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AFTERWORD IWAS HIDING my daughter’s Christmas present when I was struck by the fact that here I was contributing to the erosion of Western consciousness. There are no innocent acts. You see, after careful consideration, we had determined exactly the right kind of train to buy to stretch our twoyear-old daughter’s motor skills, as well as her intellect. It was a circus train with many moving plastic parts and animals and circus folk and engineers. The monkey hangs by its tail from the circus wagon bars. The engineers can ride in the engine or the caboose. The elephants, by means of a gangplank, can descend from their car and enter the world of our living room. Or the entire circus train and company can be packed up for long-distance travel and pulled along a course through bedrooms, kitchen, and living room. This is what we were after. But then it struck me. What does she know of circuses? And, more important, what will she ever know of trains? How does this speak to her life? /S THIS HOW it’s done? I find myself wondering. Is this how we’re so imbued, particularly here in Texas, with this mythology about the rugged individual, the lone gun fighter, frontier justice? Does it happen in childhood? Have we been infused with a nostalgia for a world we never knew? It’s not memory, not history, not a world in which we move and shake and act. Pluck the right chords, oh Ronald Reagan, and we simply salivate without worry about the complications brought on by real experience. I look around my daughter’s room. There’s her farm set: barn and silo, cows that moo, sheep, ducks, a pig, a tractor, and male and female farmers. Is this the last of the small family farms? What does my daughter know of price supports? It’s by fables, rather than experience, that our collective consciousness is built. It’s what civilizes civilization, makes it digestible, putting us at some remove from our own lives. Look at New York Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez during the last half inning of the crucial sixth game of the recent World Series. He spent it in the manager’s office, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer, removed from the mythos that had millions of fans around the world held in its grip. To the professional baseball Myth “organizes a world which is without contradictions because it is without depth.” player, baseball is a job with a set of tasks governed by limits to be stretched and defied. The baseball game is something crafted. No room for Bernard Malamud’s “Natural” there. Roy Hobbs lives only with the millions watching the action at a distance, unable to affect its course. “Myth is constituted by the loss of the historical quality of things,” wrote French philosopher Roland Barthes. “In it, things lose the memory that they once were made; . . . A conjuring trick has taken place; it has turned reality inside out; it has emptied it of history and has filled it with nature; it has removed from things their human meaning so as to make them signify a human significance. The function of myth is to empty reality: it is, literally, a ceaseless flowing out, a hemorrhage, or perhaps an evaporation, in short a perceptible absence. . . . Myth does not deny things; on the contrary, its function is to talk about them; simply, it purifies them, it makes them innocent, it gives them a natural and eternal justification, it gives them a clarity which is not that of an explanation but that of a statement of fact. If I state the fact of French imperiality without explaining it, I am very near to finding that it is natural and goes without saying. I am reassured . . . it [myth] organizes a world which is without contradictions because it is without depth, a world wide open and wallowing in the evident, it establishes a blissful clarity: things appear to mean something by themselves. . . . Men do not have with myth a relationship based on truth but on use: they depoliticize according to their needs . . . [but] wherever man speaks in order to transform reality and no longer to preserve it as an image, wherever he links his language to the making of things . . . myth is impossible.” Roland Barthes, of course, was said to have been killed by a careening milk truck, which was probably in a headlong rush to join trail drives, dirigibles, and objective journalism on the junk heap of Western mythology. GIVEN THE nature of this region’s economy, the next thing you know, they’ll be serving up, alongside toy cowboys and Davy Crockett paraphernalia, oil and gas drilling play sets and board games, complete with enterprising wildcatters and independent drillers, who risk their futures in order to bring in wells that open up whole new oil fields. And, 50 years from now, a future president or governor will call forth the image of that lone wildcatter, and it will resonate deep in the subliminal recesses of thousands of 55 years olds. And they’ll think, yes, that’s our heritage, when it was actually the gloss, the child’s story version of a world of scheming, exploitation, pollution, big money, conglomeratization, as well as vision, nerve, and dumb luck. Fortunately, my daughter is on to all this. She’ll play with the pig in her farm set because she’s seen a pig. She draws for hours, cats and dogs, people she knows manipulating their images and actions. She reads books about sounds and likes to pull weeds and look at stars. She’ll drag the circus train around, but it won’t catch her fancy. As for the small family farm, she’s figured that one out, too. When she plays with it, you can sometimes hear her singing, “Old Mac Donald’s had a farmer, eeyieeyioo.” El Toys Sin’t Us By Geoffrey Rips THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23