OPINIONSnImagining the Westnby M.E. Bradfordn’The curious have observed that the progress of humane hterature (hke the sun)nis from the East to the West. . .”n— Nathaniel AmesnWestern Writers SeriesnEdited by Wayne Chatterton andnJames H. Maguiren101 titles to datenBoise: Boise State University;n$3.95 per copynA s both a reality and an interpretivenproblem, the American West hasnretained its long-established hold on thenattention of our scholars. And the samenis true of Western American literature:nevidence of the West as imaginativensubject, state of mind, and setting fornthe handiwork of the artist, which existsnalready in a considerable corpus andncontinues in some quantity to be produced.nIn such circumstances, what wenmust be ready to seek are the groundsnfor this ongoing corporate fascinationnwith lands west of Omaha, Topeka,nOklahoma City, and Ft. Worth and eastnof the High Sierras — the “real West”nof mountain, desert, and forest lands.nM.E. Bradford is a professor ofnEnglish at the University of Dallas.n32/CHRONICLESnWhat, we must inquire, sets the Westnapart from other contexts for searchingnout patterns in the American past, callingnforth the ingenuity and engagingnthe spirit of its sons and daughters asndoes no other region? And what does itsnemergence in our collective self-consciousnessnas both place and possibilitynsignify for any account of our works,nour goals, our purposes, and ournachievements as a society? The flood ofnbooks about the West obliges us tonanswer such questions even more thannseemed necessary before the archetypal,ngeneric West began to recede intonmemory and the shadows of a distantnpast. For we cherish our recollections ofnthe West as internal experience even ifnwe have never seen it with our ownneyes, imagine what it was first like whennAmericans came there, even if ournfamilies had no part in the great migrationnin that direction or in its aftermath.nAt the level of immediate encounters,nthe West presumes the experiencenof a “given” nature in its most stubbornnforms: of realities that existed prior tonour conception of them and will survivennnafter our adventures with the providentialnare at an end. The Western writer innsome measure grounds his creativity innremembrance of such confrontation, ornin his impressions of characters thusngrounded. Place is a character in anynstory that he knows. In Wolf Willown(1962), his wonderful evocation of lifenas a boy on the prairie of Saskatchewan,nWallace Stegner begins his versionnof this perennial act of imaginativenrecovery by calling up the overwhelmingnsmell of trees along the FrenchmannRiver — trees that give to his narrativenits tide. Working outward from thisncore of weighted recollection, he remembersnthe boy who had known thisnsmell, finds him hidden away in hisnmature consciousness where his survivalnguarantees that the cosmopolitannauthor and man of letters will alwaysnknow “where I came from,” howevernpuzzled he may be about the meaningnof his existence.nSo many Western writers havenmemories of this sort that the standardnhistory of their achievements, A LiterarynHistory of the American West.n