Exploding the Western
Myths of Empire on the Postmodern Frontier
Literary Criticism
6 x 9, 184 pp.
Bib. Index.
Pub Date: 03/21/2005
Tarleton State University Southwestern Studies in the Humanities
  cloth
Price:        $40.00 s

978-1-58544-403-8
  paper
Price:        $17.95 s

978-1-58544-422-9
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Exploding the Western

Myths of Empire on the Postmodern Frontier

By Sara L. Spurgeon

The frontier and Western expansionism are so quintessentially a part of American history that the literature of the West and Southwest is in some senses the least regional and the most national literature of all. The frontier—the place where cultures meet and rewrite themselves upon each other’s texts—continues to energize writers whose fiction evokes, destroys, and rebuilds the myth in ways that attract popular audiences and critics alike. Sara L. Spurgeon focuses on three writers whose works not only exemplify the kind of engagement with the theme of the frontier that modern authors make, but also show the range of cultural voices that are present in Southwestern literature: Cormac McCarthy, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Ana Castillo. Her central purposes are to consider how the differing versions of the Western “mythic” tales are being recast in a globalized world and to examine the ways in which they challenge and accommodate increasingly fluid and even dangerous racial, cultural, and international borders. In Spurgeon’s analysis, the spaces in which the works of these three writers collide offer some sharply differentiated visions but also create new and unsuspected forms, providing the most startling insights. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes tragic, the new myths are the expressions of the larger culture from which they spring, both a projection onto a troubled and troubling past and an insistent, prophetic vision of a shared future.

Sara L. Spurgeon is a visiting assistant professor in women’s studies at the University of Arizona. She co-authored Writing the Southwest, a literary biography of fourteen contemporary southwestern authors, and has had several short stories published. Her short story “River Man” won the D. H. Lawrence prize for fiction in 1993. She hold a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.

What Readers Are Saying:

“Cormac McCarthy, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Ana Castillo have not yet had a better reader than Sara Spurgeon. Spurgeon’s fine analysis demonstrates how these three writers use the symbols of the frontier myth not only to explain history but to create it. Deftly written and analytically sophisticated, Spurgeon’s Exploding the Western examines the continuing vitality of the myth of the western frontier, reading it now as a myth that engages racial and ethnic politics as well as the porous nature of national borders in a globalizing world.”--Annette Kolodny, author of The Lay of the Land and The Land Before Her

“Cormac McCarthy, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Ana Castillo have not yet had a better reader than Sara Spurgeon. Spurgeon’s fine analysis demonstrates how these three writers use the symbols of the frontier myth not only to explain history but to create it. Deftly written and analytically sophisticated, Spurgeon’s Exploding the Western examines the continuing vitality of the myth of the western frontier, reading it now as a myth that engages racial and ethnic politics as well as the porous nature of national borders in a globalizing world.” --Annette Kolodny, author of The Lay of the Land and The Land Before Her


“…her presentation adds depth and understanding to some serious American authors dealing with important topics.” --Southwestern American Literature, Vol. 31, No. 2

“…a welcome addition to those who enjoy intellectual history of the American West…” --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“Contributing to and complicating western literary history, Exploding the Western offers a convincing argument for the persistence of the American frontier myth in contemporary western literature while demonstrating the frontier myth’s own transnational roots…treats the frontier myth as a complex rather than a homogenous discourse, and this insight leads to compelling readings of three major western writers.” --Western Historical Quarterly

“Spurgeon has done an excellent job of tracing the frontier myth through works of the late twentieth century. She proves that there continues to be a conversation – if not a consensus – about what the West means in American literature.” --Pacific Historical Review

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