David Treuer: Forgotten World / Forgotten Words
David Treuer is thirty and the author of Little, published in 1998 by Albin Michel and praised unanimously by the critics. Treuer grew up on the Leech Lake reservation in Minnesota and teaches literature at the University of Minneapolis. Comme un Frère is his second novel.
Les éditions Christian Bourgois publieront prochainement un recueil en français des textes écrits à l'occasion des assises du roman.
We speak confidently and playfully about the “death of the author” but not one wants to seriously consider the death of literature. But this is precisely what we risk when we treat literature as ethnography, or worse, as the last living remnants of what seem to be vanishing cultures.
We don’t read novels, at any rate, to educate ourselves. Or if we do we shouldn’t. And if we do commit this soul error we don’t enjoy novels because of the information they contain. Rather, we enjoy them, we clutch novels to our very souls because they move us, surprise us, transport us, entertain us, shock us, and (ultimately) trick us into caring about people and places that don’t exist and never existed.
In my own case this is particularly true. I am known as an American Indian writer. Typically the first two words in that phrase seem to matter more than third. But this is my own great regret and not worthy of consideration. Rather, what troubles me is that the very idea of the “American Indian” is bound up in all sorts of romantic ideas (romantic because they are painful and what does it say about romance if we think of it as bound so closely with suffering?) like the “disappearing Indian,” on the verge of extinction; or the suffering Indian whose noble and satisfying life has been cut short by the cruel ravages of colonialism or modernity or both. Ultimately and almost without fail the “story of the Indian” is staged as tragedy. It might be tragi-comic, it might be comedo-tragic, but it never ends well. The heavy reliance on tragedy in modern writing by and about American Indians has worn deep ruts across the prairie of the imagination to the extent that those tragic ruts attract and suck in and then shape most writing: perversely, those ruts shape the traveler, and the traveler is unable to shape his journey.
That being so, were I to play ethnographer or cataloger I would, as a matter of course, not write new and exciting and shocking and entertaining novels. No. Were I to play the role of ethnographer or to engage in cultural salvage I would end up reproducing the same old sad, tired narratives, as before. The result: the death of the imagination. The ultimate death.
And it is imagination that is the most important element of fiction. It is in the conscious, careful, inspired, dedicated, surprising exercise of the imagination over the many years of writing a novel and the many days of reading one that makes the whole business of professional imagination worth dedicating oneself to. Novels can be political but they are not culture. Novels can suggest culture but they are not culture. Novels can suggest or seem to create old worlds but they are not those worlds. Novels are dreams. And the writer is (dead or alive) the architect, the engineer, of the dream, dreamt anonymously and communally, by writer and reader.
The role, then, of the writer (even the writer of ethnic or minority fiction) is to create dreams so powerful, so moving, so surprising the dreamer never wakes up, or if they do, the dream has affected them so deeply as to, in the words of R.P. Blackmur, “add to the stock of available reality.” The role of the writer and the fictive word is to make of this world a new world, not simply to reproduce the old in miniature.
Pour citer cette ressource :
David Treuer, "David Treuer: Forgotten World / Forgotten Words", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), septembre 2014. Consulté le 06/12/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/david-treuer-forgotten-world-forgotten-words