Louis L'Amour dry-gulches postmodernism
By Darlene Warren

BIG SANDY, Texas--In articles published a year apart in The Journal, two authors (Brian Knowles and Robert Williams) grappled with the subject of postmodernism. If you were like me, you probably said to yourself, "What in the world is postmodernism?" (or something somewhat similar to that), and "How could postmodernism possibly relate to me?"

As I scanned the article written by Mr. Williams (Dec. 31, 2001), I found nothing that particularly pertained to me, until, that is, I got to the end of the piece. Mr. Williams may be smarter than I first gave him credit for. By inserting the name of Louis L'Amour into his writing, he probably generated a lot more attention than he would have otherwise.

Just as Mr. Williams was motivated to study into postmodernism by Mr. Knowles' article in The Journal (Sept. 30, 2000), something Mr. Williams wrote in his rebuttal spurred me to comment on his article. Mr. Williams implied that the writings of Mr. L'Amour may not exactly stand with the more "rigorous" postmodern literature. I'm not saying that Mr. Williams may not be brilliant in his own right, but, since he "called the tune, I'm ready to dance."1

Millions of people from all walks of life enjoy the stories of Louis L'Amour (who died in 1988). His tales of the American Old West are noted for their colorful depiction of frontier life and culture. Through his writings he crosses the boundaries and continues to evoke the imaginations of male and female, young and old, blue-collar worker and professional. Mr. L'Amour's simple but not simplistic style allows the reader to envision and relive one of the most exciting periods of our history.

Value of simplicity

In 1983 President Ronald Reagan presented Louis L'Amour with a Congressional Gold Medal, the first American novelist ever to receive the award. Five years earlier, in 1978, Journal circulation manager Linda Cartwright served Mr. L'Amour a cup of coffee in the Hall of Administration on the AC campus in Pasadena.

To my way of thinking there's a lot to be said for simplicity. In one short year President George Bush has brought back the art of straight talk. "Make no mistake about it, we're gonna hunt 'em down, smoke 'em out of their caves, get 'em running, and then we're gonna get em."2 Plain, simple, understandable and no room for misinterpretation. Grammatically incorrect? Maybe, but that's part of his charm, what makes him a real person to most of us. Something tells me he has probably drifted in the shallow pleasures of Louis L'Amour himself.

And what about Dr. Phil MacGraw? He's another plain-talking, simplistic, no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip type of guy who's caught my attention in the past year. He's a wildly popular psychiatrist-turned-television icon and author of several best-selling self-help books. Dr. Phil pulls no punches; he'll tell you straight out if you're an idiot or not (if, just by chance, you didn't know already).

Just as Louis L'Amour forces the characters in his books to suffer the consequences of their actions, Dr. Phil brooks no excuses from those who would prefer to blame others for their sorry lot in life. If someone makes a series of stupid mistakes and then whines to him about how horrible his present circumstances are, he'll flat out tell him, "It's your canoe, and you're gonna have to paddle it." Sounds like a quote from one of the Sackett boys.

Louis L'Amour's protagonists typically are 6-foot-3, broad in the shoulder, barrel-chested and narrow in the hip. They are tough and lean--and mean when they have to be. They exude loyalty (especially to family), strength, courage and a love for literature. They disdain those who prey on others to compensate for their own lack of character, yet are always ready and willing to put their lives at risk for those truly in need of help. They are people to "ride the river with."

Elusive definition

Now, back to postmodernism. I had a bad feeling about the word from the beginning. Think about it for a moment. Words that begin with the prefix post- normally leave me feeling depressed--postpartum, posthumous, postmortem, post-traumatic, post-Feast letdown. Sure enough, after reading the article I began to see that postmodernism was no exception.

You see, according to Mr. Williams he reviewed 230 books before he felt qualified to comment on Mr. Knowles' article on the same subject in an earlier issue of The Journal. His own research of the subject bears out that after reading all those books he still can't land on a solid definition of postmodernism.

So the trend continues. Now, when I hear about postmodernism, it depresses me. I bet Mr. L'Amour never spent that much time researching a word without a definition.

Like Mr. Williams, I would also like to touch upon literary theory. Literary theory? I know what literary means, and, according to my dictionary, theory is a "speculative idea or plan as to how something might be done."

In that light, while it's on my mind, let me share with you my favorite Louis L'Amour quote: "Oh, you're good enough, all right. Maybe too good. You've got a streak of broncho in you, I think, and you'd need a man who'd bridle you with a Spanish bit."

She gave him another of those straight glances.

"I'd handle with a hackamore for the right man," she said, "and no other could do it, Spanish bit or no."3 (Plain, simple, completely understandable, no room for misinterpretation.) Theoretically, this should work. Always has for me.

All in all, I don't think we should quibble over the study of postmodernism (a word without a definition) when we should be getting our pleasures wherever we can find them. Please feel free to drift through the shallow pleasures listed in the notes at the end of this article.

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