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Stranger in a Strange Land
INTELLECTUM VERO VALDE AMA
Greatly love the intellect
The cover image for this issue is taken from a wonderful book called Western Amerykanski: Polish Poster Art and the Western, edited by Kevin Mulroy (Univ. of Washington Press, $60, hardcover; $40, paper). Poland and the Western? Absolutely. The posters Mulroy has assembled date from the 1940s to the 1970s, and reflect the influence of American movies, but as Czeslaw Milosz observes in Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision (Univ. of California Press, 1977), earlier generations of young readers in Poland—and throughout Europe—drank deeply from the Western fictions of Thomas Mayne Reid and Karl May. Indeed, to a degree difficult to imagine for people born in the last 30 years or so, the American West was for more than a century a seemingly inexhaustible stimulus to the global imagination.
That story—the impact of the American West and the Western outside the United States—is only one of dozens of potential topics not covered in this issue's special section, "The New Western History". When Lauren Winner—who coedited the section—and I sat at a table in Starbucks in August of 1999 and began to plan, we quickly came up with enough subjects for two or three whole issues, and we were just getting started. What you have, then, is not the Whole Story or anything like it, nor do we feel that having given such concentrated attention to the West we will have done with it, at least for the time being. On the contrary. (Look, for example, for a forthcoming special section on matters Indian, or Native American, parts of which could have been included here.)
The American West is preeminently what Hugh Kenner calls "an Elsewhere Community" (see his new book from Oxford University Press, The Elsewhere Community; see also an upcoming interview with Kenner at www.BooksAndCulture.com): a place to which people have flocked for all manner of reasons, but perhaps most fundamentally because ...