MLA Session (CFP) Pacific Northwest Exchanges

Collaborative Special Session, offered by the Western Literature Association and the MLA’s 20-Century American Literature Divisions

Pacific Northwest Exchanges:

Consideration of literary and cultural production related to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest as site of colonization, immigration, cultural/ethnic difference, indigenous resistance, Asian connections. 1-page abstract, 1-page cv by 3-15-2011

Please submit proposals and inquiries to Alex Hunt at ahunt@mail.wtamu.edu


Justified: I of the Storm

Last week on “The Life Inside” Raylan and fellow marshal Tim Gutterson lost a pregnant inmate they were transporting for a pre-natal visit to her doctor, or, more precisely, she escaped with the aid of a couple of friends (although, really they turned out to be not so friendly).

Later in the episode Raylan visits his father Arlo, because he has violated his house arrest because his  wife Helen (Raylan’s aunt) has kicked him out of the house (if only into a camper in the front yard). As he’s leaving, Helen comments to him, “Leave Mags Bennett alone. . . . You’re perfectly aware of that history.” Raylan answers, “what I went down there for concerned the here and now, nothing to do with the past.”

Helen’s response, “That’d be a neat trick, escaping the past,” seems to encapsulate the developing theme of this season (and which was part of the first season as well), which is that Raylan really can’t escape his past, no matter how hard he tries (or doesn’t try—his renewed relationship with his ex-wife Winona being a case in point of not trying to escape the past).

The past continues  to recur in the most recent episode, “I of the Storm.”  Dewey Crowe pops back up, and comments to the supposedly on the straight and narrow Boyd Crowder, “For a guy that’s supposedly changed, you sound a lot like you always did.” Raylan isn’t the only one that can’t escape his past.

In “I of the Storm,” a yellow bus converted to a church bus operates as a cover for a oxycontin smuggling operation. The bus is hi-jacked, shots are fired, a man is killed, the drugs are stolen, the bus abandoned. Dewey Crowe, of course, was in the midst of it, and he assumes (as does everyone else), that Boyd is behind it—especially since Dewey recognized one of the hijackers as a former Boyd henchman.

In a moment of inspiration, Dewey buys a white cowboy hat as a disguise and steals back the drugs, shouting “I’m federal marshal Raylan Givens.” As a subterfuge, it doesn’t work real well.

Jeremy Davies, who played Daniel Faraday on Lost,  is a member of the Bennett clan, the drug-trafficking family that appears to be the primary nemesis of Raylan this season (Brad William Henke, who plays brother Coover Bennett also made appearances on Lost). This is the second season in a row that a Lost actor has played a member of a villainous family on Justified (M. C. Gainey—Lost‘s Mr. Friendly—played patriarch Bo Crowder in season one). If the trend continues, which actor should cross over from Lost for season three of Justified?

WLA at MLA (CFP)

Please spread the word: seeking proposals for WLA’s panel at MLA. The call below is for our one guaranteed panel, but I am working toward getting us one or two more Special Sessions (that must be approved by the MLA).

Western American Transgressions: Crossing Geographical and Literary Forms
Western Literature Association
Considering western American literature as transgressive of traditional genres, categories, ideas of place; American West as subversive space of cultural production. 1-page abstract, 1-page cv by 15 March 2011; Alexander J. Hunt (ahunt@mail.wtamu.edu).

Let Me In (2010) on DVD

The undead seem to be everywhere these days.  In literature, film, and television, there are more vampires out there than you can shake a stake at. And multitudes of zombies are shambling along on the big screen and the small screen, not to mention across the pages of Pride and Prejudice. And while it might seem odd to use the word “overkill” when talking about the undead, I’m definitely reaching a saturation point when it comes to vampires in particular.

So I didn’t rush out to the movie theaters to see Let Me In, which is both a remake of the Swedish movie Let the Right One In and a new adaptation of the novel by John Ajvide Lingquist on which the original film was based. In all three versions, the story involves a 12 year old (although, as she says, she’s been 12 for a long time) vampire who moves into an apartment complex where a timid and bullied boy lives, and it’s the boy who is the primary character, as he gets to know the new girl (although, as she tells him, “I’m not a girl,” at least not in the human sense).

The American movie moves the setting of the film from Sweden to Los Alamos, New Mexico, while retaining the original’s snowy bleakness (with the addition of artificially enhanced snow for the New Mexico location scenes).  The opening shot of distant police cars and an ambulance traveling along an empty road through the snow with a mountain range in the background is a striking beginning, a nod to the wintry bleakness of the original as well as connecting the film to the empty and majestic desert settings of the American western. Let Me In is just as clever and disturbing in its twists on the vampire film as Let the Right One In, and the New Mexico setting provides an additional interesting element to the film.

The plot and characters in the film come directly from the Swedish original and are true to the source. The western elements occur in the use of setting and particularly in the film’s visual style, which is heavy on quotation and allusion. The director Matt Reeves has mentioned Alfred Hitchcock (specifically Dial M for Murder) as an influence, and the early scenes allude to Rear Window, with the boy Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, who played The Boy in The Road) in the role of Jimmy Stuart’s Jeff Jeffries.  Confined not so much by a wheelchair but by his young age and an unhappy home life (his father absent, his mother in the process of divorce), Owen spends his evenings with a telescope, spying on his neighbors in the apartment complex.

John Ford also seems to be an influence on the visual style of the film, especially Ford’s emphasis on shooting through doorways and windows (most famous example, the final shot of The Searchers), and in Ford’s use of doors and windows as visual markers for other borders and boundaries, inside and outside, civilization and savagery. In one of the final scenes of the film, we look into the interior of a train car through the doorway at one end, and that shot in particular seems a reference to The Searchers.

As an Indian hunter, John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards exists on the border between civilization and savagery, employing savage violence to protect civilization from the dangers of savagery (in terms of the film’s construction of Native Americans as a threat to white civilization). He doesn’t enter the house, but stands framed in the doorway before turning and walking away. By the end of the film (and some spoilers follow here), Owen has made a similar choice, forming an alliance with the savage vampire Abby (Chloe Moretz, who starred as Hit Girl in the film Kick-Ass—and in some ways, her Abby, although prone to primal violence when feeding, is less savage, and certainly less profane, than Hit Girl).

Owen becomes a border character, becoming Abby’s go-between to the human world, the human face who will help conceal her vampiric existence. Visually, the shot through the doorway suggests that Owen has crossed that border to another way of life, one that is well outside the social roles (son, student, bullied victim) that have defined him throughout the rest of the film.

As the title suggests, the film spends a lot of time exploring different living spaces, and is particularly interested in the consequences of who you let come inside. Movements from one space to another, through windows, through doors, from inside to outside, are a central part of the film’s action. One of my favorite shots of the film is looking up at the skylight above a school’s swimming pool, where we see one broken pane of glass, and a swirl of snow coming through it—a natural force crossing that protective barrier. The vampire Abby is a similar force, and one of the interesting things about the film is her ambivalent portrayal. Is she hero or villain? Without giving away too much of the plot, the film makes it clear that the civilized world of humanity is anything but civil and has its own monsters (the bullies that terrorize Owen).

Let Me In is violent, brutal, and bloody at moments, but mostly it’s a character study that slowly and carefully shows the development of the relationship between Owen and Abby. In this regard, I actually found the Swedish Let the Right One In to be too slowly paced. Both films are almost the  same length, but I did find Let Me In to be more engaging, perhaps because I already know and like from earlier films the two young actors in the lead roles.

So even if you’d rather burst into flame every time you step into sunlight than to see yet another vampire film, Let Me In brings something different to the genre, not the least of which is its use of western settings and allusions to western films.

Deadwood and the End of Empire (CFP)

The Last Western: Deadwood and the End of American Empire – 2/25/2011

full name / name of organization:
Paul Stasi & Jennifer Greiman
contact email:
pstasi@albany.edu, jgreiman@albany.edu

The Last Western:
Deadwood and the End of American Empire

“Whatever happened to Gary Cooper?” – Tony Soprano

“We are in the presence of the new.” – Al Swearingen

If Tony Soprano’s iconic remark speaks to an anxiety at the heart of the three great dramas that HBO debuted during the late Clinton and early Bush presidencies – The Sopranos (1999), The Wire (2002), and Deadwood (2004) – then Al Swearingen reminds us that the history of that anxiety is a long one. Each of these shows examines the evacuation of the agency of the imperial subject through one of the genres (gangster films, detective/cop shows, westerns) through which this subjectivity has typically narrated his (and occasionally her) ascension. While The Sopranos and The Wire have generated their own scholarly commentary, Deadwood, perhaps the most sophisticated and complex of these shows, has been sadly neglected. It is our view that Deadwood is the key to understanding the purchase these three shows have gained in contemporary culture, for only Deadwood meditates directly on the relationship between the potential end of American empire and its origins in the 19th- century frontier. Deadwood thus revises America’s historical narrative by illustrating how those very subjects imagined to benefit from Empire are, by virtue of being on its peripheries, subject to the perpetual primitive accumulation David Harvey has named “accumulation by dispossession” that is the hallmark of Imperialist social formations.

What Deadwood achieves, then, is a historicization of contemporary forms of imperial subjectivity that reads them as emergent from the very social structures contemporary Americans are most prone to be nostalgic about, and it does so by mobilizing the genres through which we typically understand this history. Deadwood, that is to say, is as much a meditation on historical continuities as it is on the forms through which we make history accessible to us.

We envision a volume that situates Deadwood within the discourse of 19th century American Studies as well as the current discourse of Empire. Potential topics could include:

– Cycles of accumulation and accumulation by dispossession
– States of exception and the rule of law
– Frontier sovereignty / forms of sovereignty outside the state
– Nationalism and expansionism
– Race war and class war
– Theatricality, sentimentality and the aesthetics of Deadwood
Deadwood and the history of the Western
– Contemporary resonances of Deadwood

Proposals for essays of roughly 7,000 words should include a (400 word) abstract and a brief cv and should be emailed to pstasi@albany.edu and jgreiman@albany.edu by February 25th 2011.

 

The 9/11 Western (CFP)

CFP: (Edited Volume): The 9 / 11 Western: Re-Purposing the Hollywood Genre (03/15/11; 01 November 2011)

full name / name of organization:
Scott F. Stoddart, Dean of Liberal Arts Fashion Institute of Technology / SUNY
contact email:
scott_stoddart@fitnyc.edu

Submissions are sought for a collection of essays titled The 9 / 11 Western: Re-Purposing the Hollywood Genre.
It is well known in scholarly circles that the American Western of the Hollywood studio era underwent a transformation in the 1960s. Trapped in the studio style of John Ford, Howard Hawks and Henry Hathaway, the Western reflected the grand patriotism in its heyday from the 1930s through the 1950s and proved ripe for revision in the turbulent 1960s. Directors like Sam Peckinpah, and George Roy Hill – and to an extent, John Schlesinger and Dennis Hopper — retooled the genre and used the Western to directly comment on America’s involvement in Vietnam and the culture clash taking place on American campuses in response to the conflict. In that instance, the Western appeared to serve as a cultural barometer where fresh commentary regarding American patriotism and ethical responsibility could play out.
Between the mid-1970s and turn of the new century, the Western slid from the collective conscience of the American movie-going public. A few directors would try their hand at returning the genre in its former glory, for example Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves (1990); however, the genre was revisited merely for comedic purposes, in films such as Blazing Saddles (Brooks 1974) and the City Slicker films (1991; 1994). The genre seemed a part of the Hollywood past, re-freshened for a moment and rendered obsolete.
However, since the tragedy of 9/11, the Western has made a remarkable come-back, finding a real purpose blending its original, patriotic purpose with its redefinition as a critical commentary on America’s place in the global community.
I am seeking essays of 20 – 30 pages in length that address the new relevance of what I call “The 9/11 Western.” Essays can be readings of single films, or they can be more comprehensive discussions of how this new breed of Western captures the dichotomy of our times.
Some of the films and issues might include:
• The mythology of the West and its ability to reflect American ideas and political agendas;
• Comparative readings of classic Hollywood Westerns with 9/11 Westerns;
• The new place for women in the Western, evidenced in Open Range (Costner 2003), The Missing (Howard 2003), the Coen’s True Grit (2010);
• The remaking of classic films with contemporary spins, such as 3:10 to Yuma (Mangold 2007) and True Grit (Coen 2010);
• A renewed sense of sadistic violence in this new wave, such as in No Country for Old Men (Coen 2007)
• The revisiting of the place of the outlaw, as in The Assassination of Jesse James (Dominik 2007);
• The space created for the homosexual and its impact on the myth of the West, as in Brokeback Mountain (Lee 2005) and 3:10 to Yuma (Mangold, 2007).
1- 2 abstracts for proposed essays should be sent with a brief biographical sketch by 1 April 2011. Completed essays will be due by 1 November 2011. Please send inquiries and/or completed abstracts to:
Scott F. Stoddart, Dean
School of Liberal Arts, FIT/SUNY
27th Street
New York, NY 10001

 

 

Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Meeting

The 2011 Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Conference will be in Scottsdale, Arizona, October 6-8. Click here to got to the call for papers posted on the RMLA conference website.