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Seth Eastman. CA N O N LEADING TO MAGDALENA SONORA. Ca. 1853. Watercolor over pencil. 9 1/2" x 12 1/4". The three images by Seth Eastman reproduced in this essay were provided by the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. They were gifts of the RISD Library. Photography by Del Bogart. Seth Eastman (1808-1875) is best known for his paintings of American Indians, which accompanied Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s massive govern­ ment-funded History of the Indian Tribes of the United States (1851-57) and the books of Eastman’s wife, Mary. His watercolors of the U.S./Mexico bor­ derlands reflected his experiences as an army topographical draftsman in Texas but were based directly on drawings made on site by Russell Bartlett, Commissioner of the U.S./Mexico Boundary Survey, and his survey artist, Henry Cheever Pratt. Bartlett commissioned thirteen watercolors in 1853 to illustrate what he hoped would be his own massive government-sponsored report, Personal Narratives of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora, and Chihuhua. But government funding was cut, and Barlett settled for Pratt’s black-and-white sketches in his book (1854). Lack of government funding for the arts and humanities still requires such com­ promises 150 years later. “P le d g e d in B lo o d ”: T r u t h a n d R edem p tion in C o r m a c M c C a r t h y ’s A l l t h e P r e t t y H o r s e s S a r a L . S p u r g e o n As many critics have noted, it is no coincidence that the action of All the Pretty Horses takes place exactly one hundred years after that of Blood Meridian. In many ways, Pretty Horses is the offspring of that book, an elegy for a romanticized way of life, a code of honor, a mythical world birthed and brutally murdered in Blood Meridian— the world of the cowboy. In Pretty Horses, we see the modern embod­ iment of the ancient myth of the sacred hunter— that of the sacred cowboy. The figure of the hunter engaged in holy communion with nature has, by the end of Blood Meridian, been replaced with that of the cowboy digging postholes, preparing to string barbed wire across the tamed body of the wilderness in order to populate with cattle what he so mercilessly emptied of buffalo. The figure of the cowboy personifies America’s most cherished myths— combining ideas of American exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny, rugged individualism, frontier democracy, communion with and conquest of the natural world, and the righteous triumph of the white race. The mythic West and the frontiers of legend are familiar icons on the American cul­ tural landscape. The icon of the sacred cowboy is one of our most potent national fantasies, visible in everything from blue jeans to car commercials to popular films. This mythic figure, however, like that of the hunter preceding it, is bound to crumble, for it is hollow at its core and stripped bare by McCarthy in All the Pretty Horses. As he slowly begins to rec­ ognize the fragility and falseness of his life, John Grady Cole seeks a return to the imagined innocence of the sacred cowboy of the mythic past. The pervasiveness of images of the western frontier and its heroes is so extensive even one hundred years after the official close of the frontier, those archetypes have become important building blocks in what Lauren Berlant terms the national symbolic in The Anatomy of National Fantasy. A tangle of legal, territorial, linguistic, and experi­ ential forces continually at work defining the nation and the citizen, the national symbolic is constructed through the production of national W A L 34(1) SPRING 1999 fantasy, those “images, narratives, monuments, and sites that circu­ late throughout personal/collective consciousness” (5). Berlant argues that the space of the national symbolic serves to define nationality and identity not on the individual level, but on the level of national consciousness in the form of collective memory, popular stories, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 25-44
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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