Tuesday, May 08, 2012

POST-WESTERN COMMENTARY ON THE WEST


A while ago I posted about the intellectual center in the Basque region of Spain.  This announcement is for a book by three faculty members there.
   
BEYOND THE MYTH: NEW PERSPECTIVES ON WESTERN TEXTS (London: Portal Editions), ed. by David Rio, Amaia Ibarraran, and Martin Simonson.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface. Elegy and the Defiance of Elegy: Longing and Writing in the American West, by Gregory Martin
Introduction: Reconsidering Western Writing Beyond the Regional Imaginary and its Mythic Borders, by David Rio
Part I: Continuity and Renewal
The Rural West as Frontier: A Myth for Modern America, by J. Dwight Hines
David Guterson’s The Other, the Doppelganger Tradition Visits the American North West, by Aitor Ibarrola
That Boy Ain’t Right: Jimmy Blevins, John Grady Cole, and Mythic Masculinity in All the Pretty Horses, by Maria O’Connell
Western Images in Paul Auster’s Work: From Moon Palace to Later Fiction, by Jesús Ángel González
Part II: Beyond Stereotypes
Affective Critical Regionalism in D.J. Waldie’s Suburban West, by Neil Campbell
Shoshone Mike and the Basques, by Monika Madinabeitia
Revision of American Indian Stereotypes and Post-Indian Identity in Sherman Alexie’s Flight, by Elisa Mateos
The Pros and Cons of Writing Confessional Memoir in the Mormon Milieu, by Phyllis Barber
Part III: Cultural Transfers
Film and Chicano I/dentity in Tino Villanueva’s Scene from the Movie GIANT, by Juan Ignacio Guijarro
“Wagon Train to the Stars:” Star Trekkin’ the U.S. Western Frontier, by Stefan Rabitsch
From California to Jarama Valley: Woody Guthrie’s Folk Banditry, by David Fenimore
How Some of the West Was Lost in Translation: The Influence of Franco’s Censorship on Spanish Westerns, by Carmen Camus
The quote below is from the introduction to the above book about the American West, published in London, proposing that the way to get beyond the mythology is to stay in Europe!  They at least have the moral advantage of not having invaded North America.  

“. . .  despite the resilience of the myth, it may be argued that an increasing number of artistic portraits of the American West debunk traditional mythology, rejecting at the same time extreme reductionism to simplistic binary oppositions, such as the one between myth and reality. Instead, the main emphasis is on the West as a complex, interrelated, unfinished, and plural space, consisting of multiple meanings and often intercultural experiences and identities. In this globalized age of trans-oceanic studies the international and hybrid properties of western American culture have become more visible than ever. . . . Adopting transnational perspectives does not mean neglecting the importance of regional and local studies that testify to the multiple and overlapping cultures and literatures existing in the American West. The book embraces a diverse literary western landscape, aiming to mediate between the regional and the global in order to understand a literature that, after all, claims to be both exceptional and universal. This volume also extends the analysis of western iconography to other artistic manifestations than writing, adopting primarily a postwestern approach.”

Here are the bios of the authors:
David Rio is Professor of American Literature at the University of the Basque Country in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain). He is the author of El proceso de la violencia en la narrativa de Robert Penn Warren (1995) and Robert Laxalt: The Voice of the Basques in American Literature (2007). He has co-edited Aztlán: Ensayos sobre literatura chicana (2001), American Mirrors: (Self) Reflections and (Self) Distortions (2005), Exploring the American Literary West: International Perspectives (2006) and the special issue of the European Journal of American Studies on “Postfrontier Writing” (2011). He has also published articles on contemporary western American literature, southern literature, and Basque American authors in journals such as Western American Literature, Studies in the Literary Imagination, American Studies International and The International Fiction Review. He is also the general editor of Portal Education series on the American Literary West.
Amaia Ibarraran is a lecturer at the UPV/EHU since 1999, where she has been teaching contemporary North American Literature and Literature and Minorities. Her research has always been focused on the study of Chicano Literature, and she has published several articles and attended national and international conferences on this field. Her current research deals with the literary production of the new generation of Chicano writers as well as with the study of other forms of artistic and cultural expression produced by the Chicano community.
Martin Simonson studied English philology and translation at the University of the Basque Country in Vitoria, Spain, and holds a Ph.D. from the same university with a dissertation on the narrative dynamics of The Lord of the Rings. He has contributed with essays on fantastic literature in many journals and anthologies, and he has published a full-length study on the interaction of narrative genre in Tolkien’s literature titled The Lord of the Rings and the Western Narrative Tradition (Walking Tree Publishers 2008). He has translated several Swedish novels into Spanish, including the works of Jens Lapidus and Jonas Hassen Khemiri, as well as essays on North American history, such as Nelson Johnson’s Boardwalk Empire. Martin’s current research is focused on American and English nature writing and literature of place. He is currently teaching English and Cultural Studies at the MA programme for comparative literature at the University of the Basque Country.
There are problems with scholarship about the West, especially when it is written by foreigners at a European university.   First, there are entirely too many Wests.  Second, there’s no relationship among them.  Too many of them have nothing at all to do with the broad complex of geography we call the American West.  City/country; rain/desert; SW/NW; pre-Columbian/AIM; sheepherders/cowboys; and on and on and on.  They’re fantasies,  post-modern deconstructions (meaning with a major moral component, meaning critical of whatever the existing order is, meaning that the fantasy has footnotes but made no footprints in the American West.  They’ve “attended several conferences,” translated Swedish novels into Spanish, published articles, and focus on American and English nature writing.  Therefore they are qualified to edit an anthology of esoteric chapters about the American West. 

Only academics under the age of thirty would be impressed.  Since I am neither, you can guess my attitude.   Until someone certifies that David Rio, for instance, is a fourth generation Basque sheepherder whose grandfather may have founded a famous tea company in San Francisco and was thus able to send his grandson to an unnamed but prestigious American university, I intend to wiggle my eyebrows.   A google mashup is not a CV.
However, if some of them would get down to work with primary sources and translate the huge body of primary source materials written in European languages by early invaders of America, whether military, ecclesiastical or mercantile, it would be a great contribution.

5 comments:

Ron Scheer said...

Boy, you an say that again.

Art Durkee said...

Looking at the paper titles, lots of analysis of mainstream fiction not by Westerners but hey they were best-sellers or made into movies. (what, no Brokeback Mountain?) so divorced by a couple of layers already from the source materials.

I was in Winnemucca, NV, in February and happened to see on a side street a family restaurant, closed, offering Basque cuisine. Now that looked like it might be an interesting story to pursue. How did that get there, and why?

prairie mary said...

That's an easy one, Art! Winnemucca is sheep country. Traditionally (at least during the Spanish Revolution), many sheepherders were Basque.

Now they are tending to be from the high plateau country of Eurasia. A good herder is mighty valuable, esp. with the increase of predators nowadays.

Prairie Mary

Anonymous said...

Why so critical about these writers and their books? They provide interesting and provocative readings of several American writers. As a lifelong westerner of Basque heritage who has written or edited 50 books on the history and literature of the American West I applaud the efforts of Europeans to try to understand the American West--just as thousands and thousands of Americans try to write about all world areas. No reason to be snippy about all this, especially before one reads the essays. I urge the European scholars to keep up their good work and not to pay attention to persons who criticize excessively.

Richard W. (Dick) Etulain

prairie mary said...

I fail to see why you are upset, since most of the post is the table of contents and introduction plus bios of the editors? I guess that's sort of cut-and-paste, but I don't see what's snippy about it. This is excessive criticism???

I'm sorry if you thought I was critical of Basques, since I've always admired their contribution to the American West. I am, of course, aware of your stature and reputation, but I didn't know you were Basque. I posted earlier about the stunning building that houses their scholarship efforts.

I would still urge scholars in Europe to search and translate the original source material about the American West.

Prairie Mary