In “American Divine,” it would seem that the pursuit is not so much a pursuit of divinity but rather the experience of it—the awe, which in this instance is private and individualistic, potentially addictive, and more an expression of personal epiphanies than a community-shared theology.
One answer from Kingsnorth’s fiction lies in limits. No human, nor all of us put together, is sovereign over the fate of the world, despite the unprecedented power we enjoy over life and death within it.
I’m not canceling Whitman. But my own enthusiasm for his poetry is waning. The poet whose daring versification and daring lifestyle were once seen as the epitome of counter-culture has come to seem to me all too mainstream, the very voice of an age of superficial egotism.
Whether he takes us to the Texas frontier or to 1970s Houston, his prose never gets in the way of his story. He moves ahead with the precision and simplicity of one of the McMurtry boys telling a story on the front porch of the family ranch house in Archer County, Texas.
McMurtry couldn’t quite set the Bowie knife to the scalp of the Western like Cormac McCarthy did the same year, maybe because he knew those people weren’t grotesque caricatures; they were people he’d known and loved. And when he died last week, he was probably the last person in Archer City who had any connection to those people at all.
As the late historian John Lukacs would insist, all stories as we know them and retell them are remembered. This means they are, inherently, personal. John Berryman and Robert Giroux: A Publishing Friendship is no exception.
The enduring value of adding Jane Austen to my disciplines was not beholden to my expectation of enjoyment from a happy wedding nor was it dependent on my recognition that vice and virtue are at war in me and in the world. She won me by shaping a vision of joy built on virtue and a corresponding vision—gently elided in her prose—of the despair of vice.