Meyer, W.E.H. Jr. Zane Grey and the American, Hypervisual Tradition

12 Oct

West Fork Trail, AZ; Credit: Michael D. McCumber

Meyer Jr., W. E. H. (1989), Zane Grey and the American, Hypervisual Tradition. Journal of American Culture, 12: 59–69. doi: 10.1111/j.1542-734X.1989.1204_59.x

Her vaunted images of European scenery changed to operetta settings.

She had nothing with which to compare this illimitable space.

«Oh!-America!» was her unconscious tribute.
The Call of the Canyon

Zane Grey cannot be treated as simply a «popular» or «Western» author because his novels deal too intimately with the Sight-Geist of American literary tradition. From the Puritans to the present day, American art and life have defined themselves according to Emerson’s ecstatic «transparent eyeball» and the bold assumption that we had «listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe» because the New World explorer no longer wished to hear but to see for himself – what Emerson summed up as our «genius in America, with tyrannous eye» (Poet 238) and what Zane Grey likewise intuits in the eye-dealism of his fiction in the anti-verbal, anti-civilized hypervisuality, for example of Rogue River Feud:

Out there in what they call civilization I see and I think. Here I see, but don’t think. (148)

Grey’s novels, in fact, are all allegories of Hawthorne’s great Aesthetic American Adultery, of the hypervisual brand on every New-World human breast and cattle’s flank – of the traumatic but Sanative power of the Melvillean «A sharp eye for the White Whale» (Moby-Dick, 121). And because Grey’s novels not only vie with the greatest of American writers in extolling our «Democratic Vistas» but often excel Whitman’s or Wolfe’s «bright panoramas» or «distant soaring ranges» (Look Homeward, 522), this «popular» culturalist must be seen and taken seriously in his proper New-World context – the same passionate context and conviction that led a contemporary, F. Scott Fitzgerald, to laud the «fresh, green breast of the new world … that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes» (Gatsby 182).

All in all, Zane Grey has accepted as ambitious a «literary» challenge as any novelist of modern times – the elevation, reconstitution and conservation of his country’s highest ideals, it anti-verbal, hypervisual aspirations:

He saw thought and soul and nature – strong vision of life. (Riders 198)


Posted by on 2017-10-12 in About Zane Grey


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2 responses to “Meyer, W.E.H. Jr. Zane Grey and the American, Hypervisual Tradition

  1. Gifford MacShane

    2017-10-13 at 6:45 pm

    I’ve always considered Zane Grey as a great novelist, not just a great Western writer. Those who are confused by this are usually those who haven’t read his novels (or have only read one or two of the more popular ones). In addition to the visualizations in his work, there’s an internal spirituality in every story; these two elements, for me, make his writing unique.

    • humanitysdarkerside

      2017-10-13 at 7:00 pm

      I agree. It’s why I like adding articles to this site to give a bit of depth to understand what on earth Zane Grey was doing.



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