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Lights Out For the Territory

I wonder if the double entendre (lights out instead of lighting out) in the chapter title is supposed to convey a particular meaning?

In any case, "Going to the Territory" is the title of a famous essay (and essay collection) by Oklahoma native Ralph Ellison, in which he quotes the lyrics of Bessie Smith's "Work House Blues":

"Goin' to the Nation, Going to the Territor'"

The "nation" in the song which is described by John Edgar Wideman as "a lyrical rendering of the impulse of blacks and other Americans to push toward the frontier and its promise of freedom," is the Indian nation in Oklahoma, where black Americans accompanied Native Americans after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which Wikipedia describes as "the first removal treaty carried into effect under the Indian Removal Act, an 1830 piece of legislation associated with President Andrew Jackson whose death is described in the fifth chapter.
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

Stephanie, I'll try to explain what I meant.

The narrator describes "lighting out for the territory" as a general state of being, a kind of wanderlust for the wide open spaces and "the open highway fancy free," to quote the lyrics to Nelson Riddle's "Route 66 Theme" (which is a different song than the blues by Bobby Troup). But the narrator also quotes the last paragraph from "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" without capitalizing the "t" in Territory as Twain does:

"Well I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and civilise me and I can't stand it."

So I think LOFTT is about each of us having "our own Aunt Sally," as well as a specific reference to Twain's sequel to "Huck Finn" which is set in the Territory that was to become the state of Oklahoma. That was my oblique connection to the Ellison essay.

Anyway, in my opinion, there's also a negative aspect to LOFTT in the novel which has to do with abandonment by men, the main culprits being Charles S. Curtis, Curtis Charles, and John Wiggins, with Curtis look-alike Brad Pitt serving as celebrity comic relief for abandonment.

The narrator notes that in a word-association test, "cowboys" usually produces the response "Indians," even though the soldiers, identified as golden-haired, if I'm not mistaken, were the Indians' real adversaries. So because I don't quite catch the "symbolic" meaning of the identity theft described in the novel, I'll mention the black "buffalo soldiers" of the Tenth Cavalry, black U.S. deputy marshalls like Bass Reeves, black Indians as well as black Indian fighters and cowboys.

I think LOFTT is also depicted as male trailblazing and an escape from women, as when Johnson and Charles Curtis light out for the Northwest territory, leaving their family in such hardship that "if it hadn't been for Clara's mother, Ellen would have slipped into a long night."

On that point, Laurie Lawlor, in her book about Curtis, seems to describe Clara's family as intact and living near the Curtises on the Kitsap Peninsula, with no mention of them hailing from Minnesota, much less knowing the Curtises from some other place.
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

[ Edited ]
Oops! Sorry, I mean EDWARD S. Curtis and Curtis Edwards, of course!

Message Edited by x-tempo on 07-23-2007 01:42 AM
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Stephanie
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

X-tempo,

I think "lighting out for the territory" is as you said- an abandonment of sorts, but also wanderlust in that the men who sought "freedom" on the open range sought it not only from women (whom they often dragged along) but from the confines of a society that did not allow them to grow and improve their lot - to dream the American Dream, as it were. Abandoning their lives "back east" also meant men like Curtis, with virtually no education, could become successful businessmen, if greed, weather, Indians or wild animals didn't throw a boulder in their path. The "taming" of the west was Jefferson's dream too, From Sea to Shining Sea.
Stephanie
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

Stephanie,

Was Curtis really gay or is gayness his fictional punishment for lighting out on Clara?

I've read a few fictional biographies and it seems that the subject's sexuality is often fair game for the author's creative (mis)interpretation. Some examples I can think of:

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron in which the 19th century slave preacher's bloody rebellion is motivated in part by his lust for a young white girl.

The Master by Colm Toibin imagines Henry James as a closeted gay man particulary sensitive to the inner lives of women.

Dancing in the Dark by Caryl Phillips uses black vaudeville star Bert Williams's implied low sex drive as a metaphor for his lack of racial militancy.


steve
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Stephanie
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

Steve,

I don't know if Curtis was really gay or not- could have been, I suppose. It seems to me that most authors do their homework, if they want to retain a good reputation. Making things up out of thin air would probably sully that a bit. I would think it's a matter of scant evidence that points in that direction, not enough to be definitive, but enough to say probably, and then go on from there.
Stephanie
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

Stephanie,

You might know about the controversy surrounding Curtis's work. I think it's alluded to in the novel. Christopher M. Lyman's 1982 book about Curtis, "The Vanishing Race and Other Illusions," makes the case that Curtis often posed his subjects, staged events, and manipulated the photographic printing process. I borrowed the book from the library.

Curtis, although he had no scientific background, was doing more than just taking pictures, he was conducting ethnographic research by collecting myths, recording music, and compiling a 20-volume set of books. Curtis's "The North American Indian" seems comparable to John James Audubon's "The Birds of America," which is described in the biography by Richard Rhodes. Audubon's drawings documented never-before-seen species of birds, some of which I suppose were becoming extinct. Although he was neither a scientist nor a trained artist, he had to depict the birds in their correct proportions and submit the drawings and the skins to the scientific authorities. Like Curtis, he had to become a salesman as well, because the continuation of his project depended on subscriptions for the completed work. Audubon even had to travel to England and France where the engraving and printing technolgies were more advanced than in the States.

But unlike Audubon, Curtis investigated human cultures, "races" or "a race" of people, and cultural studies always involves the politics of representation.

He not only traveled with a translator, his group also included a man named William Myers, who was able to transcribe phonetically the sounds of the Native American languages, which were unwritten languages.

When folkorists Alan Lomax and Zora Neale Hurston traveled throughout the South in the 1920s collecting folksongs and folktales, they weren't following a scientific method (although Zora had an undergraduate degree in anthropology and had studied with a famous scholar named Franz Boas).

Alan Lomax collected an enormous amount of folk material for which everyone is grateful, however, he was notoriously weak in the area of interpretation and analysis, and was something of a regressive in his opinions (for instance, he never really liked jazz after it left New Orleans and was subject to the "miscreants of modern music" and he considered gospel music less worthy than the spirituals, or whatever his opinion was). If folksingers in Appalachia, for example, knew that Alan Lomax was paying $20 to record John Henry Songs, then they would change their repertoire accordingly. And so there's the argument that folklorists changed the culture they were studying.

I think writers have an artistic license to rearrange, invent, or fictionalize any aspect of a subject's life any way they want. It may be ironic in this case that Curtis himself was criticized for doing what's apparently being done to him. For example, his hip injury happened in 1911 on a whaling cruise to Alaska, which was 9 years after he met Clara.

I've read one other other work of biographical fiction about a photographer. Although he's not the main character, photographer E.J. Bellocq is a key figure in Michael Ondaatje's "Coming Through Slaughter," a fictional work (which I wouldn't describe as a novel) about early jazz pioneer and cornetist Buddy Bolden, about whom relatively little is known. It's an interesting book even though it's almost totally fictionalized.

Anyway, I think these are all separate topics for discussion.

steve
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Stephanie
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

Steve,

You're probably right about the many discussion topics, but that's okay, we can discuss them en masse here.

I do know that Curtis' work was staged, but only after reading Marianne's book. I wished it hadn't needed to be that way, but it did, and therefore, I'm happier to have the work that way than not at all.

Curtis' ambition impressed me a great deal. As with any "self-made man" who literally pulls himself up by his bootstraps, I think the people who find a passion (in his case, Native Americans and photography both) and work toward their goal will seek any means to accomplish it. Of course, finding wealthy benefactors was part of the process, and that implies employing politics of some kind. A stroke of luck that he met Teddy Roosevelt? Perhaps, but then, perhaps he created the luck himself.

Interesting that he got his hip-wound on a whaler!

I agree completely about artistic license- while it's important to remember that the story is fictionalized, I think it's wonderful that these authors bring interesting and important people to our attention. Also, for many people, it's more pleasurable to read historical fiction than lists of events and dates. Fictionalizing history makes it more accessible in that way.
Stephanie
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory


Stephanie wrote:
Steve,

You're probably right about the many discussion topics, but that's okay, we can discuss them en masse here.

I do know that Curtis' work was staged, but only after reading Marianne's book. I wished it hadn't needed to be that way, but it did, and therefore, I'm happier to have the work that way than not at all.

Curtis' ambition impressed me a great deal. As with any "self-made man" who literally pulls himself up by his bootstraps, I think the people who find a passion (in his case, Native Americans and photography both) and work toward their goal will seek any means to accomplish it. Of course, finding wealthy benefactors was part of the process, and that implies employing politics of some kind. A stroke of luck that he met Teddy Roosevelt? Perhaps, but then, perhaps he created the luck himself.

Interesting that he got his hip-wound on a whaler!

I agree completely about artistic license- while it's important to remember that the story is fictionalized, I think it's wonderful that these authors bring interesting and important people to our attention. Also, for many people, it's more pleasurable to read historical fiction than lists of events and dates. Fictionalizing history makes it more accessible in that way.




Stephanie,

By "politics" I didn't mean gaining access to people like J. Pierpont Morgan who had vast economic resources, although Curtis certainly did that, I meant the politics of culture.

Here's an excerpt which might explain what I had in mind:

The commercialization of cultural differences reached its peak in the nineteenth century, when competing entrepreneurs brought American Indians and other exotic groups to Europe. During his eight years' residence in London and Paris, the American artist George Catlin promoted interest in his gallery of American Indian paintings by employing Native American dance troupes. By far the most successful of these showmen, however, was "Buffalo Bill" Cody, whose Wild West show helped to establish the Sioux as the epitome of "the American Indian" in Europe. The participants in such shows -- who had suffered military defeat and were facing economic deprivation on their reservations, and whose numbers included Black Elk, Iron Tail, and some of the leaders of the Ghost Dance movement -- were given an opportunity for gainful employment by exhibiting aspects of their traditional culture in front of an enthusiastic and sympathetic audience.

Since a certain conformity with the prevalent stereotype of "the Indian" generally helped showpiece Indians convince their audiences of their authenticity, imposters were often more successful in this business than true Native Americans....


...Despite their disappearance from everyday life, however, Indians continued to be icons of American exceptionalism for novelists and artists, who exploited white stereotypes of Indians in a nationalistic effort to define American culture. Romantic authors like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (The Song of Hiawatha, 1855) and James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans, 1826) successfully captured the imaginations of Euro-Americans and made the "noble savage" a permanent feature of a distinctly American identity. Similarly, the careers of Charles Bird King, John Mix Stanley, and, most prominently, George Catlin rested on curiosity about Indians and the popular belief that native people would soon disappear. The American fascination with Indian culture reached its apex during the 1890s, when most tribes had been confined to reservations and popular entertainers like P.T. Barnum and Buffalo Bill Cody played to the public's nostalgic fascination with the "vanishing" red man.

-- The Encyclopedia of North American Indians, Edited by Frederick E. Howe

In 1821, the superintendant of Indian trade under President James Monroe, Thomas McKenny, began commissioning portraits of Indian chiefs who came to Washington, D.C. to negotiate with the Great White Father. Charles Bird King was the first of these artists and he apparently perpetuated the stereotype of the noble savage (an idea that originated with Jean Jacques Rousseau).



I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know, but one example I can think of to illustrate the concept might be the Native American, Polynesian, and African harpooners (Tashtego, Queequeg, and Daggoo) in Melville's Moby-Dick. They're noble savages, unlike the black American characters like Pip and Fleece, who conform more to minstrel stereotypes. Without defining it, I think white literary characters, like Billy Budd, for instance, can be noble savages too. Here are some excerpts from Moby-Dick:

Tashtego's long, lean, sable hair, his high cheek bones, and black rounding eyes -- for an Indian, Oriental in their largeness, but Antarctic in their glittering expression -- all this sufficiently proclaimed him an inheritor of the unvitiated blood of those proud warrior hunters, who, in quest of the great New England moose, had scoured, bow in hand, the aboriginal forests of the main.

[Queequeg's]... father was a High Chief, a King; his uncle a High Priest; and on the maternal side he boasted aunts who were the wives of unconquerable warriors. There was excellent blood in his veins - royal stuff; though sadly vitiated, I fear, by the cannibal propensity he nourished in his untutored youth.



"The Vanishing Race and Other Illusions" by Christopher M. Lyman is a book of Edward S. Curtis photographs which places the unretouched original photos next to the finished product, so the viewer can see how, for example, the audience members and their automobiles at performances of the Ghost Dance and other ceremonies were airbrushed out. It also how many of the subjects are wearing wigs or wearing "prop" costumes, etc.

This Edward S. Curtis Web site has two essays on this subject. First click on "Edward S. Curtis In Context," and then "The Myth of the Vanishing Race" or "Edward S. Curtis: Pictorialist and Ethnographic Adventurer":

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award98/ienhtml/curthome.html
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Stephanie
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

Steve,

Thanks - I appreciate the references and I now understand more completely the points you were making.

The photos Curtis took of the Noble Indians certainly perpetuated the stereotype. I know that impression has been firmly implanted in the minds of Americans- even today's generation, who really haven't been exposed to the Native American portraits, literature and poetry, movies and television that so many generations were offered.

There's a certain guilt that goes along with our reverence regarding the Native Americans of the past, and I think that's likely why the image was perpetuated. Then of course, I think there was a sort of awe also- even though these people were virtually wiped out by vast numbers of Europeans (and trickery) they were not dishonest in their dealings with us, and they did value honor. It's also easy to think of someone who stands straight and tall and doesn't speak much as noble. Language barrier, or smart listeners?

If America needed an identity then, I suppose "noble savage" could have been apropos.
Stephanie
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

Stephanie,

This Curtis timeline has Clara and the Phillips family emigrating from eastern Canada to Puget Sound. I don't know if that information is correct, but it's a definite departure from the events described in the novel. Remember that the premise here is that his life is not a made-for-Hollywood story.

http://www.soulcatcherstudio.com/artists/curtis_cron.html

It also states that in 1890, after injuring his back at a lumber mill, Clara nursed him back to health, however, it doesn't mention him breaking his hip in Alaska in 1910, as described by Lawlor and others.

There's a photo on p. 25 of an older man in an untied necktie who's sitting in front of a dresser. Is that supposed to be Curtis? Because I looked through two Curtis books last weekend and he appears to be balding in his early- to mid-thirties. (note the picture of the bald man in the timeline).

I haven't been able to find any information about his being "condemned by the Secretary of the Interior and denounced as a phony and a fake on the floor of Congress." (p. 27)

steve
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

Edward S. Curtis playing with Theodore Roosevelt's children.

Eighth photograph down, click on photo to enlarge:

http://aam.govst.edu/projects/mmoley/primary_sources.htm


He doesn't look like the older gentleman on p. 25 of the novel who has hair.
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

Stephanie,

I think this is one of the photographs where Curtis caught the personality of his subjects. These four young Hopi women are wearing their hair in squash blossom coils and making bread and one of them looks up at the camera.

http://www.old-picture.com/indians/Grinding-Grain.htm
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Stephanie
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Re: Lights Out For the Territory

Steve,

You find the best websites. :smileyhappy: It certainly does appear, in the picture with Roosevelt's children, that Curtis had a seriously receding hairline, doesn't it? I'm not sure if the gentleman on page 25 is identified at all- the notes at the end state that it is a "found" photograph, from the collection of the author's daughter. It could be Curtis, as I believe (on close scrutiny) that the fellow in the photo has something of a comb-over.

I can't say anything as to whether or not Curtis went to the government for money as an ethnologist, but I would not be surprised to find he did. He was decidedly not an ethnologist- his photographs were fakes - or created artistically, however you want to spin it. He was not depicting reality, he was constructing it. Or reconstructing it. His work could even be called a type of propaganda.

Have you checked out the DVD The Indian Picture Opera - A Vanishing Race? It's a remake of Curtis 1911 magic lantern slide show. I would like to see that.
Stephanie
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