"In the Shallows of a Lake that Goes on Forever"
Reconstructing Native Becoming in Stephen Graham Jones's Mapping the Interior
Distanced from kin, land, and stories that might otherwise orient the narrator’s reconstruction of his adolescence, Stephen Graham Jones's Mapping the Interior (2017) offers the mindscape of Junior, who readers encounter as a twelve year-old boy sleepwalking his way toward becoming the absence his father before him eventually became, but who nevertheless feels what inhabits him “squirming” within (12). Through this sleepwalking existence, coupled with the narrator’s father’s appearance-in-death as what was impossible for him in life, Jones indexes the conditions within which becoming “Indian” in the context of settler colonialism is akin to becoming dead, “tethered” to a “cyclical” story of emergence, removal, internalization, and repetition that Jones articulates viscerally through chrysalides and metamorphosis. Imagined through a narrative of perpetual paternal absence, Jones’s emphasis on life cycles conveys his critique of settler chronobiopolitics, or the governance of life through the governance of time. When what there is to inherit appears as a tradition of assimilation-as-death and death-as-sleepwalking, Jones suggests, one knows the life cycle already (106). The cynical detachment of Jones's narrator, though, is a vehicle through which Mapping reimagines the enduring effects of dispossession and the affective violence of erasure as occluding but not eliminating the coherence and endurance of peoplehood. In the afterword to Mongrels (2016), Jones writes "if you wrap yourself in the right story, everything makes sense" (7). Throughout Mapping, Jones wraps Junior in what might be called a Blackfeet surround of place and story, an alternative background against which readers might begin to reimagine the life cycle to which Junior appears tethered. In this essay, I read Mapping's contrasting backgrounds as producing a critique of discussions of Native masculinity that link resistance to becoming something that lies in one's blood, pointing instead toward the fact that recognizing what it is one might become depends on the stories and memories to which one has access. Mapping the Interior calls for different stories than those in which Native men appear already marked for death. Jones suggests that these different stories are not found in “tradition,” nor in “blood,” but in the way the water in a kitchen sink might lead to the “shallows of a lake that goes on forever” (103).
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