Thursday 11 January 2024

The Pursuit of Happiness

Shirley Hazzard, Greene on Capri: A Memoir (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), pp. 11-12:

Graham [Greene]’s hostility to the American “way of life” was exacerbated by what he considered a contemptible national quest for the Grail of happiness—the pursuit itself, as he felt, unworthily enshrined as an ideal in the nation’s founding Declaration, with the goal soon defined as materialism and indulgence. When we once spoke of Thomas Hardy’s lines explaining the poet’s refusal, on grounds of his own fateful view of existence, of an invitation to visit the United States—
My ardours for emprize nigh lost
Since Life has bared its bones to me,
I shrink to seek a modern coast
Whose riper times have yet to be;
Where the new regions claim them free
From that long drip of human tears
Which peoples old in tragedy
Have left upon the centuried years. . .
—Graham said that he had no doubt that tears in plenty were shed in America; but that, without the shared pathos of acknowledged pain, they were shed in bafflement and felt as failure. Bringing to mind a theme of The Quiet American, he held that a policy of good cheer was often a repudiation of feeling: a licence for indifference or ruthlessness.