She's Filled With Secrets: the Mythology of Landscape in the American Western
Oliver, Genevieve Marie
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Americans are heirs to a weighty, complex system of mythology surrounding landscape. The film, literary, and artistic genre of the Western encompasses the classic system of this mythology: that American space exists for use by American men. In the classic Western, space is related through an abstracted Taming of the Shrew metaphor – the tough, virginal, feminized landscape puts up a fight, but finally, inevitably, yields to the touch of the right, hardy, masculine hero. In my research, I focus on the ways in which many contemporary artists problematize the classic Western’s mythology surrounding landscape, contributing to the development of a neomyth, a revised, updated, “modernized” system of mythology. If the classic Western’s landscape myth, arguably the founding element of American mythology, can effectively be subverted, the complete legacy of American mythology (and thus, American culture) is destabilized. Thus, neomythic treatment of landscape in Westerns reveals a haunting set of problematics and anxieties that lurk beneath the surface of American mythology and culture. By contrasting the landscapes of the classic myth with those of neomythic texts, and relating the development of a neomyth to concealed colonial histories, one can extract from American mythology the nature of the most omnipresent American fear – complete extinction.