True West: Authenticity and the American West

True West: Authenticity and the American West

True West: Authenticity and the American West

True West: Authenticity and the American West

Synopsis

In no other region of the United States has the notion of authenticity played such an important yet elusive role as it has in the West. Though pervasive in literature, popular culture, and history, assumptions about western authenticity have not received adequate critical attention. Given the ongoing economic and social transformations in this vast region, the persistent nostalgia and desire for the "real" authentic West suggest regional and national identities at odds with themselves. "True West explores the concept of authenticity as it is used to invent, test, advertise, and read the West.The fifteen essays collected here apply contemporary critical and cultural theory to western literary history, Native American literature and identities, the visual West, and the imagining of place. Ranging geographically from the Canadian Prairies to Buena Park's Entertainment Corridor in Southern California, and chronologically from early tourist narratives to contemporary environmental writing, "True West challenges many assumptions we make about western writing and opens the door to an important new chapter in western literary history and cultural criticism.

Excerpt

I have found it a rare experience to speak with people in the United States who feel they are truly living in their home place, who live not on the land but of the land. in the United States, the question “Where are you from?” appears as frequently in ordinary conversation as comments on the weather. So many of us are from somewhere else within our own lifetimes that the ubiquitous, and more important, subsequent question can be predicted as well: “Where is your family from originally?” Such narratives of personal immigration or migration history allow us to define ourselves as we would like others to understand us, as if we could carry a smidgen of the land of our origin with us.

From an indigenous perspective, it can be tempting to interpret this nostalgia for European roots as yet another piece of evidence for the settlement culture, which has become the mainstream, as being dangerously disconnected from the actual American landscape. the Euro-American consumer society so bent on devouring land and resources certainly fits such a profile. However, I will not focus on the hunger and thirst of the marketdriven consumer for material things but rather on what I have noticed lying in the consumer's heart—an unexamined acknowledgment of something needed, something lost that forms an intense longing for meaning, for connection to the authentic sacred in landscape that is simultaneously revered and degraded on an ongoing basis. I have further noticed the curious form this longing often takes. Europeans and Euro-Americans have of late intensified their long-established predilection for representing American Indians as the human embodiment of the sacred in “Mother Earth.” This phenomenon is as old as first contact but is receiving increased contemporary currency through nature writing, eco-tourism, alternative religious pursuits, and environmentalism generally. the non-Indian seeking imagined Indian connections to authentic truth and sacred wisdom strikes me as a phenomenon that can provide important insight into how mainstream Euro-American culture performs its continuing ambivalence about the land and its native people. Not so long ago, white settlers wanted to Christianize Indians to save them from what whites saw as ignorance and savagery. Now . . .

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