26 June 2008

Custerology: far more than the study of "Custer"

hey, brady braves ... michael elliot's l.a. times op-ed "the patriots who killed custer" (6/25/08) can be read at http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-elliott25-2008jun25%2C0%2C3134423.story ... recommended reading is elliot's new book custerology: the enduring legacy of the indian wars and george armstrong custer ... as the author states in the intro, "my focus is on the continuing production of knowledge of Custer and the nineteenth-century Indian Wars in which he fought. Custerology therefore includes not only those who seek to honor the memory of Custer and his Seventh Cavalry but also those who celebrate the indigenous resistance that defeated him—and believe that by doing so they are providing historical redress for the injustices suffered by American Indians” (2)

working as a presentist (i.e., one who looks at how history matters today), elliot later writes what we see as one of the strongest past-present-future connecting passages in Custerology: “The secret to the historical power of the Battle of the Little Bighorn is that the defeat of the Seventh Cavalry means that twentieth-century and now twenty-first-century whites can commemorate the violent work of Western expansion without having to feel entirely guilty about the fate of the American Indians whom the United States attempted to conquer. Custer’s loss so sharply resists the tides of history, as commonly understood, that it has seemed to one generation after another as though it were the outcome of some unknowable, preternatural force. The spectacle of defeat explains why generations of Custerologists have pored over the arcane details of this one conflict in the Indian Wars when so many others remain relatively neglected; why Custer continues to exert power as a romantic hero even when the larger public sympathizes with his foes; and how a historic event can be transformed into an object whose aesthetic appeal rivals that or artistic masterpieces” (187)

and for those wes anderson fans in the brady bravispheres: any book willing to open, as elliot does in his book's first sentence, with reference to eli cash (owen wilson's character in the royal tenenbaums movie) has gotta receive a look ... not to be confused with the neglected (by elliot) johnny cash who sang the peter-lafarge-penned tune "custer" (on the bitter tears album) criticizing the general ("to some he was a hero, but to me his score was zero, and the general he don't ride well anymore") ... eli cash is an "indian" playin' character who writes a book about custer, saying, "Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is ... maybe he didn't?" and so, Custerology continues for the next generation and the next and ...

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