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Americans have historically allowed themselves to become confused by the fact that their practical excellence has been so profitable. But the meaning of excellence (serious excellence, not Big Macs) is essentially metaphysical. Excellent things are constantly destroyed, of course bombed, defaced, or else misunderstood; a conquering army may some day bivouac in the Sistine Chapel and take idle target practice at the ceiling. But excellence is essentially invulnerable. It carries the prestige of the infinite with it, an ancestral resemblance to the ideal. It is ecstatic. For an irrevocable moment, it gives the mind what Melville called "top-gallant delight."
By Lance Morrow