Monday, January 10, 2011

The Essential American Soul

Years ago, in graduate school, I was introduced to D.H. Lawrence’s seminal work, Studies in Classic American Literature. It is a brilliant tour-de-force, a foreigner’s slant on the American classics hardly taken seriously before its publication. What came to mind after the assassination attempt this weekend on Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords (a chunk of the left side of her brain was destroyed by the assassin’s bullet, though she seems to be heading for a miraculous recovery; six bystanders, including a federal judge, were killed and another fourteen wounded) was one of the most shocking of Lawrence’s prophetic statements. In his examination of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Novels (The Last of the Mohicans, the Deerslayer, et. al.), up until that time passed off as “children’s literature,” Lawrence pens this adult analysis: “And Natty (Bumppo), what sort of white man is he? Why, he is a man with a gun. He is a killer, a slayer…” And then Lawrence expands his assessment to include all of mythic America:

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.

Writers are often said to be prophets, and here, D. H. Lawrence, an Englishman who lived some of his later life in and around Taos, NM (where, perhaps, he saw firsthand what the essential American was like), was more prophetic than he knew. Think of the major American figures gunned down in the past half century: Pres. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, John Lennon, Mayor of San Francisco George Moscone and now Gabrielle Giffords and Judge Roll. And that doesn’t even consider the numbers of citizens gunned down in the streets who make the news for a few days, and are then forgotten. Bill Quigley reminds us in a Jan. 10 column on Common Dreams:

The US has well over 250 million guns in private hands according to the National Rifle Association. That is more, according to the BBC, than any country in the world. In one year, guns murdered 17 people in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the United States according to the Brady Campaign.

Did you get that? In one year, seven other countries have a combined total of 545 gun murders, while the United States alone registers 9,484. And of course, when it comes to an assassination like the recent one, by a young white male, the first thing the gun-lobby folks want to say is: “a nut case.” The guy was a lone nut case. Can’t blame that on guns. Can’t blame that on the insane political rhetoric spewing from the hate-mongers on the right. Can’t blame that on Sarah Palin, whose web site—until Saturday of course, when it was quickly wiped clean—had a map of Arizona with gun sights targeting the districts of “traitorous” democrats to be defeated, one of them the district of Gabrielle Giffords herself. Oh no. These are not terrorists. These are not respectable gun-toting National Rifle Association zealots. These are nut cases. Like Clay Duke, Michael Enright, Byron Williams and Joe Stack, these are just mentally deranged white guys who happened to be attacking the big government types taking our money, nothing right-wing about it.

Same applies to the state of Arizona, where it happened. Right wing? Perish the thought. Except when you look at the proposed bills to be debated this very day, Monday, January 10. One, H2001, will allow faculty members to carry concealed weapons on campus. Another, H2014, will allow students themselves to carry weapons on campus. After all, what’s so special about places of learning? If Arizonans can carry concealed weapons into bars and restaurants, and everyplace else in Arizona (bills signed into law by Governor Brewer in 2009 and last April), why can’t everyone be armed on campus? Has anything bad ever happened at a college? (Well, aside from that aberration at Virginia Tech!) But this is Arizona. In Arizona, the Firearm Freedom Act allows weapons and ammunition made in Arizona to be sold without being hampered by those socialistic federal regulations. So anyone can buy whatever weapon he or she chooses. Even someone named Loughner who virtually announces on his website that he’s getting ready to commit murder. And does.

But then he was deranged.

Well, I’ll tell you what I think. I think this whole country is deranged. A nation that allows the open carrying of weapons, even to political rallies, is a deranged nation. A nation that allows the purchase of the most deadly weapons, like the Glock 19 automatic used by Loughner, and a host of other assault weapons for the common shooter, is absolutely deranged. A nation that hides behind the notion that every red-blooded American male has a right to hunt and shoot like his forefathers did—with Glock 19s? with Kalashnikovs?—is confirming what D. H. Lawrence said years ago:

The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.

And we had better start taking measures to keep the hate mongers, the inciters to violence, the hypocrite politicians prating about their devotion to “freedom,” from jump-starting more of the truly sick puppies in our midst to act our their fantasies. (And don’t even get me started on the power-broking bastards—David Koch, the oil money behind the Tea Party, comes to mind—who finance all this hate. And don’t even get me started on the video games training all of our kids to destroy every “being” that comes in sight so when they grow up they can be just as nimble maneuvering drones; or the TV airwaves filled with murder-and-mayhem cop shows twenty-four hours a day. Don’t get me started. )

Lawrence DiStasi


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