Willa Cather and Material Culture: Real-World Writing, Writing the Real World

Willa Cather and Material Culture: Real-World Writing, Writing the Real World

Willa Cather and Material Culture: Real-World Writing, Writing the Real World

Willa Cather and Material Culture: Real-World Writing, Writing the Real World

Excerpt

For Use, for Pleasure, for Status
The Object World of Willa Cather

JANIS P. STOUT

William Carlos Williams's dictum “no ideas but in things,” usually taken as a position statement relating to the expression of ideas in poetry, might equally well be read as an observation about their source— that is, where ideas come from. For if human beings can express themselves only in real, sensuous objects (as Karl Marx once wrote), it is perhaps equally true that we can gain personhood, develop selves to express, only within the context of objects—a process Fredric Jameson describes when he states that external objects “ 'remind' us of ourselves more profoundly than anything that takes place in the impoverished life of our conscious will” (99). Patricia Yaeger, quoting Jameson, terms this process “introjection,” or the use of objects “to find a path into the hieroglyphic tangle of our own drives and desires” (142). We live amid objects from the time we are wrapped, still smeared with our mother's blood, in our first blanket. Hence the importance of the study of material culture: Concrete objects are both ingredients and traces of human identity, human history, and human culture. And it is as both—as ingredients or shaping contexts and as expressive traces—that we will here ponder the importance of material objects to the mind and art of Willa Cather.

Objects are not, of course, the ingredients or the traces of culture; words, both spoken and written on documents (which can also then be studied as objects), are also powerful ingredients and traces of con-

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