November 15th, 2009


honor and dignity in the american soul

In his account of “the stark, enduring figure” of James Fenimore Cooper’s Deerslayer in his 1923 Studies in Classic American Literature, D.H. Lawrence observes:
He is neither spiritual nor sensual. He is a moralizer, but he always tries to moralize from actual experience, not from theory. He says: ‘Hurt nothing unless you’re forced to.’ Yet he gets his deepest thrill of gratification, perhaps, when he puts a bullet through the heart of a beautiful buck, as it stoops to drink at the lake. Or when he brings the invisible bird fluttering down in death, out of the high blue. ‘Hurt nothing unless you’re forced to.’ And yet he lives by death, by killing the wild things of the air and earth.
    It’s not good enough.
    But you have there the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.
A recent treatment of the essential American soul in an article by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker discusses murder in America within the conceptual framework of honor and dignity, in reference to work by the late Eric Monkkonen and the ongoing Pieter Spierenburg. Collapse )

Crossposted to [info]larvatus, [info]history, and [info]guns.