Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Stegner: American Mobility vs. Stability

From "The Sense of Place" by Wallace Stegner:

But if every American is several people, and one of them is or, would like to be a placed person, another is the opposite, the displaced person, cousin not to Thoreau but to Daniel Boone, dreamer not of Walden Ponds but of far horizons, traveler not in Concord but in wild unsettled places, explorer not inward ‘but outward. Adventurous, restless, seeking, asocial or -antisocial, the displaced American persists by the million, long after the frontier has vanished. He exists to some extent in all of us, the inevitable by-product of our history: the New World transient.

To the placed person he seems hasty, shallow, and restless. He has a current like the Platte, a mile wide and an inch deep. As a species, he is non territorial, be lacks a stamping ground. Acquainted with many places, he is rooted in none. Culturally he is a discarder or transplanter, not a builder or conserver. He even seems to like and value his rootlessness, though to the placed person he shows the symptoms of nutritional deficiency, as if be suffered from some obscure scurvy or pellagra of the soul. . . .

Indifferent to, or contemptuous of, or afraid to commit ourselves to, our physical and social surroundings, always hopeful of something better, hooked on change, a lot of us have never stayed in one place long enough to learn it, or have learned it only to leave it.

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