"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Dummy American

It is tempting, always, to try to explain why some things are important, important to every single soul of us...those of us here or those of us reading blogs that same the exact opposite of what this one does.  However, the rule of change is that it must come from within.  As in a chemical reaction, there may be a catalyzing agent, like the match that starts the bonfire...but what catches and flames must be "ready" to become a conflagration.  Otherwise, the match is wasted and the brief spark is extinguished.

That is to say, if an explanation be necessary, it is often because the material is not primed to flame.  And often enough it is the explanation that dampens the spirit of change.

We seem far more able to dampen and smother sparks than to kindle the readied timber.

***

D. H. Lawrence is himself a raging fire.  But he also knows how to poke at the meretricious and specious so that a truth may be revealed and an ember be uncovered.

He is match and flame.

In his Studies in Classic American Literature he has reveals the depths of our self-deceptions and yet shows us that the truths have been spoken too.  We have just always ignored the artists and listened to the liars.  It is unfortunate that these, artist and liar, can often be found in the same person or work.
Case in point: Ben Franklin and the Progressive, Mechanical, Idea.

From chapter 2 on Uncle Ben (audio recording):

THE Perfectibility of Man! Ah heaven, what a dreary themel The perfectibility of the Ford car! The perfectibility of which man ? I am many men. Which of them are you going to perfect ? I am not a mechanical contrivance.

Education! Which of the various me's do you propose to educate, and which do you propose to suppress ?

Anyhow, I defy you. I defy you, oh society, to educate me or to supress me, according to your dummy standards.

The ideal man! And which is he, if you please? Benjamin Franklin or Abraham Lincoln? The ideal man! Roosevelt or Porfirio D¡az?

There are other men in me, besides this patient ass who sits here in a tweed jacket. What am I doing, playing the patient ass in a tweed jacket? Who am I talking to? Who are you, at the other end of this patience?

Who are you? How many selves have you? And which of these selves do you want to be?

Is Yale College going to educate the self that is in the dark of you, or Harvard College?

The ideal self! Oh, but I have a strange and fugitive self shut out and howling like a wolf or a coyote under the ideal windows. See his red eyes in the dark? This is the self who is coming into his own.

The perfectibility of man, dear God! When every man as long as he remains alive is in himself a multitude of conflicting men. Which of these do you choose to perfect, at the expense of every other?

Old Daddy Franklin will tell you. He'll rig him up for you, the pattern American. Oh, Franklin was the first downright American. He knew what he was about, the sharp little man. He set up the first dummy American.

At the beginning of his career this cunning little Benjamin drew up for himself a creed that should 'satisfy the professors of every religion, but shock none'.

Now wasn't that a real American thing to do ?

' That there is One God, who made all things.'

(But Benjamin made Him.)

'That He governs the world by His Providence.'

(Benjamin knowing all about Providence.)

' That He ought to be worshipped with adoration, prayer, and thanks-giving.'

(Which cost nothing.)

'But-' But me no buts, Benjamin, saith the Lord.

'But that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to men.'

(God having no choice in the matter.)

' That the soul is immortal.'

(You'll see why, in the next clause.)

'And that God will certainy reward virtue and punish vice, either here or hereafter.'

Now if Mr Andrew Carnegie, or any other millionaire, had wished to invent a God to suit his ends, he could not have done better. Benjamin did it for him in the eighteenth century. God is the supreme servant of men who want to get on, to produce. Providence. The provider. The heavenly storekeeper. The everlasting Wanamaker.

And this is all the God the grandsons of the Pilgrim Fathers had left. Aloft on a pillar of dollars.

' That the soul is immortal.'

The trite way Benjamin says it!

But man has a soul, though you can't locate it either in his purse or his pocket-book or his heart or his stomach or his head. The wholeness of a man is his soul. Not merely that nice little comfortable bit which Benjamin marks out.

It's a queer thing is a man's soul. It is the whole of him. Which means it is the unknown him, as well as the known. It seems to me just funny, professors and Benjamins fixing the functions of the soul. Why, the soul of man is a vast forest, and all Benjamin intended was a neat back garden. And we've all got to fit into his kitchen garden scheme of things. Hail Columbia !

The soul of man is a dark forest. The Hercynian Wood that scared the Romans so, and out of which came the white- skinned hordes of the next civilization.

Who knows what will come out of the soul of man? The soul of man is a dark vast forest, with wild life in it. Think of Benjamin fencing it off!

Oh, but Benjamin fenced a little tract that he called the soul of man, and proceeded to get it into cultivation. Providence, forsoothl And they think that bit of barbed wire is going to keep us in pound for ever? More fools they.

This is Benjamin's barbed wire fence. He made himself a list of virtues, which he trotted inside like a grey nag in a paddock.

***

From chapter 6 on Edgar Allan Poe (link to audio recording):


Poe has been so praised for his style. But it seems to me a meretricious affair. 'Her marble hand' and 'the elasticity of her footfall' seem more like chair-springs and mantel-pieces than a human creature. She never was quite a human creature to him. She was an instrument from which he got his extremes of sensation. His machine a plaisir, as somebody says.

All Poe's style, moreover, has this mechanical quality, as his poetry has a mechanical rhythm. He never sees anything in terms of life, almost always in terms of matter, jewels, marble, etc., - or in terms of force, scientific. And his cadences are all managed mechanically. This is what is celled 'having a style'

What he wants to do with Ligeia is to analyse her, till he knows all her component parts, till he has got her all in his consciousness. She is some strange chemical salt which he must analyse out in the test-tubes of his brain, and then - when he's finished the analysis - E finita la commedia!

But she won't be quite analysed out. There is something, something he can't get. Writing of her eyes, he says: 'They were, I must believe, far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race' - as if anybody would want eyes 'far larger' than other folks'. 'They were even fuller than the fullest of the gazelle eyes of the tribe of the valley of Nourjahad' - which is blarney. 'The hue of the orbs was the most brilliant of black and, far over them, hung jetty lashes of great length' - suggests a whip-lash. 'The brows, slightly irregular in outline, had the same tint. The " strangeness ", however, which I found in the eyes, was of a nature distinct from the formation, or the colour or the brilliancy of the features, and must, after all, be referred to the expression.' - Sounds like an anatomist anatomizing a cat -

Ah, word of no meaning! behind whose vast latitude of mere sound we entrench our ignorance of so much of the spiritual. The expression of the eyes of Ligeia! How for long hours have I pondered upon it! How have I, through the whole of a midsummer night, struggled to fathom it! What was it - that something more profound than the well of Democritus - which lay far within the pupils of my beloved! What was it? I was possessed with a passion to discover .. .

It is easy to see why each man kills the thing he loves. To know a living thing is to kill it. You have to kill a thing to know it satisfactorily. For this reason, the desirous consciousness, the SPIRIT, is a vampire.

One should be sufficiently intelligent and interested to know a good deal about any person one comes into close contact with. About her. Or about him.

But to try to know any living being is to try to suck the life out of that being.



***

We are the Mechanical, Progressive Nation as are all our institutions.


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