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  • IntroductionThe Case for Transnationalism in the American Literary West
  • David Rio (bio) and Christopher Conway (bio)

The increasing recognition of the literature of the American West may be linked to the growing visibility of region and place as analytical categories in the critical realm. Current western American scholarship has shown that the renaissance of regional writing and scholarship coexists with an approach to regionalism that goes beyond traditional geographical borders and historical barriers. Scholars engaged in the field of western American studies, like Neil Campbell, Krista Comer, and Susan Kollin, have proposed an approach to the literature and culture of the American West that does not limit its scope to the regional and national imagination, reconciling the local and the global through an "unbounded regionalism" (Kollin 517). The growing popularity of this "unbounded regionalism" has also helped to promote terms such as "postwestern," "postnational," and "postregionalism" in western cultural studies. By extension, vindicating the role of region in literary studies should not be an obstacle to making regionalism transnational in scope, "to figure regions and regionalism in far more comparative and multilingual ways" (Comer 117). As Peter Morgan has claimed, "literary transnationalism is a relatively new term critically mediating the relationships between national literatures and the wider forces of globalizing culture" (3). Similarly, Elisabeth Hermman, Carrie Smitt-Prei, and Stuart Taberner indicate on the back cover copy of their Transnationalism in Contemporary German-Language Literature that "literature has always been a means of border crossing and transgression—whether by tracing physical movement, reflecting processes of cultural transfer, traveling through space and time, or mapping imaginary realms." [End Page ix]

Certainly transnational developments in literary scholarship have played a fundamental role in the critical reconceptualization of certain regions that have often shown their power to engage the imagination of a transnational audience, such as the American West. Contemporary interpretations of the American West and its culture cannot dismiss its planetary dimension and must move beyond the regional and the national imaginary. In fact, in this globalized age of transoceanic studies, the international and hybrid properties of western American culture have become more visible than ever. In the present century transnational forms of exchange have extended the cultural iconography of the West well beyond the US imaginary, proving the ability of the literature of the American West to travel across global spaces and to challenge both the reductionist regional and national perspectives attributed to it. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that this transnational dimension of the West is already present in the origins of a territory with borders and boundaries characterized by violence, cultural exchange, transculturation, and heterogeneity. This hybrid dimension of the American West may be found in even the "most prevalent romantic icons of the mythic essentialized West: the Indian on horseback, the cowboy, and his favorite cowpony" (Graulich 44). Therefore, adopting transnational perspectives in the field of western American literary studies generally, and in studies of the Western in particular, is a valid choice that not only testifies to the powerful impact of this genre on the literary traditions of other nations but also gestures to the multiple and overlapping cultures and literatures existing in this territory since the beginning. After all, as Neil Campbell has stated, "to examine the American West in the twenty-first century is to think of it as always already transnational, a more routed and complex rendition, a traveling concept whose meanings move between cultures, crossing, bridging, and intruding simultaneously" (4).

The history of the literature of the American West underlines this argument about the dynamic globalism of frontier narratives. Let's not forget, for example, how René de Chateaubriand's Atalá (1801) became a transnational literary bestseller and cultural referent [End Page x] across nineteenth-century Europe and Latin America, as well as an influence on antebellum US writers (Tilton 60). Europeans not only avidly consumed James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales but also wrote their own retellings of Cooper, creating an alternate canon of popular literature that blanketed the European continent. The fact that novelists such as Karl May (Germany), Gustave Aimard (France), Marcial Lafuente Estefanía (Spain), José Mallorquí (Spain), and Louis Masterson (Norway) did as much if not more...