an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image
Volume 2, December 2005, ISSN 1552-5112
When West was North: Spirits of Frontier Experience, Or
Can the MacGuffin Speak?
I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly . . .
Every Usonian—Frank Lloyd Wright's term for a
citizen of the
As a fan and teacher of film, I appreciated Dr. Mitchell's use of a movie both to frame his opening sequence and generate the development of his exposition on myth and origins in the American west. For a paper on the historiography of the Usonian West in this age of revisionist history, his choice is highly appropriate: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002). Revisionism resonates in Spirit's first words—spoken by the actor Matt Damon—in the opening sequence: "The story I want to tell you cannot be found in a book." The claim is explicit: the written record, including textualized history, lacks the story viewers are about to witness. The audience can assume it will be privy to an oral account, undocumented in any book, forgotten or suppressed by the official, written record of the American academy that seems to maintain a tradition of selective publication. Hearing Spirit's opening lines, one might expect some version of the oral traditions rescued in the last century and already well incorporated into the written archives under the rubric of "Oral Tales." Not so, since Spirit quickly adds that while the history of the West has been told by humans, this is the first time it will be told from the horse's point of view: "They say the history of the West was written from the saddle of a horse, but it's never been told from the heart of one. Not till now." The film's historical revision will come from that of nature itself. We finally are to hear the voice of the ultimate subaltern, the world of things-in-themselves Kant declared inaccessible to humans, in this case, "the spirit of the West" incarnated in and remembered by a horse.
Screenwriter John Fusco prepares us for this
fusion of character and myth with the following claims spoken by Spirit—that
is, right from the horse's mouth: “I was
born here, in this place that would come to be called the old West, but to my
time the land was ageless. It had no
beginning and no end, no boundary between earth and sky. Like the wind in the buffalo grass, we belong
here. We would always belong here. They say the mustang is the spirit of the
West.” The film claims to transport us
to a time before human presence and their spatial and temporal ordering that
divide a supposedly seamless, totally unified nature—hence, before history and
implicitly before the arrival of Europeans.
Much of what Lee Mitchell analyzes in his paper is the historiographic
tradition of the
And yet, Mitchell's paper, by eschewing any
dogmatic conclusion, also leaves a fade-away ending open to spin-off sequels,
like my essay. My academic self immediately
recognizes the priority of the dual nouns forming the subject of the film's
title, but Mitchell's paper already thoroughly charts the relationship between
the horse and the spirit that incarnates the myth of the West played out like
the melody of an old standard. My
film-studies background tells me that I shouldn't let it worry me that Mitchell
has given no attention to the last word in the title:
The ex-musician in me, however, cannot resist riffing on his performance by picking up, jazz-fashion, that least significant of its notes, the unaccented, off-beat Cimarron left almost dangling at the end of the title and then never given a second thought by professionals or academics. My essay extemporizes a syncopated scat on the motif, an improvisation offered in the ancient sense of parody, a song played alongside another to establish a mutually dependent relationship. It would begin like this:
Cimarron [sih´ mer ron] …
Seems that the studly Spirit of the pre-discovery West was hiding a telltale Spanish origin, something like Espíritu: Semental del Cimarrón—although the film gives no evidence that the filmmakers had any geographic, historical or linguistic sense of the term they so cavalierly attached to their title, to say nothing about their apparent ignorance of the equine history of the Americas, a dangerous oversight for someone claiming to speak from the horse's point of view.
Though most Spanish dictionaries do
not list Cimarrón, Santamaría's Diccionario de Mejicanismos defines it as an
adjective attributed to a wild animal of which there is also a domesticated
species; i.e., pato cimarrón [Cimarron
duck]. Santamaría also includes an
archaic usage that coincides with the sole modern listing in most English
dictionaries: a slave who has absconded
to the wilderness. Santamaría does not
include that it was also the name of an alternate, more dangerous and wild,
southern spur of the Santa Fe Trail between
Could it be that our free-spirited stallion
only pretends to be nature's ahistorical child, a sort of noble savage in
equine drag? Or perhaps Spirit just does
not care to remember that he too is the descendant of immigrants who ran away
or were stolen from the Spanish herds brought by
The mistake would be to accept the film's
naïve presentation of the horse as synonymous with the West in some imagined
purity of timeless presence, the autochthonous
inhabitant, the original Native
America. That would be to read Spirit in
the same way we have been taught to read the Native American Indians themselves. In effect, the film explicitly compares and
links Spirit to the Native American character through shared skin shading,
their position vis-à-vis the invading
On a frontier crescent pertaining to Nueva
These, then, become the themes of my tune, although I would transpose it onto the clef of liminality. With this maneuver, our discussion of the North cum West is recontextualized into a transformational ritual of initiation so deeply ingrained in the historiography of Usonian westering . . . but allow me to put off for a moment a working definition of liminality while I fill in some other necessary elements of my foundation.
As Mitchell also pointed out in his
presentation, the idea of North evokes ambiguous images among
Usonians. While The West looms solid and
defined, no sure set of referential images supports North, leaving it floating
unreliably somewhere in the general orientation of Canada, like the ephemeral
lights associated with the direction. In
fact, one of the most successful of our popular culture sources both captures
this ambiguity and lends itself well to my purpose, using as it does the train
as the setting for a significant portion of the plot while also forcing an
engagement of the two directional terms I am working: Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959). The film's title expresses the
elusiveness of the term in Usonian parlance.
It conveys a semblance of scientific exactitude—neither north nor west,
but sufficient degrees between them to merit a separate category, like an
authoritative meteorologist tracking an approaching storm—while still failing
to define where the exact directional there lies, except perhaps for the trained seaman or Boy Scout. This
mix of precision and confusion mirrors well the flustered state into which Cary
Grant's character is thrown when his secure, if somewhat frivolous life of
prolonged adolescence (still dependent on his mother) is rendered irrational by
menacing yet elegant, cultured strangers—both enemies and allies—who seem to
know everything of which Grant is ignorant, especially the rules of this
uncanny dis-territory in which he unexpectedly finds himself. These strange wise men impose a new identity
on Grant, force him into the wilderness where he almost perishes under the
attack of familiar objects turned lethal, initiate him into the world's hidden
realities, and then submit him to an ultimate test of courage and strength to
prove himself fit to merit a triumphal return to society in possession of a
just prize for his heroics. Critics have
sought to give the title a Shakespearian provenance pointing to Hamlet as
the title's source. The troubled prince
defines his feeling of madness as "north-north-west. When the wind is southerly" (A.II,
s.II); that is, insanity is a disturbance suffered when one is blown off a
rational westward course by a wind heading north, a sense consistent with
Hitchcock's filmic rendition: Grant's
nightmarish test of character comes to a head when he turns off his
east-to-west route—simultaneously trading in the epitome of Nineteenth Century
travel technology, the train, for its Twentieth-Century equivalent, the
plane—to fly on Northwest Airlines. All
this frantic movement ultimately leads to playing out the myth of chivalrous
quest—Eva Marie Saint, a U.S. undercover agent, and the nation fused into one
heroine in mortal distress must be rescued from the clutches of international
spies who in the cold war context represent what used to be called the Eastern
Bloc. The climactic battle is waged on
the grandest monumental stage of the Usonian foundation myth,
What might be overlooked, however, is
another identity, once again the MacGuffin's.
In North by Northwest the MacGuffin takes
its most accustomed form of an object, here a statuette that the international
spies purchase at an art auction in
Hitchcock may have wanted North to mean, ultimately it signifies a detour,
albeit a life-altering one, on the way West, or West by East—the established
psychohistoriological migration pattern underlying the Usonian spirit. Hitchcock
staged an East-West confrontation within that
It should come as no surprise that the
MacGuffin statuette in which the microfilm resides also comes from the south: a
pre-Columbian artifact from
Despite the many differences that distinguish the Spirit Stallion's and Cary Grant's experiences, they share the deep structural pattern and transformational effect of a liminal ritual as defined by Victor Turner: the central phase in rite-of-passage rituals, played out between separation from the group and re-incorporation into it, is called liminal. During this phase, “ritual subjects pass through a period and area of ambiguity, a sort of social limbo which has few (though sometimes these are most crucial) of the attributes of either the preceding or subsequent profane social statuses or cultural states” (V. Turner 24). Liminality rituals are used by stable societies to preserve collective solidarity by inculcating common values in their adult members. Non-traditional societies often revert back to some form of liminal rituals when their collective solidarity is questioned in order to reaffirm their threatened ability to control contemporary social practice. The celebration of simulacra liminal rituals creates the appearance that the group still has the ability to control its future.
Whether real or simulated, liminal ritual are structured experiences of estrangement intended to develop mature survival skills, played out within a semi-controlled field of performance in which initiates are subjected to threats and trials that channel their comportment away from childishness and towards adult patterns expected of mature participants in society. The initiate emerges with a new adult identity, that of a reliable, law-abiding community member. Hence, liminal rituals ultimately reinforce group tradition, even when an individual initiate, through strength of personality, forces some alteration in the tradition into which s/he is reintegrated after the ritual.
The major difference
between Spirit and Grant within the shared ritual structure is that Grant's
character performs the traditional form of the ritual, while Spirit faces an
altered form. Grant returns to the group
from which he was torn and forced to undergo the ritual. He matures, becomes a
man, and through the trial becomes a full fledged citizen worthy of returning
to claim his place in the nation where he will once again know who and where he
is, now fully affirmed through his acquisition of a mate to mark his successful
rite of passage. Spirit seems to undergo
the same experience—even to the extent of returning with a beautiful mate who
will displace the mother. Yet because
his Spanish origin is subjected to Indian miscegenation prior to encountering
the trials at the hands of the
And yet, perhaps the
makers of Spirit, the Stallion of the
In the first East-to-West voyage across the
area of what has become present-day Usonia, Cabeza de Vaca's experience
prefigured Spirit's and Cary Grant's. In
1527, Cabeza de Vaca set out for what cartographers called America Septentrionalis, by which they meant everything above America Meridional—that is, from
The character of liminal ritual that CdV gave his account of the trip can also be read as paradigmatic. One could say that CdV was the first liminal frontiersman in the Usonian canon. When faced with being treated as a failure and hence denied full re-incorporation into the sociopolitical inner circle of Imperial entrepreneurs, CdV turned the tale of his failure into one of success by narrating his misfortunes in terms of a liminal conversion tale. Failure is redefined as divine intervention meant to strip the Spaniards of their secure identity, and their clothes for good measure, force them into the wilderness to be tormented and severely tested, while simultaneously instructed on the ultimate meaning of life through service to the less fortunate in God's name. Only those who proved worthy of salvation—four out of over six hundred—survived the liminal experience and worked their way back into the fold, reeducated and prepared to be better citizens (a fifth remained behind in Florida proper to be rescued by the De Soto expedition).
I must emphasize that I do not hold this version of CdV's voyage to be the ultimate significance of the actual experience, rather the one he gave it through his rhetorical manipulation of generic codes of performance and writing available to him within the cultural discourse of the time. A cursory comparison with Cortez's Letters or Pizarro's account suffice to show that the liminal, conversion-tale reading was not the general pattern of conquest chronicles. CdV's Account is unique, yet somehow it marks the Usonian experience, especially in as much as CdV never manages to reintegrate himself into the Spanish system as a Spaniard, rather he must convince the Emperor that he should be given preference for appointment to the American colonial project because he has come back a changed man. His American experience infuses him with a liminoid spirit, making him an in between creature, the ideal bridge between Europeans and Indians (Bruce-Novoa, "Naufragios"). As I have explained elsewhere, when CdV writes in his text a "we" that is neither Indian nor Spaniard, the American pronoun appears for the first time in print, and its position is that of the liminoid—returning from his ritual of initiation to find that he can neither stay among the Indian other nor return to his former group, the Spaniards. In other words, CdV's first American we is less Cary Grant and more Spirit Stallion, even to the detail that his Spanish origins are vociferously denied by the "Native Americans" who insist on inventing for him a difference that would allow them to appropriate him for their purposes, much like what the filmmakers do with the horse in Spirit.
Frederick Jackson Turner's vision of the creation of the Usonian character as a product of a series of historical transformations worked out at specific moments and places distributed across the continent can equally be read in terms of liminality (Bruce-Novoa "Off Shoring"). Since those "fall lines" moved gradually west, he saw the country's spirit as having been formed in a constant westering ritual. “At the Atlantic frontier one can study the germs of the process repeated at each successive frontier . . . . complex European life sharply precipitated by the wilderness into the simplicity of primitive conditions”(F.J. Turner, Frontier 9). Fall lines forced explorers and settlers to prove themselves when “the bonds of custom are broken and unrestraint is triumphant” (F.J, Turner, "Significance" 41-42). The situation was only momentary, however, since each fall line was incorporated eventually into the nation's legal and social cartography. Frontier migrants undertook the archetypal, liminal voyage: leaving social normality to enter the dangerous unknown, only to be re-incorporated into normality after proving their courage and fidelity to the old norms. F.J. Turner saw the frontier as both location for and process of re-invigorating community. His frontier process and Victor Turner’s liminal ritual share that same pattern as well.
One can hardly miss the similarity between the liminal process and the American Dream of self-creation through individual effort, through movement, through indulgence of unrestrained behavior, through overcoming hardship, but also by proving oneself worthy of re-incorporation into the established community as a valuable, new continuation of the tradition ("Offshoring"). We should not forget, however, that this dream was tied to the availability of land: “All that we are proud of in national life and national character comes primarily from our background of unused land” (George, 21). George's unused vacated the “West” of civilized others, reducing Native Americans to nomads incapable of “using” land according to Euro-American standards, and erasing any presence of Spanish colonials with their own system of land use directly related to European traditions brought north in a previous frontier movement with its own series of "fall lines." Both the movement and the mental vacating of the land of any previous legal and/or social organizing principle constituted a national rite of passage for "Americans" in F.J. Turner's mind: “If one would understand why we are today one nation, rather than a collection of isolated states, he must study this economic and social consolidation of the country. In this process from savage conditions lie topics for the evolutionist” (F. J. Turner, 1962, 15).
One could easily aver, however, that Spirit's friend, the horse-riding Native American—that arch villain cum arch victim of the Usonian Western Saga—was no longer the "natural savage" of the wilderness, rather already a by-product of a concept of political organization and land use brought to the northern frontier by the Spaniards. The mere fact that he rides a horse represents a major intervention in Native culture by the Spanish, an intervention that is now read as essential to the image of the Western tribes. As such, the horse is a metonymy that generates a string of similar phenomena: mesta and cañada [open range and migratory pasturing], rodeos and branding, mule and ox tethering, slurry mining, communal mineral and water rights, ejido [communal] cultivation, subletting herds, acequia [gated surface ditches] watering, Mercedes titling [land grants], pueblo chartering, family compounding and fractioning, compadrazco [godfather] responsibilities, etc. etc. No need to wait until Hitchcock's Cold War on the northwestern frontier to have a clash of individual versus communal property concepts. It was already there from the time the Euro-based powers rubbed up against each other, to speak nothing of each one of their encounters with Native Americans.
Unused land was Henry George's and V. J. Turner's MacGuffin: as long as it remained unexplored and silently on the fringes of the discussion, the western frontier theory could be performed as a logical, convincing, even entertaining plot of a good story, one that unfortunately falls apart when the MacGuffin speaks.
In this context of conflicting memories of how the North/West was won, the figures of Miguel Antonio Otero Sr. (1829-1882) and Jr. (1859-1944) looms instructive because like Hitchcock's film they addressed both the Westering élan and the persistent Northering subtext in their lives and Otero Jr.'s voluminous writing: a three volume autobiography and multi-volume reports authored while Territorial Governor of New Mexico from 1897-1906. Also, like Spirit, their return to New Mexican society was complicated by the competing ways to perform "normally" open to them.
Otero Sr., the son of Spanish immigrants to
Miguel Antonio Jr. was born in
As the railway lines
pushed their way westward through Kansas, I migrated from one rough and
sporadic terminal town to another, scraping acquaintance with Westport Landing,
Leavenworth, Ellsworth, Hays City, Sheridan and Fort Wallace in quick
succession during my boyhood. In like
manner, I followed the Kansas-Pacific Railroad into
Otero’s opening paragraph of My Life on the Frontier, 1864-1882 summarizes his voyage on the same railroad network that Spirit encountered at a slightly earlier time and more northern longitude. Hence, we can read their adventures as versions of the same story as told from opposite sides of the Turner fall line as it moved west with the train. For both it is an adventure in liminal transformation.
Like Spirit, Otero leaves the security of
home and mother at an early age. At the
age of twelve, Otero left school for the open countryside, presumably to find
more suitable environment for his health.
Unlike, Spirit, who is kidnapped by strangers, Otero looks forward to
setting out to explore "frontier life in
To understand how Otero viewed this
phase of his life as a liminal experience it might be instructive to compare it
to another youth who also set out from
Almost immediately after the death of my father, my life took a more serious turn. Unfortunately for me, I was named one of the administrators of my father estate. This position interfered greatly with my own affairs and compelled me to act as wet nurse for the rest of the family . . . I was scarcely twenty-three years old when my father died, and at that tender age had to assume many responsibilities which were forced upon me, not at all to my liking or desire. (287).
Despite the tone of a lament for the liminal freedom of his frontier youth—which his text amply documented—readers recognize the motif of social re-incorporation in his closing remarks. He was returning to the home from which his father set out years before to study and return, only to set out again, crossing and re-crossing the open frontier. But the freedom of the frontier space disappeared as Miguel Antonio Jr.'s emerged from his liminal experience and he had to assume the position of pater familias. Like Grant at the end of North by Northwest, Otero had passed his initiation rites and emerged to claim his rewards, although Otero was not enthusiastic about his new status, perhaps because there was no damsel like Eva Marie Saint to make it more satisfying.
Lest readers assume that only elite types like Otero Sr. and Jr. could
indulge in this back and forth movement between the old northern
Spanish/Mexican territory and the expanding
into the social community was probably easier for Steamboat than for the
Oteros. Despite the family's economic
and social prominence and Miguel Antonio Jr.'s declaration of the end of his
liminal rite of passage, both father and son
were to be reminded often of the precariousness of their position. They constantly encountered the shifting
nature of their existence, from Westerners enjoying full rights in the
As mentioned above, after leaving
It provided that "those Mexican citizens who shall prefer to remain in the said territories may either retain the title and rights of Mexican citizens, or acquire those of citizens of the United States; but they shall be under the obligation to make their election within one year from the date of the exchange to ratifications of this treaty; and those who shall remain in the said territories after the expiration of that year without having declared their intention to retain the character of Mexican citizens, shall be considered to have elected to become citizens of the United States." The said contestant avers, that in the county of Santa Fé, in precincts Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, eight hundred voters who had elected, as afore said under said treaty, to retain the title and rights of Mexican citizens within one year from the ratification of said treaty, and who were not American citizens, and who had no right to vote, and who were disqualified from voting by the decision of the supreme court of New Mexico, which decision is unreversed and unappealed from, and who were also disqualified by the thirty-eight section of the election law of said Territory, did, at said election, on the 3d day of September, 1855, in said precincts, in said county, cast for you illegal votes to the number of eight hundred, which votes should be rejected and not counted in your favor, but were counted for you as legal votes. (Otero Sr. "Memorial," 2)
As the victim of fraud, no one can blame Otero Sr.
for filing the complaint, the outcome of which was his being consequently
awarded the congressional seat. However,
in proving the votes in several counties to be illegal, Otero in effect
disenfranchised some 2229 de facto Hispano New Mexicans. Whatever the situation of these New Mexicans
may have been after the treaty of 1848, the fact is that by remaining in the
country and voting in the election, they were claiming citizenship rights in
the United States—ad hoc rights, perhaps, but nonetheless rights. To establish his legitimate right to the
congressional seat, Otero's contestation demanded a legal definition of voters'
rights that effectively yanked the
Volume II of Miguel Antonio Jr.'s autobiography
contains the case of "The Nuestra Señora de los
Dolores Mine" (82-96). "The
mine was first discovered and located under the Mexican government, in 1840, by
two citizens of the
After the Mexican American war, the original
prospectors decided to remain Mexicans, crossing south over the new border, and
sold the mine to the Otero family. But an infamous
As Territorial Governor, Otero found
himself fighting yet again a similar battle, but now at a much higher level,
that of states' rights, specifically, New Mexico's right to become a
state. And while these struggles are
related in his autobiography, they are better represented in the contemporary
heat of the moment in his yearly Governor's Reports. While almost all of the area that had been
taken by the United States in its two Nineteenth Century expansions—the
Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican American War—had been turned into states by
the turn of the century, New Mexico, which included the present Arizona, had
not. In part, it was because the area
was considered by many to have retained too much of its character of a northern
Mexican province. Otero dedicated much
of his time and effort to combating this prejudice in different forms. Against those who thought New Mexico a land
of barbarians Otero responded by reminding them of New Mexico's claims as the seat of civilized
presence—in its sense of permanent city dwellings of people with cultural
production—in an unbroken line from before the founding of the English or
Spanish colonies. The Spanish tradition proper left the Governor's Palace in
And if that didn't work, he could always play the
liminoid card, as he did at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, aka Louisiana
Purchase Exposition. As Governor of a
non-Louisiana Purchase state, Otero emphasized his states participation in the
history of the development of
The center of the paragraph, sentence three
out of five, juxtaposes typical
Otero placed himself firmly on shifting ground: he could offer whatever the occasion demanded. In his ability to move from Westerner to Northerner, and perhaps both and neither, he personified what border cultural critics claim is the essential characteristic of the new reality of shifting identities. Certainly Otero, in the center of the political struggle over territorial redefinition, lived the experience in ways many of his more culturally isolated contemporaries could not. And although some Chicano critics would rather not acknowledge him on grounds of his class and privilege, these may well be exactly the reasons for giving him the attention he merits if nothing else for the quality of his writing.
The wonderfully constructed paragraph I quoted and analyzed
must be revisited for one last observation.
Otero begins by stating that the
The Oteros' MacGuffin, like that in Spirit, the
Stallion of the
Frontier [frun teer´] … Frontier [frohn tehr´] ... Frontera [Frone teh´ rah]
Seems that mature Otero of the post-conquest West was hiding a telltale Spanish origin, too, something like Mi Vida en la Frontera. What Otero first saw and celebrated as the fringe of wilderness west of Usonian civilization—awaiting incoporration through migration in persistent Turneresque steps—reveals another meaning when read from the Spanish of northern Mexico: frontera as border. The Oteros found that everytime they demonstrated their ability to perform as fully civilized participants in the mainstream, especially in the legal arena, the Frontier split like a faultline marking a border of difference, and no matter on which side they chose, part of themselves remained across the line on the other side. No Cary Grant, clear liminal return to the West-cum-East would be possible unless they somehow could forget their norte-sur roots. But unlike Spirit, they had no screenwriter or director with the power to voice over their historic reality and erase their Spanish/Mexican origins. And their Macguffin was always in the background, but refused to keep still.
an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image
Volume 2, December 2005, ISSN 1552-5112
Bruce-Novoa. "Naufragios en los mares de la significación: de la relación de Cabeza de
Vaca a la literatura chicana," Plural, 19‑5, no. 221 (Feb. 1990), 12‑21
_________. "Offshoring the American Dream," The New Centennial Review, 3, 1
(Spring 2003), 109-145.
George, Henry. Social Problems.
Howard, Kathleen L. and Diana F. Pardue. Inventing the Southwest, The Fred Harvey
Company and Native American
"MacGuffin" in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacGuffin
Mitchell, Lee. "Whose West Is It Anyway? Or What's Myth Got to Do With It? The
Role of 'American' in the Creation of the Myth of the West," American Review of Canadian Studies, Dec. 2003.
Otero. Miquel Antonio, Jr. My Life on the Frontier, 1864-1882, Incidents and
the Period when
through the last of their Wild and Romantic Years.
_________. My Life on the Frontier 1882-1897, Death Knell of a Territory and Birth of
_________. My Nine Years as Governor of the
of the Governor of
Otero, Miquel Antonio, Sr.. "Memorial of Miguel A. Otero, Contesting the Seat of Hon.
José Manuel Gallégos [sic.], as Delegate from the
Santamaría, Francisco J. Diccionario de Mejicanismos. México: Editorial Porrúa, 1959.
Stallion of the
by Mireille Soria and Jeffrey Katzenberg; Co-executive Producer, Max Howard; screenplay by John Fusco; Dream Works: 2002.
Turner, Frederick Jackson. . The Frontier in
Reinhart & Winston, 1962.
_________. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” in The American
Frontier, A Social and Literary Record, ed. C. Merton Babcock.
Turner, Victor. “Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual, An Essay in
Comparative Symbology,” From Ritual to Theatre,
The Human Seriousness of Play,
Wright, Frank Lloyd. "An Organic Architecture," in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected
Writings, V. 3, 1931-1939, ed. Bruce Books Pfeiffer,
Zizek, Slavoj. Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan In
 In reality, both Hamlet's words and Hitchcock's title refer to the system of mariner's compass readings that are anything but inexact, assigning to each term a specific point on the directional circle. Hence, Hamlet's "north-north-west" is N 22o 30' W, two points west of due north, halfway between due north and northwest. "Northwest by north" signals N 33o 45' W, one point north of due northwest. "North by Northwest," however, does not exist in system and therefore occupies no location. While it could be an inversion of "northwest by north," in a precise system such slipshod inexactitude can prove life threatening, as happens in the film itself. It is a slight misapprehension that sets off the mistaken identity and hence the plot of the film.