Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why Are American's Like This?

The way that people feel about their own dialect, that they are the only ones without an accent, is the way that I feel about American culture: This is just the way things are if you're normal. It's hard for me to think about the fact that we go about things in a unique way because of the sum of all the factors that create culture in the first place.

I came across these words that suggest an explanation for the way that we are. They are from an essay that Saul Bellow wrote a little over 20 years ago. It's probably more powerful in the context of the whole essay, but here are the paragraphs that struck me:

"A self-improving lot, Americans have a weakness for this kind of thing: the idealist holding aloft a banner with a strange device. Huck Finn had no use for the nice bright clean new England boy advancing under the motto Excelsior. When Aunt Sally threatened to "sivilize" him, he decided to "light out for the territory ahead." There was a time when it was normal for American children to feel that "self-improvement" propaganda would lead us not up the mountain but into the sloughs.

In the matter of opinion, Americans are vulnerable to ideologues, "originators," trendsetters, heralds of better values. Lacking the sustaining traditions of older cultures, we cast about for prescriptions, we seek--in our uncertainty--the next necessary and "correct" step. I can't at the moment remember who it was who said (it sounds like Elbert Hubbard, or perhaps R.W. Emerson), "Invent a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Revised and updated, this would go: "Invent a new cliche and you will make it big." "

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