27 February 2013
She Starts Old
Can you find a more perfect definition of America as Myth? Of America as a myth believed in so deeply by Americans? That is, the myth that we enact daily in our yearning after a chemically-manufactured, clean-room version of youth? Not our real "youth"--not our real suffering and pain, not our short, fat, ugly, hairy, stinky, zitty, absolutely under-the-microscope of society, youth. But the pose of perfection that exists only in hadron collider myths.
Democracy in America was never the same as Liberty in Europe. In Europe Liberty was a great life-throb. But in America Democracy was always something anti-life. The greatest democrats, like Abraham Lincoln, had always a sacrificial, self-murdering note in their voices. American Democracy was a form of self-murder, always. Or of murdering somebody else.
Necessarily. It was a pis aller. It was the pis aller to European Liberty. It was a cruel form of sloughing. Men murdered themselves into this democracy. Democracy is the utter hardening of the old skin, the old form, the old psyche. It hardens till it is tight and fixed and inorganic. Then it must burst, like a chrysalis shell. And out must come the soft grub, or the soft damp butterfly of the American-at-last.
America has gone the pis aller of her democracy. Now she must slough even that, chiefly that, indeed. What did Cooper dream beyond democracy? Why, in his immortal friendship of Chingachgook and Natty Bumppo he dreamed the nucleus of a new society. That is, he dreamed a new human relationship. A stark, stripped human relationship of two men, deeper than the deeps of sex. Deeper than property, deeper than fatherhood, deeper than marriage, deeper than love. So deep that it is loveless. The stark, loveless, wordless unison of two men who have come to the bottom of themselves This is the new nucleus of a new society, the clue to a new world-epoch. It asks for a great and cruel sloughing first of all. Then it finds a great release into a new world, a new moral, a new landscape.
Natty and the Great Serpent are neither equals nor un-equals. Each obeys the other when the moment arrives. And each is stark and dumb in the other's presence, starkly himself without illusion created. Each is just the crude pillar of a man, the crude living column of his own manhood. And each knows the godhead of this crude column of manhood. A new relationship.
The Leatherstocking novels create the myth of this new relation. And they go backwards, from old age to golden youth. That is the true myth of America. She starts old, old, wrinkled and writhing in an old skin. And there is a gradual sloughing of the old skin, towards a new youth. It is the myth of America.
D. H. Lawrence, from his essay on Cooper's Leatherstocking Novels.
Posted by Douglas Storm