The title is from DH Lawrence – oh, the things you find on the Internet:
Some considerable time ago, I commented on something that I had gleaned from a reading of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods; that is, that America was a poor place for mythology, that we lacked the deep psychic topsoil that nourished our European forebears. I remember reading somewhere about a Finnish poet who lived in a house where his family had lived and farmed for the past 900 years. I can only the imagine the poetry that would emerge from such an intimate congress between soil and DNA.
America has poets, quite good ones, but the American story has yet to be told, really. Some works have come damned close: The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, The Magnificent Ambersons, On The Road, these spring to mind immediately as coming close to American mythopoeia. But DH Lawrence seems to intimate that we still have to atone for our sins:
When you are actually in America, America hurts, because it has a powerful disintegrative influence upon the white psyche. It is full of grinning, unappeased aboriginal demons, too, ghosts, and it persecutes the white men, like some Eumenides, until the white men give up their absolute whiteness. America is tense with latent violence and resistance. The very common sense of white Americans has a tinge of helplessness in it, and deep fear of what might be if they were not common-sensical.
[W]hen one comes to America, one finds that there is always a certain slightly devilish resistance in the American landscape, and a certain slightly bitter resistance in the white man’s heart. Hawthorne gives this. But Cooper glosses it over. The American landscape has never been at one with the white man. Never. And white men have probably never felt so bitter anywhere, as here in America, where the very landscape, in its very beauty, seems a bit devilish and grinning, opposed to us.
Moralists have always wondered helplessly why Poe’s ‘morbid’ tales need have been written. They need to be written because old things need to die and disintegrate, because the old white psyche has to be gradually broken down before anything else can come to pass.
So there you have it; the strength of the hills is not in us because they are not yet our hills, except by legal fiction [I use this term consciously]. America bestrides the earth like a colossus, and appears immeasurably strong – the last superpower and all of that, but the strength is the waning strength of modernism and abstraction. I fear this strength will fail in the crucible, that it will be a brittle strength.
I wonder how this strength compares with the imaginative fecundity of Latin American letters, where the fantastic and the real rub cheek to jowl (and not only imaginative fecundity – it doesn’t take any prescience to predict what are the comparative futures of two societies where the average age of one is 38 and increasing, and the average age of the other is 22 and dropping). The dominant myth of Iberian America is one of mixture and synthesis, whereas the predominant myth north of the Rio Grande is replacement and surveying.
Note – My knowledge of South African history is next to nil. I have been informed that when the first European settlers, the ancestors of the Voortrekkers, arrived in the Cape Colony, the land was empty. The Bantu had not yet arrived. Nobody took South Africa away from anybody. Everybody just collided, sort of. Steve, if you can add anything to this, I would be extremely grateful.