This is the final chapter of the 32-part video series “The Montana Ethic Project.” This chapter features Michael Sexson, an emeritus professor of English at Montana State University in Bozeman, talking about “Mythic Montana: The Last and the Best.” You can watch the whole video below. Here is an edited transcript of how it begins:
“My name is Michael Sexson. I’m a professor of English at Montana State University where I’ve been teaching literature since 1966. My special interest in literature is mythology, traditional stories that all cultures have to explain, to console, to orient us meaningfully within the great scheme of things through the use of imaginative techniques typically associated with hyperbole or exaggeration, and other tropes having to do with amplification and expansion of what is historically obvious.
“Because of its commitment to these imaginative strategies, myth is often dismissed as, at best, misinformation. Or at worst, deliberate lies. Understood this way we might say that the notion that the sky is bigger in Montana is a ‘myth,’ because when measured it is exactly the same size as the sky in Nebraska.”
Here is another, edited excerpt from Sexson’s presentation:
“Some years ago an anthology of literature came out featuring Montana writers titled ‘The Last Best Place.’ That title since has taken on a life of its own, going beyond a slogan to that of a credo, if not a manifesto. We’re not only the best place, we’re the last of the best places.
“Now it seems to me that if that title had been the best place, it would have disappeared from our communal conscious. But to add the word ‘last’ brings together an imaginative collision of mythic forces: the alpha, the omega, the beginning, the end. Montana is the best because it appropriates that aspect of American mythology which in turn has appropriated to that aspect of world mythology that sees the place where we live as completely new, as Adam must have seen the world on the first morning creation: pristine, undefiled, unpolluted, virginal, innocent. And to use two fancy words, largely because they also happen to be lovely words, prelapsarian and antediluvian. That is, before the fall, before the flood.
“And this I would argue is the great myth of Montana, the myth of the prelapsarian and the antediluvian.”
PERC—the Property & Environment Research Center—is a proud sponsor of the Montana Ethic Project. To learn how PERC’s ideas can help us honor one another’s rights to land, water, and wildlife,visit perc.org.
First week: Project introduction.
Third week: Mike Gear on “The Value of Athletics.”
Fourth week: Franke Wilmer on “Gender Equity.”
Fifth week: Gordon Brittan on “The Founding Fathers.”
Eighth week: Chuck Tooley on “The Montana Character.”
Ninth week: Steve Bullock on “Citizens United v. Montana.”
11th week: Bob Rowe on Technological Development.”
13th week: Bruce Smith on “Montana’s Food Economy.”
21st week: Pat Barkey on “The Montana Wage Disparity.”
23rd week: Larry Simkins on “The Culture of Safety.”
24th week: James Shanley on “Education Reform.”
25th week: Greg Gianforte on “High Tech in Montana.”
27th week: Timothy James Lecain on “An Ethical Nature?”
28th week: Steve Running on “Montana Climate Change.”
30th week: Bob Quinn on “Is it Time for GM Wheat?”