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Dead Man Tells Tale: Tongues and guns in narratives of the West

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This article uses Jim Jarmusch's film, Dead Man as the basis for an analysis of dominant narratives of the American West and the ways in which these are articulated with the forms of Western capitalism. It argues that the film offers a critique of the cult of the Western and seeks also to secure the legitimacy of an alternative, local or little narrative through its deconstructive techniques and that its pragmatics of narration work against hegemonic discourses of discovery and civilising as the narrated journey is viewed through the downgrading, violation and spoliation of indigenous peoples and territories. The argument shows how the film explores the cartographies of violence in the American (and Western capitalist) imaginary and narrates against the historical, political, economic and symbolic erasure of Native Americans. Linked with this is an examination of the manner in which the film reflects upon themes of spirituality, transience and death. As a film of self-reflection it is not solemn or merely politically correct but a comedy which mocks liberal platitudes while it systematically divests a moral economy of its narrative centrality and continuity.

Keywords: capitalism; death; narrative; otherness; violence; western

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Nottingham Trent University.

Publication date: April 1, 2001

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  • The European Journal of American Culture (EJAC) is an academic, refereed journal for scholars, academics and students from many disciplines with a common involvement in the interdisciplinary study of America and American culture, drawing on a variety of approaches and encompassing the whole evolution of the country.
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