THE HERMES IN BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S is happening in reality. The tricksters are in full view. It started with a lie about John Mayer.

The Meeting of Horizons: Scheherazade’s Reawakening the Heart to Wonder in the Contemporary American Southwest

Completing the Story of Richard V. Francaviglia’s Go East, Young Man:  Imagining the American West as the Orient

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814

“The lives we live depend upon the stories we tell.”  Lee R. Edwards (paraphrasing Joan Didion) “The secret point of money and power in America is neither the things that money can buy nor power for power’s sake . . . but absolute personal freedom, mobility, privacy.  It is the instinct which drove America to the Pacific, all through the nineteenth century, the desire to be able to find a restaurant open in case you want a sandwich, to be a free agent, live by one’s own rules.”  Joan Didion

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” Albert Camus

“The possibility of the woman hero is contingent only on recognizing the aspirations of consciousness as human attributes; it is the absence of this understanding that has kept Psyche and her heroic daughters so long in shadow.” Lee R. Edwards in Psyche as Hero:  Female Heroism and Fictional Form

The Southwest has for centuries been a terrain for journeys deeply impelled by the possibilities, personal freedoms, and adventures known in and explored in the world’s greatest literature, and the never-ending, unquenched needs of the human spirit that still brings people here to see what it is.  With those venturing for new lives into the harrowing western frontier in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, other needs may have driven them, but their dreams and imaginations carried powerful old truths, stories and longings of a different way of existing with origins as far ranging as the Bible, exotic Asian tales, and mysteries of the ancient pyramids.  While the first part of this historical epic of the American West has been defined by conquest, competition, and the indomitable male hero vying alone for supremacy over the day--a hard, necessary and lonely story for humanity--the very nature of that narrative sets up the next part which is a different kind of wonder and epic tale.

While we know the heroic stories and plights of cowboys and “Indians,” we can see the same world view having played out in commercialism against the value of existence. In this western sweep to complete the globe, the important influence of the oldest of cultural ideas and world literature from the Asian continent also fortuitously came to play out as a drama on the stage of the provocative, unknown landscape of the Southwest.  This would leave a wake of quiet influence that can now be seen as pivotal to the Southwest’s ambiguous and unbound identity and importantly varied culture and would leave a presence of mystery and stories that can reveal, in the unbalanced extreme of individualism in Western culture, a negated side of being and human existence.    It is necessary, then, to not only look at what was importantly here and serendipitously conducive to the new cultures, but also to consider what of the Orient was carefully brought to this place and continues to quietly give of itself to add to the presence of the Southwest.  In closer observation of these varied and different presences there is an opportunity for the idea of the heroic to transform, not defined by the typical warring heroic qualities, sex, or race.  Different aims in heroics reshapes western aspirations of wealth and power into something resonantly deeper, reimagined in the American mind, a redefinition of value and perspective, and a wonderful heroic surprise.  What is more, according to scholar Lee R. Edwards in Psyche as Hero, this new definition of heroism equalizes love’s needs with power (10).  It is more than exciting to see that this possibility unfolds in the American Southwest.

In Go East, Young Man:  Imagining the American West as the Orient author Richard V. Francaviglia (Utah State University Press, 2011) shows that instead of looking at a blank or foreign canvas upon arrival, many of the those venturing into the forbidding Southwestern frontier in the nineteenth century, driven by desperation or longing, brought with them prevalent, deeply-embedded artistic and cultural influences from the exotic Asian worlds--spanning across that continent from Japan to Israel.  Places, histories, hopes and stories internally gathered and felt from the ancient Asian cultures came in this directional sweep of humanity culminating in this movement westward--this all-important, harrowing yet promising shift moving towards California and the shores of the North American Pacific coast.  It is no wonder these parts are known as the “Land of Enchantment,” for phoenixes rising, and as the land of dreams.  While these “dreams” became defined in mostly economics terms, the basis of these impressions of place are first embedded in the presence of the environment and the varied cultural wealth, i.e, the freedom, the literature, the people and the place. It was the “frontier that encouraged romantic allusions and illusions” and “at this time and in this  . . . setting, Orientalism flourished” (Francaviglia 16).  Orientalism’s cultural resonance here may be less prevalent in our current imaginations, but to be aware of its extent is central to the story of the Southwest.

The range of hopes were indeed ancient and vast:  for the Transcendentalists on the East Coast, “help shape the perceptions of landscape and culture,”  namely Ralph Waldo Emerson, who sought “the infinitude of the Asiatic soul” and Henry David Thoreau, seeking a more resonantly spiritual existence, this expansion West signified an opening for a more broad-based and natural, personally transformative spirituality influenced by some of the oldest civilizations on earth.  Francaviglia points out that this Asian influence can be seen as these intellectuals of New England were known as the “Brahmans” (21).  The reference to the Asian knowledge is from India’s 1st century Upanishads of “the sole, non-dual ground of all being and becoming (brahman), putting forth the phenomenal universe in a continuous act of creation” (Campbell xi).  According to William Q. Judge, et al, in A Book of Hindu Scriptures, “The idea put forth by the Upanishadic seers that Atman and Brahman are One and the same is one of the greatest contributions made to the thought of the world.”  In Walden, Thoreau  entreated his readers to not only push the boundaries and explore, but more importantly in doing this, to adhere to Cicero and “Explore thyself.”  He continues the challenge, “herein are demanded the eye and the nerve” (Walden Ch. 18), calling those who instead go to an outward war “cowards” and “deserters.”  The movement West for him was not simply an opportunity for a physical exploration but very much more importantly, an internal one.  He urges, “Start now on the farthest western way”--that internal exploration of which the Southwest has become the conducive landscape whose momentous natural monuments, deserts and deep canyons shrinks the self and guides the eye to turn inward to the very phenomenon of existence.  Francaviglia quotes Thoreau writing of this movement “West”:  “which does not pause at the Mississippi or the Pacific, nor conduct toward a worn-out China or Japan, but leads on a direct tangent to this sphere, summer and winter, day and night, sun down, moon down, and at last earth down, too” (qtd. in Francaviglia 12)--that final frontier of human non-dual existence, that be-all, begin-all of exploration where human consciousness is alike and divisions dissolved.

Further influence into the western movement would come from the cradle of civilization, Western Asia, in a literary tradition alive in the imagination exemplified in the exotic, magical and adventuresome Arabian Nights.   That these adventures brought to mind stories the travelers had heard read to them in childhood makes it doubly fantastical--both literature and childhood dreams coming to life.  Many writers of the time referenced Arabian Nights in their descriptions and impressions of the landscape, starting on the Great Plains and moving westward, the terrain becoming more difficult the further they traveled.  The travels, according to Francaviglia, were “typical combination of plodding along worrying if the animals and vehicles would hold up, and if water and food would be available . . . on occasion, though, it could be downright exhilarating or absolutely disastrous.  It was above all romantic for the growing number of travelers who sensed they were part of a grand adventure” (28).   He quotes Nathaniel Parker Willis who in 1840 provided this description:

. . . a sense of stillness and solitude, a feeling of retirement from the world, deeper and more affecting than he has ever felt before . . . thus, in a kind of romantic rapture, he wanders over these plains with emotions similar to those which, when a child, he roamed through the wildernesses created in Arabian tales (29).

According to Francaviglia, this was “like going back in time before civilization, travelers also turned their own personal clocks back into a time during which they were most impressionable” (29).  The experience even began upon arriving on the Illinois prairie, setting the stage for experiencing the Southwestern wonders they would later encounter.  Francaviglia quotes Baynard Rush Hall from 1855 who wrote, “The solemn dark of primitive oriental forests, must have suggested to the Magician of the Thousand and One Nights, some of the charms and witcheries and incantations that entranced our first years of boyhood and dreams!” (29).

This would not only come to play in their imaginations upon arrival, but would influence such things as place-naming and architecture, giving more of an Oriental presence to the place. The Mormons who settled in Salt Lake City would build Orientally-influenced structures like the Saltair resort that “did indeed seem like something out of the Arabian Nights.  Saltair was built just at the time when a new and more sensual aspect of Orientalism swept the United States and Europe” (120).  A newspaper at the time described Saltair as “The magnificent pavilion, rising, Venice-like, out of the waves, in stupendous and graceful beauty, deepened in its semi-Moorish architectural lines, the suspicion that what one saw was not firm structural reality but a rather delightful oriental dream” (120).  Francaviglia continues the study of this real-life motif:

In 1920 when California orange crate labels celebrated mythical characters from well-known stories such as the Arabian Nights, the spectacular Samarkand, Persian Hotel and spa in Santa Barbara opened its doors to a public long enchanted with the Orient . . . The name Samarkand was legendary, said to be Persian for ‘Land of Heart’s Desire.’  Moreover, that fabled city’s name was a household word as it was the locale in which the ingenious Scheherazade had told her fabulous 1001 Arabian Nights stories . . . The hotel’s administrator . . . was known as ‘the Caliph of Samarkand’ . . . who could orchestrate the magic, and provide a sensual, out of the ordinary experience (189).

This aura of magic and sensuality found a natural home in the Southwest and was matched with a sense of freedom of creation.  The super-ego of puritanical judgement and morality did not have a strong hold over the harsh, natural setting where the supernatural and fulfillment of prophesies and dreams was prominently felt, excess trappings of living stripped away.  The presence of Native American tribes added to the sense of the strange being present.  The mystery of being, carried from the Orient, could naturally be brought to life, mirroring what was already evident in this setting.  Francaviglia gives details of this kind of Asian influence including the tales from Arabian Nights along with a discussion on the perceived sensuality and freedom of the desert.  He quotes feminist scholar Ella Shohat in writing, “The desert functions narratively as an isolating element, as sexually and morally separate imaginary territory” (134).      While Francaviglia does not follow this out, it is interesting to examine that in this literature and mythology, this sense of mystery is tied to the sensuality and presence of the female, here represented in the tales being told by Scheherazade, and what is more, being told in the mystery of night.  This also reflects that Transcendentalist movement towards going inward and India’s Upanishads’ exploration of that non-dual ground of all being and becoming, albeit with the absence of the female hero who risks her life and guides the way.  World renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell, who studied all the world’s mythologies, in his lecture “Art as a Revelation” from his Historical Atlas of World Mythology explores this going inward:

By night, however, when the sun has set, the mind turns inward and, together with its universe, which is now a reflex of itself, ‘doth change into something rich and strange.’  The forms now beheld are self-luminous and in definition ambiguous, unsubstantial yet insuppressibly affective.  For not-a is now indistinguishable from a.  The beholding mind and the objects beheld are of the same, non-dual dreaming consciousness and of the intimately suggestive yet elusive import of some kind (Volume I, Part II, ix).

And of the Gnostic Gospel According to Thomas, also from the ancient Asian continent,  Campbell writes,

. . . there are sayings attributed to the historical Jesus  where he appears, not only to have identified himself with the universally immanent World Dreamer (which in Christian terminology is the second Person of the Trinity, namely Christ), but also to have taught that those who receive and live by his teaching will themselves realize their identity in eternity with this non-dual, universal Immortal . . .

Campbell further quotes an indication of this similarity in thought:

“His disciples said to Him:  When will the Kingdom come?  Jesus said:  It will not come by expectation; they will not say: ‘See here,’ or: ‘See there.’ But the kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it” (xvii-xviii).

The Arabian Nights, opening a way for those travelers to understand what they were finding in the spirit of the Southwest and influence what they would create here, also functions as an opening to this inward mystery of being where constructs and divisions do not exist and the enchantment of the universe, out of the firm grip of human judgement and will, is at play.  It is interesting to note here that this inward movement, so urged by Asian spirituality and the Transcendentalists was subsumed in this male-dominated, rushed, commercial, outward adventure to create the dream.  Likewise, the inner lives of the tribes of Native Americans were immediately devalued and misjudged--and the qualities they could have offered about our ties to the earth and universe--very much overshadowed and threatened.  However, their exoticism was readily offered up to the tourism market.  The Japanese and the Chinese who were used to build the railroads were denigrated as useless beings otherwise.  It is therefore important to examine that the falling away of the understanding of Asian spirituality, the natural spirituality and way of living of the Native Americans, the lives of females and minorities, the spinning earth, and the natural operation of the universe are all tied in this way.  Life itself is at stake in a culture that negates “other” when clearly “other” is the very makeup of the Southwest and the world.    In looking at the stories of the Southwest, it is evident that to miss what they have to offer is to overlook life itself.  It is a warring world that demands there can be only “one” representative of life.  A different quality of hero is also desperately needed to give place to the inherent beauty of ancient knowledge, peoples and cultures that led here and that make up existence, and while still recognizing the accomplishments of the Western mind,  gently point the way inward to the common mystery of being.

To understand the far-reaching effects of the exotic stories taking place in the reality of the Southwest, in our time it is most opportune and exciting to step back and look at the overarching story for its immense possibilities.  Scheherazade telling the tales in Arabian Nights functions as a very different kind of hero risking her life--she is not risking it for gain or power, but for love and life.  She can neither start a fight or give in or she will be killed in the morning, but using her developed talents and deep learning--her knowledge of the history and literature of the world--and indirectly through an examination of the mystery of being--gently asks the king to loosen his grip on his life-harming judgement and rigidity.  She asks to live.  In a world that doesn’t “listen,” it is clearly an extremely necessary and hard heroics very different from killing and war.  Even more profound to realize is that the feminine is cut from the imagination in the story of coming to the Southwest, similar to her doomed fate at the beginning of the Arabian Nights.  It is up to her to redeem herself.    According to Lee Edwards, “leading a fugitive existence, her presence overlooked, her identity obscured, the woman hero is an emblem of patriarchal instability and insecurity.  From her perspective, all social contracts have been bargained in bad faith and must be renegotiated.  History, she reminds us, buried the Picts” (4).  The fate of the female, eerily similar to the task of Scheherazade, now awaits to see if she has both the understanding and the ability to complete these stories that have played out in the creation of the culture of the Southwest.  Scheherazade faces this grave danger night after night, completely relying on her own mystery and ability to engage the king’s inner being.  Her face-off is with an ego in order to save the human.  She essentially is asking for the mind to let go of what it thinks it knows for sure and be open to new possibility.  Without her, the stories of the Arabian Nights is incomplete, as is the life of the king, always standing as the dominate hero alone.  What is the success of America if it stands dominate, guarding treasure and accomplished by itself?  As the influence of the Orient came into the Southwest, the mystery naturally present now offered the freedom for stories of possibility and the perfect natural setting.  It is here!

Scheherazade functions here as the ancient feminine role representative of guide, mother, creator, nurturer and the unfolding of the natural universe, and also a coming together.  In the extremely driven conquering and commercialism of the West, women had been drawn away from these natural creator roles (as Native Americans were driven from their deep ties to the earth and universe) and became non-heroic, supporting, sub-human roles, their qualities of mother, nurturer, story-teller, and mystery deemed empty, wrong and unnecessary and to have no value in this rampant competition for economic gain and control.   French feminist writer Hélène Cixous writes:

I shall speak about women’s writing: about what it will do. Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies— for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text— as into the world and into history— by her own movement” (Clayton 131).

The female hero does not remove, outdo or lessen the role of the male hero, but shows her role as the “other,” bringing together the whole.  As Lee Edward writes, she “negate the assumption at the culture’s heart” (9) that there is only one gender, one culture, exclusive of all others, and “ . . . represents not femininity but heroism” (11) in a completing way that brings value to very state of all being.  Her talents point the way to the inward mystery and by doing so points to the reanimation of the grand cosmos at work in many varied cultures with the enchantment with which it is naturally endowed.  She represents a coming together.

The quiet path these images of the mystery and allure of the feminine did take was into advertising, art, and later onto the silver screen--albeit in those arenas the mystery is controlled and limited by the power of the market and very little created by the females who held little to no power.    The images, emptied of soul, become surface and sexual images (in danger of being thrown away in the morning).  Francaviglia gives many examples of the Oriental influence in advertising and art.  He writes,  “Building on a technique mastered by French painters, American artists and their patrons became enchanted  by odalisques (beautiful young women, perhaps from harems) in sensuous poses” (59).   This mixed with the “play” and sensuousness of the landscape came to eventually create the setting and magic of Hollywood.  First he writes of the sensuousness of the landscape and of the sand dunes in the wind creating a music, “the voice of the desert . . . speaking in notes now as of harp strings . . as of trumpets and drums” (quoted in Francaviglia 79), and how “they can move” and “embody softness; in the most masculine of desert landscapes, they introduce an element of the female.”    He quotes writer Tempest Williams describing the, “sensuous curves--the small of a woman’s back.  Breasts.  Buttocks.  Hips and pelvis.”  According to Francaviglia, “These dunes are visually evocative, but they form part of something even more profound.  They are not only landscapes but also soundscapes” (79).  He then moves on to discuss this sensuality represented in such films as The Sheik which brought “Western culture face-to-face with the seduction of the ‘other’ as lover.  The very looseness of sand underfoot suggests that we may lose both our bearings and our balance, by being seduced” (80).  Francaviglia does represent these ideas in his book in the Western viewpoint.   California may be sometimes viewed as a superficial place, but it is a place where the depths of the dreams most definitely can be realized.    A barrier to realization happens when the marketplace tries to capture this magic of being--whether the exotic or feminine,  and ends up portraying a vacant vessel usually reduced to an image of only sexuality.  This became the prevalent perception of females in American culture, the danger in this of how she will therefore be treated is ever-present.  Even in our psyches, the archetype of temptress suggests that she does not mean well.  It is then imperative that the stories be told from her perspective and in a more humane way.

In the Southwest, “other” and nature are clearly felt presences, even as Anglo males were trying to regulate the vast range of cultural and environmental resources into monetary value.  Present but not truly accounted for, these images have remained vestiges, shadows of the mystery and feminine, triggering the primal, but reduced in perception and definition to superficial images.  The market has by allusion and illusion tried to capture the feminine magic--hence stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn who both found the reflection of themselves to be hardly complete.  Marilyn, metaphorically as Scheherazade, died, her image still misunderstood, but the light in her eyes eternally telling something more.  Audrey found her true self in her work with UNICEF, not Hollywood.  However, the world came to know her realness and vulnerability and her work through western creation and by storytelling.  Clearly, the combination of both are essential.  Power needs love as love needs power.

When considering the varied and exotic stories of the coming together of the Southwest, a major part comes from Eastern Asia of the hopes and history of the Judeo-Christian tradition long seeking a new promised land.  With this was the sacred history and images in the mind’s eye of the diaspora from Egypt being relived here in the westward movement onto this remarkably similar, but more promising landscape that seemed to offer itself as the prophecy fulfilled with all the freedom of the human spirit, opportunity, and wide open spaces.    The landscape they found mirrored the holy lands of Eastern Asia as highly reflective of the image of what they sought and with it the opportunity to finally create a new, free home.  Francaviglia himself experienced the serendipity of this and how much this came to life for these travelers.  In his opening pages he describes driving through the Holy Land north from the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley.  Francaviglia writes,

I was amazed by how a lot of what I observed here in Israel reminded me of a place much closer to home--namely, the Imperial Valley in Southern California’s low desert.  Gazing at the Dead Sea . . . I pondered just how much that body of water resembled the Salton Sea.  Like the Dead Sea, this salt-rimmed inland lake in California lies below sea level and looks like a slab of blue stone set into a beige-colored plain bordered by bone-dry, heavily eroded hills.  Looking right and left as drove northward on that clear early October day, I was surprised by how familiar this otherwise exotic place felt.  As date palms and citrus groves flashed by, I could visualize those same plants that had transformed California’s Coachella Valley into a garden spot--and gave such a similar Middle Eastern ‘feel’ to the landscape of that part of the Golden State (1).

Throughout the book Francaviglia shows these remarkable, uncanny similarities in terrain.  In Utah, Francaviglia shows that

when the railroads sought aggressively to promote Utah, they employed landscape images and maps.  For example, in 1886, a promotional pamphlet on the Great Salt Lake called this geographical feature “The Dead Sea of America,” employing a stunning color lithograph to make the comparison . . . a promotional brochure called Pointer to Prosperity . . . this ingenious map juxtaposed a portion of the Holy Land with Utah’s Wasatch Front . . . Utah-as-Holy-Land comparison was not only physically “striking” but culturally significant . . . reminiscent of the Jews’ homeland (today’s Israel, Palestine, and adjacent parts of Jordan) (117).

Francaviglia devotes a chapter to the “Chosen People, Chosen Land:  Utah as the Holy Land.”  He shows, though, how in this phenomenal opportunity, Mormons, considering themselves the “chosen people” set themselves apart, above others, and also brought with them the age-old disposition towards degradation themselves.  He writes of their strange history wherein they,

figuratively transformed into peoples from, or of, the Middle East (Israel).  By adopting the identity of Israelites, the Mormons became the Oriental ‘other’ despite the fact that they were white northern Europeans--and Christians . . . The Mormons assumed an Israelite identity so completely that they transformed Jews into Gentiles, that occurred because they so effectively transformed themselves into ancient Israelites (99).

Francaviglia continues,

When critics complained that the Mormons enslaved their women, they used the same logic as Stanley Lane-Poole, who wrote that ‘the degradation of the women in the East is a canker that begins its destructive work early in childhood, and has eaten into the whole system of Islam’ (99).

Into this wild and imaginative milieu was also a prevalent knowledge and preoccupation with the ancient and classic cultures of Egypt, Greece, and Rome--and at a time when the buried treasures of Egypt were just being brought to light.  As the world was first getting a glimpse into the mysteries held in the pyramids, those journeying were transfixed by the magnificence of what they were experiencing in similarities in natural formations here while it was stimulating these deep wells of thought.  This is one way in which the supernatural was being felt, and even a sense of the magical at work.  While other countries had formidable history of human expression and accomplishment in historical architecture and monuments, America was new and the landscape completely natural, which made the finds of things such as natural pyramids and structures that looked like ancient castles even more extraordinary.  Here was an untouched land of extreme beauty that evoked the histories and stories they knew, and yet humans did not create nor shape it.  Because of this even a sense of destiny with the divine was felt.   These quests were naturally arousing experience of the sublime with both the extreme beauty and the sense of almost terrifying awe at this unfathomable seemingly known but unknown.  Francaviglia quotes impressions like this from writers and travelers who were experiencing old worlds coming to life straight from their imaginations.  One traveler, Horace K. Whitney, wrote:

The scene to us was truly one of magnificence and grandeur and almost baffles description . . . the whole scene was one of romantic solitude and inspired me with singular feelings and reminding <sic> me forcibly of the descriptions I had read in my boyish days of the fortified castles and watchtowers of the older time” (qtd. in Francaviglia 41).

Traveler and writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow recorded:

We go out of our way to lavish raptures upon the temples of Yucatan, the mausolea of Dongola, Nubia, and Petrea, the Sphinx, and the Cave of Elephanta, while throughout our own mountain fastnesses and trackless plains exist ruins of architecture and statuary not one whit behind the foreign remains of forty centuries in power of execution, and far vaster in respect to age and size (qtd. in Francaviglia 33).

Francaviglia explains that Ludlow was writing at a time in 1870,  “when science and art--that is, objectivity and emotion--existed side by side” when Ludlow writes about “recognizing feelings” that “will be awakened in you by natural ruins, statues, castles, temples, monuments” (34).  What a magnificent realization that here were these monuments and humans did not create them.  Francaviglia continues,

Letting his imagination run wild, Ludlow was admittedly ‘excited by the ruins of Titanic cities scattered over areas of many grassless, soilless leagues.’  He confessed that this type of discovery ‘never lost its freshness with me; it was always a source of childlike terror and delight.”  Hinting at what was going on in his deeper consciousness, Ludlow noted that ‘to this day I cannot analyze it, unless on the principle  affording a certain momentary argument for the supernatural . . .’  He encouraged others to consider that argument:  ‘ere you can recover your cold literalism and modernity, your logical balance, and your grasp of philosophical explorations.’  This type of experience, as he put it, ‘sets you back in your childhood’s or your ancestor’s marvel-world--shows you how the baby feels, how the ancients felt.’  Ludlow himself emphasized that word modernity, for it was an operative factor in motivating him to seek something more wild, primeval--even frightening--in the western American landscape (34).

Other writers wrote of their awe and exhilaration.  In June 1846, Edwin Bryant wrote, “It would almost seem as if the Deity had lain himself out in arranging a garden of illimitable extent to shame the puny efforts of man” (qtd. in Francaviglia 40).  Alexander Winchell added, “Nature seems to have collected together the relics of a geological age, and burned them in one vast sepulcher”  and quoting another writer whom he says, almost

‘dwelt among the tombs’ of the ancient world as they lie stretched out from the Mississippi to the Pacific shores . . . these rocky piles, in their endless succession, assume the appearance of massive artificial structures, decked out with all the accessories of buttress and turret, arched doorway and clustered shaft, pinnacle, and finial, and tapering spire” (58).

And of the terror mixed with the awe, he juxtaposed this description with the harsh realities of this place upon finding many fossil bones: “. . . walking upon the floor of a long-deserted and ruined vault . . . skulls, and jaws, and teeth, and thigh-bones lie scattered about . . . Death has indeed held a carnival here, and this is the deserted scene of a ghastly repast” (qtd. in Francaviglia 58).

With the harsh, incredible setting and the sense of destiny brought with this, the meeting with a place of divine creation, and the drama of the experience of terror and beauty, it is no wonder then that the old worlds of literature and mythology were evoked with this experience of place.  Francaviglia explores how what was understood at the time was playing a role in the unfolding of the West:

. . . pyramids were an obsession--singular achievements that revealed the greatness of Egyptian culture and held the key to human understanding.  Look at any dollar bill and you will see the Pyramid of Cheops, an eye atop it connecting mystically with the heavens.  Adopted as a popular icon in the United States by the early 1800s, the pyramid symbolized several things:  a greatness to which learned men aspired, a knowledge of construction that was not yet surpassed, and a mysticism that entranced both the American and European publics . . . That interest was at the heart of modern Orientalism, and it was so strong that we find it in the wilderness of the North American West well before Anglo-American explorers like Fremont arrived (69).

When American explorer John Charles Fremont did arrive in Nevada, he was mesmerized when he came upon this natural phenomenon.  He states that it “broke upon our eyes like the ocean” and “presented a pretty exact outline of the Great Pyramid of Cheops” (67).   Francaviglia writes, “Fremont believed that his pyramid in the Great Basin was an even better representative of the original than the original” (68).      Later when ornithologist Robert Ridgeway studied Pyramid Lake, he “noted something else about the pyramid that made it even more perfect than the Egyptian pyramid.”  Ridgeway wrote:  “It’s base is nearly a perfect triangle, each side being a sheer precipice from the water to the height of a hundred and fifty feet . . .”   Francaviglia explains:  “Ridgeway is here referring to an abstract ideal--the shape of the perfect pyramid, whose bottom as well as sides is triangular-shaped as opposed to square” (72).

Thoreau wrote that “the world is but a canvas to our imagination” and through out  this display of the wonder of this place and the amazing, extensive influences of the Orient, one of Francaviglia’s intents is to show how malleable this landscape was to culture and thought as those that were encountering it were seemingly miraculously finding places they recognized and could become better than dreams from their own visions.  In his introduction entitled “The Malleable Landscape” Francaviglia states, “The landscape, as one of the grand artifacts that a culture constructs, is seemingly permanent, but it, like the imagination that encounters it, is actually highly malleable” (13). These adventurers were finding that they could fit their imaginations onto the terrain and uncover wonders.  Francaviglia shows in account after account how they were in ways strangely finding that which they recognized:  deserts much like the Sahara, natural structures like Egyptian pyramids, a new Eden, even finding China, Syria and the Ancient East on the Pacific Coast.  Francaviglia writes, “A major premise of this book is that people and place are inseparable in this process of creating new cultural identities.  As identities shift from place to place and from culture to culture, they are shaped and reshaped through a kind of mimesis through time” (13).  The hopes and stories they knew were finding new place and reality and unboundedly in a more free way.  They were creating a place of different identities and therefore opportunity of different ways of being.  Francaviglia writes about one book on the time as, “a look at how ambiguous identity could be on the American western frontier.  That ambiguity made it relatively easy to configure the West, and westerners, into an imagined Orient” (53).  The Southwest has not been limited to one definition and has remained free in this way, still very much the landscape of possibility.

What they were finding was a depth of place to finally touch the real.  They could experience the ancient promises and make these deep, long-held yearnings exist outside of the dream scape.  The West held the ability, magic, mystery, freedom and wide open spaces where human aspiration was no longer bound.  The human divisions would set the limits.  The West achieved the wealth and power to make anything possible but subduing “other” in order to achieve it, silenced the beauty of existence where true possibility exists.  Without the inward realization common to all, it is a very lonely, endlessly killing half-story.

The Oriental and the Occidental worlds came together in such a way that it is curious how landscape, spirituality, literature, history and Western drive culminate here into an actuality--setting the stage for the realization of the overarching and non-divisive story of humanity wherein the common ground is inward, past judgement where there is a participation with all of life.  It is wonder incarnate, a landscape of the soul made visible, building from a long in potentia, and with this wild card of place, propitiously alive.  The ability to articulate this inward rapture and the heroics to embody its realization is unique to the female hero and to the Southwest.   As the American culture has reached a commercial, material extreme and women, children and minorities experience what might be their most empty and desperate hour, she must try.

 Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. The Way of the Animal Powers. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Print.
  Clayton, Barbara; Clayton, Barbara (2004-01-29). A Penelopean Poetics: Reweaving the Feminine in Homer's Odyssey (Greek Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches) (p. 8). Lexington Books. Kindle Edition. Edwards, Lee R. Psyche as Hero: Female Heroism and Fictional Form. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1984. Print. Francaviglia, Richard V. Go East, Young Man: Imagining the American West as the Orient. Logan: Utah State UP, 2011. Print.
Thoreau, Henry David, and Walter Harding. Walden: An Annotated Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995. Print.