January 21, 2010

Momaday on Indian sadness

Writing His World

Literary pioneer N Scott Momaday discusses culture, history and the writing life

By Charlotte Jusinski
You just used the word ‘sad,’ and that brings me to a couplet from your poem ‘Plainview: 2’: ‘An old horse is old / An old Indian is sad.’ Is that true?

I think it’s true, yeah. I think, with the loss of the culture, that’s a sad, sad thing. I think a lot of Indian people, when it happened, when the culture fell, they had to be terribly sad and demoralized. I can’t imagine coming out of that, surviving it. But they did. And that’s a wonderful thing. It shows the strength of the culture, somehow.

Do you think there’s still sadness in Indian culture?

I think it’s fading but, yeah, certainly there is a kind of sadness. I was talking to a man at the Kiowa Gourd Dance…He said, ‘We must be protective of this society; it’s all we have left.’ And I found that statement sad. And I think it’s more widespread than most people realize, but I do think it’s fading. The kind of sadness that I’m talking about is going farther and farther into the past and becoming dimmer and dimmer to the view. I have mixed feelings: Should that be? Is that sadness worth something to us in a cultural sense or is it not? And I don’t know the answer to that.
Comment:  For more on Momaday, see Another Award for Momaday and Momaday to Get Medal.

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