For this blog assignment I would like you to make some comparisons between Harry Robinson’s writing style in “Coyote Makes a Deal with the King Of England” and King’s style in Green Grass, Running Water. What similarities can you find between the two story-telling voices? Coyote and God are present in both texts, how do they compare in character and voice across the stories?
A note to Erika: I’m sorry that this post totally derailed!
This semester, as I have mentioned in past blog posts, I was able to take a really fascinating course on “hyphenated” contemporary American literature. In other words, the class focused on those American writers who are defined by what their American identity is hyphenated with. This included Asian-American authors, Native American authors, African-American authors and Mexican-American authors.
Each week, my professor selected two novels for us to read, compare, and contrast, usually by authors of similar heritage and backgrounds. During one class, in which we were comparing Ha Jin’s War Trash with Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker, someone brought up that though both authors are Asian-American, they wrote about completely different subjects and from completely different perspectives, and thus our comparison was based solely upon their shared ethnic background instead of the content of their work. I think that it is important to keep in mind that, when a majority audience (which UBC, as a school whose largest ethnic group is white, qualifies as) compares two members of the same minority group, much of the comparison stems from their shared ethnic background and not the merit of their work, which is inherently problematic.
With that in mind, I think that there is a lot to compare between Robinson’s “Coyote Makes a Deal with the King of England” and King’s Green Grass, Running Water, but my focus will be on the fragmented nature of both pieces. Robinson’s story is formatted like a poem or speech–there are spaces on the page which the oral reader is forced to mirror in speech, giving the work a natural cadence. Robinson “overuses” conjunctions throughout the text, which make it feel more like a recited tale in the oral tradition than a Westernized written work. Similarly, King’s Green Grass, Running Water, though more traditionally Western in the sense that it is a fully-fledged novel, is also incredibly fragmented. The novel is woven from vignettes, rapidly moving from one facet of a character to the next, creating a whirlwind of imagery from the reader.
An emphasis in this class when discussing both of these works has been on how they are part of an oral tradition and not a written tradition, and so to conclude this blog post, I think this article by Blanca Schorcht is not only completely relevant but completely fascinating. Schorcht criticizes the way that Aboriginal works are analyzed by a Western public:
In reading works written by Aboriginal authors, critics often point to characteristics of written texts that reveal their “origins” in oral tradition. The idea of orality and writing as existing on an evolutionary time line, however, has been complicated by the development of deconstruction and poststructural literary theory. Jacques Derrida, for instance, observes that, because of the underlying grammar of language, anything spoken must always already have been “written.” Speaking must be viewed as a form of writing, according to Derrida, because it follows convention (a grammar) that pre-exists actualized speech. Differences between oral and written traditions, therefore, reveal themselves in complex and intersecting ways, and the two can no longer be seen as mutually exclusive. Yet similarities, or links, between oral and written genres still seem most evident in texts where orally performed stories and narratives have been recorded and then translated into written form. (Schorcht 145-146)
It is important to remember that when analyzing a tradition that we would categorize as “oral”, that these hierarchies between written and spoken word are not so cut and dried. Though both King and Robinson’s texts are meant to be read as well as heard, since they are both released in print form, their fragmented nature and use of colloquialisms reminds the reader of the roots of this oral tradition, but it is important to not let their merit and basis of comparison as talented writers be overshadowed by their shared linguistic and cultural heritage.
King, Thomas. Green Grass Running Water. Toronto: Harper Collins, 1993. Print.
“Chang-rae Lee – The New Yorker.” The New Yorker. Web. 26 June 2015.
Robinson, Harry. “Coyote Makes a Deal with the King Of England.” Living by Stories: a Journey of Landscape and Memory. 64-85.
Schorcht, Blanca. “The Storied World of Harry Robinson: Emerging Dialogues.” BC Studies 135 (2002): 145-62. Print.