". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, January 8, 2011

True Grit Is the True Born Son of the Virginian

Yesterday was long, or seemed so as it contained variety, none of which were connected

The weather first. It snowed. Fortunately though it came fast and furious the snow was so wetly fat it accumulated little or not at all. That it was nearly as wet as rain I can personally testify to, as it fell on me during the heaviest fall period. However, it did not blow, though it was cold. By 5 pm the temperatures dropped into the freezing zone. Ice.

Shopping. In the wet snow. Enough said.

Saw True Grit instead of Season of the Witch because all the accounts from reviewers and friends insisted SOTW was boring and preposterous.  By the concluding scenes True Grit contained preposterousities enough. Jeff Bridges's noted style of stumblebumdum delivery and character is as irritating as ever. What was interesting about the film was that some of the primary tropes* laid out in The Virginian (published first in 1902 and never out-of-print), the Western's Bible, appear barely re-arranged. The two 'good' protagonists, 'Rooster' Cogburn and La Boeuf, one a federal marshal and the other a Texas Ranger, are, guess what? ex-confederates. My reading of the novel and viewing of the John Wayne movie version are so long ago I cannot recall specific details **, but this version goes even further into the depths of the confederacy, because Cogburn was also a member of Quantrill's Raiders, those murderous thugs who pillaged, killed and raped their way through the War. The other primary trope, that the unschooled virile gritty Southerner and the schoolmarm's union creates a breed superior to what existed before, is here re-arranged into the bodies of the aging Ruben Cogburn and the precociously schooled 14-year-old Mattie Ross. Their union does take out the killer and the gang he flees to in Indian territory***.  This regionally positive event wouldn't have taken place without Mattie's galvanization and Rooster's necessary crazy courageous act -- with an aside assistance that the Texas Ranger, who less uncouth, makes that miraculous shot with the Spenser carbine rifle. Both of them save Mattie after those primary events, when she falls into a mine pit full of rattlesnakes. The elderly spinster Mattie brings Rooster to her family burial ground after he dies, though they've never seen each other since that long ago adventure. The horse, another trope, is important all the way through the movie, and gets very big play by the end, though how that comes about, at least in the Coen movie version, is stupid. These characters, as annoying as they all are, have not been stupid previously. I'm unsure why the critics are so pleased by this movie, particularly as the NYC critics tend to despise Westerns. Is it because it's based on a novel by one of those sort of cult novelists beloved by the New York lit crits or is it that they adore Jeff Bridges and the Coen Bros no matter what?

Then it was time to meet GC and ST. History, here we are again! ST, chair of the UT American Studies Dept., was in town for a conference at the Shomburg. We spent an intense two hours discussing the latest scholarship of American history focussed on slavery and the trade, and the forthcoming titles, etc.

After that, it was Haiti and art. We hung out with artist-houngan, M, and his Haitian wife, M, who made us a late dinner. Art world, music, dance, that was went on over there. K had been given over to aunt A, so M and M could have a night off and together. Sometime between 11 PM and midnight we headed to S.O.B.'s for Richard Morris and Ram -- Ram is M's favorite Haitian racine group; all her life she's fan-worshipped Richard's wife / lead vocalist. el Vaquero got some great photos in the dressing room of M with Lunise. The first thing he did this morning was send them to M after a bit of processing.

We don't have days that contain shopping, the movie of the moment, American history, art and music all the same time down in C'town. There, world class American history is the only game in town.

Tonight, more Haiti, starting with this.  Many of the people involved are friends. Haiti's been an ongoing theme of this NYC visit.

* An appendix of the Western's tropes as we see them in Wister's The Virginian was attached to that essay that went out via The List earlier this week.

** I hate the spanking scene, particularly because that is what so many viewers love so much.  It's such a farkin' John Wayne character thing, to put the 'girl' in her place.  I don't recall if it was in the novel, or whether it was the Bros shoutin' out the Duke from the land of the Dude.

*** As in The Virginian, the Indians are window dressing. The three we see, two children and one adult, are equally savage and stupid and despised by the whites.

No comments: