CFP on Charles Bowden for the 2012 Western Literature Association Conference, Lubbock, TX

We are accepting proposals for a panel or panels on Charles Bowden for the 2012 Western Literature Association Conference in Lubbock, Texas (November 7-10). The theme for this year’s conference is “Western Crossroads: Literature, Social Justice, and the Environment.”  We are open to all critical approaches, including feminist, Marxist, critical regionalist, hemispheric, narratological, postcolonial, and ecocritical perspectives. Potential proposals may include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Apocalyptic southwest
  • Connections between Bowden and other writers (Abbey, McCarthy, Silko, etc.)
  • Environmental beauty and destruction
  • Genre tensions between the essay, the memoir, crime reporting, gonzo journalism, and history
  • Globalization and the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands
  • Interplay of text and images in the Inferno, Exodus/Éxodo, and Trinity trilogy, and/or Juárez: Laboratory of Our Future, and/or Dreamland
  • Mexican North and the American West
  • Police state(s) vs. anarchism
  • Relationships between narcotraficantes and the war on drugs
  • Representations of the Mexican Army and/or the U.S. Border Patrol
  • Transnational social justice
  • Versions of El Sicario (film, articles, and books)

Please note that our panel(s) will be the first step towards the eventual publication of a scholarly collection of essays focused on Bowden, which we will edit throughout 2013. This volume appears almost certain to be the initial scholarly foray into Bowden, and we have already received interest from a major university press.

E-mail abstract proposals (350-500 words) with a working title and a brief biography or CV by April 1, 2012 to David Cremean (nialmccruimmen@gmail.com) and D. Seth Horton (dshorton@umd.edu).

Justified: Cut Ties

In the latest episode of Justified, we gather that Boyd’s fist fight with Raylan in the previous episode was primarily a way to get Boyd into prison—and in close vicinity with Dickie Bennett, with whom Boyd has a score to settle. Raylan figures this out as well, and changes his statement to see that Boyd gets released. Boyd, as we might expect, turns out to be resourceful.

Justified also returns to making western allusions in this episode with Art Mullens waxing poetic with fellow Marshal Bill Nichols about old West sheriffs, including his favorite,  Bass Reeves. Marshal Nichols works for WitSec, and he is working with a witness who has moved from New Mexico. In the conversation with Art, Marshal wonders how he would stand up against those old West marshals. Given the circumstances of what follows, probably not too good. With Nichols off the board, the witnesses are divided up for protection.

Raylan leaves behind a pregnant Winona to go off with Assistant Director Goodall, someone whom he has had a relationship with in the past. AD Goodall is pretty awesome.

Art gets a chance to spend some time in the field as well, and, as things turn out, he’s not adverse to departing from protocol when it comes to interrogating prisoners.

There’s quite a bit of shooting before the episode comes to an end.

For the first two seasons, Justified has emphasized Raylan’s difference from his fellow law enforcement officers. He’s presented as an anachronism, his fast-draw justice in contrast to modern policing, a throwback to the days of the old West. This episode departs from that central set up of the show. Art, who spent most of last season at odds with Raylan because of his tendency to step outside accepted procedure, in this episode beats, tortures, and threatens to kill a suspect. Art’s reference earlier to African American Old West sheriff Bass Reeves (he thinks “Denzel” should look into the character as a movie role) also seems to set up what happens later in the episode. African American Marshal Rachel Brooks coolly and calmly shoots a gunman in the head at point blank range. The reference to Bass Reeves seems to be suggesting that Rachel could certainly measure up to her law enforcement predecessor. When Raylan asks Rachel afterwards how she’s doing, she reports that she’s fine, just another day at the office. Killing, when it’s justified, seems to come to Rachel as easily as it does for Raylan.

This seems like a shift in emphasis from the way the show was originally conceived. Raylan as an anachronism at least suggests some critical distance from the genre western, some commentary on the western’s celebration of violence as itself anachronistic. That doesn’t seem to be the case so far this season, as everybody in the Marshal’s service now seems like Raylan, and I guess the fantasy of the series is that we really are in the new Old West, and that justifies whatever violence the lawmen (and women) think is necessary.

Justified: Season 3 begins

The new season of Justified begins with a promisingly titled (from a western perpsective) episode “The Gunfighter.” Raylan is recovering from the events at the end last season—when he got shot in the side.  The episode has a promising beginning—with Raylan and Boyd Crowder in a fist fight before the opening credits even roll.

With the suicide of Mags Bennett at the end of last season, her marijuana business (and current stock) is up for grabs, and Boyd (with Raylan’s father) has been quick to step in and take control.

Desmond Harrington from Dexter plays Fletcher “The Ice Pick” Nicks, a Chigurh-like hitman. Rather than flipping a coin, he has his own particular game that he likes to play, which is to place his gun between himself and his victim to give him a 50/50 chance. When the victim goes for the gun, Fletcher stabs his hand with an ice pick (which gives him a decided advantage on the odds). He tries this game with Raylan. It doesn’t work out quite the way he planned.

High point of the episode: Ava smacking a recalcitrant Devil in the face with an iron skillet.

 

Hell on Wheels: Season Finale

In the episode “God of Chaos,” Hell on Wheels comes to the end of its first season. AMC is getting viewers in a western mood by airing Unforgiven as a lead in to the episode. When we last left Cullen Bohannan, Durant had just revealed to him that the Swede had sent word to federal marshals that he had evidence linking Bohannan to several murders. The title of the episode comes from a comment that the Swede makes to Bohannan, referring to the Norse trickster God Loki, “the god of chaos,” as the Swede calls him

Spoilers follow, so read with caution!

The episode begins with a flashback of Bohannan discovering his wife’s body. In the present, the Hell on Wheels camp is still celebrating reaching the 40 mile marker—with Durant inviting the camp’s sex workers to the evening’s party so they can tend to his invited guests. The Swede has located the man Bohannan is searching for—the last of the soldiers who murdered his wife—and hopes to convince him to testify against Bohannan. Lily Bell, who in the last episode was revealed to have surveying expertise, is revealed in this episode to be unable to hammer a nail. The series can’t seem to decide what do with this character. Is she a plucky girl with practical skills? Or a civilized lady who is a fish out of water in the Hell on Wheels camp? If Lily has the engineering skills to replace her husband as surveyor, surely she should have somewhere along the line learned how to use a hammer.

Bohannan goes to Rev. Cole to seek advice on how to leave the dark path he’s on. That Rev. Cole is holding in his arms the severed head of the man he killed while conversing with Bohannan suggests that he’s perhaps not the best person at the moment to offer such advice. “Choose hate,” he offers, “It’s so much easier.”

Durant asks Mr. Gundersen (aka, the Swede) if he ever had his heart broken, and the Swede responds that his wife left him: “My heart was not ripped out, but she did stain my cuckoo clock.”  At least that’s what I think he said.

Elam seems to be letting his new position with Durant go to his head. He has a new suit of clothes and quickly finds ways to offend almost every one of his friends at the camp, including Eva.

The Swede should have considered his own warning about the God of Chaos. Trickster Gods are notoriously fickle and unpredictable in their allegiances. At the moment that “Mr. Swede” (aka the Swede, aka Mr. Gundersen) thinks he has control of the situation with Bohannan, his heavy-handed protection racket in the camp comes back to bite him—as he is tarred and feathered by the people from whom he has been extorting money. We see the feathered-covered “Mr. Swede” running away from the mob in the background as Bohannan searches the camp for the sergeant. I kept expecting that we would see the feathered Swede running through the midst of the celebratory dance (chaos, indeed), but that didn’t happen.

Bohannan’s hunt is beautifully filmed. We see Bohannan moving against backgrounds of carefully arranged laundry on lines, glowing fire pots that send up clouds of sparks, exploding firecrackers, and finally the smoke, steam, and lights of a train moving through the darkness. Bohannan catches and kills his man—only to discover that he is innocent. A paper he is clutching reveals that he was discharged before the murder of Bohannan’s wife took place.

And the season ends with a sequence of shots: the Swede discovering a wanted poster with Bohannan’s name on it, Bohannan on horseback riding (destination unknown), and Elam, still unafraid of getting his hands dirty on Durant’s behalf, practicing his marksmanship.

Hell on Wheels Keeps on Rolling

As we come toward the end of season one of Hell on Wheels, it looks like the series will roll on for at least another season—a second season was recently announced. Averaging over 3 million viewers per episode, Hell on Wheels is coming in as AMC’s second-most watched show after The Walking Dead (which precedes Hell on Wheels on Sunday nights).

The two series are quite similar, with both taking place in a society that has just experienced a catastrophe (the zombie apocalypse, the Civil War) and which is still in many ways feeling the effects of that Event (which is more of an ongoing catastrophe in The Walking Dead than it is in Hell on Wheels). And, in both series, the primary source of conflict comes as much from within the groups of survivors as from the outside.  Can’t we all get along? Well, no, not really, suggest both these series. We may occasionally work together, temporarily uniting against the threat of zombies, or momentarily joining together to lay down a few miles of railroad track, but we spend more time fighting with each other than we doing working toward unified goals.

In the most recent episodes of Hell on Wheels, the railway’s incursions into Indian Territory have created another Civil War involving a fight of brother against brother.  Not only is one group of humans in conflict with another (recently unified Americans and the Cheyenne), but each group is riven by its own conflicts. The figurative brother-against-brother fight of the Civil War is played out again in the make up of the search party that combines former confederate Bohannon and former slave Elam with bloodthirsty union soldiers. The stated goal is to have Joseph Black Moon lead them to his people where he will negotiate with them. The cavalry is pretty much intent on having Joseph lead them to the encampment (which consists mostly of women and children) in order to slaughter them. Joseph, Elam, and Bohannon, are almost immediately in conflict with the soldiers. The only thing that prevents an open battle against one another is an attack by a Cheyenne raiding party.

The brother-against-brother scenario of the Civil War is played out literally in the conflict between the christian Joseph and his unassimilated brother, Pawnee Killer. Early in the episode “Timshel,” one brother kills the other.

Spoilers follow if you haven’t seen “Timshel.”

“Timshel,” a Hebrew word meaning something like “thou mayest,” is circulating in popular culture in part through John Steinback’s East of Eden, but primarily at the moment through the Mumford and Sons song of the same name. Their version of  “Timshel” plays over the opening battle scene.  The lyrics of the song seem ironic in this context:

And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand

The brothers in Hell on Wheels certainly aren’t holding hands. The sense of the episode suggests East of Eden as an immediate context for episode, as the novel takes the biblical story of Cain and Abel as its allegorical starting point.

Joseph’s choice, to side with his Christian fellows (even though they are a decidedly un-Christian lot in their actions and behaviors) against his brother, is one that doesn’t seem to have a clear right or wrong to it. Lots of characters in this episode seem to be making choices, but, unlike Joseph, those choices seem to be less ambivalent choices between good and evil.

The McGinnis Brothers have returned from Chicago, and they have chosen to abandon their sentimental evocation of the homeland as the subject for their magic lantern show. Instead, they advertise a show of  “soiled doves” and “forbidden fruit.” In the choice between good and evil, or between good and tawdry, they choose the path that will make them more money.

Elam chooses to scalp the Cheyenne killed in the attack so he can collect bounty—an action which Bohannon refuses to do. Elam catches the eye of Durant by doing so, as Durant is looking for a man who is “willing to get his hands dirty.” Elam has his own version of “forbidden fruit” to tempt him.

All in all, I found “Timshel” to be a disappointing episode. Unfortunately, like its sister show The Walking Dead Hell on Wheels has a tendency to emphasize surprise over character consistency. Only Bohannon and Joseph in this episode act in ways completely consistent with their characters’ development thus far. On the one hand, it makes a kind of sense that Elam, recently emancipated from slavery, would have some identity troubles as he tries to figure out how to be a free man in a society that still doesn’t acknowledge his full humanity. However, up to this point, Elam has been with Bohannon as a character who still retains at least a small amount of ethical behavior. Here, he suddenly and unexpectedly turns toward the dark side. Elam wants the respect that he deserves, and he may be willing to get his hands dirty to insure that respect, but greed has not been a primary motivating factor.

Also, in this episode, we discover that Lily Bell has taken over her husband’s surveying duties. No doubt Lily has proved herself as courageous and capable, but this is the first indication that she has any training whatsoever as a surveyor. Yet, there she is, pluckily plotting the path of the railway.

The Swede in the last couple of episodes has swung wildly back and forth between the kind of cold rationality with which he was first introduced and absolute madness—as he savagely beats, in “Timshel,” a madame who owes him money. Is The Swede a clear-thinking plotter and schemer, or is he crazed to the point of uncontrollable violent behavior?

In the final scene of the episode, Rev. Cole pulls the sword from the scabbard of the Lieutenant and decapitates him. This is  very surprising, but, like many of this episode’s surprising moments, it’s surprising in large part because it seems so wildly inconsistent with what has been established thus far about the character. The only explanation for such surprise is that the character has gone suddenly mad (which seems to be the case with Cole, whose tendency toward drink recurs), and that seems to be happening way too often in this series.

The other surprising thing that happens in this episode is that there is actually railroad building taking place. After what seems like weeks when our characters have been off doing everything else but working on the railroad, Bohannon gives an inspiring toast, and the next day everyone is suddenly working together to reach the 40 mile target.  How such unity of purpose suddenly congealed is rather mystifying.

As a whole, I’ve enjoyed Hell on Wheels, and I hope that, as the series continues, the writers will place less emphasis on surprising developments and instead let the drama and the surprise develop naturally rather than forcing it.

New Season of Justified

There’s a nice article in the New York Times on Timothy Olyphant and the upcoming start of the new season of Justified. Click on the excerpt below to go to the full article.

IN the premiere of the new season of “Justified,” beginning Jan. 17, a dashing psychopath makes a casual reference to this Kentucky crime drama’s signature prop, the Stetson worn by the protagonist, United States Marshal Raylan Givens.
“Not much call for cowboys these days,” the thug says in a syrupy, menacing drawl.

The lawman responds, “You would be surprised.”

Prashant Gupta/FX

Timothy Olyphant as Marshal Raylan Givens in “Justified,” an FX series based on stories by Elmore Leonard.

Redd Center Awards

The Charles Redd Center for Western Studies is pleased to announce multiple awards for 2012 that are available for scholars conducting research related to the Intermountain West (defined as: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming). Please see the descriptions below or click here for further information and instructions for applying for each award.  Applications for 2012 are due March 15.  Please help us by forwarding this email to any of your colleagues in western studies who are not on the Redd Center’s distribution list.  Also, please tell your students who are conducting research on the Intermountain West about our research awards for students.

The Redd Center offers the following awards:

Faculty Research Awards provide up to $3,000 to faculty members at any academic institution to conduct research on any topic related to the Intermountain West.  Research may be conducted at any location.

Independent Research and Creative Awards provide up to $1,500 to researchers studying the Intermountain West who are not connected to an academic institution.  Research may be conducted at any location.

Summer Awards for Upper Division and Graduate Students at any academic institution provide up to $1,500 for research support for any topic related to the Intermountain West.  Research may be conducted at any location.

Annaley Naegle Redd Student Award in Women’s History provides up to $1,500 for research support concerning any aspect of women’s history in the American West (not limited to the Intermountain West.)  Research may be conducted at any location.

Public Programming Awards provide up to $3,000 to any organization planning a conference, museum exhibit or lecture series on a topic related to the Intermountain West.

Fellowship Awards in Western American History provide up to $3,500 in research support for scholars who travel to BYU to use the L. Tom Perry Special Collections in the Harold B. Lee Library.

Visiting Scholar Program provides a housing stipend and office facilities for 2-4 months to enable university faculty of all ranks, independent scholars, freelance authors and other public intellectuals to visit and conduct research at BYU.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR SUBMITTING AN APPLICATION:

To apply for an award, visit the Redd Center website (http://reddcenter.byu.edu), and click on “Apply for an Award” on the right hand side of the homepage. You will then be taken to our awards application page. Select the award for which you would like to apply from the drop-down menu and complete your application. After you have completed your application, you will be given the opportunity to submit with or without printing your application for your records. We strongly encourage you to print a copy for your records. You will then receive a message indicating that your application has been successfully submitted. In addition, you will receive and email confirmation at the email address you list on your application. If you have any questions about the application process, or submitting your application, please contact Mary Nelson at 801-422-4048 or by email at mary_nelson@byu.edu