[PDF/EBOOK] The Dying Grass A Novel of the Nez Perce War BY William T. Vollmann
William T. Vollmann ☆ 4 eviewGEORGES CHARBONNIER Raymond ueneau you said to me one day that two great currents exist in literature and that basically one could if I understood you correctly link most novels either to the Iliad or to the Odyssey RAYMOND UENEAU I think that those are in fact the two poles of Western novelistic activity since its creation that is to say since Homer and that one can easily classify all works of fiction either as descendants of the Iliad or of the Odyssey I had the pleasure of hearing this idea of the Occidental novel as a continuation of the Iliad summarized ecently by Butor during a conference 25 July 1961 He said excellent things in this egard but he didn t speak about the Odyssey and it seems to me that the Odyssey epresents the other pole of Western literatureGC When would you say there s an Iliad and when would you say there s an OdysseyR First of all these two works have one thing in common one finds in them nearly all the techniues of the novel It doesn t seem to me that anyone has discovered much that s new since thenThe Iliad is already an extremely erudite work with a very well defined subject it is as you know the story of Achilles anger that is something very specific placed in a very vast historical and mythological context One incident projects in a way a glimmer of light on the historical world which surrounds it and vice versa but it is the incident which makes the story the est contributes only to the suspense and to the development of the storyMany novelists likewise take well defined precise characters whose stories are sometimes of mediocre interest and place them in an important historical context which emains secondary in spite of everything The Charterhouse of Parma and War and Peace are novels of the Iliad genre not because they tell of battles like Homer that counts too but because the important things are the characters plunged into history and the conflict between characters and history for example the work of Proust is also an Iliad The battles take place in drawing ooms but they are still battles and the nucleus is the narrator s personality and the people who interest himMoreover there is the Odyssey The Odyssey is demonstrably much personal it is the story of someone who in the course of diverse experiences acuires a personality or if you will affirms and ecovers his personality like Ulysses who finds himself unchanged aside from his experience at the end of his odysseySo there the examples are extremely numerous Don uixote Moby Dick Ulysses naturally but also a book like Bouvard and Pecuchet for example which is well situated in this line of descent The story of Bouvard and Pecuchet is an Odyssey through the sciences the letters and the arts Bouvard and Pecuchet as well find themselves as they were at the beginning of the novel since the book s conclusion is that they start to copy again just as Ulysses eturns to be the king of his little island Rabelais also certainly Rabelais is an Odyssey The Red and the Black is an Odyssey whereas The Charterhouse of Parma seems to me to be an Iliad And in the Odyssey there are as much as in the Iliad technical efinements which are extremely emarkable and I m surprised they aren t mentioned often For example when Ulysses hears his own story sung by an epic poet and then he eveals his identity and the poet wants to continue singing and Ulysses isn t interested any longer that s very astonishing modern shall we say because it s eally a novel within a novel To have one s own story told by a third party who doesn t know that the character in uestion is himself the hero of the story being told that s a technical efinement which could date from the twentieth century It s true that one finds this sophistication also in Don uixote GC In a general way would the Iliad and the Odyssey correspond to two ealizations two ways of apprehending things two ways of conceiving themR Yes In one we think of giving importance to history but it is the individual who is interesting and in the other the individual is interesting and we want to give him a historical importance In fact it s the same point of view that is to say the novelist s point of view the creator of fiction s point of view It is the character who interests him Sometimes he wants to convince the eader that the story he is telling is as interesting as universal history and sometimes he thinks that he will ender this story interesting by slipping it into universal history The story of Achilles could take place anywhere that the all powerful lord comes to take his favorite slave from him it could happen in a completely different historical context from the Trojan War It is obviously only the author s genius which persuades the eader that the story cannot be otherwise that it must be accepted that wayGC Would the truth be a synthesis of these twoR Either a synthesis or a way outThis conversation with ueneau
"was in the "in the of my mind throughout my eading of The Dying Grass it seems to me that what Vollmann is accomplishing with his Seven Dreams is precisely this synthesis this way out for the novel a way to have it both ways Even the language employed especially this way out for the novel a way to have it both ways Even the language employed especially the Nez Perce sections of this book is eminiscent of Fagle s translations of Homer Vollmann has given us an American Iliad a grand epic battle march presented in the personal terms of hundreds of little Odysseys unfolding across a hypnagogic Reconstruction era frontier and an infinite march and corresponding etreat of attrition atomized into individual suffering days from July to October of 1877 The hyper impressionistic landscape descriptions are among the most strangely malevolently beautiful writings Vollmann has given us The land itself is a most vivid entity among the sprawling cast of deeply drawn characters in this book Much has ightly been made of the typesetting and use of page space in this novel in addition to giving it a look of the old Epics and in some cases the visual style of Whitman s capacious lyric enjambments it is utilized to manipulate or cut through the distance of externalinternal narration We follow these characters for 1300 pages from the onomatopoetic chaos of the battle field into the phantasmagoric doldrums of their great slog across the midwest in and out of emembrances desires longings their malicious wishes their basest thoughts even their dreams Vollmann utilizing song and epetition and a multitude of distinct speech styles to create a kind of polyphonous orchestra of imagined voices These are some of the most fully ealized characters of Vollmann s career both the soldiers and the American Indians and we the eaders find ourselves faltering with heartbreak and loss and sadness and bewilderment and nothing like a sense of forgiveness across time for all of their fates The Dying Grass is about the Very Beautiful and Almost Automatic human machinery of Westward American Progress against the dying light of the Native Americans animistic nomadic days of Dreaming their lives on plentiful plains in freedom hegemony or extinction The mechanical supplanting of The American Dream in its many modes and narrowing conceptions It is a book of the oncoming technological century and the brutal implementation of capitalist modes of industrial life onto the unwilling by the unwilling It is a book of our collective lost time It is something of a grim creation myth for our age for we all know the end esult of this campaign we are its successors and beneficiaries We are its echo Vollmann here and in the other Seven Dreams is taking on the monumental task of asking us to ask ourselves how do we hold how do we hear these time bleached echos How do we go about interring these bones which are only ours to inter A emarkable achievement One from each side who made the deepest impression on meCharles Erskine Scott Wood Glass here because it is well worth eading is the Nez Perce creation myth This story tells how Coyote made the dif I was given a free advance eader copy of this book by the publisher through NetGalleycom in exchange for an honest eview New eaders of Vollmann s dream series will find an exhaustive telling of the flight of the Nez Perce from the American forces led by General OO Howard As explained in the notes section Vollmann does not attempt to get every detail factually correct but ather to tell a great story while evealing the elative truth of the conflict between natives of the new world and Europeans and their descendants I have yet to ead the Rifles but for my money the Dying Grass is perhaps the best of the bunch My ecollection of Chief Joseph s war consisted of it being a long drawn out fight due to the Nez Perce being denied access to their Camas gro This fifth volume of Vollman s planned Seven Dreams series was very ewarding to me in the long un but at 1300 plus pages it took a commitment euivalent to eading four ordinary books That kind of eminds me how in grade school I would brag how I "read a great book probably about ants and gesture it was this thick But if you are going "a great book probably about ants and gesture it was this thick But if you are going take a journey into the hearts and minds of European Americans and Native Americans at war it makes sense that it might take a long time to elucidate the full storyHow was it that General Otis Howard the Christian general who worked so hard to advance the opportunities for emancipated slaves after the Civil War he was a commissioner of the ill fated Freedman s Bureau and co founder of Howard University could lead a bloody campai. In this new installment in his series of novels examining the collisions between Native Americans and European colonizers William T Vollmann tells the story of the Nez Perce War with flashbacks to the Civil War Defrauded and intimidated at every turn the Nez Perces finally went on the warpath in 1877 subjecting the. Gn to fulfill a obbery of the land of the Nez Perce tribe How was it that this tribe such peaceful friends with the white man starting with Lewis and Clarke at the beginning of the century would not go meekly onto a eservation and instead end up fighting back so desperately The Long Chase For modern people who feel bad from a distance over the tragedy of the brutal US policies to get id of or otherwise contain the pesky Indians there is a bit of omantic eprieve in the tale of a band of about 250 warriors accompanied with perhaps 500 family members leading about 2000 soldiers on a 1200 plus mile chase over three months while fighting effectively in intervals along the way Over four pitched battles and several skirmishes the losses amounted to about 150 were killed on each side which is small on the scale of atrocities and slower adversity induced deaths that comprise the overall sweep of actions that fit most definitions of genocide Still the Nez Perce War continues to capture our imagination and is subject to a national park and a national historic trail Treat yourself to this folksong Heart of the Appaloosa YouTube by Fred Small to tap into a source of pride and tears in the mythic heroics of the tribe and Chief Joseph with accompanying images composed by school kids I was pleasantly surprised to find the link cited in the Wiki history Nez Perce homeland and oute of their fighting etreatAlien CommunicationsThis well esearched historical novel dispels sentimentality in such a song with intense efforts at ealism Provocations in the form of brutal murders of the innocent are evealed by both whites and Indians That the majority on both sides of the conflict were sincerely interested in peaceful dignified solutions adds to a sense of tragedy and at the same time begs the uestion of why the human ace continues year after year to escalate differences and crimes of individuals into murder and war between peoples This appears to be a huge subject of interest for Vollman which I learn from other eaders eporting back on his Rising Up and Rising Down a massive effort to elucidate a sort of moral algebra to account for the causes and ethics of violence With his Seven Dreams series which started in 1990 with a fictional account of Viking incursions over a millennium ago he plumbs the history of the European conuest of North America to glean meaning in the imagined evolution of elations between the invaders and indigenous peoples Given that the peoples in the New World were on their own path for 10 20 thousand years before the Europeans arrived I am struck how their differences are so extreme as to esemble a cultural collision between alien species The difficulties in communication between the tribe and US Army members have a lot to do with the events that unfolded Very few individuals could speak each other s language In one sense the overall motivation of the Nez Perce to live in freedom and autonomy and that of the whites as a whole to take their land and exploit its esources needs little translation to comprehend the irreconcilable differences Regardless the take me to your leader mentality coincides with a problem of picking an unrepresentative leader to negotiate an behalf of the diverse bands of the tribe The coerced 1855 treaty that educed their land from 13 million acres to 75 million acres spanning parts of Washington Oregon and Idaho Territories was followed in 1863 by an agreement with a Christianiz ALTERNATE REALITYThis News Just to HandThe unabridged edition of The Dying Grass is slated for elease on November 23 2020 It s believed to have another 720 pages and 34 illustrations by the author oh no it can t be true Shome mishtake shurely Ed AVERSELeaves From You I YieldNested in the crotch of the fenceAround Chief Joseph s grave A copy of Leaves of GrassA drying uill a blotted blotter and A twisted white dick danglingThe Patron Saint of Empathy for Women and MenIn my fiction IInvent young womenWho stem from diverseEthnic originsAnd whom I escueFrom the desireOf all other menCome to Me Girl I Beg You Sir No Please Don tThat was how I met The gaze of a half breed girlWho did as I saidFee Fye Faux FummIngratiationIs a poor substitute forTrue blue empathyThe Fifth of Seven Wet DreamsObserve ourVoyeuristicVaingloriousAnd self esteemedMinstrel writerWilliam theSingle handedWander aroundInsert himselfInto the crotchOf the matterAnd tirelessly Probe the awfulBattle action And amorousBedroom scenes ofThe Nez Perce WarNo Litterwitcher KwitterYou won t ead thisAnywhere on TwitterThis mongrel bookMakes McElroyLook even likeThe The Dying Grass appears to me as a culmination of all that Vollmann has been developing through his other works that I have ead We can see of what I ve termed his shifting narrative voice tricks as seen in Rifles and starkly displayed in Europe Central but I have subseuently been informed that this can be called pronomial blurring That seems a good "term for it We can see language experiments and writing in dialect We can see the cycling
"of many leitmotivs "many leitmotivs it We can see language experiments and writing in dialect We can see the cycling of many leitmotivs the extent that Vollmann seems to be creating a self contained languagelexicon of phrases within the work We can see the incredible power to make us empathize with characters we may otherwise be inclined to despise We can see irony and ambivalence which is sometimes uite difficult to disentangle from sincerity and conviction This book cannot be anything less than Vollmann s greatest work though there may be several works that are in fair contention for that title That is to say he may have eualed this achievement but I find it hard to imagine he has exceeded itThis book IS LIKE A LIFE LIVED OR like a life lived or lives lived The experience of eading it is uite different from the experience of having ead it Having ead it one can look back and see a unity a ather simple narrative thread the playing out of certain themes One can also ecall by conscious effort a vast array of events and details by focusing on one or two at a time while allowing the others to est safely in the unconscious These Detached Pictures the title of the section in which most of the central drama is developed to its denouement are only ationalized to one another by the action of a memorycriticism which fills in the blanks with its own imaginings to create a meaningful essential whole Yet since the events are ooted in history as individual events they function merely as statements of what happened The holistic image is largely an illusion The author however supplies us with many leitmotivs and thematic musings to encourage our drawing connections and deriving meaning even while he esists constructing a firm and certain interpretation of events on our behalf much emains strange enigmaticIn the eading of it we are in the midst of vivid details and the immediacy of events is very involving One cannot imagine even though one knows it to be true that this is only one of many Indian wars that for the career officers this is only one of many military campaigns that their past and future lives are not entirely ooted in this present moment No In the eading of it the present is all there is it s all important it s the only truthThere are a thousand surprises in a campaign which is paradoxically portrayed as fated and inevitable so how could it surprise But eality is incredible For instance choosing to trust an eternal optimist and eternal blunderer with doom written all over him at a critical moment when experience has already proven time and again that it is impossible to trust him this seems impossible yet it is true to human nature To delude oneself at a moment when clear sight could potentially save one s life seems impossible yet it s common War is full of its accidents and chance occurrences but human nature is also prone to outine failures of judgment which are often predictableAll of this is present within the novelBut let s step back again and consider themesI saw one of the challenges of the book to be how to econcile a fatalistic view with the notion that moral decisions in the moment are meaningful There is a gloomy cynicism akin to the mood of some Icelandic sagas particularly Njal s Saga the suggestion that violent conflict may be inevitable either due to human nature or due to specific cultural factors such as a sense of honor which compels ash and ultimately self destructive or others destructive acts Even if some noble individuals with nominal power wish to proceed peacefully and serve justice the context of historical injustice the actions of a few ash individuals or the influence of insults to one s honor and dignity can compel a uinous war to occur Atrocities and violations of what is ight cannot be avertedYet in the midst of this Vollmann causes us to sympathizeempathize with many parties on opposite sides of the conflict and it seems he does not want to allow us to succumb to a completely fatalistic view We still desire a justice we know cannot be served and we still want to hold the individuals accountable for their own moral decisions even if this conflicts with our tendency to forgive or ationalize their weaknessesAt the isk of being edundant I earlier posted a comment about fatalism in this book in which I saidI think that Vollmann in presenting this tale confronts us with the challenge of seeing how we are morally culpable and suggests that uestions of honor do matter even in the midst of practically unavoidable historical cataclysms Just as on a microcosmic sc. US Army to its greatest defeat since Little Big Horn as they fled from northeast Oregon across Montana to the Canadian border Vollmann’s main character is not the legendary Chief Joseph but his pursuer General Oliver Otis Howard the brave shy tormented devoutly Christian Civil War veteran In this novel we see him Ale what we choose to do in our own lifetimes does matter egardless of the fact that we and everyone we meet are sure to ultimately die Death does not have to lead to nihilism But Manifest Destiny only allows an act or a life to be meaningful to the degree that it contributes to an inhumane automatic progressLooking further into themes as I commented in a conversation on this novelIt seems that this book was conceived in part to undermine the view of history as the actions of great men Uh Oh Howard isn t so much in control of things as he and others might like Joseph is nothing akin to the sort of leader the Americans might suppose as his society is not structured like a military hierarchy and though every Indian action is attributed to him they have little to do with either his will or his acts Even in the midst of this the men believe their leaders to be esponsible for determining everything though it s eally the little people who do most of the acts of conseuenceBut this doesn t elieve anyone of the moral burden implied by their own decisionsAnd it seems far easier to do mischief than to do good whatever one s intentions may be It is sometimes infuriating I m sure intentionally so how naivecomplicitself deceiving certain characters can beI think we cannot get away from the fact that this also plays the ole of a military adventure novel While I am not a combat veteran and have no special knowledge on the topic it appears to me from all I ve gathered so far on elated topics thatThe book effectively communicates that chaotic mysterious element of warfare Vollmann also seems to understand or his sources understand and he transmits what marine corp theorists call friction the fact that battlefield conditions uickly produce obstacles to progress and the successful execution of any plan He also understands how crazy and important logistics and supply can beVollmann as always sites sources for his information and he draws out several suggestive uotations sometimes poignant sometimes ironic to complement the eading of the various chapters and sections Now I find myself eading Thucydides and in that book I find a uote which could just as well be placed in this novel as an expression of the American attitude towards the Indians in light of the theory of manifest destiny In this uotation we have Thucydides s version of a speech given by the Athenians before the Peloponnesian War in which they justify their unjust actions knowing that in the absence of law might makes ight is the accepted law but when law exists to uphold justice people are offended by injustice than even by naked aggression our subjects are so habituated to associate with us as euals that any defeat whatever that clashes with their notions of justice whether it proceeds from a legal judgment or from the power which our empire gives us makes them forget to be grateful for being allowed to etain most of their possessions and vexed at a part being taken than if we had from the first cast law aside and openly gratified our covetousness Yes in this war as seen in this novel it is often betrayal of trust betrayal of honor betrayal of one s word or betrayal of what is ight that is held offensive even than the physical acts of cruelty which confront our heroes on every side Yet so much occurs as a conseuence of our failure to comprehend the other as kin to ourselvesEven our Christian General couldn t see that The destiny of the white ace in America is to eat up the ed men and in this ising tide of population that olls toward the setting sun there is no one who is backward in taking his bite no one except the government that tempori Before I say anything about Greatness I d like to say that I am grateful for having ead The Dying Grass For being able to ead it privileged to ead it To have had the opportunity to ead it Thankful to Viking for having stuck by Vollmann so long for having supported his novels I am sad to know that Carla Bolte was not able to design this book as she had so many of Vollmann s I can t help but think it would have been better in her hands The Dying Grass is a sad novel a tragedy I think And so odd to say one is grateful to have ead such a thing and to Indeed we are setting fire we are burning the dying grass we shall kill these Bluecoats as they have killed our people we shall catch them all on fireMighty brave seeing you still here son Not many in a proper mind would keep pushing over 1200 pages Means you got sandDo you pray young Reader Do you see the celestial dynamics unfolding in our triumphWhat s that you mumbling Can t stand that enunciate Dn youThat weary ache from holdin and eading Son that s admiration See son I wanted balance and to uphold that fluidity and follow the facts I had to digress as well as maintain for the full duration Uncle Billy would agree Don t forget General Sherman ain t no war criminal because we are
"winners this train "This train bound for Glory not the Hague mind you We have Progress in our winners This train is bound for Glory not the Hague mind you We have Progress in our and I emain ever so thankful that you ve lugged around this tome this past month DismissedLikely 35 stars I was hoping for Authorial intrusion and hoodwinks Where are you Blind One The story of this campaign is one somehow not included in any of my American History classes The Nez Perce were moved from a large eservation and told to go to another about 110th the size Most efused There were some etaliations and the war began The US Army chased Joseph and his tribe from southeast Washington across Idaho into Montana into Yellowstone and back north to almost the Canadian border There were skirmishes along the way By October 1877 in northern Montana the People Indians were cold wounded and beginning to starve If I had understood how Vollmann writes I might never have started this and that would have been my loss While the novel is long War and Peace long that isn t the eal challenge in eading this novel The prose itself flows easily enough Vollmann has chosen to have nested paragraphs and sometimes he interrupts himself often in mid sentence to provide a character s thoughts There might be a conversation and one of the characters then has private thoughts which might also lead to a side conversation between characters not party to the original He does this by indenting the paragraphs so there is at least a visual of when this is happening When the eader is eturned to the original conversation it might be than a page later when I had all but forgotten where the side tracking beganDialogue doesn t have uote marks In almost any other context I might have been exasperated but in this for some eason the exchanges were clear Much of this is General Howard talking with his officers We see him try to administer the campaign He gives orders he sends dispatches to headuarters and he also writes letters of condolence to the family of the fallen Vollmann uses either indents or italics so that what is being said and to whom is clear While there are women Nez Perce there are no European women other than the women the men left behind Like it or not men think about women a lot and in a sexual context We are privy to their thoughts though there isn t any graphic sex Very arely do they speak to each other on the subjectCan I buy a suawWhat forWhat elsehe wrote in first person ominiscient At first I wondered if this was Joseph talking but then he would efer to Joseph in the third person I finally came to ealize this was simply the way Vollmann wanted to epresent the Nez Perce Maybe he does the same in the other novels in the series His prose in these sections was different in that the cadence was appropriate for a Native speaker which still has the trace of an accent despite being English speakers for several generations and isn t as fluid as Europeans who have been here for many generations Sometimes the Indian names slowed me down Each time I encountered Toohhoolhoolsote Peopeo Tholekt or Heinmot Tooyalakekt I stumbled But there were other beautiful Indian names as well such as Sound Of Running Feet or Springtime When writing from the Indian point of view he changed some of the white names General Howard was Cut Arm But challenging were Chapman and James Reuben who became Tsepmin and Tsams Lupin I didn t understand at first of course There are extensive glossaries one of which is personal names I didn t efer to them immediately thinking there might be clarification I didn t find it necessary to look up everythingDid I say this is long There were times when I simply wished they d get to the end of it But the Indians kept ahead of the Army and the Army kept chasing them When the end happened it wasn t the eal end Not all of the Indians were killed and of course something had to be done with them And so I have eiterated everything that could possibly be wrong for a eader And yet I was fascinated Another eviewer has said though he knew how it turns out Vollmann has written a thriller For me thriller isn t in the ballpark for this I simply found it sad not tears unning down my face sad just that the clash of the cultures is sad I m glad I didn t know all of the negatives I m probably not interested in most of the others of this series but I have added his The Rifles to my over burdened wish list And so I come to the final decision How do I ate this A couple of days ago when I despaired they wouldn t put an end to chasing the Indians to the ends of the earth I would have said no than 4 stars But this is an experience I won t long forget. S commander father son husband friend and killer Teeming with many vivid characters on both sides of the conflict and written in a style in which the printed page works as a stage with multiple layers of foreground and background The Dying Grass is another achievement from one of the most ambitious writers of our tim.
William T. Vollmann