Field Trip to Arcosanti

One of the WLA Saturday field trips took a group of us to architect Paolo Soleri’s experimental urban habitat, Arcosanti, an arcology (Soleri’s coinage combining the words architecture and ecology) in the making.

The Arcosanti “laboratory” is built into basalt cliffs near Cordes Junction, Arizona, and features terraced landscapes, solar greenhouses, and is intended to be a sustainable habitat housing 5000 people when completed.

Arcosanti is also one of the sites where Soleri Windbells are made, and our intrepid guide took us through the process used in casting the ceramic bells.

In addition to the various artists and students living at the habitat, Arcosanti houses 13 cats (one, Shadow, I believe, can be seen at the top of the steps in the picture above), a couple of which made themselves available for observation and admiration, and also provided some of the entertainment (see Shadow leaping from the tree).

Photos of Arcosanti and grounds:

The WLA members who made the trip:

Willa Pilla 2010

Al Kammerer is the winner of the 2010 Willa Pilla Award, for “‘Bianchi’: That’s Italian for Little Tiny Bicycle Seat.” The Award was presented by Bob Thacker, the previous year’s recipient, who had encased the “pilla” in a ziplock bag due to fear of contagions.

The presentation of the Willa Pilla Award during the WLA Saturday business meeting is a favorite conference ritual. The Willa Pilla is awarded as way of acknowledging the long tradition of western humor and is given to the funniest paper delivered at the conference. The winner receives the ceremonial pillow (or pilla) and is crowned with the Willa Pilla Award Hat, both of which the winner is allowed to keep in his or her possession for a full year.  At the conference the next year, the winner passes on the pilla and hat to the new awardee.

I’ve pasted in below several comments posted by Al since winning the award and about the pilla itself, which we are all happy to know, made it safely to Duluth (its new home for the year).

Al Kammerer reports:
The Willa Pilla, after a turbulent ride in the cargo hold, is safely in cold storage here in Duluth. Due to Bob Thacker’s qualms about micro and macro organisms accruing on or about the pillow, I’ve taken the liberty and considerable expense of placing it in a brand new zip lock bag and destroying the old one.
Let me say that there is nothing I wouldn’t do to fulfill my duties as this year’s recipient and reigning king of comedy in the west. I’m also willing to do nothing itself.
Even now, I’m planning a session on humor writing that could provide a springboard for not only discussion, but the lightening bolts of big laughs that all humorists should aim at, avoiding at all costs what Twain called the lighting bugs of “mere humorists.”

From David Cremean:
There is an amazing Willa story from the Pilla’s sojourn here to Spearfish, but I’m (mostly) hoarding it for this year’s presentation introduction of the award. A couple folk, such as Sabine and Dru, know the story. A tantalizing hint: It concerns a Black Willa spyder.

From Al Kammerer:
Now that it’s been revealed, teasingly, that the pilla may have the eggs or full embodiment of spiders, I am upgrading the pilla from regular strength zip lock to a heavy-duty, freezer grade one and removing it from under my pillow to an unatttached garage. With all due respect.
I will stand the considerable expense of this two way protection gladly due to my respect for this honor that can only be compared to the Fishnet Leg Lamp of Christmas Story which is available online, unlike the pilla, for 49.95.
http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Story-20-inch-Fishnet-Stocking/dp/B001MULWHM

I would ask that none of the elements of humor be moderated in my postings. The lightning bolt quality of the humor must be carefully preserved and protected from censorious moderators who would reduce my comments to the level decried by Twain as lightning bugs. Feel free, however, to place disclaimers before and after any and all offenses reasonable persons or committees might find that are against good taste or the common good. Any rebroadcast, however, is strictly prohibited without the expressed written consent of major league baseball.

Grand Obsessions

One of the highlights of the 2010 WLA conference thus far for me was the roundtable discussion:  Revisiting “Letting Go Our Grand Obsessions”: 21st-Century Visions, Challenges, and Possibilities. The panel looked back at Annette Kolodny’s 1992 essay (published in American Literature) “Letting Go Our Grand Obsessions: Notes for a New History of the American Frontier,” with several scholars (all former students of Kolodny) talking about how the essay (and Annette Kolodny herself) has influenced their current work. The panelists were also interested in discussing ways of expanding on Kolodny’s essay, looking at other contemporary grand obsessions that limit scholarship, and suggesting ways to let those grand obsessions go as well. Annette Kolodny also served as a respondent on the panel, offering her suggestions for where American studies might go next.

I’ll try to provide a brief overview of what the panelists discussed, from notes I took while attending the session—and apologies ahead of time for errors and omissions in my note taking, as I know I won’t be able to convey in full detail all the elements of each panelist’s comments.

Chad Allen started the discussion by providing an overview of the key ideas from “Letting Go Our Grand Obsessions,” noting the essay “pushed against older traditions of the frontier coming out of Frederick Jackson Turner.”  Allen noted two important points about Kolodny’s revision of the frontier concept: that two things changed in the frontier encounter between two groups of people and as a result of that encounter: both groups of people encountering one another for the first time, but also the land the itself.

Amy Hamilton remembered that after she had presented her first WLA paper, in which she talked about the symbolism of bloodied feet in narratives of forced marches,  Kolodny, in the audience, had commented that “some pains are not metaphorical.” The  comment, Hamilton observed, led her to see the limitations of interpreting experience as only symbolic and to  be attentive to the real effects experiences have on places and bodies. The influence of Kolodny’s essay on her work, which focuses on the “trope of  walking” in American Literature, caused her  to look at  American literature from various perspectives, to be attentive to the  impact of region on depictions of walking, and to understand walking not only as a trope but also as a real activity with real effects on bodies and places.

All of the panelists suggested that the key influence of “Letting Go Our Grand Obsessions” was its imperative that as scholars we continually rethink received literary and historical paradigms, whether that be the separation of experience and the textual representation of experience (the paradigm of focusing only on the text), or, as Tom Hillard suggested, the need to rethink geographically and chronologically what counts as western literature.

Hillard began with a discussion of his work on the lost colony at Roanoke, which is  “story of frontiers, contact zones, encounters between groups of people,” that, when we look beyond its eastern setting, is the “archetypal story at the center of western literature.” Hillard’s key question was: why does there seem to be so little critical interest in pre-nineteent- century literature in western studies? As part of a study, he looked back at every WLA conference program from 1970 onward, looking for what’s been studied as western or frontier literature. Texts from earlier centuries were mostly absent; there were fewer than 15 conference talks in the past 45 years focused on pre-19th century literature. He noted that there’s still much work to be done to let go our grand obsessions with received geographic and chronological ways of conceptualizing what counts as western or frontier literature.

Building on Hamilton’s comment on the necessity of seeing both the trope and the real experience, Tereza M. Szeghi talked about the frontier as borderlands, observing, following Kolodny, the importance that such studies need to be grounded in the physical space of the borderlands, in the concept of a materialized border rather than just a metaphorical contact zone.

Randi Tanglen built on Hillard’s critique of periodization to ask how we might rethink frontier texts and periodization in the 19th century, departing from the paradigm of using the Civil War, and its north/south division, as the central organizing principle for the century. She suggested that the US-Mexican War, which resulted in “accumulations of new peoples and lands, and which meant that Americans had to rethink what it means to be American,” was an equally important way of conceptualizing the mid-19th century.

Kolodny responded by sketching out some of the history of the publication “Letting Go Our Grand Obsessions.” The essay appeared in the first issue of American Literature under the leadership of a new editor, one with a “new eagerness to shake the stuffing out of American Studies.” Indeed,  “the journal and the field would never be the same” after the publication of the issue.  She noted that most of the objections to the ideas in the essay centered around the call for Americanists to get out of the English department, and the call for studying literature in languages in other than English. In keeping with the forward-looking approach of the discussion, she noted that she has a new book coming out next year, In Search of First Contact, which asks two key questions: how does a settler nation justify its acts of genocide? and how do invaded indigenous peoples maintain an ongoing sense of identity in the face of that violence? Kolodny concluded with the comment that the book is “my latest effort to eschew disciplinary boundaries . . . and most of all to keep up with my own former students.”

Opening Day (WLA Conference 2010)

The 2010 Western Literature Conference in Prescott, Arizona, opened with the traditional reception and with readings from the most recent entry in The Best of the West: New Storis form the Wide Side of the Missouri series. Editor D. Seth Horton introduced the three readers Dagoberto Gilb, Ron Carlson, and Aurelie Sheehan.

Of course, the conference really begins with the warm greeting at the registration table (and a plate of cookies for arriving attendees never hurts).

More to follow. And, remember, if you’re exploring the area around Prescott when not at the conference hotel, stay on the trail and try to avoid snake bites.

 

Live from the 2010 WLA Conference

Or, I will be soon. As I did last year from Spearfish, I will provide “live” (or at least “on the scene”) reports from the Western Literature Conference in Prescott, Arizona. The conference starts in just a few days, and I’m busily wrapping things up with my classes and getting ready to fly west for the week. Stay tuned!

Sons of Anarchy (“Turning and Turning”)

Five episodes in to season three of Sons of Anarchy, and I’m still waiting for The Searchers to start.

The kidnapping of Jax’s son at the end of season two had me thinking that the next logical generic move for this post-western motorcycle drama would be for SAMCRO to start searching for the missing Abel. With Gemma on the lam, and with Jax and Clay on the way to cross the border to Vancouver following a tip about Abel, it looked like we were about to get moving, but by the end of episode 4, we had ended up, as the title suggests, back “Home” in Charming, and this week’s episode was similarly confined to the city limits of Charming.

If you haven’t seen episode five (“Turning and Turning”) yet, be forewarned that spoilers follow.

“You got to hold onto family, kid. That’s what will get you through,” according to Gemma, a comment she made in the episode “Oiled,” and which seems to be pretty much the statement of the series theme, although, Season Three thus far seems intent on putting that notion to the test, as again and again, family is not what gets you through but what lets you down, or, else, gets you into trouble.

Troubled by having to hand her father over to the care of a retirement facility, Gemma decides to go back home to Charming, to see Abel (her family has kept his kidnapping secret from her). She contacts Agent Stahl to make a deal to turn herself in. Shortly after she arrives in Charming, she receives a phone call from her old friend in Ireland informing her that Abel is in Belfast. The revelation of Abel’s kidnapping causes her to faint and nearly causes a heart attack. In “Turning and Turning,” Gemma wakes up in the hospital—handcuffed to the bed (so much for Agent Stahl’s deal).

There are other family troubles. As Agent Stahl observes, Clay, Jemma, and Jax are “the family that hates [Agent Stahl] together.” Even Agent Stahl gets caught up in the family dynamic. “You sound like my mother,” Gemma tells her. “Wise woman,” responds Agent Stahl, to which Gemma replies, “I hated her.  She’s dead.” Family’s what gets you through indeed!

It’s also revealed in this episode that Tara is in a family way, pregnant with Jax’s child (who, I trust, will not be named Cain when he’s born–family is difficult enough and that would be just asking for trouble).

Well, we know now that Abel is somewhere in Belfast, and it can’t be much longer until the Sam Crow boys are crossing borders and starting their search good and proper.

II International Conference on the American Literary West

Greetings from Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. Here in this Basque Country capital the intrepid hometown team of Neil Campbell, Nancy Cook and yours truly are anchoring the plenary sessions of this once-every-five-years two-day conference along with Nevada Writers Hall of Fame honorees Phyllis Barber (How I Got Cultured), Gregory Martin (Mountain City), and prolific Basque writer Bernardo Axtaga (most recently, The Accordionist’s Son).

Today Bernardo kicked things off with a talk in Basque (simultaneously translated into English) titled “Places: Existing and Non-Existing” (an untranslatable play on words), concerning Ignatius Loyola’s birthplace and the labyrinth of truth in fiction. Later, Nancy used images of old TV shows and real-estate ads to illustrate “McMansions and Doublewides: Social Class and the Rural West” while Neil looped a set of Lakewood photos for “Affective Critical Regionalism in D.J. Waldie’s Suburban West.” Occasional WLA attendee Monika Mandinabeita discussed Frank Bergon’s Shoshone Mike, and conference director, WLA member, and University of the Basque Country Professor of English David Rio gave a critical reading of Martin’s novel. See the full program here.

This evening after the last sesssion we trooped over to city hall for a personal greeting from Vitoria’s mayor, who told us to flirt to our hearts’ content, and then we went en masse on a txikiteo to eat pintxos at a few of the old medieval town’s many many bars.

Amazingly, Phyllis Barber’s son’s Denver-based band [see below] opened the conference last night with a nonstop 90-minute high-energy punkabilly performance. They continue from here on a European tour with shows throughout Spain and Italy and crazy all-night drives to get to them.

Bass player Symphony with Jonny Barber (R) and The Rhythm Razors

2/3 of Jonny Barber (R) and The Rhythm Razors