Page 14


The final assembly of all U.S. nu Gear weapons takes place in the Texas Panhandle. Houson has more oil company headquarers than any other city in the world. ‘he whole state reeks of Sunbelt roosters, strident anti-unionists, poitical hucksters, and new industry .nd money. THIS IS THE LOOK OF TEXAS ‘ODAY and the Texas Observer Las its independent eye on all of it. Ve offer the latest in corporate cams and political scandals as well as articles on those who have other, and more humane, visions of what our state can be. Become an Oberver subscriber today, order a gift or a friend, or instruct us to enter a ibrary subscription under your paronage. Send the Observer to name address city state zip this subscription is for myself gift subscription: send card in my name $20 enclosed for a one-year subscription bill me for $2b name address city state zip THE TEXAS OBSERVER 600 W. 7th, Austin, Texas 78701 22 FEBRUARY 12, 1982 MOM t t ‘1 1 1 t myth right, not to do away with it.. The key is to tell the story as well as you can, not to throw out the story and hope that reality will be left over. Some of the contemporary Texas writers are attempting to put forward better myths than the Big Three did, and they might well have done it. Some contemporary writers are attempting to tell the story of Texas better than Hollywood did, and, with some notable Hollywood exceptions, they may well have done it. But they too are telling the story. Even the historian who attempts to recount history as it really happened has to tell the story, for you don’t get the history without the story. Historia, the Greek word from which we get both “history” and “story,” means inquiry: history in the sense of telling the story of the past is really an inquiry. Even when we try to describe the purely physical characteristics of a geographical region for example, Stegner’s point about the shortage of water in the West we can’t just give the facts, the so-called reality, as they are or it is. The reality as it is can be given in a book, in a poem, in a song, but only to the extent that it has been spoken of, written about, or sung and in that case, the speaker, writer, or singer has chosen to tell the story, describe the region, in a particular way. There is no such thing as telling the story or describing the region in no particular way. Stegner, to stick to my example, would like to balance the idea of open possibility which has been the meaning of the West for several hundred years with the idea of limitation or deprivation, and he’s right. What he does, however, is to deepen the mythic dimension in which the West is understood, by itself and by the rest of the world. It is a fact of nature, to be sure, that there is less rain west of the 100th meridian. Stegner is making the experience of this deprivation part of the mythic reality that exists at the intersection of Western geography and human understanding, contriving, and caretaking. 6 Part of the experience of the West is the paradox of plenitude and deprivation. One basis of the bad myth is that Easterners looked upon the West as the land of endless opportunity because they intended only to rape the land for all it was worth, not to live on it. \(The present tense, including the mention of a few members of the Reagan cabinet, would Westerners themselves, that is, people 6It is worth noting here that Stegner is writing in the tradition of Webb’s 1931 The Great Plains and John Wesley Powell’s 1878 Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States. If you don’t have the patience for The Great Plains, look at Webb’s “The American West: Perpetual Image” \(Harper’s, who went west, propagated this bad myth as well. Stegner is trying to offer a better one. In this sense, the West takes on a greater symbolic character for mankind in general, in that it is part of the reality of the West to appear boundless in its resources, even though it is severely limited in one essential one, water, and just as limited as anywhere else in many others. We have learned, or we should have learned, that the open spaces of the West only gave us a false impression that we could plunder and pollute without noticeable consequence. The vast expanses of the Texas plains, the awesome spectacle of the Rockies, could offer us an experience of the smallness of the trials and tribulations of mechanized man, rather than the illusion of limitless opportunity for human manipulation and consumption nature as a symbol of the inexhaustible meaning of being, rather than the inexhaustible availability of raw materials for so-called human purposes. If we learn this, and tell it, the myths which make up part of the reality of the West will deepen. And, with regard to this particular issue, the story of the West is the story of America as it were, of Western civilization as a whole. I SAID I HAD TWO REASONS to take issue with the bifurcation of myth and reality. To sum up the philosophical one: any entity which includes the involvement of man includes a mythic aspect in its reality. That would be as true of New York City, or Omaha, or England, or Germany, or what have you, as it would of Texas. But I’ve also verged on my second reason, which I originally labelled geographical. After my Irish friend had put me through a crash course in Texas writers, I spent a few weeks in Texas dancing the two-step and doing all of those things that Texans are supposed to do. When I got back to Maryland, I wrote a piece and hurriedly sent copies to several of my friends living in various parts of the world. I expected a friend who grew up on a farm in Oklahoma and now teaches philosophy at a university in the Midwest to fare better with the cowboy lore than some of my friends from more foreign parts. It turns out that he identified with the tension between the power of place and the denial of place which the life of the intellect tends to create, but not so much with the cowboy lore. In fact, even though the tension he experiences stems in part from the conflict between the superficial complexities of the academic shuffle and the simplicity of dirt farming in Oklahoma, it is less a matter of place for him. “There is something so magical, so mythical,