The Hundredth Meridian

How the West Was Won—Again

Richard M. Weaver, in his discussion of forms and the concept of the formal in Ideas Have Consequences, has this to say about the custom and culture of the American frontier:

The American frontiersman was a type who emancipated himself from culture by abandoning the settled institutions of the seaboard and the European motherland.  Reveling in the new absence of restraint, he associated all kinds of forms with the machinery of oppression which he had fled and was now preparing to oppose politically. . . . The frontiersman was seeking a solvent of forms, and he found his spokesman in such writers as Mark Twain, a large part of whose work is simply a satire upon the more formal European way of doing things.

I do not know whether Weaver, who spent nearly all his adult life shut up in a tiny, cluttered apartment in the shadow of the University of Chicago, ever experienced the West.  Even if he did, the American West of the 1940’s and 50’s was not the frontier as Twain experienced it in the 1860’s, when he traveled by stagecoach from Missouri to Nevada Territory.  Hannibal, Missouri, was not exactly the frontier in Twain’s time, either; nor did Twain himself, dressed in his white suit in his big house back in Hartford, Connecticut, have much more than an imaginative experience as a frontiersman.  Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, finally,...

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