Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

 The Good, The Bad, and The UglyA Fistful of Dollars. A Few Dollars More. To some people, these may just seem like disjointed, poorly constructed sentences, but to me, they represent one of the best movie trilogies of all time, the saga of The Man With No Name. These iconic Clint Eastwood movies are some of his best work, the rugged hard-mouthed no nonsense cowboy who is in complete control of the Wild Western landscape and society around him. The distinctive music, with the loud whistles and sweeping orchestral instrumentals composed by Ennio Morricone, gets to me every time I hear it, reminding me of the appeal the recently untamed West held for Americans. Even in recent film memory, with hits such as 3:10 to Yuma and the more modern No Country for Old Men, the idea of a man against the wild captivated millions of people, a “modern” day shepherd, seeking his destiny in the rough rural landscape of the Wild West.

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The valley of shadow of death

Since the infancy of our existence as a species, we as humans have tried to make sense of the world around us. Not only the grass and animals we co-habitate this planet with but also the cosmos we will never reach. Christopher Hitchens, points out in his book, God is Not Great, that religion was our first attempt to explain everything from the earthquakes that terrified us to the thoughts of what happens to us when we die. Pastoral literature is an extension of this thought pattern were it takes the complex and breaks it down into more simple and easy to understand terms. Psalm 23 uses very few lines to sum up some very important themes and questions we face as living organisms. It conveys the idea that we should want not because God will provide for us and that even though horrible tragedies occur and bloody wars are fought in his name he is there to guide us. I draw a different conclusion from this. I feel that pastoral literature, much like organized religion, is a way to distract people from reality. Lenin referred to religion as “the opiate of the people” and in this anesthisized state we as a collective are easier to manipulate and control. The word pastor even has its latin roots with the meaning of shephard. Pastor’s refer to there congregation as a flock. Interesting use of diction because flocks are hierarchal in nature. In the animal kingdom flocks must have one leader either patriarchal or matriarchal and that leader is unquestioned. Convenient when you can use that same system on human beings which are in nature pack animals. The distraction from reality is important when the ideas being preached are not based in said reality.

Terry Gifford makes the point that most pastoral literature is quick to point out the beauty of agrarian life, but often neglects to mention the hard work it takes to create and maintain said wonders. Shakespeare, in The Tempest, does not neglect said labors. While Prospero on the surface appears to be a man whom been betrayed by those closest to him and questions the motives of those people and their lust for power; he himself has not one but two slaves. Caliban, the native of the island Prospero and Miranda inhabit, and Ariel, a mystical spirit whom Prospero freed only to place under his own form of bondage. While Prospero raises his young daughter and learns the magic that he will use to set right old wrongs, Caliban labors away in chopping wood and raising their crops. And Ariel performs the dirty little task of scattering a fleet of ships and separating the occupants of one special ship. They both do this out of fear of Prospero. When Ariel asks for her promised freedom Prospero responds with,
“If thou more murmur’st, I will rend an oak
And peg thee in his knotty entrails till
Thou hast howled away twelve winters”
It’s good to see that Prospero’s outlook on servitude has not changed since his days as the Duke of Milan.

This is just a start I will have more hopefully after I finish reading the tempest.

Man vs. Wild-erness

“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.”
-Chuck Palahniuk

Human beings are shaped by their experiences, yet no two people perceive the same circumstance with equal result. Differences in perception lead in turn to differences in thought, action, and behavior; when two  personalities are brought together, conflict results. Conflict does not necessitate strife and discord, but can merely represent a summit of minds, a collusion of varying opinions. As Chuck Palahniuk states, “We learn so little from peace.” It is  when stressful situations strike that one can learn about themself, mature, and return the better for it. 

In pastoral literature, this developmental truth is no less ubiquitous. Despite the idyllic countryside setting that is typically associated with classical pastoral poems, such as in Virgil’s Eclogues, struggles abound. The standard ‘man vs. man’ conflict that typifies the rise of a hero or maturation of a protagonist in a literary epic is still present, but the calm quietude of nature adds another character to any pastoral scene. Continue reading