Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Rhetoric and Symbolism of the Barbed Wire Fence

A few days ago I encountered a quotation in some research that I am currently doing, and it has stuck with me to the extent that I feel compelled to share it with the vaunted Rhetoricians on this blog. Quoth Sara L. Spurgeon:

The barbed wire fence is a potent and deeply paradoxical symbol in the American West. On one hand, it is the triumphant emblem of Anglo-America's conquest of the land once referred to as the Great American Desert, of the sheer force of human will necessary to empty it of those animals like the buffalo that do not serve Anglo America's needs and to fill it instead with cattle--nature tamed and controlled by the sharp-edged product of Eastern facroties. It is also, for many Westerners, the sign of some final closure, usually expressed nostalgically as the loss of the wandering horseman's right to travel freely and without restriction across the landscape. That wandering horseman, the lone cowboy with his bedroll and his rifle, is the most commonly recognized modern American expression of the sacred hunter, the lone male in the wilderness, here digging the postholes that mark his own demise and performing the final fencing-in of th natural world.


Heh. Fascinating. I wonder if John McCain was struggling to make sense of this kind of mythopoesis, when he exorted the federal government to Build the Dang Fence.

3 comments:

Oxymoron said...

Lately, I have been thinking about privacy fences.

solon said...

I keep thinking about this line, " It is also, for many Westerners, the sign of some final closure, usually expressed nostalgically as the loss of the wandering horseman's right to travel freely and without restriction across the landscape,"

and wonder just how much of today's problems occur because of cultural anxiety from the changing demographics of this country. There seems to be a certain realization that there is no going back but the country can temporarily delay the inevitable.

harrogate said...

Yeah, I always notice how antsy everyone on the set seems to get on cable news shows, when the sibject of the changing demographics come up. Immediately, we witness someone shift the conversation back to the rule of law, that the issue is illegal immigrration and illegal immigration alone, even if the topic being discussed is NOT in fact illegal immigration, but actually demographics.

As I am sure you know, one of the only straight-up mouthpieces for teh anxieties you speak of, at this point, is Pat Buchanan. Is it fair to write him off as a total xenophobe nativist? Or do you feel he is somehow trapped by the nostalgiac sense of America as seen in Spurgeon's quote--a well meaning but over his head believer in a before time that, in truth, never was, and will certainly never be?