insider/outsider distinction vis-a-vis the North all of these have provided the nutritive matrix for a great literature as gifted Southern writers responded with individual talents to the interplay of this tradition and a period of social change. If these sorts of cultural concerns this sense of the intense “here” and major social change do have some responsibility for literature and intellect, at least in the United States, then it might make us reconsider the Texas literary effort and ask why it failed, and has continued to fail, although, at first glance, this same anthropology of literature might seem to hold for Texas as well. IT SEEMS TO ME that to the extent that history and society are responsible for literature, the general Texas experience was simply not intense enough in comparison to the South not enough history, kinship, hierarchy, race, and group sense so that when change came to Texas at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, it was gradual; the nurturing crisis, therefore, was insufficiently intense. We must not forget that we are talking about slightly less than one hundred years from the time that the first Englishspeaking Texans appeared in this area to the beginnings of Texas literature. Not long, as history and society go. This was a relatively mobile, open, and geographically dispersed society, from the first English-speaking illegal aliens who flooded the area in the Mexican period to today’s unemployed seeking the Sun Belt. Such mobility might not make for a group beset with intense and enduring concerns for kinship, hierarchy, race, and religion. These concerns were present, as they are in most societies; they simply may not have been particularly intense or salient. To be sure, Mexicans, Indians, and blacks were possible foils for the development of a Texas racial consciousness, but these were small in number and either quickly exterminated or pushed to the margins of white society. They could never become a haunting, stimulating influence in the development of a Texas literature comparable to the black presence in Southern fiction or the formal negation of that presence in Southern poetics. Only the Mexicans come close, particularly in the work of Webb and Dobie. In our time, non-Texans have become the primary outsider reference group for the creation of an “insider” mentality, but nothing, of course, comparable to the Southern consciousness of the North. In short, if the particular features of Southern history and culture “explain” anything about their significant literature of the “here,” we can sense why a great Texas literature could not be, and why McMurtry is right, even while his explanation is limited. In spite of all its real and significant differences from other states, Texas has simply not furnished sufficient cultural metaphorical depth for its writers. Certainly enough dramatic history happened here to make for literary stimulation but not enough to provide the intense sociological conditions which could be sharply exploited by talented writers. We coine to the question of individual talents. As noted earlier, McMurtry believes that most Texas writers are intellectually ill-prepared for their task. Writing is nourished by reading broad, curious, sustained reading; it flows from a profound alertness, finetuned both by literature and life. Perhaps we have not sloughed off the frontier notion that reading is idle or sissified. At the moment our books are protein deficient, though the protein is there to be had, in other literatures. Until we have better readers, it is most unlikely we will have better writers. We can easily see why books might not have been central in nineteenth-century Texas life, but I, for one, am at a loss to explain why this condition should continue to prevail among Texas writers. The real problem, I suspect, is not the lack of well-read Texas intellectuals and potential writers, but their disinterest in Texas. Texas may be simply an insufficiently compelling literary resource which, by default, goes to minds generally of a second order. The real question is not why do Texas writers fail to read, but why do the best Texas minds take their intellectual and artistic energies to cultural domains other than Texas? Allow me to speculate a bit. Had the conditions of long tradition, intense social change, and interested first-rate minds prevailed in Texas, it is possible that we might have seen a flowering of literature and intellectual life somewhat like that of the South a literary culture with the concreteness of the “here” but with a larger, deeper, exploration of the human condition everywhere. That, if possible, might have been a successful Texas literature and not the failure generated by lesser conditions. The “here” as such is not the problem; it is the lack of historical, cultural and intellectual prerequisites for the significant use of the “here.” y ET IT SEEMS TO ME that there is at least a possibility for such a Texas literary/intellectual cul ture of the “here,” one which to some degree might resemble that of the Southern Renaissance. I refer to a group Pho to by Larry Mu rp hy Americo Paredes speaking to last spring’s UT literary symposium. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21
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