Jun 2, 2010

Making it up

Benjamin Franklin, in France, wore a fur cap, becoming a character in a story he told. Davey Crockett did the same thing when he went up to Congress a half century later.

This might be the most consistent thing about the American character. Not just sui generis, but again and again sui generis, springing up full formed, a new story, another story unlike the one before, a good one this time. Not the self-made man, but the re-made self-made man. But what if what's important about this story isn't the story, but the story about the story, i.e., what if we think of the audience for Franklin's construction as not being the French, fooled by their prejudice, but us, learning how it's done?

There's a first level, here, where Franklin tells stories, but a second where he's telling stories about telling stories, which vary with various situations, shift, revise, and spring up sui generis, spring up American.

"America" is, of course, an idea, a fiction, but what if, more than that, it's a fiction about fictions and the possibility of fictions, and the "frontier thesis" compounds, and what makes America America is not the construction, but the constructing, open-ended and ongoing?

What if the quintessential story isn't the P.T. Barnum con man story, about the showman and hoax-promoter making things up as he goes along, being whatever he wants to be and re-creating everything with every story, but instead is the story about the story about the P.T. Barnum con man?

We're aware of the con and construction, and we're inspired.