to them is only a romance with plenty ofrnold-fashioned violence, the whole effectrnsomewhat marred by Kevin Costner’srnbare backside), while even in the morernexalted reaches of society Patsy Limerick’srnNew Western History is alreadyrndrawing yawns. Mainstream publishersrncontinue tossing off generic Westernsrnand coffee-table books, and the best ofrnthe Western university presses get onrnwith the job of adding to the corpus ofrnWestern scholarly letters, as the Universityrnof Oklahoma Press has recently donernwith George Scarborough: The Life andrnDeath of a Lawman on the Closing Frontierrnby Robert K. DeArment.rnUnlike sex, violence is somethingrnmost people prefer to experience vicariously.rnProbably being murdered in virtualrnreality is an experience the averagernperson would choose to forego, even ifrnhe might enjoy watching a snuff moviernnow and again. Vieariousness operatesrnon two levels, location and time. Inrnthe first instance, something —bad orrngood—happens to the other fellow. Inrnthe second, it happens to him in anotherrnperiod. Vieariousness with respect to locationrnis a relief; where time is concerned,rna reassurance, making the violencernof the Old West palatable tornconsumers of Western lore and legend.rnWe enjoy reading about Custer’s LastrnStand not simply because we are presentrnonly in imagination but because thernevent and the conditions that producedrnit, lying in the past, are no longer dynamicrnbut static, threatening no one. Thernsame is true of history in general, whichrnis why sentimentalists and other timidrnsouls are always happiest living (as theyrnsuppose) in the past. History stays put, arnsource of comfort for simple minds andrnof alarm only to ideologues. For ordinaryrnAmericans situated somewhere betweenrnthese extremes, the Wild, WildrnWest appeals—for its spirit of adventurernand endurance, bravery and heroism —rnto an age of commercial and bureaucraticrntedium from which technique has removedrnmost material challenges, leavingrnseduction as the only imaginable form ofrnphysical adventure. The Old Westrnserves not only as an outlet for the imaginationrnbut as a place for it to roam in.rnWhich is what it ought to be, since it is inrnroaming of this kind that people discoverrnnot just the past but what in history isrnworthy of honor and emulation.rnStill unaccounted for is the inclusivenessrnof the Old West’s appeal. The frontierrnwas a cruel and ruthless place, barelyrncivilized, full of ugliness and crudity,rnrampant public distemper and immoralityrnwhose vices, indeed, were the necessaryrnprecondition of its virtues. But thernbards of the American Epic extol thernscene in its raw entirety, while their auditorsrnapplaud. The fact tells us something.rnRaymond Chandler’s fans are respondingrnto Philip Marlowe’s chivalrousrnchallenge to the corruption and barbarityrnof Los Angeles in the 1930’s, not to therncorrupt and barbarous themselves. Similarly,rnviewers of contemporary coprnshows are enthralled by the ongoing battlernagainst depraved criminals and thernculture of criminality, not by criminalrnculture in its own right. Yet the literaturernof the Old West is almost as quick tornglamorize whores, cardsharps, cutthroats,rnand bandits as it is lawmen andrnhardy pioneers. It is this indiscriminaternquality of appreciation that gives thernWestern epic its reputation as an exercisernin nostalgia, leading directly to widespreadrndisapprobation among the mandarinrnclass.rnThe nostalgia, though detectable, isrnactually a lesser element of the legend ofrnthe Old West, which essentially celebratesrnnothing more—or less—than thernrole violence necessarily plays in an accedingrnsociety—a civilization creating itselfrnout of chaos and building from thernbottom up. In these circumstances violencernsurely has a positive, even a heroic,rnaspect; the spectacle of violence exhilaratesrnrather than depresses, inspires insteadrnof discourages. Only in decedingrnsocieties does violence appeal to us as inevitablyrntawdry and mean, reprehensiblern—inhuman and therefore inexcusable.rnSo frontier violence in the 19thrncentury appears in retrospect to have hadrnan engaging and constructive aspect, unlikernthe destructive mayhem of recentrntimes. That is not the whole story, ofrncourse; perhaps it is even a minority report.rnThe frontier knew more, wayrnmore, than its share of sadism, nihilism,rnand evil done only in the name of evil.rnThe perception, however, is somewhatrndifferent: violence as fundamentallyrnlife-affirming as opposed to life-denying.rnNo country in the history of the worldrnhas moved from youth to sclerotic oldrnage as rapidly as the United States has,rnand America’s love affair with the youthfulrnculture of the American frontier refleetsrnthis fact. The affair, in addition, isrnnot America’s alone, but the world’s. Ever)’rnsummer mules burdened by six-footfivernGerman males wearing powder-bluerncowboy suits — hatted, booted, andrnspurred—descend from the South Rimrnto the depths of the Grand Canyon, andrnJapanese tourists encumbered by threernand four cameras each stand beside theirrnair-conditioned buses at Dead HorsernPoint above the Colorado River, strainingrntheir eyes for a vision of Moab, Utah,rnthe desert oasis and home to the onlyrnGolden Arches for a hundred milesrnaround. As the West was once the buildingrnedge of the United States, so the NewrnWorld was the frontier extension of thernOld: Europe and the Americas involvedrntogether in intersecting cycles of growthrnand decay, accedence and deeedenee,rnacquisition and retrenchment, violencernand repose. While the American Westrnwas still in the process of formation, eastwardrnthe nation was already in decline,rnspiritually and intellectually though notrnmaterially; in the same way, the rise ofrnAmerican civilization occurred as thernolder civilization that had produced itrncontinued to fall farther from the zenith.rnAs long as the Old West was a going concern,rnthe American people — and othersrn—had a vision of something that wasrnnew in the world, and at the same timernvery old. In this respect the closing of thernAmerican frontier as marked by FrederickrnJackson Turner was felt not only byrnthe settled part of the country but by thernrest of the world as well.rnA final aspect of the Old AmericanrnWest is very real and has not passed unnoticedrnby the ruling class in our ownrnday which, understanding precisely howrnfar it has gone in revoking the rights andrnprivileges of a free people and in destroyingrntheir culture, their country, and theirrntradition (the U.N.’s definition of genocide),rnturns now to the job of assuringrnthat the people have no redress fromrntyranny. The violence of the Americanrnfrontier—in fact, of America itself—hasrnhistorically been recognized by truernAmericans to be in some degree cathartic,rnexercising a cleansing influence onrnthose occasions when it has been responsiblyrnmobilized and directed. Violencernas a potentially positive force in the worldrnis an integral part of American folklore,rnand of American myth. Much as ourrnrulers want it to, it will not go away. ThernAmerican Epic, the legend of the AmericanrnWest, is the Fort Knox —knownrnto all, available only to its keepers —rnin which the real national treasure isrnstored.rn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn