American Silence by Zeese Papanikolas MA BA

By Zeese Papanikolas MA BA

In American Silence, a supplement to his earlier learn Trickster within the Land of Dreams, Zeese Papanikolas investigates a couple of major American cultural artifacts and the lives in their makers. For Papanikolas, either the personal mess ups and public successes of Clarence King, Henry Adams, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler, and Hank Williams resonate with silences. those silences—absences and omissions—put them towards the yankee mythology of good fortune and convey the fundamental solitude Alexis de Tocqueville discovered on the center of the yankee soul. The painters George Caleb Bingham and Jackson Pollock and the hot Orleans photographer E. J. Bellocq expand the subject of erotic loss and the redemptive chances of paintings past it into the world of the visual.
 
On a deeper point, the lives and works of those writers, thinkers, artists, and public figures attach them to extra nerve-racking questions of yankee crimes of race and despoliation. Their silences and reticences comprise a lingering pathos rooted in a recognition of utopian risk simply neglected and to an unspoiled nature virtually inside of dwelling memory.

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Locksley Hall, Tennyson’s potboiler about pure young love thwarted by the sordid world of money and society (but King forgets that he was the one who jilted the girl), with its renunciation of the world in favor of (momentarily) a dusky native maiden and colonial war, became a model for his imaginative life. I will take some savage woman, she shall rear my dusky race. And always in King there was the dream of some earthly paradise, where far from the strictures of the fallen world, the old gold girls, as King named the women of his fantasies, bathed forever in pools of light.

It is as if, he writes, he were contemplating the purpose of his life, and for just one moment he would have rather liked to dodge that purpose, or to have waited, or to have found some excellent reason why he might not go. But he does go, of course. 14 Brewer describes King as he was then: “King is enthusiastic, is wonderfully tough, has the greatest endurance I have ever seen, and is withal very muscular. ”15 He was something on the short side, blond, with a light beard. But his hazel eyes in the early photographs have the soft, far-off look of the daydreamer.

His friend Henry James saw him as a “queer, incomplete, unsatisfactory creature . . ”28 And in the end, what had he accomplished? His affairs sank into ruin. He poured other people’s money into his failing mines until there was no more to pour. In 1890, five men had died, John Hay wrote to Henry Adams, each ruining King, the last two kicking over buckets of milk King had been a year in drawing. His books stood on the shelves: the volumes of the Survey’s work, his own Systematic Geology, the slender volume of his stories.

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