Monday, July 15, 2013
The two things rubbed into me in this country are (1) that the future of the world lies with America, (2) that radically and essentially America is a barbarous country....The "life of the spirit"—the one and only thing which justifies and dignifies the life of men on earth—is, not accidently or temporarily, but inevitably and eternally killed in this country. All that man has achieved in this region, from Buddha to Goethe, is just non-existent for Americans. They have, in their own phrase, "no use for it"! (I don't count the purely adventitious fringe of cultured people who cling to the skirts of Europe, and are despised and hated by true Americans.) And this American spirit, alias the "Chicago spirit", is to dominate the world! Don't reply with the usual excuse that the country is "young" etc. It was much better when it was younger still! This is its adult age, its deliberate choice now it has broken loose from Eastern traditions. It is a country without leisure, manners, morals, beauty, or religion—a country whose ideal is mere activity, without any reference to the quality of it; a country which holds competition and strife to be the only life worth living.As they say these days, "Tell us what you really think, Goldie." Forster compares G. Lowes Dickinson, A Modern Symposium (New York: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1906), e.g., pp. 99-101:
The questions that have occupied Europe from the dawn of her history, for which she has fought more fiercely than for empire or liberty, for which she has fasted in deserts, agonized in cells, suffered on the cross, and at the stake, for which she has sacrificed wealth, health, ease, intelligence, life, these questions of the meaning of the world, the origin and destiny of the soul, the life after death, the existence of God, and His relation to the universe, for the American people simply do not exist. They are as inaccessible, as impossible to them, as the Sphere to the dwellers in Flatland. That whole dimension is unknown to them. Their healthy and robust intelligence confines itself to the things of this world. Their religion, if they have one, is what I believe they call 'healthy-mindedness.' It consists in ignoring everything that might suggest a doubt as to the worth of existence, and so conceivably paralyse activity. 'Let us eat and drink,' they say, with a hearty and robust good faith; omitting as irrelevant and morbid the discouraging appendix, 'for to-morrow we die.' Indeed! What has death to do with buildings twenty-four stories high, with the fastest trains, the noisiest cities, the busiest crowds in the world, and generally the largest, the finest, the most accelerated of everything that exists? America has sloughed off religion; and as, in the history of Europe, religion has underlain every other activity, she has sloughed off, along with it, the whole European system of spiritual life. Literature, for instance, and Art, do not exist across the Atlantic. I am aware, of course, that Americans write books and paint pictures. But their books are not Literature, nor their pictures Art, except in so far as they represent a faint adumbration of the European tradition. The true spirit of America has no use for such activities. And even if, as must occasionally happen in a population of eighty millions, there is born among them a man of artistic instincts, he is immediately and inevitably repelled to Europe, whence he derives his training and his inspiration, and where alone he can live, observe and create. That this must be so from the nature of the case is obvious when we reflect that the spirit of Art is disinterested contemplation, while that of America is cupidous acquisition. Americans, I am aware, believe that they will produce Literature and Art, as they produce coal and steel and oil, by the judicious application of intelligence and capital; but here they do themselves injustice. The qualities that are making them masters of the world, unfit them for slighter and less serious pursuits. The Future is for them, the kingdom of elevators, of telephones, of motor-cars, of flying-machines. Let them not idly hark back, misled by effete traditions, to the old European dream of the kingdom of heaven. 'Excudent alii,' let them say, 'for Europe, Letters and Art; tu regere argento populos, Morgane, memento, let America rule the world by Syndicates and Trusts!' For such is her true destiny; and that she conceives it to be such, is evidenced by the determination with which she has suppressed all irrelevant activities.Why (now as then) do we keep inviting these snooty, priggish lecturers from abroad, like missionaries to the heathen, to tell us how boorish and inferior and uncivilized we are?
Excudent alii...tu regere argento populos, Morgane, memento ("Others will be sculptors...you, J.P. Morgan, remember to rule the nations with money") is a parody of Vergil, Aeneid 6.847-850 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
Others, I doubt not, shall beat out the breathing bronze with softer lines; shall from marble draw forth the features of life; shall plead their causes better; with the rod shall trace the paths of heaven and tell the rising of the stars: remember thou, O Roman, to rule the nations with thy sway.
excudent alii spirantia mollius aera,
(credo equidem), vivos ducent de marmore voltus;
orabunt causas melius, caelique meatus
describent radio et surgentia sidera dicent:
tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento.