Violence of Horses: Myth and Reality in the Western
T-Th 10:00 - 11:20 (D38), T 6:00pm - 9:00pm (World Studies Lounge)
American culture -- especially since the end of the Civil War -- has always been fascinated with the "western frontier," a mythical space that has been associated with a (usually violent) psychological and social transformation. The frontier, Frederick Jackson Turner famously announced in 1893, is the crucible wherein Europeans are transformed into that new thing called American. Since Turner made this announcement, the western -- as a literary genre, as a visual iconography, as a political idea -- has been one of the dominant frameworks of America's definition of itself: in hundreds of novels, and in hundreds more films made in the last century, the transformative experience of the West has been and explicit or implicit motif.
In this class we will explore the origins of that myth through an examination of some of the ways it has been articulated in literature and film. We will read a number of the older works that helped to define the genre -- Turner's "Significance of the Frontier in American History" and Owen Wister's The Virginian -- along with various modern renditions by Leslie Marmon Silko (Ceremony), Annie Proulx (At Close Range), Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian), among others. We will also watch and discuss a series of classic and modern western films, including Shane, High Noon, Unforgiven and others. Our goal throughout will be to explore the various ways the myth of the west has been mobilized, from generation to generation, to speak to changing American concerns and social tensions, and to try to understand, if we can, the way our myth of ourselves inflects, and is inflected by, our reality.
Because this is a writing seminar, we will also write a lot about all of this: at least rhree major papers, along with a research paper. Discussions of the class texts will alternate with writing conferences, and work on style, grammar, rhetoric and structure.