A first-person meditation on the literary and visual arts of the American West, Westernness: A Meditation explores how this region has developed its own distinct culture, in literature and painting, from the point of view of someone who has been, at different times in his life, both a westerner and an easterner. An engaging and astute reader and observer, Alan Williamson uses his poetic lens to examine the new connections, notably with the Far East, that have been forged in the West, but also the fear, anxiety, and sense of cultural vacancy that western artists have had to overcome in confronting their new landscape, much as the writers of the American Renaissance did a century earlier.
Writing as a displaced easterner with significant western roots, Williamson looks at writers and poets such as Cather, Lawrence, Steinbeck, Jefferes, Silko, and Snyder, as well as artists such as the Yosemite painters, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Wayne Thiebaud, to show how, despite the inflated optimism of many western patriots, the work of these individuals relates to the anxieties suffered by their eastern predecessors. By revealing what he sees as the repetition of the evolution of American literature in the rise of western literature, Williamson provides us with a fresh vantage point from which we can appreciate western literature, art, and culture and simultaneously dismantle the literary war between East and West.
A tribute to the author's lifelong engagement with a particular landscape and its writers, Westernness speaks to the general reader who is curious about his or her native place and relationship to it, as well as to scholars in literary and ecocritical studies.
"This is an elegantly written exploration of some twenty writers and painters over the past century who, among other things, share a broad regional affiliation—or perhaps more accurately, sensibility—that Williamson calls ‘westernness.’ That Williamson is a poet makes for compelling and often moving readings of the works of art on which he casts his discerning eye. This book will be a pleasure for anyone who loves art or is interested in California, the Southwest, or the American West generally—or, for that matter, in Asian religious thought or Euro-American cultural history.