- Transcontinental Reflections on the American West: Words, Images, Sounds beyond Borders ed. by Ángel Chaparro Sainz and Amaia Ibarraran Bigalondo
For scholars of the American literary West, many of whom have long been invested in theories of borderless or "postregional" spaces, the events of 2016 must have felt like running full-tilt into an invisible wall. After England's vote to close its borders to the European Union or Donald Trump's election pledge to "build a wall" along America's southern boundary, it seems while scholars may be done with borders, borders are not yet done with us.
Yet Ángel Chaparro Sainz and Amaia Ibarraran Bigalondo's edited collection of essays provides an opportunity for a global group of scholars to study the American West from a perspective that strives to be, as their subtitle has it, "beyond borders." For Sainz and Bigalondo, the borders in question refer not just to nation or region but to generic and disciplinary borders as well. The essays are united by this expansive sense of boundary crossing. It is in this spirit that Jesus Ángel González sketches the generic border crossings that connect Dashiell Hammett's hard-boiled fiction, the Western genre, and the many international film adaptations of Hammett's 1929 novel Red Harvest; that Krista Comer explores the theoretical borders between critical regionalism, feminist theory, and feminist activism; and that Luis Díaz Pulido studies the permeable cultural borders between America's Bush-era response to terrorism, Richard Slotkin's frontier myth, and the television program 24.
The editors have assembled a global band of scholars. Many of the contributors are affiliated with the University of the Basque Country, some are at other universities in Spain, and still others are located in France, Italy, and the United States. Building on Neil Campbell's 2008 The Rhizomatic West (which is cited in nearly a third of the essays here), the contributors repeatedly make the case that the American literary West belongs not just to one type of text or nation. Instead, it is the product and purview of the entire world.
But given such clear internationalist aspirations, the book is somewhat hampered by some missed opportunities. In defining [End Page 226] "borders" quite as broadly as it does—here, the generic boundary between a novel and a film is given roughly the same weight as the boundary between two nations—the book misses a chance to explore more fully the ways in which the American West has always been global.
Some chapters do strive to uncover a legacy of transcontinental transmission. David Fenimore's chapter on Horace Greeley, Karl Marx, and the European communitarian influence on nineteenth-century western settlement is particularly strong. Similarly, Monika Madinabeitia's chapter on the history of the Basque diaspora and its connection to contemporary Basque music and identity in the American West is especially engaging.
On the whole, though, the book stands as an important reminder that the academic study of the American literary and cultural West is not a small discipline, consigned to the dusty corners of a few regions of the United States, but rather a large one: the product and the subject of an expansive, interconnected world. Throughout, its contributors are tireless in their investigations of the porous disciplinary, generic, and political borders that limn the culture of the American West.