Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A History About Other Histories

In Albert Wendt’s book, Black Rainbow, the narrator struggles to remember his past, and reconcile his history with the man he knows himself to be. The narrator uses characters from films and literature to describe the people he meets as he travels throughout the book. For example, when he describes the two messengers who summoned him to the Tribunal, he says “they were dressed in the black top hats and long frock coats that gamblers wore in the cheap western movies of the twentieth century”(116-117). Similarly, after he leaves the storyteller woman’s safehouse, he realizes he has been detained for seven days, and the first thought that pops into his head is of “Ulysses and the Sirens”(120). All of these comparisons that appear throughout the book demonstrate one key idea that the narrator considers during his travels: the idea that all stories are about other stories (72). In other words, the narrator’s story is based off of the histories and “herstories” of the past that have been preserved in literature and film. Without these stories as reference points, the narrator’s story cannot develop.
            The narrator also bases his actions off of stereotypical characters he knows from literature and film. For example, when he confronts the three people at the center of the Pleasure Dome, he says that he “played true to the stereotype of the hero,” while “the Keeper played true to villain”(96). The narrator is aware that he is playing a role, scripted by another.
This idea that “a tale is about other tales; [and] also the teller and her telling” (105) allows us to relate Black Rainbow to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. In Invisible Cities, Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan, “Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice” (Calvino, 86). In other words, all the tales that Polo tells of the cities he has visited are told from the perspective of a Venetian. Stories change depending on who is telling them, and Polo’s history as a Venetian effects his perspective on the cities he visits. Like the narrator in Black Rainbow, Marco Polo must refer to the familiar—in this case Venice—in order to describe experiences that are otherwise completely foreign to him. Therefore, by describing foreign cities, he also describes his own city of Venice. The narrator in Black Rainbow supposedly has no history, and therefore must draw upon the histories of others in order to describe his story.

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