Lecturer takes grim view of American West

By SABRINA HAYES/Montana State News

“The people [of the American West] have either lost their minds or are dead,” according to Stephen Tatum, an English professor and the director of environmental humanities program at the University of Utah.

Tatum, speaking as a guest of Montana State University’s Distinguished Speaker Series, used Robert Bolano’s “2666” and Charles Bowden’s “Dreamland” to discuss the development of real and imagined Western culture through literature.

Using passages from the two novels, Tatum picked apart each piece of work from a literary standpoint to develop the theme of the modern American West – what he called the borderlands, or the border between the United States and Mexico. Picking out devices and images used by the authors, Tatum presented his work in a way that made the audience feel the terror and the desolation of the setting.

Tatum combined social sciences, English, philosophy, arts, history and political science in an effort to teach his audience, “There is no hero because it’s all about the hunger for Western capitalism.”

He encouraged his guests to delve into the subject, truly pay attention to the modern American west, and ask questions.

He ended his presentation with the lasting questions, “How do we represent violence?” and “What would it take to get someone to take notice, and to learn?”

According to Susan Kollin, a professor at Montana State University, Stephen Tatum, was brought toMSU in order to encourage and emphasize interdisciplinary projects and studies. On Thursday, Tatum spoke in the third and final Cultures of the American West Symposium in the Letters and Science Distinguished Speakers series.

Nicol Rae, dean of the College of Letters and Science, said the “[Distinguished Speakers series] is one of the most important things we do here.” He said, “This year we’ve been featuring distinguished leaders in order to promote student leadership, faculty leadership, and campus-wide leadership.”

Of Tatum’s work and his Thursday evening discussion, Kollin said, “He has inspired me as a scholar by pushing the boundaries of intercultural studies.”

– Edited by Jackie Blackwood 

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