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Dirty Words in Deadwood

Literature and the Postwestern

Melody Graulich

Publication Year: 2013

Dirty Words in “Deadwood” showcases literary analyses of the Deadwood television series by leading western American literary critics. Whereas previous reaction to the series has largely addressed the question of historical accuracy rather than intertextuality or literary complexity, Melody Graulich and Nicolas S. Witschi’s edited volume brings a much-needed perspective to Deadwood’s representation of the frontier West.

As Graulich observes in her introduction: “With its emotional coherence, compelling characterizations, compressed structural brilliance, moral ambiguity, language experiments, interpretation of the past, relevance to the present, and engagement with its literary forebears, Deadwood is an aesthetic triumph as historical fiction and, like much great literature, makes a case for the humanistic value of storytelling.” From previously unpublished interviews with series creator David Milch to explorations of sexuality, disability, cinematic technique, and western narrative, this collection focuses on Deadwood as a series ultimately about the imagination, as a verbal and visual construct, and as a literary masterpiece that richly rewards close analysis and interpretation.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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pp. 5-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

We would like to thank three editorial fellows from the Western American Literature office for their considerable professional help. Diane Bush kept track of files, copyedited manuscripts, compiled an early bibliography, and consulted with authors. ...

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Introduction: Deadwood’s Barbaric Yawp: Sharing a Literary Heritage

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pp. xiii-liv

In September 2006 I was invited to participate in “Got Yourself a Gun: Frontier Violence in American History and Culture,” a symposium on the HBO series Deadwood at the Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders at Yale. ...

Deadwood Episodes

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pp. lv-lviii

Deadwood Cast

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pp. lix-lx

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1. David Milch at Yale

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pp. 1-17

David Milch began his undergraduate studies at Yale in 1962. After a series of what he calls “fits and starts,” he became an English major, mentored in large part by Robert Penn Warren and my father, R. W. B. Lewis. In the 1970s Warren and my father, recognizing David’s brilliance and promise, invited him to become their colleague at Yale. ...

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2. Last Words in Deadwood

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pp. 18-43

After an establishing shot of a Montana territory jailhouse at night, the series opener of HBO’s Deadwood cuts to a close-up of Seth Bullock’s hands: he dips a pen into ink with his left, switches it to his right, and puts it to page. The camera tilts up, revealing the sling on his injured right arm and resting on his face. ...

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3. The Thinking of Al Swearengen’s Body: Kidney Stones, Pigpens, and Burkean Catharsis in Deadwood

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pp. 44-71

The town of Deadwood, South Dakota, is a twenty-minute drive from my front door. I have visited the place episodically ever since my grandmother took me there when I was seven years old. I was a young tourist, so the mythological Deadwood of gamblers and gunfighters and miners and Calamity Jane was the first Deadwood I came to know with my heart. ...

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4. “Land of Oblivion”: Abjection, Broken Bodies, and the Western Narrative in Deadwood

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pp. 72-103

Since its debut in March 2004, Deadwood has attracted as much attention for the rawness of its language as for its claims to be yet another in a long line of “revisionist” Westerns. According to the show’s creator, David Milch, what drew him to this subject matter is the central question: ...

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5. The Final Stamp: Deadwood and the Gothic American Frontier

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pp. 104-123

In voice-over audio commentary for Deadwood’s pilot episode, creator David Milch jokes that he would have liked to return Wild Bill Hickok to the show as a ghost after Hickok’s ignominious murder in the fourth episode so that actor Keith Carradine, who portrayed Hickok, could have had another crack at an Emmy nomination. ...

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6. “Down These Mean Streets”: Film Noir, Deadwood, Cinematic Space, and the Irruption of Genre Codes

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pp. 124-140

My Mom was so excited when I got this job, that I was gonna play the hero in a Western. And I came home at the holidays and I showed her the first episode. We weren’t ten minutes into it, and she said, “I thought you were gonna be in a Western.” And I said, “I am in a Western.” ...

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7. “Right or Wrong, You Side with Your Feelings”

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pp. 141-164

Toward the end of Deadwood's first season, the town’s preacher is convinced that his flesh is rotting. He lurches into the Gem Saloon like a wayward drunk, stopping to sing with the whores at the Gem’s new piano, attracting the attention of the camp patriarch, Al Swearengen. ...

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8. “A Brooding and Dangerous Soul”: Deadwood's Imperfect Music

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pp. 165-183

That’s actually a loose paraphrase of a similar disclaimer by Jane Wallace, who served as music supervisor for Deadwood’s second and third seasons (and unofficially, it seems, for the first as well). In “Dear Lost Reader,” her account of the selection process for the songs that accompany each episode’s ending credit roll, ...

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9. Calamity Jane and Female Masculinity in Deadwood

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pp. 184-207

Early in the 1953 musical film Calamity Jane, Doris Day as Jane sings and dances her way from a stagecoach to a Deadwood saloon, where she shoots her gun to clear a path to the bar. When the survivors of an Indian attack stumble in, she angrily rebukes them as “white-bellied coyotes” because they didn’t stop to see if one of their party had survived. ...

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10. Queer Spaces and Emotional Couplings in Deadwood

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pp. 208-235

For a television series that has very few gay or lesbian characters, Deadwood contains an astonishing number of references to homosexuality and homosexual practices. Male characters consistently and constantly refer to one another as “cocksuckers.” ...

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11. Who Put the Gun into the Whore’s Hand? Disability in Deadwood

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pp. 236-268

Al Swearengen is introduced to the viewers of Deadwood as he is in the process of fleecing Ellsworth, a prospector working a paying claim and drinking away his profits at the Gem Saloon. Their transaction is interrupted by a gunshot, and Swearengen shouts, “That’s her derringer! ...


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pp. 269-280

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pp. 281-284

John Dudley, associate professor and chair of the English department at the University of South Dakota, is the author of A Man’s Game: Masculinity and the Anti-Aesthetics of American Literary Naturalism (University of Alabama Press, 2004). ...


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pp. 285-294

E-ISBN-13: 9780803264892
E-ISBN-10: 0803264895
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803264748

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2013