Source File: cat.cs006.xml
From Cather Studies Volume 6

Culture and the "Cathedral"

Tourism as Potlatch in One of Ours


Early in the last section of Willa Cather's One of Ours, Claude Wheeler experiences what seems to be a transcendent moment of orientation and meaning. Sitting in what he believes is the cathedral of Rouen, he tries to commune with his surroundings by summoning up what he knows about Gothic architecture: Gothic . . . that was a mere word; to him it suggested something very peaked and pointed, sharp arches, steep roofs. It had nothing to do with these slim white columns that rose so straight and far, or with the window, burning up there in its vault of gloom. . . . While he was vainly trying to think about architecture, some recollection of old astronomy lessons brushed across his brain, something about stars whose light travels through space for hundreds of years before it reaches the earth and the human eye. The purple and crimson and peacock-green of this window had been shining quite as long as that before it got to him. . . . He felt distinctly that it went through him and farther still . . . as if his mother were looking over his shoulder. (343)

One of a series of blinkered epiphanies that dot the novel, enabling readers to plot the shifting distance between Cather and her protagonist (which critics of the book most often employ as the prime diagnostic measure of its political positioning),[1] this scene attests to the complex and overdetermined nature of that distance. On one level the scene functions as a classic moment of modernist irony, with Claude's sense of almost Copernican centrality ironized by his disorientation—not only the lack of fit between his internalized models of "culture" and his immediate perceptions but also the fact that he is actually in the wrong church. Claude's exaggerated reverence for the "cathedral" as exemplar of cultural authenticity— in Georges Bataille's terms, the regulatory "ideal soul" (qtd. in Hollier 47) of an idealized France—thus can be read as calling into question that idealism itself. Indeed, in the maternal oversight that permeates Claude's vision, the passage also prefigures the novel's conclusion, in which Mrs. Wheeler's disillusion leads her to treasure the dead Claude's unsullied "bright faith" (458) as an anachronized relic.

But the scene underscores as well the degree to which any American positioning within the war is mediated by notions of cultural belatedness to which Cather (who was capable of romanticizing an elderly Frenchwoman as "a mountain of memories" in which "lay most of one's mental past" [Not Under Forty 16]) was herself vulnerable.[2] By 1914 the terms of this belatedness had both shaped and been shaped by the conventions of tourism; indeed, the rhetoric of tourist practice governed much of the discourse surrounding American entry into the war.[3] As Christopher Endy has shown, arguments in favor of intervention, particularly those invoked by women, who had become the target consumers for cultural tourism, raised the specter of "the destruction of the traveler's conception of the Old World as a museum showcasing refinement and civilization" (592). Noted traveler Edith Wharton marshaled her credentials of connoisseurship for the purposes of propaganda, invoking and transmuting the stylized conventions of her own earlier travel chronicles.[4]

Key to this discourse was the mobilization of the exclusionary rhetorical distinction between "tourist" and "real traveler" that Jonathan Culler has identified as itself "integral to [tourism] rather than outside it or beyond it" (156). By the end of the nineteenth century antitourism had become a reflexive mechanism for the construction of cultural distinctions and the testing of cultural representations, a tool for scripting the meanings of what Judith Adler has called "travel performance." As adapted for propaganda, the discourses of antitourism aligned the insensitive traveler by implication with the Germans, depicted by journalist and popular novelist Clara E. Laughlin—soon to launch her own postwar travel-guide empire—as harboring "a long-cherished determination to supersede French civilization and to consign it to oblivion" (Martyred vi).

Such antitouristic distinctions help shape much American fiction of the First World War, particularly that by women. Key moments of epistemological crisis in such works are often rendered in terms of touristic spatiality; rather than the maps of the generals, as so often in British novels of the war,[5] it's Baedeker and Murray whose representations prove inadequate to a newly chaotic world. Within a particular subset of popular war novels published between 1915 and the writing of One of Ours—most of them propagandistic, preemptively or retrospectively justifying American intervention—the quality of their prior touristic practice functions as a predictor of characters' ability to negotiate the epistemological minefields of wartime France; the discourses of antitourism are mobilized to distinguish those sensitive enough to endorse war in defense of "culture" from those "mere tourists" for whom it represents a collapse of that rationality and logistical control they associate with America itself.

To read One of Ours in the context of such novels is to illuminate not only Cather's attitudes toward such "rational" control as manifested in the processes of homogenization and accumulation that mark the novel, processes often identified by critics with the "birth of [American] empire" (Urgo144), but also her relationship to her protagonist. The relevance of tourist practice to One of Ours has not been ignored: Steven Trout, drawing on the research of Mark Meigs, has recently elucidated the importance for the novel of the historical motivation-building exercises of the AEF, and in particular the training of doughboys in the ways of tourism and consumption. Trout argues convincingly that Cather ties Claude's growing identification with his fellow Americans to his internalization of the AEF cultural agenda. Yet in doing so Trout naturalizes the tourist/traveler dichotomy, which mediated Cather's own travel experiences and those of her contemporaries and thus underlies One of Ours as much as do the actual practices of the AEF: indeed, in Cather's self-conscious modernist reworking of the popular propaganda form, the complex relations between Claude and Cather are negotiated along the fault line of the tourist/traveler divide.[6]


Recapitulating the "self-exemptive self-fashioning" (Buzard 336) of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century travel writing, the popular war novels of writers like Anna Robeson Burr, Clara E. Laughlin, and Mary Hastings Bradley manipulate the antitouristic dialectic of self-distinction and solidarity—setting oneself apart from the "herd," appealing to the like-minded—to support their interventionist message. These novels exploit persistent exclusionary distinctions between "tourist" and "traveler" to link survival in disrupted wartime space to sensitivity toward the French war effort; those characters most wedded to the rigid predictors of itinerary and schedule—those unable to adapt effectively to wartime fracturing, fluidity, and unpredictability—also prove impervious to the emotional appeal of the war and of service. The initial moment of trial in these novels—the moment of testing and fracture—invariably depicts American tourists in Europe, usually France, overtaken by the onrush of war. This moment of crisis when tour turns to war, when the itinerary, the "map" of time, collapses into meaninglessness, distinguishes a moral hierarchy of travelers: those passively wedded to a predictable, well-worn and, implicitly, Americanized version of touristic space, for whom the collapse of tourist routine renders that space unprecedentedly and terrifyingly "foreign" (for whom, in other words, foreignness equals chaos); those logistically and rationally adept— usually planners of their own travel itineraries—who are capable of negotiating escape from a chaoticized environment that they assume results from a dearth of American pragmatism (for whom, in other words, American neutrality is the only rational stance); and finally, those anointed by the text as a special class of sensitives, able to intuit their proper path in a world without tourist markers (those, in other words, who choose to stay on in Europe).

The key point here is not simply that these models depict the inevitable disruption of prewar models of touristic practice but that they exploit and echo the hierarchical discourses of tourism itself to suggest a new ontological map for wartime behavior. American pragmatism, within the propaganda fictions, is not sufficient to "remap" the wartime world properly but must be tied to a spiritualized affinity with France, the attribute of the "authentic" traveler. In Anna Robeson Burr's 1921 The House on Charles Street, for example, two young women caught by the war while on holiday in the Alps stand apart from the panic-stricken and hysterically abusive crowds who "linger in tears" (20) around the landmarks of American Europe—banks, telegraph offices, the lobbies of luxury hotels—and whose lumpen-tourist status is reflected in the "herd impulse" that now "stampede[s] them to their homes" (7). But the two also stand in contrast to one another. Elizabeth, the pragmatist, who has briskly negotiated the "chief business" (21) of European travel, "moving on well-laid rails of training and purpose toward definite ends" (17), while wrapped in an aura of efficiency that "enfold[s] her as completely as a diver's helmet" (15), now finds herself to be "the spectator of a universal madness, which must pass; or the dreamer of a dream too hateful and too vivid to last" (5). She considers that "the whole continent had suddenly turned itself into an assemblage of dangerous lunatics and the sensible thing to do was to get back as quickly as possible to the only country where people were still sane" (22). For her more sensitive and imaginative friend Sydney, meanwhile, the withdrawal of logistical certainty is in and of itself unimportant—"What does it matter if the Americans get home comfortably or not?" she asks Elizabeth (20). Rather, it prompts the reawakening of buried, intuitive, modes of perception, "certain stirrings in her own soul— movements which, while new, are yet very old. . . . These had as yet no vocabulary, but one was forming fast" (5). The image of Mont Blanc, the tourist destination that looms over these reflections, serves as the touchstone for the women's differing responses. For Elizabeth, Mont Blanc, in its aloof inaccessibility, is emblematic of her displacement from logistical and perceptual centrality, her disorientation by forces that "did not seem to have taken account of her at all" (7), while for Sydney the mountain's iconic self-sufficiency—the very existence of that different, distinct, perspective— is somehow comforting.

Sydney's response to the crisis is prefigured in her own previous approach to travel. Sydney is "thrilled to the soul," thinks Elizabeth indignantly, not by certified monuments and masterpieces but by "trifles merely curious. . . . A skylark, which, springing up from her feet, had lost itself, singing in the blue; a London policeman standing impassive in the evening mist; a Savoyard woman, knitting, as she walked behind her cattle—these had been the sights which had brought delight into Sydney's eyes" (21-22). Burr ranges Sydney's idiosyncratic, synecdochal "map" of European sights in opposition to guidebook travel, whether active or passive, and implicitly to the American version, in which, as Terry Caesar puts it, "the American travels, first, as an American, and second, in order to have a more encompassing experience of the world that never ceases to be a deeper experience of America itself" (73).

The moral hierarchy thus established is allowed to persist throughout these war novels to distinguish, as Jean Méral has noted, between come-first and come-lately Francophiles; those with the empathetic sensitivity to navigate a disrupted Paris resent the reimposition of, in effect, an American spatial grid. Late in The House on Charles Street, Elizabeth's return to Europe, as now "the most aggressive of pro-Allies" (248), carries the epistemological arrogance and discipline of the encyclopedic guidebook: "There was nothing apparently in the soul of France concealed from her. . . . She knew all about the beauty of French family life; the custom of the dot; the advisability of light wines; and 'our obligations to Lafayette.' . . . Her soul seemed to have put on uniform as well as her body" (249).

By contrast, Sydney's "map"—subjective, nonhierarchical, feminized— prefigures a kind of wartime orientation by affinity that marks her and similar protagonists of these fictions. In Mary Hastings Bradley's The Splendid Chance, published in 1915, for example, the heroine Katherine's status as "the real thing" (17)—an American traveling to Paris to be an artist, not a tourist—is confirmed by her perception of Paris as a discontinuous "bright and shifting spectacle" (35) experienced as vignettes or "purple and gold masses" (34) rather than a series of tourist views or historic sites. Indeed, although Katherine continually (and typically) refers to tourists in order to reconfirm her own distinct status—chiding a fellow artist for not condescending to allow a group of old ladies to tour his studio with the words "It would have given them the feeling that they were really seeing Paris" (99)—not until the second, wartime, section of the book does she list tourist "sights," and then only as a collection of vulnerabilities. Even as the enumeration of French cultural sites serves the arguments for American intervention, that enumeration is depicted here as analogous to enemy targeting, the "mapping" of Paris through gunsights.

Katherine's own mode of orientation, once she has proved immune to the touristic "contagion for flight" (177), is foreshadowed by Bradley in an image of Katherine's Parisian concierge, "whose wrinkled face was a map of shrewd experience" (41-42). Katherine's spiritual union with the French in their suffering—her ability to read that emotive, idiosyncratic "map"—allows her to perform feats of associative orienteering, such as winding up in the very village in which her lover's company is beset by German troops or wandering across No Man's Land to end up at his dying side. Similarly, in Clara E. Laughlin's The Keys of Heaven (1918), a visionary businessman flees the materialist demands of his superficial wife and, while the world thinks him dead, achieves apotheosis and pure love in France as an elevated anti-Baedeker species of travel courier, rejoicing in a sense of spiritual heirship that prefigures, of course, his further transfiguration into a comrade-in-arms. In these works the "map" of emotive experience proves more reliable than those wielded by invaders—whether American tourists or German military—bent on acquisitive remapping in their own images.


Cather, in One of Ours, alludes to the key elements of these novels' design, especially the separation into categories of American travelers. The panoply of touristic alternatives presented by the propaganda novels is recapitulated here as what Trout has identified as an array of case studies of the "cross-cultural impulse" (76) populating the later sections of the book. But categorical distinctions that equate tourists with invaders are necessarily problematized when the invading army is one's own. The presence of tourist rhetoric in One of Ours foregrounds the contradictions by which tourism becomes war's metaphorical opposite and double:[7] a war to "preserve culture," which confirms its status as such by the touristic enumneration of "important sites," nevertheless participates in the erosion of that culture in the very process of "saving" it,[8] by the imperial intrusion of what Joseph R. Urgo calls "the idea of made things" (151).[9] As Trout and Urgo have both noted, the scene of the "invasion" of the French cheese shop by Sergeant Hicks and his men is key in this regard, with its interpolation of the shopowner's voice bemoaning the substitution of "fictitious values" (326) for the real in the wake of the arrival of American money and American goods, "shiploads of useless things" (327).

Yet what is Claude's relation to this process? If Hicks and his men are meant to appear as "an especially amusing band of ugly Americans" (Trout 88), then, by analogy with the propaganda novels, Claude, whose touristic mode seems so distinctly different, would seem to represent the "authentic" sensitive. Indeed, Cather's presentation of Claude can be and has been read in ways that unproblematically preserve the tourist/traveler divide— as John N. Swift and Joseph R. Urgo do, for example, when they class Claude among Cather's "good tourists" as opposed to her "bad" ones (1). Claude's attempt to embrace culture, his Francophilia, his desire to learn the language and know the "real" French, all seem to locate him within the standard scripting of cultural tourism, undertaken, says Adler, as a means of "bestowing meaning on the self" (1368) through the antitouristic mechanism of "self-exemptive self-fashioning" (Buzard 336). Whereas, as Trout points out, Sergeant Hicks and his merry band conduct themselves according to an AEF-derived checklist model, set on gleaning "touristy facts and figures . . . for the future edification of the folks back home" (86-87), Claude's own impulse is to measure himself against a model of an "authentically" sensitive relation to France —in other words, to think of himself as traveler, not tourist, in keeping with the rhetoric of antitouristic othering. Though he does not despise his men, he does not form part of their touristic army: he facilitates but does not participate in the consumerist gutting of the cheese shop; in Rouen, he follows, or so it appears, his own cultural star, breaking a trail apart from the Hicksian beaten path.

In the "cathedral," for example, as Claude positions himself for self-authenticating revelation, to receive "the superlatives toward which his mind had always been groping" (342), he mentally distinguishes himself from the Americans who have earned opprobrium by "slouching all over the place and butting in on things" (343). And the "guidebook" against which he measures himself is an internalized model of culture that can confirm his ontological distinction.[10] But whereas Burr uses the Europe-inspired new-ancient "stirrings" of her heroine Sydney to endorse the notion of a distinction she can then employ in turn to endorse the American war effort, Cather allows Claude to appeal to such distinctions to bootstrap doubtful revelation—thus fueling uncertainty about the distinctions themselves as well as any propaganda purposes for which they might be used. Indeed, Claude's "self-exemptive self-fashioning," like his need to distinguish himself from the Frankfort culture of waste, is defensive and self-exculpatory (he clears the decks for his musings on gothic architecture by practicing—in French—the excuse he will give if his presence is challenged), reflecting a touristic status that is itself far from stable. If to Hicks and his crew Claude represents the authentic traveler who can "speak French like a native," in the presence of David Gerhardt he himself is the hick, absolved of the responsibilities of courtesy to his French hosts by his assumed linguistic incompetence (327, 415) and filled, in his recognition of his own inauthenticity, with self-loathing. Listening to Gerhardt play the violin, he condemns himself as a "wooden thing amongst living people" (418)—implicitly too insensitive to appreciate, let alone create, culture. He sees himself doomed only to "paw and upset things," to "break and destroy"— conflating himself by implication in the first clause with the class of intrusive Americans from whom he was so anxious, in the "cathedral," to be recognized as distinct, and in the second with the Germans. If, in terms of Claude's own psychology, we can read these blurred boundaries of identification as equating to anxieties and longings related to both class and sexuality, they function in Cather's larger project as implicit commentary on the inherent contradictions of the position of the military "traveler," deliberately unsettling the expectations—the "itinerary"— of readers seeking a secure position.

Even the "cathedral" scene itself not only renders ambiguous Claude's relation to the homogenizing tourism of the AEF but also implicates readers in that ambiguity. Claude, in pursuing a touristic path seemingly distinct from that of his men, is nevertheless actually attempting the same pilgrimage—to follow in the steps of Joan of Arc.

As Trout points out, the Maid of Orleans is central to Claude's early romantic vision of France (49); she floats surrounded in his imagination by a vague haze of ancillary images ("the banner with lilies . . . a great church . . . cities with walls" [62]) that prefigure their later reacquisition as tourist views. Cather shows us Claude marveling at the ability of such "essential facts"—"a picture, a word, a phrase"—to move the minds of children, signaling to readers the sheer typicality of Claude's romantic imaginings (as well as proleptically ironizing the iconographic use of Joan of Arc in the war effort).[11] Claude's academic study of Joan—though it is at the time "quite the most important thing in his life" (61)—also involves the naïve retracing of well-worn paths, visiting evidence previously "pawed over" (61) (a verb the text associates with the touristic invasion).

Indeed, the annexation of Joan of Arc for the purposes of American self-improvement formed a vital part of the prewar conventions of tourism. Laughlin's 1914 novel Everybody's Birthright: A Vision of Jeanne d'Arc, for example, uses the framework of a travel narrative as sentimental conduct-fiction, in which girls are urged to be "imbued with the spirit of the Maid" (101) through visits to the "holy" sites of her history (136)—a prescription that enacts what Judith Adler sees as a characteristic trope of travel performance: "In a double movement of projection and reinternalization, values are emblematically fixed in landscape and then reappropriated through encounter with literal geography" (1376). Such "reappropriation" of sites associated with Joan of Arc was, by the war, already somuch a touristic cliché that Cather alludes to it by omission: "Everybody knew what had happened at Rouen— if any one didn't, his neighbors were only too eager to inform him! It had happened in the market-place, and the market-place was what they were going to find" (341). Cather collapses distinction between modes of tourism here; Claude's difference disappears. Readers too are rendered part of the touristic herd by virtue of their assumed familiarity with the site of Joan's execution, eroding their distance from implication in wartime depredations just as Claude's assertions of "culture" are eroded.

The "cathedral" scene, in which Claude "[finds] himself alone" (341),[12] follows a long sequence detailing the responses of the "boys" to the French countryside and their expectations for the city—a sequence that continually unsettles Claude's relation to the "boys" and their perceptions, in another example of the destabilizing effect of what Guy Reynolds identifies as Cather's use of free indirect discourse.[13] Perceptions credited specifically to Claude and clearly characteristic of his own impulses toward "culture" ("Deeper and deeper into flowery France! That was the sentence Claude kept saying over to himself." [339]) are juxtaposed with perceptions even more naïve that seem just as clearly not his ("There seemed to be a good deal of France that wasn't the war." [340]). At other times, as in the "boys' " astonishment at finding cottonwoods in France, their perceptions overlap and merge. This unsettling sequence ends with the characterization of the "boys' " suppositions about Paris—a scene that does not locate Claude either within or without: Only a little way up that river was Paris, the place where every doughboy meant to go; and as they leaned on the rail and looked down at the slow-flowing water, each one had in his mind a confused picture of what it would be like. The Seine, they felt sure, must be very much wider there, and it was spanned by many bridges, all longer than the bridge over the Missouri at Omaha. There would be spires and golden domes past counting, all the buildings higher than anything in Chicago, and brilliant—dazzlingly brilliant, nothing grey and shabby about it like this old Rouen. They attributed to the city of their desire incalculable immensity, bewildering vastness, Babylonian hugeness and heaviness—the only attributes they had been taught to admire. (341)

The end of this passage is particularly significant in its conflation of the mechanics of tourist practice with the culture of grandiosity and waste that Claude has spent the novel fleeing. One is tempted to see Cather's characterization of the soldiers' expectations, in its evocation of these cultural ideals, as excluding Claude, but once again this is left deliberately ambiguous—setting up readers for the difference-that-is-no-difference, the revelation-that- is-no-revelation, of the "cathedral" scene itself. The "Paris" passage suggests not just the structural contiguity of tourism and waste (as does the scene in the cheese shop) but also the illusory nature of the immunity from this contiguity that the tourist/traveler distinction provides.


The degree to which, in One of Ours, the self-exemptive self-fashioning of antitouristic rhetoric is collapsed back onto itself, revealed to be structurally part of the system (in an anticipation of the arguments of contemporary theorists of tourism)[14] clearly marks the book's divergence from the model of antitourism utilized in the popular novels. So too does Cather's important metaphoric linkage between tourism and waste, an equation that's structurally disguised in practice by what Caesar calls the "imperative of usefulness" inherent in American cultural tourism (61). Travel, one might say, entails the wasting of capital through leisure display in a way that "purchases" not only cultural distinction but also a sense of coherent American identity and an "authenticity" only obtainable, due to cultural belatedness, from abroad. What's being described here is the mechanism of potlatch, the deceptive mechanism of competitive "wastage" of capital central to the theories of Georges Bataille; the centrality of the potlatch mechanism in both the Nebraskan and European sections of One of Ours underscores the structural identity of the experiences that Claude mistakenly reads as distinct—the way that one is metaphorically "mapped" onto the other—and thus Claude's own implication in the processes from which he tries, both literally and metaphorically, to distance himself.[15]

Bataille's notion of the "general economy" hinges on the inassimilable nature of excess and the need for "catastrophic expenditure" to eliminate surplus wealth. Capitalism, he maintains, has replaced the transcendent, erotic expenditure of unproductive sacrifice with the self-deception of potlatch, the competitive giving of gifts or destruction of capital—the acquisition, through expenditure, of the rank and prestige that attaches to the capacity to lose. The potlatch mechanism, and the self-deception attached to it, underlies both the Frankfort culture of waste and the expenditure of cultural tourism and links both to the "wastage" of war.[16] Bataille claims that it is only single beings or discrete groups who are plagued by the problem of necessity; systems as a whole must deal with "the general movement of exudation (of waste)" (Accursed Share 23). Societies define themselves by the choices that they make in relation to this problem of expenditure. "Unproductive works" (25) break the lockstep reproductive cycle of growth in which all expenditure is fed back into a closed system until an explosion—such as war—results; Bataille blames just such "industrial plethora" for the outbreak of both world wars.

Early societies, says Bataille, to relieve the blockage of excess, relied on festivals, the building of useless monuments, and especially on sacrifice, for Bataille the epitome of transcendent expenditure, the blind spot in the rational economy, in which sacrificers and victim fuse in a public sundering of taboos. Sacrifice represents the return to the sacred of that which has been made into merely a thing (55-61). In One of Ours, the judgmental bourgeois society of Frankfort suppresses such useless expenditure, condemning what it terms "waste" in favor of relentless accumulation.[17] To Frankfort, "waste" connotes inappropriate spending, spending, as Claude says of the Erlichs, "on [oneself] instead of on machines" (43); thus Gladys Farmer's extravagance is spoken of almost as a sexual sin—one that can only be "cured" by marriage. The very word "waste" takes on an erotic charge in the text by its relationship to thwarted desire; Claude wishes that Enid "would ask for something unreasonable and extravagant" (176) with a secret, almost voyeuristic longing. Bemoaning his lot on the steps of the State House in Denver, Claude rails against the "waste of power" involved in his interior "storm" (118), conjuring up for readers a vision of onanistic profusion to which he himself—in another blinkered epiphany—seems blind. The discipline involved in thwarting useless expenditure threatens to turn Claude, thinks Gladys, into yet another "thing"—"a big machine with the springs broken inside" (156).

The potentially transformative energies of unproductive expenditure are harnessed, in the production economy, says Bataille, into the deceptive practice of potlatch, expenditure that purchases not material goods but the markers of status that come with the capacity to squander.[18] In One of Ours the potlatch mechanism is first and most clearly demonstrated in the person of Nat Wheeler, who gives "liberally to churches and charities" (7) and is known for his open hand to his neighbor, which serves to emphasize his own well-being; he has the power to "waste" the cherry tree as a visible demonstration of how much (and whom) else he owns. With his seemingly unproductive spending, he purchases his status in the community. At the same time, Nat's continued acquisition of land seems self-evident to him as a course of action: as he expostulates to his wife, "You might as well ask me why I want to make more money when I haven't spent all I've got" (66).

Potlatch, then, represents a masking of the impulse to acquire that actually facilitates continued accumulation; it lies behind not only commerce but charity, leisure spending, and warfare as well: it is the willingness to expend vital resources in war that yields a return in terms of empire and "glory" (Bataille, Accursed Share 71). Elaine Scarry describes war as "a contest" in which "the goal is to out-injure the opponent" (63). Since to "out-injure" means to bring the opponent to its own "perceived level of intolerable injury" before one's own is reached (89), this is obviously a potlatch competition; the willingness to expend resources unprofitably becomes a path to the status of "victor." The ties here to touristic display, largesse, and consumption, to the "legend of waste and prodigality" (326) that the cheese shop owner identifies with Sergeant Hicks and his touristic army, are clear. The owner's condemnation of "fictitious values" spills over onto all the values acquired through potlatch—rank, status, hierarchy, glory—rendering empty Claude's special pleading for the integrity of war and the transformative powers of culture. The reoccurring mechanism of potlatch emphasizes for readers a contiguity between Nebraska and France to which Claude allows himself to be blind (even though he first heard the war discussed in terms of its effects on wheat prices); the "martyred trees" on the battlefield, (403) whose destruction Claude reads as glorious sacrifice, are simply cognates of the one cut down by Nat Wheeler. Claude's need to isolate a romantic realm of sacrifice and glory doesn't allow him to recognize the operation of war as a homogenizing process—one in which French ruins come to look like American dump-heaps (waste imitating waste).

In fact, the elimination of alternative modes of unprofitable expenditure in favor of potlatch leads to the repression of difference. If the standardized touristic program of the AEF is linked to the cycle of production and the expansion of American empire through the wasting of excess through largesse and display —"open palms full of crumpled notes" (325)—Claude's mode of travelership is only illusorily distinct from this process. Indeed, as Endy points out, the mobilization of connoisseurship for propaganda purposes—as in the novels of Laughlin, Burr, and Bradley— only underscores the extent to which by the early 1900s "culture and 'taste' had become elements of the national interest" (592).

Claude's own first comment on Paris signals his unconscious subsumption into the cycle of production by its link to the mechanism of potlatch: upon hearing that the French have moved the functions of government to Bordeaux, he expostulates that they should burn Paris behind them—"They can do better than that now, they can dynamite it!" (169). In other words, the French should "waste" cultural and economic capital in a spectacular display that will win them a "victory" of prestige. Like the destruction of David Gerhardt's Stradivarius, this is potential potlatch that Claude misreads as authentic sacrifice, just as he misreads the colonization of France by American goods, the exportation of the panoply of paraphernalia, like the broken machines that clog the Wheeler basement—signaled in the use of American shipping crates to shore up temporary shelters—as a species of reclamation of the authentic, the kind of mending he practiced on Mahailey's tools.[19]

The last section of One of Ours emphasizes the extent to which Claude's idealism is coopted by, in Bataille's terms, the debased practices that have replaced the sacrifice. A romantic in a material world, Claude embraces a dream of culture that is contiguous with and determined by the very world of waste he rejects. Cather uses Gerhardt himself to point up this contiguity. In a key scene, Claude argues for the war as, implicitly, a broadening experience, one that performs and extends the designated function of "authentic" travelership, to serve, in Chris Rojek's terms, "as a resource in the task of self-making," yielding "an intensified, heightened experience of oneself" (175). "As for me," he bursts out, "I never knew there was anything worth living for, till this war came on. Before that, the world seemed like a business proposition." Gerhardt responds with "You'll admit it's a costly way of providing adventure for the young" (419)—a line that recognizes the war as a potlatch operation implicated in that very world of "business" to which Claude opposes it.

Claude's reactions to France, however, like his blinkered epiphanies, betray a kind of tunnel vision, a kind of wishful myopia, as he grooms himself for the martyrdom that has fascinated him all along (as an alternative to becoming one of "those dead people that [move] about the streets of Frankfort" [154] or, in Bataille's terms, one who "los[es] the meaning of life to stay alive" [qtd. in Hollier 97]).[20] He remains implacably oblivious to the implications of that self-sacrifice, the degree to which the romantic protest it represents feeds the very world of business he rejects.[21]

Claude's apotheosis in death is rendered by Cather as one final blinkered epiphany, his own idealistic vision supplanted by a meta-perspective that locates him firmly within the system. "The . . . unconsciousness of the warrior," says Bataille, "mainly works in favor of a predominance of the real order. The sacred prestige he arrogates to himself [as a potential sacrifice] is the false weight of a world brought down to the weight of utility" (Theory of Religion 59). The "glory" of the dead soldier, then, is recuperated by the rational economy, just as the ruins of war swell the itineraries of postwar tourism; each colonizes and absorbs what appears to be its opposite. That Cather ends the novel with Mrs. Wheeler's musings, in which she recognizes that Claude's "sacrifice" is preserved as "glorious" only in his own dead imagination, that in actuality his death is only fodder for continued "meanness and greed" (458), foregrounds this process for readers of One of Ours.

As in the "cathedral," the maternal viewpoint at novel's end locates Claude in astronomical perspective. But whereas Claude's "cathedral" epiphany placed him as the "authentic," privileged receptor of an accumulated cultural inheritance summed up in one image of "purple and crimson and peacock-green," the novel's final pages point up the fallacy of that image. They locate him "beyond everything else, at the farthest edge of consciousness, like the evening sun on the horizon" (457), immutably peripheral and immutably past, his status as traveler ironized into that of souvenir.


 1. See Steven Trout's useful overview in Memorial Fictions (3-6). (Go back.)
 2. As Janis P. Stout has pointed out, Claude's Francophilia is Cather's own: "The complex movement between irony and a desperate idealism in One of Ours," she says, "does not . . . vitiate its picture of the American's longing for a Europe that is taken to represent cultural maturity, beauty, and enlightenment" (181). (Go back.)
 3. See Levenstein, Seductive Journey, for a salient overview of American tourism in France at the period. (Go back.)
 4. A great deal of work has been done on Wharton's particular cast (or perhaps caste) of travelership, and its bearing on her war writing. See in particular Mary Suzanne Schriber's reading of Wharton's Fighting France (201-09) and Caesar, Forgiving the Boundaries chapter 3; Alan Price contributes useful contextualization in The End of the Age of Innocence. Sarah Bird Wright's structuralist reading of Wharton's travel texts, while it emphasizes the elitist nature of Wharton's "connoisseurship," if anything obscures the rhetorical and historical contexts for her self-positioning. (Go back.)
 5. See on this subject Eve Sorum's work on Ford Madox Ford, "Mapping No Man's Land," and the arguments of Allyson Booth in Postcards from the Trenches, chapter 4. One flaw in Booth's fascinating study is that she generalizes observations about Britain to other countries, eliding the differences between and within national spatializings of the war to assume a unitary "modernist" effect. In particular, American stances in relation to the conflict were shaped by a quite different set of cultural and spatial relationships, with the very "over thereness" of "Over There" mediated by assumptions derived from touristic models. (Go back.)
 6. It's important to recognize that, like the war memorials and unit histories Trout cites, these novels made up an important part of the "now forgotten contexts" (8) for the writing of One of Ours. Like Rebecca West's use of the women's magazine romance in The Return of the Soldier, Cather's relation to these novels is both knowing and ironic. (Go back.)
 7. See Loselle 28-32 on the degree to which the equation between war and tourism has pervaded the theorizing of the latter. (Go back.)
 8. The touristic avidity of Sergeant Hicks and his men bodes as ill for France as for the German army: "It was in their minds that they must not let a church escape, any more than they would let a Boche escape" (327). (Go back.)
 9. Bataille terms this the "unreserved surrender to things" (Accursed Share 136); see my argument below. (Go back.)
 10. As such the passage provides an interesting variation on what Pericles Lewis has recently identified as a classic modernist topos, in which "lone male wanderers, often with touristic inclinations" (670) visit churches in search of a spiritual solace that organized religion can no longer provide. Lewis sees in these scenes a tension between the role of seeker and that of tourist, which he reads as "an outsider, a sort of amateur anthropologist" (684); I would argue that in this scene Claude's ontological self-distinction conflates the two roles, that it is exactly in his selfdefinition as "traveler" that the church is found to yield meaning. (Go back.)
 11. Ian Ousby has stressed the way the figure of Joan of Arc represented a site of contestation, of varying and contradictory meanings that merged in her wartime elevation by the French as the supreme national symbol; the "essential facts" of her history, in fact, were used as support for mutually exclusive ideas. It's telling in connection with her inspirational significance for Claude to remember too Marina Warner's blunt observation that "it is astonishing how many of Joan's apologists like her dead" (268). (Go back.)
 12. And it's worth noting here how often Cather employs this phrase with regard to Claude—the first chapter of the section begins the same way—as if to emphasize the hapless passivity of Claude's travels even as it refers back to the mission of the cultural tourist to "discover" himself in Europe. Once again, Cather's locutions are deliberately Janus-faced. (Go back.)
 13. Reynolds confines his analysis of Cather's use of such interpositional narration to the way it mediates her treatment of Claude's idealism; I'd argue that it also governs the depiction of his unstable subsumption into the AEF community. (Go back.)
 14. See not only Culler in this context but also the work of John Urry and Dean MacCannell. (Go back.)
 15. The salience of the potlatch mechanism to the patterns of One of Ours renders Bataille's theories of waste far more useful for interpreting the novel than alternative models derived from psychoanalytic or Bakhtinian theory—as does the importance of the Great War itself to Bataille's theoretical development. See Irwin 127-29. (Go back.)
 16. It's important, in this context, to distinguish "waste" in Bataillean terms—the predictable outcome of systemic overproduction—from "mess," the formless and often alluring product of chance. David Trotter, who has contributed brilliantly to the theorization of the latter, describes it as "what contingency's signature would look like, if contingency had a signature" (15); it is therefore an uncanny category, ripe, as sign and symptom of modernity, for both rejection and embrace. Whereas Trotter's analysis acknowledges as emblematic of literary responses to capitalism bifurcated responses to "good mess" and "bad mess," Bataille's diagnosis is that "good mess" is rendered, in the capitalist economy, accessible only in the debased and illusionary form of potlatch. Reading the novel through the latter model gives added irony to the expression of the nostalgic gap between transcendence and cooptation that so pervades Cather's text. Too, Bataille's cultural pessimism resonates with Veblenian notions of conspicuous consumption current early in the American century. (Go back.)
 17. The degree to which waste dominates the negative metaphorics of the Nebraska sections of One of Ours was identified long ago by Susan J. Rosowski, Blanche Gelfant, and others. Gelfant stresses, in particular, the association of waste with the Wheeler family basement, as if to identify it as the family's "foundational secret" (90). Though Hermione Lee discerns beneath the relentless depiction of "a country that has been pasted over with a layer of philistinism and materialism" (174) perhaps "just a hint . . . that junk, once it starts ageing into antiques, might be seductive" (175), she's just about the only critic to do so, and she quickly abandons that suggestion to emphasize that Claude "has been living in a civilization . . . which has not needed a war to turn itself into rubbish." (Go back.)
 18. "[Man] must waste the excess, but he remains eager to acquire even when he does the opposite, and so he makes waste itself an object of acquisition. Once the resources are dissipated, there remains the prestige acquired by the one who wastes. The waste is an ostentatious squandering to this end, with a view to a superiority over others that he attributes to himself by this means" (Bataille, Accursed Share 72-73). (Go back.)
 19. In Elaine Scarry's terms, Claude is mistaking an act of "unmaking" —the homogenization of culture through the wastage of war—for an act of making that confers "humane awareness" (305). (Go back.)
 20. This includes a willing participation in the process of euphemism that Scarry sees as inherent in the apparatus of war. Though, as Sharon O'Brien points out, the margins of the text teem with mutilated soldiers (194), they are far more visible to readers than they are to Claude, for whom as Jean Schwind has detailed, the realities of bodies give way to an idealized traveler's landscape. (Go back.)
 21. The degree to which one feeds the other is signaled in Bayliss's comment that that the war's "waste" will leave America "in actual possession of the capital of the world" (232). (Go back.)


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