Joined: 28 Dec 2005
|Posted: Sun Dec 24, 2006 4:25 pm Post subject: 48. Reading Deadwood: edited by David Lavery
|"For the body is not one member, but many.
If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
And if they were all one member, where were the body?
But now are they many members, yet but one body.
And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:
That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."
-—1 Corinthians, 14-27
The full title is Reading Deadwood—A Western to Swear By, and it's a collection of academic essays (of wildly varying quality) about the HBO series Deadwood. Like a lot of works of literary theory, many of these essays aren't really analytical so much as they are derivative creative works, which use the ostensible subject (here, Deadwood) as the raw material for their own ideo-philosophical purposes. I'm a little tired of that approach, frankly, since it so easily slips into didacticism and knee-jerk politicking. And much of the time too, the creative imagination of the essayist is far inferior to the original work, so the final project can just seem like doodling in the margins.
The worst offenders in this regard here are Kim Akass's "You M*therf*cker: Al Swearingen's Oedipal Dilemma," which turns out to be straight-up unregenerated old-school Freudianism, and David Drysdale's "Laws and Every Other Damn Thing," which views the action of the series as a coded method of addressing Americans' "bad faith" and conflicting feelings about American global hegemony after 9/11. There may be glimmers of meaningfulness in both of these approaches, but they're absurdly narrow ways to look at the program, or just about anything, for that matter.
The best essays are pretty good, though. Sean O'Sullivan's "Old, New, Borrowed, Blue: Deadwood and Serial Fiction" is an excellent discussion of the program's relationship to earlier forms of serial fiction, such as Dickens' novels. What this essay has that many others in the collection lack is actual scholarship—O'Sullivan has a historical understanding of serial fiction forms, and uses it, not simply repeating the diminishing jargon of a particular theory's echo chamber.
The other standout essay is Erin Hill's "'What's Afflictin' You?': Corporeality, Body Crises and the Body Politic in Deadwood," which, despite the title, is a very approachable, theory-lite close reading of the series; it analyses the various maladies, diseases and injuries suffered by the Deadwood residents over the first two seasons and outlines the complex ways that they reflect changes in the state of the Deadwood community itself. This is a text-based reading, and a very convincing one. Hill is especially good at unpacking these metaphors as they refer back to the quotation from St. Paul at the top of this review, which is explicated in a sermon by the Reverend Smith in Season 1 and serves as the series' central theme. This is powerful, intricate stuff, and her essay helps the reader to more fully appreciate the multilayered literary workings of the series, and doesn't just keep riding some poor lame theoretical hobbyhorse.
Nothing here is at a James Wood level of analysis, but Hill's and O'Sullivan's essays, and a few others, demonstrate that quality media analysis isn't dead yet. A great show, and a couple of great essays.