Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Little More on Deadwood and Something on Myth

James Ellroy quote:

was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets. You can’t ascribe our fall from grace to any single event or set of circumstances. You can’t lose what you lacked at conception. Mass-market nostalgia gets you hopped up for a past that never existed. Hagiography sanctifies shuck-and-jive politicians and reinvents their expedient gestures as moments of great moral weight. Our continuing narrative is blurred past truth and hindsight. Only a a reckless verisimilitude can set that line straight. ..It’s time to demythologize an era and build anew myth from the gutter to the stars. It’s time to embrace bad men and the price they paid to define their time. Here’s to them.


I think it well exemplifies Deadwood. My best guess (and a quick google search) leads to me to James Ellroy.


But what's the point of building a new myth, if a myth is a lie? Is he saying we need to, or should, replace one false version of the past with another? If Deadwood is in one sense historical reconstruction, isn't the point of that to show in art an accurate iteration of the ways things were? If that's so then the new myth is myth in a thin sense, in the way that every fiction is a myth, or is myth in even a thinner sense, that every historical account being an account only, a necessarily selective story of events and significances, albeit presented as history, is also perforce a fiction, which is to say, a myth.


I don't think he's making existential point about the inescapability of myth-making; seems to me he's saying that American was built by self-interested motherfuckers whose dignity resided in their strength and guile but not their kindness or idealism.

I think he thinks these self-interested motherfuckers are still running the country, but they present themselves as saints following in the sanctified steps of some mythical, saintly founding fathers. If the public isn't careful, we may be tricked into thinking these men are doing right by us and by future generations. If we debunk that myth, and present these self-interested motherfuckers as they are, then we can both defend ourselves against their wiliness, while recognizing their bloody, ruthless talents.

And maybe that's the pleasure in watching Deadwood; it draws us softies into that hard and unforgiving world. You'd last five minutes out there with an attitude of trust in and love for your fellow man. But the best of them were tough and smart and subtle. Likely the real people didn't sound so poetic and brilliant all the time. That's a bit of the myth thrown in there.

Of course, I think that's a pretty tough and cynical way to think about the best of people. If that's what America was built upon, is there any way to transcend that bloody past and build something a little gentler and more generous? Is that what the state - hovering out there in the outskirts of Deadwood - could also represent?


I’m not sure where the notion that somebody is making an “existential point about the inescapability of myth-making” comes from given the below. What, again, I’m suggesting is that Ellroy’s quote free standing or as it may relate to Deadwood posits a difference between a fake idealized past and a “realistic” account of the past that entails “the gutter to the stars,” “self-interested motherfuckers whose dignity resided in their strength and guile but not their kindness or idealism.” If so then I’m not sure where a new myth comes in any thicker sense of myth, i.e. one associated with falsity rather than mere fiction.
Your point about seeing our present “motherfuckers” for who they are—not for the instant arguing the aptness of the characterization— I think strengthens the point of my query.
On a different point, now that the instant has elapsed, I think that Deadwood and in miniature Ellroy’s quote present the moral Gordian knot of original imperial conquest as an intractable fact. Neither the program nor Ellroy wallow in it. Nor do they, as I see it, present that conquest as the template for the America that emerged out of it.
They don’t show, I’d argue, that America is actively morally infected by that conquest, but, rather that the conquest is an indelible mark left on the country. So that that mark does not preclude America today from being a relatively civilized, moral nation. I think a Deadwood theme is that—I still have to watch Season 3 mind you—as civilization emerges, as evident in the growth and evolution of Deadwood itself, the coincidence between self interest and a larger good, or a society—Deadwood exemplifies the growth of a society—narrows and thus intensifies.
All of which, I’d add and argue, lends even more force to the point of my query.
I finished the book (Reading Deadwood) and thought a lot of the essays mediocre, a few terrible, some impossibly ridden with needless jargon, and a few quite good. The essays I thought the best were those that were less speculative, less attempting-to-be-theoretical and less ideology-mongering but rather engaged in old fashioned “textual analysis” in making sense of the series’ meanings on the solid evidence of what was actually in the different episodes.

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