Journey to the Land of No Return: Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette and the Sumerian “Descent of Inanna”


The shaman’s song is reflected in epical literature in the theme of the Otherworldly Journey. As recorded by ethnologists, the shaman’s song, a record of as well as engagement with such a journey, summons up a bizarre dreamscape populated by fantastic beings, and engages with a specialized poetics employing linguistic paradox, trance-inducing rhythms, and nonsense words—these last considered by shamans to be a “secret language.” Alice Notley’s contemporary descent myth The Descent of Alette has strong ties to the ancient Sumerian Descent of Inanna as well as to the Gnostic myth of Sophia’s descent into matter to affect the redemption of humankind. I show Inanna’s connection to shamanic praxis and Gnostic mythology, and read Alette’s journey as a crisis vision, in order to argue for the existence of a shamanic poetics, a special way of using language as a healing medium and vehicle of myth. Notley’s post-modern epic placed alongside the extremely ancient Inanna myth-cycle reveals the shaman’s perennial theme of the Otherworldly Journey ever reconfigured according to the artist/healer’s relationship to a specific culture, and that culture’s relationship to the shamanic paradigm.

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Cline, K. (2015) Journey to the Land of No Return: Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette and the Sumerian “Descent of Inanna”. Advances in Literary Study, 3, 89-93. doi: 10.4236/als.2015.33014.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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