I am of that culture and yet I am against that culture. I am of my time and yet out of my time. I drive fast down freeways but I have no belief that these roads lead to a future.
In the late twentieth century, westerns entered a revisionist cycle whereby mythic structures as well as generic codes and conventions were placed under critical scrutiny. After World War II, the civil rights movement, along with antiwar protests, a growing environmental awareness, and the women's rights movement, created a culture that reevaluated the central themes, conflicts, and characters of the genre. These new literary and cinematic westerns, now defined in a broader and more fluid way, extended, revised, and challenged the national, regional, racial, and gender imaginaries typically encoded in the established genre to make space for new narrative possibilities, thus ushering in what might be called the “postwestern.” This essay explores some of the reasons for this postwestern turn by examining its critical histories and its articulation across a range of literary examples.
Sergio Fabbrini has written of “a general consensus that the 2008 financial crisis has been more than a physiological economic downturn,” since it also called into question the political paradigm of a deregulated economic system “hierarchically controlled by the United States.” This resulted in a world “much less western than in the past … a post-western world that now is shading the western power itself.” Key to this position were new structures of influence questioning U.S. hegemony underpinned by a national narrative of settlement, power, identity formation, and development extending back historically and mythologically to westward expansion. This shift relates to the subject of this essay, which deals specifically with the post-western as a consequence of similar political, cultural, economic, and aesthetic challenges in the post-1945 period, when the assumed centrality of the American West's regional attributes that had constructed the creation myth of national identity were themselves under question. This supposed unanimity cohered around certain core values underlining American certainty and helping to shape an idea of “the people” as a unified and consensual group, which, in Gilles Deleuze's words, were “already there, real before being actual, ideal without being abstract.” This was expressed in classic western fiction and film by “addressing a people… presupposed already there” populating its settlements and narratives with actions and attitudes that reinforced a specific ideological landscape.