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  • “When the Indian was in Vogue”:D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, and Ethnological Tourism in the Southwest

The southwest is the great playground of the White American. The desert isn't good for anything else. But it does make a fine national playground. And the Indian, with his long hair and his bits of pottery and blankets and clumsy home-made trinkets, he's a wonderful live toy to play with.

D. H. Lawrence, "Just Back from the Snake-Dance—Tired Out"

"I had the same idea as you," the Director was saying. "Wanted to have a look at the savages. Got a permit for New Mexico and went there for my summer holiday."

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

In her 1934 classic Patterns of Culture, the anthropologist Ruth Benedict asserts that no one has written a better description of "the form and spirit of Pueblo dances" than D. H. Lawrence (93). Although contemporary studies have examined the ethnocentrism of Lawrence's [End Page 662] representations of indigenous people,1 scholars surprisingly continue to praise Lawrence for his "extraordinary effort to get inside Indian culture" (Kinkead-Weekes 27) and for his "true engagement with the primitive" (Storch 50–51). Reading Lawrence in this way misses a more interesting element of his Southwest writings: they are illuminating not only because they shed light on specific cultural practices, but because they also (at times, inadvertently) illuminate the practice of cultural observation itself—which takes this writer into terrain traversed by ethnologists and tourists alike.

As made clear in his 1929 essay entitled "New Mexico," the diverse tribes of the Southwest were remarkable for Lawrence insofar as they preserved their "tribal integrity" amidst the rush of modernization. Threatening to overwhelm this tribal integrity was the already extensive commercialization of the region, epitomized for Lawrence by the figure of "the Indian who sells you baskets on Albuquerque station or who slinks around Taos plaza"—two popular venues for sightseeing and buying souvenirs. In seeking to avoid modernized Indians and commune with "a remnant of the most deeply religious race still living," Lawrence emulates the protocol of professional anthropologists like Benedict ("New Mexico" 144).

The construction of the Southwest as a site of threatened authenticity relies on a notion of cultural purity that has been complicated in recent years by James Clifford and others.2 Yet even within its historical and ideological context, what makes this claim of discovering an unaltered indigenous culture dubious is the picture Lawrence himself paints of the region: choked with thousands of tourists crowding its plazas and pueblos, the Southwest emerges in Lawrence's derisive description as the trendy, "picturesque reservation and playground of the eastern states" ("New Mexico" 141), and Southwest Indians as "wonderful live toy[s] to play with" (Letters 609). In essays like "The Hopi Snake Dance"—in which three thousand tourists amusedly regard a native ceremony as if it were a "circus performance" (138)—Lawrence elaborates the process by which tribal customs and ceremonies are converted into the stuff of ethnological spectacle.3 With the figure of "the Indian who sells you baskets on Albuquerque Station," Lawrence suggests that the star attractions of the region, its "befeathered and bedaubed darling[s]" ("Indians and Entertainment" 101), sometimes participate in their own touristification. It is hard to imagine the ideal of unchanged tribal life coexisting with the aggressive commercialization of native culture Lawrence describes. As vividly depicted in Lawrence's essays and his novella, St. Mawr, the reservations and pueblos of the Southwest served in the interwar period as a kind of ethnological theme park. Adapting Langston Hughes's phrase, one could say that in the 1920s and 1930s, the Indian was in vogue.4 [End Page 663]

Joining Lawrence in his satirical treatment of Southwest tourism is Aldous Huxley, whose depiction of the Southwest and its inhabitants is in fact indebted to Lawrence's essays and letters, the latter of which he had just finished editing for a posthumous collection when he began writing Brave New World (1932).5 Although Huxley's dystopia has not been read as a novel about tourism, Brave New World echoes Lawrence's critique of the hype surrounding Southwest...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 662-696
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-08
Open Access
No
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