The Department of American Culture and Literature warmly invite you to: “Totality at Trinity: Paranoia and the State in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony”
Date: February 14
The cultural and theoretical production of the 1970s has been largely remembered for its resistance to metanarratives, skepticism towards totality, and embrace of plurality. At the same time, the U.S. government was laying the foundations for ARPANET, precursor to the modern internet, rendering material the very sort of totalizing system postmodernism had discredited as impossible. This paper examines this apparent contradiction through Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony (1977) to reconsider literature’s formal capacities to register totality and imagine collective futures.
As an Indigenous novel actively challenging and reworking settler colonialist history, Ceremony might be read within this tradition of rejecting totality. However, this paper argues that the novel takes the “paranoia” thought typical of postmodernism as an enabling condition for imagining the total, systemic change demanded by the conditions of settler colonialism and global capitalism. Rejecting the psychologization of paranoia as an individualized condition, Ceremony instead materializes the abstractions of “late” capitalism, recuperating totality as a speculative, political risk that motivates a politics of universal liberation and planetary salvation.
Devin William Daniels is Visiting Assistant Professor of Literatures in English at Bryn Mawr College. His research focuses on twentieth-century literature and film, information technology, and the state. His work is published or forthcoming in Representations, Mediations, English Studies in Africa, Contemporaries at Post45, and Hyped on Melancholy.