories in several ways: in a telling image, on the day of Josiah's death in New Mexico, Tayo sees his face in those of the Japanese soldiers that hold him prisoner in the Pacific. This hallucination later seems prophetic; Silko demonstrates that there is a concrete historical link between these ethnic histories because the tribal land has been poisoned by uranium mining near Los Alamos. As Tayo completes his journey, Silko invokes Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was exploded. Here Silko places the local history of the U.S. government appropriating and poisoning Laguna lands in a vortex of global forces.

In Silko's vision, this global conflict itself becomes only a small part of a mythical context with eschatological overtones. The world war becomes only one aspect of "witchery," and at stake is nothing less than a common human destiny. As he approaches the urnanium mine at the end, Tayo realizes that

There was no end to it; it knew no boundaries; and he had arrived at the point of convergence where the fate of all living things, and even the earth had been laid. From the jungles of his dreaming he recognized why the Japanese voices had merged with Laguna voices...; the lines of cultures and worlds were drawn in flat dark lines on fine light sand, converging in the middle of witchery's final ceremonial sand painting. From that time on, human beings were one clan again, united by . . . a circle of death that devoured people in cities twelve thousand miles away, victims who had never known these mesas, who had never seen the delicate colors of the rocks which boiled up their slaughter. (Silko 1982: 246)

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The imagery of the cultural and historical lines drawn in the sand replicate the spiral form of Silko's plot. The "convergence of all living things" occurs at the moment that the text becomes the ceremony which threads all the storylines together. Narrative, the telling of one story, becomes the means to grasp this sweeping history of the human species. Tayo's epiphany about humans being "one clan again" springs directly from a vision of the "pattern, the way all stories fit together - the old stories, the war stories, their stories - to become the story that was still being told." This "pattern that connects," to use Bateson's phrase, persists as a kind of template, a pattern or structure common to all the stories. The pattern becomes explicitly visual in the novel in the form of Betonie's map of the stars, which he draws when performing the ceremony; he tells Tayo, "'Remember these stars . . . . I've seen them and I've seen the spotted cattle; I've seen a mountain and I've seen a woman'" (Silko 1982: 152). The star diagram appears in the text when Tayo arrives at the home of a mythical character, Ts'eh, who lives at the foot of the mountain where the cattle are. The map and list of elements thus becomes a cosmic pattern replicated on the earth, and thus reorients Tayo to his environment on every level.

This is a crucial part of the tuning that is accomplished in and by Silko's novel. This tuning, this perception of a connective pattern, can be accessed only through a specific frame of mind, a mood that could be characterized as contemplation. Once Tayo sees Betonie, his internal mood shifts from a fractured brooding, stimulated by jarring dreams and memories of the white war machine and his sense of the Japanese as Other, to a more peaceful state. Tayo's vision of Josiah in the faces of Japanese soldiers which so terrifies him comes to seem natural in Betonie's vision: he tells Tayo, "'It is not surprising you saw [Josiah] with [the Japanese]. You saw who they were. Thirty thousand years ago they were not strangers. You saw what the evil had done; you saw the witchery ranging as wide as the world'" (Silko 1982: 174).

But more importantly, through Betonie contemplation moves from an interior plane to a ritual one, from the level of the psychology of character to the level of a narrative ethos. The space of contemplation in the text is not inside characters' minds but in the cleared out space of the ceremonial sand painting. When Tayo is led through its concentric hoops, he is able to move through and contemplate several layers of his personal and cultural displacement. The sand painting also becomes a space of withdrawal and transformation: Betonie's helper Shush becomes a bear-person, and Tayo enters into a deep dream. When he emerges Tayo realizes that "there were no boundaries; the world below and the sand paintings inside became the same that night" (Silko 1982: 145). The ceremony then contains Tayo's disorientation, preserving a space for contemplation and clear thought: "He could feel the ceremony like the rawhide thongs of the medecine pouch, straining to hold back the voices, the dreams, faces in the jungle in the L.A. depot, the smoky silence of solid white walls" (Silko 1982: 152).

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Here the etymology of contemplation makes it a particularly fitting word for the ceremonial space: contemplation derives from the Latin contemplari, to observe carefully, originally used as a term of augury - contemplari combines the intensive com with templum, an open space marked out by augurs for observation. The ceremony clears a space that extends across time: it inscribes a specific, temporal act as a repetition of a ritual; and in Ceremony it connects Tayo's journey to the "ceremony" that has been going on throughout time. Contemplation, then, involves a mode of thought that is far from a passive assessment; here, as in augury, the present looks toward a future that it simultaneously creates by participating in it. Thus the narrative of Ceremony is insistently proleptic and prophetic, anticipating all along what will finally occur. Both Betonie and Ts'eh foresee the unfolding of the plot of witchery and the plan to exclude Tayo from the tribe because he is mad, and Te'eh tells him that he must change story, because the forces of witchery must not be allowed to decide his fate (Silko 1982: 233).

I dwell on the notion of contemplation here because I think it shows how narrative tuning counters some of the dispersion induced by globalization. With ritual contemplation, the global space-time dynamic of contraction and dispersion is inverted. The world shrinks to the small, bounded space of the sand-painting, but here there is not dispersion but transformation and a slowing of time. The present can contain layers of the past, and thereby widen out to make room for contingency and choice; it also receives news from the future, in a double temporal movement where the past moves the present into the future and the future entrains the open present forward. Contemplation, in short, makes it possible to re-member our spatial and temporal home.

VI. Back to the Present

Ceremony provides a powerful ethos for adaptation and transformation in the age of globalization. As cultural traditions intermingle, individual identity can be thought only in a global context. Narrative, as it embraces a similarly hybrid form, becomes a vehicle for generating templates of potential action. Survival comes through contemplation, clearing a space where one discerns patterns that connect different temporal scales and span diverse cultural traditions. Perhaps the last word on globalization and the evolution of the human, however, should be fragility. In Ceremony, when the traditional Laguna medecine man Ku'oosh says to Tayo, "'But you know, grandson, this world is fragile,'" the narrator informs us that "the word he chose to express 'fragile' was filled with the intricacies of a continuing process, and with a strength inherent in spider webs woven across paths through sand hills where early in the morning the sun becomes entangled in each filament of web" (Silko 1982: 35).

Globalization and technological innovation have left the niche of humanity in the planet's ecosystem increasingly fragile. As globalization transacts a massive merger between organic life in the biosphere and information in the virtual sphere, plant forms and languages die out to be replaced by genetically engineered genuses and hybrid dialects, and human minds show their fragility in the form of multiple personality disorders. In this context, narrative acts as a kind of tuning device, a means of adapting to temporal contingencies and linking humans to a place in the world, however fragile our niche has become.





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