Enthusiasm

Chapter XII


WHY SOME AMERICANS MANIFEST A SORT OF FANATICAL SPIRITUALISM

Although the desire of acquiring the good things of this world is the prevailing passion of the American people, certain momentary outbreaks occur when their souls seem suddenly to burst the bonds of matter by which they are restrained and to soar impetuously towards heaven. In all the states of the Union, but especially in the half-peopled country of the Far West, itinerant preachers may be met with who hawk about the word of God from place to place. Whole families, old men, women, and children, cross rough passes and untrodden wilds, coming from a great distance, to join a camp-meeting, where, in listening to these discourses, they totally forget for several days and nights the cares of business and even the most urgent wants of the body.


Here and there in the midst of American society you meet with men full of a fanatical and almost wild spiritualism, which hardly exists in Europe. From time to time strange sects arise which en- deavor to strike out extraordinary paths to eternal happiness. Religious insanity is very common in the United States.

Nor ought these facts to surprise us. It was not man who implanted in himself the taste for what is infinite and the love of what is immortal; these lofty instincts are not the offspring of his capricious will; their steadfast foundation is fixed in human nature, and they exist in spite of his efforts. He may cross and distort them; destroy them he cannot.

The soul has wants which must be satisfied; and whatever pains are taken to divert it from itself, it soon grows weary, restless, and disquieted amid the enjoyments of sense. If ever the faculties of the great majority of mankind were exclusively bent upon the pursuit of material objects, it might be anticipated that an amazing reaction would take place in the souls of some men. They would drift at large in the world of spirits, for fear of remaining shackled by the close bondage of the body.

It is not, then, wonderful if in the midst of a community whose thoughts tend earthward a small number of individuals are to be found who turn their looks to heaven. I should be surprised if mysticism did not soon make some advance among a people solely engaged in promoting their own worldly welfare. It is said that the deserts of the Thebaid were peopled by the persecutions of the emperors and the massacres of the Circus; I should rather say that it was by the luxuries of Rome and the Epicurean philosophy of Greece. If their social condition, their present circumstances, and their laws did not confine the minds of the Americans so closely to the pursuit of worldly welfare, it is probable that they would display more reserve and more experience whenever their attention is turned to things immaterial, and that they would check themselves without difficulty. But they feel imprisoned within bounds, which they will apparently never be allowed to pass. As soon as they have passed these bounds, their minds do not know where to fix themselves and they often rush unrestrained beyond the range of common sense.

— Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Recommended

Here are some of the books I read and films I watched this semester when I should have been doing other things.

Books

Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Jackson has total control over this funny and macabre story of family, murder, and social rejection.

Steve Fisher, I Wake Up Screaming

Nobody actually wakes up screaming in this Hollywood-centered roman noir, which formed the basis of two film adaptations: I Wake Up Screaming with Betty Grable, Laird Gregar, and Victor Mature, and Vicki with Jean Peters.

Kenneth Fearing, Selected Poems

Fearing understood the looming disaster of mass culture and its tendency to commodify everything in its path. Yet he appropriated those materials for his own ends. By the author of The Big Clock.

Ambrose Bierce, Collected Stories

Celebrated as “the old gringo” by Fuentes, Bierce’s short fiction combines dark romanticism with cynicism.

Dave Eggers, The Circle

Satires of the IT industry and its deleterious effects on the social should probably be more grand guignol than this peppy dystopian takedown, but anything that punctures Silicon Valley’s bulletproof self-regard is worth reading.

Hideo Yokoyama, Six Four

At just under 600 pages this police procedural is a minor epic of bureaucratic politics, corruption, and betrayal.

Catherine Spooner, Contemporary Gothic

This is an edifying and entertaining primer on Goth and pop culture.

Films

The Man Who Could Cheat Death

Anton Diffring’s perverse cosmopolitan charm carry this batty Hammer film about a man preserved far beyond an ordinary lifespan with the glands– yes, the glands— of his victims. A perfect companion to Circus of Horrors, which also stars Diffring.

Frankenstein Unbound

I hadn’t seen this Roger Corman film since undergrad. Raoul Julia as Victor Frankenstein, Jason Patric as Lord Byron, with a brief, disappointingly muffled turn by Michael Hutchence of INXS as Percy Shelley. Nick Brimble’s monster is distorted and tragic. Glorious scifi pulp.

The Witches

Joan Fontaine plays a psychologically fragile schoolteacher who arrives in a remote English village and gradually discovers the presence of Satan-worshipping locals. It’s slow to start but the climactic human sacrifice scene is huge fun.

Footsteps in the Fog

Jean Simmons plays an ambitious maid who’s too clever by half, drawn into the shadowy orbit of Stewart Granger’s aristocratic homme fatale.

Fanny By Gaslight

A dark melodrama about lost origins, malice, and class hierarchy

The Crimson Petal and the White

This is a fairly hard-boiled story, an adaptation of a novel by Michel Faber starring Romola Garai as Sugar, a literate and intelligent young prostitute in Victorian London. Her character develops in counterpoint with the wife of her primary john, a hypocritical bourgeois blind to the violence against women surrounding him not only on the streets but in respectable, middle-class homes.

 

 

 

Final (303)

Focus on the basics of film analysis and the defining qualities of German Expressionist Cinema. There will, of course, be some stylistic variations between the different directors Roberts discusses.

Revisit the paper prompts and our readings on the gothic. These will likely help you to forge links between otherwise disparate concepts and texts.

Did you read chapter 4 of DOC? What’s the difference between colonialism and neocolonialism?

Sorry, this isn’t a very elegant review. I’ll add further details as time permits.

 

Final (485)

Since the midterm we’ve covered a fair bit of territory, from postwar “domestic suspense” and film noir to the ghosts haunting American Empire to the struggle to build Paradise (or find asylum) in a fallen and violent world. Each of these focal points serves as an opportunity to see US American history and culture through a dark lens. The ground we inhabit has bones in it. Society’s benign surfaces conceal destructive forces and irrational appetites. The obverse of the Dream is a nightmare, and any effort to understand this nation and its people must confront the chiaroscuro character of US American life.

Continue reading

Safari

A bronzed and Brylcreemed Victor Mature plays Ken Duffield, an American soldier turned white hunter, in this turgid colonial romance that also stars a benzedrine-thin Janet Leigh as a former showgirl on holiday with her pompous billionaire fiancé.

When the dreaded Mau-Mau horribly butcher his wife and son with the aid of one of  his Kikuyu “house boys,” Jeroge (Bermuda-born actor Earl Cameron), Ken vows to avenge them. He escorts Linda Latham (Leigh) and the increasingly erratic and demanding Sir Vincent Brampton on safari, intending to use the hunting expedition to locate his nemesis and kill as many Mau-Mau as possible.

Also features Zanzibari child actor Juma as Odongo, a tagalong scamp prone to bouts of loud, forced laughter.

Spring Collection

This Spring’s Torturer’s Collection features a feminine look such as Gina’s black and red, belted floral print dress. This relaxed style also includes a practical touch: the quick-drying material allows the wearer to seamlessly transition from an interrupted drowning (water-boarding) session to a working lunch.

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