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.


[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.


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.


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.


Oh yeah, another apocalypse scheme from Germany

[first posted by Chili bob, some rights reserved]

Yeah, that’s exactly what Volkswagen automobiles are known as over here in Germany – chariots of the Gods, even multi-tentacled ones like Cthulhu. Just so as not to create confusion – Miskatonic University is in Massachussetts, and enrollment is extremely competitive.

The Frontier as Apocalyptic Place: Melville’s Indian Hating Revisited (V)

The title begs for details, it just does: why would the frontier pop up there in the first place?

The novel, The Confidence Man, is supposedly set in the 1850s, and it describes a voyage through territories – the Midwest and the Coastal Plains, or: the area wedged between the Appalachians and the Great Plains, or: Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana – that had well been integrated into the union.

[first posted by EricGjerde, some rights reserved]

To wit, in this context –

The Indian Removal Act had been ratified in 1830, under the auspices of President Andrew Jackson, signing into jurisdiction a forced westward movement –

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That it shall and may be lawful for the President of the United States to cause so much of any territory belonging to the United States, west of the river Mississippi, not included in any state or organized territory, and to which the Indian title has been extinguished, as he may judge necessary, to be divided into a suitable number of districts, for the reception of such tribes or nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and remove there; and to cause each of said districts to be so described by natural or artificial marks, as to be easily distinguished from every other. (my emphasis)

A sharper edge than mine is applied on the act – here – what the law implied was, of course, the forced removal of member of the Five Civilized Tribes from the South East into the West, here meaning: west of the Mississippi river.
Indian and frontier fighting, in the vein of Colonel John Moredock, was introduced into the White House with the presidency of William Henry Harrison (1840-1841, being the ninth president and the first to die in office, obviously. He was not impeached out of it.). The White House biographical info page introduces his vita thus –

“Give him a barrel of hard cider and settle a pension of two thousand a year on him, and my word for it, ” a Democratic newspaper foolishly gibes, “he will sit…by the side of a ‘sea coal’ fire, and study moral philosophy.”

– which seems like a very fair deal. Earlier in his life he had been governor of the Indiana Territory, moving in that position into the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, against the Indian forces under the command of Tecumseh, below in a British uniform, documenting the fact that he went into an alliance with the British after his forces had been defeated in 1811. The iconographic conventions baffle me somewhat – most of all the lady on the medallion. If anyone, it should show George III, king of Great Britain & Ireland from 1800-1820, which it clearly does not. Since the painting was done in 1848, decades after Tecumseh’s death (at the hands of said William Henry Harrison, as the uncorroborated story goes) in 1813, I would think the artist gave a damn for historical accuracy and planted Queen Victoria into the painting – though she, whoever she is, doesn’t seem to wear any regal apparel – crown, diadem, or something – or any other thing indicating her status.

Chief Tecumseh

So. At the time of the Fidèle scuttling down the Mississippi river, the frontier had been established as a place of presidential geo-politics – at the same time, Indians were hurried out of the Eastern seaboard colonies, West and in the direction of the frontier – which around 1850 had, of course, long reached the Western seaboard.

The Mexican-American war had brought California into the Union, ceded by Mexico in 1848 – with General William Tecumseh Sherman playing a major role in the events, of course.

The Bear State Flag, as hoisted by the Sonoma, Ca. crew who went to occupy the Mexican garrison in the city.

The Fidèle is an all-comprehensive stage for a self-contained narration. Using what must by needs and apocalyptic logic be the final hours of the world, a judgment day presided over not by a celestial panel, but, well – by the reader, to whom the con man is busy catering, – using these final hours productively entails a reconstruction.

Melville brings back the frontier into the middle of the country, – the sense of it radiates off board the Fidèle, that brave Mississippi steamer acting as a world stage, as a diorama of the world. On rolling down the river, she is creating a steadily updated sense of frontier, en passant, if you will – an inside (the ship= the world) and an outside (historical, secular reality outside the confines of the ship/world stage: such as the extended chapters on Indian hating, which present a geographical frontier themselves, THE frontier as worked into the site by real life explorer-heroes like Daniel Boone and fictional, ambiguous villain-heroes like Nick of the Woods).

This is not so much a geographical frontier, but more a figurative, spiritual one. And that new frontier experience is part of the apocalyptic one-day-one-stage-experience that the con man, aka Satan, aka What-was-his-name, brings to an end when he smothers the light of the candle at the very end of the novel. There is no one left to reach out after that, no narrator lucky enough to be spared just for the sake of the narration, the way Ishmael takes the narration away from the capsizing of the Pequod –

[The Crew of the Pequod; first posted by Dunechaser, some rights reserved]


I realize this is a way, way, way messed up argument that I would liberally cover in red if one of my students handed it in like that – I need to work out that frontier/apocalypse-interpretative-routine more, and my next chapter (and that’s where I’m escaping to now) on the Riders of the Purple Sage will give me the chance to.

Sixth – Month – Apocalyptizing

This blog here is quickly drawing toward its six month anniversary. My mission objective has survived. The objective was to offer a place for the academic/scholarly scrutiny of Lovecraft’s works, and the scrutiny would be included.

I also realize, – I’ve been a sloth. What would I see this evening, at last and I don’t know how many months too late, combing through the sphere’s output on Lovecraft, & creations, if not Chris Perridas’ long-lasting blog chronicling the (pop) cultural afterlife of the man? A scholar’s dream…

That child is hardly a Bastard

Drawing mention to JJ Abrams‘ upcoming film project, trailerishly excerpted above,  damien at asks –

Anyway, here at Blather we’re curious to see what hardcore Lovecraft fans make of all this. Interesting and timely new slant on the Ancient Ones story? Or a cynical bastardisation of Lovecraft’s great opus?

Well, I’m not a fan, let alone hardcore, but a scholar – still, after seeing that trailer, I can’t help noticing that

a) the timbre fits. That’s what great and mighty Cthulhu sounds like: your tectonic movement in the night.

b) the other, whatever it is, surfaces in a tentacular mood (see all this spouting and the shape it takes at around 1:10 min.).

c) I look forward to January 18, 2008.

…and, more:

d) the movie may be cynical, but when it’s presenting us with the destruction of the planet, it cannot possibly be a bastardisation: that is what Lovecraft is all about, in the first place, of course.

The Frontier as Apocalyptic Place: Melville’s Indian Hating Revisited (IV)

[ first posted by Farol, some rights reserved]

So, here I go to conclude that part of my investigation, the purpose of which is to evaluate how the concepts of race, frontier, and apocalypse go together in Lovecraft’s fiction. More precisely, the issue was race, and I tried to establish, and am still trying to, that it cannot be evaluated without also involving the other two.

That does not at all explain what Melville is doing in there. I should add that I am somewhat obsessed with literary genealogies, at least where Lovecraft is concerned: I’m always ever trying to formulate and re-formulate him pedigrees, outside the usual and well-established circle of suspects – may Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and: Poe, forgive me.

That makes Melville one of my usual suspects…he’s just as bitter in his morals as is Lovecraft, and just as grand in his cosmological ensemble, man vs. universe.

[first posted by Lance McCord, some rights reserved – the sign reads: Melville Candy Shop]

That said, here’s the job. I gave a general introduction to Melville’s The Confidence Man, asked whether or not it was actually staging Nietzsche’s concept of the eternal recurrence, then went on to give another introduction, to the actual corpus delicti, the chapters on Indian hating, took an important digression to Lovecraft’s “Indians”, or rather, his re-erection of the frontier, and now am stranded here, knotting up the strings.

Alright. The deal is this.

The Fidèle – a boat and a stage: and one that is not much smaller, if at all, than the Pequod, is going down the Mississippi river, headed for New Orleans. In steps the trickster, the con man, aka the great merchant of souls, boarding the boat in St. Louis.

At sunrise on a first of April, there appeared, suddenly as Manco Capac at the lake Titicaca, a man in cream-colors, at the waterside in the city of St. Louis.


April 1, sometime in the 1850: as the boat is going downriver, the con man sits on deck and falls into a conversation on Indian hating with –

A man neither tall not short, neither stout nor gaunt; but with a body fitted, as by measure, to the service of his mind.

Since he doesn’t have any physical characteristics (neither-nor), does that also mean that he doesn’t think at all? After all, he doesn’t narrate any experience he himself would have made, but rather he refers, as in a quote, to James Hall, and paraphrases Hall’s account of the archetypal Indian slayer and hater, the Colonel John Moredock. Basically, he – the man without qualities – works in encyclopedic knowledge, into the narration, selected by Melville, of course, to give a biased, unbalanced account very unfavorable to the Indian.

It’s all an April Fool’s Joke, you douchebag!

It sure is. That doesn’t mean that the events on stage are not political: that extended part of the joke is placed a little too squarely into the overall layout of the novel to be whisked away, just like that.

To quote from Elizabeth S. Foster’s introduction to the novel, graciously excerpted in the Norton edition (472-475), –

This interpolated account of Indian-hating and Colonel Moredock, which occupies Chapters XXVI and XXVII, is the turning-point of the novel at its symbolical levels and the apex of the whole argument; it has been, furthermore, a stumbling-block to several critics. Therefore it will be pertinent here to examine closely Melville’s treatment of the material that he borrowed from Judge Hall.

Stumbling block, indeed. I flummoxes me out for now. I need to go a little deeper, it seems, into the relation symbolism-politics before I write a conclusion. Ah.

That’s when they chopped the mayor’s head off, back in ’93

Champs de Mars, Paris, La France

No, no – I don’t lapse into the age-blind nostalgia lingo of Lovecraft’s characters – that slangy, creepy way of telling things that happened 100s of years ago as if they’d had an active part in them. Not so. I meant this mayor here, Jean Sylvain Bailly, head of the first commune, in post-Revolution! – Paris, from 1789-1791. He was found indecent. Well, he was found indecent after he had deployed the National Guard, disastrously, to muffle, violently, a riot on the Champs de Mars, see above, that had arisen when an assembly had gathered to await the arrival of a petition that would have removed the king, Louis XVI, from office once and for all and for good. It didn’t arrive. People started lobbing rocks at the present National Guards, and mayhem was up and running.

Bailly was not forgiven for his deployment of the Guards. Having retired from office after the events on the Mars Field (and that is Mars, not as in the Misfits piece, Mars Attacks, but rather as in, Roman God of War), he was un-retired in 1793 and located, headwise, onto a guillotine bench, like so many . To quote the Schiller Institute’s tear-inspiring account of the final moments –

“You are trembling, Bailly?” asked one of the guards. “Yes, my friend, because of the cold,” serenely replied Bailly, as he walked up to the scaffold and put his head beneath the blade to receive the deadly blow.

Sniff. The grandeur of it.

Why I am telling all this as if I had had an active part?

Because the constructivist citizen of somewhere else is just about to tumble into instituting (not to say, constitutionalizing) a blogging commune, in fact: he’s already proto-elected himself a mayor, namely Michael Bérubé, and I think to myself, Daniel, this is your one chance of entering a commune without having the landlord tell you after a few days that all these commune-al friends have just set up a conscription service office for the French Foreign Legion, without your knowing of it, so go for it.

Therefore, I apply for a position in Blogoramaville, very coyly, mind you, – apply therefore for the as-yet-unofficial post of Laocoon of the Ville (for my first job act, see above: revolutionary mayors don’t live at ease. Neither do revolutionary scientists or scientists at all.) and answer the riddles the godfather of the Ville poses as an entrance exam.

The sphinx speaks these riddles, thus:

1. Michael Berube:[x=Republican Presidential Candidate]::a:b
2. Michael Berube:[y=Possible Mayoral Competitor]::c:d
3. Michael Berube:[z=Possible Running Mate]::e:f
4. Michael Berube:g::h:i

And it whispers something of – no similes! – and – no metaphors! – as if I knew what these were!

Ad 1)

Michael Berube:Mitt Rummy ::Michael Bérubé:Mitt Romney

Ad 2)

Michael Berube:Me :: Tenured:Adjuncted (d’oh!)

Ad 3)

Michael Berube:Lady Lazarus :: Closed Blog:Resurrected Blog (one year in every ten?)

Ad 4)

Michael Berube:David Horowitz :: Nuri al-Maliki:General Petraeus

Yeah, the answer to riddle 2 is cheap: shame!