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postwestern horizons
General Editor:
William R. Handley
University of Southern California
Series Editors:
Jos Aranda
Rice University
Melody Graulich
Utah State University
Thomas King
University of Guelph
Rachel Lee
University of California, Los Angeles
Nathaniel Lewis
Saint Michaels College
Stephen Tatum
University of Utah


Authenticity and Authorship

Nathaniel Lewis

university of nebr aska press

lincoln and london

Publication of this volume was assisted by

The Virginia Faulkner Fund,
established in memory of Virginia Faulkner,
editor-in-chief of the University of Nebraska Press.
Going West copyright 1981 by Robert Penn Warren.
Reprinted by permission of William Morris Agency, Inc., on behalf of the author.
Lyric excerpt of Im an Indian Too by Irving Berlin
copyright 1946 by Irving Berlin, copyright renewed.
International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission on page 204.
Part of Fact and Fiction appeared in American Literary Realism: 1879 1910
31 (winter 1999): 63 71. It is reprinted with permission.
Part of Authentic Reproduction is reprinted from Arizona Quarterly
57, no. 2 (2001), by permission of the Regents of the University of Arizona.
2003 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved
Manufactured in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lewis, Nathaniel, 1962
Unsettling the literary West : authenticity and authorship / Nathaniel Lewis.
p. cm. (Postwestern horizons)
Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index.
isbn 0-8032-2938-0 (cloth : alk. paper)
1. American literatureWest (U.S.)History and criticism. 2. Western stories
History and criticism. 3. Frontier and pioneer life in literature. 4. West (U.S.)
Intellectual life. 5. West (U.S.)In literature. I. Title. II. Series.
ps271.l49 2003
813.08740978 dc21

For my mother
And the memory of my father

Westward the Great Plains are lifting, as you

Can tell from the slight additional pressure
The accelerator requires. The sun,
Man to man, stares you straight in the eye, and the
Ribbon of road, white, into the suns eye
Unspools. Wheat stubble long behind,
Now nothing but range land. But,
With tire song lulling like love, gaze riding white ribbon, forward
You plunge. Blur of burnt goldness
Past eye-edge on each
Side back-whirling, you arrow
Into the heart of hypnosis.
This is one way to write the history of America.

robert penn warren, going west

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Introduction: The Legacy of Authenticity


1. Truth or Consequences:
Western Literature in the 1830s


2. Fact and Fiction:

Canonical Simulations


3. Authentic Reproduction:
The Picturesque Joaquin Miller


4. The Trap of Authenticity:

Frank Norris and Western Authorship


5. Coming Out of the Country:

Environmental Constructivism in Western Nature Writing


6. Inside Out in the Postmodern West


Epilogue: Territorial Expansion






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Lawrence Buell, rst and foremost. My debt to Larry is a deep and wideranging one. He guided early drafts of this project, offering tireless support,
insightful critiques, and mentorly attention that immeasurably improved
my work. He is for me the model of intellectual vigor and professional integrity, and I extend to him my warmest appreciation. I offer my deepest
gratitude as well to Sacvan Bercovitch, Lynn Wardley, and Jacques Debrot
their rigorous and imaginative investigations of literature were wonderful
inuences on this books early stages.
My work in western studies has been guided by a host of terric friends
and colleagues. Stephen Tatum showed me the way with his adventurous,
progressive criticism. Over the past fteen years Steve has consistently
inspired and challenged me; his help with this book has been invaluable. William Handley is a gifted scholar, a keen readerand a dear friend.
Melody Graulichs superb grasp of western literature is happily equaled by
her intellectual generosity, and I have greatly beneted from both. And
Susan Bernardin represents the very best of our profession; I am eternally
grateful for her insight and her kindness. Steve, Bill, Melody, and Susan deserve much of the credit, and none of the blame, for this book.
The Western Literature Association is the real thing, and I would like to
offer my affectionate gratitude to the many wla members who shepherded
me into the fold and continue to be inspirational to me: Lawrence Berkove,
Charles Crow, Joseph Flora, William Kittredge, Michael Kowalewski, Bonney MacDonald, Barbara Meldrum, Gary Scharnhorst, Robert Thacker, and
so many others. And to newer friends such as Neil Campbell, Krista Comer,
Nancy Cook, Susan Kollin, Tara Penry, Barbara Stevens, Nic Witschithe
list is a long one. It is an honor to be a member of the wla and a pleasure
to know these wonderful people.
I would like to express my gratitude as well to the inspiring community
that is Saint Michaels College and specically to Carey Kaplan, Christina
Root, and Lorrie Smith for their perceptive readings; the incredible Joan
Wry, for her incredible help; Dr. John Kenney and Dr. Janet Sheeran, for
their generous support of my research; Shannon McCarthy and Jessica
McEachern, for their ne assistance in preparing this book for publication;
and my colleagues in the English department, who demonstrate daily what
right livelihood means.
And, nally, loving thanks to my teachers, friends, and family, pole stars
all: Daniel Aaron, Richard H. Brodhead, Scott Cohen, Tom Ferraro, Elizabeth Gratch, Patty Limerick, David Lubin, Townsend Ludington, Judith


McConnell, Joe Oechsli, Helle Porsdam, Ladette Randolph, Mark L. Reed,

Richard Rust, Alan Trachtenberg, Bryan Wolf, Sophie, Emma, Daniel,
Beatrix, my parents, so many others . . . and especially Andrea and Iris, who
always encourage me to go off the trail while keeping me on the path.


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The Legacy of Authenticity

I value accuracy more than any other quality.

owen wister

In Sam Shepards play True West two brothers ght it out to see who can sell
a screenplay about the West to a Hollywood producer. The younger brother,
Austin, an Ivy League graduate and writer, has been staying at their mothers house outside Los Angeles and working on a romance. His brother Lee,
a petty thief and aggressive drunk who has been living in the desert, proposes his own idea, a sketchy plot involving horses, adultery, and the threat
of violence. Much to Austins dismay, the producer chooses Lees idea as
more authentic. It has the ring of truth, the producer explains, something about the real West. Austin angrily responds: Why? Because its got
horses? Because its got grown men acting like little boys? Something
about the land, he is told. Your brother is speaking from experience.
Austin explodes: Whats he know about what people wanna see on the
screen! I drive on the freeway every day. I swallow the smog. I watch the
news in color. I shop in the Safeway. Im the one whos in touch! 1
In touch with what? Contemporary LA culture? The Hollywood marketplace? The real West? True West teases out the implications in all of
these answers, refusing to see much difference between them. To readers of
western literature the brothers ght over what is true in the West is all too
familiar. The plays title is both patently ironic and quietly suggestive, enacting multiple possibilities. The play tells a postmodern story about the
invention of the Westabout greed, cynicism, Hollywood dealings, and
textual contrivance. But it also tells an iconic western story of palpable integritya story of whiskey, family clashes, solitude, masculinity, and violent standoffs. What makes the title suggestive rather than merely ironic is
not that it endorses or subverts a particular incarnation of the real West,
but that it recognizes the very struggle over authenticity as perhaps the only
true condition of the western cultural imagination.
The pursuit, production, and marketing of the real West all but dene
the history of western literature and criticism.2 Two recent anthologies by
two of the Wests most accomplished critics exemplify this surprisingly unexamined condition. In 1997 William Kittredge edited The Portable Western


Reader for the popular Viking Portable Library. The back cover of this book
promised that the collection would transcend the Western myth and explore the vast range of Western experience. Two years later Thomas J. Lyon
edited The Literary West: An Anthology of Western American Literature for Oxford
University Press. The promotional ier opened with a solitary supporting
voice, Stewart Udall, proclaiming, No one has a better grasp of Western
Literature and its relationship to the authentic history of the West than
Thomas Lyon. The anthology is then described as offering the panoramic
literary range of the American West, from the romance of the mythic Wild
West to the present-day creative explosion of the real, diverse West. Lyon
himself remarks in his introduction that there are two Wests, a projective West of the imagined frontier and the real West, where people actually live. 3
Of course, it is entirely reasonable to suppose that western writing
reects the West itself. Indeed, such an approach may well encourage an enhanced understanding of regional cultures and landscapes, of the places
where people actually live. But insisting on the real West in a body of
imaginative writing ultimately limits the explosive reach of literature. For
two centuries readers have had little choice: western literature has been
constructed and legitimized primarily in relation to authentic history.
Western writing has been evaluated as either mythic or real. As Krista
Comer puts it in her illuminating study Landscapes of the New West, the bulk
of critical opinion holds that if one can point to any general genre identity
to characterize western literature, it would probably be realism. 4 When encountering a western work, readers tend not to engage literary issues
(such as narrative aesthetics, forms of signication, or intertextuality) but
to question its realism: is it authentic or inauthentic? accurate or unreliable?
realistic or mythological? But to evaluate a body of writing in relation only
to the real is to treat that writingand indeed the realas a strangely
static body, without energy or purpose or mystery. When we ask whether a
work is true or false, we unintentionally limit western writing. We need to
see these questions themselves as forming the context of reception, the determining environment.
In Cultures of Letters Richard H. Brodhead calls for a history not of texts
or contexts alone but of the multiform transactions that have taken place
between them. 5 This book examines such transactions in western literary
history through a study of western American authorship. The working critical theory is that authors inuence their canonical reputations through


their own self-inventions and strategies; authors are not mere functions or
reections of culture but are active agentswriting under the inuence, to
be sure, but in turn asserting themselves. Complexly, the self-fashionings
of western writers frequently produced results that failed, at least by the
established, usually eastern standards of American canonical success.
That is, the canonical invisibilityas well as the frequent marketplace successes of western literature can often be directly attributed to the strategies of the regions writers. These strategies, I will argue, depend consistently on the claim of authenticity. Western writers present themselves as
accurate and reliable recorders of real places, histories, and culturesbut
not as stylists or inventors. Furthermore, to a surprising degree readers
have accepted the claim of authenticity and read western literature primarily in relation to historical record. Through the study of a set of western authors and their relationships to canonical and cultural history, this book
seeks to offer a reconsideration of the deceptive and often defeated history
of western American literature.
Authenticity, as Lionel Trilling puts it in Sincerity and Authenticity, is one of
those words that are best not talked about if they are to retain any force of
meaning. 6 Indeed, the terms meaning is so elusive that Jacob Golomb, in
his book In Search of Authenticity: From Kierkegaard to Camus, claims that authenticity denes itself as lacking any denition: The notion of authenticity, it seems, signies something beyond the domain of objective language. 7 I certainly do not want to overdene or overdetermine the idea of
authenticity at the beginning of this study, but the ubiquity of the term in
contemporary cultural discoursein everything from advertising to selfhelp manuals to classical music circles to academic journals demands
some comment. While the word enjoys an intense currency in such elds as
postcolonial theory, cultural studies, ethics, and philosophy (notably in
the study of Heidegger), I prefer to begin by recognizing less esoteric uses.
One important use of the word, explored by cultural philosophers such as
Trilling and Charles Taylor, implies the modern notion of a true, inner self.
In The Ethics of Authenticity Taylor identies what he calls the contemporary
culture of authenticity, a culture pursuing such individualistic goals as
self-fulllment or self-realization: Being true to myself means being
true to my own originality, and that is something only I can articulate and
discover. In articulating it, I am also dening myself. I am realizing a potentiality that is properly my own. This is the background understanding to


the modern ideal of authenticity. 8 Somewhere inside every person is that

originality, and this inner self needs to be realizedthat is, recognized
as real. As Taylor puts it in his essay The Politics of Recognition, the culture of authenticity implores us not to live in imitation of anyone elses
life. 9 Taylor traces this culture of authenticity back to the end of the eighteenth century (coincidently or not, the eve of American western expansion)
and aligns it with the massive subjective turn of modern culture, a new
form of inwardness, in which we come to think of ourselves as beings with
inner depths. 10 While modern culture seems to encourage us to explore individually our own higher latitudes, so this thinking goes, it also encourages us to evaluate the hidden depths of public gures, including celebrities, politicians, and authors. For example, it was a commonplace of the
2000 U.S. presidential election to mock the emptiness of the two majorparty candidates and lament their lack of authenticity. Neither George W.
Bush nor Al Gore seemed real. In response, Gore started wearing annel
shirts to promote his authenticity, while Bush preferred to demonstrate his
authenticity through rhetorical gestures, campaigning on Real Plans for
Real People.
A second, related use of authenticity evokes the world outside of the self,
the world of cultural production and commodity. The authentic is again
dened by its originality, as distinguished from the imitation or the phony.
Miles Orvell persuasively argues in The Real Thing that a culture of authenticity (the same phrase that Charles Taylor uses) developed at the end of the
nineteenth century in response to a culture of imitation that was fascinated by reproductions of all sortsreplicas of furniture, architecture, art
works, replicas of the real thing in any shape or form imaginable. The culture of authenticity, by contrast, attempted to get beyond mere imitation,
beyond the manufacturing of illusions, to the creation of more authentic
works that were themselves real things. To Orvell the tension between
imitation and authenticity is a primary category in American civilization,
pervading layers of our culture that are usually thought to be separate, from
commercial design and advertising to literature. 11 In The Culture of the Copy
Hillel Schwartz suggests that this tension produces uncertainty, even anxiety: The more adroit we are at carbon copies, the more confused we are
about the unique, the original, the Real McCoy. 12 Thus, we ask whether an
antique chair or Ted Williams autograph is authenticis it real? More playfully, Frank Zappaan authentic original who virtually began his brilliant,
idiosyncratic career by writing the music to a low-budget Western, Run


Home Slow could ponder in song the profound difference between a real
poncho and a Sears poncho.13 The authentic is, above all, original and real.
This notion of authenticity, of course, goes beyond material commodities and is often applied to broader categories of cultural experience.
Signicantly, authenticity is often freighted with the burden of the golden
past, a nostalgia for an earlier age that seems, in retrospect, more real. Historian Philip J. Deloria remarks that the authentic serves as a way to imagine and idealize the real, the traditional, and the organic in opposition to the
less satisfying qualities of everyday life. 14 Fenway Park, a gorgeous but often decrepit baseball stadium, is considered authentic; Camden Yards, with
better seating and concessions, is not. Similarly, the worlds of baroque and
classical music have been rocked by the introduction of authenticity; entire
orchestras have appeared using only period instruments, reconstructing
original tempos and sounds, dismissing current fashions and taste in
search of the real Bach or Beethoven. Obviously, such a shift in performance
value, while based on scholarship and sincerity, is itself a current fashion.
(Beethoven did not use period instruments; he used instruments.) And,
while many people look back with fondness on earlier highbrow forms
of authenticity (period instruments, English gardens, Jane Austen, Emily
Post), others celebrate as authentic those cultures, usually indigenous,
deemed to be more genuine, natural, and spiritual. The love of the folk,
that protean re-source from whom comes the lore of authenticity and the
illusion of innocence, 15 is perhaps best exemplied in the United States
by the romanticization of the American Indian. Deloria argues in Playing Indian that those who seek out authenticity often locate authenticity in the
gure of an Other. The quest for such an authentic Other, Deloria concludes, is a characteristically modern phenomenon, one that has often
been played out in the contradictions surrounding Americas long and ambivalent engagement with Indianness. 16
Such uses of authenticity and their many gradations converge on a number of points relevant to this study. First, authenticity is frequently an elusive
characteristic or aura (to recall Walter Benjamin), something that must
be sought out and tested. The notion of an authentic inner self may seem
particularly intangiblehow exactly does one nd oneself or engage
the true self of another?but even the authenticity of material artifacts
or cultural experiences can be elusive. Commercial forums such as the
Home Shopping Network can condently offer a Certicate of Authenticity for merchandise, a document suggesting that an autograph or rare coin


is original and real, but obviously such a certicate itself needs to be certied, to be authenticated, and that authentication in turn needs to be authenticated, ad innitum. Determining authenticity is a slippery business.
Second, the concept of the authentic implies a complementary category:
the inauthentic. Common sense suggests that the inauthentic is secondary:
something copied, constructed, often commodied, as opposed to the authentic, which is original, natural, priceless. (Zappas line implies that the
Sears label makes the poncho inauthenticalthough exactly what an inauthentic poncho might be is open to question.) Whether it appears decidedly
real (a counterfeit) or decidedly imitation (kitsch), the inauthentic serves a
number of functions, notably to reinscribe and legitimize the power of authenticity itself. Indeed, to distinguish between the authentic and the inauthentic is to promote the very idea of authenticity. Third, moreover, in many
phases of American cultural life, the copy takes on its own aura and authority. In his essay Travels in Hyperreality Umberto Eco, discussing the authentic duplicates and copies in the chain of Ripleys Museums, criticizes
this casual attitude toward the problem of authenticity. The authenticity
the Ripleys Museums advertise is not historical, but visual. Everything
looks real, and therefore it is real; in any case the fact that it seems real is
real, and the thing is real even if, like Alice in Wonderland, it never existed.
For Eco, whose comments are largely directed at the West, the United States
is a country obsessed with realism, even when that realism is based on a
real copy of the reality being represented. 17 Finally, we must acknowledge the possibility that, while the inauthentic (the copy) is patently a construction designed to appear credible and real, the authentic may be a
cultural construction as well. By this logic both the authentic and the inauthentic are designed to simulate cultural conceptions of the real. Such a
proposition, associated with postmodern theory, may seem troubling. After
all, the authentic is usually described with words like true, genuine, original,
real, and natural. But postmodern theory argues that these terms are themselves self-validating cultural markers, promoting not the true, the self, the
real, or the natural, but, rather, ideologically infused discourses and delusions. What we take to be authentic is a simulacrum, a copy without an
The West of which I speak is but another name for the Authentic. For
Krista Comer, postmodernist culture tells us that there can be no such
thing as western authenticity. There can be no defensible, insider, regional
discourse, no ethnic or racial purity, no sure opposition between masculin6


ity and femininity, no natural nature, no nal claim on what counts as

westernness. 18 In principle, I agree with this notionI am emphatically
averse to pursuing the authentic West in literature. At the same time, before
dismissing the category of authenticity, we need to recognize that western
literature is frequently, perhaps fundamentally, about authenticity. The history of western literature (authors, texts, and readers) is the history of the
production of the real, to borrow a phrase from Jean Baudrillard. And no
feature of western writing is more prominent, celebrated, or misleading
than its realism. Jean-Franois Lyotard has suggested that realism can be
dened only by its intention of avoiding the question of reality implied in
the question of art, and this certainly holds true in the American West
but it is equally true that the question of art has been avoided in attempting
to settle the question of reality.19 And so, in simplied terms, this project
studies the tension between western reality and western art by examining
how western writers employ notions of realism, the real, and the original to
promote that deeper (and Trilling might say ominous) sense of authenticity. Authenticity is the perennial philosophy of western literature, with
readers caught between the aspiring text and the more perfect form of the
West itself. For now sufce it to say that authenticity of western place has
something to do with what Patricia Nelson Limerick calls with wry amusement the Real West; 20 authenticity of author suggests a writer deeply connected to place, somehow in touch with regional spirit; and authenticity of
text implies a writing through which place shines without the interference
of language, desire, or intention.
Masquerading as benign and accessible, western writing appears to lack the
depth or complexity of other categories of American literature. It stands
not so much as a body of imaginative literature but as the record of a regions landscapes and histories. Indeed, that masqueradethe appearance
of reliable representation offered by reliable authorsis so complete as to
be invisible; we take it for granted that western writing represents, with
varying degrees of accuracy, the Real West. When we read Faulkner, we assume that his creative vision is behind his Southhe invented the place.
(Thomas McGuane, writing on the western sense of place, once remarked
that it made him very suspicious that no one from Yoknapatawpha ever
went to Miami.) 21 But when we read Caroline Kirkland or Willa Cather
or Wallace Stegner or N. Scott Momaday we treat their works as sincere at7


tempts often as successful attemptsat representing a profound reality.

In other words, the place invented them. Or so they tell us.
We might begin with an apparently simple question: why would western
authors insist that their work is authentic? The answers, surprisingly complex, must eventually consider a variety of possibilities, ranging from genuine regional affection to commercial advantage to marketplace expectation to the burden of tradition. But we might start by recognizing that
writers want to record a stunning western reality. At rst the West was remote to the dominant white culture, a distant place of savagery and wildness, sometimes exotic, often unattractive. Explorers, travelers, and tourists visited the far-off region and brought their impressions back to an
armchair audience, reading mostly in the East and in Europe. Yet, oddly, this
sense of remoteness lingered in the cultural imagination well past the age
of exploration and then past the age of immigration; even after the West was
settled, after the frontier was closed, after the decimation and connement of native cultures, after the emergence of transcontinental rail and air
travel, the West remained and remains a region somehow beyond representation. The Indians and landscapes could be conquered, but the meaning
of the Westits spirit, its realityremains too awesome to be captured.
Perhaps, it has been suggested, one needs faith to grasp that spirit: recall
N. Scott Momadays familiar quip that the West has to be seen to be believed, and believed to be seen. It is as if the West is too big to t on a canvas, too wild to conform to language, too transcendent and limitless to be
corralled by literature and art.
Yet complications as well as some anxieties immediately set in. How do
writers measure up against the magnicent West? And what is the role of
the authors imagination when the topic is grander than any possible literary creation? In Don D. Walkers words, for many western readers and critics the imagination functions only in imitation of what history offers. 22
For example, in 1843 P. T. Barnum advertised his museums Wild Indians
of the Far West by proclaiming, however high curiosity may be raised, the
anticipation cannot come up to the reality. 23 So it is throughout western
cultural history: the reality is always thought to be more stunning than the
painting or book, than memory or anticipation. In 1896 Owen Wister remarked: When our national life, our own soil, is so rich in adventures to
record, what need is there for one to call upon his invention save to draw, if
he can, characters who shall t these strange and dramatic scenes? One
cannot improve upon such realities. 24 Reality controls both writing and re8


sponse. The most a writer can hope for is to approximate, to approach, to

convey just a little of the excitement and expanse of the West. We marvel,
nally, not at how big Bierstadts canvasses are but how small they seem
compared to their subjects.
This West, at once Americas ultimate reality and ultimate fantasy, may
be said to exist beyond: beyond the horizon, beyond the present, beyond representation. The West is the ever-distant site of national destiny, where
dreams will someday be fullled. Thoreau wrote, we go westward as into
the future. 25 But, paradoxically, the notion of the Wests sublimity exists
alongside a very different regional conception: from the moment of rst
European contact the West has been slipping away, eroding, and declining.
From this perspective we envision not a glimpse of the West as perpetual future but, rather, a palimpsest of the Edenic past, that fresh, green breast of
the new world. Thus, western writers must not only try to record a profound
reality but must preserve it. At almost exactly the same time that Thoreau
romanticized about the golden West, Francis Parkman sought to explore
Americas prehistory before it vanished. Great changes are at hand in that
region, he wrote in The Oregon Trail; soon, he felt, its danger and its charm
will have disappeared together. 26 Parkman romantically lamented not only
the disappearance of the vanishing American but implied that the winning of the West would inevitably be the losing of the West. Parkman, like
so many others, hoped in his book to x, in that words many meanings,
that authentic, doomed region.
This book asks: what happens when the claim of authenticity is examined critically and is revealed to be not only a quixotic rhetorical strategy but
also a form of authorial self-invention? What happens when the repeated
claims of authenticity are themselves treated as constituting a narrative of
literary history? And what happens to western literature when it is unhinged
from authenticityfrom history, from some actual landscape, from reality? Not only is western authorship suddenly exposed as contested, nervous, and disarmingly ambitious, but a new history of western literature begins to emerge.
First, we begin to see an unsettling tradition of authorial self-fashioning, one based on an unusual form of writerly competition. The establishment of this tradition is the subject of my rst three chapters: how writers
such as James Hall, Caroline Kirkland, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, and
Joaquin Miller initiated and critiqued the central discourse of authenticity.
One remarkable component of this process is how often authors shift the


site of authenticity from their own imagination to their works accuracy and
nally to the West itself. In his preface to The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones
(1956), itself a patterned simulation of Pat Garretts Authentic Life of Billy the
Kid, Charles Neider explains that he set out to write a book as authentic in
its details as [he] was capable of making it. He researched every inch of his
subject, living in a mountain canyon and studying handguns. He writes:
for a couple of months, all the time except when I was asleep, I wore an old
Colt .45 on my right leg, the holster tied to my thigh. The weight of the gun
was such that certain leg muscles became overdeveloped and he had an
odd walk for a while; his ngers would bleed from practicing his draw.
Neiders preface implies that readers should be able to trust the details of
the book and should realize the authenticity behind it.27 Indeed, it is the
West and its history, mighty and imposing, that seem to stand behind every
western author and text, that seem to inform and legitimate writers and
writing. Trilling may have examined what one commentator calls the role
of the artist as the archetype of the authentic person, 28 but for the most
part western writers seem to look to the West as the source of their own
and their works authenticity. There is an abiding assumption that the
West gives the artist his possibilities and imposes his limitations, Don D.
Walker wrote; the writer has only the history, the myths, the forms given
him. 29 In turn a text is authenticated because it reects the Real West, not
the authors stylized vision or creativity. In the West what Foucault called the
author function is negligible; it is a place function that determines the
discourse of authenticity (even as that discourse determines place).
Further, because western writers so often stake their claims based on the
authenticity of their work, rather than, say, creativity or individuality, they
are left with a strange and largely unproductive form of literary inheritance. Inuence is an especially uneasy concept in the West. It is familiar
enough by now to trace forms of inuence in other bodies of American writing, whether that inuence produces competitive anxiety or salubrious kinship (or both). James revises Hawthorne, Morrison revises Faulkner and
Hurstonand perhaps James and Hawthorne. Yet, if a text is presented not
as a creative work of art but, rather, as a record of history and place, then the
revising author can only acknowledge or correct his or her precursor, can
only uphold an earlier text as authentic or dismiss it as phony. If there is a
tradition of inuence in western writing, this may be it: call earlier representations inauthentic and unrealistic and determine to do a better job. In
the literary West there are only second acts. Timothy Flint, James Hall,


Caroline Kirkland, Mark Twain, Joaquin Miller, Frank Norris, Hamlin Garland, Owen Wister, Charles Eastman, Mary Austin, Willa Cather, Wallace
Stegner, Edward Abbey, N. Scott Momaday, William Kittredge, Leslie Silko,
Terry Tempest Williamsmany if not most western writers implicitly
make this move.
Indeed, the presence of this corrective tradition obscures an even more
tangled form of inuence, for it allows western writers to dene and police
the boundaries of the western territory. Western literature has generally presented itself as self-contained, a regionally grounded body of works by a
group of writers alone in the world, independent and proud. In 1901
William Dean Howells wrote: The West, when it began to put itself into literature, could do so without the sense, or the apparent sense, of any older
or politer world outside of it; whereas the East was always looking fearfully
over its shoulder at Europe, and anxious to account for itself as well as represent itself. . . . [I]t is not claiming too much for the Western inuence
upon American literature to say that the nal liberation of the East from this
anxiety is due to the West, and to its ignorant courage or its indifference to
its difference from the rest of the world. 30 In this remarkable statement
Howells claims that western writing is free from the anxiety of inuence because it is simply uninuenced by other writingsit is sui generis, original. This sense of being pure and uncontaminated has historically allowed
western writing to appeal to readers as an antidote to the increasing unreality of the world. It is authentic in a world of commercialized copies and local in a world of threatening globalization. And, too often, this parochial vision has allowed western criticism to see itself as an enclave of sanity and
pragmatic integrity, especially in the wake of the invasion of Continental
Not surprisingly, these traditions of western realism and western exceptionalism produce, at subtle levels, their own anxieties. And this is my second hope: that we can begin to recognize that, although this tradition of
authenticity can be a source of creative fun and marketplace authority for
authors, it can also produce a kind of anxiety or burden as writers often nd
themselves trapped by the perceived need to be accurate and mimetically
faithful. This trap of authenticity is the fourth chapters subject: how writers such as Owen Wister, Hamlin Garland, and Frank Norris worked within
and against the tradition of western realism. When we understand that
western writers in fact produce texts not (only) in relation to the Rocky
Mountains or to the Ghost Dance but in relation to more literary pres11


sures (other writers, global traditions, rhetorical constructs, competing

cultural narratives, and so on), then we can see how crippling is the narrow
discourse of authenticity. In 1987, for example, William Kittredge lamented
that he felt conned by a long history of inauthentic writingthe same lament heard throughout western literary history: The myth has been an insidious trap for those who would write about the American West, a box for
the imagination. For a long time it was as if there was only one legitimate
story to tell about the West, and that was the mythological story. Kittredge
is, in fact, echoing generations of western writers who felt compelled, for
various commercial and cultural reasons, to repeat the sins of their fathers
and reinvent the mythological wheel. Kittredge, however, expresses hope
for the modern western author; he argues that contemporary western writers (he names Gretel Ehrlich, Thomas McGuane, Louise Erdrich, James
Welch, and Leslie Silko, among others) are producing antimythological
works that subvert the tired mythology: So, out in our West, artists are trying to run their eyes clear of mythic and legendary cobwebs, and see straight
to the actual. 31 Kittredge, one of our most insightful writers, is hardly projecting a simple or naive actual; on the contrary, he insists on the complexity of western reality. Yet what is so fascinating here is that Kittredge
and other western writers continue to aim for the actual, continue to explain
that their work is an attempt at descriptive accuracy. Their choices seem to
be the mythological (inauthentic) West or the actual (authentic) West. But
why is western writing so committed to representational authenticity? Why
is a literature that rst came into self-awareness during the Romantic period and nally owered in the Modernist period so suspicious of imaginative constructions and avant-garde disruptions? Why dont writers aggressively abandon the goals of descriptive veracity or historical authenticity
and celebrate, instead, their own imaginative reaches and inventions? And
why should readers of Kittredges brilliant, complex, and sometimes kinky
writing be bound by the expectations of the actual? Kittredge himself is indeed the genuine article, as the dust jacket for his Southwestern Homelands
tells us, but that doesnt mean that his writing should be corralled under the
rubric of the genuine. The box for the imagination is not the mythit is,
rather, the tradition of correcting the myth.
Third, recognizing the authorial insistence on authenticity helps us understand the reception history of western writing and that writings dramatic noncanonicity. Authors disappear erase themselvesin textual
homage to place. This activity may have encouraged a marketplace security


for western writing, but it spelled doom for a literary and academic culture
that canonizes authors. And, rather than attend to the embedded imaginative reaches of western literature, critics engage historyin fact, battle
with historians for the rights to the authentic West. To be sure, I am not the
rst to raise these concerns. Over twenty years ago a subschool, as it were,
of critics, led by Don D. Walker and Max Westbrook, argued with persuasiveif largely ignored conviction that, in Walkers words, western literary criticism has for a long time been dominated by the historians way of
judgment. 32 Arguing for the restoration of the imagination to its properly
dominant position in western literature, 33 these critics contested the hegemony of authenticity in essays such as Walkers Can the Western Tell
What Happens? Westbrooks The Authentic Western, and Jackson K.
Putnams Historical Fact and Literary Truth: The Problem of Authenticity
in Western American Literature. Concerned that readers tend to value any
work which recreates that [western] past in a way they trust is authentic,
these critics recognized with striking acuity the tendency to read for authenticity.34 Putnam summarized the problem by writing that critics of the
authenticist school demanded that western writers abjure the imagination
entirely and depict the real West by relying solely on the factual record. 35
Interestingly, Putnam in this statement empowers critics with the responsibility for this historicist methodologybut Westbrook himself had already
noted two years earlier what he called the rub: the unmistakable fact that
so many of the best of Western writers are devoted to the authentic. 36 My
book investigates exactly this rub. Further, we should note that Putnam
uses the past tense in his essay, believing that this dismal situation
the problem of authenticityhad been transcended by Westbrook,
Walker, and others.37 But, despite Westbrooks assertion that no literature
should be judged on the rack of authenticity, despite the sharp denunciation of the fallacy of authenticity, critics largely continued to demand historical realism.38
And continue to demand historical realism, even in an academic age that
distrusts realism itself. Poststructuralist readings are nearly unheard of in
western criticism.39 Here we nd ourselves in a postmodern theater of the
absurd; even when critics recognize that history is constructed, they want
in on the building. What, critics argue, could be more historically authentic
than literature? (Why not claim the opposite, substituting less for more? Why
not, at least as an experiment, divorce the literary from authentic history?
Even then it remains a vital barometer of a cultures sense of self.) In many


ways my approach should be obvious by now. Cultural studies and postmodern theory have rmly established the limitations of representing reality; as Mark Poster remarks, the performative aspects of language are
recognized. Poster goes on to quote Roger Chartier, who suggests that
what is real, in fact, is not (or not only) the reality that the text aims at, but
the very manner in which it aims at it in the historic setting of its production
and the strategy used in its writing. 40 The point, as will be made clear, is
not that literature has no social function. Quite the opposite: literature invents social function.
Fourth, by investigating writers claims of textual authenticity, we confront a number of challenging questions about authorial identity and nativeness. How does a writer become authentic? Do the demands of authenticity require that an author be from the West? What does it mean to be
from the West? Chapters 5 and 6 ask this last question, rst from an ecocritical perspective and then through the lens of postmodern theory. Nature
writers, for example, often claim authenticity based on a relationship with
place: being from the West means, quite literally, being from the land,
from mother nature. In fact, nature writers often suggest that their authorial identity is formed not through cultural inuences but through natural ones. The concept of what I call environmental constructivism allows
western nature writers (such as John Muir, Mary Austin, and Gary Snyder)
to claim a remarkable place-based authority.
But, of course, the notion of being from the West also raises questions of
heritage and ethnicity. If authenticity implies some natural, deep, and
long-standing connection with place and history, does it follow that western Native American writers are the most authentic? Is there indeed
something in the blood? This problematic question, as reductive as it
sounds, forces yet another reconsideration of western literature and authorship. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. puts it in an essay on the Little Tree
furor: Start interrogating the notion of cultural authenticity and our most
trusted critical categories come into question. 41 How should we respond
when N. Scott Momadays novel House Made of Dawn is advertised as being
almost unbearably authentic; or his Way to Rainy Mountain as so authentic and so moving; or James Welchs Fools Crow as possessing a scrupulous
authenticity? It is easy enough, as Ward Churchill has noted, to recognize
how nineteenth-century cultural stereotypes of Indians had assumed a
documented authenticity in the public consciousness; does the word authenticity carry the same assumed tone (and racism) when applied to con14


temporary Native authors? Are these dust jacket blurbs implying a form of
representational realism or something deeper, something true to ethnic
conditionand thus, possibly, suggesting as much about Anglo perceptions of the native Other as about the books accuracy? The implicit cultural
logic here is striking, if all too familiar: the simulated cultural margin (the
Indian) is valorized as the authentic in the popular and critical imagination.
And the trap is doubled: Native writers are burdened with the honor of genetic authenticity (they inevitably reveal a truth), while Anglo writers are
burdened with a secondhand authenticity (they inevitably reveal a copy).
These questions of nativeness and ethnicity are examined in the books
nal chapter, in part through multiculturalist theories but primarily through
a broader consideration of how theories of postmodern displacement and
simulation force us to reconsider an authors relationship to place. I want to
suggest that when we stop evaluating western writing with the test of authenticity, we can begin to dismantle the burden of realism and can treat
western literature itself as simulation rather than representation. If only because in the West the real was never an Eden or empty wilderness (beyond
preservation) and because the real has always seemed so vast and extraordinary (beyond representation), we can identify the production of the real at
work from the beginning. Western literature, by this logic, may be understood as a series of simulacra, copies without originals, maps that precede
the territory. With reality so contested, the production of simulacra was
probably inevitable. Baudrillard suggests that, when the real is no longer
what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning; when simulation has overtaken representation, we nd ourselves, not surprisingly, amid a plethora
of myths of origin and of signs of realitya plethora of truth, of secondary
objectivity and authenticity. 43 Consequently, Gerald Vizenor has argued
that the indian (lower case and italicized) is a simulation, a hyperreal ction,
the absence of the native; I am extending this argument to consider the
broader simulation of western reality throughout western writing.
Western literature, imbued from the start with both anticipation and
nostalgia, has helped produce these myths of origins, these signs of realitythis overwhelming burden of authenticity. Treating western literature
as simulation rather than representation redirects our attention from history and place to text or screen; makes the connection between language
and reality not only suspect but playfully unnecessary; and helps us to project and nally glimpse a previously invisible history of western literature.
Unsettling the traditional approach to western literature reveals an unset15


tling body of writing. This booklooking behind the scenes at authorial

designmay serve as a prelude to a more important project: recognizing
the postmodern play of western literature. Indeed, western writing may be
the rst and most successful form of postmodern writing in American literary history. Its apparent banality, reliability, and repetitive imitations
cloak (as a Romulan space vessel might cloak) its extraordinary achievement: the production of a hyperreal West.
In closing, I should perhaps point out that, as is probably obvious, I have no
interest in testing an authors authenticity or comparing forms of authenticity. In literary terms the dime novel is every bit as authentic as the historical narrative, and it makes no sense to say that Zane Grey or Louis LAmour
is less or moreauthentic than Willa Cather or Leslie Silko. Nor do I intend to deride the authorial claim of authenticity. I can admire, for example,
Timothy Egans intentions in Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West (1998), as
when he writes: I have tried to nd a true West at the start of the next hundred years, leaving the boundaries of the old metaphors in search of something closer to the way we live. 44 It makes lyrical sense for authors to investigate their world through their writing. My complaint is with the claims
ubiquity and with its oppressive effects on authorial reach and on reading
practices. Even granting Egan the charm of sincerity, I see no reason to read
his book to get closer to a true West.
Further, I should point out that, in considering western literature as a series of simulacraalways already copies without originalsI am hoping
to get at and unsettle a two hundredyear reliance on textual authenticity. I
am not, however, repudiating the existence of the West itself, even if I do
gesture in that (non)direction a few times. While I am susceptible to the seduction (or cynicism) of a world without authenticity, a world of freeplay
and illusion, Im not exactly giving up the West or even westernness. And
I certainly have no interest in championing either postmodern theory
or postmodern culture, both of which are currently experiencing a welldeserved backlash of sorts. Rather, Im interested in an authorial condition
and even what might be called, in an old-fashioned sense, literary history:
how authors produce texts (borrowed, rewritten, deferred texts) that can
be called authentic. Simulation, while unreal, can be stirring and effective; the productionand, signicantly, concealment of simulation can
be equally impressive. To a large degree all authors provide directions for
reading their works; for western writers these directions amount to a code


of authenticity, a subtext that is itself fascinating, deceptive, textured, and

even beautiful in its architectonics. Whether writers are struggling with the
burden of authenticity or deploying its authority, they are producing a map
of the West and of creativity itself that is a wonder to behold. That we take
this map to be mimetic rather than imaginative is only one cultural effect of
authenticitys pull.
Moreover, although I am suspicious of metanarratives, the emergence of
certain interpretive strategies, broadly termed cultural studies, suggests that
the time is right for reconceptualizing western writing. The continued, often covert reliance on realism, authenticity, place, and historyno matter
how ironically these terms are deployed calls for signicant attention to
the relationship between text and place, between representation and history. Of course, such a reconceptualization of western literary history runs
the risk a priori of asserting a New Western Criticism, a New Western literary history of the New West. That is, in presenting a corrective vision of
western writing, new readings, including my own, may fall into the authenticity trap out with the old, in with the new. My hope here is simple: by
unsettling the relationship between history and literature, by seeing literature as what might be termed a procession of simulacra, we can at least
sidestep the long-standing and problematic reliance on history by readers
and critics. I am hardly calling for an ahistorical textual hermeneutics. I
agree with Frank Lentricchias axiom that not all social power is literary
power, but all literary power is social power. 45 But, in turn, I would suggest
that we have yet to understand or even appreciate the literary power of western writing.
No doubt, some readers will criticize my choice of authors as being too
familiar, too canonical; what about Lewis Garrard, Helen Hunt Jackson,
Zitkala-Sa, or Gloria Anzalda? Although I do examine a number of noncanonical or marginalized writers, I admit that I do not see this book as a
search-and-rescue mission. I prefer to consider a range of major and minor
writers as well as a range of genres and periods. On a deep level every western author participates in what Susan Bernardin calls the authenticity
game, some more playfully or painfully than others.46 I could easily have
included chapters on Black Elk (or John Neihardt), Amy Tan (or Frank
Chin), and so on. In this book I do not pretend to be denitive but hope, instead, to be suggestive. Other readers will object that my subjects are too
esoteric and fanciful; shouldnt there be greater consideration of Cooper,
Cather, Stein, and Stegner? In response I would ask: as we unsettle western


literary history, what short list of authors could possibly represent western
writing? Indeed, while I recognize that certain authors have contributed
more than others to the functioning mythology of the West and to the establishment of the authenticity discourse, I would argue that the idea of a
canon is itself a projection of authenticity. This book does not make a case
for reconsidering the canon, but the need for it is as obvious as it is ignored.
Since, as I argue, the western canon (a largely marginalized one at best) has
repeatedly depended on the claim of authenticity, that canon will necessarily be challenged by questioning authenticity itself. In other words, once
realism is abandoned as the dening characteristic of western literature,
we are left with a remarkably heterogeneous and disorganized group of
Finally, by necessity, in this book I am inevitably reading around a tradition of criticism and implicitly reading through a tradition of authorial
directives. I realize that many readers will disagree with my ideas about
western literature, disapprove of my irtations with postmodern theory and
literary aesthetics, and dislike my attempts to unsettle reading traditions. I
offer my ideas in the hope of discovering new ways of loving western literature. At the very least I hope that my study suggests that the self-inventing
strategies of western authors are surprisingly intriguing. These strategies
not only explain a great deal about western writing but also shed much light
on the broader reach of American literature. To see these authors struggling
in the act of self-denition is to see one of the fascinating untold stories in
American literary history.


Western Literature in the 1830s

Nothing so much resembles a hollow as a swelling.

charles augustin sainte-beuve

In his introduction to Sketches of History, Life, and Manners in the West (1834)
James Hall reected at length on the troubled condition of writing in the
American West. Hall, an inuential Cincinnati lawyer, editor, and author,
remarked that few of the writers who have treated of the western country,
rank above mediocrity; and little of all that has been written on this subject
is interesting or true. Books we have had in abundance; travels, gazetteers,
and geographies inundate the land; but few of them are distinguished by
literary merit or accurate information. 1 The complaint is typical of Halls
thinking, for he had long worried that western writing was a series of failures 2 the available books, he wrote, are the hasty productions of incompetent writers, whose opinions are generally wrong. 3 And literary history has largely agreed: of the seemingly limitless contingent of authors
who wrote on the West in the rst half of the nineteenth century, only one,
James Fenimore Cooper, is canonically remembered for his western writings, even though, strictly speaking, little of Coopers prose took place in
the West, and he himself never went west. History has forgotten scores of
others, including Timothy Flint, Henry Marie Brackenridge (son of Hugh
Henry), Charles Fenno Hoffman, and Hall himself. But during the 1830s
the West was quite literally cultural capital for enterprising writers, a
topic of enormous commercial appeal to both eastern and western authorsand the site of considerable writerly competition.
Although contemporary literary scholars have aggressively studied the
formation of an American canon and the development of authorship that
occurred in the East during the rst half of the nineteenth century, few have
considered the parallel struggle taking place in the West.4 But in fact western writers such as Hall and Flint were energetically voicing the need for a
recognized literature of the West, trying to corral a proliferating market
of writings about the West into a more protable situation for the regions
authors. And, just as the debates over authorshipand copyright and nationalismtaking place in the major eastern cities helped determine the
course of a recognized national literature, so too the early debates in the

truth or consequences

West contributed to the condition of western authorship for years to come.

The difference, of course, is that no effective regional or national literature
emerged from the struggle, no Hawthorne or Longfellow or Sedgwick or
Child around whom to build a powerful tradition. This chapter attempts to
establish the condition of authorship in the 1830s for those writers treating of the Western country (in Halls language)that is, for authors writing in the West and about the West. The struggle to incorporate (give recognizable body to) western authorship nally points to a historical absence
and to a set of troubled expectations and conditions that predict the broader
nineteenth-century failure of a recognized western canon.
In many ways the tangle of the western marketplace in the 1830s serves
as a model in American literary history of how authors and cultures interact. Signicantly, the terms of the western literary debates were often exactly the same as those heard in the East. Words such as romance, imagination, originality, fancy, genius, and truth were heatedly discussed in deploying
the emerging literature. Moreover, the challenges to western authors were
largely the same challenges being faced by Poe, Emerson, Sedgwick, and
Sigourney: although the explosive proliferation of writings may have produced an optimism for authorship, it also caused signicant problems for
aspiring authors, raising questions applicable to any burgeoning literary
moment. How do authors assert themselves into a crowded market? What
claims do they make about their work and themselves? And how do those
claims inuence a developing tradition? The answers to these questions
help explain how culture works to determine authorship and how, in response, authors assert themselves against cultural pressures in the struggle
for self-invention.
If, however, the inchoate western market echoed the same terms and
concerns as that of the East, it also developed in signicantly different ways.
That is, if the early development of western literature can serve as an American model, it also precipitated a regionally unique condition. In fact, authorship was developing along dramatically different paths, and the very
different shades cast by those literary terms (such as romance) suggest the
uneasy dialectic between West and East. If, as others have argued, authorship for eastern writers increasingly emphasized the individualized authorial personality and imaginative genius, authorship in the West revolved
rst around the perceived authenticity of the work and authority of the writer
and second around any internal interest of the text. James Hall signals
these two related points when he laments the lack of interesting or true

truth or consequences

writing in the West. Authenticity (often coded in the words delity, accuracy,
and truth) implied factual representation of landscape, population, and historical record. For western writers experience preceded authentic writing,
whereas genius and imagination were the purported foundation for eastern
writing. The interest of the western textwhat set it apart from other authentic workswas far more nebulous and usually suggested not imaginative originality but, rather, the stunning and even original presence of western landscapes and people. The two concepts were central to the discourse
on authorship at the time and contributed to the problematic construction
of authorship and authority, one that precipitated the subsequent nineteenth-century canonical failures of western literature.
Literary Nationalism and Western Double Consciousness
In 1834 Joseph B. Longacre and James Herring brought out the rst of four
projected volumes of The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans.
Published in Philadelphia, the book contained portraits of the countrys
Eminent Citizens, with accompanying biographical essays. As Longacre
and Herring wrote in their introductory Address, the enterprise present[ed] the loftiest appeal to national honour and self respect, as an effort
at once to preserve the features, and to rescue, from the wasting hand
of time, the memory of those whose noble deeds, exalted fame, or eminent
virtues, have shed a lustre upon their age. 5 Relying on taste and patriotism to complete the mission, the two men were attempting to identify
those men and women most American and to preserve both the face and
the memory for posterity. It is a classic example of the process of canon
For their rst volume the editors chose just three authors out of thirtyve subjects: Washington Irving, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and James
Fenimore Cooper.6 All three writers were praised for their literary achievements and their representative nationalism. As the Gallery portraits (text and
etching) suggest, authorship was moving toward a marketplace conception
in which individual gures were commodied as public personalities, personae both representative (nationalist) and individual (original). If reviewers and readers remained largely uninterested in authors private lives, they
were increasingly sensitive to their public identities.7 James Hall disparaged
exactly this development in an 1833 review of Tales of the Glauber Spa, an anthology of short ction by several American Authors; he wrote that the
names of Sedgwick, Bryant, Paulding and Leggett will secure these volumes

truth or consequences

a kind reception, and probably, a ready sale. Those persons that ask, not
what is the merit of the work, but what the name of the writer, will praise
them to the skies. 8 Toward establishing a recognized name, an authors
individual style became, in critic Mark Roses term, the objectication of a
personality, 9 a construction brilliantly reied by Poe in his 1836 Autography series, in which he reads the authors character through the authors
(hand)writing. Authorial individualism was crucial to this developing formula: writers became proprietary agents who owned, if only metaphorically, a body of work and a public reputation, both being central to their
commercial visibility. Martha Woodmansee, in her essay On the Author Effect: Recovering Collectivity, denes the idea of authorship developing
during the Romantic period: By author we mean an individual who is the
sole creator of unique works the originality of which warrants their protection under laws of intellectual property known as copyright or authors
rights. 10 By the end of the 1830s Emerson, Poe, and others were developing this conception of authorship based on the simultaneously representative and individualized creative gure.
Yet in the West the development of authorship proceeded with a halting
gait, at least in part because it depended on a signicantly different conception of authorship. That literature (by any denition) thrived in the early
West is beyond dispute, although literary history often overlooks the prolic output. British authors were immensely popular in the West, as they
were in the East, Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott chief among them.11 But
the range of literary expression self-consciously western was enormous as
well; the literary landscape was populated by novels, poems, plays, travel
accounts, emigrant guides, religious tracts, journalistic essays, histories,
political manifestoes, printed journals, legal opinions, and numerous other
forms of writing.12 As early as 1826, the Congregational minister Timothy
Flint gazed with some writerly dejection on the already crowded market.
Flint, who had traveled widely in the West often promoting religious activity, opened his popular and inuential Recollections of the Last Ten Years by noting that there are such showers of journals, and travels, and residences,
and geographies, and gazetteers; and every person, who can in any way fasten the members of a sentence together, after having travelled through a
country, is so sure to begin to scribble about it, that I have felt a kind of awkward consciousness at the thought of starting in the same beaten track. 13
That is, by 1826, roughly fteen years before the great migration of the
1840s, the inviting pioneer trail of western writing was, metaphorically,

truth or consequences

a beaten track. Flints answer was to turn his awkward consciousness

into a fully developed and directed awareness of the possibilities of western
The following year, 1827, Flint began publishing the Western Monthly Review in Cincinnati with the hope of establishing the foundation of what can
only be called an accepted western canon. In the journal Flint articulated a
literary sensibility decidedly westernand one suspicious of the eastern
literary power structure. Little, as they have dreamed of the fact in the Atlantic country, he wrote, we have our thousand orators and poets. . . . We
hope our readers feel, without our prosing upon the subject, that it is high
time, amidst our improvements of every sort, that some effort should be
made, to foster polite literature among us. 14 Flints prescription for encouraging authorship in the West quickly turned into a contentious treatise on the undemocratic institutionalization of literature in America (17):
writing has long since grown to be a profession, and book making, a trade,
in which . . . there is more falsehood, attery, supplanting and envy, than in
any other profession practised on the globe. Reviews are the engines of this
trade, too often driven with a forty-horse power of arrogant injustice (10).
Of course, Flint was referring to the perceived cultural hegemony of the
eastern marketplace and its editors, reviewers, and publishers. He understood that one, or two self constituted reviews become despotic courts of
opinion and that the western author suffers at the hands of the eastern
critic (11): we have seen . . . with what a curl of the lip, and crook of the nose
an Atlantic reviewer contemplates the idea of a work written west of the Alleghany mountains (10). Authorship in the West was therefore both prolic and professionally invisible. The result was that the exhausted author
in the West could only drop the dear offspring of his brain into the immense abyss of a public, with little hope for remuneration or even acknowledgment (9). Flint hoped his magazine, arguably the rst major effort to lend critical authority to western writing, would act as a source for
fostering a more salubrious and protable atmosphere. He saw himself, at
least as an editor, as a gifted and good father developing the powers of a
child and an experienced and benevolent instructor, watching, encouraging, and enlightening the efforts of his pupil (16 17).
In 1833 Flint, in failing health, returned east, where he briey edited the
Knickerbocker Magazine. His departure neatly coincided with the introduction of James Halls Cincinnati literary periodical, the Western Monthly Magazine. In the rst issue Hall noted that the literature of the West is still in its

truth or consequences

infancy and seemed determined to guide it along conciliatory lines.15 He

expressed the desire to conjoin narrative (ction) and science (facts), the
owers of literature with the cause of science and useful knowledge.
The friends of science and literature, Hall rhapsodized, however they
may differ in other respects, may meet and agree in learned and useful discussion. . . . [T]hey may enlarge the public mind. 16 This self-introduction
to his readers remains his most idealized hope for producing a regional literature that can entertain through accurate knowledge. But, if Halls rst
words were largely harmonious and nonsectional, by the August issue he
seemed less determined to soften the asperities of human passion; in his
harsh review of the Knickerbocker (which he claimed was established to redeem the literary character of New York), Hall questioned Flints new editorship and, using the aggressively campy language of frontier battle or
even revolution (not to mention civil war), proclaims:
The editor of the Portland [Ohio] Advertiser says in one of his letters, that the western literati are forming a solemn league and compact to beat their eastern rivals. This is undoubtedly the case. A caucus of writers took place lately at Columbus, to arrange the plan of
the rst campaign. Such being the fact, it behooves the Atlantic
gentry to shake off their literary lethargy, or we shall beat them out
and out. We have an immense mass of lead, and a wonderful deal of
talent lying idle here, affording material for both manuscript and
type, and books will soon ow in this land with as much force than
at the east, as the Missouri is bigger than the Hudson. A sense of
this, probably, induced the Knickerbocker to install a western editor into ofce; they want some one that understands bush-ghting
to conduct their armies; they are wise, but it will not prevent the catastrophe, though it may postpone it. Westward the star, etc.17

Here, then, is Halls revisionary conquest, in which the West has more
forceful writers, more resourceful editors, and more imposing vistas than
the East. Western authors are depicted as virileand, signicantly, collective, not individualand implicitly compared to the land itself through the
empowering myth of the regions natural raw materials (talent lying idle).
Likewise, the regions literature itself is explicitly associated with landscape, as books will ow like the mighty Missouri. Signicantly, the vision also reverses the traditional empire-building direction: Eastward the
star of literary empire takes its way, according to Hall. (Frank Norris would

truth or consequences

later imagine a similar reversal of the economic frontier.) Hall even hints
that the conquest is akin to both Indian eradication and colonial revolt, attacking and displacing the lethargic (but at times wise) natives and gentry and emerging victorious with a sense of inevitability.
On the whole, however, the sectional advocacy of Flint and Hall produced an uneasy double consciousness in which the widely voiced call for a
national literature seemed to trouble the regionalized call for a western literature. As Ralph Leslie Rusk put it in his monumental study The Literature of
the Middle Western Frontier (1925), When an Easterner wrote, he was conscious of the fact that he was an American; but, when a Westerner attempted
authorship, he was troubled by the consciousness of the fact that he was not
only an American but a Westerner. 18 This double consciousness is quietly
apparent in Flints preface to his biography of Daniel Boone, in which he responds to tradition-building projects such as the National Portrait Gallery:
Our eastern brethren have entered heartily into the pious duty of bringing
to remembrance the character and deeds of their forefathers. Shall we of the
west allow the names of those great men, who won for us, from the forest,
the savages, and wild beasts, our fair domain of fertile elds and beautiful
rivers, to fade into oblivion? 19 Longacre and Herring imagined their project in relation to Britain and conceived of it in terms of patriotic nationalism; Flint worked in relation to the East and, while implying nationalist credentials, emphasized western regionalist results.
The relation between West and East was further complicated by an
inevitable western dependence on the East. Population centers remained
eastern, and literacy rates were growing but still low in the West, making
eastern readers all the more desirablein fact, imperativefor ambitious
authors.20 Transportation, necessary for a widespread distribution of material, was also uneven; the railroad, which would revolutionize the publishing industry, was not yet established in the West. Most important, western authors often depended on eastern publishers. Certainly there existed
in Cincinnati, Louisville, and other towns the ability to print periodicals,
newspapers, and other regionally relevant writings. Yet, because published
writing tended to ow from east to west and not west to east, the technology and capital to publish and advertise major books remained centered in
the East.21 Timothy Flint published primarily in Boston and New York, Caroline Kirkland in New York, James Hall in Philadelphia. In fact, at the same
time that James Hall was editing the very successful Western Monthly Magazine, published in Cincinnati, he was sending his book manuscripts off to

truth or consequences

Philadelphia. Tellingly, when he decided to have his Sketches of History published in Cincinnati in 1834, the rm of Hubbard and Edmands went bankrupt after releasing only the rst of two volumes; the Philadelphia publisher
Harrison Hall published both volumes the next year. Thus, when we speak
of the western market, we unavoidably encounter two markets that served
up western material, one in the West, and one in the Easta division that
helped produce a sense of double consciousness. Western authorship invented itself in relation to both markets but explicitly recognized the commercial (and at times cultural) superiority of the Easta condition carried
forward well into the twentieth century. Hall and Flint, the two strongest advocates of western authorship, inevitably wrote for two audiencesaudiences with very different perspectives.
Complicating this condition further was the fact that western literature
was not, and is not, written solely by native westerners. Whether they were
born in the West or not, authors claimed time in the West and, consequently, an authentic relation to western material. Who counts as a western
writer? That group was not, and is not, limited to writers born in or writing
in the West. In truth, most historically remembered western writers of the
nineteenth century (including Flint, Kirkland, and Hall and later Harte,
Muir, and Garland) were born in the East (or, in Muirs case, Europe), and
many (including Kirkland and later Mark Twain and Willa Cather) lived and
wrote primarily in the East. What made, and still makes, a western author
authentic is rst some direct experience in the West; second, a willingness to write with some explicitly articulated commitment to the West; and,
nally, less absolutely, the employment or parody of recognizable western
genres, styles, or characters. Flint, Hall, Daniel Drake, Lewis Cass, and
Henry Marie Brackenridge (identied on one title page as A Native of the
West) are all easily classied as western writers: all lived in the West, wrote
about the West, and advocated western writing. But on the whole the market for western writing was solidied by authors with ties to both the West
and the Eastwriters who treated of the West, including explorers, travelers, and emigrants who spoke with some authority about the western
country. Writers such as Caroline Kirkland, John A. MClung, Samuel
Parker, and James Hildreth all had at least two things in common: experience in the West and commercial ambitions in the East. Even Charles Fenno
Hoffman could be counted in the clan; although the title page of his Winter
in the West identied him as a New-Yorker, his time on the Michigan and
Illinois frontier gave him the necessary credibility. Conversely, to Flint,

truth or consequences

Hall, Drake, and others, James Fenimore Cooper was not a western writer,
because he never traveled in the West and could not speak with any personal
authority about actual conditions in the regionalthough he virtually
dened the western myth for the entire nineteenth century.22
Finally, the market was signicantly impacted by European travel accounts; British writers were especially prolic, often reporting on the
manners of the western people. Captain Basil Halls Travels in North America (1829) was one widely read account. Although today it seems mild and
often generous in its appraisals, many American readers at the time took offense at Halls social criticisms and retaliated in print. One respondent went
so far as to publish a short book, defending the American character.
Three years later Frances Trollope (mother of novelist Anthony) produced
her own sensation with Domestic Manners of the Americans, a work more popularand more provocativethan Halls. Of course, most British books
were far less objectionable and far less commercially successful. Works
such as Thomas Hamiltons Men and Manners in America (1833) and Charles
Augustus Murrays Travels in North America (1839) helped solidify the British
interest in the West. The British held a unique position in the region: their
alliance with certain Native American tribes during the War of 1812 continued to produce occasional tensions with the American settlers, and their
governance of Canada allowed for a self-legitimizing perspective. They not
only had their own history in the region; they also had an ongoing point of
With such a range of writing, how did writers assert themselves into that
market? Flints response to his own dejected survey and awkward consciousness is instructive and representative. Flint begins to shake off his
rivals and clear some space for his own work by setting it apart from the
showers of other writings: And yet I cannot certainly be classed with
those writers of travels, who travel post, or are wafted through a country in
a steam boat, and assume, on the ground of having thus traversed it, to
know all about it. 23 Flint makes his case based on the authenticity of his
writing: he has spent more intimate time in the West than most other writers who claim to know all about it, and thus he can speak from valuable
experience. Further, Flint suggests that the incidents that have remained
fresh in [his] memory . . . must have excited a vivid impression when they
occurred, and must have had, in the narrator at least, their share of interest. 24 As if anticipating Halls broad rebuke of 1835, Flint claims his work

truth or consequences

is both true and interesting, the necessary combination for commercially viable western writing.
Questioning Authority
Virtually every author in every western genre from novel to tourist manifesto claimed that his or her work was true, an accurate representation of
the western landscape and its people. In fact, the claim of authenticity was
often the primary raison dtre for the presented work. Amos Parker began
his Trip to the West and Texas (1835) by noting that the author . . . has not attempted the regions of fancy and ction; but has told his own story. . . . [H]e
hopes it may be found to contain information sufcient to repay a perusal.
Likewise, Samuel Parker opened his popular Journal of an Exploring Tour
(1838) by remarking that it is believed that no defects exist in the work, irreconcilable with a strict adherence to facts. The principal merit which is
claimed for this volume is, a scrupulous adherence to truth. Charles Augustus Murray, an English author, makes the same advertisement in Travels
in North America (1839): his book pretends to no other merit than that of
truth. Some writers were less emphatic: William Keating explained that
his Narrative of an Expedition to the Sources of the St. Peters River (1824) sought to
present a faithful description of the country. Still others considered their
reliability in extravagant terms: James Hildreth began his Dragoon Campaigns
to the Rocky Mountains (1836) by explaining that many writers overstep the
limits of their circumscribed boundary of truth, and soar away upon the
wings of imagination, into the boundless and inviting realms of ction; he
suggests that his book, on the other hand, would be accurate.25
That authors would assert authenticity may hardly seem surprising; textual reliability was essential to many forms of western writing, for very obvious reasons. Exploration and survey expeditions were often designed to
produce scientic and geographic dataand the purpose of the narrative
write-ups was to report the ndings accurately. Other works were written
specically for prospective visitors or armchair travelers. For example,
Calvin Colton, an American minister who moved to London, concisely summarized his intentions in Tour of the American Lakes, and among the Indians
(1833) with a simple question-and-answer: Why should this book be written? To give information. 26 And, as easterners saw increasing opportunity
for investment in the West, they demanded accurate reporting, not jingoistic dogma. Nathan Hoskins, in Notes upon the Western Country (1833), hoped
to supply emigrants from the Atlantic States with helpful information be28

truth or consequences

cause it is useful for them to [understand] it correct, without incurring the

expense of visiting the place of their intended locations before making a
settlement. 27 Furthermore, it must be understood that the claim of textual
realism was by no means limited to western writing; eastern authors energetically employed the discourse of authenticity as well. Even ctional
forms such as the novel, as Nina Baym has shown, were often judged by
their delity to nature, the catchy, often-heard criteria.28
The difference between eastern and western conceptions of representational delity was based on the presumption that eastern reality conveyed
a familiar and visible set of cultural codes, character types, landscapes, and
social values; hence, nature in the East was eminently knowable. But
western life, on the other hand, was thought to be remote, exotic, other.
Beyond the experience of eastern readers, western life required other methods of representation. Fidelity to nature in the West had nothing to do
with a perfect transcript . . . of ordinary life (to borrow from a New
York Mirror review) but, rather, a mimetic representation of an extraordinary world. Furthermore, the ubiquity and assertiveness of the claim in all
forms of early western writingincluding ction, sketches, and entertainmentssuggest more than a simple desire for veracity. Because the
West was represented as an emphatically different and alien environment,
one beyond the imaginative vision of eastern essayists, historians, and novelists, the claim of authenticity seemed to situate power in the author. Authenticity therefore referred to both the work and the author: textual authenticity meant mimetic delity, while authorial authenticity suggested
individual authority and credibility. And if delity to nature was often unprovable, authorial integrity could be determined, almost legalistically. The
claim became an assertion of writerly authority and a marker for the authors presence, both in the West and in the text. As such, it became a form
of authorial self-identication, a way for authors to describe and even invent themselves. With eastern readers increasingly fascinated by all things
western, writers who spoke with credibility and insight about the West
could take great advantage of the owering market.
But the claim of authenticity also produced troublesome results: rst, it
obscured the considerable liberties that the authors took with their writing.
Calvin Colton, for example, does much more than give informationhis
Tour is often a provocative polemic on Indian rights, slavery, and English
and American federal policy. More familiarly, Halls own contention of accuracy thinly veiled his myopic and romantic representations. Predictably,

truth or consequences

as western writing leaned harder on exaggerated romance, it also afrmed

its reliability more vociferously. The claim of authenticity thus produced a
problematic condition of authorship that seemed to pull in two directions:
on the one hand, it centralized authority in the gure of the reliable author;
on the other hand, it obviated the authors stylistic or imaginative power by
emphasizing the process of regional translation: what was being conveyed
was the landscape and people, not the authors creative vision. If authenticity became the discourse of legitimation, it also proved to be an implosive
and crippling foundation for western literature.
In keeping with the autogenetic power of authority on which western authorship was based, many leading western writers held positions of public
trust, converting their professional authority into literary authority: Hall,
Flint, Daniel Drake, and Lewis Cass were, respectively, a judge, a minister, a
doctor, and a state governor. The authorial reliability of less renowned writers could also be established through the testimony of editors and publishersthemselves authorities who could attest to the authors integrity. For
example, the publisher of Tilly Buttricks Voyages, Travels, and Discoveries
(1831) combined respect for Buttricks factuality with sympathy for his condition: In preparing this little work . . . the Editor had not only in view the
interest with which an enlightened people seize upon facts not previously in
their possession; but sympathy for this unfortunate traveler, who by then
had lost his property and eyesight.29 Timothy Flint himself, in editing
James O. Patties Personal Narrative (1831), vouched for the literal truth of
the facts, incredible as some of them may appear, with a long list of evidence supporting Patties virtuous credibility, including Flints own acquaintance with the Author . . . the respectability of his relations, the standing which his father sustained, the condence reposed in him by the Hon.
J. S. Johnston, . . . the concurrent testimony of persons now in this city, and
so on.30 And D. W. Moore, the publisher of Zenas Leonards Narrative (1839),
explained that the truth of the text could not be permanently veried because a part of the original journal was stolen from [Leonard] by hostile Indians; nevertheless, Moore wrote that Leonards character for candor and
truth, among his acquaintances, we have never heard suspected; and, indeed, among the many who heard the narrative from his own lips, we have
yet to hear the rst one say they disbelieve it. At all events, in its perusal, the
reader will encounter no improbabilities, much less impossibilities. 31
Authors pressed their own claims of textual authenticity in a number of
ways, most of which located the credibility in the site of the author. The

truth or consequences

three principal methods were: through the memory of rsthand experience, through the notes and letters they wrote on the spot, and through references to other recognized authorities. The most frequent (and perhaps
convincing) claim was that of authorial experiencethat the author spoke
as witness. James Hall inevitably recalled as evidence his long residence in
the Western States and his opportunities for personal observation. 32
Scenes and objects of interest occur at every step, he wrote, but they are
of a character entirely new. All that the traveler tells must be learned upon
the spot. 33 Likewise, Samuel Parker noted that most of what is narrated
in this work came under the authors personal observation. 34 Yet, as powerful as rsthand experience was, memory was also susceptible to challenge; consequently, many authors explained that they relied on their own
notes, journals, and letters written soon after, or even during, the related experience. Such notes and letters revealed textual immediacy, an unvarnished relationship with the land and the people. Caleb Atwater, in the preface to Remarks made on a Tour to Prairie du Chien (1831), suggests both the
bustling activity of his travels in the Michigan Territory and the original
foundation of his book: Employed as I was, on my Tour, I had only leisure
to reduce to writing a few leading facts, at the time, the remarks were made.
From my original remarks, I have selected only a part of them, for the public eye. 35
After tour narratives, collections of letters may well have been the most
popular form for writing about the West and a self-authenticating genre.
Newspapers and publishers would often commission a traveler to send letters east for publication, and these letters would later be collected, perhaps
rewritten, and then offered in book form. Edmund Flagg explained at the
beginning of his memoir, The Far West (1838), that the Louisville Journal had
requested that he contribute to the columns of that periodical whatever, in
the course of his pilgrimage, might be deemed of sufcient interest. 36
Other examples of the genre include George W. Ogdens Letters from the West
(1822); Timothy Flints Recollection of the Last Ten Years (1826); James Halls Letters from the West (1828); Mary Austin Holleys Texas. Observations, Historical,
Geographical and Descriptive, in a Series of Letters (1833); Charles Fenno Hoffmans Winter in the West (1835); James Hildreths Dragoon Campaigns (1836);
Caroline Kirklands A New Home, Wholl Follow? (1839); and Frederick Halls
Letters from the East and from the West (1840).37
The reliance on other authorities was perhaps the most complicated play
of authorial assertion, for it ran the risk of belying the authors own author31

truth or consequences

ity. The employment of sources could result in stale reproduction or, worse,
could approach plagiarism. For these reasons many authors opted to deny
that they had been inuenced by other writings; Flint wrote in Recollections:
I have striven to depart from the common fashion of emptying the contents of one book into another, and serving them up to you in new form. . . .
I can assert, with perfect condence, that I have not consulted a book on
my subject. 38 More often authors were eager to enlist the authority of others as support for their own truthfulness. Edmund Flagg gave credit to
[ John M.] Peck, Hall, Flint, [Alphonso] Wetmore, and to others; Hoffman
pointed to the eloquent writings of Mr. Flint, the graphic sketches of Judge
Hall, and the valuable scientic researches of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft,
William Keating, and Thomas Say; and Washington Irving acknowledged
the collateral lights such as Lewis and Clark that helped produce Astoria.39
This strategy was perhaps more essential for those writers not writing from
rsthand experience. John A. MClung, who had previously written the ctionalized Camden, worried in his preface to Sketches of Western Adventure
(1832) that his readers would suspect it to be as truly an offspring of the
imagination as Camden; he therefore decided to refer distinctly to the
sources from which the materials for the present work have been derived, in
order to give every one who chooses, an opportunity of satisfying himself as
to its authenticity. 40 By referring to other authorities, writers could establish or augment the accuracy of their own work while simultaneously reinscribing the accuracy of the chosen authority. The continuous circulation of
certain namesnotably Flint and Hallmaintained the value of their currency and allowed derivative authors to borrow against them.
Moreover, it is essential to recognize that the claim of authenticity was by
no means limited to nonction. Indeed, the necessity of realistic representation in ction was arguably more important than in nonction. Daniel
Drake, the inuential orator, doctor, and scholar, criticized Cooper and
novelist James Kirke Paulding for their illegitimate creations. Drake argued
that the failure of Mr. Cooper in his Prairie, and Mr. Paulding in his Westward Ho, is conclusive evidence, that in delineating the West, no power of
genius, can supply the want of opportunities for personal observation on
our natural and social aspects. No western man can read those works with
interest; because of their want of conformity to the circumstances and character of the country. 41 Drakes use of the word failure, like James Halls,
does not signal a lack of commercial success (both Cooper and Paulding
were enormously popular) but, rather, the failure of imaginative and histor32

truth or consequences

ical ction to produce authentic western material. Because these works

were being judged on their accuracy and not their genius, no brilliance
could substitute for authentic experience. Such criticism echoes the advertisements of western nonction: it was authorial experience, not bookish
learning or inventive vision, that counted; the West had to be seen to be textually represented.
Timothy Flint, in reviewing Sedgwicks Hope Leslie, articulated the same
critical position that opposed excessive creativity; he praises Sedgwicks
delity while rebuking the developing romantic and sensational writing in
the East: At present, the aim of all, who write for the imagination, is to produce an effect. The author cares not what established rules he violates, in
making his book, if, by so doing, he can create a sensation in his readers.
This mania does not seem to have touched our authoress. Her story presents a regular account of well regulated people, who gure only in still
life. 42 Both Drake and Flint censured the ction of the East through their
calculated rejection of keywords such as genius, effect, and sensation, words in
increasing vogue in the East. (Consider Poes claim that he prefer[s] commencing with the consideration of an effect or Emersons bold belief that
genius looks forward: the eyes of man are set in his forehead, not in his
hindhead: man hopes: genius creates.) 43 Conversely, Drake and Flint bolster their own positions with terms such as evidence and regular account, terms
suggesting their rigorous and rsthand authority.44
Flint does, however, take Sedgwick to task for her portrayal of Magawisca, the Indian heroine: This authoress has fallen into the error, so apparent in the works of Cooper and all the American novelists, that have
any thing to do with Indians. They dress a gure in the Indian costume; give
it a copper skin; make it use extravagantly gurative language; and introduce it with the interjection, ugh! as a natural savage. Flint then, rather
generously, remarks that dealers in ction have privileges; but they ought
to have for foundation, some slight resemblance to nature. 45 As Flints review suggests, the portrayal of Native Americans provoked considerable
anxiety; all noted authorities in the West, such as Flint, Hall, and Daniel
Drake, used their public positions to vilify those writers (including Cooper)
considered inaccurate in their representations. Often the argument became divided along regional lines, with the western writers taking a selfproclaimed realist approach (the dangerous savage in need of civilizing)
and the eastern press often preferring a romantic one (Coopers Vanishing

truth or consequences

To enforce their claims of representational authenticity, ction writers

who wrote about the West made elaborate assertions for the truth of their
work, even while acknowledging a certain inventiveness. Timothy Flint in
dedicating his novel Francis Berrian (1826) to his friend Henry A. Bullard, remarked that Bullard, a surveyor of the Southwest, would well know, that
no inconsiderable portion of these adventures is any thing, rather than
ction. Likewise, James Kirke Paulding, the prolic New York author and
intimate friend of Irving, at rst claims that his novel Westward Ho! (1832)
professes no connexion with history, and aspires to no special chronological accuracy; but Paulding (who was later rebuked by Drake) next stakes
his claim to authenticity as well: it is believed that sufcient regard has
been had to truth in this respect to give it the interest of something like
reality. And in the preface to his historical romance Elkswatawa (1836)
James S. French explained that the main incidents detailed in this work
are strictly historical, and drawn from authentic sources. Most emphatic
is James Hall, who in introducing his Souvenir sketch collection (1829)
vouched for its validity by remarking that it is written and published in the
Western country, by Western men, and is chiey conned to subjects connected with the history and character of the country. . . . Most of the tales
are founded upon fact, and though given as ction, some of them are entitled to the credit of historical accuracy. Halls language is even stronger
three years later in the preface to his popular collection of sketches Legends
of the West (1832), neatly epitomizing the claim. He acknowledges that the
legends now presented . . . are entirely ctitious, but by no means does he
suggest that they are not authentic representations: The sole intention of
the tales comprised in the following pages is to convey the accurate descriptions of the scenery and population of the country in which the author
resides. The only merit he claims for them is delity. Hall can claim that
delity because the legends are founded upon incidents which have
been witnessed by the author during a long residence in the western states,
or upon traditions preserved by the people, and have received but little articial embellishment. 46
The willingness to eschew the embellishment of style, in Halls
words,47 for the authenticity of fact had a startling effect on the implicit advertising of the writings: the claim of authenticity often displaced and even
erased any claim of aesthetic quality or imaginative power. By suggesting
that the only merit he claims is delity, Hall subordinates any literary
merit (to return to his complaint in Sketches of History) and concentrates that

truth or consequences

desired delity in both his own experience and in the authorities of the regions traditions. Such a strategy appears even more emphatic in nonction: as early as 1807, when Patrick Gass (an ofcer in the Lewis and
Clark expedition) put out his Journal, the publisher admitted to difculty
in determining the form: he could preserve the form of a daily journal
or, assuming less of the journal form and style, [could] describe and clothe
the principal parts of it as his fancy might suggest. In choosing the former,
the publisher considered that the climate and face of the country will be
more satisfactorily described. In 1810 Fortescue Cuming suggested in
Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country that, as the intention of the author was
the increase of information, he makes no apology for the plainness of his
style, and he expects, on that account, to be spared any criticism. Edwin
James compiled his Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains (1823) from a large mass of notes and journals, including the notes
of the leader Major Stephen Long and Major Thomas Say; Edwards remarks
that it was not deemed necessary to preserve uniformity of style, at the expense of substituting the language of a compiler for that of an original observer. 48 Tellingly, the painter George Catlin faced exactly the same problem with his Indian Gallery, as Nancy K. Anderson has shown. Anxious to
promote his paintings as factually accurate if not aesthetically pleasing,
Anderson writes, Catlin frequently attached certicates of authenticity to
the backs of his Indian portraits . . . conrming the accuracy, delity,
correctness, and singular truth of the images. These certicates were
signed for Catlin by recognized public gures, such as William Clarkvirtually the same ploy the writers used in bolstering their own credibility.49
These writers were acutely conscious of both literary form and style, as
were eastern writers, but in the West the desire for authenticity often meant
the emphatic avoidance of high literary delivery.50 Imagination, style,
fancy, and genius were avoided, and any polished regularity of form or
sophistication of style became suspect, for they suggested the authorial
manipulation of material rather than the faithful recording of region.51 Presentational roughnessand the claim thereofbecame signs of authenticity. Charles Murray explained that the careless arrangement of materials . . . will furnish . . . more than abundant evidence of the fact, that the
manuscript has been untouched since his return from the West.52 Similarly, in editing Patties Personal Narrative, Flint decided to leave the narrative as [he] found it, despite the fact that Pattie thinks more of action than
literature, and is more competent to perform exploits, than blazon them in

truth or consequences

eloquent periods. Flint corrected spelling and punctuation, he admits, but

to alter [the narrative], to attempt to embellish it . . . would be to take from
it its keeping, the charm of its simplicity, and its internal marks of truth. 53
Perhaps most revealing is James Hildreth, who notes that books based on
letters such as his may wear the appearance of roughness because of the
sometimes disconnected manner in which they are thrown together; Hildreth claims that this should . . . be construed as a commendation, for it
avoids the inviting realms of ction. 54 Indeed, he had given serious consideration to the manner in which to lay the incidents . . . before the public. The continuous narrative of a journal might be more rhetorically uid,
but, as Hildreth puts it, letters themselves would be better calculated to
carry with them the impress of the truth, than if the story had been told in
the smoother style of romantic narrative. 55
Yet, if stylistic or imaginative quality was so rarely foregrounded, and if
any author who traveled in the region could claim authenticity, how then
could an author make an impression in that crowded marketplace? Could
one author be more authentic than another? Broadly, how does a western
work, limited to authentic representation, become of interest, become
interesting (to use the deceptively mundane keywords of Flint and Hall)?
On rare occasions authors would call attention to themselves as the explicit
point of interest in their narratives. Estwick Evanss Pedestrious Tour (1819) is
remarkable primarily for the authors eccentric presence: the supposed
singularity of the tour, as Evans calls it, was based largely on his own unorthodox appearance. As a devout follower of Rousseaus romantic savagism, Evans traveled wearing buffalo skins, an Indian apron . . . covered with ne bear skin, and cap and gloves [that] were made of fur. 56
Little wonder that he would be much pleased with the interest which [his]
appearance excited in little children, not to speak of astonished adults.57
Subtler still is Washington Irvings introduction to his Tour on the Prairies
(1834), which acts as a model of authorial self-positioning. Irving might
easily have claimed the interest of an original relationship with the West; indeed, not long into the Tour he signals that he and his companions will join
a company of mounted rangers and make a wide exploring tour . . . including a part of the Pawnee hunting-grounds, where no party of white men
had as yet penetrated. 58 But, if he took advantage of an opportunity of
ranging over those dangerous and interesting regions on the tour itself
(10), he did not in his prefatory remarks. Rather, Irving modestly claims no
wonders to describe, nor any moving accidents by ood or eld to narrate

truth or consequences

(2)leaving only his celebrated presence on the Plains as the implicit interest of his Tour. In feigning reluctance to write up his travels, Irving remarked that he had been like a poor actor, who nds himself announced
for a part he had no thought of playing (1). James Hall himself noted the
authorial oddity: Irving on the prairies! . . . The very idea has a novelty
about it. 59
But for the most part western authors refused to celebrate themselves: at
exactly the period that America was beginning to recognize literary personalities such as Irving and Sedgwick and Cooper, western authors were playing a dangerous game. Just as the merit of the work lay in its representational delity, similarly the central point of textual interest became the West
itself, not the authorial persona or the power of rhetorical expression.
While writers in the East increasingly marketed their own reputations and
reveled in the genius or power of their imagination, western writers avoided
such self-identication. If style was the de facto objectication of personality for eastern writers, exotic landscapes and peoples became the personality for western works. Their writerly identity was dependent on the
power of western place; more authentic meant closer to actual experience
and meant somehow closer to the physical sense of place. Accuracy could
be interesting or thrilling or seductive exactly because the West exhibited
those marketable features. Charles Fenno Hoffman, for example, noting
the popularity of other western writings, still believed that there is an eversalient freshness in the theme of The Far West. 60
Similarly, originality was an especially elusive concept, implying in
many writers a desire for imaginative capacity. The works themselves were
rarely described as original; quite the opposite, writers increasingly relied
on rigid generic forms and rhetorical conventions. Originality could be
traced to an original experienceperhaps a rst contact or wilderness
journeybut, conveniently, this again situated originality in the place, not
in the text. And often originality was expressly avoided: James Hall displaced any originality of his Sketches of History by explicitly relying on facts
(a word repeated eight times in four pages) and on the research of other authorities: his book has no claim to originality, but is properly a compilation. 61 Halls prose, however, often belied his claim, as James Freeman
Clarke argued in the North American Review: On this subject of originality,
Judge Hall will do well to revise his conclusions. The very vice of his historical works is, that they are too original. He confounds too much the departments of history and romance. Let him give to the incidents of his histories

truth or consequences

less originality, and to those of his romances more, and he will nd that
both will prot. 62 Clarke neatly conates two shades of originality: on the
one hand, Halls histories, while hardly rhetorically imaginative, were unreliable and mythologized (hence too original); on the other hand, his romanceshis ctionwere unoriginal and stilted.
In Clarkes charge we glimpse the unfortunate result: accuracy was often
compromised by romance, and the tension between the two poles was frequently vague and self-perpetuating. Constrained by their claims of delity,
western writers reverted to romance, which they claimed to be more authentic and interesting. As novelist James S. French put it, the nature of his
[historical] materials . . . make truth appear stranger than the wildest
ction. 63 Calvin Colton epitomizes the rhetorical self-justication and inevitable perpetuation: he wonders whether his book should be properly
ction, or sober history (the descriptive choice itself a tip-off ), and then determines that the facts were abundantly sufcient to demand [history],
and that no ctitious dress could equal the interest of the exact truth. But
the interest of the exact truth became increasingly problematic. Colton
lays it bare in discussing American Indian culture and the nature of that
exact truth: The maxim of Byron: Truth is strange, stranger than ctionwas perhaps never more applicable, than to the principal subject of
these pages. The history of the American Indians is the Romance of Fact. It
needs not a single dash of the pencilnot a single ingredient of the sentimentality of poetry, to give it life and power over the feelings. The naked
truth has in it more of poetry and a more energetic challenge to the affections, than any possible embellishment, or ctitious garniture, that could
be thrown around itmore than any creations of fancy, with which it could
be charged. 64 Thus Colton imbues a factual and truthful representation of
the West with a sentimental poetry and power over the feelings. 65
That a popular but unreliable form of writing emerged from the Romance of Fact is by now critically established. Hall, Hoffman, and others
were hardly realists and were not reliable historians or cultural commentators. But for this chapters purposes we must also appreciate the result
for the western author, who becomes an authorityand potentially a romantic one dwarfed by his or her subject. Even if authors such as Hall
invented the West in their own ideologically partisan terms, their selfconception is the opposite: that the author is not an active constructor of the
region but, rather, that place dictates text. Thus, the claim of authenticity
produced an uneasily doubled result, a condition of simultaneous power

truth or consequences

and authorial invisibility. On the one hand, the claim of authenticity situated a forceful presence in the author, ultimately reecting on his or her literary integrity. Western authors identied themselves as truthful witnesses,
strong gures who were attempting to codify history in a manner fair to the
regions population. On the other hand, the claim to factual authenticity
risked reducing the authors position to one of mere translator or observer:
he or she became the vehicle for reproducing the contours of landscape or
articulating local traditionsbut not a creative visionary. The lack of authorial individualism spelled monstrous trouble for future writers. Here
were authors invested with an obvious romanticism, lled with imaginative
abilities, but who opted to claim the opposite. Quite simply, they lost their
chance at becoming individualized romantic authors, imbued with power
and imagination.
At the extreme, perhaps, these authors hoped for the kind of response
that Irving received for his Tour on the Prairies in the North American Review.
Here, as in other reviews and commentaries, the critic suggests that Irving
managed to combine literary regionalism and nationalism. If Irvings text
was inspired by the land, it was governed by the authors imagination: we
wish nothing so ardently, as that the literature of the country should be the
indigenous growth of the soil; indigenous in its topics, associations and
spirit,not for patriotic reasons merely, but on principles of art and taste.
But for western writers the rub was felt at the end of the same paragraph:
We thank [Irving] for turning these poor barbarous steppes into classical
land;and joining his inspiration to that of Cooper, in breathing life and
re into a circle of imagery, which was not known before to exist, for the
purposes of the imagination. 66
Deconstructing Western Authenticity
Authorship in the West existed in a bizarre conation of pre-Romantic and
early-Romantic conditions: it was both an identiable professional position that empowered itself and an insecure position of derivative invisibility. Michael J. Colacurcio is just one of many critics to argue that in the
East Emerson and other writers of the 1830s and 1840s were working to
free the American Mind, including the edgling Imagination, from its
peculiar problem of imitation, imitation meaning both debt to other writers and narrow mimetic reproduction of specic conditions of local culture. 67 But, as we have seen, western authors at this time were advertising a mimetic ability and a reliance on other authorities. To summarize: by

truth or consequences

refusing the construction of individualized authorship (that would fully

arrive in the 1850s), western authors inadvertently reinscribed an increasingly obsolete rolethe transcribing author rather than an individualized
Because western authorship was established through this unstable condition of simultaneous power and invisibility, it was particularly susceptible
to challenge and subversion. To understand the troubled history of nineteenth-century western authorship that ensued, we must uncover the considerable internal vulnerability of these original authorial self-fashionings.
Indeed, from the beginning the position was weakened and subject to
attack. In this way we can say that western authorship was easily deconstructed, by which I mean simply that strong western authorship depended
on difference (author and place, power and invisibility, West and East) and
that epistemological, rhetorical, and cultural forces all acted to put these
dualities in ux, forever undoing any established stability. In the West authority itself was negated, yet it was also, in certain historically traceable
patterns, successful. That a writer such as James Hall can be simultaneously
ignored as a minor gure in literary history and also held up as a prime
mover in the institutionalization of the patriarchal, prejudiced Wild West
myth is a sure sign that Hall and other authors had a curiously powerful and
impotent reach. Western authorship deconstructed itself because it had effect and was also erased. Rather than writing themselves into canonical celebrity, they wrote themselves out of literary history. Further, that Cooper
survived canonically and not Hall emblematizes the eastern subversion of
western literary authority; that Coopers western contemporaries did not
survive argues for the displacement of authorial authenticity.
First, most obviously, authenticity was a doomed foundation, if only because it became rigid, inexible. As the 1830s wore on, the claim of authenticity necessarily became an implicit criticism of other works; each text
that purported to tell the real truth about the West cast doubt on the
veracity of others. If every text claimed authenticity, authenticity itself was
demeaned. (Poe, writing reexively on the novelty of the beautiful, remarked that the ennuy who travels in the hope of dissipating his ennui by
the perpetual succession of novelties, will invariably be disappointed in the
end. He receives the impression of novelty so continuously that it is at
length no novelty to receive it.) 68 That is, the success of the market itself
spelled troubleas did the success of western expansion. The migrations
of the 1840s made authorial authenticity largely obsolete, for there were

truth or consequences

suddenly thousands of authorities, witnesses to the land and the people of

the West. If authorship depended on veracity more than creativity, anyone
could be an author. Walter Benjamin discusses exactly this shift occurring
at the beginning of the twentieth century, the age of mechanical reproduction: today there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not,
in principle, nd an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments
on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus,
the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to
case. At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer. 69 For Benjamin this development largely depended on changes in technology and the
corresponding cultural reformation, and his thesis is dramatically supported by the Internet culture in which anyone can build a web site and become an authority or a published writer. But already by the middle of the
nineteenth century thousands of readers and travelers, settlers, and explorers were becoming writers, not merely because of the development of print
culture or the popularity of western expansion but because authorship itself
failed to demand privilege. Western writers promoted the leveling of reader
and writer. There was no distinction between the author and the public.
And, as more and more people moved west and wrote about it, the exotic
became familiarized, accessible, and even mundane. Western writing risked
becoming dull. The most obvious remaining options were to turn inward,
toward ludicrous extremes, or backward to past, presettlement events.
Thus, the claim of authenticity developed a kind of rigidity that approached
self-parody and resulted in static formulaic genres, emerging almost immediately as nostalgic romance and later as dime-novel adventure, both
genres that conspicuously obviated authorship. To borrow the language of
Jean-Franois Lyotard, the discourse of legitimation, based on authorial
and textual authenticity, increasingly relied not on scientic formulations
(fact) but on narrative strategies (story) and precipitated what can only be
called a crisis in regional representation, one that ultimately could not be
resolved by any systematic efforts to relegitimize itself.70 The Romance of
Fact became standardized, and, as the West became increasingly knowable and accessible to the nation, western authors disappeared. Simply put,
western writing foundered on the reef of veriable factuality.
Yet these historically inevitable weaknesses may obscure an inherent
susceptibility to implosion, a frailty that helped produce those historical
consequences. Western authorship did itself in from the beginning. For

truth or consequences

those works of the Far West that claimed to reveal an original experience
(such as a rst contact) or travel in unmapped territory, there was an insurmountable gap of logic: authenticity was inherently unveriable and thus
epistemologically meaningless. How could one prove a unique and remote experience? What evidence could convince a skeptical audience of the
authors veracity? What established language could convey a legitimately
new landscape, animal, or people? James Hall, responding to an early
showing of George Catlins landscape paintings, commented that the pictures would communicate valuable informationto all who have never
had the good fortune to see a prairie, they will convey some idea of the appearance of those vast meadows, so boundless, so beautiful, so rich in scenic attraction. The shores of the Missouri have a peculiar and strongly
marked character. They are like nothing else in nature but themselves. 71
But being like nothing else in nature made comparison at best a type of
metaphor. Rather than enforcing a strict adherence to fact, the claim of authenticity was, conversely, poetic license in the truest sense; there were almost no limits on authors, and they could write whatever they wanted.
Further, the intention to produce recordings of high delity was easily
undermined by critics, often for sectional or ideological reasons. By challenging the authors credentials (as opposed to his or her effect, imagination, and so on), a reviewer could shatter the legitimacy of the work
and of the author. Nowhere is such a problem more evident than in the
byzantine public skirmish between James Hall, Unitarian minister James
Freeman Clarke, and historian Mann Butler, traced here in some detail, for
it epitomizes the heated contest over sectionally determined claims of authenticity and the ensuing complications of plagiarism. In 1834 Hall published Sketches of History, a compilation of historical anecdotes. Indeed,
Hall predictably wrote that nothing further is attempted, than a collection
of facts, some of which are the result of the writers own observation, and
which are intended rather as examples and illustrations of topics connected
with the western states, than as a regular narrative of its history. 72 Still,
Hall acknowledged his sectional agenda (or, to be fair, his western pride):
his object was in part to present many facts which are highly honorable
to the character of the western people, 73 and he believed that through the
accumulation of these facts the settlers of the West would take the proud
station which they deserve, among the illustrious founders of the American
republica ne example of western double consciousness.74 In Sketches of
History, therefore, Hall claimed accuracy, but he did not pretend to be writ42

truth or consequences

ing history, and he extensively acknowledged his use of other authorities,

including the Kentucky historian Mann Butler.75
In May 1836 Butler reviewed Halls book in the Western Messenger, a relatively small Louisville journal. Butler, who had recently penned A History
of the Commonwealth of Kentucky (1834), perhaps felt some rivalry with Hall
for a claim on western readership, perhaps felt slighted by Halls broad dismissal of western writing (as being neither interesting or true), or perhaps felt sincerely misused by Hall. In any case, in his review he attacked
Halls accuracy, challenged Halls use of sources and essentially accused
Hall of plagiarizing other works, including Butlers own. In most instances, Butler charged, there are no references afforded, which give to
original authority the justice due to his merit. 76 Elsewhere Butler was even
more direct: in at least one place Mr. Hall has availed himself of other
mens labors, without any acknowledgment, in a manner we can neither
reconcile with justice nor generosity. 77
Two months later James Freeman Clarke anonymously reviewed both
Butler and Hall in the inuential Boston literary magazine the North American Review. Clarke, Boston transcendentalist and Harvard classmate of
Oliver Wendell Holmes, had recently moved to Louisville to supervise the
transcendentalist periodical the Western Messenger, the same journal that had
published Butlers review. Although then living in the West, Clarke remained in active spirit an eastern thinker and writer, publishing poems and
essays by friends such as Emerson, William Ellery Channing, and Frederic
Henry Hedge and returning to Boston once a year to renew those ties. He
devoted most of his North American Review article to Butlers book, noting
that Butlers style is not so good as Judge Halls but praising the historians research for its fairness, earnestness, and delity and calling the
history a storehouse of facts and documents. 78 Of Halls Sketches of History
Clarke essentially offered a mixed review. He described it (and Butlers
book) as valuable and useful (1) and remarked that the work of Judge
Hall is written in his usual easy and graceful style; it is calculated to interest
readers who would not venture upon a regular history; without being very
profound, it has an air of philosophy, well adapted to a parlour reside. . . .
It is the most entertaining book on the subject. It is, what it professes to be,
a collection of sketches. But Clarke also criticized Hall. Clarke wrote that
Hall professes to be a western man . . . but of the western character he
knows little, and of the western spirit he possesses nothing. He wants the
intellectual openness, which would enable him to catch the spirit of society

truth or consequences

(12). Further, Clarke argued that Judge Hall is not an accurate writer and
proceeded to challenge the details of Halls history, using many of the same
corrective criticisms that Butler had raised. Clarke concludes benevolently:
With these qualifying remarks, we recommend the Sketches to our readers as a work full of entertaining anecdote and description (4).
Not surprisingly, Hall was incensed by the review.79 To be praised for his
style and entertaining anecdotes was bad enough for a writer suspicious of
style, but to have his accuracy and westernness challenged was a call to action. Hall wrote a lengthy and detailed response, published as the preface to
his next book, Statistics of the West (1836), in which he attacked the North
American Review, Clarke (whom he had no way of identifying), and Butler.
First, Hall criticized the North American Review for partisan politics by suggesting that it was so very North American, as seldom to bring within
the scope of its criticism the literature of the more genial latitudes of our
republic. 80 He next pointedly noticed the similarities between Butlers review and that of the Boston critic and implied that they were either written by the same hand or that the Review critic had plagiarized. (And, knowing as we now do Clarkes position at the Western Messenger, Halls charge
seems quite reasonable.) Hall then responds, point by point, to both of his
joint opponents, responding to Butler with an assertion of his facts and
to the Boston critic with an assertion of his authentic westernness.81 That is,
Hall defended himself from a fellow western writers charge of inaccuracy
and from an eastern writers charge of sectional naivet.
Both Butler and Clarke in turn kept the charges ying, responding to
Halls polemic with their own justications and attacks. Butler published a
short treatise, An Appeal from the Misrepresentations of James Hall, essentially defending his scholarly veracity. Clarke meanwhile used the North
American Review to attack Halls sense of authorship. Noting that Hall took
umbrage not only at his reviews criticisms but also at its praise, Clarke
found Hall confounding, wondering and chiding, that we should recommend a work as not wanting in entertainment, which we said was wanting in accuracy, and some other merits. But that which is a problem to Judge
Hall, was none to Dr. Samuel Johnson. He said, of a book of his day, in language stronger than our benevolence suffered us to use, though it is sufciently defective to crush the vanity of its author, it is sufciently entertaining to invite readers. 82 But the authors vanity, to which Clarke
makes oblique reference (through Johnson), is Halls very sense of authorial ego, which is crushed, erased despite the ensuing popularity of the

truth or consequences

entertainment. Thus, Clarkes article worked toward two surprising

ends: rst, it brought Hall into visibility for the readers of the North American
Review, or, as Hall himself put it, condescended to notice the existence of
the writer . . . for the rst time. 83 But, through discrediting his accuracy
and westernness, it simultaneously subverted Halls authority, thus rendering him obsolete. Amazingly, Clarke seems to be implicitly recognizing the
developing condition of western authorship: invisible yet popular. And, using the recognized British authority of Samuel Johnson, Clarke analogically
replaces the author with readers.
The replacement of the author with a community of readers may have
demonstrated Halls own peculiar marginality, but it further calls into question the broader issue of authorial presence. It is only too easy to suspend
the individual authority of western authorship and to recover collectivityin fact, these authors point to it themselves. Who wrote Halls Sketches
of History? Who wrote Lewis and Clarks Journals? Who wrote Irvings Astoria?
None of these three seminal works was produced by a single voice or vision;
none had an individual author. Hall calls his Sketches of History a compilation,
based on Butler, Drake, Brackenridge, and others. Nicholas Biddle, the
wealthy, Princeton-educated, literary Philadelphian, edited and essentially rewrote the Lewis and Clark journals for the 1814 publication. And
Irving produced Astoria (1836) from John Jacob Astors considerable collection of business documents, journals, and letters detailing the establishment of the American Fur Company and the expeditions across the Rockies.
Furthermore, Irving, as he readily admits, enjoyed even more assistance:
his nephew Pierre performed most of the work rummaging among business papers, and . . . collecting and collating facts from amidst tedious and
commonplace details, while Irving himself took advantage of the collateral lights supplied by the published journals of other travellers, such as
Lewis and Clark.84
Did such borrowings produce heteroglot intertextuality or merely shallow plagiarism? No single answer sufces. Certainly, plagiarism abounded;
writers not only referred to other authorities but stole from them. Yet, more
subtly, what today might be called intellectual property was only vaguely
dened in the 1830s West, in part because western authors refused to acknowledge imaginative invention. How could one claim any (copy)right
to facts? When Butler charged that Hall availed himself of other mens
labours and complained that Halls historical facts are all used without
any mention that they were not the result of [his] own inquiries, Hall deri45

truth or consequences

sively retorted that, as these facts occurred before we were born, they could
not have resulted from any of our doings. . . . Mr. Butler, in the simplicity of
his heart, verily believes that he discovered the treaty of Fort Stanix. 85 As
long as the center of delity lay in the obsession with authentic facts,
charges of plagiarism were easily obfuscated. Furthermore, stories became
conventionalized and referred to as traditions; as a kind of local myth or
folklore, these stories were themselves beyond the reach of any copyright,
immune to entanglements of plagiarism. Finally, while federal and local
agencies made every effort to assert land ownership wherever possible, it
proved more difcult to own landscape descriptions. This condition produced what might be seen as a kind of repetition compulsion: literally, most
transcontinental expeditions used the same routes, notably the Missouri
River system as well as the Platte River, the Oregon Trail, and the Santa Fe
Trail; thus, most travel descriptions were necessarily of the same features,
and subsequently both travelers and writers (transcribers) depended on
previous accounts such as Lewis and Clarks Journals. In fact, the Journals
were only one textual incarnation of the exploration: Charles Floyd, Patrick
Gass, John Ordway, and Joseph Whitehouse all wrote journals of the trip
though even their journals were rewritten for publication. Is one version
more authentic or original than another? Textual originality was extirpated when both the experience and the prose were derived from mutual,
shared experience. The claim of accurate representation all but precluded a
formal charge of plagiarism. Thus, if texts were not technically plagiarized,
many were at least copied. One can, for example, hear Meriwether Lewiss
voice throughout Irvings Astoria. Combined with the rigidity of form and
the uneasy authority/invisibility of authorship, copying often produced palimpsestsreproduced works with earlier and often foreign voices speaking through them. Finally, the ethos of borrowing and reproducing also
resulted in literal copies: for example, Halls Statistics of the West was republished as Notes on the West and Sketches of History as Romance of the West. While
such practice was hardly unique to western writing, it took hold in a particularly pernicious way.
The use of authenticity in authorial self-invention thus helped produce
three dramatic and ultimately crippling results. First, it catalyzed the movement toward inauthenticity by helping to institutionalize the dime novel. I
would argue that the western dime noveland other exaggerated stories of
western adventure, violence, intrigue, and romance did not develop so
much from James Fenimore Coopers works or from the emergence of mass

truth or consequences

market popular culture, two leading theories, but more from the inevitable
burden (and splintering) of the claim of authenticity.86 Second, the claim
solidied a pattern of reception, a way of reading. Following the instructions of James Hall and others, readers do not treat western literature as an
aesthetically complex or imaginative body of writing; rather, western literature is advertised, reviewed, read, and studied for its representations of
historical conditions and natural landscapes. The range of reading room is
extraordinarily narrow. And, third, the claim of authenticity instigated a
powerful but nearly invisible diminishment of western reality itself. The
complicated and ultimately imploding idea of authenticity derailed the difference between original and copy, between representation and simulation.
And thus we might ask: if we lift the veil of authenticity, what are we looking at? The territory, the map of the territory or a simulacrum?



Canonical Simulations

The procedures of the great movement of art of the early century may serve to
put us in mind of the violent meanings which are explicit in the Greek ancestry of the word authentic. Authenteo : to have full power over; also, to commit a murder. Authentes: not only a master and a doer, but also a perpetrator, a murderer, even a self-murderer, a suicide.
lionel trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity

In reestablishing the forgotten history of western authorship in the 1830s,

I have attempted to identify a signicant component of western literatures
troubled canonical beginnings. By revisiting the ultimately self-erasing
forms of authorial self-fashionings, we can understand, at least in part, why
western literature failed to establish a viable canonical tradition. But this
western context also provides an opportunity to reconsider writers who
played off of the authorial conventions, manipulating them in the process
of autogenesis. Caroline Kirkland and Edgar Allan Poe were two of the rst
American authors to engage western American literature in dialogically
imaginative ways, inventing themselves neither inside nor outside that market but, rather, in the susceptible margins. They produced strong texts that
both encode the generic expectations of western works and subvert them.
By rehistoricizing A New Home, Wholl Follow? and The Journal of Julius Rodman
within the context of the popular and perhaps overextended western marketplace of the late 1830s, we discover two writers manipulating the rigid
conventions to assert their own individual authorial voices.
By critiquing literary authenticity, realism, individualism, and plagiarism, Kirkland and Poe entered into an intertextual dialogue with their
literary environment and attempted to fashion themselves in relation to a
variety of cultural pressures. My reading of Kirklands book is largely corrective, showing how critical interpretations have depended on the orthodoxy of authenticity and read A New Home primarily as realistic. Such readings inevitably promote Kirkland as an alternative to James Hall and other
1830s writers who invented a romanticized, masculine West. But Kirklands
deceptive use of authenticity is far more complex. By playing fact against
ction, she ultimately undermines facile denitions of authenticity, realism, and western literature. Poes odd and ignored Journal of Julius Rodman
does even more than that: it undermines reality itself. As a hoaxy account of

fact and fiction

the (ctional) rst exploration across the Rocky Mountains, Rodman explodes the difference between fact and ction, between authenticity and imitation. Poes insistent use ofand plagiarism ofactual exploration narratives produces a work that not only ridicules the claim of authenticity in
western writing but also uses the idea of authenticity to reevaluate both
western literature and the Real West itself. Borrowing from Jean Baudrillards theories of simulation, this chapter argues that Rodmans extreme
destabilization of authenticity produces what can only be called a postmodern aura, an aura quietly intrinsic to all western writing.
Mark Twains early stories and Roughing It, published in 1872, are secondgeneration authentic, taking full advantage of their belatedness. Twain is
one of the few authors to enjoy the tradition of authenticity, reveling in the
ludicrous expectations of accuracy and reliability. Like Kirkland and Poe,
Twain focuses attention on the claim of authenticity, most dramatically in
his prefatory dismissal of textual information in Roughing It; he broadly
parodies the authorial claim of authenticity and implicitly pokes fun at the
expectations for western writing. More complexly, Twain directs the discourse of authenticity toward his own self-inventions. He deploys strategies
of authorship that theatrically reveal the internal instability of the western
authorial imagination. This fact is remarkable enough in itself, and critics
have produced taxonomic reports on Twains (in)authentic identities. But
the reception history of Twains writing and reputation suggests something
else: that critics have not only examined Twains complex construction of
authorship but have themselves been complicit in that construction. Critics
end up playing the authenticity game; indeed, they end up as pawns in a
game with only one inevitable winner, Mark Twain.
Penetrating the Interior: Caroline Kirklands
A New Home, Wholl Follow?
Caroline Kirkland, a well-educated and relatively well-connected New
Yorker, moved to Detroit with her husband in 1835 and, upon his acquisition of some eight hundred acres of land, to the Michigan frontier in 1837.
In her rst book, A New Home, Wholl Follow? (1839), written under the pseudonym Mary Clavers, Kirkland described in witty and entertaining detail
their struggles to establish the village of Pinckney, renamed Montacute in
the book. Based on the village-sketch model popularized by English author Mary Russell Mitford, A New Home is replete with vignettes of settlement life, emphasizing the social habits and daily discomforts of the fron49

fact and fiction

tier. Kirkland pays special attention to her female characters: her neighbors, her domestic help, the town schoolteacher, and so on. By the books
end Claverss Montacute is seemingly secure, but the real settlement of
Pinckney was not so lucky, nally succumbing to dishonest land agents and
economic failure. Kirkland and her husband returned to New York in 1843,
where, with considerably more success, she established a productive career
as writer, editor, and member of the citys literati.
In its day A New Home was well received in the eastern press, warmly
praised for its realism and charm. The North American Review characteristically commended it for its delity and reality. More recently, over the last
two decades or so, Kirklands book has again come into prominence, primarily as a work that represents the reach of womens writing in antebellum
America and that reveals an authentic (realistic) vision of the frontier
American West. A New Home, with its careful, spirited depictions of village
social life and the so-called womens sphere, seems almost designed to appeal to contemporary western historians and feminist literary scholars
and has attracted the attention of such inuential critics as Annette Kolodny, Paul Lauter, Judith Fetterley, and Sandra A. Zagarell. But, by reading
A New Home solely in the contexts of domestic ction and historical realism
and by overlooking the context of popular western writing, dominated, as it
was, by men, critics risk interpretive myopia. Kirkland did not break established forms of writing so much as quietly defamiliarize them. The result
is an author who positions herself among a number of different models and
a text that resists easy codication. By recontextualizing Kirkland within
and sometimes againstthe midcentury market for western writing, I hope
to offer a reconsideration of her authorial strategies and move toward a
broader understanding of the claim of authenticity in early western ction.
Consider, for example, Kirklands textual reliance on the letters she sent
to her friends in the East, letters that served as a basis for her book. In A New
Home Kirkland explains that her friends had expressed so much interest in
such of our letters to them, as happened to convey an account of the peculiar features of western life . . . that I have been for some time past contemplating the possibility of something like a detailed account of our experiences. And I have determined to give them to the world, in a form not very
different from that in which they were originally recorded. 1 Paul Lauter
takes Kirklands epistolary foundation as a key to decoding the relationship
between gender and the problem of form. Lauter suggests that Kirkland
tried to solve what was at once an artistic and social problem by posing her

fact and fiction

narrative as an adaptation of a series of letters. Writing for publication was

an activity still viewed in many quarters as inappropriate to women, precisely because it was public. Letter writing, however, sustained the quality
of private communication . . . . That may explain the popularity of the form
with many women writers of the antebellum period. 2 Letter writing may
indeed have been an inviting and empowering avenue for female authors,
but (as argued in my rst chapter) it was also a rmly established genre for
writing about the West. To understand this western context is to understand
that Kirkland knew her western competitors and placed her book in the
company of such letter-structured western works of the 1830s as Charles
Fenno Hoffmans Winter in the West, Edmund Flaggs The Far West, Mary
Austin Holleys Texas, James Halls Letters from the West, James Hildreths Dragoon Campaigns, and Timothy Flints Recollections. Of course, Lauters point is
not negated, only qualied: in her decision to base the narrative on her letters, Kirkland is doubly situating herself at once within at least two different literary conventions, one often associated with womens writing, the
other with western (and other forms of travel) writing.3
Furthermore, a careful examination of Kirklands literary context suggests another small, but not insignicant, correction to critical commentary and demands a reorientation of Kirkland in relation to her literary contemporaries. In an oft-quoted passage early in the rst chapter Kirkland
writes: When I rst penetrated the interior (to use an indigenous phrase)
all I knew of the wilds was from Hoffmans tour or Captain Halls graphic
delineations: I had some oating idea of driving a barouche-and-four anywhere through the oak-openingsand seeing the murdered Banquos of
the forest haunting the scenes of their departed strength and beauty. But I
confess, these pictures, touched by the glowing pencil of fancy, gave me but
incorrect notions of a real journey through Michigan (6). In their respective editions William S. Osborne and Sandra A. Zagarell have correctly identied Hoffmans tour as Charles Fenno Hoffmans travels, recounted in
his popular Winter in the West, and, with some hesitation, Captain Halls
graphic delineations as the colorful imaginings of James Hall, whose
Sketches of History is indeed touched by the glowing pencil of fancy. 4 And
nearly every critical commentator has taken advantage of this crucial passage to juxtapose Kirklands corrective domestic realism with Halls bigoted
romanticism. Fetterley describes Kirkland as consciously dening herself
against the romanticism of previous western chroniclers, such as Charles
Fenno Hoffman and James Hall; Zagarell remarks that A New Home mocks

fact and fiction

the rosy depictions of the Wests natural environment in the many guides . . .
and in such travel literature as Charles Fenno Hoffmans popular A Winter in
the West . . . [and] exposes the supposedly realistic celebration of the West
as the site of untrammeled nature in the newly emerging western literature
(particularly James Halls Legends of the West [1832]) as the mere reproduction
of conventions of continental, British, and American Romanticism; and
Annette Kolodny, who structured a signicant portion of her argument (in
The Land Before Her) around the passage, argues that Kirkland aggressively
examine[d] the impressions gleaned from [ James] Hall and Hoffman and
nally quarreled with the two writers as she established her own textually
represented West.5
The aw in these analyses is simply that Kirklands Captain Hall was
not James Hall, discussed in print always as Judge Hall. Captain Hall refers to
Captain Basil Hall, a British travel writer widely known at the time for his
Travels in North America (1829), the popular but somewhat controversial antecedent to Frances Trollopes Domestic Manners of the Americans. In his Travels
Captain Hall (as he was customarily called) both praised and critiqued the
American natural and cultural landscape, offering mostly modest, often
generous appraisals of American manners. Understanding that Kirkland
was storming a different Hall does not in any way invalidate the underlying insights of Kolodny, Fetterley, Zagarell, and others, but it does suggest
that perhaps critics have at times projected onto A New Home a revisionary
agenda that may itself stand in need of some revision. James Hall neatly ts
many critical projects; he is today remembered, if at all, as an Indian-hating
reactionary who helped to invent and legitimize the mythic Wild West by
glamorizing character types such as the ignorant, misogynist backwoodsman. Further, there is good reason to think that Kirkland objected to Halls
kind of opinionated prose, and critics have used Halls unattractive politics
and unreliable historicism to help crystallize a vision of Kirkland as a social
and literary reformer. Yet, in citing Basil Hall at the beginning of her book,
Kirkland is after different game: she is situating herself in relation to a tradition of social critiques and in relation to the innumerable British appraisals of Americans. Kirkland thus clears some nationalist space for herself in the overcrowded market of Manners books (David Leverenz calls
her the Miss Manners of Michigan) 6 and suggests that she will produce
not an anti-romance but, rather, a native version of the British village
sketch popularized by Mary Russell Mitford.
Moreover, the passage from Basil Halls Travels that Kirkland undoubt52

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edly has in mind hints at the need for a reevaluation of Kirklands vaunted
realism. I do not mean to undermine this quality in Kirklands workher
text remains an important and refreshing alternative to many western writings, and her insightful depictions of frontier domesticity remain all too
rare in the 1830s.7 (I, too, teach her work in opposition to male fantasies of
the frontier.) But, in recognizing that her response to Basil Hall is constructed within and against both nationalist and regionalist ideologies, we
must reexamine the very denition of realism as applied to A New Home. The
murdered Banquos of the forest may seem to refer to ghostly Indians,
as Kolodny quite reasonably supposes, but the truth is far more complicated.8 In fact, Hall is describing the very unattractive frontier settlements
that he encountered (in this case in western New York), not unlike Kirklands Pinckneythough quite unlike her ctional Montacute:
there prevailed a most uncomfortable appearance of bleakness or
rawness, and a total absence of picturesque beauty in these villages; whose dreary aspect was much heightened by the black sort
of gigantic wall formed of the abrupt edge of the forest, choked
up with underwood, now for the rst time exposed to the light of
the sun.
The cleared spaces, however, as they are called, looked to our
eyes not less desolate, being studded over with innumerable great
black stumps; or, which was more deplorable still, with tall
scorched, branchless stems of trees, which had undergone the barbarous operation known by the name of girdling. An American settler can hardly conceive the horror with which a foreigner beholds
such numbers of magnicent trees standing round him with their
throats cut, the very Banquos of the murdered forest! 9

If this passage is imbued with any romanticism, it is a proto-Thoreauvian

appreciation of wild nature, devoid of a sunny idealism and hardly the celebration of the West as the site of untrammeled nature associated with
James Hall. The West here is decidedly trammeledand trampled. One
must wonder: why did Kirkland nd this passage in Travels problematic?
Kirkland may have simply objected to Halls aestheticized horror or to his
metaphorical use of Macbeth. But, because Kirkland is celebrated for her
willingness to reveal the less colorful side of frontier life, her apparent objection raises doubts about Kirklands objectivity. The answer possibly lies

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in Kirklands own investment in the frontier, an investment both literal and

In fact, her immediate textual response to Hoffman and Hall, apparently
designed to show a more correct idea of a real journey through Michigan, may be read as nearly the opposite of any stark realism. This is the
well-known mud-hole scene, in which she describes her despair at encountering a formidable gulf of mud blocking the forest road (6). She declares that she will describe the mud-hole for the benet of future travellers, who, ying over the soil on rail-roads, may look slightingly back
upon the achievement of their predecessors (5).10 While this episode is
usually interpreted as a corrective response to the blithe travelers (James)
Hall and Hoffman, in fact, when contrasted with Basil Halls description of
environmental degradation, Kirklands prose may seem both ideologically
partisan and even . . . romantic. At the moment that the frustrated Kirkland
considered turning back, a man in an immense bear-skin cap and a suit of
deers hide, sprang from behind a stump just within the edge of the forest
and soon helped the stranded travelers across. Kirkland concludes: This
instance of true and genuine and generous politeness I record for the benet of all bearskin caps, leathern jerkins and cowhide boots, which ladies
from the eastward world may hereafter encounter in Michigan (7). Kirkland obviously plays on the romance of the scene, but she also seems sincere in her appreciation for the true and genuine and generous politeness
of the backwoodsman. Even if we overlook the dramatic implausibility of
the rescue or the sensational appearance of the heroic stranger or the
moralistic conclusion she draws for eastern ladies, we are still left, when
contrasted with Basil Halls scene, with an author subtly endorsing the denuding of forest for the sake of good roads. The tree stump here is no murdered Banquo but, rather, the surprising origination of her salvation. Thus,
when Kirkland alludes to the railroad travelers looking back at the achievements of their predecessors, she suggests two kinds of achievements:
rst, the rough travel by wagon of her age and, second, the benecial construction of the railroad that obliterated the mud-holes.
That Kirkland held settlement deforestation to be a civilizing good
should not necessarily be held against herbut, in contrasting her mudhole description to Halls tall scorched, branchless stems of trees, we
have two depictions of frontier environment that seem quite equal in their
unsettling realism. Which prompts the question: what realism or whose
realismis at work here? In discussing the realism of A New Home, critics

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actually treat two distinctly different kinds (too often conated), historical
realism and literary realism, the rst being a condition of factual record, the
latter being a genre of imaginative ction. A New Home is described as the
rst realistic depiction of frontier life and as attempting to depict what
life in the West is really like, but the book also signals a realism in American ction and represents one of the roots of ctional realism. 11 I
would suggest that Kirkland is implicitly destabilizing the difference between the two kinds of realism; by playing ction against fact, or, more accurately, authenticity against romance, Kirkland not only subverts any established hierarchy but also nearly eradicates the system. Quite simply, she
is setting off one discourse against another and playing the conventions of
western writing against both historical and domestic ctionand in the
process deconstructing western authenticity. The explosiveness, then, of
the text is not that Kirklands book is realistic or is ctional but, rather, that
she claims it to be either one or both.
Perhaps, nally, the most important correction that this recontexualized
reading can offer concerns this authorial claim of authenticity. Kirkland
writes that she hopes to produce a veracious history of actual occurrences,
an unvarnished transcript of real characters (3), and in her preface she sets
out her authorial position:
I claim for these straggling and cloudy crayon sketches of life and
manners . . . the merit of general truth of outline. Beyond this I venture not to aspire. I felt somewhat tempted to set forth my little
book as being entirely, what it is very nearlya veritable history;
an unimpeachable transcript of reality; a rough picture, in detached parts, but pentagraphed from the life. . . . But conscience
prevailed, and I must honestly confess, that there be glosses, and
colorings, and lights, if not shadows, for which the author is alone
accountable. Journals published entire and unaltered, should be
Parthian darts, sent abroad only when ones back is turned. To
throw them in the teeth of ones every-day associates might diminish ones popularity rather inconveniently. (1)

Critics have inevitably locked on to Kirklands claims of realism, consistently quoting her desire for an unimpeachable transcript of reality. If
they acknowledge Kirklands own reference to her glosses and shadows, it is only as an ancillary admission. But the claim of authenticity,
founded on rsthand experience and delivered through a rough picture,

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is exactly what every other writer of the period was claiming. There is virtually nothing unique about her stated desire for representational or historical accuracy. On the contrary, what is most important here is the opposite
her assertion of ctionalizing the portrait. The intrigue of her prefatory
remarks is not her claim to authenticity but, rather, her afrmation of the
imaginative prose for which the author is alone accountable. And, in acknowledging her embellishments (as they might be termed elsewhere), she
even claims for her text rhetorical power. Unlike her contemporaries, Kirkland will not pretend to offer crude originals or unaltered journals but
will attempt stylistically heightened prose. Her allusion to Washington
Irving (the cloudy crayon sketches) is only the rst tip-off. Kirkland is inventing and authorizing herself within the tradition of western writing
but at the same time outside of its predictable limitations.
Caroline Kirkland produced a strong text that both encodes the generic
expectations of western works and subverts them. By reading the novel
solely in relation to some construction of authentic realism, critical history
hereas nearly everywhere in western letters overlooks the complex authorial strategies and invention at work. By rehistoricizing A New Home,
Wholl Follow? within the context of the popular western marketplace of the
late 1830s, we discover an author manipulating the rigid conventions to assert her own individual authorial voice.
Second Nature: Edgar Allan Poes Journal of Julius Rodman
At least one critic seemed to recognize Kirklands heterodox use of authenticity and ction. Edgar Allan Poe, in his Literati sketch of Kirkland
(1846), lauds A New Home for both its truth and novelty. 12 Most Kirkland
scholars remark on Poes treatment of Kirklands life-like . . . representations; as Sandra A. Zagarell writes, for Poe, Kirklands signicance resided
in what later commentators have termed her pioneer realism. 13 But, if Poe
was interested in pioneer realism, it is the strongly ctionalized type that
conveys truth through elusive metaphorthrough simulationnot fact.
Poe explains that he appreciates Kirklands use of ctional sketches because
a truthful picture of pioneer habits could never be given in any grave history or essay so well as in the form of narration, where each character is permitted to develop itself. 14 Poe was no stranger to the attempt because in
1840 (the year after A New Home appeared) Poe himself performed a similar
deconstruction of western authorship in his Journal of Julius Rodman.
Rodman purports to be an account of the rst exploration across the

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Rocky Mountains. Poe, in the role of coeditor (supposedly with William

Burton, founder of Burtons Gentlemans Magazine), explains in the prosaic Introductory that the journal of the 1791 94 expedition had only recently
been recoveredan unusual piece of good fortune. 15 Poe had a keen
sense of the journals proper form because he was deeply read in western
writing and committed to, in his words, the bright hopes for the Literature
of the West; 16 indeed, as Edwin Fussell puts it, no important American
writer was more realistically concerned with, and more accurately informed
about, that literature of the West which in the mid-1830s ooded the country. 17 In late 1839 Poe conceived of Rodman as a twelve-part series (one
chapter per magazine issue) and began serialization in January 1840. But by
June of that year, after the rst six installments had appeared, Poe and Burton split, and Rodman, text and character, was left hanging, suspended in
the Montana wilderness, never to return. Poe apparently felt little remorse
about abandoning Rodman and never sought to nish or republish it.
Rodman is a strange and unrecognized work. Despite the fact that it is a
signicant work on the West by a major American writer, it remains largely
unnoticed by western critics. Despite the fact that it appears designed to appeal to contemporary Poe scholarswith its insistent commentary on authorship, plagiarism, intellectual property, nationalism, cultural history,
and American landscapesthe work has received almost no notice over the
last forty years. Most critics agree with biographer Kenneth Silvermans dismissal that it is but [The Narrative of Arthur Gordon] Pym transposed to the
Rocky Mountains. 18 Rodmans low prole, however, is deceptive. It is certainly, emphatically, un-Poesque, and the reason is simple: in constructing
(and I use that word quite literally) the text, Poe essentially pasted together
excerpts from other accounts, notably those of Lewis and Clark, Alexander
Mackenzie, and Captain Bonneville, with frequent borrowings from
Washington Irvings Astoria. Burton R. Pollin calls the work a long verisimilar narrative springing from the rich soil of authentic journals of Western
explorers. 19 In other words, the other journals are authentic; Rodmans is
notat least not exactly. Poe himself is marginalized in that he presents
himself as editor, writing the introduction and the footnotes and producing
a playful metaction in which he actually calls attention to the similarities
between Rodmans journals and the others. Perhaps this patchwork design, as Pollin calls it, is responsible for the works invisibility. It seems entirely unoriginal and derivative of all things, boring Poe.
Yet it may turn out that the works invisibility signals its success rather

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than its failure. Because of Rodmans intense intertextuality and persistent

borrowings, it exists only in relation to other western works and comes into
focus only through a thorough western contextualization. In fact, placing it
in context reveals Poes canny response to the consistent claims of authenticity in western literature of the early nineteenth century, and Poes inscribed study of authenticity and his overt plagiarism of other western
works force us to rethink western authorship and western representation.
We have to ask whether Rodman is invisible exactly because of its authenticity, because Poe so seamlessly deployed the strategies of western writers (by
borrowing and reproducing), and because, in its perverse way, the narrative
is authentic, though stolen. But it may serve an even more dramatic role:
Rodman may be the most complete and provocative example in early western
writingindeed, in American literature of postmodern invention. In
fact, that plagiarism may be an early form of what Fredric Jameson calls
pastiche, the employment of earlier voices or the imitation of dead styles.
Jameson argues that, although pastiche wears a linguistic mask like parody, it is not parody, for it is a neutral practice . . . without any of parodys
ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter and of
any conviction that alongside the abnormal tongue you have momentarily
borrowed, some healthy linguistic normality still exists. 20 Rodman is neutral in exactly this way, its lack of parodic laughter producing that strange,
remote effect.21 Normality, in terms of both the authors voice and the
West itself, is exactly what is unsettled and called into question. In Rodman
we nd the most self-conscious construction of a hyperreal West. We cannot understand either western literature or the West itself without engaging
The Journal of Julius Rodman.
Poe depicted the West, for example, using other peoples wordsby
plagiarizing from those authentic journals. Indeed, throughout his ction Poe frequently toyed with other texts, borrowing from other authors
while writing bizarre critical commentaries on plagiarism. But the plagiarism of Rodman is unlike other Poe plagiarisms and borrowingsthough
very much in keeping with the borrowings of other western writers. Perhaps the obvious comparison is with Pym (following Silvermans derisive
lead), yet, if Pym manipulates numerous sources, Rodman is its sources. Pym
is often treated for its use of contemporary material: Poe relentlessly employed and/or parodied popular texts (such as Robinson Crusoe), genres (such
as the sea adventure or polar exploration), and cultural curiosities (such as
cannibalism). In this respect, Pym is representative Poe: it is generally as58

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sumed that Poe developed his literary style in the 1830s by studying the
works of the most popular or the most highly reputed authors. 22 Signicantly, the source studies of Pym and other works argue or assume that Poes
own authorial voice interacted with and controlled these sources. But the
borrowings in Rodman are so extensive as to be absolute, producing less a
heteroglot ction than what Pollin calls a verbal collage. 23
Yet, despite the fact that Rodman foregrounds and almost advertises its
plagiarism with the patchwork design, studies of Poes plagiarism ignore
Rodman, perhaps because it fails to conform to critical paradigms. For example, in his essay on Poe and plagiarism, Stephen Rachman argues that
plagiarism offers Poe a special, inherently transgressive discourse regardless of content; like the man of the crowd it can only be read as crime. 24
While the plagiarism of Rodman does display a taste of this transgressive
discourse, it also upsets Rachmans totalization, for the content herethe
western exploration narrativeis one that was frequently replayed and
borrowed. In describing the Missouri River, for example, Rodman is describing the same features that others encountered, and Editor-Poe often
points out the similarities in footnotes and commentary. Poe simply used
his sourcesLewis and Clark, Alexander Mackenzie, Captain Bonneville,
and Irvingto patch together the Journal. Poe himself points out these
other works in his introduction, explaining their similarity to Rodman. In
fact, Rodman reveals Poe borrowing from Irving, who, using John Jacob Astors notes, borrowed from Lewis and Clark as rewritten by Nicholas Biddle.
If Poes actions are criminal, they are also unexceptional, de rigueur, and
entirely in keeping with other western authors. Rodman is exceptional only
in its total derivativeness, its convincing absorption of the conventions of
its time.
The peculiar condition of authorship in Rodman may signal an even
greater challenge to critics. Many consider the texts banality un-Poesque,
but the limited projection of the canonized Poe-etic voice is deceiving, for
that subdued tone not only produces the successful authenticity of the Journal but also signals a highly unusual form of authorial presence. In fact, one
may argue that Poes authentic voice is stronger here than in any other
work of ction. First, for the only time in his oeuvre Poe appears in a work
of ction as his own nonctional, editorial self; and, second, unlike any of
his other unsigned hoaxes, he actually signs the production with his own
name. Of course, Poe wrote himself into a number of his works but always
as a character treated by invented editors. Most obviously, it is a common59

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place of Poe criticism to notice Poes self-referential appearance in Pym:

protagonist Arthur Gordon Pym, in his preface, refers to Mr. Poe, lately
editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, who supposedly advised Pym
and wrote the rst few pages of the Narrative. But this Mr. Poe is a ctionalized Poe, a character in a novel, not even the editor of the presented
work. Furthermore, Pym declares that the difference in point of style of
Mr. Poes few pages will be readily perceived, but, of course, it is impossible to detect any difference.25 Although the entire work is typical Poe,
not a word can be directly attributed to him except through the ctional Pym
and editor. In The Journal of Julius Rodman, however, Poe exists as Poe, the
coeditor of Burtons Gentlemans Magazine. His name prominently appeared
along with Burtons on the cover. And thus Rodman exists as a strange
double narrative, in which Poeand, signicantly, Burtonwrite the Introductory, the footnotes, and the lengthy connecting sections that explain
what has been edited out of the journal. In fact, some of the extirpated material (such as the missing account of the Spanish commission sent to intercept and turn the party back) sounds more interesting than the entries
included (1208). In all, nearly one-third of Rodmans (extant) length consists
of editorial commentary and notes, explicitly written by (and repeatedly
signed by) Eds. G. M.the editors of the Gentlemans Magazine, Poe and
Three points follow: rst, Poe exists in name as editor, and thus the text
is attached to him in a way that many other texts (and all other hoaxes) could
not be. In emphasizing the importance of anonymity and pseudonymy as
mediating factors in Poes career, Meredith L. McGill convincingly argues
that a broad range of his texts and textual practices drifts free from the
connes of individual authorship. 26 She notes a number of works, including Pym, that appeared detached from Poes authorial pen. But, in calling
considerable attention to the editorial commentary (the lengthy footnotes,
the disruptive connecting prose), Poe does assert a kind of signed presence,
if not as creative author, then as reliable coeditor. Signicantly, this is the
same position that James Hall (like many others) claimed for himself in
Sketches of History, a book that Poe had reviewed four years earlier. Like Hall,
Editor-Poe points to the factual veracity of the Journal and to his own authority, downplaying any creative input. The editors knowledge of other
western explorations is framing and validating the presented journal. That
Poes presence as coeditor reveals collaborative authority is the second
point: Poe seems to emphasize that the production of Rodman is not due to

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an individual but a groupPoe, Burton, Rodman, and, up one metanarrative level, the many other narratives cited in the introduction. Finally, Poes
editorial position allows him, like nowhere else, to exist and write in the
margins and borders of a ctional text. This is no fashionable deconstructive conceit: Poes language literally positions itself in relation to Rodmans,
at the beginning of the whole work, at the bottom of the page, in the middle
of a chapter, and so on. While it is not stylistically differentiated from Rodmans (as Mr. Poes is not from Pyms), it is formally separated, occupying a
different place on the page and representing a different sphere and tone of
authorship. Thus, by deploying the conventions of western presentation,
Poe can both conform to the formula of western authorship (as knowledgeable editor and collaborator) and critique its vulnerability. Like Flint and
Irving, Poe is an editor of an explorers journal, an editor with considerable
knowledge of other western accounts. Like them, he remarks that he (and
Burton) did not wish, by any means, to alter the manner of Mr. Rodmans
narration, and have, therefore, taken very few liberties with the ms (1190).
Indeed, Rodman, like many other explorers, kept an outline diary of his
tour, during the many difculties of its progress (1188). And, like other
western editors and writers, Poe takes pains to establish the veracity of the
work, in part through juxtaposition with other accounts. Poes treatment of
western authenticity is at once normative and subversive.
That is, Poe, who got no closer to the West than West Point, recognized
that the claim of authenticity was not only standard practice but was a strategy bound to implode, bound to produce authorial invisibility. By unraveling the complexities of western authorship and the extraordinary duplicity
of the claim of authenticity, Poe managed to question both the representation of the West and the West itself. He produced a postmodern narrative:
self-consuming, ironic, and endlessly (in)authentic. The West of Rodman
is hyperrealit is a simulacrum, a copy without an original, and a copy
that simultaneously exists as both ction and fact. To read Rodman is, quite
literally, to read Lewis and Clark, Bonneville, Irving, Astor, Mackenzie.
Theres no there there in Rodman, and this seems to be Poes point about the
West as well. Once we lift the veil and look past the claim of authenticity, we
are not left with landscape or history or reality (as western writers and readers like to assert) but with hyperreality. Rodman simulates western landscape, creating an image with no real referent; remarkably, it also simulates
(not parodies) western literature. In a different western context Gerald
Vizenor has written that the simulation of the indian is the absence of real

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nativesthe contrivance of the other in the course of dominance. 27 That

simulation is, of course, that of the authentic Indian, a culturally prevalent image that erases real natives. Similarly, Poes simulation of the
Westwhile equally authentic in its wayis the absence of the West. And
Poes simulation of western literature is the absence of western literature: it
becomes invisible.
More simply, Poes strange work helps us to understand a chicken-oregg riddle: which came rst, the West or representations of the West? We
might also ask, how do we know the difference between representation and
the West? In fact, is western literature in general what Jean Baudrillard calls
the map that precedes the territory? 28 Baudrillards well-known essay
The Precession of Simulacra helps explain Rodman and the inherent implosiveness of the claim of authenticity. Baudrillard famously identies a
succession or perhaps even history (if we can use that term around Baudrillard) of the image as referent, identifying phases that lead up to a kind
of postmodern condition.
In the rst phase, Baudrillard writes, the image is the reection of a
profound reality. 29 This is the phase that western literature, especially
high western literature, so frequently and dangerously insists onthat a
Wallace Stegner novel or Leslie Silko poem reects a history and environment. That reection may not always be entirely adequate, for the West is in
every way profound. But the attempt is genuine. As Baudrillard puts it, the
image is a good appearancerepresentation is of the sacramental order.
Here the connection between the West and writing is secure, grounded in
the possibility of representational authenticity.
In the second phase the image masks and denatures a profound reality. Here the reality remains intact, while the text or image confounds that
reality. Such an image may intentionally denature reality. As Lee Clark
Mitchell writes of the Western, actual landscapes are everywhere recast
because the genre conceives of setting not as authentic locale but as escapist fantasy. 30 This phase may seem like an inversion of the rst, but, at
least in terms of this map of literary history, it is merely the ip side of the
same coin. This phase includes the obviously falsifying, mythologizing
texts (romances, tall tales, dime novels, Westerns, and so on) that inauthentically distort the Great West. Reality, or history, is dismissed. Mitchell writes, when factual accuracy comes to seem inconsequential, novels
emerge to do the narrative work that history refuses. 31 But, even when an
exaggerated adventure novel, Western, or tall tale corrupts western history,

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it is still trading on that history, still making assumptions about the Real
West. Western literary criticism is complicit here as well, frequently offering up interpretations that examine and correct textual distortion and that
revise the myth. Such an approach, while often sophisticated, still plays the
authenticity game, believing in the connection between writing and fact and
hermeneutically trying to recover the West.
Baudrillard writes that in the third phase the image masks the absence of
a profound reality. This phase initiates the postmodern construction of reality, for here the image plays at being an appearanceit is of the order of
sorcery. It is easy enough to observe this kind of play and sorcery in RodmanPoe repeatedly teases out his texts ability to confuse the relationship
between language and place, between signier and signied. While skeptical, this phase of deconstructive imaging nevertheless continues to examine the relation between image and profound (and now profoundly absent)
In the fourth and nal phase the image has no relation to any reality
whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum. This phase may be seen as both
radical and romantic, allowing the image to produce both hyperreality and
a self-referential, creative (literary) discourse.32 Baudrillard calls simulation
at this stage a strategy of the real, and it is exactly what Poe explores in
Rodman.33 That is, the referent of Rodman is not landscape and history but
language and writing. But, of course, its not that simple; although I believe
in something called literary history (just as I believe in a place called the
West), it is impossible to place Rodman merely in a vortex of books and
words. Rodman is self-contained in that it is a simulacrum, a copy without
relation to western reality, yet it circulates in cultural space, carrying with it
the aura of authenticity. Rodman is revealing not because it is ctional or factual but because it is both.
Poes use of editorial convention combined with his borrowings from
legitimate explorations result in a work that is at once truthful and fraudulent.34 Although the premise of the work as the rst exploration is obviously
false, Rodman is paradoxically Poes most authentic ction. In fact, Rodman
managed to fool Robert Greenhow, Translator and Librarian to the Department of State, who recorded in an ofcial Senate report that Rodmans
journal was appearing in Burtons and thatin a wonderful phraseit was
not calculated to excite suspicions with regard to its authenticity. 35 Unlike Pym and The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall, both written as parodic fantasies and not as true hoaxes, Rodman succeeded in con63

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veying not only verisimilitude but also actual authenticity. Its descriptions
of exploration equipment, of Missouri River landscape and geography, of
ora and fauna, and even of Indian hostility, are all lifted from other credible nonctional accounts. What is fact and what is ction in Rodman? Consider that Poe borrowed frequently from Washington Irvings Astoria; Irving
in turn had employed his nephew Pierres summaries of numerous sources,
what he called collateral lights, including Astors notes and les, Wilson
Price Hunts journal, Robert Stuarts journal, Henry Marie Brackenridges
narrative, Jonathan Carvers writing, and, of course, Biddles rewriting of
the Lewis and Clark journals. At what point does an account of the actual
Missouri River become so layered in reiterations, like a game of Telephone,
that it loses any connection with the original landscape? We might try to
identify what in Rodman (and Irvings Astoria and countless others) is in fact
Lewis and Clark and then cut our way through the Biddle redaction hoping
for the actual notes and journalsperhaps a facsimile of those notes would
get us closest to the actual place. But then Poe ridicules that idea with the
unending circularity of texts and signs: Rodman supposedly preceded
Lewis and Clark, making his journal literally the precession of the simulacrum, the copy that comes before the original. Poes implication is that
behind a text is not a landscape or a reality but, rather, other texts, themselves plagiarizing, borrowing, and copying. In short, Poe suggests that we
should not be asking about the authenticity of a western textthats a
hopeless assignment, a game well never win. Rather, we should be asking:
how do texts circulate? How are they reproduced? How do they produce
copies, simulacra?
Thus, Rodman must be read in parallel with Kirklands A New Home, for
both works dramatically unsettle the literary concepts of fact and ction
and appear skeptical of any sort of knowable truth. It might be tempting to
say that Rodman is the inverse of A New Home: while Rodman is a work of
ction masquerading as fact, Kirklands book tells her own story as novel.
Yet such a formula oversimplies the much more dramatic reevaluation of
authorship and the West at play in both texts. In June 1849, just a few
months before he died, Poe wrote in Marginalia that we can, at any time,
double the true beauty of an actual landscape by half closing our eyes as we
look at it. 36 Poes we is an authorial we that simultaneously appropriates
reading and, here, observing. Poe imagines an author with the power to
transcribe and increase natures beauty through a ctionalizing activity.
Both Poe and Kirkland enjoyed that power of transcription, of rewriting

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both the natural and literary landscape. If we get less than the actual landscape, we also get more.
Bring Out Your Dead: Petried Twain, 1862 1872
Because western writers staked their claim on factual representation of
landscape, legends, and peoplerather than authorial creativitythe
dominant canon of American literature has largely ignored western authors. Despite prolic output and sales, nineteenth-century western writers
are nearly unknown. At centurys end writers such as Hamlin Garland and
Frank Norris would confront that invisibility, and, soon after, western nature writers would turn that attachment to place to their own self-inventing
advantage. But for much of the nineteenth century western authors continued to struggle with authenticitys hold. To understand this condition is to
understand a series of self-imposed limitations with which western authors
have struggled and to understand as well a profound, unsettling difference
between western writing and the established eastern canon. Popularity remained a temporary possibilitybut western authorship itself remained
crippled and inevitably dead.
Poe himself, in his 1843 review of Coopers Wyandott, considered the demands of popularity; discussed, in uncanny terms, the death of the author;
and unintentionally offered a stunning forecast of western writing in the
second half of the nineteenth century. Poe emphasized that the theme of
life in the wilderness remained one of intrinsic and universal interest,
appealing to the heart of man in all phases; a theme, like that of life upon
the ocean, so unfailingly omniprevalent in its power of arresting and absorbing attention, that . . . success or popularity is, with such a subject, expected as a matter of course. 37 But Poe goes on to scoff at the demeaning
notion of popularity, dividing those authors merely popular from authors of
genius. He contends that a writer, distrustful of his powers, relies on popular adventure plots, either life in the wilderness or on the ocean; however,
a man of genius will rarely, and should never, undertake either, in part because the subject will overwhelm the author. He continues:
And thus there are two great classes of ctions,a popular and
widely circulated class, read with pleasure, but without admirationin which the author is lost or forgotten; or remembered, if at
all, with something very nearly akin to contempt; and then, a class
not so popular, nor so widely diffused, in which, at every paragraph, arises a distinctive and highly pleasurable interest, spring-


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ing from our perception and appreciation of the skill employed, of
the genius evinced in the composition. After perusal of the one
class, we think solely of the bookafter reading the other, chiey
of the author. . . . In the former case, the books sometimes live,
while the authors usually die; in the latter, even when the works
perish, the man survives.38

We may employ Poes language and conclude that western writers could not
survive; although they were often read with pleasure and enjoyed a temporary popularity, they allowed their subject to overpower their own genius.
Their work did survive, absorbed into the stratosphere of popular visions of
the West, but the authors, as individually identied gures, died. Indeed,
one is tempted to argue, following Lionel Trillings Greek etymologies, that
the claim of authenticity, while empowering, was a form of suicide. (Emerson, at about the same time, remarked that imitation is suicide.)
It is no coincidence that only one nineteenth-century western author,
Mark Twain, managed to attain a canonically visible position in American
literary history, and it is no coincidence that Twain did so in great part by
ridiculing to perfection the entire foundation of western authorship. Twain
opens Roughing It (1872) with a virtual dissection of western writing, copying every detail of prefatory convention and vilifying the precursive process:
This book is merely a personal narrative, and not a pretentious history or a philosophical dissertation. . . . Still, there is information
in the volume; information concerning an interesting episode in
the history of the Far West, about which no books have been written by persons who were on the ground in person, and saw the happenings of the time with their own eyes. . . .
Yes, take it all around, there is quite a good deal of information
in the book. I regret this very much; but really it could not be
helped: information appears to stew out of me naturally, like the
precious ottar of roses out of the otter. Sometimes it has seemed to
me that I would give worlds if I could retain my facts; but it cannot
be. The more I calk up the sources, and the tighter I get, the more I
leak wisdom.39

Twains subversion of authorial reliability, veracity, and authenticity could

not be more evident. Deriding the innumerable prefatory remarks advertising information (such as James Halls call for accurate information,
Calvin Coltons desire to give information, and Amos Parkers hope that

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his book may be found to contain information sufcient to repay the perusal), Twain instead treats information as parodically regrettable, literally
the urination (leak) of an unreliably intoxicated (stewed and tighter)
author. But, if Twain cannot retain [his] facts, he nevertheless does manage to give worlds: he gives away the West that earlier authors had imagined and mercilessly exposes their carefully constructed identities.
In considering Twains reputation as a western writer, Lee Clark Mitchell has written that Twains brilliance lay in his recognition of the shaping
power of discourse, and his popularity derived from his skill in showing as
if for the rst time how much more fully our experience is structured by
words than by geography. 40 If Mitchell is correctand I think he is
Twains insight into the power of discourse has enormous implications
for western literature and its reliance on regional geography, the Real West,
and authenticity. And yet I would suggest that Twains vision is nearly
unique until well into the twentieth century. Arguably, it is not until literary
modernism is well under way that western writers began to question the
power of place. For most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries writers
and critics continued to emphasize that geography structures discourse
indeed, they banked on itand this belief continues to hold sway in the
postmodern age. Further, I would add to Mitchells statement this: that
Twains brilliance lay as well in his recognition that authorial identity and
canonical reputation are structured by wordsby literary performance
and not by geography, biography, or cultural environment. He claims to
be an invention not of the West itself but of the literary imagination, specically his own imagination, making him simultaneously authentic and
That Twain deployed and critiqued the idea of authenticity is hardly
news. While few scholars have studied Twains investigation of historical
realism, authorial identity, and authenticity in the narrow light of western
literary history, many critics have examined his playfully ambitious maneuvers in terms of American authorship, American humor, and the tall-tale
tradition. In fact, almost every major biography and critical study of Twain
over the past thirty years has commented on, if not focused on, his participation in the treacherous authenticity game, considering ways that Twains
own authorial identity is divided between real and ctive and examining
ways that his writing complicates representational realism. It is now a commonplace of critical inquiry to recognize the doubleness of the author
(Clemens/ Twain) and the multiple personalities of his literary realism. As

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Susan Gillman succinctly puts it, the peculiarly double personality Samuel
Clemens/Mark Twain has continued both to elude and to fascinate. 41 We
now assume, in the words of Richard S. Lowry, that Mark Twain was a social ction authored by a particular man. 42 The very titles of many major
works suggest how actively scholars have interrogated Twains constructions of authorship and history, titles such as The Authentic Mark Twain; Inventing Mark Twain; Getting To Be Mark Twain; Constructing Mark Twain; The Inventions of Mark Twain; The Mythologizing of Mark Twain; The Making of Mark
Twain; Our Mark Twain: The Making of His Public Personality; Acting Naturally:
Mark Twain in the Culture of Performance; In Bad Faith: The Dynamics of Deception
in Mark Twains America; Dark Twins: Imposture and Identity in Mark Twains America; and Littery Man: Mark Twain and Modern Authorship.
Given the intensity and accomplishment of such scholarship, what
new can be said about Twains critique of authenticity? It would be a fairly
simple process to relocate these arguments into western studies, showing
how Twain engaged these binaries (authentic/inauthentic, public/private,
original/copy, articial/real) in relation to western writing of the 1860s. Indeed, I would argue that Twains complex persona and parodic realism are
a direct response to the western cultural imagination and its insistence on
the power of place. But, because generations of critics have studied Twains
construction of authorship in the light of authorial psychology, narrative
identity, theater and performance, celebrity and publicity, capitalist speculations, American nationalism, and so on, the mere thought of another examination of Twain and authenticity is enervating. Instead, let me propose
a very simple and no doubt predictable thesis: Twains very public deliberations over authenticity not only parody the foundations of western writing, not only encourage an ever-expanding mass of critical work, but ultimately produce one of the grandest, most illusive of literary bodies. Twains
manipulation of western authenticity produces an author simultaneously
ubiquitous and invisible. The tradition of questioning Twains authenticity
is perhaps his cleverest invention, insuring his own status as unnervingly
original in a world of copies. James M. Cox has argued that the entire narrative of Roughing It is actually the exaggeration, the tall tale of Mark
Twain. 43 I would extend this ad absurdum: the entire history of reading
Twain is a tall tale, a narrative that cannot settle on being either ction or
hoax but which circulates with unending power.
I have in mind as a model the kind of critical exhumation that Louis A.
Renza performs on Poe in his groundbreaking essay Poes Secret Autobi68

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ography. Renza argues that one can construe Poes tales as autobiographical cryptograms, secret codes that ultimately attempt to manipulate
Poes own canonical reception.44 Taking autobiography to suggest a gure
of reading as opposed to genre of writing, Renza imagines that Poes tales
seek to control, predict, and thus predicate their own secret identity in
terms of misreadings. 45 Because his stories repeatedly enforce misreadings, Poe retains control of them, and the result is that his tales are selfdistracting artifacts. 46 Poes own internalized theorizing not only encourages his narcissistic project to possess a private and original relation to his
act of writing but also helps convince him of the possibility that his written works will indeed rise again in the future. Renza concludes that Poe
attempted to ghost-write . . . his place in American literary history. 47 To
be sure, many (if not all) writers attempt to control reading, and many (if
not all) writers manipulate their canonical reception. Renza suggests that
Poe is unusual in part because his attempts are so carefully encrypted and
because every effort to discover Poes secrets only contributes to the codication of his reputation. Twain likewise attempted to control his reception and enlarge his reputation but with one dramatic difference: he chose
public display over secret writing. Twain is a literary exhibitionist who deployed images of authorial spectacle rather than imprisonment. If Poe
chose the authority of Foucauldian discipline, controlling his stories and
readers through covert but implied surveillance, Twain chose punishment
the burlesque circus of authoritys violence.
The symbolic image here is not Poes cryptogram (which suggests both
a secret code and a message from the crypt) but Twains Petried Man.
Twain published the short hoax titled Petried Man in the Virginia City
(Nevada) Territorial Enterprise on 4 October 1862. This squib, as he later
called it, describes the recent discovery in Nevada of an ossied man,
petried into stone. This strange freak of nature, as Twain refers to the
gure, sits upright against a huge mass of croppings, apparently frozen
there by a century of limestone deposits. He sits with a pensive attitude,
the right thumb resting against the side of the nosethat is, thumbing
his nose at his viewers. A local justice holds an inquest, and the jury determines that the deceased came to his death from protracted exposure. The
justice concludes that, rather than blasting the stone gure from his spot in
order to bury him, they should leave him on display. The petried man, according to the hoax, not only created a profound sensation in the vicinity
but became a tourist spectacle: Everybody goes to see the stone man, as

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many as three hundred having visited the hardened creature during the past
ve or six weeks. 48 Twains hoax also took on a life of its own, earning a
broader visibility by being reprinted in a number of newspapers, many of
which failed to identify it as a hoax.
Both the gure and the story of the petried man exquisitely embody
Twains own subsequent literary identity. I do not mean to suggest that by
1862 Twain, who had not yet taken that name, was already preguring his
canonical reputation with subtle, proleptic textual inscriptionsrather,
that he was using his publications to think through the cultural logic of celebrity, spectacle, and literary authenticity. Twain eventually becomes the
petried man because he himself is a canonical spectacle, impossible to
bury. Or, rather, if he is buried, it is in full public view, a monument of authorship in an open-air pantheon. He gains extended (shelf ) life from his
exposure. Twain seems to have written a remarkable tableau of literary
history: crowds of critics gather around, staring at the sight. Yet the sight is
itself a hoax, and simply staring at it reproduces both its authority and
comic irony.
While the death of this author may be in question, his birth is not. Everett Emerson writes, the newborn, originalin more than one sense
and authentic Mark Twain was a product of Nevada. 49 It was in Nevada
and California and the West in generalthat Samuel Clemens started
inventing Mark Twain and the shifting personalities of his own authorship.
More important, it was during his early career in the West that he developed
his critique of authenticity. In 1868 he wrote to his friend Mary Mason Fairbanks about his own reputation and the recent publication of his rst book,
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches: There is
nothing that makes me prouder than to be regarded by intelligent people as
authentic. A name I have coveted so long& secured at last! I dont care
anything about being humorous, or poetical, or eloquent, or anything of
that kindthe end & aim of my ambition is to be authenticis to be considered authentic. 50 What does Twain mean by authentic? Is he suggesting
the anxious discourse of authentic selfhood and identity? Or does he mean
something more specic, perhaps that he hopes to appear an authentic author, authentic westerner, or authentic man? Everett Emerson reasonably
points out that his concern was not so much to be authentic as to be considered authentic. This concern is manifested in the way he presented himself or rather presented Mark Twain: a personage palpably present in his
words. Noting that there were two Twains, the youthful innocent and the

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experienced . . . veteran, Emerson concludes: Whichever it is, Mark

Twain seems like the genuine article. Both the vulnerability of the innocent
and the casual ease of the veteran assure the reader that whoever touches his
book touches a man. 51 And yet, to state the obvious, Twains letter lacks
sincerity, not because of the insistent superciality of his desire (to be considered authentic) but because he did everything possible to subvert even the
appearance of authenticity. Judging by his actions, he disdained authenticity. Everything was an act, signed by the actor.
We might call Twain a method actor who feigned a madness of techniques. Certainly, he tried every manner of displaying his artfulness: he invented an alter ego named the Unreliable; he wrote hoaxes that looked
like hoaxes; he publicly feuded with rival writers and editors over his veracity; he borrowed and plagiarized, recirculating the work of other writers
and journalists; he repeatedly revised his own public image; and, of course,
he played Mark Twain off Samuel Clemens. In all of these acts Twain seems
to have taken Poe as his model. Louis J. Budd argues in Our Mark Twain that
Twain, a kindred spirit of P. T. Barnum, was a writer who started from
western attitudes based in the newspaper ofce rather than the book and
frankly allied to the trades of publicity and staged entertainment. Yet Budd,
like most critics, continues to see in Twain a concealed integrity. In tracing
the evolving impact of his role, Budd writes that, on balance, Twain encouraged his public to reach out for autonomy and authenticity. In a subtler
message, he achieved by 1900 a heartening degree of frankness about his
image-building, a frankness that more than makes up for his moments of
fakery. As early as 1863 he openly warned that he had a sort of talent for
posturing. 52 Of course, it seems entirely plausible that Twains franknessthat is, the very show of frankness about fakeryis itself a form of
acting, even of fakery. Similarly, Randall Knoper, in his illuminating book
Acting Naturally: Mark Twain in the Culture of Performance, studies Twain in relation to the wide range of acting opportunities in postbellum America. Refusing a facile distinction between realism and performance, 53 Knoper
argues that Twain was keenly aware of the power of performance and the
need to dramatize authenticity: the concerns herebetween mimicry and
identication, detachment and absorption, and the articial and the real
were crucial questions . . . for Mark Twain as a realist writer, as a depicter
of characters he evaluated according to their authenticity. 54 Knoper,
however, refuses to see Twain as a postmodern performer who ironizes all
authenticity. Instead, Knoper wants to afrm that Twain was indeed a re71

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alist, partly in his grasping for the genuine, partly in his persistent sense
that it was out of reach. 55 Other critics and biographers are not so sure that
theres anything real at all about Twain. Andrew Hoffman, for example,
proposes not only the unreality of Mark Twain but the hollowness at
Clemens core as well: Sam Clemens could play Mark Twain to such success for so long only because his fundamental self was so unstable and uncertain. 56 Is Twain (or Clemens) real or authentic in any sense?
Judith Butlers theory of performativity sheds light on Twains authorial performance, even if the theoretical leap may seem extravagant. In
claiming in her book Gender Trouble that gender is constructed, she does not
assert . . . its illusoriness or articiality, where those terms are understood
to reside within a binary that counterposes the real and the authentic as
oppositional. 57 Rather, for Butler certain cultural congurations of gender take the place of the real. 58 In other words, there is no original gender, no authenticity other than the cultural copy. The performance and parody of identity (e.g., drag) in which she is so interested does not assume
that there is an original which such parodic identities imitate. Indeed, the
parody is of the very notion of an original. 59 Mark Twain seems to have
lived his life this way. Richard S. Lowry, whose Littery Man remains the
most sophisticated investigation of Twains construction of authorship and
authenticity, is keenly aware of Twains performative impulse. For Lowry,
Twains works enact a parodic performance of authorship, a performance
whose success depends paradoxically on establishing the very authority
such performance calls into question. 60 Lowry is right, and the performative nature of Twains writing does indeed shed light on the cultural
theater of the Gilded Age, on Twain, and on authorship itself. Yet when we
extend this cultural theater into the presentwhen we consider the theater
of criticismthen something slightly different takes place: Twain did not
need to establish that authority but to explode the very idea of authority. It
is the very instability of authority and authenticity that keeps critics guessing. In other words, Twain not only simulates authenticity; he also simulates fakeryboth are shows. And to attend to this performance, as critics
inevitably do, is to pay admission to Twains hall of mirrors.
Twain dramatizes his performative impulse by parodying a parody. In
1870 (a year after The Innocents Abroad appeared in print and two years before
the publication of Roughing It) he revisited the Petried Man squib in a
piece for his New York Galaxy column, lamenting that, despite its roaring
absurdities, readers nevertheless believed the story. Indeed, because of his

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own unfair pretence of truth, Twain remarks that he himself was in

some danger of believing in [his] own fraud. 61 Twain took the opportunity
to ponder why parody is often received as realism. Sometimes, he writes,
the reader is simply too trusting; but sometimes
the nub or moral of the burlesqueif its object be to enforce a
truth escapes notice in the superior glare of something in the
body of the burlesque itself. And very often this moral is tagged
on at the bottom, and the reader, not knowing that it is the key of
the whole thing and the only important paragraph in the article,
tranquilly turns up his nose at it and leaves it unread. One can deliver a satire with telling force through the insidious medium of a
travesty, if he is careful not to overwhelm the satire with the extraneous interest of the travesty, and so bury it from the readers sight
and leave him a joked and defrauded victim, when the honest intent
was to add to either his knowledge or his wisdom.62

Unlike Poe, who instructed his readers to read between the lines in order
to solve his cryptograms, Twain simply tells his readers to read every line,
suggesting that misreading occurs by a kind of oversight or textual distraction. Like so many western writers, Twain insists on the importance of surfaces, in this case of his own authorial image. In the case of Petried Man
the clue to its absurdity, as Twain soon tells us, is the position of the frozen
gure thumbing his nose. But even here, exactly when noting that the
reader turns up his nose and misses the point, Twain is subtly thumbing
his nose again. The body of the burlesque is a spectacle that casts a superior glare, while the satire itself is buried from the readers sight. In
Poe the body is buried (often alive) and haunts the anxious characters; in
Twain the body (quite dead) is displayed for the amusement of the public.
Instead, whats being buried or occluded in Twain is the nubthe
truth (if its object be to enforce a truth) or original point of the satire.
And, in a moment of feigned earnestness, Twain confesses that the original
motive of satire is to increase the readers knowledge or wisdom. As if
to prove it, Twain then retells the original Petried Man story and the history of its success but ends up burying it in a gaudy display of excess. He exaggerates every point (a single century of ossication is now three) and
ludicrously suggests that the story itself was so copied and guilelessly gloried that it swept the great globe and culminated in sublime and unimpeached legitimacy in the august London Lancet. 63 That is, as Don Flor73

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ence points out, showing just how difcult truth is to come by, Twain turns
this piece, purportedly explanatory, into a hoax in its own right. . . . With this
follow-up article, as with the original, the reader is left cemented as fast to
Twains ongoing hoax as the petried man is to the rock. 64
The fate of that original is especially fascinating, for it begins to disappear before our very eyes, buried in our sight through its prodigious display, leaving us joked and defrauded. In the simplest sense the original
grows smaller as Twains retelling grows larger: both the story and its publication seem less real. The power and effect, Twain suggests, lay in the
guilelessly gloried copies that circulated. The original vanishes in a literal way as well; in one of those predictable twists of literary history, the Territorial Enterprise printing of Petried Man is nowhere to be found: there is
no known extant original. We have only reprints of it from contemporary
newspapers. And, in yet another turn, even the nonexistent original is not
original. As Edgar Marquess Branch and Robert H. Hirst, editors of Twains
Early Tales and Sketches, reveal, in fact, Clemens piece was not the rst western hoax about a petried human being: an article entitled Extraordinary
and Shocking Death of Miner was published four years earlier (1858) in the
San Francisco Alta California and widely reprinted as Extraordinary Account
of Human Petrifaction. 65 Thus, Petried Man is a copy without an original, a simulacrum of sorts.
More complexly, Twain makes the idea of authenticity itself a subject for
study. He instructs us to attend to his fabricationsand we do, perpetuating his act of fabrication. Richard S. Lowry remarks that Twains authorial
self-construction represents what Fredric Jameson, drawing on Kenneth
Burke, has characterized as a symbolic act. 66 It is symbolic in the sense
that the act occurs at the level of symbols (i.e., representation): indeed, authorship becomes itself a symbol, an icon to behold; and it is a symbolic
act because the visible act itself is the act of producing symbols, copies.
Considering Twains crafted identity as a tourist/author in The Innocents
Abroad, for example, Lowry writes: in visiting an authentic site, the tourist reproduced a sight; in representing such an experience, the writer reproduced representation. 67 (Readers of Don DeLillos White Noise will recognize this scene as an earlier version of the most photographed barn in
America.) Lowry concludes that what Twain learned as a tourist was precisely the lesson he discovered in writing his book: originality and authenticity have nothing to do with the culture he produced. The magic of authorship lay in copying, and thereby altering and converting, authentic art

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into reproduced artinto a commodity. 68 Twain not only insists that we

observe the act of copying but that we learn the magicians secrets. In other
words, critics are forced into addressing copies of copies.
This kind of metacritical complexity is on display in Harold K. Bush Jr.s
essay Our Mark Twain? Or Some Thoughts on the Autobiographical
Critic. This piece is one of the niftierbut more slipperyarticles on
Twain to have appeared in recent years. Bush sets out to examine autobiographical criticism and personal writing in Twain scholarship. Looking
at recent worksnotably Lowrys Littery Man and Shelley Fisher Fishkins
Lighting Out for the TerritoryBush argues that Twain criticism inevitably
turns personal. Since autobiographical criticism has been historically
commonplace among Twain scholars, Bush writes, it is particularly instructive to view how some critics have appropriated the author and how
others have been scandalized by those appropriations even as they proceed
to enact their own. 69 That is, Twains critics claim their Twain and end
up inscribing their own scholarly personalities. Bushs broader goal is to
recognize how the personal aspects of our lives as scholars inform and
lend power, for better or worse, to our scholarly creations (119), and his
implicit target seems to be academic culture, which he repeatedly describes
(skeptically, it seems) as postmodern. For example, Bush notes that Lowry
utilizes the postmodern garb of social constructionism to read Twains
performance of authorship, but, more important, he argues that Littery
Man constitutes Lowrys attempt to create authority within the larger context of academic culture generally and the smaller circle of Mark Twain
scholarship specically (110). It is an example, Bush contends, of the
tenure book, and it says nearly as much about Lowry in his academic milieu as it does about Twain in his cultural environment. Indeed, as Lowry
reads Twain in cultural context, Bush read Lowry.
At rst Bushs essay may not appear to be a major statement on Twain
but, instead, a provocative reconsideration of contemporary scholarship,
a kind of review-essay. But Bushs article is so smartand deceptive
that it deserves comment, for in Poe-esque fashion it turns itself into exactly
what it is critiquing. Intentionally or not, it is perfectly postmodern, a hoax
of sorts, and serves Twain in exactly the kind of metacritical manner that I
am investigating. I dont mean to suggest that Bush is insincere or merely
ironic; rather, he deploys a discourse of authority and authenticity to critique that same discourse in others and to show their critique of the same
in Twain. First, Bush reveals the personal stakes involved in the scholarly

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enterprise (108), by which he means scholarly investment in both Twain

and the critics career. Bush sees Lowrys investigation of Twain, on one
level, as self-promotion, literally, to tenure; Lowry, in this sense, is putting
himself on display in the academic theater, authorizing himself as a sort of
littery-criticism man. Moreover, Bush reads Lowrys scholarly apparatus
(acknowledgments, notes, and so on) as itself an exemplary text: the trail
of notes left in most of todays scholarly tomes indicates a great deal about
their authors, for it comprises a sort of intellectual autobiography of the
writer. In addition, insofar as the contemporary style of noting exemplies
what I mean by scholarly models of language, such documentation should
be seen as performing a highly rhetorical task, most prominently the creation of an authorial ethos (113).
Bush seems to rewrite (copy from the original) Lowrys explanation of
Twains symbolic act of authorship, seeing Lowrys notes as the symbolic
activities of Lowrys own quest for authorship. But of course, as Bush surely
knows, this critique boomerangs back at Bush himself, who naturally uses
the conventions of modern scholarship in his own essay, including elaborate footnotes. Amazingly, Bushs rst footnote reads: I would like to
thank Richard Lowry [and three others] for their close and intelligent readings of earlier drafts of this essay (100). And a subsequent note refers to the
personal correspondence between Bush and Lowry (114). Not only does
such documentation lend professional authority to the essay but itself performs a highly rhetorical task. Or multiple tasks: on the one hand, it
tends to produce Bushs own intellectual autobiography, demonstrating
the traces of his intellectual paths and values. (The handwriting is on the
wall.) On the other hand, it tends to decenter the essay itself in stunning
ways by situating authority in other texts, both earlier (original) drafts of the
essay and in letters. Given that Bushs tone toward Lowry, while generally
admiring, is at times skeptical, at least in suggesting that Lowrys book is
professionally self-serving, one must wonder about their correspondence.
Admittedly, this extended reading of Bushs piece may seem frivolous.
Am I not writing a critique of a critique of a critique of Twains cultural critique of authenticity? Yes, and that is my point. Even if I am misreading
Bush as a postmodern hoaxer or exaggerating his articles intent, I am still
doing exactly what Bush says criticism does. And every step in the process
is another (limestone) deposit on Twains own petried gure as well as a
deposit in his canonical account. If, as Bush argues, some critics have appropriated the author, claiming him as our Mark Twain, then clearly Bush

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has appropriated Lowry, and I have appropriated Bush.70 And we have all
always already been appropriated by Twain, who wrote all these moves for
us. What Bush calls the intellectual autobiography buried in notes is akin to
what Louis A. Renza calls the secret autobiography buried in Poes tales,
for both assert a covert, cryptic authorial presence, one that misdirects
readers away from the real subject and toward a phantom gure of the author. Twains encoded autobiography is neither intellectual nor secret
but, rather, what might be called a manifest autobiography that insists
less on our misreadings of his authorial hoax than on our rereadings of
them. He keeps us spinning in place, repeatedly examining Twain and authenticity as if there were an end in sight. The only thing in sight is Mark
Twain, a forever outsized public gure, thumbing his nose.


The Picturesque Joaquin Miller

A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more
picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate
sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot
oscar wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Joaquin Miller, now largely forgotten, is arguably the central gure in the
early history of western American authorship and a connecting link between the so-called San Francisco circle of the 1860s and the owering of
western realism toward the centurys end. Miller emerged exploded,
rather during the early 1870s, a time when western literature was still essentially a promise, not yet delivered goods. Throughout the 1870s and later
Millers international celebrity as a western writer was equaled only by Mark
Twains and Bret Hartesalthough their literary efforts met with a considerably warmer reception. In fact, the public cared less for Millers actual poetry, much of which was dismissed and attacked, than for the face and the
gure, the icon that Miller became. Drawing on the surging popularity of
western types such as Daniel Boone and on the expanding market for sensational dime novels, Miller invented himself as a poetic frontiersman, the
Byron of the Rockies or Poet of the Sierras, as he was known. He was
the rst author to capitalize fully on the myth of the West and to circulate a
western persona to economic advantage. After his extraordinary ascent in
1871, his face and gure were ubiquitous. He had become a public relations
genius and an author of wide renown.
Millers strategies for authorial advance dynamically reveal the construction of authorship on both regional and national levels. First, Millers amboyant posturing suggests as much about the complicated condition of
authorship in the American West in the early 1870s as about Millers own
canonical ambitions. While the eastern and European audiences eagerly
sought news of the West and enjoyed the stories and accounts arriving from
the region, no individual author had yet emerged who personally embodied
the perceived western spirit. Dime novels were in their infancy (then introducing Buffalo Bill to the public), and the popular San Francisco scene was
increasingly moribund, largely exporting itself eastward. Bret Harte may

authentic reproduction

have been the prototype of the modern man of letters as a business man,
in the apt words of Gary Scharnhorst, and Mark Twain may have possessed
a genius for authorial performance, but no author had come fully to represent the West.1 But Miller sought exactly thatto stand for the region as an
icon both imitable and authentic. If, as Miles Orvell contends in The Real
Thing, the tension between imitation and authenticity is a primary category
in American civilization, then Joaquin Miller played it both ways.2 On the
one hand, Miller capitalized on the developing popularity of exaggerated
(recognizably inauthentic) western romance, a form of regional imagining
that required formulaic, imitative representation; Miller literally invented
himself not as a genuine original but as an endlessly reproducible copy. His
investment in the power of commercial imitation is unmistakable. On the
other hand, he vociferously claimed a regional authenticity as wellthe
consistent, almost generic claim of western authors since the 1830s. He employed his attachment to place as a legitimizing strategy, and, oddly, as he
sought to represent the West, he also argued that the West represented
himthat those associated sites emblematized his canonical condition.
Second, and more broadly, Millers successes raise a number of theoretical questions about the nature of authenticity itself and the ways in which
strategies of authenticity inform cultural representation and celebrity. Indeed, using the language of Jean Baudrillard, we might say that Millers career depended on a strategy of the real: Miller is helping to invent the West
as hyperreal and himself as representative of that West, a simulation of
a real without origin or reality. 3 Miller is an authentic reproduction and
in retrospect appears to be aware of all the discursive play assumed in that
phrase: the ironies, the duplicities, the commercial appeal. Millers own
historyhis corporeal body, his borrowed name, his shifting home sites,
his creative autobiographiesall work to collapse easy distinctions between fact and ction. Further, Millers struggles epitomize the dynamic exchange between a self-authenticating author and the cultural pressures of
nationalist canon making. Millers presence emerges as one of the supreme
models of self-advertisement in American literary history; he was an author
who used every available technology to publicize himselfa material author in an increasingly material world. Incorporating the poses of Byron,
Whitman, and Poe, anticipating the antics of Mailer and even Madonna,
Millers amboyant, excessive presentation is both parody and paradigm.
The late nineteenth century, imbued with what Orvell calls the culture
of imitation, was ready for Millers brand of self-reproduction: Miller

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emerged in a period when both the resources and the public were available
to be exploited and appealed to by those aspiring either to construct greater
stages or to appear on them. 4 Newspapers and magazines circulated with
increased effect, commercial advertising was discovering its enormous potential, and the fashion industry would soon exert its own peculiar inuence.5 Indeed, Miller showed himself to be profoundly interested in the language of advertising as a form of public discourse and even claimed that
our best real American literature so far is found in our business letters, advertisements, and concise telegrams. 6 Using every marketing technique
available, Miller fashioned himself into a star and was arguably the rst
American author to use the machinery of modern commercial culture to invent himself as literary celebrity.7 Millers presence parodies earlier notions
of the self-made man, the gure who develops moral and personal character: Miller is the prototype of the self-made man who develops only a public reputation. And, as Karen Halttunen has shown, just such a shift was
also occurring in the reorientation of middle-class attitudes toward social
mobility after mid-century. . . . After 1870, a new success literature was
emerging that effectively instructed its readers to cultivate the arts of the
condence man in order to succeed in the corporate business world. 8
Miller both adapted and employed these masking arts to fashion himself
as the poetic frontiersman, the Byron of the Rockies, and even as the literary condence man for the age that commenced with P. T. Barnums touring spectacles and closed with Buffalo Bills nal Wild West show.9
Technologies of Selfhood: The Picturesque Miller
Signicantly, Joaquin Millers reputation was fostered and secured not in
the United States but in England; indeed, American audiences were at rst
slow and cautious in accepting him. As an unknown Oregon poet, journalist, and lawyer, Miller had separated from his wife (according to legend
telling her that a man never becomes famous until he leaves his wife, or
does something atrocious to bring himself into notice) and eventually descended on San Francisco in 1870 to make his name.10 When the busy literary circle led by Bret Harte largely ignored him, he traveled to London with
equally high hopes. In the preface to Pacic Poems (1871), published soon after his arrival in England, he described himself as a nameless young man
leaving the woods of the Great West, and seeking the capital of the world,
to publish. 11 There is unselfconscious irony in the words, for he indeed
did seek the capital to publish, paying the printing costs of his early poetry

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collections. But even Millers notably unironic intellect must have enjoyed
the adjective nameless, for Miller had recently changed his rst name (after
much deliberation) from Cincinnatus to Joaquin, borrowing the more exotic and impressive sobriquet from Joaquin Murietta, the legendary California bandit and title gure of Millers second collection, Joaquin et al.
(1869). Miller, with the encouragement of the savvy Ina Coolbrith, hoped
that the recherch name would bring him notice and a somewhat dangerous reputation. Millers lifework was to maintain and ever increase the value
of this name.
By taking Muriettas name, Miller was staking a claim to a number of literary and multiethnic discourses. Murietta, a Mexican rebel/outlaw nally
captured and executed in California, was well known through numerous
legends and reports, notably John Rollin Ridges popular and sensationalized Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murietta, the Celebrated California Bandit
(1854). Miller seems to have adored his contrived association with Murietta
and once playfully suggested the possibility that he was Murietta: And is it
not possible that I am even now the original and only real Joaquin Murietta?
For more than once in the old days I was told (and how pleased I was to hear
it said) that no other than Joaquin Murietta could ever ride as I rode. But
here again is confusion. . . . For his hair was as black as a whole midnight,
while mine was the hue of hammered gold. And, after all, was it not my vanity and willingness to be thought Joaquin, rather than pity for the brave boy
outlaw . . . that made me write of him and usurp his bloody name? 12
In wondering whether he has a double, Miller here boasts that he is not
the original and only real Muriettaas if the original could ever be
known in the intricate layerings of the hyperreal Westbut a simulacrum,
a copy designed to take full advantage of the established name. By presenting himself as a copy of Murietta, Miller turns savagery into marketable
and reproducible product. Miller even implies an awareness of the ethnic
and commercial transformation represented by the names new owner, a
transformation from Mexican (perhaps implied in the obliquely derogatory
terms black and bloody) to Euro-American (hammered gold). Further,
Miller, who often portrayed his personal past as heroically linked to Native
American cultures, is borrowing some of the authorial light cast by John
Rollin Ridge (Yellow Bird).
Like Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman (to name two obvious precursors), Miller sought a reputation; almost immediately, he discovered one
that worked, and he worked it hard for the next four decades. His break81

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through book (his fourth collection) was titled Songs of the Sierras (1871),
published in London and Boston just months after Pacic Poems. The collection, like all of Millers writing, is a series of self-inventions designed to introduce and publicize his persona. His initial success in London was unprecedented in western American lettersthe British public and literati,
overlooking his limited poetic talent, found the frontiersman irresistible.
Miller had arrived at a ripe moment: London was ready for the Wild West.
Since the 1850s England had voraciously consumed sensational accounts
of the West, provided by such authors as Mayne Reid, G. A. Henty, and
George Frederick Huxton. But Miller was the rst American author to arrive
as a frontier poetseemingly raw, wild, and genuine. Years before Buffalo
Bills touring spectacle, Millers practiced showmanship triumphed; his
sombrero, cowboy hat, spurs, and animal skins delighted his audiences,
who thrilled at his often invented and ludicrous tall tales. The likes of Robert Browning, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Algernon Charles Swinburne
feted him even while doubting his poetic gift. Miller helped instigate and
popularize a fashion for the West in Britain that endured for decades; by the
late 1880s Oscar Wilde, who became Millers friend, could write that English people are far more interested in American barbarism than they are in
American civilization. . . . [T]hey have been known to prefer buffaloes to
Boston. 13
Joaquin Miller depicted himself as reecting, rather than affecting, his
historical moment and locus. His egotistical posturing certainly suggests
an attitude of self-importance, but he did not seek the status of romantic genius, the sui generis original poet. Quite the contrary, his contrived persona
ultimately refused the burden of an individualized, complicated self; further, the problem of representational reliability is negated in Miller, who
donned the mantle of cultural icon. By assuming (and popularizing) a western type, the backwoodsman or frontiersman, Miller sought both a recognizable commercial image and an escape from the idiosyncrasies and limitations of individuality. This strategy holds true for his later persona as well,
that of the wise and wizened sage. Even when his vanity got the best of him,
as when he pronounced himself the American poet, he made his case not
by claiming literary merit or critical recognition but by pointing to the familiar American scenes he depicted and to his own personal experience on
the spot spoken of. 14 Like James Hall, Timothy Flint, and others, Miller
pointed attention at the West, not at his writing. And, like Buffalo Bill Cody,
his strategy was to appear representative: a larger-than-life character but a

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recognizable symbol of the American West. By appearing as a type in a variety of media, Miller accomplished a novel and enviable authorial condition:
he was not only marketable but reproducible.
Millers most effective method of authorial self-positioning was the advertisement of his physical presence. His use of outrageous western costume became his early signature, the signier of his presence. His image
was conveyed through personal appearance (such as lectures, readings,
dinners, and other social functions) as well as through the circulation of
publicity portraits. The British literati felt that they had discovered an American original, or at least a good show, and American audiences, even if
suspicious of Millers British reception, were naturally curious about the attention paid to Miller. Indeed, the two countries often shared their entertainment; as Miles Orvell documents, the popular culture in America was
rapidly becoming, after the Civil War, at once a culture of consumption and
a culture of spectatorship. Richard Altick in The Shows of London (1978) details the extraordinary variety of spectacles that caught the fascinated eye of
the British public, and many of these had a second life across the Atlantic,
or were imitated and adapted for American consumption. During the 1870s
and 1880s spectator entertainment grew . . . into more and more elaborate spectacles: circuses, minstrel shows, vaudeville, light musicals, sports,
road shows. 15 Miller took advantage of the culture of spectacle and played
an exaggerated western role, lling a commercial void. The fact that he was
role-playing was hardly lost on his admirers and critics: for example, one
reviewer commented that it is the sombreros and serapes and gulches
. . . which have caused our English friends to nd in Mr. Miller a truly American poet, and another reviewer, less generous, complained in 1878 that
Miller was still the half-reclaimed savage he has chosen to represent himself. 16 But such recognition only propelled Millers unusual status. (As
Nathanael West described his character Harry Greener in The Day of the Locust: His outt fooled no one, but then he didnt intend it to fool anyone.
His slyness was of a different sort.) 17 When his public image later evolved
from the frontiersman into an elderly sage gure, Miller himself could refer
to his earlier persona as that creation of the American imagination, the
stalwart, red-shirted and six-shootered hairy man of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains; 18 disingenuously denying agency, Miller here pretends that
his rst public incarnation was reception-generated. Quite the contrary,
Miller had always carefully produced himself.
Miller accomplished this end by inventing himself as picturesque

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the term itself nally standing as not only a canonical strategy but also as
something richer, a philosophy of sorts. The word picturesque has, of course,
traditionally been applied to landscapes, especially country houses and gardens, suggesting the subjects aesthetic composition and its tness for
imitation by art, in Walter Bagehots phrase.19 The word is transferred
to Miller with surprising ease, for his persona was itself composed and designed for imitation and reproduction. Miller is remembered, quite literally,
as a picture. The British celebrity and actress Lillie Langtry, for example, recalled Miller as a child of nature and perhaps the most picturesque personality of the literary world; Harr Wagner, Millers friend and coeditor of
the San Francisco Golden Era, described Miller as the most picturesque
gure American literature has produced; New Yorks Literary Digest commented that picturesque in his red annel shirt and top boots, Mr. Miller
was the lion of the London drawing-rooms; Mark Twain remembered that
in London Miller was affecting the picturesque and untamed costume of
the wild Sierras; Martin Severin Peterson is one of many biographers who
describe Millers picturesque and romantic gure; and Stuart P. Sherman,
editor of Millers Poetical Works, avoided literary evaluation but remarked
that Miller was a picturesque gure and the picturesque incarnation of
the spirit which pervades his poems. 20 Such testimonials suggest much
more than the importance of Millers physical appearance, more even than
the correlation between appearance and inner aura so common earlier in
the century. The descriptions of Millers picturesque presence identify his
highest achievement, a quality carefully produced and manufactured and
worthy itself of laudatory attention. Oscar Wilde could say of Lillie Langtry
that her beauty was a form of genius; 21 so with Miller his physical persona was a brilliant example of self-representation.
In the 1870s the most recognizable and accessible form of portraiture
was the photograph, and Millers calculated dress and gure became ubiquitously reproduced. His era saw a series of dramatic improvements in photographic technology. As the demands for daguerreotype portraits (difcult
to reproduce) outpaced printing ability in the 1850s, new methods of reproduction became available, rst the wet-collodion tintype, then the immensely popular but undersized carte de visite (mid-1850s through the
1860s), and soon the cabinet card (51 2  4 inches, introduced in 1866). Signicantly, actors and actresses placed a particular priority on publicity photographs, especially the cabinet photograph, resulting in a new marketing
specialization; the success of the [publicity] photograph was largely due to

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the sitters power to project his personality. 22 By the end of the century, as
Leo Braudy points out, photography was already well established as the
prime way to bring oneself to the attention of ones relatives, friends, and
followers. 23 Miller employed this developing technology of photographic
reproduction, and portraits of him in the 1870s and later became circulated
in a way that Poes daguerreotypes never could in the 1840s or even Hawthornes in the 1850s. Pictures of Miller were widely distributed as gifts, as
forms of personal introduction, and as an advertising image. Photographic
collections of San Francisco celebrities, including Miler, were commercially
released (like an early version of baseball trading cards or perhaps fan magazines). Millers image was later pictured on postcards (one riding a horse
named Chief ), and the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce printed cards of
Miller for tourists visiting the Bay Area. Miller had made his own bodily
presence a work of art and an easily reproduced one.
The reproduction of photographic portraits t Miller perfectly. Earlier in
the century, as Alan Trachtenberg has noted, what was needed was condence that the eye could reliably discern inner character from outer appearance, and therefore photographers adopted the notion that the exterior of a person might reveal inner character. 24 This somewhat mystical
sense of photography had faded by the 1870s, replaced by culture-wide enthusiasm for cheap and accurate imitations. Walter Benjamin inuentially
afrmed that this transition to the age of mechanical reproduction was
marked in part by a change in performative value: to an even greater degree
the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any
number of prints; to ask for the authentic print makes no sense. 25 Joaquin Miller seemed to intuit this concept and apply it in subtle ways to his
own public presentation, destabilizing as it were the notions of inner self,
originality, and authenticity. The concept of an authentic original here refers not to the rst print or photograph but to Miller himself; his insight (or
instinct) was to blur and even negate the possibility of authenticity, even
while claiming to be the real thing. As a work of art himself, he refused to
be limited to a single authentic or true self but labored subversively toward
a kind of permanent and innite reproducibility. He used photographic
portraiture in the same way that actors did: exactly not to reveal his inner
character but to display the outer persona. Thus, even friends, knowing
better, remembered not him (the original) but his picturesqueness.
Signicantly, the shift in photographic representation (from the aura of

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inner self to received, reliable public image) reects a larger cultural

change: Millers rise coincided with the beginnings of a shift in the perception of the independent subject, the individual self. Over the second half of
the nineteenth century America became increasingly less convinced of a
stable, denable genuine self beneath the layers of social convention. T. J.
Jackson Lears has shown that toward the end of the nineteenth century
identity seemed far more fragmented and problematic than earlier generations had imagined, and even at the highest theoretical levels . . . Americans showed a fascination with social role playing. 26 Miller seemed to
turn this developing fascinationand uneasinesswith selfhood to his
advantage, inventing a character nonthreatening in its simplicity. Indeed,
biographer Martin Severin Peterson marvels that Millers personality
shows so many facets that the central one is hard to x upon. 27 And Miller
took every advantage of a market in which the fragmented self became a
commodity like any other, to be assembled and manipulated for private
gain. 28 He was the condence man returned but without a hidden identity,
without an inner self.
Millers insistence on the mechanical reproducibility of his character is
reected in textual portraits as well: both his poetry and prose incorporate
techniques of echoing self-portraiture. His poetry, despite its imaginative
license, was an explicit manipulation of autobiographical legend. As critic
O. W. Frost writes, Songs of the Sierras and later writings of the 1870s that
sustained Millers popularity present the same image of the Far Western
hero, and this hero in poem after poem is essentially the poet himself. 29
Miller often advertised this angle: My rst lines, and in truth, all my lines,
as a rule, were descriptive stories of the lands I knew, so that my poems are
literally my autobiography. 30 Poems such as The Arizonian, Walker in
Nicaragua, and even Kit Carsons Ride all suggest that Miller had participated in daring, dramatic adventures, and audiences were quick to associate Miller with his poetic fantasies. Yet Miller could also acknowledge that,
like all phases of his autobiographical presentation, his poetic self is a
ction. In a note to The Tale of the Tall Alcade he wrote: I recall that
when Trelawny told me that Byron was more ambitious to be thought the
hero of his wildest poems than even to be king of Greece I could not help
saying to myself, as Napoleon said to the thunders preceding Waterloo, We
are of accord. 31 In a typically self-aggrandizing ash Miller aligns himself
with Byron and Napoleon through a kind of double ventriloquismand
displaces the king of Greece. And, revealingly, he does not suggest that he

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would like to experience the heights of heroic action but, rather, that he
wanted to be thought the hero.
In addition to poetic reproductions, Miller made an industry of prose
self-portraits. His Life Amongst the Modocs (1873), telling of his partially invented life with the Pit and Modoc Indians, was the rst of his autobiographies; its immediate popularity resulted in numerous republications. Like
the man himself, the book was reprinted in multiple incarnations over
the next quarter-century, usually with little or no substantive changes. It appeared as Unwritten History, Paquita, My Own Story, and Joaquin Millers Romantic Life Amongst the Red Indians, each title implying a different genre (history, romance, autobiography, adventure/dime novel) designed to appeal
to its own target audience. Similarly, he wrote a lengthy autobiographical
piece for a Washington newspaper that was later reprinted as the eightytwo-page introduction to his collected Poems (1909) and again posthumously as Overland in a Covered Wagon (1930). Millers organic sense of literary production (organic in that it constantly grows in a seemingly natural,
even Whitmanian progression) can even be found within his footnotes to
his republished poems; Miller compulsively incorporates lengthy and often
irrelevant updating notes, notes that together form a stream-of-consciousness narrative that Stuart P. Sherman aptly terms shredded memoirs. 32 In
these poetic and prose writings, in interviews, in lectures, and in published
letters, Miller made a virtue of excess by repeatedly retelling his life, enacting Walter Benjamins observation that by making many reproductions
[one] substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. 33 By endorsing the publicness of his persona, Miller celebrated the opportunity of
self-multiplication. It is as if by multiplying himself he could create immortality, or at least canonical security.
Further, as Miller carefully turned himself into myth using the methods
of the reproducible picturesque, the problem of another kind of authenticitytelling the truthbecame inverted. Miller refused to be limited by fact
or original experience; quite simply, he lied. Many critics attacked him for
his duplicity, especially those invested in western letters; Ambrose Bierce,
for example, wrote in the San Francisco Examiner that Miller cannot, or will
not tell the truth. But getting caught in a lie or exaggeration (a frequent occurrence) had no real ill effect; quite the contrary, his Munchausenisms
(in the language of Nathaniel Hawthornes son Julian) became a part of his
legend, and even Bierce had to admit that Miller never tells a malicious or
thrifty falsehood. 34 Miller, who was occasionally called Joking Miller, re87

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sponded to Bierce as he responded to many such attacks, by declaring: I

am not a liar. . . . I simply exaggerate the truth. 35
In fact, Millers lying became much more than simple self-mythologizing, more than a Poe hoax or Twain tall taleit became a kind of triumphant insider game that thematized an ideology of ction and selfhood.
And as such it became a strategy for authorial positioning. Critics note that
Millers oeuvre is old-fashioned, that his exaggerations (in his life and writings) display a traditional romantic sensibility that resisted the advance
of literary realism, which was quickly becoming the dominant literary
school of Millers day. Yet, although Miller clearly uses an imaginative
force to manipulate the cult of nostalgia for the Wild West (a familiar strategy of popular western narratives), he is hardly romantic, hardly old-fashioned, hardly a mere sensationalist. Rather, Miller carefully juxtaposes his
fantastic imaginings with credible (or at least strenuously argued) accounts, and both historical and literary realism become subjectied. T. J.
Jackson Lears has shown that, in the second half of the century, reality
itself began to seem problematic, something to be sought rather than
merely lived, and Amy Kaplan uses this idea to argue that realistic narratives enact this search not by eeing into the imagination or into nostalgia
for a lost past but by actively constructing the coherent social world they
represent. 36 Miller took full advantage of this constructed nature of reality and consequently encoded in his writings a formula for an entirely
modern authorship. That is, he built, through the careful manipulation of
fact and ction, a hyperreal western world to inhabit, a virtual theme park,
and made himself the central attraction. Millers personality machine suggests a man discovering the cult of fashion, celebrity, and stardom; Miller
anticipated and perhaps precipitated the twentieth-century consumer culture, what William Leach calls the land of desire. William Dean Howells
could deride the clamor around Miller but not alter the shift in literary
This problematic literary realism reveals itself to perfection in the 1890
revision of Life Amongst the Modocs (1873). In the prefatory explanation Miller himself raises the problem of truth and ction but mischievously proceeds to subvert his own message. He writes that the original book was
zealously produced to help his best friends, the Modoc Indians, who were
then at war. His method of composition, he declares, was to collect a few
sketches, combine them with the wild and romantic accounts that other
imaginative writers had told about him, and throw them into a book:

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in great haste, and with a confusion of fact and ction, a volume was
brought out by the Queens Publisher. The rst edition was dedicated to
Wendell Phillips, and that great orator and humanitarian mounted the forum for the Red Man, as he had for the Black Man. . . . The author expected
this book to quietly die when it had done its work; but as it seems determined to outlive him, with all its follies and ctions, he has taken it severely
in hand, cut off all its ctitious growth, and conned its leaves to the cold,
frozen truth: the truth, and nothing but the truth, if not the whole
truth. 38 It is well worth attending to Millers curious explanation. Indeed,
the passage is more than explanation: it stands as testimony (the truth,
and nothing but the truth), although in place of a Bible Miller ironically
holds in hand his own transmuting book. Millers rst move is to shift responsibility for the original unreliable history, rst onto the other writers,
then onto the Queens Publisher. Millers use of the passive voice (a volume was brought out) seems to reinforce his innocence. In fact, he understates the assistance he receivedhis friend Prentice Mulford deserved
credit for much of the actual writing. His next move, somewhat contradictory, is implicitly to accept credit for the books political inuence, suggesting a direct causal relationship between his autobiographical work and
Wendell Phillipss pro-Indian activism. But such a relationship distorts history: Phillipss outspoken concern about Native American conditions long
predates 1873, the publication year of Modocs. Further, Miller seems to be
toying with his own history, reclaiming and revising it; as an Oregon newspaper editor in the 1860s, he expressed strong pro-Southern sympathies
and must have frowned on Phillipss abolitionist agitation.39
Millers strongest claim in this preface is his pledge to prune the ctitious growth, perhaps punning that the leaves (what is left) will be exclusively the cold, frozen truth. Needless to say, the volume itself does
nothing of the kind, leaving intact and even adding many ctions and exaggerations. But more important is that the prefatory claim is already a b
Miller did not dedicate the rst volume to Wendell Phillips but to the Red
Men of America. Millers nal claim that the volume may not contain the
whole truth is thus wordplay. His ostensible meaning (repeated elsewhere) is that what he tells will be nothing but the truth but that the
whole truth is too violent and awful for his audience. But, of course,
Miller is also winking at the very idea of autobiographical authenticity, acknowledging and even advertising that the updated version is as colorful
(i.e., suspect) as the rst. Retitling the book My Own Story may suggest that

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Miller has indeed taken editorial and authorial charge. Such a reading is belied, however, by the simultaneous British printing of the same text, titled
there Joaquin Millers Romantic Life Amongst the Red Indians, in which his name
becomes a part of the title and the author is both obscured and simultaneously ctionalized.
Finally, if Miller advertised his picturesque persona (based on a constructed, perhaps corrupt form of authenticity), he also theorized the correspondence between his poetry and his picturesque self. At its simplest he
produced poetry that celebrated aesthetically constructed images over ideas
or emotions, so that reviewers often observed that Millers lines displayed
the romantic and picturesque effect or that his poetry consisted of a
number of picturesque things picturesquely put. 40 Similarly, Van Wyck
Brooks, perhaps conating Miller and his writing, later wrote that, verbose and banal as [Miller] often was, rough-hewn and melodramatic, he
evoked the romantic, heroic life of the plains and especially the mountains
that appeared in the popular pictures of Albert Bierstadt. 41 Miller himself
prized the color, action, and atmosphere of his poems (the 1907 Light, in
this case) and often referred to them as sketches, even photographs. 42
Yet Millers use of the picturesque was far more than aesthetic formula;
rather, it constituted a working theory that effectively erased Millers words
and inserted Millers persona. In his description of the celebrated Rossetti
Dinner of 1871 that would become so central to his own literary status,
Miller articulates his theory of poetry. Miller recounts the evenings discussion as it moves through literary topics, the diners, giants of thought, 43
offering their critical views while Miller silently waits his turn. The group
attempts to dene poetry one is discouraged to think of such banalities
at Rossettis tableuntil nally the Master (Rossetti) turns to Miller for
his theory of poetry. Millers simple response is accorded a kind of centrality and is given its own indented line: To me a poem is a picture. 44 The
pedants immediately take up Millers pronouncement (as he proudly recalls) and spend considerable time endorsing the concepta concept already familiar dogma to the Pre-Raphaelites. The group, however, seems to
misinterpret Millers point, chortling on about the power of the written
word to represent nature, to paint a picture. But Miller, who at times lectured that poetry was a succession of beautiful pictures, 45 is quite serious
in his theory of detextualized picture-poetry. Miller is exploding the writtenness of poetry in favor of a portable, memorialized picture, deconstructing the words in favor of a reproducible commercial image. Rossetti

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believes himself to be in agreement with Miller when he responds that the

only rule I have for measuring the merits of a written poem, is by the height
of it. Why not be able to measure its altitude as you measure one of your sublime peaks? Millers response subverts Rossettis emphasis on the written poem: I do not want to remember the words. But I do want it to remain with mea pictureand become a part of my life (1:110). Millers
conation of poetry, picture, and his life is an emblem for his entire
canonical design. By unwriting, as it were, his own poetry, by reducing,
even negating, the textuality in favor of the picturesque, he returns the writing to a site that he inhabits, to a succession of pictures, to a geographically invented place where the picture might remain with him, to his own
reproducible presence.
Joaquin Millers Kingdom of the Ideal
Millers vigorous attempts to advertise his own image may at times seem
playful or benign, but they can also obscure a dangerous fascination with
power. Miller never abandoned the reproducible, picturesque persona but
became increasingly dependent on aunting his proximity to sites of institutionalized authority. Millers writings consistently exhibit a complex dialogue between the disenfranchised and the powerful, and his reluctance to
show his cards suggests a profound uneasiness about the inuences of
authority and about his own canonical ambitions. Miller preferred to front
as the champion of the underprivileged, but his writings indicate a man
fascinated with, and perhaps envious of, the elite. The position he most
frequently takes is a relational one: he is a follower, a reporter, a visitor, a
eulogizer, a prophet. As such, he can claim knowledge of and intimacy
with individual power gures, men (mostly) who transformed history. But
even these poses suggest conicting conditions of authority and voice. This
dialogue, nally, may begin to suggest the profoundly displaced and marginalized condition of authorship in the West in the last quarter of the century; as Miller juxtaposes authority and dispossession, he reveals the western authors inevitable confrontation with eastern and European power
structures. Although Miller attempted to negotiate between vastly different cultures (from Native American to aristocratic British to elite eastern),
he could not always comfortably picture himself. His self-portrait was
designed to accommodate the late-century model of rags-to-riches, using
the familiar Horatio Alger paradigm to enter into the discourse of popular
economics. Yet, while Algers writings, exact contemporaries of Millers

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own, celebrate the nancial ascension of a deserving but unlucky youth,

Millers story is invested with different kinds of ascension: of class, blood,
and nally spirit.
Miller repeatedly casts his own life as one of movement and development, principally a movement from unusual weakness to health and
strength, from backwoods to the royal court. He often remembers himself
underdeveloped as a youth (I had never, as yet, been a robust boy, as my
brothers were. I had never, as yet, been able to eat meat) and tended to retain a sympathetic attitude toward the struggling settlers, the impoverished
Indians, and others facing hardships.46 Commentators frequently remark
on Millers social largesse: one critic writes that Joaquin identied himself
with the underdog, be it the Indian of the West, displaced, wronged, and
massacred by rapacious miners; or the Confederate in the Civil War; or the
poor of many nations; another avers that Miller was in sympathy with
all oppressed races; and a third that he was the champion of oppressed
peoples. 47 Yet, despite Millers apparently genuine concern for Native
American rights and democratic principles (which I do not intend to demean or devalue), the notion that Miller was at heart a defender of the weak
rings hollow. He appeared increasingly enamored with the powerfulwith
famous literary gures, politicians, and, most signicantly, with aristocracy. His fascination with royalty is everywhere in details: his repeated casual references to being printed by the Queens publisher; his description
of Mt. Shasta as the monarch of the Sierra de Nevada . . . monarch of the
entire mountain range; his glamorizing account of the Prince, the gallant leader who dominates Life Amongst the Modocs (a perfect man. . . . A
prince! truly nothing less than a prince!); and his descriptions of even minor characters as royalty: This man Ream . . . is and has ever been, the king
and dictator of all that end of California. 48
More important, Miller reiterates his own physical position in relation to
these gures, his intimacy with the aristocratic. He describes sitting next to
the Master, Rossetti; he boasts of standing before kings; he less than
humbly recalls the queens interest in him and his friendship with Lord
Houghton in London (to whom he dedicated an English edition of his complete poems). Indeed, Millers references to such personal encounters seem
positively compulsive: the king of Greece reportedly visited with him, revealing that, if Lord Byron had lived he surely would have been chosen by
Greece for her rst king; the king of Italy may have asked Miller to address
the Italian parliament; and the empresss son Prince Napoleon, whom he

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met on a ride with Anthony Trollope, invited Miller on a tour and later tried
to give Miller a large diamond (which Miller magnanimously refused because he had heard that the Emperor died poor).49 Perhaps strangest of all
is a story that Miller is said to have told about attempting with a friend to
purchase a Mediterranean island that conveyed the title of duke; the deal fell
through, but Miller at times referred to himself humorously as Half-Duke
Miller. 50
As Millers infatuation with power evolved, he came to prefer the image
of prophet to that of backwoodsman; his persona as reckless red-shirt progressed into a persona of gentle bard and seer. This shift to sage did not endanger his earlier rough role, which remained a workable past persona;
he simply adjusted it to take advantage of a new audience. As sage, he could
continue his emphasis on reproducibility and his insistence on playing
a type, but he could simultaneously adopt a visionary voice. And he continued to circulate self-portraits, now as the bearded and horizon-watching
prophet. As prophet, he sought to rise like the phoenix out of the dying
ashes of the Wild West and emerge as mystic or at least as the wise mountain man. And his proximity to royalty began to take on religious tones. His
daughter Juanita Joaquina Miller discloses exactly this shift when she remembers that her father dwelled in a kingdom that was the realm of the
ideal; 51 unwittingly, she conates all of Millers aspirations and postures,
as well as his tendency toward untruths. His experience next to royalty had
allowed him to play the companion of the elite, but, increasingly, he favored
the role of disciple, identifying and announcing the presence of a Christian
spirit. Miller exclaims at the opening of his autobiographical introduction,
Let us cry aloud in the wilderness, the king is coming, and prepare the
way. 52 He visited the Holy Land (like Twain and others) and may have attempted to write a life of Christ, which was never completed.53 His developing use of religious imagery took full hold in The Building of the City Beautiful, an allegory for constructing a Christian utopia.
Miller thus became a usurping prophet, one who identies and controls
the public personae of others and in so doing strategically manipulates his
own. A brief comparison of the opening lines of a single poem illustrates
the ever-escalating nature of Millers self-incarnation. With Walker in Nicaragua was placed second in the original London edition of Songs of the
Sierras (1871). It offers a lengthy description of the narrators (i.e., Millers)
alleged experiences with William Walker during the tempestuous libus93

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tering campaigns in Central America (1855 57). Although Miller largely ignores Walker in the poem, he does allow his hero initial prominence:
He was a brick, and brave as a bear,
As brave as Nevadas grizzlies are,
A Texan tigress in her lair,
Or any lion of anywhere;
Yet gentle as a panther is
Mouthing her young in her rst erce kiss,
And true of soul as the north pole-star,
Tall, courtly, grand as any king,
Yet simple as a child at play.
(27, ll. 1 9)

Generously granting Walker the opening moment (He), Miller paints the
man as a western folk hero, comparing him to a variety of regional predatory animals or, rather, mythic animals, the Texan tigress being a particularly unlikely beast. But the imagery itself obfuscates a more subtle inventionalthough Walker did spend time in California, he was actually
from Tennessee and, as president of Nicaragua, even advocated an African
slave trade to work his colonized country. Miller essentially took a controversial public gure and reincarnated him as both a king and as Daniel
Boone.54 Walker thus becomes the hunter (conquering and colonizing a
new frontier) and hunted (by an East Coast political machine), a true western heroic type. And Miller himself, here obsequiously admiring Walker,
becomes a mythmaker, using familiar symbolism and vocabulary (including allusions not only to Ovidian mythology but perhaps to the civilizing
Romulus and Remus) to deliver his legend.
Yet Miller sought a more active and central role for himself within the
text. For the Boston publication in the same year Miller revised his opening
lines to read:
He was a brick: let this be said
Above my brave dishonored dead.
I ask no more, this is not much,
Yet I disdain a colder touch
To memory as dear as his;
For he was true as any star,
And brave as Yubas grizzlies are,
Yet gentle as a panther is,


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Mouthing her young in her rst erce kiss;
Tall, courtly, grand as any king,
Yet simple as a child at play.
(25, ll. 111)

The introduction of the poets voice in these rst lines suggests not only a
desire for attention but even a rivalry with Walkers memory. Miller is literally libustering his own poem, making a protable advance onto Walkers
territory. Suddenly this is not the description of Walkers mythologically
generated character but of a grieving bard guratively standing at the grave.
The urgency is not in Walkers conquistadorial invasion but in the speakers
determined eulogy (I ask no more); Walker is dead, and the issue has become the act of remembrance. Like the title that ostensibly refers to a legendary gure (William Walker) but actually returns to the narrator (With
Walker in Nicaragua), the poems opening referent (He) evaporates into
rhetorical portraiture. We listen to Miller rather than attend to Walker.
Miller again revised the poem for inclusion in his six-volume collection of 1909, Joaquin Millers Poems. Songs of the Sierras, standing as an individual volume, now opens with the much-altered Walker in Nicaragua. The
poem is considerably longer, more indirect and discursive, perhaps the result of the many sharp doubts raised about Millers original veracity and
accuracy (the With being dropped, perhaps to obscure Millers continued
presence in the poem, perhaps in compensation for largely dropping
Walker). Although he never publicly recanted his original testimony, Miller
almost certainly was never in Nicaragua nor with Walker. Critics had attacked Miller for his autogenic dishonesty, and even friendly readers questioned such erroneous descriptions of Walker as tall. (Miller weakly responded to such attacks that by tall he meant Walkers spiritual stature.)
The revision is startling, and the opening stanza now reads:
I celebrate no man of strife,
I eat no bread with blood upon.
Twere braver far to live unknown,
To live alone and die alone
Than owe sweet song, aye owe sweet life,
Or sweeter fame, to saber drawn.
(1, ll. 1 6)


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Millers words, pointing with such multidirectional panache, undo themselves at every turn. The opening couplet, revising both Virgil and, more
important, Millers precursor and sometime friend Whitman, now begins
with the poets persona (I) gesturing extravagantly (celebrate)but
toward nothing, toward a negation (no man). The entire stanza neatly
erases itself by acknowledging only absence (no man, no bread, unknown)an absence marked and lled only by the initial I. If Whitmans self-celebration guided the reader back to his own bodily presence,
Millers misdirection returns the reader only to the poetic gesture itself.
Similarly, the stanzas concluding sentiment seems to leave a logical void:
one wonders why fame is sweeter than song and life and why obscurity
is braver than death and poetry. Coming from Miller, of course, the entire conceit is meaningless, a self-referential jokehe willingly owed
his poetic fame to outlandish conduct, including the calculated brandishing of buck knives and the many self-centered dramatic and violent legends
he told.
Indeed, his ability to transact cultural exchanges between the West, the
East, and Europe paved the way for later western writers such as Frank Norris, Jack London, and Willa Cather, all of whom played the regional powers
to their own advantage. It is no coincidence that Miller was one of only a few
western writers elected into the rst National Academy of Arts and Letters
in New York (1898).55 Miller engineered a writing career that borrowed from
inuential European sources (the aesthetic tones of Byron and the later PreRaphaelites); that wooed and then advertised European connections; that
published in Boston and New York; but that remained in theme and style essentially western. It is intriguing, though probably only intellectual sport,
to consider With Walker in Nicaragua as an inchoate vision of such transnational exchanges. The midcentury interest in Nicaragua was, of course,
as a commercial route from East to West, being shorter than the overland
roads and arguably faster than the proposed Panama Canal. European interest was equally high, and British forces long held the Mosquito Coast at
the San Juan River, the possible eastern terminus for a Nicaraguan canal.
Millers early poem provided a literary tableau of East-West trade, a metaphor in which the poet himself traverses the cultural schisms and lls the
interstices. The colonizing Walker scouted the territory, but the memorializing Miller performed the service.

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A Place in History
Joaquin Millers attempts to secure an authorial reputation were far from
subtle, and his uses of the picturesque and the powerful reveal his most explicit and also most unnerving ambitions. Yet, as Millers concept of reputation developed, he became increasingly interested in the notion of place
and particularly the relation between place and canonical identity. By place
I have in mind the literal, that is, the mapped sites associated with Miller,
who claimed that all my lines, as a rule, were descriptive stories of the lands
I knew; 56 the theoretical, that is, the use of place as a cultural marker; and
the canonical, that is, the specic connection between Millers geographical locations and his place in literary history. Miller, from his poetic beginnings, used the concept of place as the simultaneous signier for his body
and his reputation; he dened his canonical position in purely spatial terms.
Later Miller self-consciously intended to build a reputation as one builds a
house or even a city. He sought to construct his historical place by representing western American culture itself and increasingly did so by inventing
or negotiating manageable forms of space, which he intended to occupy.
From the beginning the notion of a secure home site, permanent and visible, appealed to Miller, who habitually depicted his life as evolving from a
state of unsettled displacement to one of established permanence, a transitional movement that he will apply to his own literary status. He enjoyed
claiming that his early life was kinetic: that he was born and cradled on
wheels, that his cradle was a covered wagon, pointed west, and that he
was born at or about the time [the wagon] crossed the line dividing Indiana from Ohio. 57 His infant condition was therefore represented as transitory and liminalmoving across boundariesbut equally directed, taking its inevitable way westward like the star of empire. Perhaps, Miller
seems to imply, his migratory career was genetic. He describes his mothers
people in purely ambulatory terms: they had come up from the Yadkin
river country, North Carolina, whither they had gone with the Boones. 58
Miller proceeds to ally his genealogy with that of Daniel Boones, describing Boones restless leadership. As Miller matured, he maintained this
wanderlust and repeatedly conveyed a sense of urgent mobility. As a young
man, for example, he was faced with a decision to stay with family or seek
his fortune and decided: go I must. The wheels of the covered wagon in
which I had been born and bred were whirling and whirling, and I must be
off. 59 Millers frequent use of that covered wagon, suggesting western

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pioneering, adventure, and movement, reafrms his attempts to employ

western iconography as a vehicle of self-creation.
In canonical terms Miller sought stability and security and consistently
idealized his reputation in terms of place. Miller obviously wrote with a regional consciousness and often claimed that his poetry drew its power from
the place depicted: he wrote, emphatically, on the spot spoken of and
amid the scenes described. 60 Miller repeatedly used such locations to
claim an empowered authority; as he states in the preface to Songs of the Mexican Seas (1887), The lines in this little book, as in all my others, were written, or at least conceived, in the lands where the scenes are laid; so that
whatever may be said of the imperfections of my work, I at least have the
correct atmosphere and color. 61 But, more important, Miller quite literally
formulated a dependence on locatable sites as markers of literary position,
a subtly complicated act for a man of frequent relocations. Most obviously,
Miller, the Poet of the Sierras, was and is identied with placesthe
West, California, his various cabins and homes, and so on. More complexly,
from his earliest writings Miller associated his literary reputation with his
location and later used this connection as the nucleus of a canonical strategy. He came to believe that canonical memory is powerfully inuenced by
such place associations. That is, he not only depended on a regional identity, but he actually equated his physical location (on the spot) with his
canonical position. Interestingly, like Edgar Allan Poe, Miller often employed the imagery of death and entombment to signify his condition (his
reputation both in life and after death).62 But for Miller there is a suggestion
of spatial development: from the early exile of uncelebrated death (unknown and anonymous) to a struggle with the ghost and tomb of a more famous precursor (Byron) to the material construction of self-memorializing
monuments (notably The Hights, his Oakland self-portrait-as-estate,
complete with funeral pyre).
Joaquin et al. (1869), Millers second collection of poetry, reveals in excruciating abundance the despair Miller experienced at his initial literary obscurity. His rst collection, Specimens (1868), had fared poorly, and Miller devoted much of Joaquin et al. to gloomy if often laughable laments. The pose
is a familiar one: the romantic poet, an unrecognized genius, about to perish from the earth. Miller manages to combine Poes moody sense of the
grotesque with the unappealing whine of unsatised ambition. And in
poem after poem Millers attention is held by the distant location of his fate
and the local fate of his poems. He literally stand[s] apart as one thats

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dumb from the days popular western writers, as he acknowledged in To

the Bards of S. F. Bay (6). While those authors (Harte, Stoddard, and others) exist in San Franciscos brown bent hills / Discoursing with the
beaded rills (25 26), Millers home is in the wilds, among these frowning rs (17)presumably Oregon. Even a simple introduction is an act
of (dis)placement: when Miller describes himself as a skilless northern
Nazarene / From whence no good can ever come (4 5), it is unclear
whether no good can come from the northern wilds or from Miller himself. Indeed, the destabilized referent suggests the powerful coalescence of
place and selfthey are one and the same.
In the moodier Vale Miller can stand by the rushing river (16), leaving his lines to those who have known [his] mad lifes troubles (1), concluding (with comical sincerity) that
The sounding waters will drown forever
The critics jeers and paynim pride,
And reviews are not ferried to the other side.
(18 20)

Here deaths dark river beckons to him as it rushes by (13), and he regrets
only that he has writ no thought, or thing, not one, / That lives, or earns a
cross or cryptic stone (24 25). Similarly, in Ultime Miller prepares to
cross the stony threshold of deaths door (3), ruefully remembering that
it was [his] boy-ambition to be read beyond the brine but that now at last
[he can] make no claim to be read at all (100, 103). This poem, however,
nds a quiet solace in silent death (feel my calm, low breath. / How peaceful all! How still and sweet [84 85]) and even a possible sense of hope:
But to conclude. Do not stick me down in the cold wet mud,
As if I wished to hide, or was ashamed of what I had done,
Or my friends wanted to plant me like an Irish spud.
(118 20)

His body and his writing resist entombment and burial (and, it must be
added, cannibalism); rather than such a concealed fate, he prefers to ascend in clouds of smoke up to the sun (122). Millers contrast of high and
low imagery again questions where his nal place in the authorial pantheon
will be, where his body will rest.
Millers In Exile most dramatically reveals his sense of canonical displacement and anonymity. Miller pictures himself vaguely lost, without a

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secure position; he is alone on this desolate border / On this ruggedest,

rimd frontier (12). In this borderland he waits for death (the eloquent
quiet and the nal folding of hands [11, 12]), dispirited and despairing:
Oh! why was I ever a dreamer?
Better a brute on the plain,
Or one who believes his redeemer
Is greed, and gold, and gain,
Or one who can riot and revel,
Than be pierced with intolerable pain
Of poesy darling, in travail,
That will not be born from the brain.
(39 46)

In this poem Miller uses western imagery (the rimd frontier, the brute
on the plain, even the greed, and gold, and gain) as a geographical selfplacement, but the West here is understood, not surprisingly, as itself exiled, beyondthe suitable site for his unknown, unheard poetry. In fact, in
each of these poems Miller uses images of liminal or unstable places as
tropes of canonical anonymity. Miller is attentive to the place his body occupies and how that place affects or effects his literary receptionbut he is
still only on the threshold, on the border, apart. Later he will claim both a
cultural centrality (as representative, reproducible poet) and marginality (as
supporter of the underdog, as disenfranchised American), but at this point
he cannot yet suitably place himself anywhere.
Such early poetic gestures, signaling Millers strategies and ambitions,
found little if any audience. The audience was imminent, of course; only
two years later the London literati were prepared to coronate Miller, a triumph dependent on his amboyant western persona. But the importance
of place, incipient in the early poetry, is radically if subtly developed during
this period through Millers self-association with Byron. This association
can be understood to exist as a subtext or pre-text to Millers exaggerated
picturesque presence. Unexpectedly, Byrons importance is not primarily as
authorial character or caricature. Of course, Byron does stand as a prominent canonically recognized and media-savvy precursor, yet in numerous
ways Byron did little for Miller. Byron did occasionally provide a convenient,
provocative model and a memorable nickname (Miller was called the Byron of the Rockies), but Miller had many other effective models, including
Poe and Whitman, and had already lifted a nickname (Joaquin) from recent

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literary history. Indeed, Byron was largely dropped from Millers consciousness once he encountered the Pre-Raphaelites and the other London poets.
What Byron did provide for Miller was a connecting trail from the American
West to London and a bridge from the Romantic early nineteenth century to
Millers own 1870s.
During his formative period (the late 1860s and early 1870s) Miller vociferously evoked his Byronic inheritance, hitching his covered wagon to Byrons star. But it is not Byron the poet or Byron the sensational rogue nor
even Byron the literary celebrity whom Miller pursues. Rather, Miller intuitively attends to the sites of Byrons life, to the geographical places associated with him; Miller writes on Byrons tomb, on Byrons European homes,
on Newstead Abbey. This tactic produced three results. First, while utilizing Byrons name, Miller can simultaneously turn his attention away from
Byron toward his own experience on the spot spoken of, similar to
Millers treatment of William Walker in With Walker in Nicaragua. Despite the gestures toward Byron, Miller repeatedly manipulates the spotlight toward himself. Second, it follows that this translocation of textual
focusfrom Byron to Byronic site to Miller enacts Millers own interpolation of literary history: the developmental shift from Byronic romanticism
to Millers own brand of poetic enterprise. Most signicantly, the writing
signals Millers developing insistence that poets can be remembered as
much for their mythologized existence, materialized in associated places,
as for their actual writings. Miller sought to be a visitable poet.
Millers pose regarding Byron is not without some idol worship, as revealed in his description of the visit to Byrons tomb on his rst journey to
London. With whatever publicity he could attract, Miller carried a laurel
wreath from San Francisco to place at the site. He then wrote both a short
poem (At Lord Byrons Tomb), which reads as a familiar paean to Byron in
the form of the atmospheric gothic, and next a more startling journal entry
(as reprinted in the collected Poems): O my poet! Worshipped where the
world is glorious with the re and blood of youth! Yet here in your own
homeah well! The old eternal truth of Christ * * * but why say the truth
of Christ? Better say the words of Christ; and that means eternal truth. * * *
I have not told any one here that I write verses. * * * Byron sang in the voice
of a god: and see what they say of him. But they may receive me. No prophet
is without honor, save in his own land, is the language of the text I believe. 63
Millers apostrophe reveals a reverential tone but one complicated by suggestions of reputational wonder. Miller immediately turns his attention

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from Byrons splendor to Byrons literary status at homethe word home

referring both to England and obliquely to Byrons neglected tomb (the center of this visit), described in the poem with wet walls that drip all day in
dark and silent gloom. In fact, Miller puns in the poem that Byrons great
estate has shrunk to this sombre room, his tomb. But such wordplays on
Byrons canonical estate pale next to Millers subsequent (mis)focalizations
in the journal, all but impossible to follow: in the strange eddies of apparent free association, Miller leaps from Byrons reputation to the words of
Christ, then oddly to his own unannounced (secret) writing, then back
to Byron, now linked with Christ as singing in the voice of a god, then to
Millers own hope for reception in Britain, and immediately to the presumed biblical passage, conating homeland prophetic honor with literary
reception. The paragraph, saved from hubristic arrogance only by a disarming naivet, enacts Millers revisionary strategy by beginning with Byron (my poet) and concluding with Millers own voice (I believe). The
shifting centers of aleatory attention (Byron, Christ, Miller; text, voice, reception) promote a truly bizarre set of connections. Millers obfuscation
nally suggests that he is both Byronic poet and religious prophetand
unrecognized, like Byron and Christ, in his homeland of the United States.
Miller seems even to suggest that he may succeed where Byron (and Christ!)
Millers pursuit of Byronic sites continued after his success in London,
and his tour of Europe frequently became a tour of Byrons homes, notably
Newstead Abbey. In Byron and Newstead, an essay largely about his stay
at Byrons estate in the late 1870s, Miller declares his intention to deliver
a prose portrait of Byron and Newsteadthough delivering nally a portrait only of himself.64 Miller believes his readers to be interested in the
plain story of [Byrons] life, at home and in his own house. 65 Remarkably, Miller has virtually no interest in the individual poetic works of Byron,
noting only that Byrons heaps and heaps of manuscriptshalf a ton
could cover a ten-acre eld (thus from the beginning extending the textual work into purely spatial, if arable, dimensions).66 Rather, Miller implies that Byron is accessible chiey through his homes. He writes: not
only at Newstead Abbey, the old home of his youth and early manhood, but
everywhere on the continent where he had lived and labored I could hear
only of his sober, patient and persistent industry and devotion to art. 67
Miller then describes a trail of Byronic sites: Miller traveled to Florence, to

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the house occupied by Byron; to Byrons Venice; and to Greece, where the
English poet eventually died.
Yet it is Newstead Abbey that holds Millers attention. Byrons family
estate sparked a profound response in Miller, and Byron and Newstead
incorporates all of Millers familiar iconography. First, he compares the English countryside to the American West: the new owner of Newstead reminds Miller of a wheat farmer of Dakota; the mud of the poetic estate
stuck to his boots as it might in Illinois or Oregon. Second, he playfully
recounts numerous anecdotes about a recent guest at Newstead, the princess of Wales, again aligning himself with aristocracy. (The essay also conspicuously mentions Lord Houghton, Colonel Webb and Colonel Wildman,
the consul general of Florence, the king of Greeceand, of course, Lord
Byron.) Third, Miller employs religious imagery by repeatedly referring to
Byronic mementos as relics, perhaps appropriate for an abbey. Miller decides that the most noteworthy relic is, naturally, a portrait of (the picturesque) Byron, in which you can read something of the character, the pride,
the pomp, the poetic love of gure and color, and all that marked the future
of the immortal poet. 68 As if Miller is viewing (or reading) a portrait of
himself, he celebrates not the imagination or literary ability that marked the
future of the immortal poet but, rather, the striking personal features and
Fourth, and most strange, is Millers odd implication that these Byronic
relics are, in fact, reminders of even remnants ofByrons corpse. The
use of the word relics in this less common sense of bodily remains (as of
a saint or martyr) recalls the journals juxtaposition of Byron, Christ, and
Miller. Such a reading of holy corpus is perhaps implied in the Byron portrait but is heightened by Millers next remarks on the most interesting
relics, Byrons papers: his will, unpublished poems, and unpublished letters, all sacredly guarded by the new owner. This description of an almost
holy corpus of writings, sacredly guarded, perhaps represents the true remains of Byron, the hidden body of writing. Most bizarrely, Miller suddenly
breaks in mid-paragraph to describe the interior of the house, reminiscent
of some great national museum, where the immense hall is a perfect
zoo of stuffed lions, tigers, hyenas, and indeed all the wild beasts and
birds of Africa. 69 The non sequitur seems contingent and suggestive, as if
the stuffed animal corpses somehow signal Millers connection to Byron
as if Byron himself is somehow preserved for viewing at the estate.
Millers subsequent move in the essay is to entangle himself with Byrons

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legacy in even more dramatic fashion, literally seeking to re-place Byron.

Millers desire to encounter the poet is matched by a sense of revisionary desire; in fact, it might be argued that Millers report enacts with alarming exactness the anxiety of inuence, with two willful poets battling for primacy.
But Miller barely notices his precursors literary output and seems not the
least affected by Byrons written legacy. He is, however, deeply impressed by
Byrons lingering physical presence as manifested at Newstead. Textually,
Miller dislocates Byron in the essay, veering away from the memorial tour
of Byrons estate to an extended description of Millers own sojourn there
and especially his determination to view the legendary ghost at Newstead
known as the Black Friar. But Miller is, consciously or not, after a more
material form of relocation and actually moves into Byrons haunted
room, indicating the improved vantage for observation of the monkish
ghost. Millers efforts to re-place Byron even lead him to sleep, most suggestively, in the very bed of Lord Byron, a bed with golden coronets and
gorgeous yellow curtains . . . literally falling to pieces from age. 70
Although Miller mysteriously discovers that he could not write in the
rooms further than a few letters, perhaps the block of inuences anxiety,
he maintains his nighttime, bedded vigilnot, it turns out, for the ghostly
Black Friar but for the specter of Byron himself. After several uneventful
nights Miller experienced a vivid dream: One night, after I had become
not only accustomed but really attached to the haunted rooms, I dreamed
let me call it a dreamthat I was in another land, a land that I could not
name. 71 Byrons ghost soon appears to the terrorized Miller and leads him
by boat out into the open sea. Thus, in the dream Byron actually resists the
usurping Miller, takes him out of the bed and the rooms (that Miller had become so attached to), places him in another land, and nally whisks
him over the ocean, perhaps back to America. Millers account (or, perhaps,
translation) of the experience reafrms his conviction about poetic place;
the scene between the poets is without dialogue or text and is quite simply
one of territorial identity. The fact that Miller could not name the dreamland signies the poetic displacement. If Miller cannot name and textualize
the place, he cannot use it as poetic capital.
Whether or not the dream persuaded Miller to establish his own homeland, it seemed to conrm his desire to mark his name with associated
places. In the early 1880s Miller increasingly turned his attention to constructing the kind of estate that could memorialize his presence, as Newstead had for Byron. Miller was hardly alone in wanting to build a unique

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and grand estateit is exactly the age of the American country house.
Such estates as Frederick Churchs Olana, P. T. Barnums Iranistan, and
Mark Twains Hartford riverboat mansion began to populate the landscape,
each the dramatic personal vision and, ultimately, architectural representation of an ambitious owner. But Millers desire was, naturally, quite different: whereas others built private estates, Millers homes were emphatically
public and visitable; and, whereas others built dominating edices, Miller
preferred modest buildingsthe better, as it were, to focus attention on
himself. Miller quite literally set out to invent and produce an authorial
site that would draw visitors and draw attention; he sought a place that
would represent his body, that would enact his future canonical ambitions.
Millers new homes were planned as sensational and permanent symbols of
Millers poetic presence. Like Newstead itself, his homes would display his
relics (including his cremated body), and would secure his reputation.
In 1883 Miller moved to Washington, dc, where he proceeded to construct a frontier cabin on the edge of the city, a replica of his own early
Shasta (California) home. Millers intentions were apparently always public
and pedagogic; he later wrote that he built the cabin to be more in touch
with both sides of the Civil War as well as with the smaller republics. And
then many noble people who had been ruined in the South were ill content
to live in log cabins, as their slaves had lived. 72 Miller concludes that he
wanted to teach that a log cabin can be made very comfortable, with content at hand. Whether or not these stated goals were sincere, the effect was
quite different: the cabin became a symbol not of southern reconstructive
unication but of Millers western persona, turning the cabin into a tourist
attraction for the capitals visitors. The cabin brought Miller signicant attention, undoubtedly a part of his plan: biographer Martin Severin Peterson
remarks that Joaquin Millers cabin did for him in Washington what his 49
costume had done for him in England. It brought him into the limelight
again as a picturesque gure. 73 The cabin did double duty, as a recreated
reminder of his western past and as an updated showcase for his revitalized
present. As such, it performed the same kind of cultural work as the increasingly popular dime novels and western touring shows, playing into
American nostalgia and fantasy about the Wild West.
Predictably, Miller used the cabin as a poetic vehicle for juxtaposing the
high and the low, the powerful Washington government and the marginalized citizens (including, somewhat disingenuously, himself ). And, as elsewhere, Miller claimed both a centrality and a liminality. The description of

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the site in his poem The Soldiers Home, Washington attempts this
double function:
The monument, tipped with electric re,
Blazed high in a halo of light below
My low cabin door in the hills that inspire;
And the dome of the Capitol gleamed like snow
In a glory of light, as higher and higher
This wondrous creation of man was sent
To challenge the lights of the rmament.
(Poems 4:131, ll. 17)

Millers language is typically misdirected and confounding: the blazing

monument (presumably the Washington Monument) is both high and
below his cabin door, which is both low and in the hills that inspire.
Millers use of assonance further deects a localized meaning by conating
halo, low, below, dome, and snow. The result is that Millers position is both
humble and august, above the glowing monuments but seemingly in awe.
Millers Washington cabin proved a temporary experiment and precursor to his nal ambition: the construction of a western estate that would
insure his historical identity. In 1887 he purchased seventy-ve acres of
prominent hillside land above Oakland. (One is tempted to remark that it
could only be Oakland: Gertrude Steins notorious comment that theres
no there there works as an unintended description of Millers purely public self.) The purchase was not insignicant, for it marked the permanent
residence of a well-known western author; unlike Twain, Harte, and others
who left the West for personal, economic, and professional reasons, Miller
returned to the West and established a home that became a center of literary and tourist activity. The estate, named (and spelled) The Hights by
Miller, symbolized his desire for a literal place in history, a desire already
encoded throughout his writing. In fact, Miller developed The Hights into a
tribute to authorship itself. It was designed as something of a poetic amusement park, with colorful bohemian characters (notably Miller himself ),
scenic walks, and unorthodox stone monuments to Robert Browning,
Moses, and John Charles Frmont, whose exploration Report constituted
Millers rst literary experienceevery scene and circumstance in the narrative was painted on my mind. 74 The central dwelling, modest but prominent, was named The Abbey, perhaps after Byrons Newstead Abbey, perhaps after his wife, Abby. Miller welcomed visitors, especially area literati,

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including the young Jack London and Frank Norris. He and his family spent
considerable energy establishing the estate, and publicity photographs as
well as newspaper accounts of Miller from his last two decades repeatedly
depict him posing on his property.
Ultimately, of course, Miller built The Hights as a monument to himself.
The property represents a kind of self-portrait: high on a hill, looking out
over the landscape, rugged, populated by outlandish references (such as the
monument to Moses), and accessible even invitingto visitors. Millers
investment in material self-creation seemed to produce a high yield at rst;
even after his death, Millers daughter Juanita continued to transact her
fathers business of canonical placement by maintaining The Hights and
advertising the Miller industry. Later, the city of Oakland bought the property and turned it into Joaquin Miller Park, where Juanita continued to live
and preserve her fathers name. She worked to popularize The Hights, selling Millers books in the souvenir shop, along with postcards and guides.
In one tourist booklet (About The Hights) she reports on her fathers reputation as she perceived it at the time: He is much loved and honored. The
cabin he built in Washington, D.C., is in Rock Creek Park. In Indiana there
is a huge boulder inscribed with one of his poems marking the location
and date of his birth. In Oregon the house he lived in at Canyon City is furnished with his things and kept in memory. His former property, The
Hights, is now Joaquin Miller Park. The road is named for him. The Native
Sons of California have placed a large tablet with inscription near his home.
Joaquin Miller and Neighborhood Clubs, Woodminister Memorial, honoring him as well as other California immortals. And there is gratifying appreciation of his poetry. 75 The inherited belief in place as canonical marker
could not be more transparent. She evaluates his reputation solely in terms
of associated places. The perceived appreciation of his poetry seems
merely tagged on; for Juanita, her fathers immortality rests in those memorialized sites.
Ironically, The Hights remains today an accurate symbol of Millers reputation, so deep in decline.76 The Oakland park is decaying and dilapidated;
although The Abbey still stands and the monuments survive, they are ignored and without majesty; most of the other building are gone. Few signs
identify the poets one-time popularity. Similarly, Millers reputation has
disintegrated, and Miller is now a mere footnote to literary history. Perhaps
the decline was inevitable: even as a poseur, he was less inventiveif no
less amboyantthan his admired acquaintances Whitman and Wilde;

authentic reproduction

and, as a commercial or social phenomenon, he lacked the broad international appeal of Buffalo Bill Cody, with whom he apparently paraded in the
New Orleans Exhibition of 1884 and, according to his own legend, there
overshadowed. Finally, the rising group of western writers (including Norris, Cather, Austin, and London) may have appreciated Millers lan and his
loyalty to western writing, but their agendas were far removed from the perceived propagation of dime-novel histrionics.
Yet Miller remains a vital, marvelous, inevitable gure in the history of
western literature, and recovering Miller helps to explain the oddly misplaced nature of that history. Miller chose the path not of authenticity but of
authentic reproduction of the simulacrum; he wanted to stand as representative of the West. Indeed, in unintentional ways he represented western
conquest: he usurped the bloody name Joaquin from both Mexican and
Native American cultures, defeating savagery and bringing poetic civilization; he rewrote local history through self-serving inventions; and, claiming a native connection to place, he tried to remodel that place. But his ultimate inuence lies in the refashioning of the real, the authentic. Jean
Baudrillard writes that when the real is no longer what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a plethora of myths of origin and of signs
of realitya plethora of truth, of secondary objectivity, and authenticity. 77
While Miller hardly initiated the growing cult of western nostalgia, he capitalized on the developing occlusion of the real by accumulating those
myths of origin and by imploding signs of reality. And perhaps, nally,
this explains Millers easily overlooked legacy: he has not been forgotten by
western literary history so much as absorbed into it. For Baudrillard, in a
world replete with simulation, the impossibility of rediscovering an absolute level of the real is of the same order as the impossibility of staging illusion. Illusion is no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible. 78 As with other western charlatans from Buffalo Bill to Ronald
Reagan, it makes no sense to ask of Joaquin Miller what is authentic and
what is illusion; neither concept is reliable in the always already postmodern West.



Frank Norris and Western Authorship

She had heard all about excluded middles; they were bad shit, to be avoided;
and how had it ever happened here, with the chances once so good for
thomas pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

In the autumn of 2001 the long-circulating rumors were nally conrmed

as true: Thomas Eakins had cheated. Or so some felt. It turned out that
Eakins, the nineteenth-century artist widely considered one of Americas
foremost realists, did not paint exclusively from inspired vision or memory
but, at times, from projected photographs. He traced much of his art onto
canvas, copying images rather than creating them. Suddenly, artists, critics,
and literati around the country were heatedly discussing the relationships
between art, realism, and reality, and many felt uneasy with the discovery of
Eakinss method. It even appeared to some that Eakinss reputation as an
imaginative artist needed to be rethought. This is big news, said Darrell
Sewell, organizer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibit that presented
the evidence. Richard B. Woodward, writing in the New York Times, suggested that it would have been bigger news in Eakinss dayit probably
would have been scandalous. 1
It is tempting to say that, if Eakins concealed the fact that he wasnt making it all up, nineteenth-century western realists concealed the fact that they
were. Of course, such a formula would be hopelessly simplistic, particularly
in the context of the age of realism. In Traces of Gold, his invaluable study of
western realism, Nicolas S. Witschi argues that all claims to realism have
their foundation in a crisis of representation, and this is emphatically true
in the West.2 But it is also true that in the West writers experienced a crisis
of reality as well. And, of course, these two crises dene each other. Western writers tried to take advantage of this condition, sometimes with unnerving success. In The Blue Hotel, for example, Stephen Crane reveals
the constructedness of the West by drawing characters who see their environment in terms of dime-novel dramas rather than lived history. But often
the condition seemed to take advantage of the regions writers, leaving
them uncertain about how to proceed. When Jean-Franois Lyotard argues
that one traditional function of realism is protecting consciousness from

the trap of authenticity

doubt, he might as well have been discussing the burden that reality and
representation had become for western writers by the turn of the century.3
This period is, by any measure, an extraordinary one for western literature. Literary history has long held that American literature came of age
during the period often labeled the American Renaissance (say, 1830 60)
and that a central tenet of this emergent national literature was a sense of
what may be called Emersonian expansiveness, a culturally optative mood.
The signifying icon of this expansiveness was, of course, the American
West, which became the always-receding site of national promise, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us, to borrow from F. Scott
Fitzgerald. When Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walking that every sunset which I witness inspires me with the desire to go to a West as distant and
as fair as that into which the sun goes down, he rhetorically maintained the
distance between himself and the Westthe West was a place to dream and
write about but, like the setting sun, impossible to reach.4 Western American
literature may be said to have come of age roughly fty years later, sparked
by the writings of Hamlin Garland, Owen Wister, Frank Norris, John Muir,
Jack London, Mary Austin, and, slightly later, Willa Cather. Mark Twain,
Bret Harte, Joaquin Miller, and the other western writers of the 1860s and
1870s had certainly created and capitalized on popular images of the West,
producing an incomplete, immature, yet fully creditable form of regional
literature, but the quarter-century or so that followed saw a stagnation of
western literary development, a lull or quiet before the considerable burst of
creative energy at the turn of the century. Between 1872 (the year of Roughing It, published after Twains departure east) and the 1890s the list of acknowledged literary achievements is modest at best. We can identify a few
peaks: in 1875 John Wesley Powell produced his narrative of the Colorado
River exploration; eight years later Mary Hallock Foote commenced her
productive career with The Led-Horse Claim; and in 1884 Helen Hunt Jackson
published Ramona. But, for all the historical signicance of Clarence Kings
Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada (1872) or Sarah Winnemuccas Life Among
the Piutes (1883), this period of western writing seems undeveloped and certainly unrecognized. Hamlin Garlands midwestern Main-Travelled Roads
did not appear until 1891, John Muirs Mountains of California not until 1894,
and Owen Wisters The Virginian not until 1902; the major works of London,
Austin, and Cather were published after that.
This chapter will consider the emergence of western writing at the turn
of the century, a remarkable period rife with cultural tensions and anxieties

the trap of authenticity

over the Real West. It seems fair to say that, even if nineteenth-century writers constructed the West, they did not doubt its reality. Even Poe and
Twain, who mercilessly derided the cult of authenticity, could present their
fantasies because or, at least, as ifthe Real West existed. But for later
writers such as Norris the Real West seemed threatened, if not already defunct. And, they wondered, if the Real West did not exist, how could western authorship? Consequently, more than ever, writers set out to capture
the Real West. Garland, Norris, Wister, and others were put off by popular nostalgia and dime-novel fantasy and became increasingly obsessed
with authentic, accurate representation. Yet it seemed that writers such as
Twain and Miller, who had exploited the shifting currents of the authentic
West, left little room to maneuver in their wake. Although the West was
increasingly centralized in the countrys imagination and commodied
through tourism and touring spectacles, the regions emergent writers
could rarely take advantage of this centrality, except through parody or nostalgia, evoking a wilder, wide-open West. This selling of the West, as it is
often called, all but conrms Lyotards argument that capitalism in itself
has such a capacity to derealize familiar objects, social roles, and institutions that so-called realist representations can no longer evoke reality except through nostalgia or derisionas an occasion for suffering rather
than satisfaction. 5
It was clear by the 1880s and 1890s that the West was changing, modernizing, but it was not so clear whether the Real West was being left behind
(the West of the frontier past), stagnating (the West of the decadent present), or pushing ahead (the West of the progressive future). And, if the westward movement of the frontier symbolized the development of American
nationalism itself, then both regional and national identities were at stake.
Western writers recognized this turning point and sought to take advantage
of itbut were uncertain whether this transformation was an opening or
a closing, offering new opportunities or commercial limitations. While
Twain and Miller could exploit the gradual loss of certainty could dene
authenticity in their own self-serving termsmost writers in postbellum
America felt an increasing anxiety and insecurity when confronting the apparent inauthenticity of place, of self, and of representation. Consequently,
the possibility of regional representation appeared endangered, and numerous questions arose for young, ambitious writers: if the cultural climate
was so complicated, then what did it mean for western authors to attempt
what Garland called real novels? If the marketplace rewarded what Norris

the trap of authenticity

termed falsifying accounts, then how could a brutally realistic writer nd

a national audience? And what of regionalism in the East, the twilight writers doing womens workwhat did this popular genre imply for writers
in the West, both in terms of gender and marketplace? More broadly: what
did it mean, canonically (and to some degree culturally), for western literature to come of age at the end of an age, when its regional landscape, celebrated and abused by outlandish precursors, had lost its traditional signifying power?
These questions are further complicated by the broader establishment of
literary and social realism. As David E. Shi puts it in Facing Facts, a realistic
outlook seeped into every corner and crevice of intellectual and artistic life
during the second half of the nineteenth century. 6 Writers, artists, journalists, and social critics engaged material reality and social conditions in
ways that seemed new and invigorating, challenging the staid, genteel expression of earlier generations. But what may have seemed innovative for
eastern writers such as Rebecca Harding Davis, Henry James, and Charlotte
Perkins Gilmanthe sometimes gentle but intractable turn away from
sentimental, romantic ction toward social and even scientic accuracy
was de rigueur for western writers. I dont mean to suggest that western
writing didnt change as the century wore on but, rather, that the authorial
vision and self-description remained the same. The claim of authenticity,
voiced in the 1830s, was repeated, often word for word, in the 1880s and
1890s. What elements of this authorial vision can be attributed to literary realism and what elements to the tradition of western authenticity? This chapter will notindeed, cannottake on the staggeringly complex relationship between realism and the cult of western authenticity; thats another
book.7 But that relationship exists and needs to be recognized. It would
be foolhardy, of course, to argue that literary realism developed exclusively
from the impetus of western authenticitys pull; even I nd it hard to imagine Honor de Balzac, Henry James, or Edith Wharton riding the range. But
it seems far more than coincidence that many, if not most, American realists were midwestern or western (Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser,
Edward Eggleston, Henry Blake Fuller, Hamlin Garland, E. W. Howe,
William Dean Howells, Joseph Kirkland, Jack London, Frank Norris, Mark
Twain) and that others (such as Stephen Crane, Richard Harding Davis,
John William De Forest, and Bret Harte) used the West as subject. Certainly,
the landscapes of the West and the literature of the West inuenced these
writers. And, when, for example, Norris and Garland theorized about real112

the trap of authenticity

ism (or naturalism or veritism), they did so from a pronounced western

perspective. At some risk they saw themselves as western writers as much
as realists or naturalists. The attempt at depicting the realthe problem
of American realism, to borrow Michael Davitt Bells phrasemay be understood as quintessentially western.8 Thus, one simple goal of this chapter is to recognize that many authors who are consistently remembered as
realists or naturalistsand rarely as western writerswere in fact
working in an established, entrenched tradition of western authenticity.
Maybe this goal is not so simple. I am concentrating on the 1890s, a period in which western writers vehemently complained that the authentic
West and its authors remained absent from the record of literary history. In
A Literary History of America (1901), for example, Harvard professor Barrett
Wendell acknowledged that the West might prove important to American
letters but insisted that it has not yet achieved . . . literary expression. He
concluded: we may say of our great confused West, that just as surely as
New England has made its mark in the literary history of America, so as yet
this West has not. 9 Still, the focus of this chapter, Frank Norriss encoded
study of western authorships anxieties and failures, may seem unduly pessimistic. What about the professional successes of western writers such as
London, Wister, and indeed Norris himself ? I dont mean to neglect the
successes that were imminent (yet another book or at least another chapter), but I am primarily interested here in the moment before western writing
seems to emergethe period of authorial struggle in the 1890s exactly
because it reveals so much about western authorship and the burden of authenticity. In their way, however, the subsequent successes are equally revealing; realism and naturalism swept like a tsunami over the identity of
western writing, and these authors are primarily remembered and canonized, when canonized at all, as realists. Their relationship to western literary history is largely ignored. The irony is apparent: at the very moment that
western writers nd a mite of literary reward for their attempts at authentic
reproduction, they effectively cease to be western writers.
With the omnipresence of realism in mind, this chapter studies the condition of western authorship in the 1890s. It is during this period that we
catch the best glimpse of writers ghting both for and against the legacy of
authentic reproduction. As writers struggled to respond to culturally determined images of the West, they found themselves caught in a number of
binds, facing invisibility on all fronts. Certainly, they fought against the inherited burden of authenticity, frequently promoting, for example, western

the trap of authenticity

authorship based on a more romantic view of individualized accomplishment rather than collective practice. But just as often they fell into the trap
of authenticity by de-emphasizing style, squabbling with eastern authority,
and, of course, insisting on accurate, realistic representation. Such strategies were tiredthey were already imploding a half-century earlierbut
they also presented new challenges for writers who could no longer make
easy claims to identifying the Real West. The uncertainty over the Real West
often left writers wondering exactly what the real thing was and how they
could trace that elusive thing onto paper, project it in their prose.
Reality Check: Western Literature in the 1890s
In A Literary History of the American West James H. Maguire identies 1890 and
following as the nascent period of western belles-lettres1890, the year,
as the author notes, of the notorious frontier-closing census.10 But into
what kind of world was this nascent literature born? Not only is the western
frontier now closed (gone at last, in Norriss melancholy words of 1902),
but a larger conation of death, sickness and dis-ease permeates the literary landscape: late Victorian mourning sentiments, Continental decadent
writings, grim naturalistic theories, and a n de sicle aura of exhaustion all
contributed to this sense of decline. European intellectuals despaired that
civilization had done its work all too wellthat the cultural elite had become overcivilized, inbred, and susceptible to many transcultural forms of
social illness. The descriptive trope, even here, is a faded frontier: the Hungarian social critic Max Nordau described this cultural malaise as a twilight
mood and compared this decline to a pale, setting sun. He wrote in Degeneration, his landmark 1892 critique (translated into English in 1895 and read
by Owen Wister, among many), that in our days there have arisen in more
highly developed minds vague qualms of a Dusk of the Nations, in which all
suns and all stars are gradually waning, and mankind with all its institutions and creations is perishing in the midst of a dying world. 11 The sun
setting in the West, once a Romantic symbol of tomorrow, was by the end of
the century a fatigued symbol of yesterday.
The eastern United States seemed to fall under the spell of decadence
and disease, la maladie de n de sicle. Writers such as Henry James and William Dean Howells documented the thinning bloodlines of the Boston and
New York aristocracy, the enfeebled patrician class. American society appeared sick. Cultural historian Tom Lutz is one of many to chronicle the
turn-of-the-century prevalence of what he calls a cultural complex, the

the trap of authenticity

condition of neurasthenia, or simply American Nervousness: the fragile

nerves of the body become overtaxed, resulting in symptoms such as dyspepsia, insomnia, hysteria, hypochondria, headache, rashes, and even insanity.12 The problem seemed so severe that numerous doctors and social
theorists discoursed on causes and sought out remedies, Dr. S. Weir Mitchells famous rest cure being the most popular. This perception of European and eastern exhaustion conversely helped to maintain the popular
myth of the West as rugged, untamed, and uncivilized. The reputation of
the West as revitalizingly savage became a salubrious necessity for a nation in need of a culture-wide curethe West was seen as a place offering
remarkable health and vigor. Discussing the Wild Parks and Forest Reservations of the West, John Muir remarked that thousands of tired, nerveshaken, over-civilized people are beginning to nd out that going to the
mountains is going home. . . . Awakening from the stupefying effects of the
vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best
they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature,
and to get rid of rust and disease. 13 Theodore Roosevelt, Owen Wister, and
Frederic Remington all took West cures and extolled in their writings the
recuperative inuences of the West.
Why should America care about curing the neurasthenia of its leisure
classes? One answer is that many social theorists at the time abstracted
from individual experience and predicted a parallel culture-wide recovery.
The health of the representative individual was seen to correlate to that of
the nation itselfwhat Mark Seltzer in Bodies and Machines describes as a
system of analogies between the individual and the national or collective
body. At the turn of the century the male natural body and national geography are surrogate terms, Seltzer argues.14 This theorizing was certainly
true for Continental critics such as Max Nordau, who imagined cultural
malaise as the result of individual illness and perhaps even something as
specic as population-widespread poisoning through tainted food, narcotics, social diseases, and so on. This sort of body-as-nation trope became
increasingly familiar; the corresponding argument that ontogeny repeats
phylogeny convinced a culture intent on reading racial and historical development through the individual (e.g., frontiersman or cowboy). And to advocates who saw the West as reinvigorating manly spirits it followed that the
health of the individual western body predicted or improved that of the national corpus. As it is with the individual, Theodore Roosevelt would
claim in The Strenuous Life, so it is with the nation. 15 In Vandover and

the trap of authenticity

the Brute Frank Norris would skillfully adapt exactly this correlation between
individual bodily health and geographical strength (both canonical and political), though with deeply ambivalent results.
That ambivalence was inevitable for any West Coast intellectual because
by 1890 the American West had become a complicated, multivalent, even
self-contradicting symbol. While the West retained its popular image of revitalizing wildness, it also persistently projected a darker image of a dying,
declining region. To see the West in the centurys last quarter was to see
a region imperiled and doomed, perhaps already exhausted. Indeed, civilization seemed already to have triumphed, wiping out many key elements
of the Real West. By the 1890s the perception of symbolic disappearance
was climaxing, fueled by the popular incorporation of Frederick Jackson
Turners 1893 address on the closing of the frontier; the meeting point of
civilization and savagery had exhausted its westward march. The closing of
the frontier, a symbolic act if ever there was one, conrmed for Norris and
other progressive artists their worst fears about western degeneration. Norris summarizes such attitudes in The Frontier Gone at Last by declaring:
lament it though we may, the Frontier is gone, an idiosyncrasy that
has been with us for thousands of years, the one peculiar picturesqueness of our life is no more. We may keep alive for many
years yet the idea of a Wild West, but the hired cowboys and paid
rough riders of Mr. William Cody are more like the real thing
than can be found today in Arizona, New Mexico or Idaho. Only the
imitation cowboys, the college-bred fellows who go out on a
ranch carry the revolver or wear the concho. The Frontier has become conscious of itself, acts the part for the Eastern visitor; and
this self-consciousness is a sign, surer than all others, of the decadence of a type, the passing of an epoch.16

Although Norris gamely attempts to reinvent the frontier as a modern site

of commercial opportunity, the essays melancholy tone is never convincingly overcome. Norris may have been capable of reimagining the frontier
as economic empire-building, but he could not so easily circumvent the
problems of representing the American West.
The rst trap of authenticity in this kind of thinking is a historical trap:
the notion that an earlier West was somehow the real thing and that, like
Norriss character Presley in The Octopus, these writers lived too late. In
1885, for example, during his rst trip to Wyoming, Owen Wister found not

the trap of authenticity

only the invigorating big sky country but also a vanishing land. He wrote
that he wanted to nd out all about [the West]and master ittheoretically. Its a life as strange as any the country has seen, and it will slowly make
way for Cheyennes, Chicagos, and ultimately inland New Yorks everything reduced to the same at prairie-like level of utilitarian civilization. 17
Wister, while falling in love with the West, laments the inevitable loss of the
region, as if white settlement erases what is most real about the West. The
irony hardly needs to be pointed out: Wister, the Harvard-educated Philadelphia scion, was a carrier of civilization, and his desire to master the
West implies much more than an artists ambition. And soon enough,
though his real life was just beginning, Wisters Real West was gone, leaving him to publish books with titles such as When West Was West.18 Similarly,
in a brief autobiographical sketch Frederic Remington recalls an early experience in the West when an old wagon freighter, despondent over the
receding frontiers, told him that now . . . there is no more West. Remarking that the old man had closed [his] very entrancing book almost at
the rst chapter, Remington sees the land about to vanish forever and
sets out to try to record some facts. 19
This kind of language implies that the authentic West was disappearing, slipping awaybut it also presumes that such a disappearance was
unique to the frontier-closing 1890s. But, of course, such sentiment had
been around for quite some time and endures today. For most of the nineteenth century the West appeared to be past its peak and, like the indigenous Indian cultures, doomed to vanish. In midcentury Francis Parkman
was one of many who sought to catch the West and the native peoples before environmental and cultural extinction; already, in the late 1840s, he
could lament that great changes are at hand in that region and soon its
danger and its charm will have disappeared together. 20 Nearly one hundred and fty years later William Kittredge could recall his grandfather,
gazing across the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, remarking, Theyll never
see it the way we did. 21 It appears that in the West writers inevitably and repeatedly encounter the end of history. As Joan Didion has suggested about
California, the past reached a happy ending on the day the wagons started
West; in the West we had long outlived our nest hour. 22
The second trap of authenticity is representational. Western writers of
the 1890s such as Wister, Garland, and Norris seemed uniformly committed to write, in Norriss words, the real thing. But what did it mean, amid the
tensions and contradictions, to attempt this regional realism? What did the

the trap of authenticity

authentic West look like? The inauthentic West was obvious and helped to
dene the problem. The enemy, as it were, was the sentimental, romantic,
popular western writing that seemed to proliferate during the last quartercentury. Excited newspaper and magazine reports, published letters from
out West, travel accounts and guides, nostalgic memoirs, and, most important, the sensational dime novel inuenced and often dened the image
of the West to the growing popular market. Critic Bill Brown argues that in
the dime-novel Western the image, idea, and aura of the West offer an alternative to the rational dictates of modernity, while the fund of jargon, gesture, and attitude distinguishes the pragmatic American from the rened
European: it favors anti-intellectual intuition, interrupts any class-coded
system of taste in the name of authenticity, and hence protects America
from what Theodore Roosevelt called the dangerous ease of over-civilized
man. In arguing that the dime novel facilitates the process by which legend becomes mass-mediated memory, Brown signals the tangle of perception.23 I would add that the dime novels depictions of the West settled
into cultural memory as either historically reliable or laughably inaccurateand in both cases the test of the text was authenticity, real history, the
Real West.
It was easy enough for serious writers and critics to vilify the dime novels and other popular, sentimental literature as inauthentic, vulgar, tame,
and historically inaccurate. Columbia professor Harry Thurston Peck, for
example, complained as late as 1898 that he would give ten Mrs. Humphry
Wards for one good, realistic novel about Denver or Seattle; for Peck, Hamlin Garland and Edgar Howe were the only writers who [took] the West seriously. 24 In Crumbling Idols (1894) Garland himself put it this way: We
have had the gures, the dates, the bare history, the dime-novel statement
of pioneer life, but how few real novels! How few accurate studies of speech
and life! For Garland literature had missed the mark, and, with few exceptions, the mighty West, with its swarming millions, remains undelineated
in the novel, the drama, and the poem. 25 And Owen Wister reminisced
about his anger over the disappearing, undelineated West: Why wasnt
some Kipling saving the sage-brush for American literature, before the
sage-brush and all that it signied went the way of the California fortyniner . . . ? Roosevelt had seen the sage-brush true, had felt its poetry; and
also Remington, who illustrated his articles so well. But what was ction
doing, ction, the only thing that has always outlived fact? 26 Frank Norris,
who would attempt exactly that realistic and real novel, agreed with

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such sentiments and frequently lambasted the traducing, falsifying dimenovels, as here in The Literature of the West (1179). In the Boston Evening
Transcript, for example, he lamented that writers had neglected and overlooked the Winning of the West and had abandoned the one great eld
for American epic literature to the yellow-backs and dime-novels. 27 And in
his essay A Neglected Epic Norris complained with even more vehemence: But when at last one comes to look for the literature that sprang
from and has grown up around the last great epic event in the history of civilization . . . I mean the conquering of the West, the subduing of the
wilderness beyond the MississippiWhat has this produced in the way of
literature? The dime novel! The dime novel and nothing else. The dime
novel and nothing better (1202). The mythologized Wild West could be left
to the yellow-backs and dime-novelsNorris concentrated on exposing
the decadence of the obsolete western types and simultaneously considered methods of presenting and publishing the real thing and the things
that live (1114).
In short, Garland, Norris, and others insisted that the mighty West remained undelineatedbut that strong writing could convey authentic reality, the Real West. They insisted on what Baudrillard calls representation
of the rst order, when the image is a reection of a profound reality. Of
course, by dismissing other writings as inauthentic and by aiming straight
for the actual (to recall William Kittredges phrase), these writers were reproducing with predictable regularity the traditional western invocation of
authenticity, professing the same goal as so many others before and after
them. The claim is familiar: in the preface to Red Men and White (1896) Owen
Wister wonders: When our national life, our own soil, is so rich in adventures to record, what need is there for one to call upon his invention save to
draw, if he can, characters who shall t these strange and dramatic scenes?
One cannot improve upon such realities. 28 This is the legend of the West,
the great tradition, by now a burden: writers need not invent or create but
need merely record the realities. Wister comments that for most of his
stories the incidents, and even some of the names, are left unchanged from
their original reality. 29 But what exactly did Wister mean by original reality? Is it different from imitation reality, or secondhand reality? (Recall the
layerings of the Missouri River exploration narrativesthe game of Telephone in which reality was always obscured by borrowed, rewritten texts,
all claiming authenticity.) Consider that, at roughly the same time, Frank
Norris bemoaned the passing of the real thing, lamented the decadence of

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a type, and ridiculed the imitation cowboy. That Frederic Remington

likewise feared that with the advent of the wire fence the cowboythe
real thing, mark you, not the tame hired man who herds cattle for the mere
wage of it, and who lives for weeks at a time in convention store clothes
was disappearing.30 And that Hamlin Garland declared, The West, reckoning itself an annex of the East, has imitated imitations. 31 Wister wanted
to believe that he had caught the Wests original reality just years, perhaps
days, before it disappeared; Norris looked around and saw a West that was
rotting before it was ripe, leaving inauthentic, imitation characters; and
Garland argued that western culture still insecurely depended on eastern
culture, producing an art and philosophy twice copied. In the 1870s Joaquin
Miller and Mark Twain could play imitation and authenticity off of each
other, seeming to control both. But by the end of the century writers seemed
confused and even angry about the relationship. Garland and Norris argued
that the knowable West had become a copy of itself. Garland suggested that
western writers literally overlooked the mighty West because they had been
trained to see a very different reality. The Western poet and novelist, he
wrote, is not taught to see the beauty and signicance of life near at hand.
He is rather blinded to it by his instruction. 32
The problem, as always in western literature, is not that turn-of-thecentury western authors were incapable of producing powerful works of literature but, rather, that, in training their gaze on authenticity, they were in
fact not subverting the dime novel but merely playing the authenticity game.
This kind of claim reveals the third trap of authenticity: the authorial trap.
As the Real West slipped into the past, leaving only the simulated road signs
of nostalgia in its wake, authorship seemed increasingly vulnerable and
fragile. Already the authority of early contact was gone, and writers could
no longer claim a unique knowledge of a distant region; already the rst
wave of western stars (Twain, Harte, Bierce, and others) had largely moved
east; already the foundation of western authorship, the claim of authenticity, was crumbling. With the instability of the West itself, authors could no
longer claim a simple authenticity, and yet they could not easily ignore the
burden of marketplace expectation.
Moreover, the troubled development of authorship is complicated by the
tension between dime novelists and western realists. The production of the
dime novel quite literally erased individual authorship, a trend that I am
tempted to associate as much with the self-effacing western authors of the
1830s as with the rise of a bourgeois reading class. Literary historians such

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as Christine Bold and Michael Denning have shown that dime novels were
produced by ction factories, groups of writers operating under a single
name.33 Publishers increasingly controlled the process of writing, denying
individual authors a voice and identity. Denning writes that the tendency of
the industry was to shift from selling an author who was a free laborer, to
selling a character, a trademark whose stories could be written by a host of
anonymous hack writers. To Denning many dime novels are best considered as an essentially anonymous, unauthored discourse. 34
More ambitious western writers such as Norris and Garland naturally
fretted over this kind of authorial invisibility. It appeared that the slide of the
Real West into remote regions of nostalgia produced a parallel effect on authorship, making it equally indistinct. Unlike the publishers of dime-novel
Westerns and unlike the writers of the 1830s, Norris, Garland, and others
typically endorsed individual vision and achievementand individual remuneration. Norris, for example, like London later, celebrated the reach of
the novelist and, in almost Nietzschean terms, attempted to write what he
called the Great American Novel (G.A.N.). His model was mile Zola,
who Norris believed eschewed the rank and the le in favor of the extraordinary, imaginative, grotesque (1107). But, if these writers maintained a belief in individual accomplishment, they fell quickly into the trap
of abandoning an interest in style, the same trap that caught James Hall,
Timothy Flint, and others. Throughout the nineteenth century having a
style meant obscuring the Real West; few authors would admit to having a
literary technique, for aesthetically realized language could only inauthenticate a text. The categories of high and low literature in the West are never
determined by style, vocabulary, or literary reference but, instead, by the
test of authenticity. Recall James Halls discomfort with the embellishment
of style. Or Joaquin Millers insistence that the world is waiting for ideas,
not for words. Remember Shakespeares scorn of words, words, words.
. . . Will we ever have an American literature? Yes, when we leave sound and
words to the winds. 35 So it is no surprise that Owen Wister remarked: I
value accuracy more than any other quality in such stories as I write. I dont
care how effective they are, if theyre false, theyre spoiled for me. 36 And
Hamlin Garland declared that the literature which is already springing up
in those great interior spaces of the South and West is to be a literature, not
of books, but of life. It will draw its inspiration from original contact with
men and with nature. It will have at rst the rough-hewn quality of rsthand work. 37 (It is unclear what will happen later, when the original con121

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tact fades.) Frank Norris was perhaps most emphatic of all: I detest ne
writing, rhetoric, elegant Englishtommyrot. Who cares for ne style!
Tell your yarn and let your style go to the devil. We dont want literature, we
want life. 38 Indeed, there is a violent tone in Norriss language: not enough
has been done in the way of gripping hold upon and impressing this life of
ours between the covers of works of ction, he suggests. Its the Life that
we want, the vigorous, real thing, not the curious weaving of words and the
polish of literary nish. Damn the style of a story, so long as we get the
swing and rush and trample of the things that live (1113 14).39
For my purposes it is largely irrelevant whether these authors really believed that style was tommyrot. (Garland almost certainly did not; Miller
and Wister undoubtedly cared more for language and effect than they let
on; but Norriss prose actually does seem to suggest that he may well have
detested rhetoric.) Rather, one wonders: why the distrust of style and language? Part of the answer may be an attempt at a broader literary realism
and naturalism. Michael Davitt Bell argues that the obvious defects of Norriss style were, in effect, learned and . . . this deliberate learning was a product of growing commitment to what he took literary naturalism to be. 40
David E. Shi agrees: Norriss disavowal of stylistic concerns was intended
to reassure readers of his sincerity and accuracy. 41 True, but here, as elsewhere, critics tend to overlook the western context of American realism
and naturalism; throughout the nineteenth century, well before the institutionalization of realism, authors argued that representing life and the
mighty West required a style-busting directness. This attack on style was
not merely mainstream realism or naturalism but a commitment to western
authenticity and an attack on eastern conventions of writing as welland
implicitly eastern politics, eastern authority, and eastern effeminacy. In his
essay Literary Masters, for example, Garland sets up an imaginary debate
between the West (the radical) and the East (the conservative, the aristocrat). The West is crude, charges the East. Garlands West soon responds: We deny that the East is to be the exclusive home of the broadest
culture. We feel that much of this culture is barren and insincere. It has a
hopeless outlook. It leads nowhere. 42 (Garlands use of barren reects, of
course, those cultural anxieties about both literary and biological reproduction.) Garland then goes on to make his case for western literature and culture, a case based on authenticityan authenticity not just of fact or personal experience but of implied sincerity and patriotic vision: it is my
sincere conviction, taking the largest view, that the interior is to be hence122

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forth the real America and further that the genuine American literature
. . . must come from the soil and the open air. 43 Garland is attempting to
unify that western double consciousness by claiming the Real West: the West
is the real America and will produce the genuine American literature.
Although his literary corpus offers many answers, Frank Norris himself,
in his brief professional career (1896 1902), could not resolve the complexities of representing the Real West. Indeed, for Norris the passing of
an epoch in the West left him in a precarious position, without a revitalized
epoch to inhabit, without a dened space in which to work. Norriss character Presley experiences exactly such a detached, alienated world in the
Octopus: he desires to write an epic of the West, that worlds frontier of Romance, and he hopes to produce the great song that should embrace in itself a whole epoch, a complete era, the voice of an entire people (584). He
despairs, however, that he has missed his opportunity: To-day, the life was
colourless. Romance was dead. He had lived too late (594 95). Presley
lives between two worldsis literally pressed between the past and the
present, between romance and realism, between verse and prose. He is a
western writer in search of a way out of a debilitating middle.
Norris offers his most penetrating articulation of this uneasy position in
a newspaper article of 1902 ttingly titled The Literature of the West. He
questions what an authentic, realistic West looks like by asking which character type is more true to Western life, the sensationalized red-shirt or
the prosaic farming folk (1176). He then goes on to argue that the West
is yet in the transitional period. There was a time when the wild life was the
only life. There will come a time when the quiet life will be the only life. But
as yet the West is midway of the two extremes (1175). But, in fact, this liminal space of transition (midway) is canonically absurdit leaves the author quite literally nowhere, in a twilight zone cut off from past and future,
from recognizable landscapes, existing only in a marginal, undened
space. How can a regions writing discover itself when its very ground is disputed, when its moment is both always already past and silently waiting for
a future? It is this transitional condition, the existence midway, that this
chapter will now consider through readings of Vandover and the Brute and
Blix. These novels, Norriss two efforts at full-length ctionalized autobiography, reveal the authors disturbing vision of western authorship and
canonicity. From the beginning Norris recognized an authorial liminality,
a situation of artistic nonexistence, and turned it into a central trope. To be
stuck midway of extremes is to be stuck between two unreal positions, with

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no stable point and possibly with no available original to copy. This canonical disability and invisibility come to signify Norriss ambivalent, skeptical
attitude toward western literature and western authorship.
The Excluded Middle: Vandover and Authorial Invisibility
Frank Norris, on the early cusp of western literatures emergence, deploys
the themes of degeneration and invisibility to study western canonical disability. He takes as his central subjects not only death but also the state of
diseased division, a division that results in diminishment and authorial invisibility. Norriss novelistic imagination turns spatial, guring both the
West and authorship as constrained in that twilight zone, disappearing into
the void, persisting in the popular imagination but only as copies. Further,
Norris considers how, if that region increasingly appeared as a copy of itself, an author or character could claim an authentic connection to region.
Thus, in his novels he studies the very idea of imitation. Using stock western charactersrepresentatives of the regionNorris explores worlds of
copies that no longer refer to originals. Twain and Miller could seductively
toy with notions of the authentic and inauthentic because both terms continued to carry meaning, but Norris could no longer lay claim to a recognizable authenticity, and his ction manifests the tension between reaching
for the Real Thing and doubting its existence.
In 1897, two years after nishing drafts of Vandover and McTeague, Norris
contributed a minor piece of ction to the Wave titled Shorty Stack,
Pugilist. Although critics pay scant attention to the story, treating it as one
of Norriss salable, chuckle-inducing entertainments, Shorty delivers a
comic miniature of that debilitating position midway of the two extremes, the position that Norris fully explores in Vandover.44 Shorty, a bedrock cleaner at the Big Dipper mine and an amateur boxer, prepares for
a highly anticipated match against a professional pugilist named McCleaverty. If the hard-hitting McCleaverty is the representation of the savage
wild life, then the quiet life is embodied by Shortys would-be sweetheart,
brightly named Miss Starbird, a cook at the mine. Miss Starbird, though
too genteel for a regular prize ght, looks forward to the entertainment. Her primary concern, however, is Shortys health. How do you feel,
Shorty? are her rst words, and he responds by reiterating clichs from
the interviews with pugilists that appeared in the San Francisco papers: I
feel t to ght the ght of my life. 45 The healthy, vigorous Shorty seems

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physically ready to win on two fronts, to beat his savage opponent in the
ring and to win the object of his affection.
Yet Norris refuses to allow Shorty his victories. When Shorty and Miss
Starbird visit on the night before the match, she offers him some of her potato salad. Although Shorty at rst refuses (Im in training), Miss Starbird
convinces him to eat it by challenging his courage (you must be fraid of
getting whipped if youre so fraid of a little salad).46 Their querulous tte-tte comically foreshadows the ghtand his double loss. The potato
salad, apparently tainted, causes Shorty to lose the match; he gets ill in the
nal round, the pain in his stomach making it torture to stand erect. 47
Thus, Shorty, who literally represents the region as the Champion of Placer
County, is undone by both sideshe is caught between Miss Starbird and
McCleaverty, between potato salad and his opponents sts, between the
damaging civilization and the damaging savagery. Not only is Shorty midway, but he is nally ignored and omitted; after the ght his two opponents,
McCleaverty and Miss Starbird, walk off together romantically linked. Already shorty, by the end he is doubled over and overlooked.
Similarly, Vandover and the Brute points with ironic alacrity to that vague,
unknown, and unknowable West termed the midway of the two extremes
and to an authorship that is equally occluded. The novel, described by Donald Pizer as Norris most autobiographical, 48 details the Jekyll-and-Hyde
decline of young Vandover, whose animalistic brute half battles his reputable artistic half. This condition of internal division is oddly echoed both
within and without the novel. The publication itself has an unusual history:
it was Norriss rst novel, mostly written during his year at Harvard, 1894
95, but it was his last to be published, not appearing until 1914. Not only
was the publishing history divided, but so was the young Frank Norris, a
man who himself embodied a divided condition. Like Vandover, Norris was
caught between the East (both Paris and New York) and the West and between a father who envisioned Frank as a businessman and a mother who
saw only an artist. (In fact, his parents separated in the early 1890s.) Further,
the very bodily division that aficts Vandover is an unsettling reproduction
of Norriss own physical health and outlook. On the one hand, Norris (like
Roosevelt and others) made extravagant claims for a masculine, virile
western ethic, one that repudiated softness in the name of the heroic. His
model, as always, was the male body: Give us stories now, give us men,
strong, brutal men, with red-hot blood in em, with unleashed passions
rampant in em, blood and bone and viscera in em (1113). And yet Norris

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himself was never athletically developed and often seemed weak, even effeminate. He often appeared foppish, one who affected Parisian elegance
and who once showed up to gym class [at Berkeley] in chic black leotards. 49 Norriss own body was a site of contention, a divided structure between vigor and weakness.
As it is with Norriss body, so it is with his adopted western home, San
Francisco, aptly described as midway or divided between extremes. The
inuence of that city on Norris was an important one, and Norris was certainly aware of the considerable literary precedent of the San Francisco
Circlebut by the turn of the century the citys celebrated cultural landscape had changed. Like Norris, San Francisco was considerably doubled
up; as one critic writes: San Francisco stood with one foot in the Old West,
the other in Nineties aestheticism. Norris signed his letters as the boy
Zola, and left his mark beneath, a drawing of a six shooter. He dressed like
a Parisian dandy and defended football games as the purest expression of
Anglo-Saxon virility. 50 That is, both the city and Norris expressed emblematic, manly impulses and decadent, European impulses. Whether a
midway of extremes, a cultural hybrid, or simply a schizophrenic state, this
ground for writing was divided, disputed. Norris even divided his celebrated
literary eld, naturalism, between extremes, caught conspicuously between
romanticism and realism; as Presley complained in The Octopus, Romance
was dead. . . . Reality was what he longed for, things that he had seen. Yet
how to make this compatible with romance (594 95). At times Norris
sought to resolve the perceived conicts of romanticism and realismfor
example, famously recasting his idol Zola as a Romantic Writer (in an
1896 essay of that name): For most people Naturalism has a vague meaning. It is a sort of inner circle of realisma kind of diametric opposite of
romanticism. Norris, however, argues that Naturalism, as understood by
Zola, is but a form of romanticism after all (1106). Typically, Norris later
adjusts his theory and once again nds himself in the middle, writing in his
Weekly Letter: Does Truth after all lie in the middle? And what school,
then, is midway between the Realists and the Romanticists, taking the best
from each? Is it not the school of Naturalism, which strives hard for accuracy and truth? (1141).
Vandover and the Brute is Norriss naturalistic study of his own early personal, professional, and regional condition. Thus, the self-divided Vandover can be understood to represent Norriss biographical self; to represent Norris the author; and, most important, to represent the West, a region

the trap of authenticity

caught between the wild and quiet life, the real and the imitation, canonically invisible. Norris uses each of Vandovers friends to represent a western
type. Although some are familiar from the stock characters of dime novels
(the quiet heroine, the earthy prostitute, the greedy speculator), Norris updates these gures, suggesting that they embody new western values and
experiences. Norriss method, however, is to show the decadence of even
these types. In other words, Norris is playing a dangerous game. On the one
hand, he seems to embrace the western convention of authenticity, axiomatically proclaiming out with the old, in with the new. By dismissing established western representation as inauthentic, he creates a New West and
reenacts the entrenched authorial claim of authenticity. On the other hand,
he agonizes over this New West, worrying that it is articial and even unreal.
Norris explicitly uses the three major female characters to examine life in
this New West. Turner Ravis, Ida Wade, and Flossie together suggest a microcosm of the divided extremes, with the center nally elided and forgotten. Turner Ravis and her family represent the quiet life, here of the established, conservative sphere. They represent the staid East Coast world of
civilized education (their library had been in process of collection for the
past half century), but Norris modies that clich by making the family emphatically western: they had lived in the same house on California
Street for nearly twenty years and are as rooted as any family in San Francisco: Everybody in San Francisco knew of the Ravises and always made
it a point to speak of them as one of the best families of the city (59).
Turner, whose name possibly echoes Frederick Jackson Turner, stands for
the world of literature and art, afternoon tea, and religion. The Ravises are
old-fashioned and had family traditions and usages and time-worn customs. Turner Ravis literally embodies the belles-lettres tradition as she sits
in her room writing letters (60); she also seems to be a positive inuence
on Vandovers condition by helping to bring out all that was best in Vandover (160).
Yet typical of Norriss sardonic vision, a closer look reveals Turner to be
a sterile character in an exhausted, inbred western family. Time-worn is no
compliment here. There is something unhealthy and exaggerated in their
isolation. They have ceased to extend themselves, to move forward. Mr.
Ravis seldom goes to his social club, Turner went out but little, and her
brother is absorbed in his law business. When Norris writes that they
much preferred each others society to that of three fourths of their acquaintances, he describes a cloistered, remote family (59). The possibility

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of familial exhaustion, the end of the bloodline, is further revealed in Norriss careful depiction of Turners sexuality. Possibly suggesting a genetic
deterioration from inbreedingThey were a home-loving raceNorris
presents Turner as sexually prudish and infertile. Unlike Ida Wade, who becomes pregnant after one encounter with Vandover, Turners procreative
abilities seem stied. Whereas Ida and Flossie will allow or encourage Vandovers libidinous drive, Turner allows no more than a single kissand
only after they arrange an early-morning church rendezvous. Rather than
projecting future motherhood, Turner can only simulate maternity, doing
housework with her own mother every day and supervising her younger siblings (she had them to bed at nine, mended some of their clothes, made
them take their baths regularly [60]). And Turner may in fact end up unmarried, simply living within her family walls; she breaks with Vandover,
then breaks with Dolly Haight (who has contracted syphilis from Flossie),
and nally drifts out of the novels gaze, last seen dating the abominable
Charlie Geary.
At the other extreme is the prostitute Flossie, depicted as Turners opposite: Turner Ravis inuenced him upon his best side, calling out in him all
that was cleanest, nest, and most delicate. Flossie appealed only to the animal and the beast in him, the evil, hideous brute that made instant answer. Flossie is as unconnected as Turner is connected; in the novel Flossie
has no last name, no family, no known residence, no connection to history
itself. Of course, prostitutes, like high-minded civilized women, were a familiar part of popular western myth: as historian Patricia Nelson Limerick
writes, the prostitute was as much a creature of Western stereotype as the
martyred missionary, and in many ways a more appealing one. 51 This gure is more appealing because the popular prostitute, the whore with the
heart of gold, the cheerful dance hall girl, epitomized a friendly, healthy,
eminently safe gure. Flossie at rst seems to t the bill: she radiated
health; her eyes were clear, her nerves steady, her esh hard and even as a
childs. There hung about her an air of cleanliness, of freshness, of good nature, of ne, high spirits, while with every movement she exhaled a delicious perfume that was not only musk, but that seemed to come alike from
her dress, her hair, her neck, her very esh and body (38). Every turn of her
body seems strong, convincing. Yet Norris immediately alters the image by
transforming that perfumed air into the foul sweet savour of the great
citys vice (39). Like Norriss depiction of Turner, this portrait of Flossie
gradually reveals decay and degeneration. Flossie in fact carries syphilis and

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will decline into a depleted, alcoholic shadow; her sexuality may appear as
the opposite of Turners, but she also ends up childless (we assume) and
If Turner and Flossie represent the extremes of civilization and savagery,
both seemingly healthy but secretly jaundiced, Ida Wade is the midwaya
midway that will be squeezed out, ignored, deleted. The hierarchy between
the three is not subtle, and Ida is emphatically centered: Ida is as far removed from Flossies class as from that of Turner Ravis. But being in the
middle is being nowhere in this western culture. Ida seems to exist on the
borders of denitions, between the economic and sexual identities of
Turner and Flossie. She is virtuous, but the very fact that it was necessary
to say so was enough to cause the statement to be doubted. When young,
she had been the companion of such girls as Turner Ravis and Henrietta
Vance, but since that time girls of that class had ignored her. Ignored from
above, Ida ercely ghts against association with the class below: She was
very clever; half of her acquaintances, even the men, did not know how very
gay she was. Only thoselike Vandoverwho knew her best, knew her
for what she was, for Ida was morbidly careful of appearances, and as jealous of her reputation as only fast girls are (50).
Yet what she was, exactly, is unclear, for Norris presents her as a simulation, careful of appearances. Her jacket is imitation astrakhan, her
hair very blond, though coarse and dry from being bleached (49). She appears as a copy but with no original in sight. Like Flossie, she works, yet
even this is temporary: she substituted at various kindergartens in the city.
She hoped soon to get a permanent place (51). While Turner volunteers to
play mother and Flossie exchanges sex for money, Ida essentially does both,
but with a tentative ephemerality. She can only substitute with the kindergarten children and only once engages sexually with Vandover. Permanence
is exactly what Ida does not possess. Her place (in society, in the labor market, in the West) is dramatically unstable, mirroring the instability of the
West itself. Her suicide is an implosion of sorts, a release of life that ironically recalls Norriss proclamation that in literature its the Life that we
want, the vigorous real thing. Idas death is the antithesis: she takes an
overdose of laudanum, and lies unconscious until she slips away. Charlie
Geary delivers the news to Vandover (who is offstage, in the bathtub), and
Gearys announcement reects Idas departure with all of Norriss black humor. Geary says: She was unconscious then, and between one and two she
died. She was unconscious all the time. Well, I cant stop any longer, Van;

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Ive an appointment downtown (76). Geary, like the impact of Idas death,
like Ida Wade herself, quickly disappears.
Idas pregnancy and subsequent suicide are pivotal plot points in the
novel. Vandovers decline was perhaps pathologically inevitable, but it is
Idas pregnancy and suicide that, directly or indirectly, dramatically accelerate the narrative by causing Vandovers loss of reputation, his loss of property, his loss of much capital, and indirectly his fathers death. Yet, despite
her lingering effect, Ida is an oddly absent character. She lives in only one
chapter (chap. 5) and is otherwise merely a vague instrument of narrative, a
ghostly gure whose death continues to alter Vandovers plans. The other
characters inevitably turn their attention from Ida to themselves. Vandovers
response to her suicide is predictably self-centered: He could think of
nothing worse that could have happened to him (77). Vandovers pain
quickly dissipates, and Ida is forgotten. And, although Vandovers friends
seem concerned about the incident, some indeed ostracizing him, they
seem more upset that he violated the rules of social decorum than that he
seduced (or raped) a woman who consequently committed suicide. Charlie
Geary could hardly show less concern for Ida, his repeated use of the rstperson pronoun reecting his egotism: Ah, you bet I dont let any girl I go
with know my last name or my address if I can help it. . . . I wouldnt worry.
I guess it will be all right (148). Geary typically describes the problem as
that business with Ida Wade, reducing her death to an unfortunate nancial transaction that damaged Vandovers reputation; Geary tells Vandover
that it got around somehow that she killed herself on your account.
Gearys words imply that the business of Idas death is a debit on Vandovers account, a literal and gurative withdrawal. Finally, Geary proleptically understands that incidents like this can affect Vandovers space
limiting Vandovers bodily and social movements. He warns that youll
always have to be awfully careful in those things, or youll get into a box. At
the end of the novel Geary himself puts Vandover in a box, a lthy cubby under a sink.
Even the newspaper account of Idas suicide reveals her eeting, marginal presence, a fading copy of a remote original. Vandover searches the
paper: At rst he could not nd it, and then it suddenly jumped to prominence from out the gray blur of the print on an inside page beside an advertisement of a charity concert for the benet of a home for incurable children. There was a picture of Ida taken from a photograph like one that she
had given him, and which even then was thrust between the frame and glass

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of his mirror. He read the article through; it sketched her life and character
and the circumstances of her death with the relentless terseness of the
writer cramped for space (77). Like Idas character, the article seems almost hidden on an inside page. Norris gives more details of the adjoining
advertisement than of the account of Idas death. The advertisements numerous qualifying phrases are a series of shorthand allusions, each packed
with signicance: Norris obliquely refers to Vandovers dependence on
charity; to his love of concerts and music; to the loss of his home and his
subsequent homelessness; to the incurable disease from which he suffers;
and to the children whom Turner supervised and Ida taught. Conversely,
Idas presence seems vague, displaced. Her life itself is only sketched in
the article, as it is in the novel. Her image itself is a series of copies, a picture . . . taken from a photograph, but her reproducibility is empty, for
there is only the vaguest of originals. Vandovers copy is itself thrust between the frame and glass of his mirror. (And the irony hardly needs identifying: she can only appear in pale reproductions but will not reproduce
herselfwill not give birth.) Vandovers own image, a copy in reection,
thus cramps her image. The apparent irony of the writer cramped for
space is twofold: rst, Ida is given so little space by Norris, squeezed out of
the novel; second, the western writer attempting to depict that midway
character is also cramped for space.
Oddly, this scene itself is later copied nearly verbatim, emphasizing Idas
role as narrative object, as the excluded middle. When Idas father sues Vandover, blaming him for her death, Vandover must read the news in the
morning paper: It was a very short paragraph, not more than a dozen lines,
lost at the bottom of a column, among the cheap advertisements. . . . It
seemed hardly more than a notice that some enterprising reporter, burrowing in the records at the City Hall, had unearthed and brought to light with
the idea that it might be of possible interest to a few readers of the paper.
But there was his name staring back at him from out the gray blur of the
type, like some reection of himself seen in a mirror (172 73). This report
emphasizes Idas limited value as a commodied character: rst, by the
suit itself, her father appraising her lifes worth; and, second, by the persistent parallels between the account of her death and the account of the
suit. Here the report is again cramped and hidden, at the bottom of the
column, and is again bordered by advertisements. Like the previous writer,
this enterprising reporter is depicted as cramped, guratively buried,
burrowing until he or she unearthed and brought to light the story.

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Norris does, however, produce a telling thematic shift between the two
scenes: in the rst it is Ida Wades portrait that stands out from the gray
blur of the print, the same portrait that Vandover has attached to his mirror. In the second Vandovers attention is turned away from Ida and toward
himself: the portrait from out the gray blur of the print is now his own,
like some reection of himself seen in a mirror. The parallel newspaper
accounts accentuate two of Norriss strategic moves: rst, the displacement
and elimination of Ida Wade; and, second, the corresponding replacement
of Ida with Vandover himself. In other words, Vandover literally takes Idas
place in that hidden and lost accounthis body, reected in the mirror, will come to represent the division of extremes and will itself become
squeezed out.
If Norris portrays Ida as the midway of extremes and subsequently erases
her from even that marginal position, he attempts an even more ambitious
portrait in the vanishing Vandover. Vandovers decay and division suggest
exactly that unhealthy and directionless position midway of extremes.
Within his body rages the ironic conict between civilization and savagery,
the artist and the brute. Vandover himself is midway between the wild life
and the quiet life and, like western literature, his existence is not only imperiled but increasingly marginal and invisible. Norris uses Vandovers
body, that meat-consuming, wolsh body, to represent a broader condition
of western experience. Vandovers body comes to represent a kind of regional cosmology, the site of contested intentions; it stands as the battle
ground between extremes, between western civilization and savagery, between the wild life and the quiet life, between art and brutality. But, if Vandover represents the state of western representation, Norris destabilizes
and often inverts the expected patterns; if degeneration was seen by theorists to be the result of overcivilization and if the remedy was revitalizing
western activity, Norris reverses the process. Here Vandovers decline results from his savage, beastly side. As the illness progresses, he becomes
more savage, less cultured. The proposed cure also inverts expectations: an
increased dose of art and culture even a move eastward, away from the
damaging environment, perhaps to Paris. Finally, degeneration was seen
as the thinning out of bloodlines, the increasing sexual and physical impotence of the weary; as Nordau wrote, the n-de-sicle mood was the
impotent despair of a sick man. 52 But, again, Norris alters the expected
playit is Vandovers sexual beastliness, the seduction/rape of Ida Wade
and her resulting pregnancy, that reinforces his decline. The sexuality is dis132

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easedVandover may have syphilisyet still fertile. If the despair is impotent here, the body certainly is not.
Yet, if Vandovers body represents the West through the conicts between savagery and civilization, health and illness, his body also represents
the gradual erasure of that regions presence. Throughout the novel Vandovers body occupies a specically dened space: it is seen as moving from
an expansive set of spatial locations to a minimal existence, vibrating as it
were in an increasingly narrow space between culturally determining positions. Most obviously, his geographical world shrinks. He begins his life in
Boston, moves west to San Francisco, and after high school prepares to
travel in Europe. He never got farther than Boston (11). This curtailment
is only the rst in a series of conditional limitations. Upon his return to San
Francisco, he continues to dream of Paris, but the only trip he makes is the
escape to San Diego, an ill-conceived trip with disastrous consequences. Increasingly, he nds his geographical and social area restricted: unwelcome
at old friends homes, his own living space decreases into smaller and shabbier sites, from the grand homestead to a suite of rooms on Sutter Street to
the claustrophobic room in the Lick House . . . well toward the rear of the
building (199), to the squalid Reno House room. Inverting the traditional
cultural geography of the West, expansive and open, Norris imagines an increasingly claustrophobic spatial environment.
As Vandovers nancial resources crumble, as his appearance deteriorates, his body literally seems to shrivel up, to take up less space, to become
conned. This invisibility is naturally a social and economic onehis
friends cease to recognize him as one of their ownbut Norris makes this
point a bodily one as well. In his criticism Norris called for writers to attempt gripping hold upon and impressing this life of ours between the
covers of works of ction, and it is exactly Vandovers lifehis ability to
exist in a work of ctionthat slips away. As Vandover deteriorates, his
friends increasingly fail to know him: He had completely passed out of the
lives of Haight, Geary, and Ellis, just as before he had passed out of the life
of Turner Ravis (232). Vandovers social invisibility is echoed by a physical
invisibility: certain acquaintances actually have difculty making out their
former associate, as when Geary did not recognize the gaunt, shambling
gure with the long hair and dirty beard (242). Norriss suggestive trope of
endangered visibility dominates the novels conclusion, subtly reiterating
the impossibility of midway existence.
This bodily reduction and invisibility are most dramatically exposed in

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the novels nal scene, in which the depleted Vandover cleans one of Charlie Gearys lthy rental houses. This act of humiliation requires Vandover to
crawl way in to the cubby under the sink, into a dark and dreary space,
tomblike and lled with decomposed animal and plant matter, including a
moldy hambone, a rusty pan of congealed gravy, a broken rat trap, a battered teapot, and a handful of hair. Vandover was obliged to crouch lower
and lower until he lay at upon his stomach (258). The greasy and decayed surroundings are, of course, reections of Vandovers own bodily decline. But this nal scene articulates more than decline and dying: it exposes the role of bodily invisibility from which Vandover increasingly
suffers. Even more signicantly, Vandover disappears from sight, and the
renting family at the novels conclusion has difculty actually seeing him,
certainly not seeing the gure that the reader has come to know. The novel
ends on a note of misreading, or, worse, of nonreading. The conceit of interpretive vision (reading) at the end is emphasized by the mothers inspecting eye (I dont see how you come to overlook that she says to Vandover of a dirty baseboard [256]), an eye that can spot her husband from a
distance in a crowd (There he is!) but cannot see the human being that is
Vandover. Did you ever see anything like that? she complains as she examines the dirty cubby, and she and the family watch Vandover as he climbs in
to clean it, seeing to it that he did the work properly (25758).
The novels conclusion, however, is an ambiguous one. The young son,
Oscar, enters into the dynamics by shrilly crying out to the prone Vandover:
Hey there! Get up, you old lazee-bones. The adults are delighted by Oscars apparently vicious remark, for it was wonderful how that boy saw
everything that went on (259). But what is he seeing? Oscar lingers after
the adults have left, and remains very interested in watching Vandover, still
on the oor. When Vandover glances up, the two remained there motionless, looking into each others eyes, Vandover on the oor, one hand twisted
into the bale rope about his bundle, the little boy standing before him eating the last mouthful of his bread and butter (260). These nal words seem
to resolve nothing: is Vandover, the one-time Harvard student and artist
who declined into invisibility, watching the future, the next generation of
critical voices? Is the boy, so intent on studying Vandover, seeing anything
beyond a decrepit and meaningless cleaning person? And are we as readers
being challenged here, being asked what we see in Vandover, what we have
read, how we have pushed Vandover into our own invented canonical cubby

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In the end critics may deride Norriss novel as being stylistically and intellectually immature, the work of an emerging but still developing author.
But that is exactly what makes it so revealing: Vandover and the Brute is not the
nostalgic vision of an innocent West that Blix portrays nor the straining,
soft-core attempt to reimagine the frontier as Darwinian economic opportunity described in The Octopus. Rather, Vandover, like Norris himself, was
caught between the worlds of romance and modernism, between youth and
old age, between ironic forms of savagery and civilizationbetween competing visions of the Real West. Norris used his early novel to explore the
condition of being in-between, of being noncanonical, of existing in the
margins of competing worlds.
Selling (Out) the West: Blix and Beyond
Vandover and the Brute proved prophetic in that Norris himself was soon
caught in a debilitating middle, struggling in the ideological space between
the East and West, between commercial adventure stories and more serious efforts. The lurid subjects and the uneasy, deant tones of Vandover and
McTeague made publication difcult for Norris. Although both manuscripts
were well on their way to completion by 1895, it would be four years before
Doubleday and McClure published McTeague and nearly twenty years before
Vandovers posthumous appearance in 1914. In 1896 Norris accepted a position at the San Francisco weekly the Wave, contributing a wide variety of
ction and nonctional prose. He continued, however, to hope for more
signicant publication and submitted a collection of short stories to a New
York publisher; the collection was refused, and Norris took the advice of the
publisher and began to write an adventure novel. In 1898 the Wave serialized
Norriss rst published novel, Moran of the Lady Letty, the story of a California treasure hunt. Doubleday and McClure took notice and invited Norris to
New York as an editorial assistant. Norriss career within the New York marketplace had commenced.
Moran of the Lady Letty, despite some distinguishable Norris touches, was
a novel designed to appeal to the eastern audience and to his eastern publisher. Norris appreciated the notice and opportunity that followed but also
felt uncomfortable with the result. He hardly wanted to be known for such
commercial, sensational writing. When Howells wrote a laudatory review,
Norris responded gratefully but also dismissed the novel as a little yarn,
hoping that Howells would take the time to read the forthcoming McTeague.
This next novel, Norris promised, would be as naturalistic as Moran was

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romantic and in writing it I have taken myself & the work very seriously. 53
Fair enough, of course except that Norris had written McTeague ve years
earlier and at the time of the letter was continuing to produce lightweight,
middlebrow material, arguably not taking his current work seriously at all.
During that rst year in New York he wrote much of Blix and began A Mans
Woman, both undeniably romantic, sentimental, and, by most modern judgments, aesthetically insignicant.
Blix (1899) is Norriss ctionalized recollection of the period of professional struggle leading up to his move east. The book is a sentimental backward glance, an autobiography-as-novel recounting Norriss development
as a writer and his evolving romance with Jeannette Black. It is also an unusual opportunity to observe a young western writer considering his own
early canonical struggles with the Easts cultural and economic authority. If
Vandover and the Brute recounts the decline of a would-be artist, Blix portrays
the opposite: the ascent of a determined author. The novel follows the two
charactershere named Condy and Blixas they fall in love and as Condy,
with Blixs iron-willed support, works his way toward a successful literary
career by writing sensational adventure narratives. At the novels overwrought conclusion Condy receives (as did Norris) a timely, even miraculous, offer from a New York publisher and follows Blix east, where she is to
study medicine. In tone and direction the sunny novel is a dramatic departure from Norriss two naturalistic novels and indicates Norriss move toward the mainstream, which had commenced with Moran of the Lady Letty.
Indeed, Blixs cheerful nostalgia seems to suggest only that Norris was content to have found in New York a satisfactory income and audience at any
cost to his own aesthetic or creative principles. And, predictably, the novels
comfortable accessibility was warmly received by critics, who were discomted or repulsed by McTeague. As one reviewer wrote, Blix is fresh and
simple and wholesome, making it Norriss nest novel and likely to be
the most popular. 54 For most contemporary readers, of course, Blix pales
before the more original and ambitious McTeague and, in fact, Blix is long out
of print at this writing. The publication of Blix, rather than promising a
strong future for a unique talent, seemed to conrm the worst form of authorial compromise and to anticipate a literal form of authorial invisibility.
Without begrudging Norris his marital bliss and growing professional
success, one can only imagine how he felt about serializing such a slight,
saccharine work in the Puritan, a so-called womans magazine, and to do so
at the same time (1899) that he was unsuccessfully trying to place Vandover.

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Norris must have suffered when reviewing his own derisive critical pronouncements, merely two years old, on the popular magazines and magazinists: There is in them no freshness, no originality, no vitality, no close,
keen grip on life or nature. . . . They are safe. . . . They adorn the center table.
They do not call a blush to the cheek of the young. They can be placed
Oh, crowning virtue, Oh, supreme encomium!they can be safely placed
in the hands of any young girl. . . . It is the young girl and the family
center table that determines the standard of the American short story. 55
Norris predictably suggests that realityoriginality, life demands a
tough, macho prose: that reality is the business of manly writers. But, by
this gendered logic, what is Blix but eminently safesafe enough for the
hands of any young girl and for the family center table? And does its
very presence not suggest that post-frontier western realism is indeed
prone to co-optation by eastern publishers and limited to soft-core adventure and romance narratives?
Worse yet, Blix is not only ctional autobiography but may be read as a
dispiriting revision of Vandover as well. Norris radically alters the grim, naturalistic view of San Francisco life found in the earlier novel, reimagining
the city as a delightful playground for the young. But the revision is yet more
subtle and disturbing. Biographer Franklin Walker describes Norris as being somewhat carried away by his playfulness when writing Blix and suggests that Norris amused himself by caricaturing his own foibles in the creation of Condy Rivers, foibles such as childishness, irresponsibility, and
absentmindedness. 56 Of course these foibles are Vandovers as well, reduced in degree. Norris actually sanitizes Vandovers crippling aws (specically gambling and dissolute behavior) by rst lightheartedly downplaying them in Condy and then simplistically resolving them through the love
and diligent support of Blix. It seems more than coincidence that Blixs rst
name in the novel is actually Travis, oddly echoing the would-be heroine of
Vandover, Turner Ravis.
Yet, if Norris was in any way reworking the as-yet-unpublished Vandover,
from which he actually lifted certain scenes, perhaps it was not merely to
sanitize and ameliorate that novels lurid subjects. The revision may have
suggested itself to Norris as a means of utilizing his themes while allowing
for further investigation into the conict he clearly felt between writing in
the West and in the East. That is, Blix stands as a revealing, if ultimately disheartening, reection on western double consciousness, on authorial ambition, and on the apparent necessity of writerly compromise, for Norris

the trap of authenticity

was feeding his eastern audience a thin diet of romance and adventure.
Within the text Norris portrays a struggle, one that he himself must have
felt: Condys unwavering desire to go east, to write whatever the New York
editors ask for, contrasts sharply with his characters simplistic but sincere
aesthetic and professional convictions. And Norris, despite the reasonably
successful publication of McTeague earlier in the year, seems equally uncertain about his own writing career, unable to t the likes of the slight Moran
of the Lady Letty and A Mans Woman (serialized soon after Blix)and even Blix
itselfinto his own young but aggressive corpus of writings. Norris leaves
clues that suggest that Blix is at least self-conscious about the creative dangers of his departure from California and his acceptance of a compromised
eastern marketplace.
Like Norris at the time, Condy engages in three distinct types of writing:
his work for the San Francisco Daily Times, corresponding to Norriss work
at the Wave; short stories, specically A Victory Over Death; and a novel,
titled In Deance of Authority. Norris presents these projects, and the three
genres, as hierarchically ordered, ascending from the newspaper work toward the heroically produced novel. The newspaper work is repeatedly dismissed throughout the book as writing of the hack orderspecial articles, write-ups, and interviews; it remains merely a source of income for
Condy and a convenient narrative device as it leads Condy around the city.57
A Victory Over Death, on the other hand, is given considerable attention,
in origination, composition, and reception. The story recounts the Poesque
narrative of an old sailor who searches a sunken ship, nds a drowned nineteen-year-old woman perfectly preserved underwater, and leaves her body
there to maintain the memory. But it is the novel, a tale of economic exploitation and libustering adventure, in which Condy (and Norris) seem
most interestedan unappreciated, ambitious epic of sorts.
Norriss titles all seem to indicate the authors own struggle to identify
his authorial position. The name Blix itself points in at least two directions:
toward bliss, of course, but less obviously toward the term blick, that is, the
brightening or iridescence appearing on silver or gold at the end of the cupelling or rening process. 58 Norris, who had researched the technical
processes of gold mining while working on McTeague, may be using the
term to indicate that his sentimental novel represents a late-stage economic
gain for the author, a contribution to the gilded agethough, perhaps,
also indicating that the book is largely surface gloss. Norriss language
within the text subtly hints at this economic interpretation; when Condy

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thinks up the nickname Blix for his chum Travis, he genially cries, Capital! . . . sounds bully, and snappy, and crisp, and bright, and sort of sudden (44). Norriss (sort of sudden) career has discovered (just found it
out) new capital to invest; like the bright mineral sheen, Blix is both a
valuable asset and a thin product. Further, Condys short story and novel
both eventually come to enact the drama implied in their titles, the drama of
authorial positioning. Condys sensational and breezily fantastic tale A
Victory Over Death rst provides the author his own breathing space.
Needing to provide some material to his Times editor, Condy casually submits the yarn, which, soon published, attracted not the least attention.
Discouraged, Condy calls it a rotten failure and wonders if it amounts to
a hill of beans (107 8). The story quite literally rots and dies, and Condy
also seems ready for a collapse. (Norris himself at the time suffered depression and perhaps a nervous breakdown.) But the story itself actually becomes the vehicle for Condys own victory when the New York publisher
discovers it and offers Condy a job. Thus, the tale offers Condy a quite literal victory over a professional death and canonical invisibility. In direct
contrast, In Deance of Authority becomes ironically disheartening, for the
Centennial Company rejects the novel, a rejection that Condy barely notices
while celebrating their offer. That is, an eastern authority, the publishing
giant, emphatically conquers Condy, whose own deance is muted and
who ends up an employee of the company. The tale of libustering thus becomes a sadly ironic one: the notion of an outsider entering and conquering
an established power is made entirely obsolete. Although related in idyllic
terms, Condys story is about the Easts power to buy and sell the western
author and the West itself. And, sadly, Blix itself seems to emblematize that
Blixs conclusion is more explicitly divided, painting the departure for
New York as both wonderful and, more subtly, dangerous. As Norris opened
Vandover with an unsettling and tragic movement west, Norris concludes Blix
with Condys troubling decision to move east. The scene is overloaded with
purple prose and twice-baked romantic symbolism: a glorious sunset, New
Years Day, realizations of immortal love (a happiness so deep, so intense,
as to thrill them with a sense of solemnity and wonder), bathetic farewells
(what are tears for, Blixy?), the miraculous New York invitation, the profound gaze east (17172). Norris suggests a sense of professional and personal determination and the possibility of loss. But the scene oddly unsettles the entire novel, for in many ways Condy (like Norris) is heading east

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exactly not to face the gray and darkening sky (Norris at least had done that
with Vandover and McTeague), not to move toward realism and authenticity,
but only to glance backward at the romantic western sunset, now remembered as innocent and golden. That is, we can retrospectively conclude that
he is going east to write Blix, to return to this concluding scene and perpetually rewrite it. If the western author survives this reection, it is only after
a co-optation by eastern publishers and readers, by the limiting, romantic
set of familiar expectations, and by the East itself.
Blixs subtle concerns proved to be more perceptive than its optimism.
Like Condy, Norris, who lived in and around New York City from early 1898
until mid-1902, was trapped by the East, unable to pursue his own form of
realism and increasingly gloomy about western authorship. His move had
promised a secure position, both in the world of publishing (he worked as
an editorial assistant for Doubleday and McClure) and in the world of letters. Perhaps Norris hoped that his own move east would reproduce the
same kind of reverse frontier conquest on which he had speculated in The
Frontier Gone at Last; Eastward the course of commerce takes its way,
he had written, and perhaps he imagined an equally lucrative resettlement
on his part (1187). But, even when his own star was on the rise, his work
increasingly displayed a discouragement about western authorship. He
looked back to the West to remember or retain his sense of authorial identity but in such works as Dying Fires and The Octopus repeatedly found only
degenerating invisibility. He left New York in July 1902 and purchased a
homestead south of San Franciscobut his own rediscovery of the West
ended with his death in October of that year.
If Vandover is Norriss autobiographical investigation of western authorships canonical invisibility and Blix his autobiographical depiction of the
Easts magnetic pull, then his autobiographical short story Dying Fires
serves as his consideration of the possibility of a return to the West. Norriss
apparently blithe depiction in Blix of his move to New York is dramatically
undone in Dying Fires, the tale of a young western writer named Overbeck who is destroyed by the genteel, sentimental, feminine East. Dying
Fires, written during his New York years, is a transparent reection on
eastern literary pressures but serves more broadly as a critique of western
authorships struggle against canonical decline and invisibility. Through it
we can sense Norriss haunted attempts to envision a kind of authentic
western author, one who can secure a national audience while maintaining
a sense of originality and authenticity.

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Overbeck embodies the authentic West, possessing a freedom from literary inuence and eastern overcivilization. Born in a place where the
reading circle [was] a thing unknown, a frontier town along the line of
cleavage where the farthest skirmish line of civilization thrusts and girds at
the wilderness, Overbeck can experience the Real West and reproduce that
West without interference: he had not been inuenced by a fetich of his
choice till his work was a mere replica of some other writers. He was not literary. . . . He lived in the midst of a strenuous, eager life, a little primal even
yet. 59 Overbeck enjoys an original relation with his natural and cultural
landscape and writes that fresh vision into his rst novel, The Vision of Bunt
McBride. Like James Hall, Timothy Flint, and Joaquin Miller, Overbecks implicit strength is his authentic, unadulterated experience on the spot spoken of (to recall Millers words), and his work is original, not a mere
replica. But once in New York (to which, like Condy and Norris himself, he
is called by a welcoming publisher) he is taken in, and taken over, by the
group of New Bohemians, whose effete, tired, pretentious set of literary
values Overbeck takes as the real thing but which only corrupts him (121).
Overbeck suddenly aspires to renement. Aesthetic elegance had been irrelevant to the young writer, implicitly undesirable, as it was for so many
western writers of the early nineteenth century, but the originality and unconventionality of his early novel he came to regard as crudities (122).
Like Vandover and perhaps Norris as well, Overbeck becomes stuck between the strenuous, eager life of the rugged West and the ostentatiously
precious life of New York society. Between the wild life and the quiet life,
Overbecks inspirational res die out, and he is shouldered off, forgotten,
ignored, invisible. Although he moves back west to the mountains and the
canyons of the great Sierras, he never recovers, can never nd his place
again (126). Norriss scathing critique of the New Bohemians (the thirdraters) leaves no doubt that they are not the real thing that Overbeck supposes. And through their inuence Overbeck himself loses his ability to
represent an authentic West. The real thingthe legitimate western authoris one that can hold on to a regional vision and can withstand the
gravitational pull of the black hole of authorial invisibility, can avoid being
caught midway of extremes.
Norriss last great effort to envision western authorship and western authenticity was The Octopus. Like Dying Fires, it reveals Norriss horror at
co-optation by literary forces, but it returns with self-evident discouragement to the notion found earlier in Vandover that the western writer is dis141

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eased, damaged here by the passing of historical opportunity and by an internal, almost physiological weakness. That is, Norris suggests that the
would-be poet Presley inherited a condition, historically and biologically
determined, that limited him forever. Vandovers weakened condition is
inicted on him (perhaps by himself ), but Presley is born with his; Vandover was pressed between extremes and erased from view, whereas Presley
is always already impotent and invisible; Vandover struggled against his
fate, while Presley never stood a chance. Presley weaves his way in and out
of the books central plot, having a limited effect on the action but serving
as a narrative thread. Norris opens the story with Presleys cross-ranch bicycle ride, a modest parody of the mounted cowboy who initiates the Westerns plot. But Presley is no hero and barely a poet; he is a neurasthenic,
moody writer who despairs of being born too late, born into a western
world that had faded (609). This decline reduces the poetic vision and reach
to the point of absolute negation. Unlike Overbeck, who was destroyed by
eastern inuence, Presley blames the very passing of the West for his impotence. Reality was what [Presley] longed for (595), but conveying that
authentic vision was impossible because the western writer has lost any
connection with that reality. It is the man who is lacking, the poet, he
laments, we have been educated away from it all. The western author,
overwhelmed by civilizations overrenement, can no longer see as Homer
saw, as Beowulf saw, as the Nibelungen poets saw (609).
Presley is a western writer literally out of time. He turns his attention
away from the vast, vague, impersonal Song of the West toward a labor (and
undoubtedly labored) poem on working-class valor titled The Toilers
(872 73). Presleys ambitions offer Norris an opportunity to consider the
relationship between textual success and authorial recognitionthe life
and death of the author. Presley had hoped that his poem would appear in a
great magazine that would help spread his name and would give him
such weight. His friend Vanamee objects: Gives you such weight, gives
you such background. Is it yourself you think of ? . . . You must sink yourself;
must forget yourself and your own desire of fame, of admitted success. It is
your poem, your message, that must prevail,not you, who wrote it. You
preach a doctrine of abnegation, of self-obliteration, and you sign your
name to your words as high on the tablets as you can reach, so that all the
world may see, not the poem, but the poet (876 77). Although his words
sound noble, Vanamee is suggesting that Presley accept the legacy of the
western writer; as Edgar Allan Poe had written of the western wilderness

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story, the work remains, but the author dies. In fact, as if to demonstrate his
own idea, Vanamee soon disappeared in the grey of the twilight (877).
Presley is left alone wondering, wondering perhaps how a writer in the
West can produce an effective text and can avoid sinking and forgetting
himself. True to form, Presley enjoys a temporary and deceptive success;
like Joaquin Miller, Presley captures public notice. He is tempted to cross
the continent and go to New York and there come unto his own, enjoying
the triumph, but he decides against it, decides that his place was here
in the West (890). But Presley loses his moment, and he is soon forgotten.
He ultimately sees that he had not helped his culture and never would
he had failed (1018). Neither the message nor the poet prevails; both
are co-opted by the nouveau high culture of California, just as Magnus Derrick is overrun and then bought by Behrman and the railroads. In this
case, New York did not corrupt the western poet; the West did. And the
self-obliteration that Vanamee had hoped to be Presleys doctrine became Presleys canonical legacy.
In fact, Presley falls to pieces, suffering from nerves . . . insomnia,
and weakness, a general collapse (1025). Overwhelmed by his own failure
and sickness (words repeatedly applied), he decides to leaveto follow the
Anglo-Saxon impulse to India, to follow the new direction of commerce.
Ironically, where the West once offered salubrious cures for eastern neurasthenics, now western victims of neurasthenia must travel elsewhere. At the
end he turns his back on the West in Norriss bitter revision of the western
heros ride into the sunset: Presley, alone, thoughtful, his hands clasped
behind him, passed on through the rancheshere teeming with ripened
wheathis face set from them forever (1086). Thus, Presley is not only a
western writer out of time but one out of place as well. His presence in the
novel, always somewhat ghostly and enigmatic, becomes dissociated, entirely alienated from his western environment. At the close of The Octopus
Norriss attitude toward Presley appears elusive, at once disdainful and
sympathetic. Norris all but leaves aside the question of writerly intention
whether Presley fought the good ght, whether he quitand instead
seems to assert that the poet never had a chance. Norris understood. As he
gazes from the ship taking him away, Presley recalls Vanamees words of
self-negation, words that join with Norriss own voice, sweeping and straining for optimism, conveying both hopes and laments: the individual suffers, but the race goes on (1098).
The history of western authorship is one of individual obscurity and in143

the trap of authenticity

visibility even in the wake of broader, popular successes. I have devoted

considerable space to Norriss novels, as obscure as they are, because they
remain an expressive treatment of the burden of authenticity, a self-examination of the limitations on western authors. Writing at a moment in which
the Real West seemed especially unstable, Norris lived the tensions between
eastern authority and western experience. Norris felt that the eastern marketplace was demanding inauthenticity, the sensationalized Old West. In
turn, he wanted to produce the Real West but was himself unsure of what
that meant, whether it too was an elusive Old West. But the trap, of course,
was not simply in locating the authentic West. The trap was the process of
mapping it. Determining literary success in relation to regional history was
itself the burden. Many later writers would experience this burden of authenticity, and most western writers of the twentieth century responded to
the expectations of authentic reproduction. But some attempted to think
through the rules of the authenticity game and to reimagine the relationship between place and literature. Nature writers, the subject of my next
chapter, implicitly respond to the turn-of-the-century alarms over degeneration by emphasizing generation: their own birth as writers in relation to
the natural environment. They locate the Real West outside of the cultural
histories that Norris and others depended upon and claim an authenticity
that, they argue, is itself free from the burden of the past.



Environmental Constructivism in Western Nature Writing

You didnt come into this world. You came out of it.
alan watts

In his essay The Writer as Alaskan: Beginnings and Reections poet John
Haines considers the relationship between western place and identity. He
begins: As a poet I was born in a particular place, a hillside overlooking
the Tanana River in central Alaska. 1 Haines is not attempting to reveal a
metaphorical rite of passage or to locate the site of a writerly transformation. He means, quite literally, that he came into authorial consciousness
because of environmental inuence. His essay minimizes human and social
agency, suggesting that he was born in, into, and nally out of that particular natural place. Haines emphatically claims that he learned that it is land,
place, that makes people and argues that his years in remote Richardson,
Alaska, formed [him] as a person and as a poet. 2
The notion that place forms identity is not unfamiliar. Authors for centuries have imagined nature as a formative inuence. But western nature
writers mean something more specic in their apostrophes to the environment: that the natural landscape has manifestly impacted their thinking and their writinghas, as Haines put it, literally made them.3 The
claim is extensive, even holistic. As William Kittredge writes, Warner Valley [Oregon] is the main staging ground for my imagination. 4 At rst
this notion that the land, however dened, inuences consciousness and
identity seems tame enough, seems to be either self-evident or perhaps
self-atteringan affectionate acknowledgment of a writers love of the
outdoors. But, as is so frequently the case in environmental writing, the
feigned simplicity and quiet playfulness of such claims obscure a surprisingly vital assertion. These writers seem quite serious in claiming that
the natural environment, and not the cultural environment, made them.
And, when the claim of natures formative inuence is examined critically,
worlds fall apart, for human culture becomes contingent, literally displaced and sometimes entirely erased. The consistency and apparent deliberateness of the claim suggests that it is something more than gentle
ode-making: it is a claim of authenticity and a form of authorial self145

coming out of the country

identication, a way that authors describe themselves, perhaps even invent

themselves. And, as such, it is well worth consideration.
This claim of authenticity is in many ways familiar. As usual, both textual
and marketplace appeal stem from the authors rsthand experience in the
Real Westreal here implying the deeper and arguably more authentic
native experience of the natural environment. Like Lewis and Clark,
James Hall, Caroline Kirkland, (Julius Rodman), Mark Twain, Joaquin
Miller, Owen Wister, Frank Norris, and most nineteenth-century western
writers, western nature writers suggest that an authors connection to place
determines his or her authority. Place, the Real West, inuences both authorial identity and representation. But what exactly does it mean to be
connected to place? Must an author grow up in the West, live in the West,
write on the spot, or tour the region? Must an author spend time in Yellowstone National Park, in noisy saloons, or in Indian country? Must an author know local plant names, horsemanship, or mineral mining? These
questions were challenging in the nineteenth century and became virtually
unanswerable in the twentieth. As the successes and failures of Miller and
Norris suggest, both authorship and reality were increasingly disputed
terms. Indeed, for the nation as a whole there was a developing sense that
both individual identity and experienced reality were not personally determined but created by social conditions. T. J. Jackson Lears has written, the
decline of autonomous selfhood lay at the heart of the modern sense of unreality. 5 And thus nature writers became doubly disabled: both individual
authorship and nature itself became increasingly subject to the dening
power of cultural inuence, resulting by late-century in the death of the author and the cultural construction of nature. In other words, as the twentieth century wore on, the notion of authenticity itself became suspect; the
real, the genuine, and the natural became artifacts of a naive past.
Nature writers such as Mary Austin, Edward Abbey, Barry Lopez, Terry
Tempest Williams, and Gary Snyder respond to these attacks in radical
fashion. Indeed, it is easy to overlook the dramatic strategies of western nature writers exactly because their writing is so often read in facile opposition
to modern and postmodern culture. Nature writing appears to offer an orthodoxy of simplicity and folk authenticity, a haven from the cruel ironies
and shallow commodication of developing literary and social practices.
Often standing in staunch opposition to both capitalist ideologies of
progress and postmodern celebrations of hyperreality, much nature writing
seems reassuringly honest, conservative (as in conserving a golden envi146

coming out of the country

ronmental past), crunchy, and genuine. Yet the obvious fact that these writers work and produce in an age that doubts these very sentiments suggests
that they are not isolated icons of authenticity but, instead, active participants in their cultural environment even, or perhaps especially, when
they appear to ignore that culture. Indeed, one could even claim that many
nature writers are ferociously postmodern, not because they dress in
pomo fashions or devise clever labyrinths but because they claim a real and
erase their own inventions. To put it more cautiously, throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-rst, nature writers cant just be authentic. Such an idea luxuriates in naive nostalgia, like advertisements for
authentic New York Pizza, a food that by any logic never existed. (Would
inauthentic New York Pizza taste any different?) To be authentic is to
trigger not certainty but doubt, for authenticity can never be aware of
itself except as a concept that always alters exactly the condition that it is
projecting. Thus, nature writers must claim authenticity, or, just as complicated, they must have that mantle thrust upon them. And so their writings and their personae represent often in subtle and invisible waysan
engagement with the debates about reality, identity, and the postmodern
Western nature writers redene both western authorship (the self ) and
western nature (the reality), and they suggest that each informs and even invents the other. This chapter will focus primarily on the former, the notion
of an authorial identity based on the authenticity of nature. Rather than examine how western writers invent themselves and their texts in relation to
culture and place (as my rst four chapters attempt), Im interested here in
the way that a group of western writers can marginalize the concept of human culture and use place as the source of that self-invention. Is the claim
of environmental constructivism, as I will call it, a sincere and legitimate
theory of authorial origination or an authorial strategy that subverts cultural/critical authority and quietly establishes the authors own agency as
paramount? My preliminary answer, a tentative one, is both. Although certainly skeptical of authenticity, to this point I have not argued that place
the Real West does not exist but, rather, that we need not seek it in works
of literature. It may be that even Lewis and Clarks Journals reveal an imagined Westbut that doesnt mean that they didnt make a remarkable, almost unthinkable journey. Indeed, we may nd in the essays of Edward
Abbey and Terry Tempest Williams inspiring reasons to commit our lives to
environmental preservation. As an ardent environmentalist, I believe that

coming out of the country

we should live with compassion, humility, and hope, and we may well nd
a source for these values in works of literature. But we need to recognize the
degree to which such works are imaginative in their lyrical depictions of nature, and we need to recognize the force of authorial vision. To the degree
that we seek the Real West in literatureand its a signicant, perhaps determining degreewe encounter imaginative constructions. It may well
be that western literature reveals more about the creative and professional
reaches of authorship than about the West. Thus, I would agree that, in representing the environment, nature writers do invent nature in their works.
It doesnt necessarily follow, however, that nature doesnt exist and doesnt
exert its own power, and so Im respecting the possibility that nature may
have invented the writer. Environmental constructivism is supported by
scholarly research as well as readerly intuition: nature writers have been
affected emotionally, psychologically, developmentally, professionally
by their natural environment.
Yet just as other western writers (such as Hall, Twain, Miller, and Norris)
pursue canonical recognition through self-invention, empowering themselves in relation to cultural pressures, so too do nature writers. They also
invent themselves, but they do so under the camouaging rubric of natural
inuence, an inuence that is itself seen to predetermine and overwhelm
cultural inuence. These authors seek to accomplish two remarkable ends:
(1) they apparently minimize, with unusual authorial modesty, forms of essentialist identity or self-creative powersthey celebrate their writerly inuences and their own (often) passive role; (2) at the same time they establish a legitimizing and authorizing force behind their prose, a force equal
to, if not greater than, cultural inuence. Thus, this claim is both modest
and audacious. It is akin to Milton invoking the Spirit of God or Virgil, except that the inspirational, pre-scribing force here is nonhuman and non
literary (emphatically Other) and, in a skeptical age, almost perversely visible and material. Indeed, the ecocentric claim may turn out to be the single
most radical form of authorial self-invention in American literary history,
for nature writers use it to avoid the epistemological crisis of cultural construction before it is established. Nature writers need not battle with the
cultural forces that surround them; they refuse to recognize the importance
of cultural ascendancy. And they can do so with impenetrable circularity:
even if authors write nature, then they are inventing themselves without
reference to readers or cultures. It is nally not an argument about canon
formation or about reception but an argument with contemporary academic

coming out of the country

critics. Living nature gives birth to writers, and the death of the author becomes empty theory.
The Theory of Environmental Constructivism
When John Haines stated that the Alaska landscape formed [him] as a
person and as a poet, he explicitly suggested two recognizable types of
personal identity: the individual self and the authorial self. Both selves
need to be considered, for, although this chapter concentrates on the latter,
the claim of natures inuence on authorship is predicated, in part, on the
To speak in the broadest of terms, we can identify two general trends in
discussions of the self and authenticity. One trend, developing since at least
the mid- to late nineteenth century and culminating in contemporary postmodernism, can be seen in the range of social theories that reject any notion
of a born or authentic self and understand the formation of human identity to be the result of applied cultural pressures. The essentialist notion of
an authentic, or natural, self is largely displaced by what is usually called
a socially or culturally constructed self. In his introductory essay to Constructions of the Self George Levine emphasizes that the predominant intellectual position within the humanities and some of the social sciences at
the moment is social constructivism, the view that the categories of human
thought, social organization, and psychic (even biological) organization
are culturally constructednot empirically registered aspects of reality but
conceptions created by ideology and social and political power. 6 Social
constructivism, which often results in the skeptical questioning of authenticity and of the self s very existence, emphasizes that social institutions
(ideology and social and political power) are responsible for the formation of the individual subject. It is, of course, the basis of, and parallel to,
theories of the construction of authorship (to borrow one contemporary
title) and cultural constructions of the environment (to borrow another).
Just as a dominant culture is seen to make the private self, so, too, it denes our understanding of authorship and of nature.
The other trend, again, is what Charles Taylor calls the culture of authenticity, the belief in an inner self that is real, genuine. In The Ethics of Authenticity Taylor describes this familiar position: There is a certain way of
being human that is my way. I am called upon to live my life in this way, and
not in imitation of anyone elses. 7 This search for authentic identity is in
part a result of the erosion of the idea of self. As always, notions of authen149

coming out of the country

ticity emerge at moments of cultural loss. The emergence of the authentic

as a category of discourse signies its absence. Philip J. Deloria discusses
the empty sense of self generated by the historical chasm that served as a
signpost of the modern. Many intellectuals and critics perceived and characterized this radical break in terms of an older authenticity and a contemporary sense of inauthenticity. . . . American identity was increasingly tied
to a search for an authentic social identity, one that had real meaning in
the face of the anxious displacements of modernity. 8 Signicantly, culture
and authenticity are frequently put at oddsindeed, oppose each other.
Culture is seen to get in the way of authenticity. Authenticity, Lionel Trilling writes, implies the downward movement through all the cultural superstructures to some place where all movement ends, and begins. 9 Or, as
Regina Bendix argues, the call for authenticity implied a critical stance
against urban manners, artice in language, behavior, and art, and against
aristocratic excesses; it promised the restoration of a pure, unaffected state
of being. 10
One signicant dimension of this search for authenticity, a dimension
that this chapter will examine, is the perceived afnity between the authentic and the naturaland their contest with the cultural. Trilling, Taylor, and
others often date the opposition between that authentic, natural self and the
corruption of cultural inuence to the age of literary Romanticism. (Trilling
offers Wordsworths Michael, from the poem of that name, as an example
of authenticity; Thoreaus Canadian woodchopper in Walden displays a similar persona.) Trilling suggests that from Rousseau we learned that what
destroys our authenticity is society. 11 While authenticity is not exclusively
understood as a condition in apposition with nature, for many this unaffected state of being exists most purely in nature. Taylor, with some skepticism, sketches out the position of natural authenticity in opposition to developing industrial culture: There are people who look on the coming of
technological civilization as a kind of unmitigated decline. We have lost the
contact with the earth and its rhythms that our ancestors had. We have lost
contact with ourselves, and our own natural being, and are driven by an imperative of domination that condemns us to ceaseless battle against nature
both within and around us. This complaint against the disenchantment of
the world has been articulated again and again since the Romantic period,
with its sharp sense that human beings had been triply divided by modern reasonwithin themselves, between themselves, and from the natural
world. 12

coming out of the country

Trilling identies a similar type of authenticity grounded in nature and

opposed by cultural power:
The belief that the organic is the chief criterion of what is authentic
in art and life continues, it need hardly be said, to have great force
with us, the more as we become alarmed by the deterioration of the
organic environment. The sense of something intervening between
man and his own organic endowment is a powerful element in the
modern consciousness, an overt and exigent issue in our culture. In
an increasingly urban and technological society, the natural processes of human existence have acquired a moral status in the degree that they are thwarted. It is the common feeling that some inhuman force has possessed our ground and our air, our men and
women and our thought, a machine more terrible than any that
Emerson imagined. In many quarters, whatever can be thought
susceptible of analogy to the machine, even a syllogism or a device
of dramaturgy, is felt to be inimical to the authenticity of experience
and being.13

Thus, to connect with nature, to be born into the world from nature, is to realize authenticity in its most pure state. The possibility of environmental
constructivisma nonsocial, even nonhuman form of inuenceseriously challenges the exclusivity and adequacy of social constructivism.14
The claim of natures inuence on the formation of human consciousness
announces itself in a variety of ways, each ultimately impacting authorial
identity as well. Environmental theorists generally seek to subvert cultural
constructivism (and its erasure of knowable nature) by reconnecting the
self with nature. It is that afrmed and immediate relationshipthat authenticitythat limits the priority of cultural inuence and establishes the
possibility of environmental inuence.15 Simply put, if a self can enjoy an
unmediated connection with nature, then it can be inuenced by nature.
It follows that environmental constructivism begins with the recognition that landscape imposes itself on the human imagination from birth, either as an innate or a learned connection between infant and nature. (Gary
Snyder reminds us that the word nature is derived from the Latin nasci, to be
born.) Because a signicant component of the environmental claim is that
nature impacts the preauthorial selfindeed, that natures inuence inevitably anticipates cultural inuence and even articulated consciousness
any study of environmental constructivism must take into account the ear151

coming out of the country

liest points of potential contest between culture and environment. Biologist

Edward O. Wilson, explaining his widely respected biophilia theory, argues
for the innately emotional afliation of human beings to other living organisms. 16 Wilson uses evolutionary theory and experienced scientic
reasoning to support the claim that humans possess an instinctual (or
deeply learned) tendency to interact with the natural environment, the
biota. Stephen R. Kellert, explaining the reach of Wilsons ideas, writes that
the biophilia hypothesis proclaims a human dependence on nature that
extends far beyond the simple issues of material and physical sustenance to
encompass as well the human craving for aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive,
and even spiritual meaning and satisfaction. This daring assertion reaches
beyond the poetic and philosophical articulation of natures capacity to inspire and morally inform to a scientic claim of human need, red in the crucible of evolutionary development, for deep and intimate association with
the natural environment, particularly its living biota. 17 The biophilia theory implies that human individuals and communities depend on that intimate association for individual psychological health but, more important,
for the health and even survival of the species. The connection (one might
write dialogue) between person and place constitutes a signicant source
of health and identity.
Similarly, theorists in the social sciences have investigated the possibility that the natural environment (as distinct from the human environment)
inuences the development of self and consciousness. The central point of
the writers origination, both literally and metaphorically, is birth, because
consciousness begins with a relation to the earth. When nature is made into
a progenitive force (most often, problematically, female), it is established as
a primary power, impacting and even educating individual and authorial
identity. Ecopsychology is one eld that often argues for a tangible connection between nature and the formation of the self. Signicantly, ecopsychologists are not simple-minded environmental apologists or would-be
poets; they take contemporary social theories (including adaptations of social constructivism) and incorporate them into their models of natural inuence. Anita Barrows, for example, is a proponent of the growing movement of constructivism that shifts the paradigm of a bounded, isolated
self toward a vision of a self that is permeable, interconnected. In her essay The Ecopsychology of Child Development Barrows challenges the
isolated or essentialist self but not merely through the theory of social
constructivism; she extends the theory to include the impact of natures

coming out of the country

inevitable presence. She argues that such a theory must take into consideration that the infant is born into not only a social but an ecological
context. 18
When Barrows argues that infants are born into . . . an ecological context, she is emphasizing the importance of (mother) nature to the development of consciousness. Terry Tempest Williams, for example, writes that
the womb is the rst landscape we inhabit. 19 This relationship between
child (self ) and nature (as parenting inuence) is more frequently encountered as a traditional trope, one that nature writers repeatedly use to enormous effect in constructing their own identity. Even within the social sciences this relationship is often metaphorized: Theodore Roszak writes that
ecopsychology proceeds from the assumption that at its deepest level the
psyche remains sympathetically bonded to the Earth that mothered us into
existence. 20 But, when nature is gendered, a number of problems and
questions arise. The gurative connection between women and nature is, of
course, a conceit so entrenched that it works as cultural myth. But the
metaphorical connection between the female body and the landscape only
complicates any understanding of environmental constructivism, seemingly dividing by gender the impact of nature and often dividing again along
lines of troubled representation into mother (earth) or virgin (land). This
identication of female body with nature is often seen by ecofeminists as a
damaging manifestation of patriarchal tradition; that same identication,
however, has also been seen as a salubrious and empowering bond for
women. Without rehearsing the myriad theories of ecofeminism, we can at
least recognize these two views, one arguing for authentic connection and
the other for cultural construction. Vera Norwood, in considering the tensions within the feminist movement regarding the denition of womens
true nature, points on the one hand to ecofeminists identied with radical feminism [who] focus on womens physical connection with the earth
as a result of their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and childbirth. Norwood
suggests that for many of these ecofeminists the problem is not womens
alignment with nature, but the patriarchal cultures alienation from womens physical experience in the push to dominate the earth. On the other
hand, Norwood cites as a convincing alternative those ecofeminists with a
more socialist bent [who] nd such biologically linked essentialism troubling. These critics maintain that gender socialization has been used in
capitalist, patriarchal culture to further womens oppression. Thus, the apparently natural connection of women with nature is a myth serving to

coming out of the country


subjugate both. The central point for thinking about environmental constructivism is that both strains of ecofeminism recognize a bond between
women and nature, either through an authentic biospiritual connection
or through a history of oppressive patriarchal mythologies. That is, even if
women are not bodily related to natural processes, they still must work
through symbolic constructions of gender. And men must also consider the
resulting dilemma: an apparent disconnection with landscape and nature.
In the broadest sense environmental constructivism acknowledges the importance of gender without necessarily xing a meaning.
Increasingly, nature writers self-consciously raise the issue of natures
gender and sexuality but do so only to defamiliarize the established norms.
Terry Tempest Williams, for example, has written on the emotionally
charged relationship between nature and self. Williams is capable of obscuring what she calls the erotics of place with intentionally heightened,
oblique language: The land is love. Love is what we fear. To disengage
from the earth is our own oppression. 22 Indeed, Williams testied at a
1995 congressional hearing on public land use and development in Utah,
mystifying the conservative panel by suggesting that, if you knew wilderness in a way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go. . . . We
are talking about the body of the beloved, not real estate. 23 Williams sexualizes the relationship with nature, emphasizing the need for a loving afliation: If we ignore our connection to the land and disregard and deny our
relationship to the Pansexual nature of earth, we will render ourselves impotent as a species. 24 By warning of the possible impotence of the human
species, metaphorical or otherwise, Williams uses the same scientic metaphor as E. O. Wilsonbiological extinctionhere connected to human
sexual development and de-evolution.25 Williams would have us embrace
the bear, for, in doing so, we undress, expose, and embrace our authentic
selves. 26
If we are born into a relationship with nature, whether gendered/sexualized or not, we still need to process the environmental information, to remember and recognize that relationship. One important element of environmental inuence is thus the perception of place and the way that
cognitive memory codies such environmental shapes. Personal developmenta foundation of individual psychologyis located in the perception of landscape (including both natural and urban).27 In Wolf Willow,
for example, Wallace Stegner speculated on the impressionable period
of childhood, somewhere between ve and twelve: expose a child to a

coming out of the country

particular environment at his susceptible time and he will perceive in the

shapes of that environment until he dies. 28 Similarly, in The Solace of Open
Spaces Gretel Ehrlich considers the same effect that wide-open landscape
can have, even on adultsand, conversely, the effect that adults have on the
land. She quotes a Wyoming sheepman, nicknamed Highpockets, as saying: Open space hasnt affected me at all. Its all the people moving in on
it. 29 Ehrlich gently implies that both forces can affect the western imagination. More formally, Wayne Franklin and Michael Steiner, in their introduction to Mapping American Culture, attempt a careful analysis of place and
its effect: As an all-encompassing condition of life, place informs our identity. Our very sense of the world is colored by the physical environment; the
landscapes and settings and things of our lives inuence our attitudes and
values, penetrate our thought and behavior. 30 Citing Annie Dillard and
Paul Shepard, Franklin and Steiner suggest that memories of landscapes
inuence child development and, by extension, the development of intellectual and perceptual consciousness.
Researchers have often attempted to legitimize this hypothesis. Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan has argued, for example, that the physical environment
itself has an effect on perception. . . . We can say that the development of
visual acuity is related to the ecological quality of the environment. 31 Like
Stegner, Tuan considers the actual shapes present to the eye. Stegner has in
mind the natural features of the western landscape, but Tuan, while stressing environmental inuence, extends the argument to any form of landscape. Tuan differentiates between carpentered and noncarpentered
landscapes, the former replete with straight lines, angles, and rectangular
objects, the latter composed of nature and the countryside. 32 Tuan concludes, people who live in a carpentered world are susceptible to different kinds of illusion from those who live in an environment lacking in orthogonality. 33 In both cases the landscape has inuenced the development
of both imagination and identity.
Biophilia, ecopsychology, some theories of ecofeminism, and many environmentalist branches of cultural geography all argue that the individual
self is inuenced by nature and thus all support the theory of environmental constructivism. These theories all lend scholarly credence to nature writers who claim that nature made them. Further, all of these theories can be
found at work, implicitly or explicitly, in American nature writing. But these
authors do not limit themselves to scholarly theory; because they pursue
creative ends as well (mythologies, ctions, metaphors), they extend them155

coming out of the country

selves into imaginative constructions. Further, the authenticity that they are
claiming is not a neutral psychological model. It is their own identity as author, both private and public, that they investigate.
Western Authorship, Environmental Education, and Naive Reality
If social constructivism is, as Levine suggests, the predominant intellectual position within the humanities for understanding the formation of
the self, a parallel theory holds sway over literary production. Many contemporary critics agree that authors are the products of cultural environments. The initial impulse of this critical shifta healthy onewas to demystify authorship and to see writers not as solitary singers and isolated
ode makers but as participants in cultural exchanges, affected and even
determined by social, political, and economic forces. By turning the transcendent genius back into a culturally situated human subject, in the
words of Donald E. Pease, these critics attempted to place the author
squarely in the real world.34 In Cultures of Letters, for example, Richard H.
Brodhead convincingly calls for a history of the interactions between
American writing and the changing conditions of its social life, arguing
that writing is always an acculturated activity. . . . Writing always takes
place within some completely concrete cultural situation, a situation that
surrounds it with some particular landscape of institutional structures.
Writing, for Brodhead, is realized from among the possibilities set in different cultural situations. 35 Many western nature writers tend to agree but
would rewild this particular landscape by removing the concrete: they see
writing as taking place in place, in ecosystems rather than in social systems.
Gary Snyder points out that, in a broad sense, we dont even have a word
for the inuence of nature and landscape: we have the terms enculturation
and acculturation, but nothing to describe the process of becoming placed or
re-placed. 36
Of course, the very notion that nature and culture may be distinct conceptual or experienced categories is problematic, often critiqued by environmentalists and cultural theorists alike. Donna J. Haraway, in her celebrated writing on the postmodern self as a cyborg, argues against the
discredited breach of nature and culture. 37 Indeed, to many cultural critics, the concept of a nonsocial writing environment is itself simply illusory.
This challenge goes well beyond the familiar recognition that Thoreau and
others went to college, walked into town, had their laundry done, their
meals cooked, and so on. The challenge to environmental constructivism

coming out of the country

posed by contemporary theory argues that nature (and hence natural

inuence) cannot be known and perhaps does not exist: the very concept of
nature is determined by cultural perception and perhaps by language itself.
Nature is always already mediated by culturethere is no such thing as
pristine, immediate nature but only a landscape upon which our own cultural and commercial values are imposed. The notions of authenticity and
the Real Natural West are under attack here. William Cronon calls the notion of unmediated nature a naive reality and argues that ideas of nature
never exist outside a cultural context. 38 I. G. Simmons examines preconditioned perception in Interpreting Nature: Cultural Constructions of the Environment (1993); similarly, Neil Evernden, in The Social Creation of Nature (1992),
considers views of nature as a category, a conceptual container. 39 More
emphatic is Alexander Wilson, who, in his study The Culture of Nature (1992),
unhesitatingly voices the dominant contemporary view when he writes that
the whole idea of nature as something separate from human existence is a
lie. For Wilson our experience of the natural world . . . is always mediated.
It is always shaped by rhetorical constructs like photography, industry, advertising, and aesthetics, as well as by institutions like religion, tourism,
and education. 40 While many nature writers and environmentalists express horror at such theorizing of nature, many cultural critics and even
ecocritics, when pondering American perceptions of nature, proceed from
this vantage. Susan Kollin writes that recognizing nature as a socially constituted entity is not an arrogant or egocentric concept. . . . Instead, a realization of the ways language limits and constrains our understandings of
the world may help us avoid the assumption that science or even certain
forms of literary criticism can have unmediated access to the real. 41 And
Alison Byerly, in an essay on The Uses of Landscape, presupposes that
what we call nature or wilderness is a ction, a cultural myth. 42
In other words, just as an essential self does not exist, nature does
not exist; nature is socially constructed. When Lewis and Clark envisioned
the American West as a void to be imagined, they imposed onto an already-populated landscape their own longing for romantic and commercial
opportunity and perhaps colonial conquest. If nature is always culturally
determined, the claim, then, of natures authenticity appears naive, vacant,
or disingenuous. Signicantly, even from this relativist position the claim
of environmental constructivism does not evaporate into thin air but,
rather, takes on a new appearance. In this light the claim may yet be understood as a dramatic form of self-positioning. Such an argument does not

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immediately validate or dismiss the authors personal belief in environmental inuence but, instead, suggests that the claim also functions as a
canonical marker. The author can minimize or even deny agency of invention; it is emphatically a claim of context. These writers are apparently not
suggesting that the authentic author is born from the imagination or that
the author is somehow established from within. Indeed, the claim follows
contemporary theory in acknowledging the construction of authorship
but it also manages to displace the authority of culture, to make cultural
inuence secondary, at times to erase it as a category of inuence. Nature
writers might argue that writing can take place in a naturalized dialogue
with the environment and with environmental memory and that the authentic authorial self is derived not (merely) from cultural institutions but
from this environmental interaction.
Whether or not they invent nature, nature writers certainly assert it in
strong, often poetic language, and that assertion of nature inevitably returns as part of the process of authorial self-invention. To write nature is,
literally, to create an environment that can, in turn, be understood to create
an authorial self. Writers such as Mary Austin, Edward Abbey, Barry Lopez,
and Terry Tempest Williams emphasize both the inuence of landscape
shapes and the emotional (perhaps innate) connection they feel with their
natural environment. In turn, these perceptions and memories affect the
writers imagination, resulting in a creative, aesthetic vision (their authorial
identity) indebted to landscape. Thomas J. Lyon, in his introduction to This
Incomperable Lande: A Book of American Nature Writing, considers natures effect
on authorial creativity to be nearly self-evident: the rst and greatest inuence on nature writing, of course, is the land itself. 43 It goes without
saying that such natural inuence need not be exclusive; nature writers can
acknowledge, even celebrate, their cultural inuences as welltheir readings, their education, their family and friends. The importance of the environmental claim lies in its priority and primacy (the rst and greatest
inuence). Terry Tempest Williams, whose palpably genuine and earnest
demeanor itself suggests the aura of authenticity, writes: I am a woman
whose ideas have been shaped by the Colorado Plateau and the Great Basin.
These ideas are then sorted out through the prism of my culture. 44 Similarly, Barry Lopez, in his essay Landscape and Narrative, describes the
human mind as engaging what he terms an interior landscape; mental
functions are deeply inuenced by where on this earth one goes, what one
touches, the patterns one observes in nature. He concludes that the inte158

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rior landscape responds to the character and subtlety of an exterior landscape; the shape of the individual mind is affected by land as it is by genes. 45
These claims of authorial development reveal specic ways in which authors understand and describe their environmental precursors. As verbalized expressions of the lands effect on human consciousness and on authorial vision, they elucidate the naturalists claim of authorial invention
and serve as a devastating response to cultural constructivism. The manner
in which the shape of the individual mind is affected by land amounts
to a theory of environmental education, accounting for the way that nature
teaches its attentive children and the way that ecological experience inuences the developing mind.46 Environmental education is at times a metaphor for the way that nature impacts the self, but it is also a careful codication of environmental inuence, providing a socially familiar and workable
grammar for an elusive activity. At its most traditional, environmental education suggests that nature teaches its human pupils about life. 47 For
much of the mid- to late nineteenth century the woods were perceived as offering students lessons in physical toughness and in secularized spirituality. Thoreau went to the woods to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if [he] could not learn what it had to teach. 48 These lessons of life
were only infrequently seen as inimically environmental, but nature (the
woods) could best teach Thoreau and others about the stimulating, rigorous (often manly) demands of social existence. The Boy Scout movement
at the end of the century, for example, made a virtue of turning boys into
men and used nature as a vehicle for the transformation. Indeed, the wilds
of the American West have long been perceived to offer young men economic opportunity and salubrious health.
The romantic notion of nature as a teacher continued to thrive into the
twentieth century. In The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913) John Muir recalls his Scottish childhood, in which wildness was ever sounding in our
ears, and Nature saw to it that besides school lessons and church lessons
some of her own lessons should be learned. 49 The price for these lessons
(and the boys subsequent tardiness with home chores) was frequently a
fathers violent thrashing, the awful word repeated for effect. But these
thrashings were a punishment the boys endured for the attraction of the
elds and woods. 50 It was upon arrival in America and the glorious Wisconsin wilderness that natures lessons held full sway for John and his
brother David: Nature streaming into us, wooingly teaching her wonderful glowing lessons, so unlike the dismal grammar ashes and cinders so

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long thrashed into us. Here without knowing it we still were at school; every
wild lesson a love lesson, not whipped but charmed into us. 51 Muirs depiction of natures benign lessons contrasts pointedly with his own fathers
more severe methods, the thrashings. By repeating into us, Muir emphasizes
the contrast between his teachers and the profoundly benecial effects of
natures lessons. As the boys came into their new homeland and simultaneously into pure wildness, nature streamed into them. Indeed, anticipating Terry Tempest Williamss heightened language, Muir envisions (female) nature as a lover, wooing with love lessons; into us thus might be read
as an acknowledgment of what Williams calls the Pansexual in nature,
the ability to interact on a charged and intimate level.
At the close of his narrative Muir again emphasizes the conceit of education. After a brief and mostly cheerful reminiscence of his time at the University of Wisconsin, he realizes that he was far from satised with what
[he] had learned and that, rather than stay, he preferred to wander away
on a glorious botanical and geological excursionhis life in the Sierras.
He concludes the book with one longing glance at the university and writes:
There with streaming eyes I bade my blessed Alma Mater farewell. But I
was only leaving one University for another, the Wisconsin University for
the University of the Wilderness. 52 That is, he was leaving one Alma
Mater for another, one educational institution for another, and one nourishing mother (translated literally) for anotherMother Nature.
Yet for many western nature writers since Muir, the conceit of natures
teachings goes far beyond such imaginative romanticizations. When Barry
Lopez states that we are all tutored by the land, he invokes a methodical
and deliberate set of lessons. Similarly, the lessons of the wild that Gary
Snyder would have his readers heed are perhaps less methodical but equally
specic and rigorous; the school where these lessons can be learned, the
realms of caribou and elk, elephant and rhinoceros, orca and walrus, teach
the engaged student a detailed ethic about interacting with a living place.53
This discipline may require not only eager students but also those willing
to recognize and embrace a radicalas in rooted cultural outlook, one
that sees no great dichotomy between their culture and nature. 54 For
such peoples the pathless world of wild nature is a surpassing school and
those who have lived through her can be tough and funny teachers. Living
through this school means both surviving the challenge and, more important, living within a world of natural interdependence. To be well educated, Snyder concludes, is to have learned the songs, proverbs, stories,

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sayings, myths (and technologies) that come with this experiencing of the
nonhuman members of the local ecological community. 55 It is, he suggests, to hear and understand these natural voices.
Of course, environmental education cannot always be reduced to such
formal schooling: the term also evokes the broader ways in which nature inuences the developing author and consciousness. Essayist David W.
Orr, assuming that the childs imagination is woven into a home place,
calls for the establishment of more natural places . . . where children
can roam, explore, and imagine. 56 And in The Place, the Region, and the
Commons Gary Snyder analyzes natures inuence; he sets out to talk
about place as an experience and propose a model of what it meant to live
in place for most of human time, presenting it initially in terms of the steps
that a child takes growing into a natural community (25). But, just as Stegner argued that a child will perceive in the shapes of that environment,
Snyder asserts that all of us carry within us a picture of the terrain that
was learned roughly between the ages of six and nine (26). Similarly, Edward Abbey has written that his deepest emotionsthose so deep they lie
closer to music than to wordswere formed, somehow, by intimate association in childhood with the woods on the hill, the stream that owed
through the pasture, the oaken timbers of the old barn, the well, the springhouse, the sugar maples, and so on.57 Although Abbey prefers to leave the
process intentionally abstract and slightly mystical (formed, somehow),
he leaves no doubt about this emotional inuence, an inuence that is frequently, if covertly, exhibited in his writing. (The connection in Abbeys
prose between nature and writing is often felt through the formation and
expression of heightened emotion: his essays are meant to serve as antidotes to despair.) 58
If Orr, Snyder, and Abbey assert the developmental inuence of living in
relation to a natural environment, then Terry Tempest Williams dramatically complicates itleaving intact, however, an overwhelming biological
and emotional connection with place. In her autobiographical Refuge (1991)
Williams offers a provocative study of the doubled relationships between
parent and child, nature and writer. When she writes that she come[s]
from a family with deep roots in the American West (13), she is simultaneously recognizing her Mormon heritage and her familys tangible connection (the natural roots) with a regional environment. And, although
Williams would undoubtedly agree with Lopezs conclusion that the shape
of the individual mind is affected by land as it is by genes, she pushes the

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idea and questions exactly what is natural and informing in her own genes
and how her life is determined by both genetic constructs and landscape.
The environmental constructivism at work here is not casually benign, to
use the tragically appropriate word: Williams seeks to understand both the
positive inuence of nature (including Great Salt Lake and the Bear River
Migratory Bird Refuge) and the devastating effect of a western landscape
poisoned with atomic radiation.
Her Prologue subtly introduces the complicated play of her themes:
illness and healing, writing, cultural politics, memory, gender, motherhood, earth, family. She writes: In the past seven years, Great Salt Lake has
advanced and retreated. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, devastated
by the ood, now begins to heal. Volunteers are beginning to reconstruct
the marshes just as I am trying to reconstruct my life. I sit on the oor of
my study with journals all around me. I open them and feathers fall from
their pages, sand cracks their spines, and sprigs of sage pressed between
passages of pain heighten my sense of smelland I remember the country I come from and how it informs my life. Most of the women in my family are dead. Cancer. At thirty-four, I became the matriarch of my family (3). When Williams writes of remembering the country I come from,
she quietly explodes the textthough the reader cannot yet know it. The
country that informs her life is, of course, the natural landscape of
Utah: the feathers and sand and sage all help announce that Williams is the
Naturalist-in-Residence at the Utah Museum of Natural History, that she is
a nature writer, that she literally come[s] from the country, that she believes that her ideas have been shaped by the Colorado Plateau and the
Great Basin. The claim at rst seems to be a representative and celebratory
example of environmental constructivism. Further, the gentle convergence
of her journals and the triptych of rediscovered nature (feather, sand, and
sage) all suggest the congenial interaction between writing and nature.
Yet this thematized interaction between textuality and ecosystem is far
subtler than it appears and cannot be contained within the pressed pages.
For one thing it recalls Williamss own authorial and naturalist past by invoking her earlier book Pieces of White Shell: A Journey to Navajoland (1984).
This work, a series of autobiographically reective essays on nature and culture, consistently foregrounds feathers, sand, and sage in such chapters as
Prologue: A Sprig of Sage, Rocks, Sand, and Seeds, and A Bouquet of
Feathers Bound by Yarn. As with Refuge, she opens the book by playing the
present off of the past. She begins, Out of my pouch falls a sprig of sage. I

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can crush its leaves between my ngers and remember who I am. 59 Here
the sage is not yet pressed, still only potential as a memory trigger. By opening Refuge with the feathers, sage, and sand (interestingly reversing the order of appearance in Pieces of White Shell, perhaps hinting at a return home),
Williams is engaging in intertextual storytelling, maybe suggesting that
symbols can change over time and that anything that we might call meaning may have to be sought outside of textual boundaries (one can never
know for certain, she writes)sought in the process of change and transmutation itself. Of course, change is at the heart of Refuge. And each of the
natural signiers also sounds an ominous note: the feather falling from the
text, the sand cracking the spine, the sage pressed between passages of
pain. Each is subtly altering the text, perhaps healing it, perhaps resisting
it, perhaps even corrupting it. There is a sense that nature and text here do
not quite agreethat the natural elements she previously collected and the
journal she previously wrote are out of syncand that her own history and
her own understanding of nature need revision. It is this delicate doing and
undoing, like the advance and retreat of Great Salt Lake, like her own retreat and return announced on the following page, that Williams quietly
Part of that personal revision requires a recognition of the inevitable
transference between natural landscape and political landscape. Thus, that
country that informs her life is also the United States, although that
meaning is not yet obvious. By signing the preface ttw July 4, 1990, Williams evokes a certain sense of national placeand perhaps also evokes
Henry David Thoreaus own retreating/returning act of individual independence at Walden, commenced (at least in metaphor) on July 4, 1845 although even here the reference is problematized, for she is telling the story
of her return home from a retreat, altering or even inverting Thoreaus
story of departure/retreat that began 145 years earlier. Although perhaps
unintentional, the inversion is also telling because, as we discover much
later in the book, her country (in terms of landscape, government, and ideology) is exactly what has poisoned the women of her family with carcinogenic radiation and patriarchal authority. Here she proleptically hints at
the above ground atomic testing in Nevada [that] took place from January 27, 1951 through July 11, 1962, and the ensuing radiation fallout in Utah
(283). By shifting without explanation from that country to death and cancer, Williams anticipates the unspoken connection. And Refuge is on its way
toward an outraged and pained attack on cruel government policies and

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toward a shattering denunciation of federal laws that allowed family and

place to be horribly altered.
By suddenly shifting from country to the dead women in [her] family,
Williams also calls attention to the importance of gender in understanding
both nature and nation. A few pages later Williams recounts a visit with a
friend to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, one of the many refuges the
book establishes. Williams and her companion spoke of rage. Of women
and landscape. How our bodies and the body of the earth have been mined
(10). Mined because both cancer cells and uranium (the two related, lethal
elements of this story) are removed from the female/earth body but also
mined because, as Williams implies, much more has been taken from
both: the ability to assert that body and that voice. Mined shows the erasure
of the possessive my. (Thoreau uses the same pun to very different effect
near the beginning of Walden, also conating body, earth, and self: I think
that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts; so by the divining rod and
thin rising vapors I judge; and here I will begin to mine. Thoreau is coming into a sense of self; Williams remembers losing hers.) 60 Williams suggests that cancer, and especially cancer in women, is a largely unvoiced public health threat. Williams writes that in her family and in her Mormon
culture authority is respected, obedience is revered, and independent
thinking is not. . . . We sat in waiting rooms hoping for good news, but always receiving the bad. I cared for [the dying women in her family], bathed
their scarred bodies, and kept their secrets (285 86). Similarly, the dangers of atomic testing were kept hidden from the public for decades, and
Williams herself did not understand her own unarticulated childhood
memories of the testsshe had assumed they were dreams, nightmares.
By rhetorically breaking from her country, as it were, Williams is also breaking the silence, speaking the word cancer, giving the word its own isolated
sentence. She will later fully voice the threats to these two bodies, women
and nature, in her concluding essay, The Clan of One-Breasted Women:
The fear and inability to question authority that ultimately killed rural
communities in Utah during atmospheric testing of atomic weapons is
the same fear I saw in my mothers body (286). Refuge refuses to keep the
Country, nally, encompasses all of these meanings. The books subtitle,
An Unnatural History of Family and Place, creates a reverberating conation of family and place, and that informing country recalls both and the
threat to both: I could not separate the Bird Refuge from my family. . . . The

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landscape of my childhood and the landscape of my family, the two things I

had always regarded as bedrock, were now subject to change (40). The
country she comes from is thus metaphorically both family and place, both
uneasily transforming in front of her. She writes: What is there about the
relationship of a mother that can heal or hurt us? Her womb is the rst landscape we inhabit (50). It is this relationship, this female landscape, that is
threatened. Refuge attempts to examine this rst landscape, this connection
between family and place, between womb and landscape, between self and
nature. Williams is intent on nding that part of her own body that is cancer free and that part of her family that precedes the atomic testing. Writing
becomes for her a way of adjusting culture and natureand restoring her
own health (and writing) through the latter.
When Muir, Abbey, Lopez, Snyder, and Williams consider environmental educationthe way that nature teaches, informs, and inuences its
pupilsthey imply that nature offers a form of instruction in living, what
Gary Snyder calls the practice of the wild. As such, nature itself is often
recognized as possessing a form of independent and nonhuman culture,
though certainly not every writer uses that word. Nature has a voice or
voices, speaks in its own language, has its own history and its own stories. And environmental education is thus a kind of acculturation by nature
(the sense of being placed that Snyder suggests). Thus, nature writers
counter constructivist claims by positing or recognizing that natures education is not only formative but also serves the same inuencing function as
human culture.
Language would seem to be an obvious rhetorical construct (to return
to a phrase from Alexander Wilsons polemic), a socially developed institution that may inuence or even determine our perception of the environment. In implicit response to this constructivist claim, nature writers posit
a biota that speaks to them and through them; they take a central and seemingly inviolable foundation of cultural constructivism and reposition it as
a natural force. Terry Tempest Williams, for example, suggests that the
overwhelming experience of solitude in nature is also a stirring connection: It renders me fully present. I am desert. I am mountains. I am Great
Salt Lake. There are other languages being spoken by wind, water, and
wings. 61 Williams remarks that we call outand the land calls back. 62
Even the titles of familiar works suggest natures ability to hold a conversation: Words from the Land (Stephen Trimbles anthology), Robert Finchs
What the Stones Said, Joseph Wood Krutchs The Voice of the Desert, Annie

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Dillards Teaching a Stone to Talk, Theodore Roszaks The Voice of the Earth
are only a few examples. Garry Nabhan, writer and ecologist, has said that
people like Ann Zwinger and I back off from the term environmentalism. We
prefer to explain what we do as going out into the boonies and interviewing
plants. 63
Barry Lopez, in Arctic Dreams, takes the notion of natures language one
step farther. Not only does nature speak in a recoverable and understandable tongue, but nature impacts human language as well. In his reconsideration of linguist Benjamin Whorf and of native languages, Lopez argues
that for Whorf, language was something man created in his mind and projected onto reality, something he imposed on the landscape, as though the
land were a receptacle for his imagination. I think there are possibly two
things wrong with this thought. First, the landscape is not inert; and it is
precisely because it is alive that it eventually contradicts the imposition of a
reality that does not derive from it. Second, language is not something man
imposes on the land. It evolves in his conversation with the land. . . . The
very order of the language, the ecology of its sounds and thoughts, derives
from the minds intercourse with the landscape. 64 Lopez (here following
Inuit culture) emphatically insists that the land is alive and that language
itself results from human interaction, the conversation, with the land.
The land is understood to resist human imposition; akin to the principle
of Gaia, nature seems directed, even intentional in its response. By using
the word intercourse, Lopez suggests that the dialogue is an intimate one and
one that includes an economic dimension as well.
Similarly, in his essay Tawny Grammar (the title borrowed from Thoreaus Walking) Gary Snyder argues that both language and written text
are intrinsically connected with natural phenomena. He identies an ecology of language, in which language belongs to our biological nature and
writing is just moose-tracks in the snow (72, 69). Snyder sees language
as an inherently natural result of our relation to environment: language
and culture emerge from our biological-social natural existence, animals
that we were/are (17). His ecology of language emphasizes that all human
(and, by extension, animal) languages are related; as he says of the mix of
dialects and standard languages in an Alaskan village, all are rooted in
nature; but their vines and creepers reach worldwide (72). Writing (the
moose tracks) is merely the textualized expression of nature, akin to the
calligraphy of rivers or the expanding circles in the trunk of a tree: in

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tracing the Chinese understanding of writings history, he concludes that

every kind of writing relates to natural materials (66).
Snyder is ready to acknowledge the demanding Whoran challenge
put by a friend: is there any experience whatsoever that is not mediated by
language? (71). But, by arguing that language is natural and environmentally derived, Lopez, Snyder, and others achieve two important ends.
First, their claim offers skeptical readers a recognizable and codiable form
of environmental impact. When we speak with a voice educated by nature,
the words we use are literally indebted to nature. Second, they defeat the
narrow implications of social constructivism that suggest that experience
and the cognitive understanding of experience are mediated or predetermined by language. If language is accepted as a nature-based medium, then
it follows that, even if our experience is mediated by language it is still essentially mediated by nature. Language does not impose order on a chaotic
universe, Snyder writers, but reects its own wildness back. 65 Like the
other elements of environmental constructivism, this language theory allows for, even endorses, constructivist activity but shifts the nal agency
back to nature. And, if nature writers write nature, then they do so in a language indebted to, and even authorized by, nature.
Finally, contemporary theorists are quick to apply the notion that all
that we know, we know through the prism of ideology. 66 But nature writers are equally quick to point out that even ideology is inuenced by environmental constructivism. We might recall Theodore Roosevelts claim
that, as it is with the individual, so it is with the nationin other words,
just as these writers replace culture with nature as the determining force in
the individual authors life, so they reconceive of the broader national identity. Tuan argues this point, at least in the possibility that landscape affects
a countrys self-dening set of myths and beliefs: environment necessarily
provides the major building blocks of autochthonous cosmologies and
world views. 67 Barry Lopez seems to summarize the argument of and for
environmental constructivism in his 1983 essay Yukon-Charley: The Shape
of Wilderness. In his polemic Lopez provides an insight into the formation
of self, of author, of language, and of national mythology when he considers the inuence of nature. And what begins as a political tract turns into
a subtle re-vision of American authorship. Lopez argued that the Reagan

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wishes to reduce the wilderness controversy to economic terms,
which is like trying to approach the collapse of a national literature
as primarily an economic problem. The administrations attitude
reveals an impoverished understanding of the place and history
of the physical landscape in human affairs of its effect, for example, on the evolution and structure of language, or on the development of particular regional literatures, even on the ontogeny of
human personalities. Such observations have been offered by writers and artists recently to make a single point: as vital as any single
rationale for the preservation of undisturbed landscapes is regard
for the profound effect they can have on the direction of human

Lopezs prose rewards careful reading, for it stands as a detailed reection

on the theory of ecocentric inuence (or effect, the word Lopez prefers
here). Lopez rst establishes a rhetorical parallel between wilderness and
literature; he uses syllogistic reasoning to align both environmental and
literary crises with economic terms. But it is a move of subtle undoing as
well, for both wilderness and literature, he implies, cannot be understood
in primarily economic terms. Lopez next plays on the negation of economic
importance by labeling the Reagan administrations understanding as impoverished; if there is an economic problem to overcome, it is governmental ignorance. He then carefully underscores his point by allowing even
the parallel construction of wilderness and literature to slip out of alignment, favoring nature: wilderness, Lopez argues, is primary and is creative,
affecting (in strategic order) language, literature, and human identity.
Wilderness denes the self, denes authenticity.
The Example of Mary Austins Earth Horizon
Perhaps no work by an American nature writer reveals the complicated play
of environmental constructivism and authorial self-invention as forcefully
as Mary Austins autobiography, Earth Horizon. Published in 1932, the book
was Austins last major literary effort (she died two years later) and stands
as one of the most ambitious works of environmental reection in American literature, dramatically reconsidering the position of the author in relation to both natural and cultural landscapes. As such, it is a representative
and revealing example of environmental constructivism, indicating the
reachesand perhaps inevitable limitations of theoretical applications.
Austin uses a sophisticated hybrid, heteroglot style to encode the compet168

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ing inuences in her life, producing a multivoiced work that infuses culture with nature and nature with culture. In The Saga of Polly McAdams,
the eighty-seven page, eleven-chapter Book One of Earth Horizon (and the
principal subject here), Austin explores the ways that nature, language,
gender, and education affected her early childhood development and how
those inuences predict and determine her authorial self.
Indeed, Austin spent a lifetime anticipating, inventing, and reecting on
herself as authora self-described woman of genius. Earth Horizon is
only the most deliberate exposition. Austin remembers that even as a child
of seven she decided that she would write all kinds of books; 69 by 1907,
four years after she debuted with The Land of Little Rain, she could condently
write to her publisher, I think I have it in me to do bigger novels than anybody in the west is doing. 70 Her ambition to establish a public identity to
circulate in the market through her writing (in the words of biographer Esther Lanigan Stineman) led her to a number of predictably eccentric devices
designed to reect and advertise her authenticity.71 Austin was not only a
nature writer, an amateur ethnologist, a mystic, and a feminist; she was also
a tireless self-promoter in the orid tradition of Joaquin Miller, Mark Twain,
and even P. T. Barnum. While living in Carmel, California, for example,
Austin often donned amboyant costumes, such as the leather gown of an
Indian princess, and would notoriously write sitting in her Paiute wickiup
(sacred shelter) perched in a tree. 72 Later, in New York, she capitalized on
her theatrical instincts by wearing exaggerated western clothes and dramatic Indian jewelry. 73 Impressed by the inuence and industry of Frank
Hamilton Cushing and Franz Boas, Austin engaged in the popular activities
of folklorists, borrowing the aura of primitive folk authenticity to showcase her own writing and persona. Despite her genuine interest in cultural
anthropology, Austin seemed unaware of at least one central irony: the difference, as Regina Bendix points out, between anonymous folk authenticity and individual, authorial authenticity; Austin clearly tailored her accoutrements for a marketplace visibility.74 One cannot help but feel the
marketing impact of Miller, her California neighbor and precursor, who
was still quite visible during Austins early career.75
Austin, however, was far more serious about her art and authorial identity than such calculated charades suggest; she took her own genius to
be an important natural gift deserving independent study.76 Many critics
persuasively point to Austins considerable authorial ego and contend that
she invented herself; indeed, some argue that Earth Horizon is Austins testa169

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ment to self-inventionthat she had produced her own genius. Melody

Graulich, for example, comments on the act of self-creation in Earth Horizon. 77 Esther Lanigan Stineman also perceives a deliberate form of selfcreation, remarking that in the autobiography Austin gives an absorbing
account of how a woman of pioneer stock, stimulated by few of the cultural
inuences that might be expected in a literary life but having faith in her
own imagination, leapt over seemingly insurmountable barriers of geography, gender, and class. 78 Stineman suggests that Austins faith in her own
imagination was the critical inuence that allowed her, sui generis, to leap
(over both place and culture) and arrive. But, if Austin is inventing herself
herea distinct probabilityshe is doing so by frequently denying that
invention; she carefully introduces the possibility that nature acted as a
formative inuence and that her writing reects this inuence.
Indeed, environmental constructivism can be traced back to her early
works, such as The Land of Little Rain (1903) and Lost Borders (1909); Marjorie
Pryse has argued that Austins early nonction conveys the intensity of
connection between natural landscape and human life. [Austin] believed
that the writers consciousness is inuenced by that connection. 79 In the
desert Southwest the land set the limits, and similarly the patterns of her
life and career were also bounded by natural markers and limits. But such
environmental inuence is for the most part only implied here; although
Austin does write (in Little Rain) that, to understand the fashion of any life,
one must know the land it is lived in and the procession of the year, she is
largely reticent about the direct impact of nature on her consciousness and
her writing.80 It is, in Lawrence Buells words, oblique autobiography. 81
Austin is considerably more direct in The American Rhythm (1923), her
quirky and provocative rexpression of Amerind Songs. Here Austin
pursues a form of textual and authorial authenticity rooted in notions of the
primitive and the native. Sometimes called folk authenticity, it emerged
most visibly at the end of the nineteenth century, concurrent with the closing of the frontier and the loss of vast natural areas, and exists today in a variety of New Age practices, notably what Philip J. Deloria calls playing Indian. He writes:
The authentic, as numerous scholars have pointed out, is a culturally constructed category created in opposition to a perceived state
of inauthenticity. The authentic serves as a way to imagine and idealize the real, the traditional, and the organic in opposition to the


coming out of the country

less satisfying qualities of everyday life. The ways people construct
authenticity depend upon both the traumas that dene the maligned inauthentic and upon the received heritage that has dened
the authentic in the past. Because those seeking authenticity have
already dened their own state as inauthentic, they easily locate
authenticity in the gure of an Other. This Other can be coded in
terms of time (nostalgia or archaism), place (the small town), or
culture (Indianness). The quest for such an authentic Other is a
characteristically modern phenomenon, one that has often been
played out in the contradictions surrounding Americas long and
ambivalent engagement with Indianness.82

Mary Austin searches out exactly this Other, this transcultural form of authenticity, and, in turn, claims it as her own.
Of course, the authenticity of the folk or of Indianness is itself allied with
nature. Playing Indian, as Deloria and others point out, inevitably involves
such activities as campouts, hunts, vision quests, and nature ceremonies.
Folk cultureprimitive, simple, genuineis understood to be connected
with local environmental practice. In The American Rhythm Austin draws on
this connection between authenticity, nature, and native culturesand
mixes in her own professional milieu, American literature. After establishing, through assertion more than argument, that rhythm is experience
and that it affects consciousness, Austin attempts to develop a theory of the
imprint of landscape on our individual and national thinking and writing.
The condition of early settlement inuenced this rhythm, but something
was also added by the land. Poignancy is of the poets soul, perhaps, but
rhythm is always in his sense; eye and ear have each their part in it. Streams
of rhythmic sights and sounds owed in upon the becoming race of Americans from every natural feature. . . . There was hunger in man for free ung
mountain ridges, untrimmed forests, evidence of structure and growth. 83
Austin goes on to claim that the American Indians primitive mind has
best captured the native and natural rhythm and that our national poetry
(specically the works of Walt Whitman, Edgar Lee Masters, Robert Frost,
and Carl Sandburg) is inuenced by those beats. As an acknowledgment
and expression of environmental constructivism, The American Rhythm is
signicant but awed. Austin manages to produce a powerfully lucid articulation of the theory: native rhythms develop along the track of the rhythmic stimuli arising spontaneously in the environment and are coordinated
by the life-sustaining gestures imposed upon us by that environment. 84

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But, because the study is so overdetermined by dubious social science and

literary theory (such as her sympathetic but now dated reections on the
primitive mind) and because Austin seems so reluctant here to extend her
thinking beyond static formulation, The American Rhythm extends a largely
reductive theory, not a living demonstration or enduring practice.
Austins interest in Amerindian rhythms, native cultures, and the folk is
also extensively at play in Earth Horizon. Indeed, although Austin represents
her personal and authorial development primarily as a dialogue between
nature and family, the book frequently claims the related authenticity of
folk as well. The works title, Earth Horizon, is itself a complicated register
of this interplay between cultural and natural symbolisms, patterns, and inuences: In the Rain Song of the Sia, Earth Horizon is the incalculable blue
ring of sky meeting earth, which is the source of experience. It is pictured as
felt, rays of earth energy running together from the horizon to the middle
place where the heart of man, the recipient of experience, is established,
and there treasured (33). This description, which Austin signicantly
presents as an immediate textual prelude to Marys birth, brings together
through the medium of song the rays of earth energy with the heart of
man, brings together the sky and the folk (specically the Zia Indians).
The source of experiencethat is, the source of her own autobiographyis thus the meeting of the mystical (incalculable) and identiable
(treasured), the natural and the human. Austin emphasizes these connections, this dialogue, in her brief introduction to the book, describing the
pattern of her life: the pattern was set for me, the main lines of it clearly
indicated, the important evidences of it cleared, before I had lived the rst
third of my life. . . . Long before that time it was clear that I would write
imaginatively, not only of people, but of the scene, the totality which is
called Nature, and that I would give myself intransigently to the quality of
experience called Folk, and to the frame of behavior known as Mystical
(vii). Austin thus establishes the point of contact, the horizon in which she
is most interested: her childhood contact with the totality which is called
Nature. Austins autobiography is the search for evidences, the recognition of relationships and patterns, the literary representation of people, nature, folk.
In Earth Horizon, however, Austin goes well beyond a limited anthropology, encoding the process of environmental constructivism through a study
of remembered relationships represented through a plurality of different
voices. By treating the development of a consciousness from birth through

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early childhood, by considering the role of differing educational forces, and

by juxtaposing the natural and cultural inuences, Earth Horizon serves as
an example of, and a critique of, environmental constructivism that is perhaps without parallel. Her earliest memories suggest a young Mary not entirely integrated into her family, increasingly isolated, and beginning to interact with the natural landscape. As Austin maturesmarked by the linear
progression of her narrativeshe increasingly interacts with other voices,
including the voices of nature as well as of educational and religious authority. Austins autobiography not only acknowledges these voices but allows them room to assert themselves, producing at times a powerfully dialogic text.
That Austins book may be read as dialogically charged is hardly surprising, for many nature writers enjoy the textualized play of a heteroglot world.
Michael J. McDowell writes that Bakhtins theories might be seen as the literary equivalent of ecology, the science of relationships. 85 But the textual
polyphony in Austins works nds more than a literary equivalent in ecology; rather, the dialogism nds a deliberate foundation in Austins passion
for ecology and natural science. Susan J. Rosowski has taken a similar tack
in her essay Willa Cathers Ecology of Place, arguing that ecology served
as a working model of literary production for Austins popular contemporary. After reviewing Cathers undergraduate interest in the natural sciences,
Rosowski concludes that botanical and ecological principles helped shape
Cathers very idea of art. 86 The same might well be argued of Austin, who
(unlike Cather) actually majored in science at college. More to the point,
Austins commitment to the sciences elucidates her complicated employment of environmental constructivism by offering her a model that seemed
to transcend, or at least challenge, the exclusivity of cultural power. Stineman proposes this very idea to explain Austins feminism: The study of science, particularly biology, was opening up the debate about gender differences. . . . Austin developed a lifelong interest in the objectivity claimed by
science with regard to womens biological capabilities as distinct from
those that resulted from cultural conditioning. 87 Similarly, the same interests suggested to Austin the inuence of nature on her writing and genius.
Throughout Earth Horizon Austin explores both the impact of nature and the
impact of culture and encodes the process as a meeting of inuences.
Austins introduction begins to expose the broader intertextual pattern
that she is also weaving, the play of text and text and of competing forms of
constructivism. Through embedded references to her own previous works,

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Austin carefully allows her own authorial voice to take part in the dialogue.
Indeed, the intertextual exchange begins before the rst word, for Earth
Horizon is already a self-aware revision of Austins earlier autobiographical
novel, A Woman of Genius (1912). Stineman goes so far as to suggest that the
novel was nothing less than a dress rehearsal for Earth Horizon.88 Both
texts follow the development of a promising young woman, her inuences,
and her battles.89 But, as I will argue, Earth Horizon is also a radical revision:
whereas A Woman of Genius reveals, in Stinemans words, Austins understanding of the cultural construction of gender during the crucial decade
after 1900, Earth Horizon treats instead Austins growing interest in the possibility of environmental construction.90 Furthermore, the introductory exposition of A Woman of Genius contrasts tellingly with Earth Horizon, revealing
the thematic shift from gender to environment. In the novel Olivia (the
ctional stand-in for Austin) begins: I thought then of writing the life of
an accomplished woman, not so much of the accomplishment as of the
woman. . . . From the earliest I have been rendered highly suspicious of
the social estimate of women, by the general social conspiracy against her
telling the truth about herself (3 4). Thus, like Earth Horizon, the novel begins with a similar explanation of purposeand with a similar attention to
the earliest pointbut the purpose of the novel is not exploring what she
calls (in Earth Horizon) the mysterious complex called Nature (78) but,
rather, critiquing socialized gender roles.
If Earth Horizon explores the authority of nature, it also delivers the story
of Austins emergence as a literary gure, an author who understands and
in turn inuences her own cultural moment. Thus, the plurality of genres
and voices both blend and compete; Austin displays her multiple early
inuences, she foregrounds the natural ones, but she nally seeks to activate and establish her own identity as writer. Lawrence Buell has demonstrated that nature writers can employ what he calls an aesthetics of relinquishmenta suspension of ego to the point of feeling the environment
to be at least as worthy of attention as oneself and of experiencing oneself
as situated among many interacting presences. 91 Buell suggests that
Austin employs this aesthetic in The Land of Little Rain. But in Earth Horizon relinquishment is, perhaps paradoxically, only the beginninga kind of inchoate emptiness, perhaps even tabula rasa before individual consciousness. Gradually, as Austin describes her increasing sense of voice and self
among the interacting presences, her own authorial voice quite literally
emerges as the dominant tone. Thus, rather than relinquishment, her auto174

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biography enacts a kind of possession of self (recalling both Thoreaus and

Williamss use of mine). Nevertheless, if she is weaned from nature, to use
Thoreaus language, she retains the remembered contribution of nature.
Earth Horizon is a part of the remembering and a part of her own homage.
In The Saga of Polly McAdams Austin describes her early childhood;
in doing so, she records a multiplicity of specic inuencesnotably, family, school, and the outdoors. Austin places great emphasis on her ability to
remember her infant experiences (the subject of chap. 5). She describes
three early memories, each signaling the interplay between natural and human culture. The rst, her earliest memory, signicant as an index of
dominant interest, must have been when Mary herself was two years
old: a family gathering, of a Sunday afternoon, probably to inspect [Marys
mother] Susies newest baby, Jennie. The house was full of people, unidentied, but having a sense of kin, with Mary trotting along a boardwalk between the house and the corner of the front yard to the gate in the picket
fence. She recalls, besides that, the thick green of the maples overhead and
the grass coming up between the boards of the walk (40). Austin carefully
constructs, through the licensing lter of memory, her emerging self. Mary
is both inside and outside her reconstructed image. The group is family and
those with a sense of kin, and the center of attention is her infant sister,
Jennie, two years younger than Mary; yet, subtly, Austin also distances herself from the house . . . full of people. First, by using the verb inspect, she
implies a critical, cold estimation of her baby sisterand, indeed, Austins
narrative elsewhere suggests a strange alienation between the two siblings.
Second, more obviously, Austin drifts away from the house, trotting along
a boardwalk, outside, near the yard. Finally, as the passage develops, both
experiencing Mary and author Mary seem to move away from family and toward naturenature seems to overwhelm the memory, the thick green of
the maple leaves becoming sky, and the grass working through the wooden
walk, a kind of dialogic subversion. The reenactment, nally, is not about
the family gathering but about natures effect and the play of memory.
Austins second early memory reiterates the theme of Mary as an isolated
gure in relation to natural environment and family. In this memory Mary
and family have been visiting Uncle Jim Valentines; on the walk home
young Mary wilted down in the middle of the boardwalk, and, although
her father would have carried her, her mother insisted that Mary would
come when she nds she has to. Mary recalls feeling very small and
faint and watches the rest of the family disappear over the top of the hill.

coming out of the country

Mary waits without hope, until nally over the hill a gure appeared . . .
Papa! (41; Austins suspension points). At this point the recollection
snaps off like a broken stick. Austin literally juxtaposes the hill and her
family, envisioning the landscape as alternatively empty and populated.
Here, as elsewhere, Austins mother appears remote and callous. Her father
is the beloved gure, but Austin perhaps anticipates his permanent departure in this scene by foreshadowing his death. Book 1 concludes (some
forty-ve pages later) with her fathers premature death, the early scene quietly repeated: fearing her fathers imminent death (departure), Mary leaves
school early with Jennie, beginning to cry when they came to the place
on Broad Street from which the white headstones of the City Cemetery
gleamed on the hill. In both scenes Austin remembers the hill from the
vantage of the boardwalk; here Mary sits down on the boardwalk in tears
(85), this time her father nowhere in sight.
Austins third early memory is the most complicated and suggestive:
She [Mary] was out-of-doors, blue and a icker of color overhead.
Jennie was in the cradlea low hooded cradle with solid rockers
easy to move about, as distinguished from the crib-cradle to which
you were promoted as soon as you ceased to be the baby. Outside, beyond the cradles rim, pale round owers in the grass. Bindweed! Mary knew that was what you called it . . . pale lms of color
uttering, and a feeling that went with it . . . it was a long time
before you got a name for the feeling, but bindweed you never forgot. Onlythis was very oddwhen the recollection came back
to you, there was sometimes a singular confusion, the bindweed
was always there, but it was Mary in the cradle, and Jennie did not
come into the picture at all. So it is just possible that Mary was less
than two years old when it occurredbindweed has a long season
of blooming and proves nothing. (41 42; Austins suspension

Here Austin shows her hand erasing her sister from the memory and literally revising her own text as she goes: because she might have been less
than two years old when it occurred, this image now supplants the family
gathering as her earliest memory. In a sense Austin has killed off Jennie
by resituating the scene at a time when Jennie could not have lived (Mary
was thus still the baby) and replaced Jennie with the bindweed. That is, the
passage now circulates between Mary and the bindweed, not Mary and Jen176

coming out of the country

nie. Signicantly, bindweed has a double function here, as both plant and
noun (that was what you called it); Mary is recalling the vision through
the vehicle of language, signaling one of the central ideas of the book. Here,
and elsewhere, Austin notes the existence of both nature and language, how
they are connected and discrete. Further, Austin carefully denudes the family tree, pruning her narrative until both her rst and last early memory (rst
chronologically, last textually) leave only Mary, nature (the sky, the bindweed), and language. And, nally, she subverts even her own narrative by
concluding that bindweed has a long season of blooming and proves nothing. She summarizes the shifting of her thoughts by suggesting that the
plant itself cannot be an adequate marker, further mystifying the event.
Indeed, Austin immediately summarizes these three early memories by
remarking that the only thing worth noting in all these is that they occurred out-of-doors. Not, as it was afterward proved, that there werent
other things remembered out of the rst two and a half years, but these were
the only things that spontaneously recurred to mind (42). This passage, an
independent paragraph, suggests Austins careful desire to shape not only
her own remembered experience but the readers experience of the text as
well. By remarking on the only thing worth noting, Austin offers up a tidy
interpretation of the often confusing scenes, heralding the importance of
nature in her own development. The foregrounding of nature in the images
that spontaneously recurred to mind suggests the importance of imprinted landscape on later life, as Stegner and Tuan would insist. Where she
might comment on the presenceand transforming absence of family,
she conspicuously does not and thus reenacts the very distancing and silencing of family occurring in each passage. Finally, it is worth noting that
Austin oddly admits that there were other things remembered, the assertion
reluctantly delivered through a double negative (Not . . . werent)but
this acknowledgment seems to belie the chapter opening, in which she
somewhat duplicitously claims that Mary recalls but two or three unrelated
ashes (40). Austins use of afterward is consequently jarring, having no
obvious temporal referent: as if she remembered other moments only after
writing the rst three. It appears as if Austin intends to include only those
memories that emphasize environmental construction at work, and her
self-interpretation reinscribes that theme.
Austins next chapter, chapter 6, is literally the center of the rst book
and casts itself forward and backward with ambitious lan. Austin uses the
chapter to deploy a central theme: her own relation as developing author to

coming out of the country

the complex of environmentally occurring voices, including her own. She

begins by looking backward at the variety of her late childhood memories,
worth quoting at some length: All these things come back with the shattered brilliance of light through stained glass. I remember the orchard with
great clumps of frail spring-beauties coming up through the sod; the smell
of budding sassafras on the winds of March, and the sheets of blue violets
about rotting tree-trunks in the woodlot. I remember the tree toads musically trilling, the katydids in the hickory tree by the pump, and a raw Yorkshire lad who had come to work for Father, not able to sleep because of
them. I more than recall the hot honey-scent of red clover, and the heavy,
low ying bumble-bees (48). Figuratively ltering her memory like light
through stained glass, Austin combines a variety of sensory impressions:
smells and visions and sounds that, like ecological dialogism, run into one
another and then out again. The chapters opening emphasizes beginnings:
springtime (spring-beauties, the winds of March), youth (a raw Yorkshire lad), and natures song (tree toads musically trilling).
But Austin wants more than a simple catalogue of natural memories.
She wants to demonstrate how these images also connect with human
voices and historical impressions. She soon moves from spring to summer,
telling of army worms; tobacco worms; potato bugsand then, midparagraph, toward the farming anecdotes her father used to collect.
These stories in turn recall her mothers singing, specically the Negro
spiritual, which leads Austin to the evenings when Mose Drakeeld, a
woodcutter and the towns sole colored man, would sing and call out
Cod wood, cod wood. Austin concludes the series of recollections with
night memories of her parents pointing out the constellation of the
drinking-gourd, the stars of the northern sky. She associates this memory
with a high piercing plaint, a folk song retelling the journey of runaway
slaves who escape by bearing north by the star pointer of the drinkinggourd, picking up the way marks of creeks and rivers toward the stations of
the Underground. Austin uses the natural cycle of the day (and, to some extent, the year) as her organizing principle, itself suggesting the connection
between nature and human events. The convergence of early childhood
memory, stellar landscape, song, and historical progressions epitomizes
Austins intentionto reveal the dialogue between the natural world and
the human, between her memory and her development.
Austin uses these heteroglot techniques to prepare her text for the chapters ambitious reach: an exploration of Marys own relation to other voices

coming out of the country

the voices of God, of other religious authorities, of nature, and of her

own earlier texts. She begins by retelling her spiritual encounter with
God, a moment of youthful transcendence apparently modeled on the
Buddhas transformation under the bodhi tree. Austin had rst publicly recounted this revelation in fustian detail a year earlier in Experiences Facing
Death (1931). But, rather than give a complete description in Earth Horizon,
she writes simply: And then God happened to Mary under the walnut
tree. . . . When I rst wrote of how Mary went down to the walnut tree at the
bottom of the orchard, as she did in Experiences Facing Death, Mary-byherself, and felt herself in the bee and the bee in the ower and the ower in
God, I put her years at seven, but I know now it couldnt have been (5152).
Austin curiously forgoes an examination of the actual experience, summing
it up in one terse if allusive sentence. Her game here is redating the event
based on reconsidered proof (recalling the predating of the bindweed
memory). In order to prove that she was younger than originally thought,
she argues rst that, at seven, Mary was in the fourth grade and already
had a ticket to the circulating librarythat is, had by then considerable
experience walking out alone. But, because the walnut tree episode was
the rst clear recollection of the way the land lay between her house and Rinakers Hill and was the rst time she went timidly alone away from the
house and toward the orchard, she argues that it must have occurred earlier
than age seven. Her second point of proof is that this initial encounter with
God predated a more formal understanding of religious authority that she
connects with the custom of spending Sunday at Grandpas. . . . And that
didnt happen until after Mary had begun to go regularly to school at six.
Austin concludes that the very latest that Marys religious experience could
have dated would, by the evidence of the wild foxglove, be late June of the
summer of half-past ve.
Why would Austin spend so little time commenting on the spiritual turning point of her life and so much time on the exact date? The answer can
only be that she desires to revise herself and consequently foreground the
moment of natural, precultural encounter. She makes primary, rst and
foremost, the interaction and union with the bee and ower and God, insisting that the socializing institutions of youth (school, library, and religion) were secondary and contingent. But what is especially curious about
this twice-told tale is that Austin spins a Nabokovian web of misdirection,
conspicuously misquoting herself and playfully manipulating the reader. In
her initial account in Experiences Facing Death she does not identify her age as

coming out of the country

seven as she implies here but as between ve and sixthe exact age her
Earth Horizon calculations nally determine. More astounding, Austin actually includes the original passage from Experiences Facing Death (with her correct age) in her notes at the end of Earth Horizon. She seems to be daring the
reader to crosscheck her claimsto discover her untruth. Finally, the evidence of the wild foxglove, purportedly proving her age, is nowhere explained in Earth Horizon (though it undoubtedly refers to the ower) but,
indeed, is found in the very passage of Experiences Facing Death quoted in the
back of the book. In other words, no possible sense can be made of this crucial moment in Earth Horizon without reference to Austins earlier work or at
least the quoted passage in the notesand any such meaning is immediately subverted by Austins strategic contradiction about her age. Austin can
only be calling attention to the uneasy authority of text; she herself leaves
the wild foxglove as evidence, as a remnant of a natural world that, like
the bindweed, proves everything and nothing at the same time.
Having emphasized to this point the role of nature and language and
their inuence, through memory, on the self, Austin turns in chapters 7 and
8 to the role of formal education in her youth. Mary started school at an
early age, ve and a half (again, the approximate age of her experience of
God), in part because her mother did not know . . . what on earth to do with
her. Austin is critical of enrolling young children in school and of the attitude that saw nothing else to do with [children] but crowd them into the
schoolroom as early as possible, to begin these incredible sessions of desksitting and the stultication of young intelligence by hours of mock business, occasionally punctuated by boring recitations (58). In contrast to
such thinking, Austin endorses the role of nature in childhood development: an extra hour of fresh air and sunlight was necessary to growth and
health. In advocating the importance of the outdoors, Austin employs the
metaphor of human growth: school at that age results in stultication.
More subtly, Austin soon turns away from formal education toward the
relation between education and environment. She begins chapter 8 by declaring, The business of going to school appreciably widened the known
world. Although this sentence may sound like a familiar, even trite, acknowledgment that education expanded her horizons, Austin is actually
playing on the word going. She means, quite literally, that she beneted
from the daily walk between home and classroom. There were three ways
of getting [to school] and home again, and each path provided both natural and cultural vistas. Plum [Street] to Second South, for example, took

coming out of the country

Mary past a gullied thicket where in the spring there were blossoming
haws and wild crab-apples, with bluebells under them, and later past the
general store at the top of a hill, where there were Indian baskets for
sale . . . bundles of wild herbs and roots, and huddled in among unfamiliar
German sausages and cheeses, quaint wooden implements (65). The detail of the walks to school far exceeds the details of school itselfhere,
even the store suggests the dialogue of remembered visions: a range of cultures (midwestern, German, Indian) and of nature (the hilltop setting, the
wild herbs and roots).
And each of these cultural and natural sights, in its way, became a source
for Austins own writerly vision. Austin comes close to summing up her
own brand of environmental constructivism near the end of The Saga of
Polly McAdams: There were always for Mary two interchangeable approaches to the mysterious complex called Nature. In the rst she could
pass by way of the little animals frisking response to bright airs and warm
sun . . . so easily into the little humans appetite. The second approach was
to recognize that there was always the chance of being caught up into an
absorbed contemplation of the mere appearance of things for their own
sake; the pattern of a leaf or blossom (78). These two approaches (reacting
as an animal and reecting abstractly) indicate a kind of divide between a
unity with nature and a contemplative distancea divide that recalls the
earth horizon itself and Austins attempt to cross that divide. Austin sees the
two approaches as interchangeable because she hopes to link, at least
within her texts reasoning, the inuence of nature and culture. Her vision
of environmental constructivism is that ambitious: she invents herself as
being invented by nature (rst) and culture (second) and celebrates the dialogue within herself, within her writing, within her world.
The result is that Austin can present herself as a writer of high culture
but a writer whose very sense of culture is grounded in place. Place does
not transcend culture but creates, even constructs, it. At the same time,
Austin asks us to attend to her own inventions, her own authorial power.
Austin is indeed a woman of genius, but that term comes to mean something much more than intellectual or social brilliance. Rather, genius takes
on its more evocative meanings, as both a unique inner character and
a spirit of place. Austin thus becomes doubly authentic in that she claims
her own originality and also claims a deep and inviolable connection to

coming out of the country

Born Again: The Rebirth of the Author

During one of the long meditation retreats called sesshin, the Roshi lectured
on the phrase The perfect way is without difculty. Strive hard! This is the
fundamental paradox of the way.
gary snyder, On the Path, Off the Trail

It probably goes without saying that most nature writers, ecocritics, ecofeminists, ecopsychologists, and monkey-wrenchers environmentalists,
for shortfear that as a culture we have lost an authentic and vitalizing
connection with nature. We are alienated from our local and global environments and must, in Gary Snyders words, resolve the dichotomy of the
civilized and the wild (23). Environmental constructivism, as a canonical
strategy of self-invention, may offer nature writers a logical and effective
method for achieving this ambitious goal.
To be sure, many ecothinkers have speculated on how to make intimate
contact with the real world, real self, again in Snyders words (94), but that
connection with what can only be called authenticity itself is elusive. Numerous writers and thinkers call for a fundamental change in the central
ideologies of Western civilization, decrying that split between mind and nature, subject and object, that has resulted in both individual isolation and
environmental exploitation. In The Environmental Imagination Lawrence Buell
summarizes: If, as environmental philosophers contend, western metaphysics and ethics need revision . . . then environmental crisis involves a
crisis of the imagination the amelioration of which depends on nding better ways of imagining nature and humanitys relation to it. 92 And perhaps
green thinking has found a ripe moment; as Irene Diamond points out: the
breakdown of Western metaphysics, or the postmodern condition, contains within it much more reason for hope than many of its academic
apostles would lead one to believe. The loss of historical verities concerning
values, cultures, and persons allows all of us to imagine the world anew. 93
Frankly, despite a few positive signs, it is difcult to see exactly where
and how the postmodern condition has altered the way most Americans
perceive and treat nature. Imagining the world anew is not an easy task, and
Jack Turner speaks for many when he laments our preference for artice,
copy, simulation, and surrogate, for the engineered and the managed instead of the natural. 94 Still, attempts have been made, and a short review
helps convey both the hope and challenge. Aldo Leopold suggested that we

coming out of the country

think like a mountain. Edward Abbey, as always difcult to pin down, favored among many practices individual opportunities to connect with nature and endorsed an active disruption in federal control of public land. Like
Terry Tempest Williams, Doug Peacock found therapeutic recovery in natural connection; he had returned from the Vietnam War estranged from
[his] own time and recovered his sense of identity and even sanity through
interaction with wild places and grizzly bears. 95 Wes Jackson has made
the case for rethinking our attitudes toward science, sustainability, and
progress and for the possibility of becoming native to this place, in his
books title.96 Max Oelschlaeger discusses the way that deep ecologists offer a variety of paradigmatic alternatives to the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm. Warwick Fox, for example, argues that deep ecology hinges on the
idea that there is no ontological divide between human and nonhuman. 97
Oelschlaeger himself has argued in Caring for Creation: An Ecumenical Approach
to the Environmental Crisis that various forms of spirituality offer a powerful hope for reconnection. And many who study, practice, and teach Buddhism, such as Joanna Macy and John Daido Loori, emphasize nonduality
and the codependent arising of all things, pointing to a new turning of the
wheel, a new owering of the dharma.
Answers and hopes arrive from more traditional academic sources as
well: David Orr speaks eloquently for specic kinds of pedagogical changes
in the way we run our schools and universities, emphasizing practical
knowledge and biophilial principles (and principals). Gregory Bateson,
lamenting the history of institutional learning that emphasizes difference
and division, argues for a patterns which connect, a necessary unity of mind
and nature. 98 Lawrence Buell suggests an equally radical form of literary
theory; through a reconsideration of the most searching works of environmental reection, he argues that environmental interpretation requires us to rethink our assumptions about the nature of representation,
reference, metaphor, characterization, personae, and canonicity. 99 Some
cultural critics have called for an environmental cultural studies that recognizes that nature is created within particular social contexts: as Susan
Kollin puts it, The interdisciplinarity of environmental cultural studies allows us to see the various interconnectedness of social phenomena that occur across forms of knowledge, an interconnection that is vital to the eld
of environmentalism. 100 Ecofeminists seek nothing short of a revolution:
to overturn both the ideological assumptions and the hierarchical structures of power and domination that together serve to hold the majority of

coming out of the country

earths inhabitants in thrall to the privileged minority. 101 And Donna J.

Haraway undoes the relationship between human and nature, arguing that
by the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras,
theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are
cyborgs. And thus, for Haraway, nature and culture are reworked; the one
can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the
other. 102
One of the most frequently voiced approaches to escaping subjectivity
and its resulting environmental alienation is that we adopt a non-occidental (often Native American) perspective that realizes an intimate, if often
mystically undetermined, connection with nature. Mary Austin expressed
this hope as well as any when she imagined that connection as an earth
horizon, the incalculable blue ring of sky meeting earth. Earth horizon
is the point where experience and environment meet. But the process of altering ones entire relation to place is, to say the least, formidable. How exactly does a person born and educated in the United States ignore centuries
of Euroamerican culture? How does a person create a new value system, a
new aesthetic, a new understanding of the world? Gary Snyder offers at
once the most reasonable and most radical solution to the problem of alienation from environment: for the non-Native American to become at home
on this continent, he or she must be born again in this hemisphere, on this
continent, properly called Turtle Island (40). Snyder, as always sensitive to
religio-mystical dimensions of existence, puns on born-again fundamentalism, but he is quite serious about the necessity of remaking the real
self the authentic selfin relation to natural place.
Environmental constructivism is a process by which authors can connect a priori with an immediate and real nature and can simultaneously
be reborn, inventing themselves as both private and public gures. I began
this chapter by asking whether environmental constructivism is a sincere
and legitimate theory or a strategy of self-invention. I answered both. It is
both and neither as well. Environmental constructivism might best be
termed a practice, a way that is without difculty and nearly impossible to
achieve. It demands that:
a connection be made with nature through (what Buell calls) the
relinquishment of self, the idea already on its way toward both
postmodern schizophrenia and Zen emptiness. But this relinquishment does not occur necessarily at the textual level, but at the


coming out of the country

meta-level of creation itself. Both individual power and cultural
power are relinquished, and natures identity-creating authority is
Paradoxically, environmental constructivism also teaches that,
through reection, discipline, and relinquishment, a new self is
born, is taught, becomes sentient and conscious.
The sense of being created (step 1) and the sense of being creator (step 2) converge in the position of the author. For an author,
to be born again is to reinvent the self consciously, laboriously
and to assert the primary inuence of nature. So, when John
Haines writes that, as a poet [he] was born in a particular place, a
hillside overlooking the Tanana River in central Alaska, he means
much more than metaphor and much more than a self-fashioning
claim of agency.

Finally, if environmental constructivism seems author empowering in

that it advances the possibility of rebirth, it also emphasizes the fragility
and limitations of green authorship. If nature writers relinquish themselves
to the interacting presences of ecology, then the environmental crisis is
itself a threat to authorship. The life and preservation of the author are
linked with the life and preservation of nature. In wildness is the preservation of the word.




Text Not Available

In October 2000 the Western Literature Association held the banquet for its
annual conference at the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame in
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.1 It is a marvelous place. The outside looks like
a vaguely faded sports complex surrounded by a massive parking lot (picture a Jai Alai fronton from the 1970s), but the inside is spacious, bright, impressive, and even elegant. One walks from a gallery of classic western
painting (including works by Albert Bierstadt, Charles Marion Russell, and
Frederic Remington) to one of contemporary Native American art; from
a room of faded publicity posters for faded Westerns to a room of ornate
show saddles. On the oor of one room is a large stone map of the West,
showing the routes of famous cattle drives; in the same room is a large diorama of mealtime on the trail, a plastic mannequin preparing vittles at an
authentic chuck wagon. And at one end of the museum (though the layout cheerfully precludes any sense of progression or direction) there is a reconstructed rodeo pen. The railings of the pen trick the eyethey are carefully painted with small reddish brown specks that resemble kicked-up
mud. Nearby is a television playing videos of rodeo competitions.
Best of all is the long hall just beyond the admission booth that leads
to the galleries. It is a clean, well-lighted place lined with portraits of wellknown actors from well-known Westerns. There is Ronald Reagan, John
Wayne, and Dennis Weaver, dressed up in familiar western garb. Despite
their reassuring smiles, the effect is vaguely unnerving. At rst the viewer
isnt sure: are we looking at rugged cowboys, western heroes, or movie
stars? Why is Ronald Reagan in the Cowboy Hall of Fame? (There is also a
sculpture of him, slightly larger than real lifeif real life is the best point
of comparison.) The portraits themselves have a sunny intensity that leaves
one feeling almost giddy even after one realizes that most of them are almost certainly painted from photographs or publicity stills, making them
reproductions of reproductions of actors posing for commercial pictures

inside out in the postmodern west

for movies in which they play western heroes. Do these portraits merely
greet tourists with reassuringly familiar western faces? Do they reinscribe
the old fantasies of the Old West? Do they serve to lead viewers gradually toward a more authentic history in the following rooms, establishing the imitation in order to deliver the real? Or do they serve to eliminate the distinction between real and copy?
Readers of Umberto Ecos essay Travels in Hyperreality will recognize
the museums mixture of copy and original, high and low artand so will
readers of western literature. When the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan displayed The Art of the Motorcycle in 1998, art critics thrilled or
scoffed at the juxtaposition of Frank Lloyd Wrights storied building and
high-chrome Harley-Davidsons. Indeed, that juxtaposition seemed to be
part of the exhibits intent. The Cowboy Museum delivers a similar sense of
jarring, scintillating contradiction, but it does so apparently unconscious of
the act. The mixture of authentic and imitation, popular and elite, colonizer
and colonized, seems unexamined. Representation becomes inseparable
from history; history, everywhere on display, seems adrift. Eco undertook
his American odyssey in search of the Absolute Fake and discovered a culture suffering from amnesia and emptiness: the frantic desire for the Almost Real arises only as a neurotic reaction to the vacuum of memories; the
Absolute Fake is offspring of the unhappy awareness of a present without
depth. 2 The Absolute Real and Absolute Fake become indistinguishable,
the only solution for a culture overwhelmed by both. In turn we might say
that western American literature enacts, if not precipitates, this undoing
of authenticity, realism, and representation. Remarkably, it also simultaneously critiques this very process.
This chapter serves as a conclusion, reframing the books central arguments. By studying the largely unexamined relationship between postmodernism, regionalism, ethnicity, and authenticity, I hope to reconsider how
western authors deploy the claim of authenticity. Admittedly, this chapter
ranges widely, from Borges to Silko to Baudrillard, and frequently assumes
an informal tonethe better, I hope, to confront the implications of the
western authenticity game in todays literary and academic cultures. If, as
so often seems the case in a postmodern climate, nothing is true and everything is permitted, in the West an alternative presents itself: everything is
true and nothing is permitted. Between these axioms lies the heart of the
contemporary literary West.

inside out in the postmodern west

Review: The Postmodern Pull of Authenticity

Throughout this book I have implicitly asked: what is the relationship between western history and western literature? I take this question to be the
single most important challenge for contemporary western literary historians and critics. The traditional answers credit the primary power of history,
relegating literature to the status of imitation; at best the terms are seen as
codependent, propping each other up. As Don D. Walker perceptively put it,
for many readers and critics, western history and literature supposedly
complement each other, and in this scheme literature depends on a close
detailing of places as they were and experiences as they could have happened. The imagination functions only in imitation of what history offers.
Walker concludes that literatures relationship with history has been onesided and vitiating to [literatures] value. 3 We might ask: must a regional
literature always refer back to regional history and place? What if we consider the possibility that literature is the primary creative inuence, that regional writing projects history and place? Or, what if we unsettle the notion
of differencewhat if we treat the difference between history and literature, between original and imitation, as being so complex, or tiresome, as
to be indeterminable, even irrelevant?
I have not attempted to answer these questions directly but, rather, to
consider a series of possibilities, answers (and more questions) gleaned
from the site of authorship. I have chosen to study authors in large part because they have so carefully framed their own writing. I admit to a fascination with authorial power and even genius, but that is not really the point
here. In fact, I believe that ultimately literature escapes authorial control
and runs wild; the fun is in watching authors try to corral that energy and
power. I have not argued so much that individual authors have invented
western reality, though that may be implicit, but, rather, that authors, by deploying a discourse of authenticity, have helped to dene the terms of both
production and reception and that authors in turn are dened and limited
by the discourse as well. We might say that the tension between western cultural history and western authorship exists on the playing eld of authenticity. And a component of this discourse, like a command in a computer
program, is that it erases itself as discourse. By so consistently claiming
reliable, authentic authorship and reliable, authentic representation, these
writers conceal their creative designs and self-inventions. Western literature so often seems banal and simple, at least to outsiders and canon makers, because it appears to reect in slightly faded tones the Real West. It is a

inside out in the postmodern west

copy, not the original. But that apparent banality and surfaceness is itself
shockingly deceptive, marking the successful creative powers of the claim
of authenticity. Its outrageous: authors claim that the West is primary and
their work is secondary, a double invention that assumes what it is arguing
forthe Real West and representational realism.
By and large western literary criticism continues to see reality as controlling western literature. Western writing is read in relation to historical
truth and representational accuracy. Western critics, rather than claiming
for themselves the arena of representation and lyricism, demand the arena
of history. This tradition of reading for authenticity seems especially unnecessary given the transition to cultural studies as the dominant interpretive practice over the last decade. Following the lead of Hayden White and
his theory of tropology, cultural studies and poststructuralism in general
would seem to preclude a reliance on authenticity. In Cultural History and
Postmodernity Mark Poster has written that, for the cultural historian, texts
do more and less than represent: they congure what they point to, and they
are congured by it. To the extent that discourse congures what it indicates, it is a ction as much as a representation. When reality and ction are
seen as permeable to one another, material reality has a cultural component, and culture is material. 4 Perhaps the problem is that western literary
criticism seems to have followed an unusual course, one quite different
from the broader run of academic reading practices: it jumped from a traditional form of historicism to a newer model, cultural studies, without going through any intermediate phase of structuralism, poststructuralism, or
deconstruction. I think its fair to say that, in general, we can nd very few
examples of western deconstruction, hermeneutics, semiotics, reader response, or even narratology. In other words, those theories that study language and textuality were largely, if not exclusively, bypassed. What does
this leap mean for the development of the western critical tradition? My
concern is that the new cultural studiesan approach that I often practicerisks reinscribing and in fact exaggerating the relationship between
narrative and history, between literature and the West. Does it not participate yet again in what Baudrillard calls the production of the real? Does
cultural theory assume, even in its poststructuralist relativism and irony, a
closeted sense of real history, real culture, authentic knowledge?
Furthermore, the beginning of the twenty-rst century is witness to a
new realism, a post-postmodern realism that rejects the relativist whims
of postmodern theory and its need to subvert or dismantle identities and

inside out in the postmodern west

advocates a renewed commitment to social justice and ethics. Pronouncing an end to postmodernism, scholars such as Michael Hames-Garca
and Satya P. Mohanty employ a postpositivist realism that, according to
Hames-Garca, entails both a critical reconceptualization of objectivity
and an analysis and accommodation of the sources of error, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of both essentialist and relativist responses to the problems
of identity and justice. 5 Mohanty, without denying that identity and experience may be constructed in certain ways, argues that they are nevertheless real; their reality consists in their referring outward, to causally
signicant features of the social world. 6 And, since the attacks on New
York and Washington on September 11, 2001, literary critics have increasingly warmed to the thought of authenticity as an antidote to both the
worlds despairing emptiness and their own past attachment to abstract
theory. This return of the real, to borrow a phrase from art critic Hal Foster, like earlier forms and theories of realism, promises to produce dramatic
readings of western literature and the West itself, often by emphasizing historical conditions, class conicts, and material culture.7 Yet, if only because
western criticism has yet to embrace either textual hermeneutics or postmodern theory, such an approach in western studies risks once again collapsing literature into the real, into historiography.
To be fair, what does regionalism mean if the connection between place
and representation is radically disrupted? The interplay between reality
and ction, between authenticity and inauthenticity, is so centralized in
the western critical imagination that it is invisible. Indeed, the West, as Lee
Clark Mitchell argues, has always been . . . an ideological terrain reinvented with each generation of fears and hopes. 8 This reinvention, no matter how romantic or ludicrous, has consistently produced a renewed Real
West or New West, in large part by insisting on an accessible distinction between authentic and inauthentic narrative. In many ways inauthentic
Westerns, dime novels, and romances that dene one end of western literatures spectrum serve to authenticate the other end, that of Willa Cather and
Wallace Stegner. But once authenticity is seen as a cultural construction,
then obviously the distinction becomes undone. Baudrillard insists that
Disneyland exists in order to make us believe that the rest [of the world] is
real, whereas all of Los Angeles and the America that surrounds it are no
longer real, but belong to the hyperreal order. 9 Using this example,
Christopher Norris points out that Baudrillard denies the possibility of
drawing a line between real and ctive, or authentic and inauthentic modes

inside out in the postmodern west

of knowledge. 10 As if determined to prove Baudrillard right, in 2001 the

Disney Company produced its own commentary in the form of a new theme
park, named the California Adventure. Located outside of Los Angeles,
this simulation of California offers visitors the unthinkable: the opportunity to have an authentic California experience without ever leaving California.
Tourists can experience an eight-acre mini-wilderness named Grizzly
Peak, can stroll around Pacic Wharf, and can visit an authentic, working tortilla factory. It seems anticlimactic to read Baudrillards analysis of
the postmodern world, an analysis that suggests that the sign and the referent may mimic each other but are entirely unconnected and ungrounded.
Still, western writing clearly does cultural work, if only by pointing to
the condition of hyperreality. We tend to say that cultures invent narratives,
or myths, that explain the experience of living in a place. The myth about
myths has it that shepherds in ancient Greece looked into the night sky and
devised stories about gods and monsters; thousands of miles away native
peoples living on what some called Turtle Island looked around and created
legends about Bear and Frog. But, when it comes to western literary history,
the opposite may well be true: the narratives invent the place, invented the
place even before contact. It is a ne example of what Baudrillard calls the
precession of simulacra. This condition may not be that unusual, indeed
may be inevitable in a colonizing culture that carries myths in anticipationJohn Winthrops Arbella sermon comes to mindbut it remains
signicant, for it both underscores the importance of western literature and
teaches us something about our broader national myths. Our search for the
authentic America inevitably leads us to the West, to western narratives . . .
and thus to simulacra. This fact is not necessarily lamentable, nor does it diminish the West or America. But, at the very least, it should make us reevaluate western literature. What if we treat western literature not as a record
of history but as a record of creative imagining? What if we divorce, say, a
Cather or Stegner or Momaday novel from history and, instead, treat it
purely as a work of the imagination? This is hardly to deny the social inuence of the work, nor is it to deny the authors devotion to place, but simply to recognize the works rhetorical power. Such a move may or may not
change our appreciation of Cather, Stegner, or Momaday, but, to the degree
that we shake up the idea of textual authenticity, such a move may actually
start to distort our perception of western culture and even reality itself.
Fredric Jameson argues that a central feature of postmodernism is the
transformation of reality into images, and equally interesting is the cor191

inside out in the postmodern west

responding reversal, images transformed into reality.11 One might even say
that in western literature the image simulates the West. Baudrillard writes
that simulation is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. 12 I tend to see western literature as exactly that: a series
of simulations that model reality for us. One should not be stunned that
such is the case with much of contemporary western writingBaudrillard,
Jameson, and others calmly tell us that today the image is no longer referring to any reality and that the postmodern world is inevitably isolated,
through the logic of late capitalism, from any reality. What I do nd stunning is that western literature began what Baudrillard calls the production
of the real at least two hundred years ago; that western literature took this
production as a primary goal; and that the history of this production has
been so carefully erased that we no longer see it. In other words, western literature has always been the rst and best example of postmodern writing in
American literary history.
Jorge Luis Borges, whose writerly vision stretched to include gures
such as Bret Harte and Billy the Kid, provides a ne allegory for this condition in his story Tln, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. Borges describes a literary
hoax with striking consequences: a benevolent secret society invents an
imaginary planet, Tln, complete with its own language, philosophy, mathematics, literature, and even laws of physics. This secret brotherhood produces a forty-volume encyclopedia of Tln and places it in libraries. Over
time Tln not only becomes accepted as a real world but begins to replace
the existing world. Borges calls this the rst intrusion of the fantastic
world into the real one. 13 Almost immediately, writes Borges, reality
gave ground on more than one point. The truth is that it hankered to give
ground. By the end of the story the narrator laments that reality was essentially superseded: Now, the conjectural primitive language of Tln has
found its way into the schools. Now, the teaching of its harmonious history,
full of stirring episodes, has obliterated the history which dominated my
childhood. Now, in all memories, a ctitious past occupies the place of any
other. 14 It is perhaps obvious how this scenario may work as an allegory
for western cultural history. A textual (and artistic, musical, and cinematic)
tradition arises that not only distorts actual history but replaces it with a
kind of fantasy. This fantastic world gradually intrudes on the real one until it becomes established as reality itselfindeed, people hanker to believe the story and what it says about them; they want to trust this new authenticity. Thus, people live in a hyperreal world, a simulacrum in which

inside out in the postmodern west

reality is only a copy, a set of invented images. Or, as Fredric Jameson writes,
the past as referent nds itself gradually bracketed, and then effaced altogether, leaving us with nothing but texts. 15 The end of history never
seemed so real.
To a certain degree this allegory is rather banal. Of course mythological works, as we call them, intrude on history. This fact only gets interesting when it becomes absolute. But, ultimately, I am more interested in the
formal qualities and creative complexities of the encyclopedia than I am in
either the fantastic world of Tln or the real one. Im not concerned so
much in lifting the veil of the western myth as I am in studying the veil itself examining the craftsmanship and artistry of the veil. I would recognize: (1) the undervalued aesthetic and imaginative component of western
literature; (2) the extraordinary way in which that literature has erased its
own sense of that aesthetic and emphasized, instead, its authenticity: western writers generally claim that their work is authentic rather than creative,
so that, when Krista Comer suggests that for a hybridized, postmodern culture there can be no such thing as western authenticity, she is presenting
a case against the claims of western writers, even many contemporary western writers; 16 and (3) the unintentional complicity of western literary criticism in reinscribing the centrality of textual realism, even in an academic
age that derides the notion of mimetic realism.
Ecce Pomo
Sitting in the kitchen clicking his slides through the handheld device. He specialized in slides of the great West. He called it the great West and it was, it is,
look at it, his 3-D slides of the trail ride down the canyon on muleback, or the
Canyon Dons the Velvety Cloak of Twilight, and thats exactly what it did,
his completely unreachable West, and he sat in the kitchen because the light
was better there.
don delillo, Underworld

Throughout western literary history authors have consistently invented

themselves as authorities, their work as reliable, and their West as real, even
though these dimensions of authorial, textual, and regional identity have
never been internally stable. Narratives that seem to claim otherwise
dime novels, tall tales, adventure storiesare, again, ultimately propping
up the idea of authenticity rather than subverting it. But writers of postmodern western narratives intentionally put into play the concepts of au193

inside out in the postmodern west

thenticity, textuality, and authorship. They do not automatically dismiss the

idea of authenticity but, instead, treat it as matter of textuality. Because the
postmodern world is a hyperreal one, literature must reect this cultural
fabrication of reality. These writers offer the bending of realistic representation, the subversion of historical truth, the ironic commodication of
cultural values, and the use of postmodern techniques such as pastiche,
metanarrative, kitsch, ctional autobiography, and so on. They make visible, and often laughable, what has been hidden all along: the literary creation of a hyperreal West.
At rst it may seem surprising that there are so many postmodern western texts and postmodern western writers. Most contemporary readers
and even many critics continue to think of western writing as simple and
shallow, realistic and traditional, anything but postmodern. But even overlooking a number of authors with marginal ties to either western literature
or postmodernism (such as Raymond Chandler, Raymond Carver, Maxine
Hong Kingston, Barbara Kingsolver, Richard Ford, Kathy Acker, and Christopher Isherwood) there are still many, many writers widely described as
postmodern who represent the West while playing with their own authorial
identities. Think of the following authors and works, all legitimately, if not
exclusively, described as postmodern and western: Richard Brautigans
Trout Fishing in America, Thomas Pynchons Crying of Lot 49, Ishmael Reeds
Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, Vikram Seths Golden Gate, Louise Erdrichs
Tracks, Ron Ariass The Road to Tamazunchale, E. L. Doctorows Ragtime, Ed
Ruschas Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Cormac McCarthys Blood Meridian,
Anna Deveare Smiths Twilight: Los Angeles, Leslie Silkos Ceremony, Dave
Hickeys Prior Convictions, Gerald Vizenors The Heirs of Columbus, Nathanael
Wests The Day of the Locust, Raymond Pettibons The Books, 1978 1998, Hunter Thompsons Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Annie Proulxs Close Range,
Richard Misrachs Crimes and Splendors: The Desert Cantos, Cherre Moragas
Heroes and Saints, Jonathan Franzens The Twenty-Seventh City, Exene Cervenkas Virtual Unreality, Gloria Anzaldas Borderlands/La Frontera, T. Coraghessan Boyles Tortilla Curtain, Jean Baudrillards America, and so on. These
books are among the most innovative, daring, and ambitious works of
western literature in the last fty years.
Still, one must admit that these works, though often brilliant and inventive, are in many ways the most obvious of western writings. While Annie
Proulxs literary craft is undeniably impressive and Jean Baudrillards cultural potshots are impressively undeniable, both writers seem at rst to be

inside out in the postmodern west

laying bare the rules of the authenticity game rather than rewriting or ignoring them. Once the construction of authenticity is recognized as a central premise of western writing, postmodern western texts begin to look,
well, jazzy but familiar. Exploring and tweaking the concept of regional
realism has been going on, largely unrecognized, for over two centuries.
Lets acknowledge and quickly move beyond several familiar critical observations, for, if anything, these writers are laying a trap with their explicit
First, postmodern writers critique and revise the myths of the West. This
statement, a keynote of much critical commentary, is undoubtedly true, curiously naive, and remarkably uninteresting. Certainly, from the vantage
of the Tried-and-True school of reading, works such as Yellow Back Radio
Broke-Down, Love Medicine, Twilight, and Close Range challenge the familiar received history and literary mythologies of the West. They do indeed upend,
often in sharp ways, the old paradigms and patterns. I applaud this revision
of social and cultural history and am encouraged by the fact that we are
nally getting works that seem to subvert the old patriarchal system. It is a
pleasure to encounter ambitious western writings that focus on non-Anglo,
non-male, non-hetero characters. With enthusiasm I would assert that
these representation of the West are more personally appealing than many
of the hoary pictures of that gloried, white, conquering civilization, and
with some reluctance I would admit that these depictions are often closer to
my own vision of a diverse, heteroglot West. As a form of social activism,
these works are admirable and contribute to the vital recovery of oppressed
histories and stories. But any reading of such works that argues for the arrival of a New West, a fresh vision of the region based on a revisionary, corrective narrative, is under the sway of authenticitys power. In arguing for
the production of the real, this type of reading is axiomatic. For two centuries nearly every major work of western literature has carried the same tag:
out with the old, in with the new; out with the inauthentic, in with the real.
Second, the corollarythat these works are heavily mythologizedis
equally facile. Of course they claim to tell a new story, of course they claim
to reinvent the place. The tedious irony at work here is that these writings
are so often received as authentic. Exactly because they both critique the old
forms of representation (and even representation itself ) and produce a vibrant new regional story (though often ironic and skeptical), these writings
seem to convey a sense of deep and genuine reality. Despite the fact that Annie Proulx playfully opens Close Range with an epigraph declaring, Realitys

inside out in the postmodern west

never been of much use out here, the back jacket tells us to read the stories
for their absolute authenticity.
Third, it would be a start to say that as part of their broader postmodern
project these writings frequently subvert distinctions between high and low
literature, between copy and original. Postmodern western writers frequently display the performative dimensions of western literature, critiquing the notion of an original West. But writers such as Miller and Twain
exploded the difference over a century ago. It might be more to the point to
recognize that postmodern western literature portrays not reality but hyperreality. Just as postmodern narratives dismiss facile denitions of authorship and authorial identity, they also unsettle simple notions of textual
realism. This seems to be one of Thomas Pynchons points in The Crying of
Lot 49 (1966), a novel that attacks the notions of reality, representation, and
history like a pit bull. It begins as a satire of California but moves quickly to
a violent subversion of the complacent belief in the Real West. Pynchons
West is hyperreal not only because Oedipa Maas cant distinguish what is
real and what is imagined but also because theres ultimately no difference
between the two. We are presented with a series of parallel histories that revise and replace the ofcial historynotably the history of the West
through a series of dubious signs and texts. As one character asks, Why . . .
is everybody so interested in texts? 17 A postage stamp of a Pony Express
rider includes a single, painstakingly engraved, black feather, a deliberate mistake (97). Its a counterfeit, a copy, that tells a different history of
the West; its a joke, a plot . . . a narrative. Oedipa tries to get to the bottom
of it all: Oedipa wondered whether, at the end of this (if it were supposed
to end), she too might not be left with only compiled memories of clues, announcements, intimations, but never the central truth itself (95). Caught
in a fantastic series of events and texts, she is unsure of her sanity, unsure of
her reality. In her memo book she writes, Shall I project a world? (82). Certainly, any reading of western literature since the publication of The Crying of
Lot 49 should be wary of the idea of a projected world. In a postmodern culture every world, every gender, every identity, every subject, every reality, is
Yet the argument that postmodern western writing reveals the constructedness of reality and the presence of hyperreality is underwhelming.
Isnt that one of the points of postmodern writing? If one follows postmodern theory, if just for the sake of argument, then the categories of authenticity, realism, and history become contingent and radically indeterminate.

inside out in the postmodern west

Of course a postmodern text acts postmodernly. Thus, what can one really say about postmodern western writing? Certainly not that it cuts through
myth to reveal reality. One cant even argue with much enthusiasm that it
congures the discourse and cultural understanding of that realitysuch
a move is at least two centuries old. As Forrest G. Robinson argues, many
western writers recognize the constructedness of history set forth in their
narratives of the past. 18 But, even more telling, whats the point in claiming that postmodern western writing destabilizes reality and reveals hyperreality? This move would only be to serve up the crudest of intentions;
again, its a far neater, if arguably self-defeating, trick to cloak that process.
Revealing the articiality of authenticity pales in comparison to covertly inventing and concealing that authenticity in the rst place. Moreover, the
creation of textual hyperreality is no longer a literary phenomenon. Everyone today seems obsessed with virtual realities and the problems of authenticity. The times have caught up with western literature.
So, how might a criticism of postmodern western writing develop? What
would it look like? The ground here, new ground I suppose, is wonderfully shaky. There is no terra rma. As I have been suggesting, it would be
untting to read postmodern writing in relation to the Real West, and unprotable to read it in relation to the imagined West. One possible approach
would be to employ what used to be called formalism examining language, aesthetics, presentation, and stylean approach not often taken
in western criticism. Some variation of poststructuralist formalism may
well be a desideratum. But then were stuck with the problem of regionalism and social history: what connects the text to place? Thus, another approach might be to rethink the concept of regionalism itself. In his 1994
review-essay Writing in Place: The New American Regionalism Michael
Kowalewski argued for a revitalized interest in American literary regionalism and the literature of place. 19 Too often, he argues, literary criticism appeared dismissive of this literary renaissance, seeing regionalism as a kind
of boosterism, a fatuous pufng of merely local talenta kind of literary
chamber of commerce juxtaposed to the three national congressional
houses of race, class, and gender. 20 And over the last decade critics such
as Willam W. Bevis, Krista Comer, William R. Handley, Susan Kollin, and
Kowalewski himself have started to pay serious attention to regionalism in
the West.
As always in this study, I am pursuing the authorial imagination and,
consequently, the relation between author and region. So, lets return to

inside out in the postmodern west

some familiar but necessary questions. What is an author? What is a western

author? Responding to widespread reports that the author was missing and
presumed dead, Michel Foucault notoriously resurrected the author, or at
least the author function. We must locate the space left empty by the
authors disappearance, he wrote, follow the distribution of gaps and
breaches, and watch for the openings that this disappearance uncovers. 21
The author in Foucaults terms did not make a comeback as an individuated,
creative gure but, rather, as a cultural marker, a function through which
cultural power is registered, distributed, and exercised: the author is not
an indenite source of signications which ll a work; the author does not
precede the works; he is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses; in short, by which one impedes the
free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of ction. 22 But in the West the author was always
already secondary, often invisible. With few exceptions authorship suffers
(or enjoys) a self-imposed and self-created position of absence, insisting on
a profound deference to the Real West. Rarely was, or is, an author thought
of as being the source of signications, or the main force preceding the
I want to suggest that we might perform a metonymic operation here,
substituting the word West for author in Foucaults scheme. In fact, authors
have already performed the surgery for us in their very self-inventions (pace
Foucault). In this regional writing it is the West that enjoys a functional
principle, one that controls and redistributes discourses and knowledge.
The word possesses a classicatory function. In Claiming, Corrupting,
Contesting: Reconsidering The West in Western American Literature,
Martin Padget argues that the words West and Western are loaded with historical and contemporary signicance. . . . Clearly, critics must take signicant ideological considerations into account as they frame rationales for
examining literature designated Western American. 23 And it is this idea
that so many postmodern western writers explore: the possibility that the
West can be understood not as a geographical region that inspires or inuences its own representation but as the inscribed site of cultural power
that serves to categorize discourses and ideologies, ways of knowing and
speaking canons, pedagogies, and reading practices.
Try this: The West is not an indenite source of signications which ll
a work; the West does not precede the works; it is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses; in short,

inside out in the postmodern west

by which one impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free
composition, decomposition, and recomposition of ction. The idea of
the literary West limits the range of signication. Again, I am not suggesting that the West doesnt exist or denying its inuence on the imagination
but simply recognizing that a number of writers are implicitly or explicitly
critiquing the words rhetorical force, the cultural and literary authority that
the term possesses. Krista Comer pursues a comparable approach in Landscapes of the New West. Using contemporary theories of cultural geography to
examine what she calls the new female regionalism, Comer argues that
the very invocation of landscape in western discourse predetermines the
ways we talk about the environments in which people nd themselves. 24
Similarly, continuing my appropriation of Foucaults essay, I would argue
that the West may be only a projection, in more or less psychologizing
terms, of the operations that we force texts to undergo, the connections that
we make, the traits that we establish as pertinent, the continuities that we
recognize, or the exclusions that we practice. 25 When we think of the West
in this context, we shouldnt think of prairies or mountains, missile silos or
toxic waste dumps. Rather, we should think conceptually, think of how the
term forces us into investing in these very traits. The West is a projection
of our cultural need to canonize, to exclude, and to create.
Given the thrust of my argument so far, I am hardly suggesting that authors are impotent but, rather, effaced. They themselves situate authority in
the rst word of the phrase western author. Postmodern writers have initiated
a vigorous investigation of this condition, insisting on their own rhetorical
power. No doubt, to a large degree postmodern western writers (and critics)
are beginning to examine the relationship between representation and reality, between reality and hyperreality, between authenticity and inauthenticity. But these writers are going one step farther by denying that these
paired terms are binaries at all. It doesnt matter whether the West is real or
imagined in a literary work because The West functions to impede and
delimit its own ction. Further, many postmodern western writers attempt
to visit and get inside this West . . . and things get weird. Like the character Wintermute in William Gibsons Neuromancer who moves through a computer program, these writers are exploring a nonplace, a matrix of creative
and cultural energies that appears real. If this is another New West, it is
one designed to appear exactly the same as every other New West (follow
the ashing neon sign, New West), which is to say, inevitably, every other
Old West (same sign). They step into the projection, not worrying about

inside out in the postmodern west

whether the show is true or not but watching themselves on screen, playing author. They do not seek to destroy the projection, which would be regional suicide, but to entice a kind of seduction and play. But, in moving inside, they simultaneously preserve their outsider status, refusing to settle or
even x this West. They become present in an unusual way but present as
an absence; they are traces, palimpsests, spirits in the material.
I should admit here to considerable uneasiness about these arguments,
for I risk appearing indifferent to, and dismissive of, the West, the authorial
commitment to the West, and issues of social justice in the West. Ultimately,
I believe the opposite is true: regional concerns may become clearer when
liberated from an absolute dependence on the literary imagination, and the
literary imagination can be better understood when isolated from a reliance
on authenticity. Is either goal realistic? Perhaps not, suggesting all the
more the imploding confusion (not just the codependence) of reality and
representation. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an
emphatic one, for there are enough champions of authenticity. I see postmodern theory as offering a methodology that reveals a contemporary rstworld culture committed to the shallow, insidious values of commodication, consumption, and meaninglessness, a culture alienated from its past
and itself. It is, of course, a culture that can only simulate authenticity. But
one can agree with the musings of Baudrillard, Jameson, and Lyotard without celebrating the postmodern condition. (Indeed, there is a denite nostalgia to postmodern theory.) And one can still ght for environmental
preservation, social justice, and cultural mindfulness. Further, to state the
obvious, postmodern thinking may have a salutary effect on art, certainly
on western art so attached to history and realism. Postmodern theory allows us the pleasure or anxiety of the text, without a consequential disregard for cultural practices. The death of history and the loss of traditional
truths may result in the reworking of the old through pastiche, but we need
not understand this as a limitation. There is, indeed, a freeplay of the imagination that can: (1) imagine forms of identity (in terms of region, gender,
sexuality, class, technology) that are liberated from former limitations. Why
not a western cyborg culture? And (2) imagine representation itself as unmoored from authenticity or sincerity, even in its use of pastichea representation that teases and tricks, that invents and displays, that ruptures and
violates. Why not a seductive western literature? I see postmodern theory
as an extreme way of collapsing the difference between the real and repre200

inside out in the postmodern west

sentation, leaving only what Baudrillard calls, with a certain appreciation,

In their book Peter Handke and the Postmodern Transformation Jerome Klinkowitz and James Knowlton argue that postmodernism celebrates the rupture between language and event as an occasion for true imaginative freedom. With no determining center of authority, human discourse is free to
create itself . . . no single view of reality can be legitimately imposed, for
reality itself is no longer an externally veriable standard. 26 Similarly, in
his discussion of postmodern ction Fredric Jameson, though frequently
skeptical of that ction and its use of pastiche, recognizes the possibility
that postmodern fantastic historiography may possess a genuine aesthetic through this new free play with the past. 27 Although not committed to partisan history, this writing can be seen as entertaining a more
active relationship to praxis than is generally understood: here the making up of unreal history is a substitute for the making of the real kind. . . .
Fabulation or if you prefer, mythomania and outright tall talesis no
doubt the symptom of social and historical impotence, of the blocking of
possibilities that leaves little option but the imaginary. Yet its very invention
and inventiveness endorses a creative freedom with respect to events it cannot control. . . . Narrative invention here thus by way of its very implausibility becomes the gure of a larger possibility of praxis, its compensation but
also its afrmation in the form of projection and mimetic reenactment. 28
As is no doubt obvious by now, I am arguing that western literature has always engaged in this kind of postmodern fabulation, cloaked by both its
stylistic and thematic commitment to realism. Krista Comer uses the notion of cultural construction to argue essentially for Jamesons larger possibility of praxis. In her words, the new female regionalists deploy representations of western lands and nature to talk about and, more, to challenge
and change myriad social and political topics. 29 I nd Comers study consistently persuasive, but I would also press these ideas in a different direction:
an investigation of the genuine aesthetic and creative freedom of western fantastic historiography as a dynamic possibility, perhaps even a necessary step before pursuing social justice through literary representation.
Richard Ford, whose Montana writings remain quintessential examples
of regional representation, is among the few western writers to acknowledge and own this freedom. In Gregory L. Morriss collection of interviews,
Talking Up a Storm: Voices of the New West, Ford says: Paul West wrote someplace else that language can never accurately report the truth of anything,

inside out in the postmodern west

anyway. So, the distinction between my stories set in the West and the West
itself exists the instant I use language to refer to place at all. 30 Ford points
out that he must want to invent something [he] can take absolute responsibility for. When Morris suggests that the distancing from tradition and
that invention of history allow Ford a certain aesthetic freedom, Ford
agrees: Well, okay. So Im free to write what I want. . . . Place doesnt control me. . . . I just make the place up out of words and call it what I want to
call it. I could call it Mars. Im sure, in the case of this place, Montana, that
Ive been affected, and my life has been, by living here. But I dont feel responsible for recording that, or for explaining it in prose, or for reporting
on it in any way. 31 How unwestern! Perhaps Ford, who grew up in Mississippi and has written celebrated novels about New Jersey, is not really western at all. And yet his inclusion in Morriss collection of writers of the New
West is hardly atypical; he is often spoken of as an important voice in western writing. Moreover, Rock Springs and Wildlife are obviously regional works
of considerable effectastonishing creations of the literary imagination
that evoke a powerful sense of place. They most certainly do not take place
on Mars, and the cultural landscapes of The Sportswriter and Independence Day
are thousands of miles away. Ford himself acknowledges that he has been
affected by this place, Montana. While we might test the psychology at
work here, Im much more interested in his dissent from the authorial tradition of claiming authenticity. He claims authorial responsibility.
Most western writers, even many postmodern western writers, take a
very different tack from Ford. As Martin Padget writes in his review of Morriss collection: Fords insistence on the ctionality of writing is noteworthy because Morriss other interviewees usually follow a fairly conservative
aesthetic of realist ction. 32 Of course they do: nearly every western writer
does and always has. Ivan Doig, for example, tells Morris that he has tried
to take aim at . . . self-referential ction. . . . Goddamn it, life is real, life is
earnest. Sure, we need literary experimentation, but it has to be a lot more
daring than academic wordgames. Lamenting the hermetically sealed
prose of the last quarter-century or so, Doig remarks: we came through an
important historical period in this country . . . without enough ction writers who looked closely and honestly at that period. And that doesnt chime
very well with us out here in the West. Whats going on in lifethats what
there is to write about and experiment with. 33 (Recall that Hamlin Garland
advocated a literature, not of books, but of life and that Frank Norris declared, Its the Life that we want, the vigorous real thing, not the curious

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weaving of words.) I admire Doig; he is a writer of brilliant, moving ction. And I have no doubt that he is sincere in his remarks. Just as I am not
testing the authenticity of any specic work, I am generally not testing the
authenticity of authorial pronouncements. And it would be beyond pretense to liberate Doigs writing from real life. But, as always, I want to
see such comments as part of the broader narrative of western authorship,
shaping reception and even the cultural imagination. Why should literature
be read solely in light of the authors instructions? And what western literature has even been presented or read as self-referential? Western literature is always West-referential as well as West-deferential. Im not exactly saying, Let the wordgames begin!Im simply acknowledging that
they have always already been in play.
The appearance of postmodern insensitivity becomes more acute when
applied to Native American literature, the topic of this chapters next two
sections. Who am I to doubt an authors tribal sincerity or a critics projected piety? Here is the opening paragraph of one recent scholarly study
of Native American poetry: Contemporary Native poetry has its roots in
the land, in the oral tradition, and in history. The older stories, songs, and
chants that shaped the indigenous perceptions of life are reimagined, so
that when Native poets evoke traditional literature, they are continuing in
the oral tradition, drawing from cultural memory the words and images
that have sustained their people and sharing parts of their cultural identities. Native references to traditional oral literature and to the land are
more than literary allusionsthey embody life and spirit, a vision of the sacred. 34 I dont disagree with this appealing sentiment so much as marvel
at its unexamined familiarity and at the unrecognized debt that it owes to
authorial invention, both western and Native. The authors imagination is
buried in this paragraphs center, rhetorically contained in the word reimagined, minimized in a passive construction, and made dependent on cultural
memory. The poets individual creative agency is all but denied in deference to organic nature (roots), history, and the sacred. Seen in the context
of the larger authorial claim of authenticity, this paragraph accepts without
reservation the self-determining narrative of authenticity.
In this light the claim of authenticity functions exactly as the West functions: it neutralizes and controls the entropy of representation. How far can
our understanding and appreciation of a literary text go with such limitations? Authenticity is a code that establishes boundaries that can be
mapped and patrolled: this is inside, that is outside; this is authentic, that

inside out in the postmodern west

is inauthentic. Whereas authors once invested in these boundaries and the

resulting real estate, postmodern authors critique the notion of boundaries
and binaries. Yet literature, perhaps by its nature, is inevitably read, and
one result is that it becomes subject to critical and popular boundaries: categories and canons. What follows is an attempt to examine the implications
of the authenticity game in todays literary and academic cultures. I want
to consider how the idea of authenticity promotes the establishment of
boundaries in terms of an institutionalized, academic canon; in terms of
ethnic identities; and in terms of the West; and to consider how writers
traverse, erase, or reinforce these boundaries.
Insider Trading: Native American Literature
from Across the Culture Line
Like the Chippewa,
Iroquois, Omaha,
Like those Indians,
Im an Indian too, . . .
And Ill wear moccasins,
Wampum beads, feather hats,
Which will go to prove
Im an Indian too.
irving berlin, Im an Indian Too

Storytelling. On the day after my last college exam, in May 1985, I was on a
plane heading from New Haven to Fort Collins. Colorado was a popular
place to dream about back east, and it seemed like the right adventure. I
knew enough to avoid the hordes of outlanders in Boulder but not much
else. Even then, nearly twenty years ago, I was keenly aware of being an eastern college graduate in search of the Real West, another pollutant in a
crowded stream. (How many western hotspots have regretted their popularity over the last fty years? Berkeley, Boulder, Missoula, Bozeman, Eugene. . . . I remember William Kittredge once reecting in conversation
about the hipness of Montana. Playing with the title of his popular Montana
anthology, he crisply annunciated with typical good humor the growing
sentiment in the state: The Last Best PlacePlease Dont Come.) Soon
after arriving in Fort Collins, I began to notice a green and white bumper
sticker, designed to resemble the Colorado license plate, proclaiming a
single word: native. The implication was clear: the driver of the car could

inside out in the postmodern west

claim a history in the Rocky Mountain West that went back ve years or perhaps ve generationsanyway, a lot longer than the recent arrivals of rockjocks and wannabes. I felt suitably shamed. But soon a second bumper
sticker started appearing, same license plate design, this time with one
small emendation, the removal of a single letter. It read: naive. Again, the
implication was clear: very, very few of us were native to the region in any
sense at all. My feeling of shame turned into a sense of alienation that was
downright communal.
What does it mean to be native to the West? The term native, of course,
functions as an emphatic claim of authenticity, the ultimate insider identity.
Indeed, there may be no more dramatic claim of authenticity in the contemporary West or in contemporary America. Westerners who trace their
family roots to nineteenth-century homesteaders often express a native
connection to region; farmers and ranchers who work the land may feel a
similar sense of attachment to place; and environmentalists and nature
writers frequently struggle to overcome their Euroamerican inheritance and
become at home on this continent (in Gary Snyders words). But above all
the word native calls to mind indigenous peoples: Native Americans. My
hope in this section and the next is to consider how the idea of authenticity
functions in relation to Native American literature and culture. Certainly, it
would be possible to follow the paradigm of chapter 5 and consider ways in
which Native authors claim an authenticity based not on individual inspiration but on connection with tribal culture and tradition, similar to the way
that nature writers claim that they are made by their natural environments.35 Simon Ortiz has said, the Native American writer comes from his
people, and this sentiment is echoed by many Native authors committed to
cultural connectedness and tribal nationalism.36 But arguing that Indian
writers invent themselves as authentic through the trope of tribal inheritance would be big quick troubleand it is exactly this trouble that I want
to investigate.37 Using authorial voices to tease out the implications for setting boundaries in a postmodern climate, these two sections will consider
how the idea of being an insider, being native, functions in academic discourse and critical perception. I am interested, rst, in how the insider
claim of nativeness creates an outsider status in non-Native scholarship and
writing, a perspective that reinforces Indian authenticity; and, second, how
even within Native American literary circles there exists erce contests over
authenticity, contests that frequently call into question the role of postmodern theory and representation. My goal is primarily to offer a modest

inside out in the postmodern west

overview of the authenticity game in Native American writing over the last
quarter-century and then to place these particular debates over authenticity
in the context of both postmodernism and the history of western literature
that this book is presenting. In short, I want to examine how the inghting and outghting over Native American literature inform both western
literature and the history of authentic reproduction.
Obviously, the topics addressed in these sections could ll many long
chapters and even booksand indeed they have. I realize that by subordinating my discussion of Native literature to a broader discussion of postmodernism I may appear dismissive of Native literature or the multicultural
West. My intention is exactly the opposite. For one thing, I remain unconvinced that the canonical categories of Native American literature and western literature are coextensive, despite the fact that most Indian literature,
certainly since the nineteenth century, is written in or about the American
West by authors with extensive regional knowledge. Further, though I am
reasonably experienced with reading and teaching Native American literature, I remain unconvinced that this territory, even if a contact zone, is
any place for the uninvited or uninitiated. Even discussing Native American
literature may seem to violate the insider/outsider boundaries and with
good reasonalthough these boundaries are as often determined by academic authority as by ethnic authenticity.38 Finally, a single chapter on Native American literature would risk both assuming and essentializing the
category of Native American literature, a category infused with an authenticity that itself deserves critique. If I am using a chapter on postmodernism to displace Native American literature, it is precisely to avoid situating
it comfortably inside or outside western writing, postmodern writing, or
even American literature.
Indeed, the subtext to these sections is exactly the difculty we have in
talking about these very topics, difculties that largely arise from a cultural
sense of ethnic authenticity. Admittedly, my own self-consciousness about
how I organize my chapter and how I discuss these issues is symptomatic
of the perils of authenticityI would feel no such compunction writing
about, say, James Fenimore Cooper and the legacy of Federalism, even
though I know comparatively little about either. Thus, I want to begin by situating myself, and most academic readers, on the other side of the culture
line, and so I intentionally use those lightning-rod pronouns we and our to
refer to an interpretive and ethnic position on the outside. Obviously, such
a move risks an exclusionary tone and may seem to insist on an Other,

inside out in the postmodern west

creating boundaries and reifying Indian authenticity. But the use of a more
inclusive we might well constitute exactly the kind of authenticity claim
that I want to investigateand ies in the face of the values of Native sovereignty. Even though the culture line that denes the insider circle
may turn out to produce more of a Mbius strip than a sacred hoop, I want
to commence this discussion as an outsider, acknowledging an inevitable
insider position as well, both in the academy and, of course, in my own
It seems fair to say that no category of literature from the West is more
entangled in the authenticity game than Native American writing. Critiques
and examinations of authenticity are indeed essential to both Indian literature and theory. The idea of the Indian is perfectly doubled: the word itself implies, as Gerald Vizenor shows, a simulation, the loan word of dominance. 40 In her essay Telling the diffrance: Representations of Identity
in the Discourse of Indianness Jana Sequoya-Magdaleno remarks that,
iconically coded as a vanishing trace of the sacred at the horizon of the
secular world, the Indian is (to paraphrase Jacques Lacan) a word in somebody elses conversation. 41 Louis Owens writes that the American Indian
in the world consciousness is a treasured invention, a gothic artifact evoked
. . . out of the dark reaches of the continent to replace the actual native, who,
painfully problematic in real life, is supposed to have long since vanished. 42 In other words, the Indian is a hyperreal ction, a copy without an
original, what Vizenor calls a commemoration of an absence. The indian
is a simulation, Vizenor writes, the absence of natives; the indian transposes the real, and the simulation of the real has no referent, memories, or
native stories. 43 The gure and conception of the Indian functions, it has
effect, and yet it marks only the absence of the real. What Vizenor calls
manifest manners are the racialist notions and misnomers sustained in
archives and lexicons as authentic representations of indian cultures. 44
What makes this embodied, hyperreal cultural construction so interesting,
of course, is not only that it appears authentic but that it functions today exactly as the authentic.
It is only too obvious how the gure of the Indian simulates authenticity
itself for a broader cultural theater. The Indian seems to transcend the idea
of the copy (or belatedness) and be original. Indians were here rst (to
use the title of a contemporary collection of Autobiographical Essays by
Native American Writers). They predate Lewis and Clark, the Puritans,
Columbus, and the American Adam. Vizenor writes: John Pizer argues that

inside out in the postmodern west

most historical research is driven by etiology, the striving towards origins.

That originary moment is the tease of new historicism, and the tricky overtures of postmodern critiques. The indian, in this sense, is striven, a hyperreal simulation and, at the same time, the ironic enactment of a native presence by an absence in a master narrative. 45 By embodying the very idea of
the original, the Indian embodies the authentic. Furthermore, not only are
Indians original, but they are ancient and timeless. This incarnation does
not challenge the concept of the copy so much as induces a nostalgia for the
past, a golden age of harmony with Gaia. If in the mid-nineteenth century
Francis Parkman could seek out the Indian as the embodiment of prehistory, today that search for the authentic past lingers in New Age ceremonies
such as the vision quest and in museum displays. Lisa Aldred, in her essay
on Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances, argues that New Agers
romanticize an authentic and traditional Native American culture whose
spirituality can save them from their own sense of malaise. 46 She writes:
Real Native Americans are not a part of most Euro-Americans lives. Yet
non-Indians feel that their own lives are increasingly unreal and inauthentic, so they imagine a pre-industrial, pre-European America where
things were real and authentic, not representations but originals. Thus
they simulate the original authentic Native American Spirituality and consume it. Meanwhile, their simulations allow them to ignore real indigenous
peoples and the historical and socioeconomic relations that tie them together. 47 Putting on temporary hold the phrase Real Native Americans, I want
to suggest that this pull of authenticitythis anxiety over inauthenticity,
this simulation of the realis nowhere more powerful, covert, or dangerous than in academic pedagogy and criticism.
Its a touchy subject, but the fact is that today ethnicity in general is considered an inviolable form of authenticity and one not to be tampered with.
To a large degree Native American literature is held up as important and
great exactly to the degree that it is authentic. There may be an unsettling
inversion here between the academic and popular perceptions of Indian authenticity. In the popular marketplace native authors experience limited
success, while white authors who cover Indian themes (such as Lynn Andrews and Tony Hillerman) enjoy huge audiences. Sherman Alexie writes
that there are hundreds of books about Indians published every year, yet so
few are written by Indians. When he visits a bookstore he discovers:

inside out in the postmodern west

1. A book written by a person who identies herself as mixedblood will sell more copies than a book written by a person who
identies herself as strictly Indian.
2. A book written by a non-Indian will sell more copies than a
book written by a mixed-blood or Indian writer.
3. A book about Indian life in the pre-twentieth century . . . will sell
more copies than a book about twentieth-century Indian life.
4. If you are a non-Indian writing about Indians, it is almost
guaranteed that Tony Hillerman will write something positive
about you.48

Alexie is signaling multiple polemics here, including, ultimately, his own

skepticism of mixed-blood writers, but hes probably right that Indian writers are less popular and accepted than the idea of Indian culture itself.
The opposite is true in the academic world, in which both authentic
Native American writing and culture have become precious commodities.49
D. H. Lawrence once wrote that the minority of whites intellectualize the
Red Man and laud him to the skies. But this minority of whites is mostly a
high-brow minority with a big grouch against its own whiteness. So there
you are. (Gerald Vizenor, quoting this passage, replies, simply: So, here
we are.) 50 Lawrences remarks seem harsh and perhaps unnecessary today,
and most professors of American literature would agree that there are many
good reasons for including Native American oral and written expression
in the canon of American literature.51 Academics bring Indian literature
inside canonical territory, with an odd effect. Native American literature
appears simultaneously strange and foreign, retaining an outsider status
but through the projection of authenticity it paradoxically takes on an insider status as well, an almost pathologically American body of expression.
The danger, as always, is that the valorization of authenticity runs great
risks for the teaching of literature. Native American Indian literature too
often constitutes a kind of literary Indian Territory, Owens writes, to
which students can be sent briey for a semesters touch of the exotic. 52
Even with the best of intentions teachers and readers get caught reaching
for authenticity. As Susan Bernardin remarks, texts get burdened with the
dual role of confronting and dispensing with a range of assumptions while
also serving as conduits to the real lives and histories of Native peoples. 53
One risk is that, in our desire to overturn the simulated (articial, imitation)
Indian, we end up not with a genuine native (whatever that might be) but

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with new simulations: the Native American and Native American literature. Even the rhetorical transformation taking place over the last quartercentury from the term Indian to Native American, a complicated and contested
transformation, may itself suggest a projectionmore often it seems than
a claim of authenticity onto an ethnic minority by applying the word native, a word that connotes original status.54 Indeed, are we not merely updating the Real West here, not merely saying yet again, the old version is
inauthentic; here is the real? Conversely, are not some forms of representation (of place, identity, experience) more accurate, more authentic, even
more ethical than others? Is there a real Indian or a real Native American
to be found? Can one representation be more real and more authentic
than another, or is this merely playing the authenticity game?
I am hardly suggesting that Native American literature should not be
taught in the college classroom but, rather, recognizing the enormous complexities involved. In Mixedblood Messages Louis Owens asks how Native
American literature can be taught to a wide (largely non-Native) audience:
what of the reader confronted with the world of [ James Welchs] Fools Crow,
or the web of creation in [Silkos] Ceremony, or the trickster narratives of
Vizenor? How does one on the other side of the cultural line go about the
challenge of crossreading, a challenge that for my students often seems
enormously intimidating. 55 It is indeed intimidatingnot only to read
Native American literature but to teach it and to critique it. Or at least it
should be. Too often, as Owens points out, we tend toward the lee shore,
preferring literary works that provide a comfortable, easy tour of colorful
Indian country. 56 So, how can we get inside and stop playing tourist? How
can we make our own reading strategies more appropriate to an encounter
with Indian literature? Do non-Native readers have to imitate nativeness
(play Indian) to get it? What happens to our own readerly identities when
we crossread? Do we, no matter how rooted we are in the West or experienced with western literature, end up suddenly as outsiders trying to enter
the circle? Are we suddenly outsiders inside, to borrow a phrase from
Cheryl Walker? 57
To be sure, many scholars have agonized over the problem of merely
overlaying [Native American literature] with an authoritative and ill-tting
European theory-grid, in Owenss words.58 For example, Susan Berry Brill
de Ramrez warns of the extent to which contemporary literary theories
and criticisms do more to obscure those literatures through (mis)readings
that end up forcing works into interpretive frameworks that they do not

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necessarily t. 59 But given that certain Euro/Russian theorists appear with

regularity (notably Bakhtin but also Foucault, Lacan, even, in Brill de Ramrezs work, Wittgenstein), were left with yet another questioning of authenticity: what forms of European (or Russian) theory are acceptable or
adaptable, and what forms are ill-tting? Who decides? Because nativeness and Native American literature are so often seen as a kind of insider
territory, it may make sense to ask not how the non-Native can get in but
whether the attempt should be made at all. After all, if we resist the label
of tourist, what identity ts? Settler? Guide? Intruder? Sister/Brother?
Guest? Gregory L. Morris asked Elizabeth Cook-Lynn in an interview
whether she writes for an Indian reader who is inside the circleand
then whether there are . . . ways for the non-native reader to enter the
circle. Cook-Lynn replied, Why must non-native readers enter the
circle? and later argued that the metaphor of entering the circle cannot
be taken lightly as it is a familial as well as tribal matter. 60
No doubt, in practice the simple and perhaps best response to these
questions is to learn as much as we can about the specic cultural context
of a worksay, the traditions, stories, and histories of the Laguna Pueblo
culture of Ceremonyand try our best to show how that culture informs the
work. But consider the risks and problems. For one thing, I would argue
(and have throughout this book) that texts do not simply emerge from a cultural context but to a large degree respond to that context, indeed critique,
resist, anticipate, and construct that context. And authors are not functions of cultural power but activate and deploy it. In short, the West does not
stand behind western literature but, rather, the other way around. Yet few
critics want to argue that Silko, for example, constructs or invents southwest New Mexico and its people through complex literary maneuvers.61
Would we want to say that Ceremony is the map that precedes the territory?
Because so much of critical and pedagogical practice relies on the deployment of ethnic texts as proxies for ethnic peoples, in the words of David
Palumbo-Liu, a work like Ceremony seems to reect real Laguna culture.62
Although Ceremony is often treated as postmodern, few would call Silkos
imaginings hyperreal or even imaginings at all. Indeed, my guess is that
most professors of American literature in this country know what they take
to be the real Laguna largely through Silkos masterful novel. (Just as so
many readers know Lakota culture from that hybrid work Black Elk Speaks or
Cherokee culture from that infamously inauthentic work The Education of
Little Tree.) One result is that Ceremony carries enormous cultural authority as

inside out in the postmodern west

an authentic reection of Indianness. And a corresponding result is that

Silkos own imaginative authority is slighted or even ignored. In her penetrating analysis of narration, authorship, and Indianness in Ceremony, Jana
Sequoya-Magdaleno writes: Rather than recognizing essentialist inscriptions as a strategy to locate the work and to set the terms of its reception,
many scholarly interpreters of Native American ction seem to assume that
the writer, however explicitly bicultural, however modernas evidenced
by appropriation of the novel form itselfis nevertheless transparent at
some preconscious level. 63 All too frequently, as always, place and history
(coded in words such as the land, tradition, and story) seem to stand behind
the work. Silko is admired for her translation of Laguna culture but not for
her invention.
In Other Destinies Louis Owens reads Ceremony in exactly this way. In his intelligent and focused reading of the novel, Owens argues that Silko announces in what amounts to textual superscript her own subordination
as author to the story-making authority of Thought-Woman, or Spider
Woman. 64 By placing her novel within the context of the oral tradition,
Silko rejects the egocentric posture of the modern author in favor of what
could be dened as an ecocentric orientation and attempts a culturally determined heteroglossia in which her text serves as transmitter rather than
originator of voices and meanings. He concludes:
As a result, Ceremony, more than any other novel I know of, approaches the category of authorless text. In response to Foucaults rehashed questions, Who really spoke? Is it really he and
not someone else? With what authenticity or originality?Silkos
text points toward the polyvocal oral tradition that predates the
privileged moment of individualization marked by the coming
into being of the notion of author. In the oral tradition, stories are
never original and always have the duty of providing immortality of preventing the death of a culture; the very absence of author illuminates their authenticity. In the present age of author as
icon, one can easily imagine a work such as Ceremony published
with no authors name attached, a delightful possibility.65

Owenss reading is immensely appealing and brightitself a delightful

possibility. But it is one that slides all too easily into the tradition of western
reading, even if the subject here is decidedly Other. The goal, a familiar one,
is the assertion of authenticity and authority through the erasure of creative

inside out in the postmodern west

authorship and the promotion of cultural and environmental history.

Silkos book is not an originator but, rather, a transmitter. To suggest
that her novel redirects or even subverts traditional stories through the creative vision of the author seems almost rude, an imperialist opposition to
true Native culture. (I see it as the opposite, at least in the context of this
book: not to recognize Silkos creative and authorial power would be condescending.) When Paula Gunn Allen criticized Silko for telling Laguna
stories outside of the clan, for Silkos cultural ignorance or even tribal
betrayal, Allen is paradoxically reinscribing Ceremonys authenticity and
power, at least outside that clan. 66
To outsiders Ceremony seems all the more authentic for Allens concerns.
Indeed, her use of an insider/outsider discourse, while suggesting in this
case a violation, nevertheless both emphasizes and polices the notion of
native insiderness. In fact, Allens criticism may suggest a more general
anxiety about the loss of Indian autonomy. As Arnold Krupat puts it in The
Turn to the Native, once there is a degree of circulation of stories, that is,
once narrators permit outside auditors . . . thenagainalthough insiders may be especially well positioned to speak of these stories, there is
no ground on which they can claim sole rights to possession. 67 Furthermore, Allen writes that Silko is unaware of one small but essential bit of information: the information that telling the old stories, revealing the old
ways can only lead to disaster. 68 Allens warning is impressive, and apparently the presence of the novel may cause exactly the kind of harm that it attempts to heal. But, in terms of the novels commercial and canonical
health, telling real Laguna stories is powerful medicine.
It is hardly a stretch, and hardly new, to apply these arguments to the
broader reach of canon reformation itself. Philip J. Deloria argues that in the
early part of the twentieth century American identity was increasingly tied
to a search for an authentic social identity, one that had real meaning in the
face of the anxious displacements of modernity. 69 Deloria points out that
this identity was (and is) frequently found in Indianness. The same holds
true at the beginning of the twenty-rst century, an age seemingly divided
between those, on the one hand, who embrace the posthuman, the cyborg, and the freeplay of postmodern culture and those, on the other hand,
who desperately seek a fount of authenticity in the face of the anxious displacements of postmodernity. The revision of the canon over the past three
decades toward a more inclusive, multicultural set of authors and texts reveals both impulses. On the one hand, revisionists reject the asserted uni213

inside out in the postmodern west

versalism of the past in favor of a canon that reects ethnic hybridity and
cultural plurality. Disbanding the old pantheon seems to offer new recognition for complex ethnic identities (as well as complex gender/sexual orientations, class structures, and so on). Yet the emergence and inclusion of
such categories as Native American Literature threaten to institutionalize
a new form of essentialism, based on an updated, liberal view of canonical
nationalism. The new anthologies and new canons perform the same functions as the old ones: imagining America through overdetermined literary
paradigms. Because of aws in pedagogy and criticism, Elizabeth CookLynn writes, much modern ction in English by American Indians is being
used as the basis for the cynical absorption into the melting pot, pragmatic inclusion in the canon, and involuntary unication of an American
national literary voice. 70 And, even when a category such as Native American literature (or African-American, Asian-American, and so on) retains
its separate and separatist identity, it nevertheless risks becoming yet another monolith, a canonical category as grossly oversimplied as any in
Over this period Native American literature has become an established
category on college syllabuses and anthologies, appearing in predictable
ways in surveys of American literature. For example, anecdotal evidence
suggests that many anthologies and college surveys covering early American literature now begin with Native expressions: the oral traditions,
creation myths, indigenous traditions, and so on. Of course, these stories, because they are oral in nature, are inevitably taken out of historical
context and modernized; unlike a written document, there is no specic
moment to x them. They are just as real and vital in 1970 as they were in
1670 or 1470 (which is not to say they are the same). In fact, the suggestion
that these anthologized translations are somehow original and specic to
pre-Columbian culture is absurd. So, why teach them at the semesters
start, why open an anthology with them? The implicit answer is that Indians
were here rst, and teaching the oral tradition at the start of a semester
conveys that sense of priority. It is the assertion of authenticity, of originality, and a way for Anglo teachers and editors to assuage a little guilt by seeming to emphasize the importance of native cultures. But anecdotal evidence
also suggests that after a week or two many syllabuses then drop Native literature and turn toward the written Anglo record, the latest incarnation of
the canon. The logic seems to be this: since there is little written Indian literature before the nineteenth century, why return to the same oral sto214

inside out in the postmodern west

ries and the same lessons during, for example, the Puritan period, the Federal period, or the Romantic period? Further, in the nineteenth century,
as Cheryl Walker argues, written literature is inevitably bicultural and
heteroglot, sometimes mimicking the discourse of the whites; thus it
seems corrupt, not authentic or pure.71 Unfortunately, such pedagogical
strategies reenact the displacement of native cultures by erasing them as the
semester goes on, except for their presence as Other in writings by, say,
Rowlandson, Franklin, Cooper, and Melville. (Why is it that syllabuses
dont end with the Native literature or the oral traditionhere last?)
My point is not so much to resurrect the tiresome complexities of syllabus making and canon formation as it is to recognize how messy the projection of authenticity can be from across the culture line. Harold Bloom
writes that all canonizing of literary texts is a self-contradictory process,
for by canonizing a text you are troping upon it, which means that you are
misreading it. Canonization is the most extreme version of what Nietzsche
called Interpretation, or the exercise of the Will-to-Power over texts. 72 And,
for Gerald Vizenor, Native American literatures have been pressed into
cultural categories, transmuted by reductionism, animadversions and the
hyperrealities of neocolonial consumerism. 73 Moreover, the very concept
of Native American literaturenecessary, important, and progressive in
many waysis not entirely a Native concept; that is, Indian literature is inevitably taken up and legitimized (authenticated) by dominant non-Native
critical practices. As Krupat argues, Native American literature, like Native American religion, is a Western category. Traditional cultures, he
notes, neither conceptualize nor linguistically articulate the generalized
abstract categories of philosophy, literature, and religion. 74
How, then, does one read from across the culture line? How can we who
are on the other side avoid projecting our own cultural needs (e.g., for authenticity) onto Indian writing? Elizabeth Cook-Lynn writes: Drawing on
the consequences of what started it all, Black Elk Speaks, an ethnographic biography, and House Made of Dawn, a novel, it is clear that the larger culture,
both academic and popular, has been quite adept at replacing whatever political realities those works might have engendered in academic studies
with its own pleasing fantasies. The activities sponsored by the vast numbers of readers of those works have discredited whatever authenticity they
might have had, and the really fearful thing is that there is no way of measuring the effect of these fantasies on Indian communities themselves. 75
We seem hopelessly stuck, caught in a double bind, caught between two

inside out in the postmodern west

iron mountains, as the phrase goes.76 On the one hand, in the words of
David Palumbo-Liu, we encounter the possibilities of containing and coopting the cultural objects of heretofore marginalized peoples, an ignoble
result. On the other hand, we confront the necessity to carry on even in the
face of such possibilities, for to ignore multiethnic texts is a form of silencing and erasure.77 The specic double bind that interests me here is
this: if we read, say, Ceremony in ignorance of Laguna Pueblo culture, we are
simply applying Euroamerican reading strategies onto the text and dismissing an important element of the authors cultural inheritanceand indeed her own implicit instructions for reading the novel. As Daniel F. Littleeld Jr. writes: Relieving readers of the burden of accounting for the
literature [by Native Americans] in a cultural context makes it easier to discuss it in what the Indians call the lit-crit speak tropes of Western literary
criticism. We also relieve the reader of the burden of tribal or Indian national history. Thus it is easy to force the literature into traditional Western
historical constructs so that it becomes what we want it to be or think it
should be. 78 And, as Susan Bernardin puts it, by loosening American Indian literary texts from their cultural matrices, readers risk, at the least,
misreading, and the worst, emptying out these texts specicities in the
name of universalizing interpretive strategies. 79 But, if we read for Laguna
cultural practices (or, worse, a more generalized Native American attitude
toward, say, nature or spirituality), we are participating in the game of authenticity, a circular game, as Bernardin explains, in which the identication of a texts Indian features becomes entangled with assigning that
self-same text as cultural informant or race representative. Again, we end
up reading a work of literature for its portrayal of history, ignoring authorial invention, and possibly inscribing renewed fantasies of history and
identity onto the text.
David Palumbo-Liu warns against models of teaching and reading ethnic literary texts [that] assume their status as authentic, unmediated representations of ethnicity. He argues that, in such scenarios, material history
is reduced to being an inuence on the individual writers art, an inuence
that, once understood, can be subsumed in the production of understanding, not sustained in a critique of historical, political process. 80 These
models are all the more invisible when applied within the context of western literature, in which the assumption that regional landscape and culture
overwhelm authorial design is standard operating procedure. Once we understand authors as being sophisticated and ambitious in their reections

inside out in the postmodern west

of and responses to cultural inheritance; understand them as negotiating

and subverting the very canonical categories into which they are placed; and
recognize, and enjoy, the performativity of representationthen we begin
to liberate (if that word is not too strong) western literature from the prison
house of authenticity.
Inghting and Inwriting: Postmodernism, Canons, and Constructs
Native stories are a literary giveaway.
gerald vizenor, Fugitive Poses

Most readers, teachers, and critics who teach Native American literature in
this country are non-Native, working from across the culture line. Crossreading, the practice of encountering Indian literature, seems to reinscribe
the dichotomy between us and them. Even Arnold Krupat, who argues
for an ethnocriticism that seeks to traverse rather than occupy a great variety of middle grounds 81 that seeks to avoid the imposition of a dominant
(Anglo) discourse, still wryly describes himself as a nice Jewish boy among
the Indians. 82 Krupat positions himself as an outsiderthough one with
a signicant and self-conscious commitment to the eld. Yet even here the
claim of being an outsider is a gentle claim of inauthenticity, and inauthenticity preserves the very concept of the authentic. (My own initial outsider
claim does this as well.) Terry Tempest Williamss alignment of her Mormon heritage with the Navajo culture in Pieces of White Shell and Ian Fraziers
self-professed assimilation of Indianness in On the Rez both reinforce the
category of Native; their failures or ultimate refusals to become Indian protect the category of Indian. I dont mean to suggest that playing Indian is
harmless and certainly not that it preserves in any meaningful way Native
culture. Quite the opposite. Of course, crossreading too often preserves the
simulation of the Indian, turning the Indian into a museum piece, and Indians themselves end up succumbing to or simply adopting the simulationthey, too, play Indian. In other words, from across the culture line
the we that I employed in the previous section seems all too securewe are
non-Natives, non-Indians. But who are they?
Determining Indian identity and Indianness itself can be an impoverishing business. Does it depend on blood quantum? Tribal enrollment or federal recognition? Reservation experience? Education? Political/tribal values? And who decides? Arnold Krupat and Brian Swann offer three forms of
Indian identity: (1) Nationalists generally dene Indian identity as a matter

inside out in the postmodern west

of tribal enrollment, which generally implies blood quantum; (2) Indigenists nd this position unacceptably Eurocentric, and, instead, look to
an ecologically based philosophy or system of indigenous values . . . regardless of blood, although indigenists seem somewhat ambivalent about
whether just anyone can be Indian; and (3) The cosmopolitan position is
articulated through Vizenors character Stone Columbus, who would accept as tribal anyone committed to the values of healing rather than stealing tribal cultures, no blood attached or scratched. Krupat and Swann
themselves default to a position rst articulated by Swann: Native Americans are Native Americans if they say they are, if other Native Americans
say they are and accept them, and (possibly) if the values that are held close
and acted upon are values upheld by the various native peoples who live in
the Americas. 83 In other words, the denitions are quite loose. In his essay
Chopping Down the Sacred Tree Larry McMurtry, after reminding readers
of his own Sioux blood, argues that the most gifted of the writers who are
called Native American nowN. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko,
Louise Erdrich, Joy Harjo, Gerald Vizenor, Sherman Alexie, and others
have for two generations ranged widely through the white academies, from
Dartmouth and Cambridge to Stanford and Seattle; they not only know
what their ancestors knew as tribal people, they know what our ancestors
knew as dead white Europeans. With this long mixing of bloods and cultures it is now less easy, in speaking of Native Americans, to know to what
extent they are we and we they. 84
Nevertheless, the boundaries marking insider and outsider, though
shifting, are carefully monitored and policed by those inside, those outside,
and those in-between. For example, Ward Churchill, a self-described indigenist, criticizes Gary Snyder for his appropriation of Indian traditions and
spirituality. He quotes Snyder as saying: Spirituality is not something
which can be owned like a car or house. . . . Spiritual knowledge belongs
to all humanity equally. Given the state of the world today, we all have not
only the right but the obligation to pursue all forms of spiritual insight. 85
Churchill argues that the traditional Indian perspective is diametrically
opposed to this kind of thinking and quotes Russell Means as saying:
Whats at issue here is the same old question that Europeans have always
posed with regard to American Indians, whether whats ours isnt somehow
theirs. . . . And those who engage in this [appropriation] are not cute,
groovy, hip, enlightened, or any of the rest of the things they want to project
themselves as being. No, what theyre about is cultural genocide. 86

inside out in the postmodern west

Equally revealing are the border wars within the circle. These wellknown skirmishes over authenticity need not be rehearsed, only listed:
Paula Gunn Allen versus Leslie Silko, Leslie Silko versus Louise Erdrich,
Elizabeth Cook-Lynn versus Michael Dorris, Sherman Alexie versus Louis
Owens, and so on. These debates focus on questions of identity (whos an
Indian?), experience (on or off the reservation?), education (tribal or Euroamerican?), tone (victimry or survival?), and representation (accurate or
misleading?). The disagreement between these writersintense, passionate, and sincerereveals whats at stake. For many Native American writers the debates over authenticity do not involve academic theories but,
rather, personal and tribal concerns. Postmodernism, which so often dismisses the idea of authenticity as a naive cultural construction, might very
well seem to deny the validity of these writers arguments. To what degree
are postmodern theory and Native American literature compatible? And,
second, to what degree are the canons of western American literature and
Native American literature compatible or coterminous? There can be no
doubt that these question are inquiring into authorial identity and the
claims of authenticity, but ultimately the issues may be much deeper, involving cultural survival itself. And, if these questions have answersadmittedly a dubious possibilitythose answers may emerge from a critique
of authenticity. Sidner Larson has written: If the authenticity debate can be
explained as a kind of allegorical representative of the postmodern American Indian condition, it may nally nd its appropriate context. 87 Larson
summarizes the authenticity debate as one usually grounded in blood
quantum: Lately, however, the debate has also branched into discussions
of whether the content of Indian writing is authentic, which opens up the
new problem of who is qualied to judge. In addition, the debate ranges
from expressions of personal frustration about who gets to be Indian to
rst-rate analyses of the problems related to authenticity. 88 In what ways
might this debate serve as an allegorical representative of the postmodern
American Indian condition or, I would add, of American Indian literature?
In Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism Craig S. Womack argues
against the skepticism of postmodernism. 89 He endorses forms of cultural and canonical separatism and promotes the recognition of insider/
outsider boundaries and, arguably, Indian authenticity. It is way too premature, he writes, for Native scholars to deconstruct history when we
havent yet constructed it. 90 While being careful not to promote the idea
of Native perspectives [that] are pure, authoritative, uncontaminated by

inside out in the postmodern west

European inuences, he acknowledges an interest in the idea of a Native

consciousness. The notion that all things Native are, in reality, ltered
through contact with Europe is, for Womack, an assimilationist ideology,
a retreat into sameness. He concludes: To be sure, there is no one pure or
authoritative act that constitutes Native literary criticism. We can only take
such a notion so far, though. The postmodernists might laugh at claims of
prioritizing insider status, questioning the very nature of what constitutes
an insider. . . . In terms of a reality check, however, we might remind ourselves that authenticity and insider and outsider status are, in fact, often discussed in Native communities, especially given the historical reality that
outsiders have so often been the ones interpreting things Indian. 91 Womacks reality check is well taken. And bell hooks points to a similar academic dismissal in her essay Postmodern Blackness: It never surprises
me when black folks respond to the critique of essentialism, especially
when it denies the validity of identity politics by saying, Yeah, its easy to
give up identity, when you got one. Should we not be suspicious of postmodern critiques of the subject when they surface at a historical moment
when many subjugated people feel themselves coming to voice for the rst
time. 92 The postmodern impulse to distrust the subject, history, tradition, and metanarrative may well hit native cultures where they live, and Euroamerican critics may be quicker to dismiss what Cook-Lynn calls the reality of race memory as it is connected to environment and geography, or
even to dismiss Indianness itself, than many Native critics.93
Womack recognizes two separate canons: our American canon, the
Native literary canon of the Americas, and their American canon (7), presumably the largely Euroamerican tradition. We might, in this case, subdivide yet again, identifying separate canons of Native American literature
and western American literature. Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, who argues against
the imposition of western literary history on Native writing, has said, Indians have no relationship to what America calls the West at all. To her this
West is an imperialist construction, and she wants no part of it: I dont read
the literature of the American West either for pleasure or instruction. If
I read it at all it is out of obligation, that is, as a scholar I must read certain
texts. 94 She expresses little interest in crossreading. As she puts it, canon
theory and critical theory rise out of pedagogy, not the other way around . . .
thereby magnifying issues of cultural authenticity. Since, in general, the
faculties in departments where these works are taught are often the last
places to draw in any great numbers of Native scholars, it is quite likely that

inside out in the postmodern west

conicting and minority views will be dismissed, distorted, or unknown. 95

Cook-Lynn emphasizes the need for cultural autonomy, and this extends
beyond the academy to literary production; 96 she is especially critical of Indian writers, often mixed-blood, who she feels contribute to Euroamerican
domination by abandoning the principles of tribalism and sovereignty.97
Naturally, many writers and critics take issue with Womacks separatism
and Cook-Lynns tribalism. Joy Harjo, for example, sees Indian literature as
being not outside the mainstream of American literature but closer to
the center of an American literature that is undeniably multiethnic.98 Similarly, Louise Erdrich has said, I dont think American Indian literature
should be distinguished from mainstream literature. Setting it apart and
saying that people with special interest might read this literature sets Indians apart too. 99 In more extensive critical commentaries Louis Owens and
Arnold Krupat (who is non-Native) have both argued for the importance
of mixed-blood or bicultural Indian writing, tending to see the very performance of cultural exchange and literary dialogism as crucial elements of
Native literature. Signicantly, both Owens and Krupat have expressed
mixed feelings about postmodernism and its implicit critique of Native
identity and authenticity. In Ethnocriticism: Ethnography, History, Literature
Krupat announces his substantial disagreement with postmodernist
orientations for criticism and writes that he wants to argue against the
politics of postmodernism . . . in the interest of ethnocriticisms very different politics. 100 Krupat is concerned that postmodernisms insistence on
absolute relativism, its celebration of the prisonhouse of rhetoric and ideology, 101 and its fracturing of metanarrativesand even group stories
tend to produce an academic culture incapable of political action or even
compelling critical discourse. At the same time, Krupat is highly suspicious
of traditional binaries, both the binaries of insider/outsider separatism
and, more pointedly, the binaries that he perceives in the very postmodern
treatments of Indian literary and cultural practices (14). Instead, he argues
for a frontier, understood as simply that shifting space in which two cultures encounter one another (5). With implications for canonical and cultural history, Krupats idea of ethnocriticism challenges the binary nature of
separatism, which too often serves to justify that form of postcolonial revisionism of victimry (20). He argues in The Turn to the Native that the production of knowledge about Native American literatures is usefully sited
among both insiders and outsiders and that these literatures should

inside out in the postmodern west

be strongly represented in American literature courses and in specic

courses on Indian literatures.102
Louis Owens sees similar traps in postmodernism and similar possibilities for crossreading. In Other Destinies Owens allows that thanks in part to
critics such as Foucault and Lyotard, marginalized literatures are moving
onto the center screen of critical concerns. Owens, however, goes on to
suggest that Native American writers have their reservations; they work for
the most part consciously outside the concerns of postmodern theorists, at
times working at odds with the aims of deconstructionist theory. 103 Owens
is playing here with the insider/outsider binary, implying that Indian writers own an insider status (have their reservations) exactly because they
work outside the illusory world of contemporary academic (postmodern)
theory. Owens is particularly concerned with postmodernisms rejection of
authenticity and stable identity, an approach that he sees as being in basic
disagreement with Indian literature: repeatedly in Indian ction . . . we are
shown the possibility of recovering a centered sense of personal identity
and signicance. 104 While hardly a nationalist or a purist, Owens argues
that Native American writing represents an attempt to recover identity and
authenticity by invoking and incorporating the world found within the oral
traditionthe reality of myth and ceremonyan authorless original literature. 105 Still, Owens is committed to transcultural dialogue, and in
Mixedblood Messages he suggests that the Native American novel is the quintessential postmodern frontier text in large part because it denies the
boundaries of cultural identity and, instead, presents what Mary Louise
Pratt calls a contact zone between cultures.106
Gerald Vizenor is the most visible presence among critics promoting the
applicability of postmodern theory to Native American literature. Indeed,
the theory itself may be secondary, the stories primary, themselves displaying the elusive tricks and maneuvers of postmodernism. In his oft-quoted
preface to Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian Literatures Vizenor suggests that the postmodern opened in tribal imagination;
oral cultures have never been without a postmodern condition that enlivens
stories and ceremonies. 107 The ironies and humor in the postmodern,
he argues in Manifest Manners, are heard in tribal narrativesin their performative and trickster poses.108 For Vizenor (and most postmodern theorists) the postmodern pose is a noetic mediation that denies historicism
and representation; in particular, it denies the kitschy speculation on the
basic truth. 109 But, if oral cultures and subsequent Indian literatures (em222

inside out in the postmodern west

bodied in the gure of the trickster) display the postmodern, the postmodern also displays the indian. As previously indicated, Vizenor argues
that the familiar representation of the indian is a simulation, a hyperreal
construction. Given the presence of the postmodern in the Native canon
and the simulation of the indian in the traditional literary canon, it follows
that Vizenor advocates and employs the use of postmodern theory as a strategy of critical inquiry. Trickster hermeneutics, he writes, is access to
trickster stories, and the shimmer of a tribal presence in simulations; this
new course of tribal interpretation arises from the postindian turns in literature, the reach of tribal shadows, postmodern conditions of translation, the traces of deconstruction, and the theories of representation and
simulation. 110
With these summaries in mind, let me conclude with some speculations
on postmodernism, authenticity, and Native American literature.
The Vanishing American. Native American writers take the offering of
postmodernism and reciprocate with a postmodern turn of their own. They
turn non-Natives into simulations and simulacra. Simon Ortiz has said: If
the critic really looked at what Native America was and is today, he would
have to undo the construct that America according to Western civilization and its rationalizations is. He would have to throw it all out. He would
have to say this is all wrong; the Native American is indeed right. There is a
realnot only a hesitation denial of what the real America is; and the
real America is the Native America of indigenous people and the indigenous
principle they represent. Thats the real America. The critics refuse to live
with that. Its too fearful. 111 Ortiz is expanding the notion of insider/
outsider canons to their logical end or beginning. He is presenting the
same choice that Morpheus presents Neo in the Baudrillard-inspired lm
The Matrix: take the red pill and see the posthuman real, or take the blue pill
and continue to exist in a reassuring hyperreality. If the real America is the
Native America, then non-Natives produce and inhabit an unreal or at least
less real America. Interestingly, while Ortiz seems to be promoting a nationalist authenticity, Native writers need not claim an insider statusnonNative critics set up those boundaries themselves. Here the Anglo critic is
emphatically an outsider, working toward absence rather than presence.
For the critic, playing Indian may seem to simulate the Indian and authenticity, but it in effect produces not a sense of authenticity but the opposite:
critics end up performing outsiderness, insisting on their identity as copy,
as imitation. They draw circles, that authentic shape, only to peer in from

inside out in the postmodern west

the outside. They make themselves into absences. So, we might revise
Vizenors argument that the indian is the invention, and indian cultures are
simulations by saying that the non-Native critic is the invention and academic culture is a simulation.112 The ultimate ironic act of imitation is exactly this: critics become vanishing Americans. They imitate a grotesque
simulation and disappear in the process.
The Giveaway. Gerald Vizenor writes, many native authors have actuated
a literary giveaway in their stories, and a narrative of deconstruction of cultural dominance. 113 This giveaway is hardly free, for it produces a debt
[that] is a lasting, moral obligation of the nation. 114 The process of this
giveaway, however, necessitates that in order to deconstruct victimry, cultural dominance, and the indian, each Native author must essentially turn
not only outward to the broader arena of cultural oppression but inward
at least look into the mirror at his or her own projected image, a double
double. Challenging the simulation of the Indian means reexamining Indianness and the relationship between an author and region. Perhaps we
are seeing the repayment of that debt in debates over authenticity, in which
boundaries and intellectual reservations are repeatedly redrawn. Should
these lines be made more permanent, marking a separate Indian territory?
Or do the lines themselves reproduce static notions of Indianness while
containing and ghettoizing Native American literature?
Chance Arrangements. When asked to comment on his autobiography, Interior Landscapes, Gerald Vizenor once said, I create my life in oral stories, and
so create my life in the book. Chances, not causes, are my stories. I tried in
my autobiography to relate the chance and ironies of my experiences.
Chance is my best sense of the real, and chance must deny the cause of victimry. 115 Vizenors conception of chance has received signicant attention, notably from Louis Owens, who expresses concern that a mere capitulation to chance, or random event, would deny the emphasis upon our
ultimate responsibility for ordering and sustaining the world we inhabit
that is central to Native American ecosystemic cultures. 116 Yet the responsibility for ordering may be understood as a novelists (or a cultures)
impulse to bring order to chance and disorder. If the real is imbued with,
sustained by, or dependent on chance and randomness, then written literature is inevitably containing rather than liberating. Western literature, I
have argued, does exactly that: places boundaries around its subject, using
the claim of authenticity to conceal its very lack of the real. But, if the real is
recognized to be unstable and dened by chance, then representing it is

inside out in the postmodern west

equally loosed from its moorings. Following Vizenors lead, we might say
that such a literature is open to new arrangements and at the very least no
longer committed to representational realism.
The West as Native America. The difculty of dening canonical or genre
boundaries is immense. Is western Native American literature recognizable
as western literature? It seems to me that traditional answers (in either the
afrmative or negative) have emphasized the complexity of Indian literature
and the stability of western literature. Western literature is usually dened
in terms of regional geography or sociology (e.g., aridity, meridians, social
mores), but the essential western impulse toward realism is rarely addressed. But, if western literature (whatever its limits) is recognized, instead, as unstable and prone to a kind of representational entropy, in which
signication tends toward absence and chaos, then perhaps were closer to
answering the question. Both claim or enact an authenticity, both are received as authentic, yet both also refuse to be limited by cultural projections. Traditionally, both convey skepticism about individualized authorship, and both enforce a commitment to environmental and cultural
authority. Perhaps most important, both western literature and Native literature can claim a postmodern impulse, a tendency toward change, chance,
and elusiveness.
Back to the Future. I am primarily interested in understanding the literary
implications of these issues: how the narratives and rhetorics of creative
representations produce the effects they do. But those effects clearly manifest themselves in political and cultural alterations. It seems to me profoundly important to study the manner in which the idea of authenticity
structures the production and reception of texts, the perception of group
and individual identities, and the cultural understanding of reality itself.
Yet, as Susan Bernardin writes, even when wielded self-consciously, the
discourse of authenticity risks the reinscription of the very categorical values it seeks to dismantle. 117 And, ultimately, the idea of authenticity is culture consuming; it can only exist in a culture that feels alienated from itself.
And thus, for both literary and cultural praxis, it may be that the idea of authenticity is destructive and must be abandoned. As Robert Allen Warrior
writes, both American Indian and Native Americanist discourses continue
to be preoccupied with parochial questions of identity and authenticity. Essentialists categories still reign insofar as more of the focus of scholarship
has been to reduce, constrain, and contain American Indian literature and

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thought and to establish why something or someone is Indian than engage the myriad critical issues crucial to an Indian future. 118
No Future: Outsiders in the Next West
The American Old West symbolizes honesty and clean living for us, said
a 61-year-old cowboy, who only goes by the name Jackson. Here, nobody
Life at the Czech Corral, Boston Globe, on Wild West Town,
Boskovice, Czech Republic

On 14 January 1978, in San Francisco, the Sex Pistols played their nal concert.119 The British punk band had been in the United States for less than
two tumultuous weeks, heading west on a tour from Georgia through Texas
and Oklahoma before their implosion in California. In a sense they were extending a tradition of European writers and artists touring the West, performing as cultural curiosities and offering critiques of American social values. Alexis de Tocqueville, Frances Trollope, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde,
D. H. Lawrence, Antonin Dvorak, Igor Stravinsky, Michel Foucault, and
countless others visited the West, bringing European sensibilities and sensational entertainment to the hinterlands. The Sex Pistols, however, seemed
to invert the process in one crucial way: they embodied savagery, not Old
World civilization, and were consequently treated by the natives as if they
were exhibits in what might be called producer Malcolm McLarens traveling Wild Waste Show. But these savages-on-display didnt seem to represent ancient history, as Parkman had assumed of American Indians; instead, they seemed to portend a new wave of anarchy and art. In this
inversion they were turning history back upon itself. And they began that
San Francisco show, like every show on the abbreviated tour, with God
Save the Queen, the punk anthem in which Johnny Rotten screams the
quintessential refrain, No Future.
Postmodernism, for which the Sex Pistols serve as a kind of amateur
house band, offers the same refrain. Not only no future but no past as well.
What might this mean for the literary West, a represented region that delivers endless bits of nostalgia and frontier logic and serves as the textual embodiment of Americas past and future? It is perhaps an odd coincidence
that many of the most inuential foreign writers of postmodern ction
and theory would take a particular interest in the American West. (It is, of
course, no coincidence at all.) This section will focus on three: Vladimir

inside out in the postmodern west

Nabokov, Peter Handke, and Jean Baudrillard. All three have written of the
West as the postmodern incarnation of America and, to varying degrees,
treat western landscapes and themes as inuences on their own authorial
imaginations. All three are careful to depict themselves as outsiders, and
none ever claims native knowledge. And yet each also portrays certain experiences as decidedly western: for Nabokov it is a tour through a Wild West
story; for Handke a visit with John Ford; and for Baudrillard a viewing of
Death Valleys cinematic spectacle. Are these experiences authentic for
Nabokov, Handke, and Baudrillard? To a certain degree they are, exactly because each is the experience of the hyperreal. These writers do not disparage or ridicule the role of authenticity in the West but, instead: (1) marvel at
the American obsession with the Real West; (2) investigate the relationship
between realism and the West and how this relationship has affected western literature and art; and (3) indulge in the gaps between representation
and the West. And, even though each writer can hear the postmodern refrain of No Past/No Future, these writers are surprisingly sanguine in these
works, offering an optimism often missing in their other writings. Perhaps
that optimism is an outsiders luxury.
Of the three Nabokov devoted the most time to western reections. Beginning in the early 1950s, he traveled throughout the West, hunting butteries, writing, and sightseeing. By 1967 he could remark: I am as American as April in Arizona. The ora, the fauna, the air of the Western states
are my links with Asiatic and Arctic Russia. 120 Nabokovs West is frequently tinged by this kind of nostalgia for a lost land, a lost time, a lost textuality. His experiences in the Westin Texas, in Colorado, in Oregon, and
elsewhereappear throughout his late ction. In Lolita, much of which
was written in Oregon and the West, Nabokov offers extended ruminations
on the region, as Humbert Humbert and Lolita voyage across country; 121 in
Pale Fire Nabokov exiles editor/narrator Charles Kinbote to Utana (near a
very loud amusement park), an invented hybrid of Utah and Montana;
even in Ada or Ardor and Look at the Harlequins! Nabokov interposes western
images. But it is the extraordinary chapter 10 of his autobiography, Speak,
Memory (1966), in which Nabokov most fully explores the literary West.
Chapter 10 of Speak, Memory is arguably the most underappreciated work
of twentieth-century western literature. Originally appearing as an autobiographical essay in the New Yorker in 1949, the chapter conveys Nabokovs
debt to western writing and culture, playfully weaving his childhood memories of Mayne Reids Headless Horseman (1865) with reminiscences about his

inside out in the postmodern west

own sexual and authorial developmentand occasionally interjecting references to more contemporary western excursions. The baroque precision
and complexity of Nabokovs essay defy analysis and echo Reids typically
convoluted Western, which involves multiple plots, mistaken identities,
and obscure actions.122 But at every turn Nabokov returns to western iconography and mythology to explain his own experiences. He recalls, for example, how he and his cousin Yuri would act out scenes from the Headless
Horseman, dueling like Maurice the Mustanger (in actuality an Irish nobleman) and Cassius Calhoun (the scoundrel cousin of the desirable Louise
Pointdexter). Later, for obvious reasons, he names a young woman at a
roller-skating rink with a twangy feminine voice Louise and expresses
outrage when he spots her with a dashing instructor, a sleek rufan of the
Calhoun type. Nabokov imagines that the following night the instructor
was shot, lassoed, buried alive, shot again, throttled, bitingly insulted,
coolly aimed at, spared, and left to drag a life of shame. 123
Perhaps no evocation is more poignant than the shocking recollection of
Yuris death. The rst sections nal paragraph opens with Nabokov suddenly remembering a visit with Yuri in which the teenage boys exchanged
clothes, like Maurice Gerald and doomed Henry Pointdexter, Louises
brother. Nabokov then describes a swing on which they would play, one of
the boys lying on the ground underneath and the other dangerously swinging from what seemed an enormous height, passing just a couple of
inches above the supine ones face. The unprepared reader is hardly allowed the luxury of allusion, for, if Nabokov wants us to remember that
the doomed Henry is indeed decapitated in Reids story, there is yet another headless horseman. And three years later, Nabokov writes midparagraph, without warning, as a cavalry ofcer in Denikins army, he was
killed ghting the Reds in northern Crimea. I saw him dead in Yalta, the
whole front of his skull pushed back by the impact of several bullets, which
had hit him like the iron board of a monstrous swing. Yuris lifelong
thirst for that ultimate gallant gallop was quenched. Nabokov concludes the rst section by writing: Had I been competent to write his epitaph, I might have summed up matters by sayingin richer words than I
can muster herethat all emotions, all thoughts, were governed in Yuri by
one gift: a sense of honor equivalent, morally, to absolute pitch (199 200).
Here we witness Nabokov at the height of his powers, and knowing it. The
closing metaphor is indeed a stunning epitaph for Yuri, and Nabokov,
surely realizing his literary feat, delays the delivery, rhetorically building up

inside out in the postmodern west

a sense of expectation and anticipation that he had denied in his sudden disclosure of Yuris horrible death. The result is brilliant syntactically but produces an odd effect. Nabokov seems to pit his own genius (or competency)
as a writer against Yuris legacy; the power of this sentence is in the presentation, not in the tribute. Ultimately, there is a tension between Yuris death
and Nabokovs stylistic performance, between narrative and authorial ego,
between experience (the real) and expression (representation). And it is this
tension that Nabokov explores through his use of the West.
To a degree Nabokov uses this chapter to describe his own authorial development as a kind of western spectacle. It comes as something of a surprise when he traces his own writerly past to Reids Western. His recollection of Louise Pointdexter, standing upon the edge of her azotea, holding
a lorgnette, triggers a realization: that lorgnette I found afterward in the
hands of Madame Bovary, and later Anna Karenin had it, and then it passed
into the possession of Chekhovs Lady with the Lapdog and was lost by her
on the pier at Yalta (202). At rst it is hard to imagine that Nabokov seriously wants readers to trace the prestigious Russo-European literary tradition back to a forgotten Wild West story or even to trace Nabokovs own aesthetic sensibilities to that Western. But his gesture is itself a dramatic show,
and throughout the chapter he continuously presents himself as a master of
rhetorical spectacle. I am now going to do something quite difcult, he
grandly announces at the end of the second section, a kind of double somersault with a Welsh waggle (old acrobats will know what I mean), and I
want complete silence, please (204). Nabokov, as usual, is attempting to
control the textual show and the readers experience, but what is especially
interesting here is that the difcult acrobatic performance constitutes the
control of not only his writing but of Mayne Reids as well. Just as his epitaph for Yuri turned into a stylistic tour de force, so his homage to Reids
Western is, instead, a coup. Nabokov reaches into the heart of the Western
and pulls out the real thing: his own West and his own authorial identity.
Nabokov uses the idea of performance as itself a stage to command. He
recalls sitting in an orchestra box at the Wintergarten, enjoying the show
that included jugglers and a bicycle act (207). He subsequently performs his
own bicycle act, in which he rides by the coachmans daughter, the seductive Polenka.124 Even the encyclopedia, with its abbreviations to save space,
acquired the trumpery fascination of a masquerade (208).125 Perhaps the
most visible spectacle is the barroom ght between Maurice and Calhoun,
which Nabokov describes: The duel took place there and then, in the emp229

inside out in the postmodern west

tied barroom, the men using Colts six-shooters. Despite my interest in the
ght (. . . both were wounded . . . their blood spurted all over the sanded
oor . . . ), I could not prevent myself from leaving the saloon in my fancy to
mingle with the hushed crowd in front of the hotel, so as to make out (in the
scented dark) certain seoritas of questionable calling (201; Nabokovs
suspension points). Nabokov here treats Reids story as a projection, a virtual Western reality in which he can control his own movements. (As always, Nabokov claims as a reader exactly the interpretive freedom that, as
author, he consistently denies to his readers.) While it may seem that he is
embracing anonymity, mingling with the hushed crowd, the effect is exactly the opposite: Nabokov here becomes the star, a director of the images.
He is rewriting Reid according to his own interests and desires and, despite
his childhood inability to control his reading focus, moving through Reids
western world at authorial will.
Remarkably, Nabokovs most thorough deconstruction of the Real West
is nearly invisible and easily missed, for it takes place in the essays very rst
paragraph. He begins chapter 10: The Wild West ction of Captain Mayne
Reid (1818 1883), translated and simplied, was tremendously popular
with Russian children at the beginning of this century, long after his American fame had faded. Knowing English, I could savor his Headless Horseman
in the unabridged original (195). Nabokov immediately implies that both
the past and authenticity itself are textual matters. The original Wild West
is an edition of ction. Moreover, in these opening sentences Nabokov
shifts the focus from Reids writing to his own reading, a transformation
that continues to evolve. The paragraph concludes:
The edition I had (possibly a British one) remains in the stacks of
my memory as a puffy book bound in red cloth, with a watery-gray
frontispiece, the gloss of which had been gauzed over when the
book was new by a leaf of tissue paper. I see this leaf as it disintegratedat rst folded improperly, then torn offbut the frontispiece itself, which no doubt depicted Louise Pointdexters unfortunate brother . . . has been so long exposed to the blaze of my
imagination that it is now completely bleached (but miraculously
replaced by the real thing, as I noted when translating this chapter
into Russian in the spring of 1953, and namely, by the view from a
ranch you and I rented that year: a cactus-and-yucca waste whence
came that morning the plaintive call of a quailGambels Quail, I


inside out in the postmodern west

believe overwhelming me with a sense of underserved attainments and rewards). (195 96)

Reids novel gives ground to Nabokovs writing, and Reid himself dematerializes in the course of the paragraph. First, Nabokov seems to reimagine
Borgess On Exactitude in Science, the celebrated short fable in which
cartographers create a map so exact that it coincided point for point with
the empire itself, essentially covering the territory.126 In Borgess story the
map decays over time, leaving Tattered Ruins throughout the territory.
(Baudrillard later uses this story to announce that in a postmodern world it
is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map.) 127
For Nabokov both the tissue paper and the frontispiece are texts. While it
would seem that the tissue paper is the decaying map and the frontispiece
is the territory, in fact both decay, one materially and the other mnemonically. Nabokovs imagination is so powerful that it bleached Reids fantastic imageand replaced it with the real thing, Nabokovs own image
of the West. The replacement of Reids West with Nabokovs West is deceptively exact, for the original (Reids frontispiece) also contained a view of
yucca and cactus.128 Moreover, Nabokov himself replaces Reid in this paragraph: rst, he evolves from reader to writer and translator; and, second, he
concludes with his own attainments and rewards, while Reids American
fame had faded. Even the desired Louise is replaced by Nabokovs own
wife, Vera, identied in the address to you. For Nabokov the literary West
is always hyperreal, a text to be recoded rather than revised.
A generation after Nabokov, Peter Handke took up the subject of the
West, again as a hyperreal projection. Handke, considered one of Europes
most accomplished writers of postmodern ction, did a lecture tour of the
United States in 1971 and the following year used his experiences to write
Short Letter, Long Farewell (Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied). The unnamed
narrator of this novel begins his story in New England and gradually, somewhat randomly, makes his way west (St. Louis, Tucson, Oregon, California), pursued by his estranged and apparently homicidal wife, Judith.
Spending much of the trip with his friend Claire and her young daughter, Benedictine, the narrator travels across an America that appears both
shallow and deceptive. Handke, who famously dislikes literature with a
story, 129 invents a self-absorbed narrator whose neurotic uncertainty produces a questionable narrative reality that is mirrored in American iconography. As June Schlueter writes, he becomes increasingly conscious of the

inside out in the postmodern west

presence of America, a consciousness which creates an ongoing dialectic

between the outer world of America and his own elusive inner world. 130
This dialectic mirrors the narrators status as an outsider to an elusive
American culture except that it is a culture without an inside, a culture
that reects only the hyperreal. The narrator is a postmodern neurasthenic,
turning to regional simulations for his West cure.
Handke is often labeled by the European Left as an apolitical and narcissistic writer more concerned with language than with social issuesand
Handke himself has declared that his primary interest as a writer is language.131 Yet Handkes fascination with the fabricated, textualized West reveals, of course, an engagement with the Real West and with cultural constructions. Gerd Gemnden has written that for Handke America and
its landscapes, culture, and cinema serve as an imagistic exteriority onto
which the narrator can project his imported preoccupations; but that
imagistic exteriority is already a projection, a hyperreal America, and so
Handke is projecting onto a projection.132 Like Nabokov, Handke is retextualizing an already textualized Real West. Gemnden points out that in the
novel America is rst and foremost an imaginary America, pre-fabricated
out of images, characters from novels and lms, landscapes and buildings
familiar from advertisements and billboardsa hyperreal place in which
the narrators stied imagination struggles to distinguish reality from representation. 133 Naturally, this struggle is a futile one. In hyperreal America
there can be no distinction between reality and representation, between the
map and the territory, between authentic and inauthentic. And it is in the
American West that Handkes narrator arrives at an understanding of this
world and a surprisingly peaceful acceptance of it.
Although the novel revels in signs of the West from the start (the Yellow
Ribbon associated with John Fords lm is an especially prevalent icon), it
rst fully dramatizes the nature of western signication during an extended
scene that takes place in St. Louis. This scene opens the books second half,
and the city that proclaims itself the Gateway to the West serves exactly
that function in the novel. Claire, Benedictine, and the narrator stay with an
unnamed couple, old friends of Claire. The man is an artist who paints
movie posters and also episodes in the settlement of the West, landscapes
with covered wagons and riverboats. 134 This artist sees the West in terms
of representation and in turn sees representation as faithfully recalling history. As he and the narrator stand in the garden one night at sunset, the artist comments on the yellow light cast upon the blank canvas of an interior

inside out in the postmodern west

wall. Comparing this color to the yellow seen in a Catlin or Remington

painting, he explains to the narrator, youll only nd that kind of yellow
light in the Western paintings of the last century. Nowadays you see imitations of that yellow wherever you go, he remarks, listing highway signs
and McDonalds arches. Its a color that makes you remember, he concludes, and the longer you look at it, the further back you remember, till
you reach a point where you cant go any further. At that point you can only
stand there and dream (118 19). Handke is alluding to Fitzgeralds Great
Gatsby, the novel that the narrator is reading at the beginning of Short Letter,
Long Farewell. (I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all,
Nick Carraway remarks near the end of his story.) The artists lyrical vision
of the yellow light recalls Gatsbys association of Daisy, the green light, and
the original moment of Dutch arrival. But, if Fitzgerald exploited the myth
of America and created in Gatsby a most appealing fake, he at least lent some
stability to the representation of Daisy, the dock light, and the presettlement American continent.135 In Handkes version, however, the referents
are both vague and unreal, signiers only aping other signiers and gesturing toward the hyperreal. The yellow light may seem authentic, as opposed
to the imitation yellow of mass culture, yet its source is obscure: Handkes
language suggests that it may be the sunset (although the sun is already
behind the Missouri plains), but it also may be a television, a light in the
house, or even the wall itself, which seems to generate rather than reect
that yellow (118). Figuratively, however, the light is a simulacrum: the original, found only in the Western paintings of the last century, is itself a
copy. For the artist the color seems to evoke a primary moment at the dawn
of history, a moment in which memory fades into dream, but its unclear
whether he is talking about personal history, American history, or some
deeper sense of a mythical past. His wife cryptically responds, In the years
of gold, apparently identifying the original dreamy moment in terms of the
nineteenth-century gold rush and the corresponding period of western
settlement (119).
Handke is suggesting not only that reality is a cultural construction but
that, as he writes in The Weight of the World, the very word reality is a euphemism; to use it, even in a critical sense (the demands of reality), would
be to give this obscure reality a prestige it doesnt deserve. 136 Klinkowitz
and Knowlton argue that for Handke literature must reect critically upon
the language it uses; this way language may be freed from its implicitly purveyed sense that there is a prior interconnectedness of things, a preexistent

inside out in the postmodern west

meaning in the world. 137 Tellingly, it is Benedictine who seems to grasp

the hyperreal nature of America and of the West. Like the children in Don
DeLillos White Noise, she seems comfortable in postmodern America,
amused and reassured by its simulations. Disregarding nature, she looks
instead to articial signs and objects; the presence of trafc lights and
electric signs seemed to soothe her and at the same time to make her more
lively. She took letters and numbers for granted and felt no need to decipher
them; they stood for themselves (99). The narrator remarks: When the
child saw a representation of nature, one of the painters pictures, for example, she never thought of asking whether there really was such a scene,
and if so where, because the copy had replaced the original forever (99). At
this point in the novel the narrator can appreciate but not experience Benedictines vision of the West and America. He is still caught in his solipsism,
hoping that representational realism will offer solace.
Like the narrator, the artist argues for representational authenticity. In
fact, he precisely voices the traditional authorial claim of authenticity: he is
unable . . . to conceive of sketching anything that did not exist: his landscapes had to be exact imitations of real landscapes, the people in them had
to have really lived, and they had to have done what they were doing in the
pictures. The artist couldnt conceive of a picture standing for itself, and
his wife adds, we all of us here learned to see in terms of historical pictures. They are invoking the belief in representation of the rst order, in
which the image is the reection of a profound realitythe couple insists that their art is authentic and that the sign can signify real places and
histories. In fact, even those places represent history: what we see in the
landscape isnt nature, the wife explains, but the deeds of the men who
took possession of America. . . . Every view of a canyon might just as well
have a sentence from the Constitution under it (100 101). But, of course,
the idea of authentic representation is implicitly subverted by such declarationsthere is a gap between written history and landscape (the Constitution is, after all, always interpreted). Claire articulates this exact gap when
she later explains that American historical gures havent any biography,
theyre trademarks for what they did or what was done in their day. . . .
We remember them as they appear in monuments and postage stamps
(125). In other words, Americans know history from popular representations (monuments and postage stamps), and thus those representations,
which must be exact imitations in the artists words, are based on other
representations, ad innitum. Handke is describing the end of history,

inside out in the postmodern west

Baudrillard-style, in which history does not disappear but, instead, proliferates in endless simulations. Thus, when the artist remarks that the yellow
light triggers a memory that stretches back till you reach a point where you
cant go any further, he is caught between two mirrors, one representation
and the other the West, both reecting only each other, and ending only in
At this point in the novel Handkes narrator experiences only the nihilism of this condition, not yet recognizing the seduction of the postmodern. Baudrillard writes: There is no more hope for meaning. And
without a doubt this is a good thing: meaning is mortal. But that on which
it has imposed its ephemeral reign . . . that is, appearances, they, are immortal, invulnerable to the nihilism of meaning or of non-meaning itself. . . . This is where seduction begins. 138 Appearances for Handke can
occur in language and representation, and he consequently often prefers
literary and cinematic representations that play at being false, that do not
pretend to realism or meaning. He considers genre lms such as the Western to be more realistic than art lms because they are accepted in their
total falsity as the only adequate representation of a reality which is fabricated through and through. 139 But his narrator still has to learn this and
adjust his self-obsessive outlook to match the illusion of appearances.
If there is a path through Short Letter, Long Farewell, it seems to meander
toward the confrontation between the narrator and Judithbut this confrontation turns out to be a false summit, a short, melodramatic scene on
the Pacic Coast that ends with the couple, apparently reconciled, on a bus
to California. In fact, the climax of the novelif such a work can have a climaxis the astonishing nal scene, the visit with director John Ford. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this nal scene is Handkes eradication
of the difference between authenticity and inauthenticity, between the West
and the Western. If the narrator has indeed struggle[d] to distinguish reality from representation, 140 that struggle disappears during the visit with
Ford, replaced by a personal calm. This calm is created by and reected in
Handkes language, for in a dramatic departure this scene abandons the
narrators compulsive inner dialogue and, instead, proceeds with a compelling realism. Judith, Ford, and the narrator sit on the terrace of the directors Bel Air home, discussing movies, history, and America. In a tone
emptied of interior subjectivity the narrator describes in credible detail the
terrace, the wicker chairs, and Ford himself, wearing his black eye patch,
dressed in a navy-blue jacket, baggy khaki trousers, and light-colored can235

inside out in the postmodern west

vas shoes with big rubber heels (159). Of this nal episode one critic has
written: the scene with Ford is so realistic that several reviewers have suggested that Handke quite possibly met Ford during his own visit to America; another critic has suggested that it has, by way of the plethora of details describing the occasion, an aura of authenticity, although this same
critic calls the scene mythmaking; a third sees only artice, another version of the celluloid reality that has engulfed his entire American experienceJohn Ford is just as made as his lms; and a fourth sees what he
calls John Ford parareality. 141 Of course, each critic is correct: this scene
is realistic, pararealistic, hyperrealistic; it is authentic, inauthentic, and
mythologized. Handke has made categorical interpretations impossible.
Fredric Jameson identies this kind of scene as the second form of
postmodern historiographic narrative in which imaginary people and
events encounter real-life ones. 142 For Jameson the effect of such postmodern narratives
conrms the description of postmodernism as something for
which the word fragmentation remains much too weak and primitive
a term, and probably too totalizing as well, particularly since it is
now no longer a matter of the breakup of some preexisting older
organic totality, but rather the emergence of the multiple in new
and unexpected ways, unrelated strings of events, types of discourse, modes of classication, and compartments of reality. This
absolute and absolutely random pluralism[,] . . . a coexistence not
even of multiple and alternate worlds so much as of unrelated fuzzy
sets and semiautonomous subsystems . . . is, of course, what is
replicated by the rhetoric of decentering.143

Benedictine grasped the nature of this condition. Knowing that the copy
had replaced the original forever, she is the only character in the book to
look forward rather than backward, although such temporal markers are
ultimately meaningless in a world of simulation. But it is (and can only be)
John Ford who embodies it, as a ctional/real character who speaks in simulacra. The narrator acknowledges that John Ford repeated a good deal of
what [he] had heard about America from Claire and the other people during
[his] trip; Fords ideas were not new, but he backed them up with stories
(160). These stories are all about his lmsabout scripts, actors, and
about an America and a West that are themselves cinematic and projected.
Ford talked about his pictures and kept insisting that the stories were true.

inside out in the postmodern west

Nothing is made up, he said. It all really happened (165). And hes right,
of course. Fords Westerns are the most reliable, historically accurate representations of the hyperreal West. And when Judith recounts for Ford the
story of Short Letter, Long Farewell that she followed the narrator to America
to kill himFord asks, Is that all true? And she ends the book by telling him, it all happened (167). And shes right as well, not only because it
happened in the now-concluded novel but because, for Handke, telling the
truth and telling a lie are both acts of telling.
In other words, if nothing is true in the hyperreal West, nothing is false
either. When PBS aired its reality television miniseries Frontier House in
the spring of 2002, it was essentially updating Jamesons notion of postmodern historiographic narrative, with real families agreeing to live in authentic reproductions of 1883 Montana. The participants seemed surprised
but impressed to discover that homesteading was hard work, even on a television set. One remarked that the experience was a little more real than
[she] had anticipated, a little more real than [she] really wanted to get. 144
With echoes of T. S. Eliots Burnt Nortonhuman kind/Cannot bear
very much realitythis participant gets to the heart of the matter. To ask
what in the world is real about the experience, the people, the setting, the
television show, or even the audience is to miss the point entirely. Its all
real, all too real, all hyperreal. In his book America Jean Baudrillard extends
these ideas to their logical limit, reporting on Americans absolute belief in
surface and facts, in the total credibility of what is done or seen, in this
pragmatic evidence of things and an accompanying contempt for what may
be called appearances or the play of appearances. For Baudrillard nothing
deceives, there are no lies, there is only simulation. 145
America serves as a kind of gloss on Handkes novel and as a postmodern
theorizing of the West as America. This travelogue offers Baudrillards
observations on hyperreal America, for he went in search of astral America,
not social and cultural America, but the America of the empty, absolute freedom of the freeways, not the deep America of mores and mentalities, but
the America of desert speed, of motels and mineral surfaces (5). This
book, though widely read, is widely criticized for its banalities and exaggerations, its hypocrisy, its disregard for idiosyncrasy or local difference, and
its totalizing pronouncements that masquerade as cultural analyses. 146
There is undeniable merit to these charges, and America is certainly an uneven, supercial, naive masquerade. And yet, without excusing its faults,
one should note that the text is mirroring or copying what it sees in its sub237

inside out in the postmodern west

ject: Baudrillard says of his outlook, this country is nave, so you have to be
nave (63).
He nds the most perfect reection of America in the West, in the
deserts, the mountains, Los Angeles, the freeways, the Safeways, the ghost
towns, or the downtowns (63). And, signicantly, he takes the West at its
word, treating it only as surface and material image. Oddly, Baudrillard
has been described as a western hero of sorts, a sharp-shooting Lone
Ranger of the post-Marxist left and a poststructuralist webslinger. 147
But throughout America he insists on being an outsidera standpoint that
allows him a dubious objectivity as he tours a nation that exists only as a
hyperreality (28). He repeatedly uses phrases such as we in Europe to
dene a perspective that is amused and intimate; they are Americans who
remain remote curiosities. Predictably, his outsider status produces a kind
of insider insight: it may be that the truth of America can only be seen by a
European. . . . The Americans, for their part, have no sense of simulation.
They are themselves simulation in its most developed state, but they have no
language in which to describe it, since they themselves are the model (29).
I know the deserts, their deserts, better than they do, he writes, since
they turn their backs on their own space . . . and I get to know more about
the concrete, social life of America from the desert than I ever would from
ofcial or intellectual gatherings (63). Americans may well ignore its
deserts (as Van Dyke, Austin, and Abbey all attest), but Baudrillard frequently implies that something else is happening: that the desert is largely
invisible to Americans exactly because it so perfectly represents them. Having produced a hyperreal nation, Americans live trustingly within simulationare themselves simulatednever doubting it. All other societies
possess some kind of suspicion of reality, but in America there is no
suspicion (85).
Whereas Nabokov inltrated the dime-novel Western and Handke embraced the cinematic Western, Baudrillard goes one step farther and sees
simulation in landscape itself. Moreover, Nabokov and Handke allow that
the West may have existed even if it is entirely a simulation in postmodern
America; if the copy had replaced the original forever, at least there was
an original. For Baudrillard, if there was a Real, it only anticipated the copy.
To be sure, the cinema has absorbed everythingIndians, mesas, canyons,
skies. He writes: Should we prefer authentic deserts and deep oases? For
us moderns, and ultramoderns . . . the only natural spectacle that is really
gripping is the one which offers both the most moving profundity and at the

inside out in the postmodern west

same time the total simulacrum of that profundity. . . . Monument Valley is the geology of the earth, the mausoleum of the Indians, and the camera of John
Ford (69 70). Baudrillard allows that there was an American reality . . .
before the screen was invented but insists that everything about the way
it is today suggests it was invented with the screen in mind, that it is the refraction of a giant screen (55). This passage helps to explain why John
Fords lms are realistic for Handke but also conveys Baudrillards belief
that a desert landscape cannot be grasped except as a copy of the very landscape that it appears to be.
Thus, during his travels the deserts and freeways of the West revealed to
Baudrillard the material presence of his theories of simulation. And perhaps he realized that the presence of America therefore transforms his
ideas into simulacra, copies of a hyperreal America (copies of simulation).
He writes: America is the original version of modernity. We [Europeans]
are the dubbed or subtitled version. America ducks the question of origins;
it cultivates no origin or mythical authenticity; it has no past and no founding truth. Having known no primitive accumulation of time, it lives in a perpetual present. Having seen no slow, centuries-long accumulation of a principle of truth, it lives in perpetual simulation, in a perpetual present of
signs (76). To a degree Baudrillard is rehashing Emerson and Fitzgerald in
his observations that Americans invent themselves in denial of an origin
and past, and perhaps there is even a hint of what Simon Ortiz meant when
he said that the real America is the Native America. But, of course, Baudrillard is not quite correct when he declares that America has no mythical
authenticity. He is suggesting that authenticity is determined historically
(in a past, a tradition) or culturally (in a founding truth). But for America
authenticity is primarily self-evident: it is a matter of landscape and surface.
The landscapes of the WestYosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon
are the ultimate proof of America. Thus, when western authors and critics
insist that western writing is best understood as a literature of surface, that
in itself is not a denial of depth but, rather, a claim of authenticity exactly
because what authors mean is that western writing is best understood in
terms of the surfaces of the West itself. And so, when Baudrillard directs his
attention to western surfaces, he is reading the West exactly as America
and its literature demand. And his pronouncement that those surfaces are
themselves simulacra suggests that the landscape is a hyperreal representation of art, literature, and cinema. He has unveiled the perfect postmodern
image. If Handkes narrator is caught between two mirrors, one represen239

inside out in the postmodern west

tation and the other the West, Baudrillard speculates on two facing mirrors,
both hyperreal simulations, with his commentary as a copy of those copies.
There is no way in, no way out.
It may seem that Baudrillard has produced a scathing denouncement of
America as an empty cultural wasteland, a non-referential desert in which
meaning is exterminated (10). And yet, naturally, this desertication of
signs and men suggests to Baudrillard that the us is utopia achieved
(63, 77). One feels a discernible sense of wonder, even joy, in Baudrillard
and in Nabokov and Handke (and Eco, Foucault, and others)a blithe exaltation in the dismantling of the referential world. This exaltation is apparently a combination of the effect of postmodernisms seduction with a
performed authorial awe at the Wests beautiful emptiness. These authors
have gone through the looking glass, producing an exact imitation of the
original claim of authenticity. They insist that their work is contrived and
constructed (all writing is contrived and constructed)but, because the
West itself is only a simulation, their work is therefore mimetic. They are delivering authentic representations of the simulated West, just as the West
presents a perfect copy of literary imaging.


Territorial Expansion

The only true voyage of discovery, the only really rejuvenating experience,
would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe
through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes
that each of them sees, that each of them is.
marcel proust, The Captive (Remembrance of Things Past)

It seems only commonsense that literature emerges from real-world conditions and produces real-world effects. As a professor of American Studies,
I encourage the examination of our national literature as an integral force in
American cultural history. But in Western Studies we take this connection
too far, insisting that literary works mimetically reect the regions history
and landscapes, suppressing the imaginative power of authors and the discursive play of language. As a professor of English, I lament that western literature is primarily read as cultural history. When I rst started reading
western literature, I was startled by its complexity, elusiveness, and beauty.
I didnt especially care whether the works reected regional history or landscape, probably because I didnt know much about either. I knew something about literature, however, and I felt that rare thrill of encountering the
real thing. (Its irrelevant what I was readinga Cather novel, a Zane Grey
Western, cowboy poetry.) When I started to spend more time with western
writingand with western social, political, and environmental history
that original excitement grew, though I soon realized that the way that I
talked about western writing wasnt the way that most authors or critics
talked about it. I couldnt nd much discussion of the imaginative reach
of western writing nor of its beauty, except in a vague, celebratory sense,
as one might talk about a cherished landscape; nor was there much buzz
about the visceral pleasure of reading.
And yet western critics love western literature. The poet Jacques Debrot
once lamented that most professional literature associations are groups of
experts, not of loversbut the Western Literature Association is an assemblage of scholars joyfully devoted to the regions literature and not to faddish theories or professional squabbles.1 Members of the wla and, more
generally, critics of western literature demonstrate an inspiring range of
intellectual interests and scholarly abilities, constituting the most generous, supportive, and friendly academic community that I know. They dont


parade their knowledge but share it. Still, I think that as a community
theywe in our very devotion to the West and its literature, have unnecessarily limited our reading room.
I believe that the authorial claims of authenticity form an intriguing narrative that has inuenced both literary history and cultural experience. The
story that authors tell about their work is subtle and compelling. But critical discussions of, and debates about, authenticity (mythology, history) can
be exhausting, depleting the energy of the literature itself. Western literature has been subject to a kind of surveillance observed, and loved, but
never allowed its force. It is as if, because we can never contain the mighty
West, we have settled for the next best thing: containing textual representation of the West. Of course, we dont really want to contain the West; we
dont even want to think that the West can be contained. So, why would we
want to limit western writing? Nearly a quarter-century ago Max Westbrook
wondered the same thing. Referring to Don D. Walkers exposure of the
fallacy of authenticity in an article the year before, Westbrook asked:
why does the belief persist? Why do so many good people defend a critical
standard that seems so obviously wrong? 2 Perhaps the investment in regional historicism and the Real West is a defensive measure against the East
and oppressive eastern strategies of critical inquiry. What makes western
literature unique? The answer seems to be the West itself. Or perhaps we are
clandestinely acting out the fantasy of conquest, treating western writing as
a map, a territory, that needs order. Disdaining the legacy of conquest, we
nevertheless civilize western literature, police its wildness, neutralize its
tendency to corrupt and distend. Or perhaps the authorial deployment of
authenticity, like a black holes gravitational pull, is simply irresistible.
In my introduction I expressed the hope that this book would serve as a
prelude. Prelude to what? I have examined authorship, but we might study
narrative clues. Dorrit Cohn, for example, has argued for the distinction of
ction. Cohn, who is dismissive of postmodern practices that efface
the distinctions between ction and historiography, argues that the ctional narrative is unique in its potential for crafting a self-enclosed universe ruled by formal patterns. 3 How tempting it is to test these theories
on, say, The Virginian, Angle of Repose, or Woman Hollering Creek. (Dr. Charles
Kinbote once put it this way: reality is neither the subject nor the object
of true art which creates its own special reality.) 4 Or we might study readership or the marketplace. In what ways do publishers and reviewers reward
projections of the Real West? In what ways do readers, western and eastern,


demand authenticity? How can we measure the effects of such expectations

on readers? The answers might begin with cultural critiques but could
quickly involve philosophies of reading. I am thinking here of Jean-Franois Lyotards ruminations on readingthat we are constituted as subjects
through the act of reading and that we need to unlearn institutional reading practices that trade in knowledge as information to be transmitted and
exchanged. In his Address on the Subject of the Course of Philosophy
Lyotard suggests that philosophical reading should be an exercise in
discomposure in relation to the text, an exercise in patience . . . an exercise in listening. Forming in yourself this capacity for listening in reading, he continues, is forming yourself in reverse; it is losing your proper
form. 5 Ultimately, this course of reading, listening, and elaboration
works on so-called reality: it strips away realitys criteria, it suspends reality itself. 6 And, naturally, this course can never be completed, because to
nish would be to settle on and x a new realitya New West.
Lyotards immediate topic in the essay is pedagogy and practice. How do
we learn this kind of listening? Lyotard hardly advocates a classroom of
freeplay, in any sense of the word: those who tempt us in this way, who
would trade off their seduction against our wisdom, which is worthless,
only end up buying into an exchange between dupes. 7 Risking, I suppose,
my own dupish sentimentalism, I would suggest that we resist pedagogical
tradition, authorial direction, and cultural instructionresist textual truth,
information, and authenticityand start listening to literature. Even if resistance is futile, it is pleasurable. At least, without reverting to an aregional
formalism, we might begin to enlarge the discussion of the rhetorical properties of western writing. Concerned with the blurring of important differences between history and literature, Don D. Walker wrote, I would argue
for the value of literature as literature. 8 Walkers sentiment, now thirty
years old, is as disconcerting as it is stirring, both transparent and elusive.
How do we proceed with a discussion of the value of literature in the age
of politicized cultural studies and skeptical postmodernismin an academic age that often refuses to acknowledge any difference between history
and literature, that refuses to acknowledge even those terms themselves?
Perhaps an answer can be found in Walkers 1977 essay Criticism of the
Cowboy Novel: Retrospect and Reection, in which he argues that what
makes a subject worthwhile is afterall not its historical, economic, or sociological importance, but its capacity to be invested by the imagination with
signicance. 9 On the one hand, that very signicance undeniably pro243


duces historical, economic, [and] sociological importance. On the other

hand, signication enjoys its own imaginative life and power.
Catherine Belsey, considering the study of literature in the postmodern
condition, expresses concern that we may have neglected the signier.
While objecting to empty formalism, she would have us attend the mode
of address: conventions, and breaches of convention, do signify; genres,
and generic surprises, constitute something of the meaning of the text.
How ironic if poststructuralism, which draws attention to the opacity of
language, should be invoked in support of a new assumption of its transparency. 10 And we do have hermeneutic models in western criticism. In
Deadly Musings: Violence and Verbal Form in American Fiction Michael Kowalewski writes that it may seem a country-headed thing to say, but the only
presence violence has in ction is verbal. While rejecting the idea that
style somehow exists independently of represented acts, Kowalewski still
insists that violence and other acts are verbally mediated. 11 Similarly,
Stephen Tatum has suggested that we might pursue a rhetorical cultural
studieswhich I take to mean an investigation of the languages, discourses, rhetorics, and narratives that exist within and perhaps without
western culture. In his commentary on Charles Neiders Authentic Death of
Hendry Jones Tatum expresses little concern with the historical accuracy of
the gunplay and adventures, the factual authenticity that Neider claims in
his preface, and instead looks to an arguably deeper power of representation. For Tatum the narrative voice can shock a world grown stale, and
this is the books force: this consideration, more than any simple recognition of the polemical nature of the concept of authenticity, means the reader
should further consider exactly how the novel works with language to shake
up a world and penetrate the enigmas that dene human history. 12 Simply
put, without dismissing the signied (the West), perhaps it is time to emphasize the signier, the language that shakes up the world.
Let me briey propose two possibilities, one for rethinking western criticism, the other for rethinking western literature. First, we might well examine the implicit sense of progress in western literary and critical history. As I have argued, the claim of authenticity entails a revisionary agenda.
If the Real West serves as a stable center of truth occluded by prior inauthentic representation, it is discovered with each generation (in the words
of Lee Clark Mitchell) by authors and critics who repeatedly unveil a New
West. And, despite the fact that critics such as Neil Campbell, Krista Comer,
William R. Handley, and Forrest G. Robinson have shown that this New


West is inevitably fraught with tensions and instability, the march of progress continues. Although such a move hardly constitutes an Orwellian Newspeak, the rejection of the old and inauthentic in favor of the new conveys a
sense of hermeneutic progress. (Dogen writes: To follow buddha completely means you do not have your old views. To hit the mark completely
means you have no new nest in which to settle.) 13 Ironically, the study of
literature (and other arts) may be the only academic discipline that can function without the idea of progress. There is no convincing reason to think that
twentieth-century poetry is more sophisticated or accomplished than seventeenth-century poetry, and, for all the professionalized intensity of contemporary theory, there is no reason to think that twenty-rst century reading practices are any more perceptive or correct than eighteenth-century
reading practices. Styles of writing and styles of reading change, but they
neither mature nor advance. That is their charm. Yet both western literature
and its criticism take on a utopian character, not only because they sometimes present the West as a garden or Eden but also because of a teleological sense of arrived-at understanding. Foucault writes that Utopias afford consolation: although they have no real locality there is nevertheless a
fantastic, untroubled region in which they are able to unfold; they open up
cities with vast avenues, superbly planted gardens, countries where life is
easy, even though the road to them is chimerical. 14 Of course, the West of
contemporary literature and academic criticism is hardly an easy place; it
is often socially volatile and politically unattractive, exactly in its legacy of
conquest. Yet it remains utopian in that it is epistemologically stable (Real),
progressive (New), and accessible (represented).
We might try disrupting this liberal, revisionary mode and consider the
literary West as a heterotopia. Imagine all the representations of the West
tossed into a bag, shaken up, randomly scattered across a single plane, unmoored from historical certainty, all equally valid and equally suspect, a
sort of Indras Net.15 (Is this an example of what Deleuze and Guattari call
rhizomatic thinking? Picture this acentered plane of Wests as an innite long-grass prairiea Great Plane.) 16 No longer can the labels Old
and New function except rhetoricallythere is no historical moment upon
which to depend. Neil Campbell writes of this West: the New West is
always relational, dialogic, engaged in or capable of reinventionand,
therefore, contradictory, irreducible, and hybrid. 17 As in Baudrillards spin
on Borgess fable, we read, perhaps live, amid these maps of the West, unable to organize or authenticate them, unable to grasp their multiplicity or


to anticipate their extent, dependent on critical strategies that enforce a

comforting, if random (or worse), appearance of order. Foucault writes that
heterotopias are disturbing, probably because they secretly undermine language, because they make it impossible to name this and that, because they
shatter or tangle common names, because they destroy syntax in advance,
and not only the syntax with which we construct sentences but also that less
apparent syntax which causes words and things (next to and also opposite
one another) to hold together. 18 Foucault is talking about a kind of disorder in which fragments of a large number of possible orders glitter separately in the dimension, without law or geometry, of the heteroclite, and in
this heteroclite state things are laid, placed, arranged in sites so very
different from one another that it is impossible to nd a place of residence
for them, to dene a common locus beneath them all. 19 There is necessarily
something unsettling about the literary West as a heterotopia, a glaring
madness. But there is a frightening, ecstatic beauty to this vision as well. Even
though no common locus exists, no True West, we can still luxuriate in
the glitter of the disorder and marvel at the dislocation of familiar arrangements. Indeed, my second suggestion is that we begin to talk about
What exactly, or where exactly, is western literatures beauty? My point
might be best made by offering some examples of western literatures
beauty, or perhaps its madness. But such examples would also be a futile
distraction, at least in this short epilogue, providing only new boundaries
and revealing in unnecessarily sharp detail my own convictions about great
artthat, for example, it always upsets boundaries and always challenges
critical orthodoxies while inducing a somatic thrill convictions that no
doubt imply a different but recognizable form of aesthetic and imaginative
authenticity. In defending Lolita, Nabokov once wrote: For me a work of
ction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic
bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other
states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the
norm. 20 It is, of course, no coincidence that this book spins in part on an
axis formed by that unlikely western troika of Poe-Borges-Nabokov. If I am
advocating an authenticity of beauty, however, it is one that itself plays
against the beauty of authenticity. It is uid, disruptive, elusive, and ultimately beyond the containment of representation or reading. The beauty of
western literaturethe fun and force of western literaturemay lie exactly


in its refusal to situate its own power either in text or in place, either in representation or in the West.
While every writer has contributed to some degree to this fantastic surregionalism, the western artist Ed Ruscha has offered a most sublimely
irreducible map in Artesia. A stunning, realistically-rendered image of a
snowy mountain range plays against a receding vertical list of words on the
left edge of the image, Los Angeles street names.21 (Think of the painters
wife in Handkes novel Short Letter, Long Farewell declaring that in America
every view of a canyon might just as well have a sentence from the Constitution under it.) While our impulse may be to make sense of the relation
between words and landscape and explain how text illuminates the image,
and vice versa, ultimately such an ordering only produces, as art critic Dave
Hickey puts it, a narrative constructed out of our own desire and need for
narrative. To infer a relationship between text and image is to impose
meaning; to deny a relationship is also to insist on a reading. Hickey writes,
Ruschas work routinely sets us adrift . . . in the crazy zone between concept and memory, grammar and narrative, art and life. 22
Hickey speaks with authority on both that crazy zone and beauty. As
an inuential, if controversial, art critic, he has signicantly contributed to
a renewed discussion of beauty and aestheticsa discussion that is spreading from art criticism to other disciplines throughout the humanities.
Hickey puts it this way: there are issues worth advancing in images worth
admiring; and the truth is never plain, nor appearance ever sincere. To try
to make them so is to neutralize the primary, gorgeous eccentricity of imagery in Western culture since the Reformation: the fact that it cannot be
trusted, that imagery is always presumed to be proposing something contestable and controversial. This is the sheer, ebullient, slithering, dangerous fun of it. 23 Interestingly, Hickey is also an authentic western gure and
one-time writer of western stories. Born in 1940, raised in Texas and California, Hickey initially hoped to be a writer of short ction, and in the early
1960s wrote a number of provocative western tales for relatively obscure
magazinesand then stopped, choosing instead to become another sort
of writer, an essayist and critic. His stories were eventually collected and
republished over twenty years later in Prior Convictions (1989). The books
title suggests that the stories belong to Hickeys past, but it also comes to
suggest that these stories are themselves freighted by outdated images of
the Old West and perhaps even that they exhibit the effect of surveillance
and policing (being convicted). I am hardly suggesting that the stories seem


tired or even familiar but, rather, that at the time Hickey himself struggled
to understand the relationship between his own life and his creative writing, between the West and representationand between madness and
He explores these issues in Proof through the Night, a retrospective
essay presented in the third person in which he reminisces about his early
work and considers the reasons that he stopped writing ction. Hickey recalls that he felt a creeping sense of anxiety that his stories, his West, and
his readers were out of sync. He had been taught to write according to strict
patterns of formal showing rather than expressive telling, and the
things he wanted to tell seemed outside of the genre and outside of readers
expectations. He remembers rereading Im Bound to Follow the Longhorn
Cows, his early story based on both an Austin newspaper item and on his
grandfathers West, and discovering to his dismay that he had mythologized the whole environment, making it blunt and stupid and archetypal. 24 He realized, in fact, that, in the kind of ction he had learned to
write, everyone was looking at the pictures and nobody was listening to the
words, so that the mental music, which made whatever magic there was, remained, by the conventions of the genre, unheard, subliminal. Everyone, he
suspected, was disengaging the clutch and participating in the illusion
and he did not wish it so (169 70). He preferred that music, the magic
of wordsthe unheard and unrecognized beauty of writing and sounds.
But he realized it was even more complicated: he nally gured out that
the world he had learned to live in and the ways he had been taught to describe it just did not t, period, end of report. He lived in the invisible West,
in a world of words not pictures, in an America whose aural and ideological
nature simply could not be portrayed within the visual and psychological
parameters of modern ction (170). For a while he attempted to turn his
words away from mythology and toward that invisible West, toward subjects a little closer to his heart and life. Naturally, his friends still preferred
the cowboy stories (172).
This poor t between his West and his representation of it became a
pathological concern for Hickey. He found it increasingly difcult to move
between the world of his writing, what he calls ctionland, and the world
that most people call reality. It was easy enough to enter his ctionland
but far harder to come back: softly, almost imperceptibly, over a period of
time, he could feel that net casting itself over the world into which he was
returning, altering and revising his primary reality, editing his life. And that


had not been a good feeling at all. It was one thing, he began to feel, to realize a ction, and quite another to ctionalize reality in its reection. . . .
Madness, he knew, lay in that direction (162 63). And so Hickey left
ctionland behind and eventually became a presence in the world of art criticismbut an absence in the world of western literature. Over the past
twenty years Hickey has studied the relationship between art and institutional controlnamely, between beauty and a loose confederation of
museums, universities, bureaus, foundations, publications, and endowments. 25 Chang against the therapeutic idea that beauty is good for
you, he advocates, instead, the efcacy of images and the sheer power of
visual pleasure.26 Although his preferences in art are no secret (Caravaggio,
Mapplethorpe, Ruscha), he generally prefers to talk about what beauty does
rather than what it isand in his essays he has habitually suppressed the
traditional contrariety of beauty and ugliness and of pleasure and pain in order to privilege all these extraordinary conditions over their true contrary:
the banality of neutral comfort. 27 (Baudrillard speaks of the nihilism of
neutralization of the system that has the power to pour everything,
including what denies it, into indifference.) 28 The neutral comfort that
Hickey identies is, ultimately, the danger in reading western literature for
In a New York Times article published in 1998 Michael Kimmelman offered his
observations on the art museum in Steve Wynns Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. The art and sculpture on display were impressiveworks by Brancusi,
Giacometti, Warhol, Johns, Lichtensteinand the hoopla about the hotel suggested that Las Vegas was no longer a city of simulated histories
but a place of real culture. Kimmelman points out, however, that the gallery
is only a quasi-museum because Wynn treats great works of art a little
like poker chips, and everything in the gallery is for sale.29 After watching
the hotels other big attraction, a Cirque du Soleil show that takes place
in a vast pool of water, which miraculously comes and goes onstage, Kimmelman writes: Las Vegas is a desert, and just as you dont expect to nd
great art here, you dont imagine that a lake can be conjured up, then suddenly made to disappear. A funny thing happens as a result of this cognitive dissonance: neither the art nor the water seems altogether real at rst.
They are initially absorbed into the simulationist culture of Las Vegas
they seem unbelievable. Because real art appears and acts like a simulated spectacle, Kimmelman comes to the logical conclusion that authen249


ticity as a thing in itself becomes an attraction. Dave Hickey, who lives in

Las Vegas and contributed to the gallerys catalogue, calls this condition a
post-hyperreal real. 30
I could take genuine pleasure in ending this book with a celebration of a
post-hyperreal real, a literary West rescued from pure abstraction, hip to the
authenticity game and projecting a real that can outperform the hyperreal.
And no doubt such a reality exists in the innity of Wests on the Great Plane.
But of course I would only be celebrating yet another New West, same as it
ever wasa West easily caught collapsing into what Gerald Vizenor calls
the curious crease of authenticity. 31 Western literature is far ahead of this
move too, always already anticipating our attempts to read, revise, contain.
Perhaps the best course is simply to pause in our pursuit of New Wests. Perhaps we should even resist new ways of imagining western literature. Perhaps it is time to let western literature start imagining us.
Do but observe the mode of our illumination. When I converse with a profound mind, or if at any time being alone I have good thoughts, I do not at
once arrive at satisfaction, as when, being thirsty, I drink water, or go to the
re being cold: no! but I am at rst apprised of my vicinity to a new and excellent region of life. By persisting to read or to think, this region gives further
sign of itself, as it were in ashes of light, in sudden discoveries of its profound
beauty and repose, as if the clouds that covered it parted at intervals, and
showed the approaching traveler the inland mountains, with the tranquil
eternal meadows spread at their base, whereon ocks graze, and shepherds
pipe and dance. But every insight from this realm of thought is felt as initial, and promises a sequel. . . . And what a future it opens! I feel a new heart
beating with the love of the new beauty. I am ready to die out of nature, and
be born again into this new yet unapproachable America I have found in
the West.
ralph waldo emerson, Experience


1. Sam Shepard, True West, in Seven Plays (New York: Bantam Books, 1981), 30,
35. Neil Campbell, who cites the play to open his discussion of New West
Postmodernism and Urbanism, argues that Shepard deconstructs tired
binaries: here there is no single truth, Campbell writes, only people living
in the landscape and creating their own New West (The Cultures of the American New West [Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000], 130).
2. Critics and historians working on the West inevitably struggle to dene the
geographical boundaries of the region. Some see it in terms of the moving
frontier, others in terms of landscape features (e.g., the trans-Mississippi
West) or aridity or ideologies or cultural practices. I take the West to be selfdetermined by its authors; thus, it does not begin at a specic longitudinal
line but, rather, as authorial consciousness. For example, James Hall and
other Ohio Valley writers of the 1830s saw themselves as writing in and about
the Westthey saw themselves as western writers and advocated for the recognition of western writing.
3. The promotional passages are taken from an undated ier distributed by Oxford University Press in support of the publication of Lyons anthology.
Lyons own words are from The Literary West: An Anthology of Western American
Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 3, 2.
4. Krista Comer, Landscapes of the New West: Gender and Geography in Contemporary
Womens Writing (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 2.
5. Richard H. Brodhead, Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 8 9.
6. Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1971), 120.
7. Jacob Golomb, In Search of Authenticity: From Kierkegaard to Camus (New York:
Routledge, 1995), 12, 7.
8. Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1991), 31, 29.
9. Charles Taylor, The Politics of Recognition, in Multiculturalism: Examining
the Politics of Recognition, ed. Amy Gutmann (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1994), 30.
10. Taylor, Ethics, 26.
11. Miles Orvell, The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture,
1880 1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), xv.


notes to pages 4 8
12. Hillel Schwartz, The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimiles (New York: Zone Books, 1996), 11. Schwartz points out that we dont even
know who the Real McCoy was.
13. See Frank Zappa, Cosmik Debris, on Apostrophe. rcd 10519.
14. Philip J. Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 101.
15. Schwartz, Culture of the Copy, 373.
16. Deloria, Playing Indian, 101.
17. Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality, in Travels in Hyperreality, trans.
William Weaver (New York: Harcourt, 1986), 16, 4.
18. Comer, Landscapes, 5.
19. Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982 1985,
trans. Don Barry et al., ed. Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1992), 7.
20. I will return to this phrase, the Real West, using it as Limerick does in her book
of that title: capitalized and with a certain detached irony (Patricia Limerick,
The Real West [Denver: Civic Center Cultural Complex, 1996]). Of course,
there are any number of rhetorical attempts to describe the Wests presence,
majesty, and elusiveness. Perhaps no other region in the country is so consistently tagged with suggestive modiers, indicating yet another form of the
force of authenticity. Probably most common, certainly in the nineteenth
century, is the Great West. By the closing of the frontier at the end of
the century, when the meaning of the Real West became intensely disputed,
the West was often divided into the Old West and the New West. (Today
we have the Old Western History and the New Western History.) Hamlin
Garland referred to the mighty West that remained undelineated in
literature; Theodore Roosevelt felt that the West should more accurately
be called the Centre; O. Henry published a collection called The Heart of
the West; Sam Shepard wrote True West; and Montana poet Richard Hugo
playfully titled his autobiographical writings The Real West Marginal Way. (An
unsuspecting reader slips on the emphasis in Hugos title; in fact, West
Marginal Way is a road.) And by the end of the twentieth century any western literature conference inevitably boasted any number of papers on the
mythological West.
21. Thomas McGuane, An Outside Chance: Essays on Sport (New York: Penguin,
1982), 221.
22. Don D. Walker, Can the Western Tell What Happens? in Interpretive Approaches to Western American Literature, ed. Daniel Alkofer et al. (Pocatello: Idaho
State University Press, 1972), 33.


notes to pages 8 13
23. Quoted in Paul Gilmores The Indian in the Museum: Henry David Thoreau,
Okah Tubbee, and Authentic Manhood, Arizona Quarterly 54, no. 2 (1998): 25.
24. Owen Wister, Red Men and White (New York: Garrett Press 1969), ix.
25. Henry David Thoreau, Walking, in Thoreau: Collected Essays and Poems, ed.
Elizabeth Hall Witherell (New York: Library of America, 2001), 235.
26. Francis Parkman, Francis Parkman: The Oregon Trail and The Conspiracy of Pontiac,
ed. William R. Taylor (New York: Library of America, 1991), 176 77.
27. Charles Neider, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones (Reno: University of Nevada
Press, 1993), viii. Neider goes on to criticize with good humor the lm made
from his book, Marlon Brandos One-Eyed Jacks. Brando possessed a clear romantic vision of the material and violated much of the books historical accuracy. Brando was after something else. Neider writes: At times, Brando
encouraged actors to forget their lines and make up dialogue as they went
along, as if this might produce more authentic stuff. Usually it brought forth
silence, or embarrassing lines (xiixiii). Authenticity, Neider suggests, is
always carefully scripted.
28. K. Anthony Appiah, Identity, Authenticity, Survival: Multicultural Societies
and Social Reproduction, in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, ed. Amy Gutmann (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 152.
29. Don W. Walker, Criticism of the Cowboy Novel: Retrospect and Reections, Western American Literature 11, no. 4 (1977): 291.
30. William Dean Howells, Mark Twain: An Inquiry, in Selected Literary Criticism:
Volume III: 1898 1920, ed. Ronald Gottesman et al. (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1993), 44. In Traces of Gold: Californias Natural Resources and the
Claim to Realism in Western American Literature Nicolas S. Witschi uses this passage to initiate his discussion of the claims to realism in relation to the
American West ([Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002], 2).
31. William Kittredge, Owning It All (St. Paul mn: Graywolf Press, 1987), 171,
32. Walker, Can the Western Tell What Happens? 35.
33. Jackson K. Putnam, Historical Fact and Literary Truth: The Problem of
Authenticity in Western American Literature, Western American Literature 15,
no. 1 (1980): 18.
34. Walker, Can the Western Tell What Happens? 33.
35. Putnam, Historical Fact, 1718.
36. Max Westbrook, The Authentic Western, Western American Literature 13, no. 3
(1978): 215.
37. Putnam, Historical Fact, 18.


notes to pages 13 19
38. Westbrook, Authentic Western, 214. For a ne overview of these debates,
see Harry F. Thompson, History, Historicity, and the Western American
Novel: Frederick Manfreds Scarlet Plume and the Dakota War of 1862, Western
American Literature 37, no. 1 (2002): 48 82.
39. This fact is rapidly changing, primarily with the emergence of western cultural studies and postcolonial studies. Critics such as Blake Allmendinger,
Krista Comer, Susan Kollin, and William R. Handley employ poststructuralist theory with terric effect, and Stephen Tatum has for years been a pathnder, using both critical theory and Continental philosophy.
40. Mark Poster, Cultural History and Postmodernity: Disciplinary Readings and Challenges (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 9.
41. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Authenticity, or the Lesson of Little Tree, New York
Times, 24 November 1991.
42. Ward Churchill, Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema and the Colonization of American Indians, rev. ed. (San Francisco: City Lights, 1998), 8.
43. Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 6.
44. Timothy Egan, Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West (New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 1998), 10.
45. Frank Lentricchia, Criticism and Social Change (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1983), 19.
46. Susan Bernardin has written persuasively on the authenticity game in Native American literature and criticism; see, for example, Mixed Messages:
Authority and Authorship in Mourning Doves Cogewea, The Half-Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range (American Literature 67, no. 3 [1995]);
and The Authenticity Game: Getting Real in Contemporary American Indian Literature (True West, University of Nebraska Press, forthcoming). I am
indebted to her work and borrow her felicitous phrase with gratitude.

1. Truth or Consequences
1. James Hall, Sketches of History, Life, and Manners in the West; Containing Accurate
Descriptions of the Country and Modes of Life, in the Western States and Territories of
North American (Cincinnati: Hubbard and Edmands, 1834), 9. The rst volume of Sketches appeared in 1834, but it was not until the following year that
both volumes were published together; the 1835 edition is identical to the
1834, with a preface. Most reviewers were responding to the 1835 edition.
2. Hall, Sketches (Philadelphia: H. Hall, 1835), n.p. (see preface).
3. Hall, Sketches (1834), 12.


notes to pages 19 22
4. The list of critics considering canon formation, authorship, and literary nationalism in eastern writing is impressive. A short list includes Richard H.
Brodhead (The School of Hawthorne); Nina Baym (Novels, Readers, and Reviewers;
Feminism and American Literary History); Judith Fetterley (Provisions: A Reader
from 19th Century American Women); David Reynolds (Beneath the American Renaissance); R. Jackson Wilson (Figures of Speech: American Writers and the Literary
Marketplace, from Benjamin Franklin to Emily Dickinson); and Kenneth Dauber
(The Idea of Authorship in America: Democratic Poetics from Franklin to Melville). The
list of critics treating those issues through studies of individual authors is
even more extensive; for example, Steven Fink (Prophet in the Marketplace:
Thoreaus Development as a Professional Writer); Lawrence Buell (The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture);
and David Reynolds (Walt Whitmans America).
In stark contrast, the list of works on canon formation in nineteenthcentury western writing is far shorter. Stephen Fenders Plotting the Golden
West: American Literature and the Rhetoric of the California Trail touches on issues
of western canonicity; Peter Antelyess Tales of Adventurous Enterprise: Washington Irving and the Poetics of Western Expansion is a careful consideration of capitalism and the market for writings about the West; and A. Carl Bredahls New
Ground treats the stylistic, formalist differences between eastern and western
writing that inuenced canonical history.
5. Joseph B. Longacre and James Herring, eds., The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans (Philadelphia: H. Perkins, 1834 39), 1: n.p.
6. Over the next three volumes they added only one living author: Lydia Sigourney. The editors also included two earlier authors, Joel Barlow and Charles
Brockden Brown.
7. See Nina Baym, Novels, Readers, and Reviewers: Responses to Fiction in Antebellum
America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984), 249 58.
8. James Hall, review of Tales of the Glauber Spa, by several American Authors,
in Western Monthly Magazine (January 1833): 45.
9. Mark Rose, The Author as Proprietor: Donaldson v. Becket and the Genealogy
of Modern Authorship, Representations 23 (summer 1998): 75.
10. Martha Woodmansee, On the Author Effect: Recovering Collectivity, in The
Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature, ed. Martha
Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994), 15.
Both Rose and Woodmansee developed their model based on the British literary tradition. In terms of American reception history this model holds, but
in terms of legal ownership and copyright its application to the American
marketplace is complicated by competing concepts of intellectual property.


notes to pages 22 27
As Meredith L. McGill has argued, American copyright law, rather than conrming the author as the owner of a text, established going-into-print as
the moment when individual rights give way to the demands of the social.
Meredith L. McGill, The Matter of the Text: Commerce, Print Culture, and
the Authority of the State in American Copyright Law, American Literary History 9, no. 1 (1997): 23.
11. See Ralph Leslie Rusk, The Literature of the Middle Western Frontier (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1925), 2:12 23.
12. The very presence of Rusks enormous bibliography (over three hundred
pages) of literature of the midwestern frontier suggests the considerable
range of western writing.
I am bound to put some constraints on the idea of authorship. In considering authorship in the West, this chapter will consider those texts that
(1) appeared in print during the period; and (2) appealed to a relatively catholic audience. Thus, I am not treating unpublished diaries, religious sermons, oral legends, and so on. That the writers/speakers of such texts considered themselves authors I have no doubtbut they did not generally
consider themselves professional authors in relation to a literary marketplace.
13. Timothy Flint, Recollections of the Last Ten Years (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
1932), 5.
14. Timothy Flint, Editors Address, Western Monthly Review (May 1827): 9 10.
15. James Hall, To the Reader, Western Monthly Magazine (January 1833): 1.
16. Hall, To the Reader, 12.
17. James Hall, Literary Notice, Western Monthly Magazine (August 1833): 384.
This notice is unsigned.
18. Rusk, Literature of the Middle Western Frontier, 1:272.
19. Timothy Flint, Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone, The First Settler of Kentucky
(Cincinnati: N. and G. Guilford and Co. 1833), iii.
20. See Ronald J. Zboray, A Fictive People: Antebellum Economic Development and the
American Reading Public (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 198 99.
21. Rusk demonstrates that the West, as a pioneer country, received the impress
of various outside inuences without exerting a very great direct inuence in
return. . . . [T]here was no noticeable backwash of inuence from the West
upon the East (Literature of the Middle Western Frontier, 2:1; see also 2:30 38).
22. And therefore Cooper has received the literary lions share of critical commentary. Whether appreciated for his effect or attacked for his historically
sentimental and culturally myopic outlook, Cooper remains the central literary inuence. Edwin Fussell, whose book Frontier: American Literature and the


notes to pages 27 30
American West (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965) is the standard
treatment of the subject, wrote that Cooper dened the age and became (insofar as any one man can be) the improbable founder of the national expression. The Leatherstocking Tales are not in any ordinary sense great art; but
the rest of American writing through Whitman is a series of footnotes on
them (68). If the works of Hawthorne, Emerson, and others are footnotes
to Cooper, then what are we to make of Hall, Flint, and others who offered a
dramatically different alternative?
23. Flint, Recollections, 5.
24. Flint, Recollections, 6 7.
25. Amos A. Parker, Trip to the West and Texas, Comprising a Journey of Eight Thousand
Miles, through New-York, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Louisiana and Texas, in the Autumn and Winter of 1834 5: Interspersed with Anecdotes, Incidents, and Observations
(Concord nh: White and Fisher, 1835), 3; Samuel Parker, Journal of an Exploring Tour beyond the Rocky Mountains (Ithaca ny: By the author, 1838), iii;
Charles Augustus Murray, Travels in North America during the Years 1834, 1835,
and 1836. Including a Summer Residence with the Pawnee Tribe of Indians, in the Remote Prairies of the Missouri, and a Visit to Cuba and the Azore Islands, 2 vols. (New
York: Harper and Brothers, 1839), dedication page; William H. Keating, Narrative of an Expedition to the Source of St. Peters River, Lake Winnepeek, Lake of the
Woods, &c. &c. Performed in the Year 1823 (Philadelphia: H. C. Carey and I. Lea,
1824), vii; James Hildreth, Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains. By a Dragoon (New York: Wiley and Long, 1836), 5.
26. Calvin Colton, Tour of the American Lakes, and among the Indians of the North-West
Territory (London: Frederick Westley and A. H. Davis, 1833), 1:xi.
27. Nathan Hoskins Jr., Notes upon the Western Country. Contained within the States of
Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and the Territory of Michigan: Taken on a Tour through that
Country in the Summer of 1832 (Greeneld ma: James P. Fogg, 1833).
28. See Baym, Novels, Readers, and Reviewers, 160 72.
29. Tilly Buttrick Jr., Voyages, Travels and Discoveries of Tilly Buttrick, Jr. (Cleveland:
Arthur H. Clark Co., 1904), 19.
30. Timothy Flint, Editors Preface to James O. Pattie, The Personal Narrative of
James O. Pattie of Kentucky during an Expedition from St. Louis, through the vast
regions between that place and the Pacic Ocean, and thence back through the City of
Mexico to Vera Cruz, during journeying of six years, etc., ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites
(1833; rpt., Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1905), 25.
31. Zenas Leonard, Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard, a Native of Cleareld
County, PA, Who Spent Five Years Trapping for Furs, Trading with the Indians, &c.,


notes to pages 31 35
&c., of the Rocky Mountains: Written by Himself (Cleareld pa: D. W. Moore,
1839), iv.
32. Hall, Legends of the West (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke, 1885), n.p. (see preface).
33. Hall, Sketches (1834), 11.
34. Parker, Journal of an Exploring Tour, iii.
35. Caleb Atwater, Remarks Made on a Tour to Prairie du Chien; thence to Washington
City, in 1829 (Columbus oh: Isaac N. Whiting, 1831), v.
36. Edmund Flagg, The Far West: or, A Tour beyond the Rockies (New York: Harper and
Brothers, 1838), 1:vi.
37. British travelers often used the same format, such as Morris Birbecks Letters
from Illinois (1818) and James Flints Letters from America (1822).
38. Flint, Recollections, 4.
39. Flagg, Far West, vii; Charles Fenno Hoffman, A Winter in the West, by a NewYorker (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1835), n.p. (see preface).
40. John A. MClung, Sketches of Western Adventure: Containing an Account of the Most
Interesting Incidents Connected with the Settlement of the West, from 1755 1794
(Philadelphia: Grigg and Elliot, 1832), viiviii.
41. Quoted in Rusk, Literature of the Middle Western Frontier, 1:272.
42. See review (unsigned) of Hope Leslie, by Catharine M. Sedgwick, Western
Monthly Review (April 1827): 290.
43. Edgar Allan Poe, The Philosophy of Composition, in Edgar Allan Poe: Essays
and Reviews, ed. G. R. Thompson (New York: Library of America, 1984), 13;
Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar, in Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essays and Lectures, ed. Joel Porte (New York: Library of America, 1983), 58.
44. See also Stephen Fenders treatment of the scientic modes in Hall, Flint,
and others in Plotting the Golden West: American Literature and the Rhetoric of the
California Trail (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 181.
45. Western Monthly Review (April 1827): 294 95.
46. Timothy Flint, Francis Berrian, or The Mexican Patriot (Boston: Cummings,
Hilliard, and Co., 1826), 1:iii; James Kirke Paulding, Westward Ho! A Tale (New
York: J. and J. Harper, 1832), 4; James S. French, Elkswatawa; or, The Prophet of
the West (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836), 1:ix; James Hall, The Western
Souvenir, a Christmas and New Years Gift for 1829 (Cincinnati: N. and G. Guilford,
1829), iii; Hall, Legends, n.p. (see preface).
47. Hall, Sketches (1834), vii.
48. Patrick Gass, A Journal of the Voyages and Travels of a Corps of Discovery, under the
Command of Capt. Lewis and Capt. Clarke (Pittsburgh: David MKeehan, 1807),
viii; Fortescue Cuming, Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country, through the States
of Ohio and Kentucky; a Voyage down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and a Trip


notes to pages 35 38
through the Mississippi Territory and Part of West Florida (Cleveland: Arthur H.
Clark Co., 1904), 24; Edwin James, Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the
Rocky Mountains, 3 vols. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown,
1823), 1:1.
49. Nancy K. Anderson, Curious Historical Artistic Data: Art History and
Western American Art, in Discovered Lands, Invented Pasts: Transforming Visions
of the American West, ed. Jules D. Prown et al. (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1992), 6 7. Anderson shows a similar impulse in Albert Bierstadt:
after one trip to the Rocky Mountains the painter had begun to surround
himself with objects that testied to the fact of his journey (he was an eyewitness) and therefore to the authenticity of his paintings (8).
50. The suspicion of rhetorical sophistication goes far beyond any culture-wide
resistance to polish. William Charvat points out that many writers of the
time assumed that much nishing reduced strength. By nishing he means
ne effects and detailed rhetorical ourishes, as opposed to broad effects. William Charvat, The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800 1870, ed.
Matthew J. Bruccoli (Columbia: Ohio State University Press, 1968), 72.
51. Of course, the word imagination does not maintain a single meaning in the
1830s. Flint felt comfortable referring to himself as a writer of works of the
imagination. He did not, however, mean the same thing as Emerson; Flint
resisted the self-empowering ights of the eastern writer/genius.
52. Murray, Travels in North America, vvi.
53. Flint, Editors Preface, 26 27.
54. Hildreth, Dragoon Campaigns, 5.
55. Hildreth, Dragoon Campaigns, 6 7.
56. Estwick Evans, A Pedestrious Tour, of Four Thousand Miles, through the Western
States and Territories, during the Winter and Spring of 1818 (Cleveland: Arthur H.
Clark Co., 1904), 103.
57. Evans, Pedestrious Tour, 115.
58. Washington Irving, A Tour on the Prairies (New York: Pantheon, 1967), 10.
59. Quoted in Peter Antelyes, Tales of Adventurous Enterprise: Washington Irving
and the Poetics of Western Expansion (New York: Columbia University Press,
1990), 45.
60. Hoffman, Winter in the West, n.p. (see preface).
61. Hall, Sketches (1835), 8.
62. James Freeman Clarke, North American Review (1837): 235.
63. French, Elkswatawa, 1:ix.
64. Colton, Tour of the American Lakes, 1:xiixiii.


notes to pages 38 44
65. William R. Handley, responding to my reading, has suggested that in the
phrase naked truth Colton may be implicitly playing on the representation of
Indians as naked savages; clothes suggest culture here, a falseness, inauthenticity.
66. Review (unsigned) of A Tour on the Prairies, by Washington Irving, North American Review 88 (July 1835): 14.
67. Michael J. Colacurcio, Idealism and Independence, in Columbia Literary History of the United States, ed. Emory Elliott (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1988), 215.
68. Quoted in Fussell, Frontier, 157.
69. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New
York: Schocken, 1969), 232.
70. Lyotards distinction between narrative and scientic discourses precisely
recalls James Halls own vision in the Western Monthly Magazine; Hall identied, and hoped to synthesize, the owers of literature (narrative) with the
cause of science.
71. Hall (unsigned), Literary Notices: Mr. Catlins Exhibition of Indian Portraits, Western Monthly Magazine (November 1833): 537.
72. Hall, Sketches (1835), 7.
73. James Hall, Statistics of the West, at the Close of the Year 1836 (Cincinnati: J. A.
James and Co., 1836), vii.
74. Hall, Sketches (1835), 7.
75. Hall, Sketches (1835), 6.
76. Mann Butler, review of Sketches of History, Life, and Manners, in the West, by James
Hall, Western Messenger 1, no. 10 (May 1836): 677.
77. Butler, review of Sketches of History, 680.
78. James Freeman Clarke, North American Review 42 (July 1836): 4, 5.
79. Hall was not the only reader put off by Clarkes article. In a letter to Philadelphia printer Harrison Hall, Edgar Allan Poe wrote that he had read James
Halls Sketches with great interest, and he had also read the objectionable
article in the N. A. Review; Poe agreed with Hall that some personal pique
is at the bottom of it. One cannot help but feel Poes interest in such public
squabbles, an interest that would produce a similar magazine argument between Poe and Longfellow within ve years. Poe to Harrison Hall, 2 September 1836, The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. J. W. Ostrom (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1948), 1:103.
80. Hall, Statistics of the West, vii.
81. Hall, Statistics of the West, xiv.


notes to pages 44 52
82. James Freeman Clarke, review of Statistics of the West, by James Hall, in North
American Review 45 (July 1837): 239.
83. Hall, Statistics, vii.
84. Washington Irving, Astoria, or Anecdotes of an Enterprize beyond the Rocky Mountains, ed. Richard Dilworth Rust (Boston: Twayne, 1976), 4.
85. Hall, Statistics, xii. It is worth noting that Hall, a lawyer, misrepresents Butlers charge. Butler is not suggesting that he owns the facts but simply that
Hall found his facts in Butlers work. Butler merely suggests that Hall acknowledge his sources, a seemingly fair request. In fact, as mentioned earlier, Hall had recognized his many sources in the books introduction. Halls
response to Butler is to argue over ownership of facts, a very different debate.
86. For excellent investigations of this history, see Christine Bolds Selling the
Wild West (1987); and Michael Dennings Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and
Working-Class Culture in America (1987).

2. Fact and Fiction

1. Caroline M. Kirkland, A New Home, Wholl Follow? or Glimpses of Western Life, ed.
Sandra A. Zagarell (New Brunswick nj: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 3.
2. Paul Lauter, Canons and Contexts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991),
125. Lauter credits Judith Fetterley with this idea but offers no specic
3. The effect of letter writing on American literature remains a matter of debate.
Ronald J. Zboray, for example, downplays the public/private dichotomy favored by Lauter and suggests, rather, that, since the stream of personal correspondence carried a great deal of affection, it comes as no surprise that the
most popular literature of the period was high in emotional content.
Ronald J. Zboray, A Fictive People: Antebellum Economic Development and the American Reading Public (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 115.
4. Both Zagarell and Osborne use the word probably to identify the allusions.
See Zagarell, A New Home, 203n; and William S. Osborne, ed., A New Home
Wholl Follow? (New Haven ct: College and University Press, 1965), 13.
5. Judith Fetterley, Provisions: A Reader from 19th Century American Women (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), 119; Zagarell, intro., A New Home,
xxvii; Annette Kolodny, The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630 1860 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1984), 132, 155.
6. David Leverenz, Manhood and the American Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), 156.


notes to pages 53 62
7. See also Marcia B. Kline, Beyond the Land Itself: Views of Nature in Canada and the
United States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970).
8. Kolodny, Land Before Her, 132
9. Basil Hall, Travels in North America, in the Years 1827 and 1828 (Edinburgh:
Cadell and Co., 1829), 1:128 29.
10. Slightingly here seems either to mean eetingly or to denigrate the mud
holes themselves. It does not ironically slight the process of frontier travel.
11. Kolodny, Land Before Her, 133; Zagarell, intro., A New Home, xxvii; Fetterley,
Provisions, 123; Lauter, Canons, 56.
12. Edgar Allan Poe, Caroline M. Kirkland, in Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews, ed. G. R. Thompson (New York: Library of America, 1984), 1181.
13. Zagarell, intro., A New Home, xi.
14. Poe, Caroline M. Kirkland, 1181.
15. Edgar Allan Poe, The Journal of Julius Rodman, in Edgar Allan Poe: Poetry and Tales,
ed. Patrick F. Quinn (New York: Library of America, 1984), 1187.
16. Quoted in Edwin Fussell, Frontier: American Literature and the American West
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 132.
17. Quoted in Fussell, Frontier, 132.
18. Kenneth Silverman, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance (New
York: HarperCollins, 1991), 147.
19. Burton R. Pollin, intro., The Journal of Julius Rodman, in The Imaginary Voyages:
Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Burton R. Pollin (Boston: Twayne, 1981), 508.
20. Jameson, Fredric, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991).
21. See also John J. Teunissen and Evelyn J. Hinz, Poes Journal of Julius Rodman as
Parody; the authors argue that the Journal is parody rather than plagiarism
(317). Nineteenth-Century Fiction 27 (1972): 31738.
22. Pollin, intro., Imaginary Voyages, 4.
23. Pollin, intro., Rodman, 512.
24. Stephen Rachman, Es lsst sich nicht schreiben: Plagiarism and The
Man of the Crowd, in The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Shawn Rosenheim and Stephen Rachman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1995), 83.
25. Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, in Edgar Allan Poe: Poetry
and Tales, 1007 8.
26. Meredith L. McGill, Poe, Literary Nationalism, and Authorial Identity, in
Rosenheim and Rachman, American Face of Edgar Allan Poe, 283.
27. Gerald Vizenor, Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1994), vii.


notes to pages 62 68
28. Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 1.
29. Baudrillard, Simulacra, 6. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Baudrillards phases are found on page 6 of his essay.
30. Lee Clark Mitchell, Westerns: Making the Man in Fiction and Film (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 4.
31. Mitchell, Westerns, 6.
32. Niall Lucy is just one of many commentators to explore postmodern literary theorys romantic, sometimes even nostalgic inclination, which Lucy
nds in the radical afrmation of imaginative becoming . . . vested in the
opposition to what it sees as the oppressive force of rational being. Niall
Lucy, Postmodern Literary Theory: An Introduction (Malden ma: Blackwell, 1997),
33. Baudrillard, Simulacra, 7.
34. Rodmans narration is also unreliable, as numerous readers have observed.
Like many other travelers, Julius Rodman went west for health reasons, but
his illness, an hereditary hypochondria, calls into question his reliability;
Rodman may be heroic, but he also possesses a peculiar character. Furthermore, Rodman imbued his narrative with a vast deal of romantic fervor, very different from the lukewarm and statistical air which pervades most
records of its kind.
35. Quoted in Pollin, intro., Rodman, 511. Pollin credits the discovery of this passage to David K. Jackson, in Poe Studies 7 (December 1974): 47 48.
36. Poe, Essays and Reviews, 1458.
37. Poe, Essays and Reviews, 479.
38. Poe, Essays and Reviews, 480.
39. Mark Twain, Roughing It, in Mark Twain: The Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, ed.
Guy Cardwell (New York: Library of America, 1984), 527.
40. Lee Clark Mitchell, Naming the West and Making a Name: The Reputations
of Bierstadt and Twain, Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies 14
(1989): 119.
41. Susan Gillman, Dark Twins: Imposture and Identity in Mark Twains America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 1.
42. Richard S. Lowry, Littery Man: Mark Twain and Modern Authorship (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1996), 9.
43. James M. Cox, Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1966), 97.


notes to pages 69 75
44. Louis A. Renza, Poes Secret Autobiography, in The American Renaissance Reconsidered, ed. Walter Benn Michaels and Donald E. Pease (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1985), 63.
45. Renza, Poes Secret Autobiography, 60, 83.
46. Renza, Poes Secret Autobiography, 82.
47. Renza, Poes Secret Autobiography, 78.
48. Mark Twain, Petried Man, in Early Tales and Sketches, 18511864, vol. 15 of
The Works of Mark Twain, ed. Edgar Marquess Branch and Robert H. Hirst
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 169.
49. Everett Emerson, The Authentic Mark Twain: A Literary Biography of Samuel L.
Clemens (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), 20.
50. Mark Twain to Mary Mason Fairbanks, 20 February 1868, in Mark Twains Letters, vol. 2: 18671868, ed. Harriet Elinor Smith and Richard Bucci (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1990), 189.
51. Emerson, Authentic Mark Twain, x.
52. Louis J. Budd, Our Mark Twain: The Making of His Public Personality (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), 24.
53. Randall Knoper, Acting Naturally: Mark Twain in the Culture of Performance
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 2.
54. Knoper, Acting Naturally, 74 75.
55. Knoper, Acting Naturally, 2.
56. Andrew Hoffman, Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens
(New York: William Morrow, 1997), x, xiixiii.
57. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, tenth anniversary ed. (New York: Routledge, 1999), 43.
58. Butler, Gender Trouble, 43.
59. Butler, Gender Trouble, 175.
60. Lowry, Littery Man, 13.
61. Mark Twain, A Couple of Sad Experiences, in The Galaxy (June 1870), reprinted in Contributions to The Galaxy, 1868 1871, ed. Bruce R. McElderry Jr.
(Delmar ny: Scholars Facsimiles, 1977), 48.
62. Twain, Couple of Sad Experiences, 47.
63. Twain, Couple of Sad Experiences, 48.
64. Don Florence, Persona and Humor in Mark Twains Early Writings (Columbia:
University of Missouri Press, 1995), 33 34.
65. Branch and Hirst, Twains Early Tales and Sketches, 157.
66. Lowry, Littery Man, 43.
67. Lowry, Littery Man, 67.
68. Lowry, Littery Man, 67.


notes to pages 75 80
69. Harold K. Bush Jr., Our Mark Twain? Or, Some Thoughts on the Autobiographical Critic, New England Quarterly 73, no. 1 (2000): 102.
70. Bush playfully implicates himself in the tall-tale tradition by admitting to a
few stretchers in his treatment of Lowry. I admit to no such license in my
reading of Bushs article.

3. Authentic Reproduction
1. Gary Scharnhorst, Bret Harte: Opening the American Literary West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000), xiii. As Scharnhorst explains, Hartes audiences were frequently disappointed because Harte simply did not dress
the part of a rustic westerner in his public appearances. Unlike Joaquin
Miller, who paraded in sombrero and pantaloons, and unlike Clemens, who
was adept at many types and styles of performance, Harte simply failed to
play to type (96).
2. Miles Orvell, The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture,
1880 1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), xv.
3. Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 1.
4. Orvell, Real Thing, 39; Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 506.
5. See, for example, Louise L. Stevenson, The Victorian Homefront: American
Thought and Culture, 1860 1880 (New York: Twayne, 1991), 42 44; T. J. Jackson Lears, The Ad Man and the Grand Inquisitor: Intimacy, Publicity, and
the Managed Self in America, 1880 1940, in Constructions of the Self, ed.
George Levine (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1992) 10720; and
William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American
Culture (New York: Vintage, 1993), 93.
6. Joaquin Miller on American Literature, Literary Digest, 25 March 1899, 338.
7. But not, of course, as an American author. Many writers attempted canonical
self-fashionings. Walt Whitman remains perhaps the best example; see, for
example, Tenny Nathanson, Whitmans Presence (New York: New York University Press, 1992); David S. Reynold, Walt Whitmans America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); and Miles Orvell, Real Thing. Whitman certainly used
the projection of his persona as a marketing strategyindeed, his very rst
public gesture, that famous portrait in Leaves of Grass, is exactly such a move.
Joaquin Miller drew from his friend Whitman and learned much from the
poet about self-promotion. The crucial difference is that Whitman invented
himself as poet, if iconographic poet, and returned the publicity toward his
writing. Miller invented himself as invention, advertising himself as ad-


notes to pages 80 84





vertisement. He simulated authorship. A secondary difference is simply the

available machinery; Miller emerged twenty years after Whitman and could
take advantage of a more developed promotional technology.
Karen Halttunen, Condence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830 1870 (New Haven ct: Yale University Press, 1982), 198.
It is no coincidence that Miller was one of three nalists in P. T. Barnums poetry contest to commemorate (and advertise) the white elephant Toung
Taloung nor that Miller apparently marched with Buffalo Bill in the New Orleans Worlds Fair. The three men shared, and helped invent, the popularity
of commercial spectacle familiar to mid- to late-nineteenth-century American culture. See A. H. Saxon, P. T. Barnum: The Legend and the Man (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1989), 306.
Biographical accounts of Millers life inevitably encounter and often reinscribe apocryphal legends, in part because Miller was unreliable about his
own story, in part because many biographers (such as his daughter or his
friend Harr Wagner) had a stake in perpetuating or rewriting the tall tales.
Because this chapter is primarily interested in Millers popular persona, it
considers the effect of such self-invention without always attempting to correct dubious material. Nevertheless, I have made every effort either to verify
biographical details or to acknowledge their questionable foundations. Margaret Guilford-Kardell, the leading expert on Miller, is currently compiling
the most factual record of Millers life.
Joaquin Miller, Pacic Poems (London: Whittingham and Wilkins, 1871),
Joaquin Millers Poems (San Francisco: Whitaker and Ray, 1909), 2:91.
Oscar Wilde, The Artist as Critic: Critical Writing of Oscar Wilde, ed. Richard Ellmann (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), 54.
Joaquin Miller on American Literature, 338.
Orvell, Real Thing, 34.
See Stuart P. Sherman, preface and intro., The Poetical Works of Joaquin Miller
(New York: G. P. Putnams Sons, 1923), 27; and Martin Severin Peterson,
Joaquin Miller, Literary Frontiersman (Palo Alto ca: Stanford University Press,
1937), 79.
Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust (Norfolk, Conn:
J. Laughlin, 1962), 77.
Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:2.
Walter Bagehot, Literary Studies (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1895),
2:330. The concept of the picturesque has, of course, been discussed at
length in numerous scholarly studies of art and literary history. For a con-


notes to pages 84 88
sideration of the term that also treats representations of the American West,
see Alison Byerlys essay The Uses of Landscape: The Picturesque Aesthetic
and the National Park System, in The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary
Ecology, ed. Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm (Athens: University of
Georgia Press, 1996).
20. Lillie Langtry, The Days I Knew (New York: George H. Doran, 1925), 94; Harr
Wagner, Joaquin Miller and His Other Self (San Francisco: Harr Wagner Publishing, 1929), vi; Literary Digest, 338; Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished
Papers about Men and Events, ed. Bernard De Voto (New York: Harper and
Brothers, 1940), 332 33; Peterson, Joaquin Miller, 113; Sherman, Poetical
Works of Joaquin Miller, 3, 39.
21. Quoted in Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988),
22. Beaumont Newhall, The History of Photography (New York: Museum of Modern
Art, 1964), 57.
23. Braudy, Frenzy of Renown, 492.
24. Alan Trachtenberg, Reading American Photographs: Images as History, Mathew
Brady to Walker Evans (New York: Hill and Wang, 1989), 27, 28.
25. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New
York: Schocken, 1969), 224.
26. T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of
American Culture, 1880 1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981),
36 37.
27. Peterson, Joaquin Miller, vi.
28. Lears, No Place, 37.
29. O. W. Frost, Joaquin Miller (New York: Twayne, 1967), 64.
30. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:79.
31. Joaquin Millers Poems, 2:90 91.
32. Sherman, Poetical Works of Joaquin Miller, iii.
33. Benjamin, Illuminations, 221.
34. See Carey McWilliams, Ambrose Bierce: A Biography (New York: Archon Books,
1967), 206. The attacks on Millers veracity did have a local effect, and Miller
was often forced to defend himself from critics and other poets. But most
audiences found such fabrications harmless and, in the growing western
tall-tale tradition, perhaps even endearing.
35. See M. M. Marberry, Splendid Poseur: Joaquin MillerAmerican Poet (New York:
Thomas Y. Crowell, 1953), 253.
36. T. J. Jackson Lears, From Salvation to Self-Realization: Advertising and the
Therapeutic Roots of the Consumer Culture, 1880 1920, in The Culture of


notes to pages 88 94
Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880 1980, ed. Richard Wightman Fox and T. J. Jackson Lears (New York: Pantheon, 1983), 6; Amy Kaplan,
The Social Construction of American Realism (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1988), 9.
37. William Dean Howells, Recent Literature, review of Songs of the Sierras, Atlantic Monthly 28 (December 1871): 771.
38. Joaquin Millers Romantic Life Amongst the Red Indians (London: Saxon, 1890), vi
vii. See also, My Own Story (Chicago: Belford-Clarke, 1890).
39. See Peterson, Joaquin Miller, 50.
40. Miller himself provides these reviews in his 1909 Poems (1:148, 128 29).
Miller identies the newspapers as the Globe and the Academy.
41. Van Wyck Brooks, The Times of Melville and Whitman (New York: E. P. Dutton,
1947), 307.
42. Joaquin Miller, Light: A Narrative Poem (Boston: Herbert B. Turner, 1907), v.
43. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:108.
44. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:110.
45. Quoted in Marberry, Splendid Poseur, 158.
46. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:27. His emphasis on personal health throughout
his career may also be seen as a comment on the growing sense of nervous
disease, the spread of neurasthenia, and fragmented human psychology
throughout the country.
47. Frost, Joaquin Miller, 21; Peterson, Joaquin Miller, 128; Sherman, Poetical Works
of Joaquin Miller, 39.
48. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:69; Life Amongst the Modocs: Unwritten History (London:
Bentley, 1873), 36 37; Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:68.
49. See Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:216; Peterson, Joaquin Miller, 78; Joaquin Millers
Poems, 4:154 55.
50. See Marberry, Splendid Poseur, 140.
51. Juanita Miller, About The HightsJoaquin Miller ParkThen and Now (Oakland: Tooley-Towne Printers, 1946), n.p. The rst edition was apparently
written in 1919. I quote from the eighteenth edition, printed in 1946. Earlier
editions are less historical and seem designed to be guest books, with passages of poetry, pictures of the property, and blank pages for notes.
52. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:1.
53. See Marberry, Splendid Poseur, 137.
54. Miller was not the rst to reinvent Walker as western hero. Walkers publicist, William Wells, performed the same trick fteen years earlier in his book
Walkers Expedition to Nicaragua. As described by Richard Slotkin in The Fatal Environment, Wells sought to represent the libustering expedition as the log-


notes to pages 96 103

ical extension of Manifest Destiny and the agrarian Frontier (251). Walkers
own The War in Nicaragua (1860)a self-mythologization, in Slotkins
words (261)similarly depicted a romantic hero. Joaquin Miller, using an
established tradition, simply extends the western implications.
55. Later the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and today the
American Institute of Arts and Letters.
56. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:79.
57. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:58, 2.
58. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:2.
59. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:61.
60. On the spot is from the Literary Digest, 338; the latter phrase can be found in
Light (v), Pacic Poems (vii), and the London (1871) edition of Songs of the Sierras
61. Joaquin Miller, Songs of the Mexican Seas (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1887), n.p.
(see prefatory note).
62. The New York Literary Digest of March 1899 quotes Miller as saying that the
one great American poet who is no more is Edgar Allan Poe (338).
63. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:90.
64. The essay, included in the collected Poems, is apparently composed of an article from Harpers Magazine and subsequent introductory reections.
65. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:215. The plain story of Byrons life may be termed
revisionist at best: in the very limited space devoted to the poet, Miller emphasizes the goodness of Byronat heart, a truly good man . . . socially
clean (1:215).
66. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:215. There are only two references in the essay to
specic poems, and they reveal much about Millers vision. First, Miller uses
Childe Harold as a place marker: Newstead is the very heart and core of
Sherwood Forest and has been since the publication of Childe Harold
(1:218). The same poem is again summoned two pages later: In looking
over the [unpublished] papers of the poet I observed that in the original copy
of the Pilgrimage he wrote Childe Byron, instead of Childe Harold; and
it was clearly evident to me that this greatest poem in our language was not
at rst intended for publication (1:220). What fascinates Miller is not the
poetic effect or craft of Byrons worknot the poem as poembut the fact
that Byron had positioned himself in his work and the suggestion (as Miller
would have it) that Byron wrote the verse without an intended audience.
67. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:215 16.
68. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:219 20.
69. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:220.


notes to pages 104 114

70. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:222, 223.
71. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:225.
72. Joaquin Millers Poems, 4:131.
73. Peterson, Joaquin Miller, 88.
74. Joaquin Millers Poems, 1:26.
75. Juanita Miller, About The Hights, n.p.
76. In the last couple of years the city of Oakland has designated considerable
funds for the maintenance of the park.
77. Baudrillard, Simulacra, 6.
78. Baudrillard, Simulacra, 19.

4. The Trap of Authenticity

1. Both Sewells and Woodwards remarks are from Richard B. Woodward,
The Truth Is Out: How Realists Could Be So Realistic, New York Times,
25 November 2001.
2. Nicolas S. Witschi, Traces of Gold: Californias Natural Resources and the Claim to
Realism in Western American Literature (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama
Press, 2002), 8.
3. Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982 1985, ed.
Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas, trans. Don Barry et al. (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1992), 5.
4. Henry David Thoreau, Walking, in Thoreau: Collected Essays and Poems, ed.
Elizabeth Hall Witherell (New York: Library of America, 2001), 235.
5. Lyotard, Postmodern Explained, 5.
6. David E. Shi, Facing Facts: Realism in American Thought and Culture, 1850 1920
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 3.
7. Witschis Traces of Gold is the most sophisticated examination of this surprisingly neglected history.
8. I refer to the title of Michael Davitt Bells The Problem of American Realism: Studies in the Cultural History of a Literary Idea (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
9. Barrett Wendell, A Literary History of America (New York: Charles Scribners
Sons, 1901), 502, 513.
10. James H. Maguire, Introduction: Encountering the West, in A Literary History of the American West, ed. J. Golden Taylor (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987), 3.
11. Max Nordau, Degeneration, trans. from the German; intro. George L. Mosse
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993), 2.


notes to pages 115 120

12. Tom Lutz, American Nervousness, 1903: An Anecdotal History (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1991), 5.
13. John Muir, Our National Parks (Boston: Houghton Mifin, 1901), 1.
14. Mark Seltzer, Bodies and Machines (New York: Routledge, 1992), 149 50.
15. Quoted in Seltzer, Bodies and Machines, 149.
16. Frank Norris, Frank Norris: Novels and Essays, ed. Donald Pizer (New York: Library of America, 1986), 1185. Unless otherwise indicated, all references to
Norriss essays, Vandover and the Brute, and The Octopus are from this volume.
17. Owen Wister, Owen Wister Out West: His Journals and Letters, ed. Fanny Kemble
Wister (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 35.
18. Castle Freeman Jr. writes that, when Wister went west in 1885, his real life
was about to begin. Castle Freeman Jr., Owen Wister: Brief Life of a Western Mythmaker: 1860 1938, Harvard Magazine 104, no. 6 (2002): 42.
19. Frederic Remington, The Collected Writings of Frederic Remington, ed. Peggy and
Harold Samuels (Garden City ny: Doubleday, 1979), 551.
20. Francis Parkman, Francis Parkman: The Oregon Trail and The Conspiracy of Pontiac,
ed. William R. Taylor (New York: Library of America, 1991), 176 77.
21. William Kittredge, Owning It All (Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1987), 62.
22. Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (New York: Noonday Press, 1990),
23. Bill Brown, Reading the West: An Anthology of Dime Westerns (New York: Bedford
Books, 1997), 30 31.
24. Quoted in Thomas Beer, The Mauve Decade: American Life at the End of the Nineteenth Century (New York: Octagon Books, 1980), 92.
25. Hamlin Garland, Crumbling Idols, ed. Jane Johnson (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), 16.
26. Wister, Owen Wister Out West, 1112.
27. Frank Norris, The National Spirit as It Relates to the Great American
Novel, in The Literary Criticism of Frank Norris, ed. Donald Pizer (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964), 118.
28. Owen Wister, Red Men and White (New York: Garrett Press, 1969), ix.
29. Wister, Red Men and White, viii.
30. Perriton Maxwell, Frederic Remington, Most Typical of American Artists,
Pearsons 18 (October 1907): 4. Quoted in G. Edward White, The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989), 109.
31. Garland, Crumbling Idols, 121.
32. Garland, Crumbling Idols, 13.


notes to pages 121 136

33. See Christine Bold, Selling the Wild West: Popular Western Fiction, 1860 1960
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987); and Michael Denning, Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America (New York: Verso,
34. Denning, Mechanic Accents, 20, 24.
35. The Complete Poetical Works of Joaquin Miller (San Francisco: Whitaker and Ray,
1897), xiii.
36. Wister, Owen Wister Out West, 223.
37. Garland, Crumbling Idols, 120.
38. Quoted in Bell, Problem of American Realism, 115.
39. Similarly, Poultney Bigelow, Frederic Remingtons editor at Outing magazine,
believed that genius was in those rough drawings of Remington; indeed,
Bigelow loved them for their very roughness (qtd. in White, Eastern Establishment, 100).
40. Bell, Problem of American Realism, 116.
41. Shi, Facing Facts, 230.
42. Garland, Crumbling Idols, 130.
43. Garland, Crumbling Idols, 134, 135.
44. Joseph R. McElrath Jr., Frank Norris Revisited (Boston: Twayne, 1992), 17.
45. Frank Norris, Shorty Stack, Pugilist, in The Third Circle, vol. 4 of The Complete
Works of Frank Norris (New York: Kennikat Press, 1967), 28.
46. Norris, Shorty Stack, 29.
47. Norris, Shorty Stack, 34. Norris often puns on the de-evolutionary transformation (and on the tainted sexuality) of his characters, including Vandover, who also ends up hunched over.
48. Donald Pizer, The Novels of Frank Norris (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1966), 33. Pizer suggests that it is the most autobiographical in its depiction of the inner Norris; Blix is more factually accurate.
49. Kevin Starr, Americans and the California Dream, 1850 1915 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1973), 197.
50. Don Graham, Frank Norris, in A Literary History of the American West, ed.
J. Golden Taylor (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987), 370.
51. Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York: Norton, 1987), 49.
52. Nordau, Degeneration, 3.
53. Norris to William Dean Howells, 28 March 1899, Collected Letters, ed. Jesse S.
Crisler (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1986), 73.
54. See Critical Essays on Frank Norris, ed. Don Graham (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980),
18, 16.


notes to pages 137 150

55. Quoted in Franklin Walker, Frank Norris: A Biography (New York: Russell and
Russell, 1963), 145 46.
56. Quoted in Franklin Walker, Frank Norris, 154.
57. Frank Norris, Blix, vol. 3 of Complete Works of Frank Norris, 10.
58. Denition from the Oxford English Dictionary (1971 ed.). The denition is in
fact a quotation taken from R. W. Raymonds Glossary of Mining and Metallurgical Terms (1881).
59. Frank Norris, Dying Fires, in The Third Circle, vol. 4 of Complete Works of Frank
Norris, 115, 114.

5. Coming Out of the Country

1. John Haines, The Writer as Alaskan, in This Incomperable Lande: A Book of
American Nature Writing, ed. Thomas J. Lyon (New York: Penguin, 1989), 366.
2. Haines, Writer as Alaskan, 369, 372.
3. This chapter considers western nature writers, a term that demands some comment. I use the phrase nature writers in its most conventional sense: a group
of writers, mostly Euroamerican, who write environmental reections, polemics, and histories. When I refer to western nature writing, I mean the wellestablished canon that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century and
owered in the late-twentieth: from Clarence King and John Muir, through
Mary Austin and Aldo Leopold, to Edward Abbey, Rick Bass, Dave Foreman,
Barry Lopez, David Quammen, Gary Snyder, Jack Turner, Terry Tempest
Williams, Ann Zwinger, and so many others. My hope in this chapter is to
study western nature writers in the context of western authorship, but I do
not mean to suggest that the theory of environmental constructivism applies
only to western writers.
4. William Kittredge, Hole in the Sky: A Memoir (New York: Vintage, 1992), 5.
5. T. J. Jackson Lears, From Salvation to Self-Realization: Advertising and the
Therapeutic Roots of the Consumer Culture, 1880 1920, in The Culture of
Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880 1980, ed. Richard Wightman Fox and T. J. Jackson Lears (New York: Pantheon, 1983), 9.
6. George Levine, Introduction: Constructivism and the Reemergent Self, in
Constructions of the Self, ed. George Levine (New Brunswick nj: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 1.
7. Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1991), 28 29.
8. Philip J. Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven ct: Yale University Press, 1998),
100 101.


notes to pages 150 153

9. Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1971), 12.
10. Regina Bendix, In Search of Authenticity: The Formation of Folklore Studies (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 16.
11. Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity, 93.
12. Charles Taylor, Ethics of Authenticity, 94.
13. Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity, 12728.
14. My critique of social constructivism takes seriously two alternatives: the possibility that authors are indeed made by nature and the possibility of authorial self-invention. But other challenges exist. For example, Lawrence
Buell persuasively argues for mutual constructionism: of physical environment (both natural and human-built) shaping in some measure the cultures
that in some measure continually refashion it. See Lawrence Buell, Writing
for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 6. An equally powerful argument is made by N. Katherine Hayles, who suggests the notion of constrained constructivism, a theory that considers the interactivity of sense
and cognitive process, of self and environment, on the cusp that exists between any immediate knowledge of nature and the culturally determining cognitive process. See N. Katherine Hayles, Searching for Common
Ground, in Reinventing Nature? Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction, ed.
Michael E. Soul and Gary Lease (Washington dc: Island Press, 1995).
15. That the self is perceived in occidental culture to be distinct from nature is an
epistemological dilemma far beyond the scope of this essay. Ecofeminism,
briey considered here, takes the division as perhaps the most insidious
threat, terming it a form of patriarchy, an ideology whose fundamental
self/other distinction is based on a sense of self that is separate, atomistic.
Greta Gaard, Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993), 2.
16. Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia and the Conservation Ethic, in The Biophilia
Hyphothesis, ed. Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson (Washington dc:
Island Press, 1993), 31.
17. Stephen R. Kellert, intro., Kellert and Wilson, Biophilia Hypothesis, 20 21.
18. Anita Barrows, The Ecopsychology of Child Development, in Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth/Healing the Mind, ed. Theodore Roszak, Mary E.
Gomes, and Allen D. Kanner (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1995), 103.
19. Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (New
York: Vintage, 1991), 50.


notes to pages 153 155

20. Theodore Roszak, intro., Roszak, Gomes, and Kanner, Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth/Healing the Mind, 5. See also Barry Lopez, Yukon Charley: The
Shape of Wilderness, in Crossing Open Ground (New York: Vintage, 1989).
Lopez extends the concept of ecopsychological formation from individual
identity to nationalist identities, suggesting again that, in Thoreaus famous
phrase, in wildness is the preservation of the world. Lopez, considering the
possibility of natures therapeutic value, speaks of wildernesss impact on
our ethical and psychological well-being as a country (82).
21. Vera Norwood, Made From This Earth: American Women and Nature (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1993), 265 66.
22. Terry Tempest Williams, An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field (New York:
Vintage, 1994), 65.
23. Such language can bafe politicians. Utah Republican James V. Hansen, the
panels chair, left the room during Williamss testimony, later saying that he
did not object to her language but could not understand it (New York Times,
13 November 1995).
24. Williams, Unspoken Hunger, 86.
25. The consistent problem of individual and cultural impotence (heard in
Thoreau, E. O. Wilson, and Williams) may be more than just a metaphor. A
number of studies and articles argue that male sperm count is decreasing
worldwide, perhaps in part because of environmental degradation.
26. Williams, Unspoken Hunger, 57.
27. The importance of memoryindeed, the reliance on memory can be confounding to theorists, especially to scientists. British naturalist and novelist
John Fowles, for example, comments that nature refuses to stay putis in
perpetual presentness, while the human mind often gravitates toward the
past. He writes: I long ago noticed this in my naturalist self: that is, a disproportionately backward element in any present experience of nature, a retreat or running-back to past knowledge and experience. See The Oxford Book
of Nature Writing (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 232.
28. Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow (New York: Viking, 1962), 21.
29. Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces (New York: Penguin, 1985), 2.
30. Wayne Franklin and Michael Steiner, Mapping American Culture (Iowa City:
University of Iowa Press, 1992), 5.
31. Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 246.
32. Tuan, Topophilia, 75.
33. Tuan, Topophilia, 246.


notes to pages 156 157

34. Donald E. Pease, Author, in Critical Terms for Literary Study, ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1995), 112.
35. Richard H. Brodhead, Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 9, 8.
36. Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild (New York: North Point Press, 1990), 25.
37. Donna J. Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist
Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century, in Contemporary Literary Criticism,
ed. Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schleifer, 4th ed. (New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998), 698.
38. William Cronon, intro., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, ed. William Cronon (New York: Norton, 1996), 34, 35.
39. Neil Evernden, The Social Construction of Nature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 89.
40. Alexander Wilson, The Culture of Nature: North American Landscape from Disney to
the Exxon Valdez (Cambridge ma: Blackwell, 1992), 13, 12.
41. Susan Kollin, Natures State: Imagining Alaska as the Last Frontier (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 28.
42. Alison Byerly, The Uses of Landscape: The Picturesque Aesthetic and the
National Park System, in The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology,
ed. Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm (Athens: University of Georgia
Press, 1996), 53.
I am arguing about authorship: the ways that writers use the idea of real
nature to claim their own authenticity. But there have been numerous responses to Uncommon Ground and to the idea of natures constructedness.
In 1995 Michael E. Soul and Gary Lease brought out Reinventing Nature? Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction (Washington dc: Island Press, 1995), a
collection of essays critiquing the idea of cultural and rhetorical hegemony.
The contributors to this book agree that certain contemporary forms of intellectual and social relativism can be just as destructive to nature as bulldozers and chain saws (xvi). About a year later, the journal Wild Earth devoted an entire issue to the debate: Opposing Wilderness Deconstruction.
The articles, with titles such as The Trouble with Cronon and Uncommon
Ground Needing to Be Re-trodden, attacked the notion of the cultural construction of nature. This socially constructed nature, Gary Snyder wrote,
nally has no reality other than the quantication provided by economists
and resource managers. This is indeed the ultimate commodication of Nature, done by supposedly advanced theorists, who prove to be simply the
high end of the wise use movement. Gary Snyder, Nature as Seen from


notes to pages 158 164

Kitkitdizze Is No Social Construction, Wild Earth 6, no. 4 (winter 1996
97): 8.
43. Thomas J. Lyon, A Taxonomy of Nature Writing, in This Incomperable Lande:
A Book of American Nature Writing (New York: Penguin, 1989), 16.
44. See Stephen Trimble, Words from the Land: Encounters with Natural History Writing, expanded ed. (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1995), 372.
45. Barry Lopez, Landscape and Narrative, in Crossing Open Ground, 65.
46. The notion that twentieth-century nature writers were educated by nature requires some perspective. Thoreaus experience at Harvard may seem more
familiar to many of these writers than his experience at Walden Pond. Even
an incomplete list suggests the reach of their schooling: John Hay studied at
Harvard; David Quammen at Yale and Oxford; Edward Hoagland at Harvard;
John McPhee at Princeton; Wendell Berry at the University of Kentucky and
Stanford; Gretel Ehrlich at Bennington, the ucla Film School, and the New
School for Social Research; Ann Zwinger at Wellesley, Harvard, and Indiana
University; Gary Snyder at Reed and Berkeley; Aldo Leopold at the Yale
School of Forestry; and so on.
47. Obviously, this form of imaginative education is not specically American.
Wordsworths Prelude may be the ultimate literary articulation of environmental education.
48. Henry David Thoreau, Walden, in Henry David Thoreau, ed. Robert F. Sayre
(New York: Library of America, 1985), 394.
49. John Muir, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (Boston: Houghton Mifin,
1913), 49 50.
50. Muir, Story of My Boyhood, 49.
51. Muir, Story of My Boyhood, 63.
52. Muir, Story of My Boyhood, 286 87.
53. Snyder, Practice of the Wild, 4 5.
54. The obvious model, one that Snyder often emphasizes, is Native American.
But Snyder does not limit himself and suggests a number of other cultures
living in some connection with nature.
55. See Snyder, Practice of the Wild, 18.
56. David W. Orr, Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect
(Washington dc: Island Press, 1994), 146 47.
57. Edward Abbey, Down the River (New York: Penguin, 1982), 111.
58. Abbey, Down the River, 3.
59. Terry Tempest Williams, Pieces of White Shell: A Journey to Navajoland (New York:
Charles Scribners Sons, 1984), 1.
60. Thoreau, Walden, 401.


notes to pages 165 170

61. Williams, Refuge, 29.
62. Williams, Unspoken Hunger, 82.
63. Quoted in Trimble, Words from the Land, 3.
64. Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (New
York: Scribners, 1986), 27778.
65. Gary Snyder, Language Goes Two Ways, in A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics,
and Watersheds (Washington dc: Counterpoint, 1995), 174.
66. Here in the words of Myra Jehlen, summarizing Karl Mannheim. Myra
Jehlen, Introduction: Beyond Transcendence, in Ideology and Classic American Literature, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch and Myra Jehlen (New York: Cambridge
University Press 1986), 12.
67. Tuan, Topophilia, 246.
68. Lopez, Crossing Open Ground, 81.
69. Mary Austin, Earth Horizon: Autobiography (Albuquerque: University of New
Mexico Press, 1991), 71.
70. Quoted in Esther Lanigan Stineman, Mary Austin: Song of a Maverick (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 119.
71. Stineman, Mary Austin, 53.
72. Stineman, Mary Austin, 95.
73. Stineman, Mary Austin, 124.
74. Bendix, In Search of Authenticity, 47.
75. Stineman writes that Austins personality was so strong that it tended, at
times, to overpower peoples recollection of her work (Mary Austin, 2)a
fate suffered by Miller as well. Interestingly, both Miller and Austin beneted
from the literary tutelage of Ina Coolbrith, although Austin was to become
less than gracious about Coolbriths help.
76. She had already examined her gifted abilities in the autobiographical novel A
Woman of Genius (1912). Austins striking interest in her genius is amply demonstrated by Stineman, who reveals that Austin was so committed to her own
genius that in 1927 she actually sought to bequeath her brain to . . . Cornell
University for study. Stineman, Mary Austin, 133.
77. Melody Graulich, A Book You Could Walk Around In, afterword to Earth
Horizon: Autobiography, by Mary Austin (Albuquerque: University of New
Mexico Press, 1991), 379.
78. Stineman, Mary Austin, 207.
79. Marjorie Pryse, intro., Mary Austin, Stories from the Country of Lost Borders (New
Brunswick nj: Rutgers University Press, 1987), xix.
80. Mary Austin, The Land of Little Rain (New York: Penguin, 1988), 61.


notes to pages 170 184

81. Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and
the Formation of American Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1995), 175.
82. Deloria, Playing Indian, 101.
83. Mary Austin, The American Rhythm (New York: Houghton Mifin, 1930), 14.
84. Austin, American Rhythm, 54.
85. Michael J. McDowell, The Bakhtinian Road to Ecological Insight, in The
Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, ed. Cheryll Glotfelty and
Harold Fromm (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 372.
86. Susan J. Rosowski, Willa Cathers Ecology of Place, Western American Literature 30, no. 1 (1995): 42.
87. Stineman, Mary Austin, 23.
88. Stineman, Mary Austin, 136.
89. Austin cast the female protagonist in the novel as an actress searching for
celebritya telling decision.
90. Stineman, Mary Austin, 134.
91. Buell, Environmental Imagination, 178.
92. Buell, Environmental Imagination, 2.
93. Irene Diamond, Fertile Ground: Women, Earth, and the Limits of Control (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1994), 30.
94. Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996),
95. Doug Peacock, Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness (New York:
Henry Holt, 1990), 5.
96. See Wes Jackson, Becoming Native to This Place (Washington dc: Counterpoint, 1996).
97. Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 301.
98. Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (New York: Dutton,
1979), 11. The second phrase in the sentence is a reworking of his title.
99. Buell, Environmental Imagination, 2.
100. Kollin, Natures State, 177.
101. Gaard, Ecofeminism, 10. Academic thinkers have also pointed out the conceptual impossibility of ever breaking the hermeneutic circle of cultural hegemony; Neil Evernden, for example, has considered the possibility that environmentalists action is a defense of cosmos, not scenery. Ironically, the
very entity they defend environmentis itself an offspring of the nihilistic behemoth they challenge (Neil Evernden, The Natural Alien: Humankind
and Environment [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985], 124). Here is


notes to pages 184 192

cultural constructivism as pernicious totality; even challenging it is to engage and validate it.
102. Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New
York: Routledge, 1991) 150, 151.

6. Inside Out in the Postmodern West

1. The museum has since changed its name to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. A number of the displays that I am recalling have
moved or changed, including the gallery of movie stars, which, at the time
of writing, is expected to be moved to the Western Performers Gallery.
2. Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality, in Travels in Hyperreality, trans.
William Weaver (New York: Harcourt, 1986), 30 31.
3. Don D. Walker, Can the Western Tell What Happens? in Interpretive Approaches to Western American Literature, ed. Daniel Alkofer et al. (Pocatello:
Idaho State University Press, 1972), 33, 34.
4. Mark Poster, Cultural History and Postmodernity: Disciplinary Readings and Challenges (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 9.
5. Michael Hames-Garca, Dr. Gonzos Carnival: The Testimonial Satires of
Oscar Zeta Acosta, American Literature 72, no. 3 (2000): 464. Hames-Garca
is here identifying his goals by summarizing Mohantys ideas about postpositivist realism.
6. See Satya P. Mohanty, Literary Theory and the Claims of History: Postmodernism,
Objectivity, Multicultural Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 229,
7. See also Brandon Taylors argument for realism in Modernism, PostModernism, Realism (Winchester uk: Winchester School of Art Press, 1987).
8. Lee Clark Mitchell, Westerns: Making the Man in Fiction and Film (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 6.
9. Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 12.
10. Christopher Norris, Whats Wrong with Postmodernism? Critical Theory and the
Ends of Philosophy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 174.
11. Fredric Jameson, The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983
1998 (New York: Verson, 1998), 20.
12. Baudrillard, Simulacra, 1.
13. Jorge Luis Borges, Tln, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, in Ficciones, ed. Anthony
Kerrigan (New York: Grove, 1962), 32.
14. Borges, Tln, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, 34.


notes to pages 193 205

15. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), 18.
16. Krista Comer, Landscapes of the New West: Gender and Geography in Contemporary
Womens Writing (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 5.
17. Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), 78.
18. Forrest G. Robinson, Clio Bereft of Calliope: Literature and the New Western History, in The New Western History: The Territory Ahead, ed. Forrest G.
Robinson (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997), 82.
19. Michael Kowalewski, Writing in Place: The New American Regionalism,
American Literary History 6, no. 1 (1994): 171.
20. Kowalewski, Writing in Place, 175.
21. Michel Foucault, What Is an Author? in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon, 1984), 105.
22. Foucault, What Is an Author? 119.
23. Martin Padget, Claiming, Corrupting, Contesting: Reconsidering The
West in Western American Literature, American Literary History 10, no. 2
(summer 1998): 380 81.
24. Comer, Landscapes of the New West, 13.
25. Foucault, What Is an Author? 110.
26. Jerome Klinkowitz and James Knowlton, Peter Handke and the Postmodern Transformation: The Goalies Journey Home (Columbia: University of Missouri Press,
1983), 3.
27. Jameson, Postmodernism, 368.
28. Jameson, Postmodernism, 369.
29. Comer, Landscapes of the New West, 11.
30. Richard Ford, interview by Gregory L. Morris, in Talking Up a Storm: Voices of
the New West, ed. Gregory L. Morris (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,
1994), 112.
31. Morris, Talking Up a Storm, 112 13.
32. Martin Padget, Claiming, Corrupting, Contesting, 382. Morris presents
interviews with fteen western writers, including Elizabeth Cook-Lynn,
Gretel Ehrlich, William Kittredge, Thomas McGuane, and Amy Tan.
33. Ivan Doig, interview by Gregory L. Morris, in Talking Up a Storm, 67. Padget
also juxtaposes Doig with Ford.
34. Norma C. Wilson, The Nature of Native American Poetry (Albuquerque: University New Mexico Press, 2001), ix.
35. Being native is akin to being natural, the two most persistent claims of authenticity at work in modern culturerecalling the reductive association between the Indian and wildness.


notes to pages 205 207

36. Simon Ortiz, interview by Laura Coltelli, in Winged Words: American Indian
Writers Speak, ed. Laura Coltelli (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990),
37. I take the phrase big quick trouble from William Kittredges ne essay Grizzly, in Owning It All (St. Paul mn: Graywolf Press, 1987), 129.
38. Consider, for example, the territorial disagreement that erupted in the New
York Review of Books in the spring of 1999. In March, Thomas Powers wrote an
extensive review of a number of books about Plains Indians. Although the
editors later claimed that Powers had for years been making a study of the
subjects of his review, Powers was not, and is not, known for his work in
the eld of Native American studies. A number of specialists in the eld, led
by Patricia Hilden and Arnold Krupat, responded with a sharp letter of
protest, expressing concern over Powerss glib tone and employment of Indian stereotypes and great disappointment that the Review chose someone with little or no detailed knowledge of Native American scholarship to
write this essay. We nd it unfortunate and insulting, they wrote, that
he has been asked to review books in our elds. Powers responded angrily,
defending his essay and challenging the territorial nature of the letter. I believe I am accused, Powers wrote, of some combination of straying beyond
the proper connes of my eld, of poaching, or of reviewing without a license. Their letter, he argued, amounts to an attempt to intimidateit
cannot fairly be called an attempt to persuade[him] from writing about
their eld. The editors of the Review added a short comment, siding with
Powers. Passion Play: An Exchange, New York Review of Books, 20 May 1999.
39. See also Arnold Krupat, Scholarship and Native American Studies: A
Response to Daniel Littleeld, Jr. Krupat considers different uses of the
rst-person plural pronoun, arguing that, while Littleeld claims to use that
pronoun to refer to American scholars, American Indian as well as nonIndian, in fact he uses we to mean non-Indian scholars. Arnold Krupat,
Scholarship and Native American Studies: A Response to Daniel Littleeld,
Jr., American Studies 34, no. 2 (1993): 81.
40. Gerald Vizenor, Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998), 14.
41. Jana Sequoya-Magdaleno, Telling the diffrance: Representations of Identity
in the Discourse of Indianness, in The Ethnic Canon: Histories, Institutions, and
Interventions, ed. David Palumbo-Liu (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1995), 88.
42. Louis Owens, Other Destinies: Understanding the American Indian Novel (Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1992), 4.


notes to pages 207 211

43. Vizenor, Fugitive Poses, 15.
44. Gerald Vizenor, Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1994), vii.
45. Vizenor, Fugitive Poses, 27.
46. Lisa Aldred, Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances: New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality, American Indian Quarterly: Journal
of American Indian Studies 24, no. 3 (2000): 329.
47. Aldred, Plastic Shamans, 343.
48. Sherman Alexie, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Me, in Here First: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers, ed. Arnold Krupat and Brian
Swann (New York: Modern Library, 2000), 10.
49. Alexies point applies here as well: mixed-blood writers (including Momaday, Silko, and Erdrich) are consistently more popular than full-blood writers, for whatever reason.
50. D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (New York: Viking, 1961),
36; Vizenor, Fugitive Poses, 41.
51. See also Arnold Krupat, The Turn to the Native (Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Press, 1996), 19.
52. Louis Owens, Mixedblood Messages: Literature, Film, Family, Place (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998), 44.
53. Susan Bernardin, The Authenticity Game: Getting Real in Contemporary
American Indian Literature, in True West (Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Press, forthcoming).
54. See, for example, Michael Yellow Bird, What We Want to Be Called: Indigenous Peoples Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Identity Labels, American Indian Quarterly: Journal of American Indian Studies 23, no. 2 (spring 1999): 121.
55. Owens, Mixedblood Messages, 9.
56. Owens, Mixedblood Messages, 42.
57. In Indian Nation: Native American Literature and Nineteenth-Century Nationalisms
(Durham: Duke University Press, 1997) Walker discusses the complexities of
such labels as insider/outsider and margin/center in terms of both authenticity and American nationalismsand implicitly in terms of her own critical position. See, for example, her preface and her rst chapter, The Subject
of America: The Outsider Inside.
58. Owens, Mixedblood Messages, 38.
59. Susan Berry Brill de Ramrez, Contemporary American Indian Literatures and the
Oral Tradition (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1999), 1.
60. Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, interview by Gregory L. Morris, in Talking Up a Storm,


notes to pages 211 217

61. Jana Sequoya-Magdaleno, in a critique of Arnold Krupats reading of Ceremony, considers the possibility that Silko refuses rather than accepts the traditional function of Pueblo storyteller to participate in a communally sanctioned manner in sustaining the group (Telling the diffrance, 96).
62. David Palumbo-Liu, intro., The Ethnic Canon: Histories, Institutions, and Interventions, ed. David Palumbo-Liu (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
1995), 13.
63. Sequoya-Magdaleno, Telling the diffrance, 93 94.
64. Owens, Other Destinies, 169.
65. Owens, Other Destinies, 169 70.
66. Paula Gunn Allen, Special Problems in Teaching Leslie Marmon Silkos Ceremony, American Indian Quarterly: Journal of American Indian Studies 14, no. 4
(1990): 383.
67. Krupat, Turn to the Native, 22.
68. Allen, Special Problems, 384.
69. Philip J. Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven ct: Yale University Press, 1998),
70. Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Why I Cant Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), 96.
71. Walker, Indian Nation, 16.
72. Harold Bloom, Kabbalah and Criticism (New York: Continuum, 1984), 100.
73. Gerald Vizenor, A Postmodern Introduction, in Narrative Chance: Postmodern
Discourse on Native American Indian Literatures, ed. Gerald Vizenor (Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 5.
74. Krupat, Turn to the Native, 17.
75. Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, How Scholarship Defames the Native Voice . . . and
Why, Wicazo Sa Review: A Journal of Native American Studies 15, no. 2 (2000): 91.
76. For a discussion of such double binds, see Krupat, Turn to the Native, 1113;
and Palumbo-Liu, Ethnic Canon, 2.
77. Palumbo-Liu, Ethnic Canon, 3.
78. Daniel F. Littleeld Jr., American Indians, American Scholars and the American Literary Canon, American Studies 33, no. 2 (1992): 104.
79. Bernardin, Authenticity Game.
80. Palumbo-Liu, Ethnic Canon, 12.
81. Arnold Krupat, Ethnocriticism: Ethnography History Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 25.
82. This phrase is the title of the nal essay in Krupat, Turn to the Native.


notes to pages 218 222

83. Arnold Krupat and Brian Swann, intro., Here First: Autobiographical Essays by
Native American Writers, ed. Arnold Krupat and Brian Swann (New York: Modern Library, 2000), xii, xiii.
84. Larry McMurtry, Chopping Down the Sacred Tree, in Sacagaweas Nickname: Essays on the American West (New York: New York Review of Books, 2001),
85. Ward Churchill, Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema and the Colonization of American Indians, rev. ed. (San Francisco: City Lights, 1998), 102.
86. Churchill, Fantasies of the Master Race, 103, 104.
87. Sidner Larson, Captured in the Middle: Tradition and Experience in Contemporary
Native American Writing (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), 48.
88. Larson, Captured in the Middle, 41.
89. Craig S. Womack, Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 3.
90. Womack, Red on Red, 3.
91. Womack, Red on Red, 5.
92. bell hooks, Postmodern Blackness, in Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton
Anthology, ed. Paula Geyh, Fred G. Leebron, and Andrew Levy (New York:
Norton, 1998), 628.
93. Cook-Lynn, Why I Cant Read Wallace Stegner, 82.
94. Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, interview by Gregory L. Morris, in Talking Up a Storm,
95. Cook-Lynn, Why I Cant Read Wallace Stegner, 92 93.
96. Cook-Lynn, Why I Cant Read Wallace Stegner, 77.
97. Cook-Lynn, Why I Cant Read Wallace Stegner, 96.
98. Joy Harjo, interview by Laura Coltelli, in Winged Words, 61.
99. Louise Erdrich, interview by Laura Coltelli, in Winged Words, 47.
100. Krupat, Ethnocriticism, 7, 9.
101. Krupat, Ethnocriticism, 9.
102. Krupat, Turn to the Native, 28.
103. Owens, Other Destinies, 19.
104. Owens, Other Destinies, 19.
105. Owens, Other Destinies, 11.
106. Owens, Mixedblood Messages, 46.
107. Gerald Vizenor, preface to Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native
American Indian Literatures, ed. Gerald Vizenor (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), x.
108. Vizenor, Manifest Manners, 68.
109. Vizenor, Narrative Chance, xii.


notes to pages 223 229

110. Vizenor, Manifest Manners, 15.
111. Simon Ortiz, interview by Laura Coltelli, in Winged Words, 115 16.
112. Gerald Vizenor and A. Robert Lee, Postindian Conversations (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 85.
113. Vizenor, Fugitive Poses, 55.
114. Vizenor, Fugitive Poses, 56.
115. Vizenor and Lee, Postindian Conversations, 57.
116. Owens, Other Destinies, 234. See also Krupat, Turn to the Native, 65 66 n. 16.
117. Bernardin, Authenticity Game.
118. Robert Allen Warrior, Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), xix.
119. This concert has received a great deal of attention from critics, usually as a
symbol of the bands explosive ability to self-destruct as well as a cultural indicator of sorts. Incredibly, or predictably, the Sex Pistols reunited in 1996
for a comeback tour, titled Filthy Lucre. Without Sid Vicious, who had
died of an overdose in 1979, the band played a number of dates to occasionally amused but largely hostile reviews.
120. Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions (New York: Vintage, 1990), 98.
121. Lolita, who had hoped to go to Alaska, dies in a settlement in the remotest
Northwest (4).
122. The themes and allusions in Nabokovs chapter are so intricately interconnected that even the simplest analysis would overwhelm this short section.
I am forced to demote a number of observations to notes. Similarly, to convey more than the roughest outline of Reids story would take a number of
pages. A helpful summary can be found in D. Barton Johnsons essay,
Vladimir Nabokov and Captain Mayne Reid, Cycnos 10, no. 1 (1993): 99
123. Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory (New York: Vintage, 1989), 206.
124. These scenes are linked by far more than the bicycle act. Bicycle riding is
implicitly compared to horseback riding (208 9) and thus recalls The Headless Horseman as well as Yuris ultimate gallant gallop. Nabokov remembers that in Reids novel, during a romantic scene between Maurice and
Louise, the gallant author interpolat[ed] a strange confessionthat the
sweetest kiss of his life occurred when a woman on a horse next to him
leant over in her saddle and kissed him as he sate in his. Nabokov uses
this interpolation to leap into a discussion of centaurian love-making and
his own rather innocent childhoodbut this kiss is exactly what he tries to
reenact with Polenka, as he rides past her subsaddle on his bicycle.


notes to pages 229 235

125. He recalls one entry: Moses tried to abolish P. but failed . . . In modern
times, hospitable P. ourished in Austria under Maria Theresa (208). Leaving the worldly reader to decode the sign (prostitution), Nabokov recreates his own monstrous innocence and alludes to the seoritas of questionable calling that so fascinated him in Reids Western (203, 201).
126. Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, trans. Andrew Hurley (New York: Penguin, 1998), 325.
127. Baudrillard, Simulacra, 1. In fact, Baudrillard takes the comparison to its inevitable end, declaring that Borgess fable is unusable because the sovereign difference between the map and the territory, between the real and
the copy, has disappeared (12).
128. D. Barton Johnson points out: A reexamination of that frontispiece does
indeed show yucca and what appear to be cactus. See Johnson, Vladimir
Nabokov and Captain Mayne Reid, 105.
129. Gerd Gemnden, Travelling Subjects, Moving Images: Peter Handkes
America, Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 31, no. 1 (February 1995): 34.
130. June Schlueter, The Plays and Novels of Peter Handke (Pittsburgh: University of
Pittsburgh Press, 1981), 93.
131. This reputation, though lingering, took a sharp jolt with the publication of
A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia (1997). Handkes indictment of the European media, and his apparently pro-Serbian polemics, caused an uproar
in many literary and political circles.
132. Gemnden, Travelling Subjects, 33.
133. Gemnden, Travelling Subjects, 37.
134. Peter Handke, Short Letter, Long Farewell, trans. Ralph Manheim (New York:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974), 94.
135. William R. Handley convincingly argues that Fitzgerald knew how unstable the term West was geographically and culturally, as any real site of
origin, destination, and meaning. William R. Handley, Marriage, Violence,
and the Nation in the American Literary West (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2002), 170.
136. Peter Handke, The Weight of the World, trans. Ralph Manheim (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984), 143.
137. Klinkowitz and Knowlton, Peter Handke and the Postmodern Transformation, 85.
The authors are responding, in part, to this passage from The Weight of the
World but use a slightly different translation.
138. Baudrillard, Simulacra, 164.
139. Gemnden, Travelling Subjects, 35.
140. Gemnden, Travelling Subjects, 37.


notes to pages 236 244

141. Schlueter, Plays and Novels of Peter Handke, 105; Kurt Fickert, The Myth of
America in Peter Handkes Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied, German Studies
Review 21, no. 1 (February 1998): 37; Gemnden, Travelling Subjects, 47;
Stanley Kauffmann, review of Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied, New Republic,
28 September 1974, 30; quoted in Richard Arthur Firda, Peter Handke (New
York: Twayne, 1993), 153.
142. Jameson, Postmodernism, 369.
143. Jameson, Postmodernism, 372.
144. Anita Gates, Frozen, Tired, Hungry: Ah, the Good Old Days, New York
Times, 29 April 2002.
145. Jean Baudrillard, America, trans. Chris Turner (New York: Verso, 1988), 85.
146. Stephen Watt, Baudrillards America (And Ours?): Image, Virus, Catastrophe, in Modernity and Mass Culture, ed. James Naremore and Patrick
Brantlinger (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 138.
147. The rst phrase appears as a blurb from the New York Times on the back cover
of America; the second is from C. Carr, Are You Now or Have You Ever
Been? (Village Voice, 1 November 1988, 38; quoted in Watt, Baudrillards
America, 135).

1. Jacques Debrot, conversation with the author, May 2001.
2. Max Westbrook, The Authentic Western, Western American Literature 13,
no. 3 (1978): 214.
3. Dorrit Cohn, The Distinction of Fiction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1999), vii.
4. Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (New York: Vintage, 1962), 130.
5. Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982 1985,
trans. Don Barry et al., ed. Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), 101.
6. Lyotard, Postmodern Explained, 102.
7. Lyotard, Postmodern Explained, 105.
8. Don D. Walker, Can the Western Tell What Happens? in Interpretive Approaches to Western American Literature, ed. Daniel Alkofer et al. (Pocatello:
Idaho State University Press, 1972), 34.
9. Don W. Walker, Criticism of the Cowboy Novel: Retrospect and Reections, Western American Literature 11, no. 4 (1977): 275.
10. Catherine Belsey, English Studies in the Postmodern Condition: Towards
a Place for the Signier, in Post-Theory: New Directions in Criticism, ed. Martin
McQuillan et al. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999), 130 31.


notes to pages 244 249

11. Michael Kowalewski, Deadly Musings: Violence and Verbal Form in American Fiction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 4.
12. Stephen Tatum, commentary on The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones, by Charles
Neider (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1993), 210.
13. Guidelines for Studying the Way, trans. Ed Brown and Kazuaki Tanahashi,
in Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen, ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi (New
York: North Point Press, 1985), 43.
14. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New
York: Vintage, 1973), xviii.
15. It might make postmodern sense to imagine these Wests scattered across
multiple, innite planes instead of a single plane, thereby further disorienting that sense of a common locus. When Jameson describes the coexistence . . . of unrelated fuzzy sets and semiautonomous subsystems created
by the effect of postmodern decentering, he compares their structure to hallucinogenic depth planes in a space of many dimensions (Postmodernism,
372). I have chosen a single plane to correspond with the Baudrillardian
sense of western surface.
16. Neil Campbell has speculated on what he calls the rhizomatic West, both
in The Cultures of the American New West (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000) and
in a conference paper (Western Literature Association Conference, Omaha
ne, October 2001).
17. Campbell, Cultures of the American New West, 164.
18. Foucault, Order of Things, xviii.
19. Foucault, Order of Things, xviixviii.
20. Vladimir Nabokov, On a Book Entitled Lolita, in Lolita (New York: Vintage,
1995), 314 15.
21. Dave Hickey calls this image realistically-rendered, spatially-resolved.
Dave Hickey, Edward Ruscha: Mean Streets Mean Streets, in Metro Plots
(Beverly Hills ca: Gagosian Gallery, 1998), n.p.
22. Hickey, Edward Ruscha, n.p.
23. Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty (Los Angeles: Art issues
Press, 1993), 17.
24. Dave Hickey, Prior Convictions: Stories from the Sixties (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1989), 171.
25. Hickey, Invisible Dragon, 53.
26. Hickey, Invisible Dragon, 12.
27. Hickey, Invisible Dragon, n.p. (see acknowledgments).
28. Baudrillard, Simulacra, 163.


notes to pages 249 250

29. In fact, when mgm Grand Inc. bought the casino in 2000, it sold many of the
museums most valuable artworks, including a Rembrandt and a Rubens.
According to a piece in the New York Times, Katherine Clewell, director of the
Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, said the gallery was now like a philanthropic
kunsthalle, a museum without its own collection. See Carol Vogel, Inside
Art: Leaving Las Vegas, New York Times, 27 October 2000.
30. Michael Kimmelman, In an Unreal City, Real Masterworks Beat the Odds,
New York Times, 6 December 1998.
31. Gerald Vizenor, Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1994), xi.


Abbey, Edward, 11, 146, 147, 158, 161,
165, 183, 238
Aldred, Lisa, 208
Alexie, Sherman, 208 9, 218, 219
Allen, Paula Gunn, 213, 219
Allmendinger, Blake, 254 n.39
Anderson, Nancy K., 35, 259 n.49
Andrews, Lynn, 208
Antelyes, Peter, 255 n.4
Anzalda, Gloria, 17
Atwater, Caleb, 31
Austin, Mary, 11, 14, 108, 110, 146, 158,
168 81, 184; and folk authenticity,
169 72
Works: The American Rhythm, 170, 171
72; Earth Horizon, 168, 172 81; Experiences Facing Death, 179 80; The Land of
Little Rain, 169, 170; Lost Borders, 170;
A Woman of Genius, 174, 278 n.76
authenticity: denitions of, 3 7, 149
51, 190 91; and nativeness, 14 15,
204 5, 210 11; and nature, 14, 146
48, 149 51, 153 54, 156 58, 168,
171, 182; and nostalgia, 5, 15, 88, 108,
111, 120, 147, 171, 200, 208; and postmodern theory, 6, 13 14, 15, 16 17,
146 47, 149, 187, 189 90, 194 200,
219 25; and the Real West, 12, 7,
10, 49, 67, 118, 119, 146, 148, 190, 210,
242 43. See also Native American literature: as authentic; Native Americans: as authentic; Native Americans:
and authenticity debates

235; and production of the real, 7, 15,

189, 190 91; and the strategy of the
real, 63, 79; and theories of simulation, 15, 49, 62 63, 79
Works: America, 237 40; The Precession of Simulacra, 62
Baym, Nina, 29
Bell, Michael Davitt, 113, 122
Belsey, Catherine, 244
Bendix, Regina, 150, 169
Benjamin, Walter, 5, 41, 85, 87
Bernardin, Susan, 17, 209, 216, 225,
254 n.46
Bevis, William W., 197
Biddle, Nicholas, 45, 59, 64
Bierce, Ambrose, 87 88, 120
Bierstadt, Albert, 9, 90, 186
Bigelow, Poultney, 272 n.39
Black Elk (Black Elk Speaks), 17, 211, 215
Bloom, Harold, 215
Bold, Christine, 121, 261 n.86
Boone, Daniel, 78, 94, 97
Borges, Jorge Luis, 187, 192 93, 231,
245, 246, 287 n.127
Brackenridge, Henry Marie, 19, 26, 45,
Branch, Edgar Marquess, 74
Braudy, Leo, 85
Bredahl, A. Carl, 255 n.4
Brill de Ramrez, Susan Berry, 210 11
Brodhead, Richard H., 2, 156
Brooks, Van Wyck, 90
Brown, Bill, 118
Browning, Robert, 82, 106
Budd, Louis J., 71
Buell, Lawrence, 170, 174, 182, 183, 184,
274 n.14
Buffalo Bill. See Cody, William F.
Burton, William, 57, 60, 61
Bush, Harold K., Jr., 75 77, 265 n.70
Butler, Judith, 72
Butler, Mann, 42 46, 261 n.85

Bagehot, Walter, 84
Barnum, P. T., 8, 71, 80, 105, 169, 266 n9
Barrows, Anita, 152 53
Bateson, Gregory, 183
Baudrillard, Jean, 119, 187, 190 91, 192,
194, 200, 227, 231, 245, 287 n.127;
and nihilism, 235, 249; and nostalgia,
15, 108; and postmodern seduction,


Buttrick, Tilly, 30
Byerly, Alison, 157
Byron, George Gordon, Lord, 22, 38, 86,
92, 96, 98, 100 104, 106, 269 n.65 n.66

dime novels, 16, 46 47, 62, 78, 105,

118 19, 120 21, 127, 190, 193
Doig, Ivan, 202 3
Drake, Daniel, 26, 27, 30, 32, 33, 45

Campbell, Neil, 244, 245, 251 n.1

Cass, Lewis, 26, 30
Cather, Willa, 7, 11, 16, 17, 26, 96, 108,
110, 190
Catlin, George, 35, 42, 233
Channing, William Ellery, 43
Charvat, William, 259 n.49
Chin, Frank, 17
Church, Frederick, 105
Churchill, Ward, 14, 218
Clark, William, 35. See also Lewis and
Clark, expedition and Journals of
Clarke, James Freeman, 3738, 42 46
Cody, William F. (Buffalo Bill), 78, 80,
82, 108, 116
Cohn, Dorrit, 242
Colacurcio, Michael J., 39
Colton, Calvin, 28, 29, 38, 66
Comer, Krista, 2, 6 7, 193, 197, 199,
201, 244, 254 n.39
Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth, 211, 214, 215, 219,
220 21
Coolbrith, Ina, 81, 278 n.75
Cooper, James Fenimore, 17, 19, 21, 27,
32, 33, 37, 39, 40, 46, 65, 206, 256
57 n.22
Cox, James M., 68
Crane, Stephen, 109
Cronon, William, 157
Cuming, Fortescue, 35

Eakins, Thomas, 109

Eastman, Charles, 11
Eco, Umberto, 6, 187, 240
ecofeminism, 153 54, 155, 183 84,
274 n.15
Egan, Timothy, 16
Ehrlich, Gretel, 12, 155
Emerson, Everett, 70 71
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 20, 22, 33, 39,
43, 66, 151, 239, 250
Erdrich, Louise, 12, 219, 221
Evans, Estwick, 36
Evernden, Neil, 157, 279 n.101
Fairbanks, Mary Mason, 70
Faulkner, William, 7, 10
Fender, Stephen, 255 n.4
Fetterley, Judith, 50, 51, 52
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 110, 233, 239
Flagg, Edmund, 31, 32, 51
Flint, Timothy, 10, 19, 26, 33, 61, 82, 121,
141, 257 n.22, 259 n.51; and defense
of western authorship, 23; as editor
of Knickerbocker Magazine, 23, 24; as
editor of Western Monthly Review, 23;
as western authority, 2728, 32, 61
Works: Daniel Boone, 25; Francis Berrian,
34; The Personal Narrative of James O.
Pattie (editor), 30, 35 36; Recollections
of the Last Ten Years, 22, 32, 51
Florence, Don, 73 74
Floyd, Charles, 46
Foote, Mary Hallock, 110
Ford, John, 227, 232, 235 36, 239
Ford, Richard, 194, 2012
Foucault, Michel, 10, 198 99, 222, 226,
240, 246
Fowles, John, 275 n.27

Debrot, Jacques, 241

DeLillo, Don, 74, 234
Deloria, Philip J., 5, 150, 170 71, 213
Denning, Michael, 121, 261 n.86
Diamond, Irene, 182
Didion, Joan, 117


Franklin, Wayne, 155
Frazier, Ian, 217
Frmont, John Charles, 106
French, James S., 34, 38
Frontier House (pbs television series),
Frost, O. W., 86
Fussell, Edwin, 57, 256 57 n.22

Halttunen, Karen, 80
Hames-Garca, Michael, 190
Hamilton, Thomas, 27
Handke, Peter, 227, 23137, 238, 239
40, 287 n.131
Handley, William R., 197, 244, 254 n.39,
260 n.65, 287 n.135
Haraway, Donna J., 156, 184
Harjo, Joy, 218, 221
Harte, Bret, 26, 78 79, 80, 99, 106, 110,
120, 265 n.1
Hayles, N. Katherine, 274 n.14
Hedge, Frederic Henry, 43
Henty, G. A., 82
Herring, James, 21, 25
Hickey, Dave, 24750
Hilden, Patricia, 282 n.38
Hildreth, James, 26, 28, 31, 36, 51
Hillerman, Tony, 208
Hirst, Robert H., 74
Hoffman, Andrew, 72
Hoffman, Charles Fenno, 19, 26, 31, 32,
37, 38, 51, 52, 54
Holley, Mary Austin, 31, 51
hooks, bell, 220
Hoskins, Nathan, Jr., 28 29
Howells, William Dean, 11, 88, 114, 135
Hugo, Richard, 250 n.20
Huxton, George Frederick, 82

Garland, Hamlin, 10, 26, 65, 110 22 passim, 202; and the East, 120, 122; and
realistic representation, 111, 112 13,
117, 118, 119
Garrard, Lewis, 17
Gass, Patrick, 35, 46
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., 14
Gemnden, Gerd, 232
Gillman, Susan, 68
Golomb, Jacob, 3
Graulich, Melody, 170
Grey, Zane, 16
Guilford-Kardell, Margaret, 266 n.10
Haines, John, 145, 149, 185
Hall, Basil, 27, 52 54
Hall, Frederick, 31
Hall, James, 9, 10, 19 47 passim, 66, 82,
121, 141, 146, 257 n.22, 260 n.70; and
Caroline Kirkland, 5154; on development of western literature, 19, 21
22, 23 25, 26; and dispute with Butler and Clarke, 42 46, 260 n.79, 261
n.85; as editor of Western Monthly Magazine, 23 24, 25; on George Catlin,
42; as western authority, 30, 32; on
Washington Irving, 37; and Wild
West myth, 40, 52
Works: Legends of the West, 34, 52; Notes
on the West, 46; Romance of the West, 46;
Sketches of History, Life, and Manners in
the West, 19, 26, 34, 3738, 42 44,
45, 46, 51, 60; Statistics of the West, 44,
46; The Western Souvenir, 34

Irving, Washington, 21, 56, 59, 61

Works: Astoria, 32, 45, 46, 57, 64;
A Tour on the Prairies, 36 37, 39
Jackson, Helen Hunt, 17, 110
Jackson, Wes, 183
James, Edwin, 35
James, Henry, 112, 114
Jameson, Fredric, 58, 74, 191 92, 193,
200, 201, 236, 237, 289 n.15
Johnson, D. Barton, 286 n.122, 287


Kaplan, Amy, 88
Keating, William, 28
Kellert, Stephen, R., 152
Kimmelman, Michael, 249 50
Kinbote, Charles, 242
King, Clarence, 110
Kirkland, Caroline, 7, 9, 11, 25, 26, 31,
48 56, 64 65, 146
Kittredge, William, 12, 11, 12, 117, 119,
145, 204
Klinkowitz, Jerome, 201, 233 34
Knoper, Randall, 7172
Knowlton, James, 201, 233 34
Kollin, Susan, 157, 183, 197, 254 n.39
Kolodny, Annette, 50, 52, 53
Kowalewski, Michael, 197, 244
Krupat, Arnold, 213, 215, 21718, 221
22, 282 n.38 n.39, 284 n.61

Lopez, Barry, 146, 158 59, 160, 165, 166,

167 68, 275 n.20
Lowry, Richard S., 68, 72, 74 77
Lucy, Niall, 263 n.32
Lutz, Tom, 114 15
Lyon, Thomas J., 2, 158
Lyotard, Jean-Franois, 7, 41, 109 10,
111, 200, 222, 243, 260 n.70
Macy, Joanna, 183
Maguire, James H., 114
McDowell, Michael J., 173
McGill, Meredith L., 60, 256 n.10
McGuane, Thomas, 7, 12
MClung, John A., 26, 32
McMurtry, Larry, 218
Miller, Joaquin, 9, 11, 110, 111, 141, 120,
121, 146, 267 n.34, 278 n.75; and
Bret Harte, 78 79, 80, 99, 106, 265
n.1; and Byron, 86, 92, 96, 98, 100
104; and Mary Austin, 169; and Native
American cultures, 81, 87, 88 89,
91, 92, 108; and photographic portraiture, 84 86; and P. T. Barnum,
80, 105, 266 n.9; and Walt Whitman,
79, 81, 96, 100, 107, 265 66 n.7;
and William Walker, 93 96, 101,
268 69 n.54
Works: Poems: The Arizonian, 86;
In Exile, 99 100; Kit Carsons
Ride, 86; The Soldiers Home,
Washington, 106; The Tale of the
Tall Alcade, 86; To the Bards of S.F.
Bay, 98 99; Walker in Nicaragua,
86, 95 96; With Walker in Nicaragua, 93 96, 101; Ultime, 99;
Vale, 99; Collections: Joaquin et al.,
81, 98; Joaquin Millers Poems, 87, 95,
102; Specimens, 98; Songs of the Mexican
Seas, 98; Songs of the Sierras, 82, 86, 93;
Pacic Poems, 80, 82; Prose works:
Building of the City Beautiful, 93; Byron
and Newstead, 102 4; Life amongst

LAmour, Louis, 16
Langtry, Lillie, 84
Larson, Sidner, 219
Lauter, Paul, 50 51
Lawrence, D. H., 209, 226
Leach, William, 88
Lears, T. J. Jackson, 86, 88, 146
Lease, Gary, 276 n.42
Lentricchia, Frank, 17
Leonard, Zenas, 30
Leopold, Aldo, 182 83
Leverenz, David, 52
Levine, George, 149
Lewis, Meriwether, 46. See also Lewis and
Clark, expedition and Journals of
Lewis and Clark, expedition and Journals
of, 32, 35, 45, 46, 57, 59, 61, 64, 146,
147, 157
Limerick, Patricia Nelson, 7, 128, 252
Littleeld, Daniel, Jr., 216, 282 n.39
London, Jack, 96, 107, 108, 110, 113
Longacre, Joseph B., 21, 25
Loori, John Daido, 183


the Modocs, 87, 88 90, 92; Overland in
a Covered Wagon, 87
Miller, Juanita, 93, 107
Mitchell, Lee Clark, 62, 67, 190
Mitchell, S. Weir, 115
Mitford, Mary Russell, 49, 52
Mohanty, Satya P., 190
Momaday, N. Scott, 7, 8, 11, 14, 218
Moore, D. W., 30
Morris, Gregory L., 211
Muir, John, 14, 26, 110, 115, 159 60,
Mulford, Prentice, 89
Murietta, Joaquin, 81
Murray, Charles Augustus, 27, 28, 35

style, 12122; and eastern marketplace, 122, 135 41, 144; and realism,
112 13, 11719, 122, 123, 126, 137,
140; and the Real West, 111, 116 17,
119 20, 121, 123, 135, 141, 144; and
the Wave, 124, 135, 138
Works: Blix, 123, 136 40; Dying
Fires, 140 41; The Frontier Gone at
Last, 116, 140; The Literature of the
West, 119, 123; A Mans Woman, 136,
138; McTeague, 124, 135 36, 138, 140;
Moran of the Lady Letty, 135, 136, 138;
A Neglected Epic, 119; The Octopus,
116, 123, 135, 140, 141 43; Shorty
Stack, Pugilist, 124 25; Vandover and
the Brute, 115 16, 123, 124 35, 136,
137, 139, 140
North American Review, 37, 39, 43, 44, 45,
Norwood, Vera, 153 54

Nabhan, Gary, 166

Nabokov, Vladimir, 226 31, 232, 238,
240, 246, 286 n.122 n.124, 287 n.125
Works: Lolita, 227, 246; Speak, Memory,
National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished
Americans, 21, 25
Native American literature, 14 15, 203
26; as authentic, 206, 207, 208 17;
and crossreading, 210, 217, 220, 222;
and postmodernism, 206, 207 8, 211,
219 25; and western literature, 203,
206, 210, 212 13, 216 17, 219, 220
21, 224 25
Native Americans: and association with
nature, 170 72, 184, 203, 208, 216,
281 n.35; as authentic, 5, 14 15, 33,
35, 170 72, 203 10; and authenticity
debates, 206, 21719
Neider, Charles, 10, 244, 253 n.27
Neihardt, John, 17
Nordau, Max, 114, 115
Norris, Christopher, 190 91
Norris, Frank, 11, 24 25, 65, 96, 107,
108, 110 22 passim, 123 44, 146,
202 3; and dime novels, 111, 11719,
121, 127; and dismissal of literary

Oelschlaeger, Max, 183

Ogden, George W., 31
Ordway, John, 46
Orr, David W., 161, 183
Ortiz, Simon, 205, 223, 239
Orvell, Miles, 4, 79, 83
Osborne, William S., 51, 261 n.4
Owens, Louis, 207, 209, 210, 212, 219,
22122, 224
Padget, Martin, 198, 202
Palumbo-Liu, David, 211, 216
Parker, Amos, 28, 66 67
Parker, Samuel, 26, 28, 31
Parkman, Francis, 9, 117, 208, 226
Pattie, James O., 30, 35 36
Paulding, James Kirke, 32, 34
Peacock, Doug, 183
Pease, Donald E., 156
Peck, Harry Thurston, 118
Peterson, Martin Severin, 84, 105
Philips, Wendell, 89


Poe, Edgar Allan, 20, 22, 33, 40, 142
43, 246, 260 n.79; and critique of
western authenticity, 9, 48, 58, 61,
63, 111; as editor, 57, 59, 60, 61, 63;
and Joaquin Miller, 79, 81, 98, 100,
269 n.62; Journal of Julius Rodman,
48 49, 56 66; and plagiarism, 57,
58, 59, 64; and secret writing, 68 69,
Pollin, Burton R., 57, 58
Poster, Mark, 14, 189
postmodern theory. See authenticity:
and postmodern theory. See also Baudrillard, Jean; Butler, Judith; Eco,
Umberto; Foucault, Michel; Jameson,
Fredric; Lyotard, Jean-Franois
Powell, John Wesley, 110
Powers, Thomas, 282 n.38
Proulx, Annie, 194, 195 96
Pryse, Marjorie, 170
Putnam, Jackson K., 13
Pynchon, Thomas, 196

Scharnhorst, Gary, 79, 265 n.1

Schlueter, June, 23132
Schwartz, Hillel, 4
Scott, Sir Walter, 22
Sedgwick, Catharine Maria, 20, 21, 33,
Seltzer, Mark, 115
Sequoya-Magdaleno, Jana, 207, 212, 284
Sewell, Darrell, 109
Sex Pistols, 226, 286 n.119
Shepard, Sam, 1
Sherman, Stuart P., 84, 87
Shi, David E., 112, 122
Silko, Leslie Marmon, 11, 12, 16, 62, 187,
219; Ceremony, 210, 21113
Silverman, Kenneth, 57, 58
Simmons, I. G., 157
Slotkin, Richard, 268 69 n.54
Snyder, Gary, 14, 146, 151, 156, 160 61,
165, 166 67, 182, 184, 218, 276 77
n.42, 277 n.54
Soul, Michael E., 276 n.42
Stegner, Wallace, 7, 11, 17, 62, 154 55,
161, 190
Stein, Gertrude, 17, 106
Steiner, Michael, 155
Stineman, Esther Lanigan, 169, 170, 173,
174, 278 n.75
Swann, Brian, 21718
Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 82

Rachman, Stephen, 59
Reagan, Ronald, 108, 186
the Real West: anxieties over, 11122,
144; denitions of, 2, 252 n.20. See
also western literature: as reection
of the Real West
Reid, Mayne, 82, 22731
Remington, Frederic, 115, 117, 120, 186,
233, 272 n.39
Renza, Louis A., 68 69, 77
Ridge, John Rollin, 81
Robinson, Forrest G., 197, 244
Roosevelt, Theodore, 115, 118, 167
Rose, Mark, 22
Rosowski, Susan J., 173
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 82, 90 91, 92
Roszak, Theodore, 153
Ruscha, Ed, 247
Rusk, Ralph Leslie, 25, 256 n.12 n.21

Tan, Amy, 17
Tatum, Stephen, 244, 254 n.39
Taylor, Charles, 3 4, 149, 150
Thompson, Harry F., 254 n.38
Thoreau, Henry David, 9, 110, 150, 156,
159, 163, 164
Trachtenberg, Alan, 85
Trilling, Lionel, 3, 7, 10, 66, 150, 151
Trollope, Frances, 27, 226
Tuan, Yi-Fu, 155, 167
Turner, Frederick Jackson, 116, 127


Turner, Jack, 182
Twain, Mark, 11, 26, 65 77, 78, 79, 84,
105, 106, 110, 146; as authentic, 70
72; and critique of western authenticity, 9, 66 68, 70 71, 72, 74, 76 77,
111, 120
Works: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of
Calaveras County, 70; The Innocents
Abroad, 72, 74; Petried Man, 69
70, 72 74; Roughing It, 49, 66 67, 72

123 24, 140 44, 188; as postmodern, 15 16, 48, 58, 146 47, 187204;
as reection of the Real West, 1, 2, 7,
10, 63, 67, 111, 119, 121, 123, 148,
188 89, 242. See also Native American
literature: and western literature
Western Messenger, 43, 44
Western Monthly Magazine, 23, 25
Western Monthly Review, 23
Westerns, 4, 62, 118, 142, 186, 190, 228,
229, 235, 237
Whitehouse, Joseph, 46
Whitman, Walt, 79, 81, 96, 100, 108,
265 n.7
Wilde, Oscar, 82, 84, 108, 226
Williams, Terry Tempest, 146, 147, 153,
154, 158, 160, 161 65, 217
Wilson, Alexander, 157, 165
Wilson, Edward O., 152, 154
Winnemucca, Sara, 110
Wister, Owen, 8, 11, 110 22 passim
Witschi, Nicolas S., 109, 253 n.30, 270
Womack, Craig S., 219 20, 221
Woodward, Richard B., 109
Wordsworth, William, 150

Vizenor, Gerald, 15, 61 62, 207 8, 209,

210, 215, 222 23, 224, 250
Wagner, Harr, 84
Walker, Cheryl, 210, 283 n.57
Walker, Don D., 8, 10, 13, 188, 242, 243
Walker, Franklin, 137
Walker, William, 93 96, 101, 268 69
Warrior, Robert Allen, 225 26
Welch, James, 12, 14, 210
Wendell, Barrett, 113
West, Nathanael, 83
Westbrook, Max, 13, 242
western literary criticism, 1, 2, 8, 11, 13
14, 1718, 63, 188 97, 241 46
Western Literature Association (wla),
186, 241 42
western literature: canonical invisibility
of, 3, 12 13, 18, 20, 40, 48, 65, 113,

Zagarell, Sandra A., 50, 5152, 56, 261

Zappa, Frank, 4 5, 6
Zboray, Ronald J., 261 n.3
Zitkala-Sa, 17