Thursday, October 30, 2008

Patty Limerick, my new superhero!

Patty Limerick, head honcho at the Center for the American West, spoke in the CEJ seminar today. Let me start with saying: she’s my new superhero! I wish I could be her for Halloween, except that she’s already kind of going to be a parodied version of herself.

She’s going to be a cultural studies professor, “problematizing and systematizing “ the heck out of all the disparate costumes she sees until they make some sort of logical – or at least farcical – sense. Brilliant!

Patty’s strength is finding patterns that stretch across disciplines. It’s something that, if you know me you already know this without me having to say it, resonates with me a million times over But she doesn’t just stop there – she also admits that her predisposition for seeking out patterns (she called it a “symptom”, though I’m not sure of what) means that she often sees patterns when they aren’t there, just because she wants so badly for the world to make some sort of sense. She’s always making hypotheses that then get totally obliterated – and thinks this is what keeps her healthy as she gets up in years.

Patty, you had me at hello!

She has a way of talking that sounds like rambling and tangents yet ultimately makes sense and unfolds into a bigger picture – kind of like a Dickens novel. Here are some of the things she talked about at the seminar:

  • The “Aspenisation effect”: this happens in Western communities where beautiful landscapes exist alongside extractive industries. When the extractive industries (mining, etc.) run out, recreation moves in. Hence, Aspen, where “opportunity has presented itself, and then everything has gotten all screwed up.” You’ve got the invasion of the rich, whose excesses can only be facilitated by lower classes (who are often illegal immigrants). You’ve got people who maintain residency in other states for tax reasons. You’ve got “affordable housing”, which ironically makes it harder for property owners to sell. You’ve got the flier Patty handed around that says “← Aspen, 3 miles. Real world, ?? miles →”…but you’ve also got the ability to actually talk about subjects like social and economic class that have become taboo in other parts of the country. And…I could go on forever, but I need to get on to the next topic…
  • Patty has kind of a crush on water engineers. It’s totally endearing, because of infatuated I was with the idea of engineering once upon a time. She talked about the amazing feat that is the Denver Water Board, and their engineering achievements. “It’s unnerving if you’ve been put in the school of contempt for engineers and technological fixes” she said of the beautiful waterfalls that emerged from the Cheesman Dam on the South Platte– “you can’t look at it and keep that mindset.”
  • She talked about how the more she studies these things, the less she sees about the West that is unique. A lot of the water issues that the West struggles with are repeated (or preceded) by the East, in highly urbanized places like New York and Boston.
  • The West’s prior appropriation philosophy (“First in time, first in right”), which is applied legally to water issues, also subconsciously plays out in issues of immigration, land ownership, and class.
  • According to Patty, historians are totally whack when they try to cut everything into compartments. Life just isn’t like that, and neither are people.
  • The West is known for its hauntedness, but the East is really haunted too – it’s just covered in foliage so you can’t tell as much!
  • She also talked about overpopulation and Al Bartlett and “acts of providence”, but I have to confess I missed that part a little bit because I was busy looking up when the class she’s teaching next semester is held.


I could go on and on about Patty, but I think I’ll just try to sit in on her class somehow. ENVS 4100, M 3 – 5:30 !!!

I have tons more cute Patty Limerick quotes, but I think I’ll save those for a separate (less gushy!) post.

1 comment:

Amber said...

Hey, if you're that interested in the things Patty was talking about, you would love the events we put on at the Center of the American West (Patty's the Faculty Director and Chair of the Board). Visit our website and check us out!