The Riders of the Purple Sage and the End of History

There is something pulling me into the scenario: when I first traveled heads on toward the continental divide, some years back, the West became by definition my part of the US, and some portion of me stayed out there, waiting and advancing memories at regular intervals.

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[taken on the way from Los Alamos down on the way to Espanola]

I regularly dream of these colors, of the weight they had on these days in late December.

The crumbling mesa-geography was, no doubt, the most wholesome and beautiful landscape I had seen to that point.

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I’d honestly like to come up with more than these curt one-liners, but somehow the Western scape is beyond me, even now – this central European kid has no adequate vocabulary to translate its geographical awe into extended descriptive sentences.

To borrow a phrase from Captain Willard here -

The light and space of New Mexico really put a zap on my head.

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This speechlessness certainly accounts for parts of my attraction to a) literatures of the West and b) the frontier. In fact, the last regular class I took before this dissertation thing really took off (over here, you’re not required to do course work while you’re processing your diss, nor would I really find the time with the teaching load I have stacked high up on my priority list) was a reading course on The American Western Novel, including Cooper’s The Prairie, Robert M. Bird’s The Jibbenainosay (right, I mentioned that at some length in my discussion of Melville’s Confidence Man, some while back), a host of other stories, and: Zane Grey’s The Riders of the Purple Sage (1912); and this particular perennial will be de rigeur on the program for the upcoming I-don’t-know-how-many-blogging-days. The connexion with

- ah! Lovecraft! -

is not exactly obvious, but still very viable, and workable, and related to my working hypothesis, here and dissertation-wise, that Lovecraft’s use of race as an issue can be explained best in connection with his use and re-establishment of the frontier as an apocalyptic place. To better understand the fusion of all three, race-frontier-apocalypse, I’m picking out literay/cultural texts to read his stories through.

I’ll pour another post out on how the Riders of the Purple Sage build the frontier, and then I’ll go and apocalyptize the place, as I find it.

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4 Comments

  1. Great pictures (and words)! I’m still kicking myself for not bringing a camera along for my little “on the road” experience throughout the west one summer (aught one?), but what you said about the images sticking in your head is definitely my experience!

    You know, now that I think of it, Baudrillard’s America may well be Lovecraftian and not just a response to Barthes’ Empire of Signs on Japan….

  2. Actually, that was in my pre-digital photographing days, and the camera was a clumsy, mechanical thing that must have done some heavy work, as I came back with a dozen or so reels of film.

    That’s an interesting thought on Baudrillard as Lovecraftian, and I’m still grinning, their prose styles and self-understandings just seem miles apart, and I wonder how heavy-handed endtime preacher Lovecraft would fare in an all-out open battle of the books against more subtle and witty Baudrillard or one of the other grand French stylists/theorists. They both do have a way of archaeologizing (does that word even exist?) the site and try to write out its culture from the spot, the road, as it were – there are also some travellogues in the Lovecraft oeuvre, although he tends to go out there with loving nostalgia in his eyes, not so much with the scrutiny that Baudrillard brings on.

  3. Just a shot in the dark–I haven’t actually read that much Lovecraft. In fact, I approach Lovecraft the way I used to approach The Graduate–saw the Simpsons parody first and thought when I finally got around to seeing the original movie, “ah, so that’s what Groening was making fun of!” My Simpsons equivalent is a fine little parody/tribute in Gaiman’s first short story collection….a travelogue, if I remember right!

  4. Did the riders of the purple sage eat you or something? Did the sandwalkers get you?


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