Gunslinger – Edward Dorn

I’ve recently been writing a lot on this blog about how I have changed as a reader with the passing years. This review follows in that vein, but I will try to avoid it as much as possible. I imagine its getting old. But it seems particularly apropos for this one, as it is the 50 year anniversary edition of the book, and its about 15 years since I first read it. Just the fact that this is a reread means that there is no way around the fact that I can’t view it with any other lens.

This work really defies description. It’s supposed to be an epic poem, and for what its worth I did try to read it in dactylic hexameter. I don’t actually think I can. But more importantly, the book is the very definition of post-modern claptrap. It is playful, counter-expectational, pretentious, and just plain bizarre.

I do love the Wikipedia entry for this book. The plot synopsis is one line:

The gunslinger is a long form political poem about a demigod cowboy, a saloon madam, and a talking horse named Claude Levi-Strauss, who travel the Southwest in search of Howard Hughes.


I mean that’s about right, in the same way as ‘The Wizard of OZ is about a young girl who kills an old lady’ is. The eponymous Gunslinger is trying to find Howard Hughes in the southwest, but as far as I cant tell him and the other characters mostly sit around, drop acid, and make word play. And something should be said about the word play, because if you get nothing else out of this work, you will get the word play. There is enough of it to make just about anyone smile. That’s a bit of the work’s saving grace.

Nothing could ever be more apologetic for a text than the introductory essay written by scholars of your own work. Even the two essays that bookend this piece call it impenetrable. I was once really turned on by that, although now I am not so sure anymore. There are works that are densely difficult and still have a high enjoy-ability factor – think Pynchon. This one is living real close to that edge, and might be contested territory. I wonder to what extent I am being blinded by my own nostalgia glasses. If this was same text was packaged by some youtuber I would insult it for its bong-water philosophy. Instead I’ve opted to enjoy the nostalgia.

Meh, I was young and stupid once too.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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