Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Off The Shelf: The Turquoise Ledge

Silko's newest book, The Turquoise Ledge, is itself, without apology or explanation. When I finished the last page, I turned the book over and began again with the first.

Simon J. Ortiz's calls this work "Brilliant. . .Leslie Marmon Silko invites us to enter her amazing mind."

The power of this book is in that invitation. Many, most that I have found, of the reviewers can't appreciate this memoir, simply because they refuse that invitation. They seem unable to let themselves go. Rocks. Rattlesnakes. Star Beings. Hours and hours of walking. Silko allows us to travel with her, a generous and humbling offering.

It seems to me a lot of readers and reviewers desire something they can summarize, especially in a memoir. She was born. She married. She gave birth. She wrote. This is what she was thinking when she was writing and these are the keys to unlocking the biographical secrets of her novels. Not only does this type of thinking kill the novel, it kills the writer.

"These magical catchphrases are simultaneously statements of the obvious (of course what a man does is inseparable from him), countertruths (inseparables or not, the creation surpasses the life), and lyrical clichés (the unity of life and work 'everywhere sought or always hoped for' is presented as an ideal state, a utopia, a lost paradise at last regained), but most important, they reveal the wish to refuse art its autonomous status, to force it back into its source, into the author's life, to dilute it there and thus deny its raison d'être (if a life can be a work of art, what use are works of art?)" Milan Kundera

Silko is notorious for keeping safe her privacy. I'm a grateful reader. So much of our work is rejected (formally in the market, or informally and perniciously in our relationship) because it fails to meet expectations. The divide between the public and private is one of the expectations The Turquoise Ledge refuses.

Silko writes that she is working on this memoir out of financial considerations. I wondered why she didn't just write a novel. But my own experience in the market knows: memoirs sell, novels don't.

The problem for most readers and reviews has been that this memoir doesn't tell them what they want to know. Consequently it isn't a good memoir. They fail to stop themselves and ask, if this is what she says is her memoir, then what is she saying about herself?

Silko is a writer. This book details a writers life. Beautifully.

"I said to myself that when it becomes the custom and the rule to divulge another person's private life, we are entering a time when the highest stake is the survival or the disappearance of the individual." Milan Kundera

I am afraid of the horror of the contemporary moment, and of the rapture of resistance to everything that stands outside it.

"The question can also arise whether with the development of such technological means of communication as radio, film, and the daily press, freedom of thought is possible at all. Does this not mean constant infection with whatever ideas are in circulation, and even that when the masses are given ostensible freedom they may succumb to total unification?" Czeslaw Milosz

Silko's content and form have always stood on their own ground. In 1978, with Ceremony, people were able to accept her invitation to stand with her. Today many of us are left standing alone.