Literary updating west
As a result, the western, a genre once consigned to the margins of serious and sophisticated academic inquiry, has emerged as a vital and inescapable mode through which to understand American culture in its broadest sense.Historians of western American literature, by virtue of the mythologies and iconographies that predominate in their field, will usually incorporate some component of formula or genre westerns in their work.And then there’s the fact that the settings for these tales are usually the apparently untrammeled, natural scenery of the 19th-century frontier American West: deserts, buttes, snowy peaks, and vast expanses of lush prairie.Eventually, such pejorative descriptions arrive at one version or another of the phrase that Montana writer William Kittredge uses in Owning It All (Graywolf Press, 1987) to describe the traditional narrative of the American West: it is a “racist, sexist, imperialist mythology of conquest” (p. To some extent, all of these assertions are accurate, but only up to a point.He put it brilliantly when he said: “As long as human nature doesn’t change, which it never will, the classics have something to tell us.” People aren’t different now, they just have better gadgets.
Greek myths were themselves elastic so there is no reason the classics of Roman and Greek literature shouldn't be updated, says classicist Daniel Mendelsohn. Greek myths were themselves elastic so there is no reason the classics of Roman and Greek literature shouldn't be updated, says classicist Daniel Mendelsohn. It’s a body of very interesting work that happens to be in Greek and Latin. Our kinds of plots, concerns, genres – all of them begin with the Greeks and the Romans. What insights into modern life and politics do they give?
Like any other popular genre form, the western proves, upon more careful scrutiny, to be a multivalent and deeply ambivalent form of mass culture, one that both reflects and meditates upon the questions most urgently felt by a society.
The stories that westerns try to tell have everything to do with coming to terms with racial injustice, gender inequities, the power of the state, and the economic realities of an itinerant agricultural labor class.
You could equally well ask, why read Spanish literature?
Beyond that, because it is the primal literature of the West it gets you to the place where everything begins. So anyone who has an interest in the history of literature in general would do well to study the classics. I’m going to quote my dad here, who is a scientist and has spent the last few years reading the classics, for the first time in many cases.
That is wacky but coherent in its own terms, and I thought it was terrific.