Yes, I quite sincerely do distance myself from what you call the Dustbowl. I was never part of it. Indian Creek lies in a very fertile Texas valley, or so it seemed to me on my one brief visit back there. As to the deplorable agricultural practices in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma and that frightening dust cloud of April 14th, 1935, I am in those years resident in the capital cities of Europe. I do not deny Texas, any more than I deny that husband there, what's his name? They just slip my mind. For me, there are few pleasant or productive associations with that part of the world, and many disappointments.
Especially unproductive is your typically academic conception of memory as a kind of seine, prized for the fineness of its netting, to drag your bibliographical waters "exhaustively," "definitively." Were you honest with your students, you would explain to them that the vital function of scholarship is not retaining, but forgetting. Just as the gift of intelligence is to distinguish between the essential and the non-essential, memory must peel the significant out from the overwhelming mass of trivial impressions. Remembering is not an accumulative, but a selective process. Consider the fine art of sculpting. The artist envisages a figure within the massive, hulking material, and he must chisel out that vision, free it from all the merely incidental detritus. Memory is what we make of our past.
What little culture my family did pass down to me during my Texas childhood came out of traditions from the Carolinas and the ante-bellum South. You call my focus on those more genteel roots "insincere," but there you are playing with a two-edged Bowie knife. I might ask what you mean by calling yourself a "dustbowl refugee," evoking that ragged, crazed minstrel, Woody Guthrie. I grant you the little man is a genius, perhaps even the genius loci of the high plains. I defy you, however, to draw an incisive line separating products of his genius from effusions of his degenerative disease. His personal life no less than his poetry is marred by defiant disorderliness. And I should think you, J.-W., might have little patience with the progressively rabid partisanship which mirrors his physiological breakdown.
By way of amends for this sharp letter, however, I am attaching a little essay of my own on a Guthrie masterpiece. For reasons which I could only speculate about, neither the more intellectual critics nor Woody's folksing admirers have paid much heed to what is probably his best effort in that genre which was his forte.
Please return to Professor Worthy's Page
or view the correspondence with Katherine Anne Porter, Home
and please do express your own views.