God and the American Writer

God and the American Writer

by Alfred Kazin
     
 

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God and the American Writer does more to illuminate the fundamental purposes and motivations of our greatest writers from Hawthorne to Faulkner than any study I have read in the past fifty-five years—that is, since the same author's On Native Grounds.
—Louis S. Auchincloss

This is the culminating work of the finest living critic of American… See more details below

Overview

God and the American Writer does more to illuminate the fundamental purposes and motivations of our greatest writers from Hawthorne to Faulkner than any study I have read in the past fifty-five years—that is, since the same author's On Native Grounds.
—Louis S. Auchincloss

This is the culminating work of the finest living critic of American literature. Alfred Kazin brings a lifetime of thought and reading to the triumphant elucidation of his fascinating and slippery subjects: what the meaning of God has been for American writers, and how those writers, from the New England Calvinists to William Faulkner, have expressed it. In a series of trenchant critical studies of writers as divergent as Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, Lincoln, Whitman, Dickinson, Twain, William James, Eliot, Frost, and Faulkner, Kazin gives a profound sense of each, and his quotations from their works are artfully chosen to pursue the main theme. The centerpiece of the book is the reflection in American writing of the great American tragedy, the Civil War—so deeply involved in the whole complex issue of religion in America. An enthralling book by a major writer.

"This is a book about the place of God in the imaginative life of a country that for two centuries countenanced slavery and then engaged in a fratricidal war to end it. For Americans no subject is more compelling or, in its entanglement with the deepest roots of the national soul, more terrible. And no one has ever written as incisively, as movingly, or as unforgivingly about it as Alfred Kazin has here."
—Louis Menand


"In the era of willful obfuscation, Alfred Kazin is the good, clear word, abrilliant scholar and an original reader. His latest book, God and the American Writer, which comes fifty-five years after On Native Grounds, proves he has lost nothing and gives us everything he has."
—David Remnick

"American writers have been born into all sorts of religious sects, but have had to struggle in solitude to make sense of God. Alfred Kazin, a cosmos unto himself, has written brilliantly and affectingly of how a dozen or so of our finest authors—poets, novelists, philosophers, and one president—endured and illuminated that struggle. Kazin is sometimes passionate, even fierce, especially in his discussions of slavery and of his hero (and mine), Abraham Lincoln. But, as ever, Kazin's writing is tempered by an enormous American empathy and by his sense of irony about our country and its spiritual predicaments. Spare, sharp, and immensely learned, God and the American Writer is the most moving volume of criticism yet by our greatest living critic."
—Sean Wilentz

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Editorial Reviews

Scott
A.O.Reading Kazin's essays, like reading Emerson's, means submitting to a wild, chaotic ride replete with inductive and associative leaps, dense thickets of allusion and sudden shifts from anecdote to prophecy.
The Nation
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Secular treatments of God can be the more interesting if only because of their heavy doses of doubt. Writing with the full force of his crisp and lucid style, Kazin (On Native Grounds) is chiefly concerned with demonstrating how each of the 12 major writers he covers traded heavily on their own doubts and discarded conventional Christian faith to invent a personal version of God. Such individualism marks Kazin's American style of dealing with the Almighty. Stretching often beyond the boundaries of its title, each chapter is a wondrous essay on American history — even brief treatments of Twain and Lincoln seem monumental. Only a few of the pieces have been previously published. Kazin proves himself that rarest of modern creatures — a writer who can abide the artistry of another whose political views he considers repugnant. Faced with T.S. Eliot's legendary prejudices, Kazin was asked, " 'How can you admire such an enemy of the Jews?' I replied that if I had to exclude anti-Semites, I would have little enough to read." The breadth of Kazin's humor and humanity makes this book a joy.
Robert Stone
Kazin has taken the God-infused, post-Calvinist literature of America as his own. He has served and attended it through fads, renunciations, and redefinitions on the part of many others, never wavering in his irreplaceable common sense, his love for the subject, his insight....His long career proclaims an affinity among the People of the Book that made the Puritan tradition in America congenial to many like him, a tradition they could claim as birthright simply by recognizing it. Exponent is too cold a word for the relationship of Kazin and American letters. Apostle is more like it.
The New York Review of Books
A.O. Scott
Reading Kazin's essays, like reading Emerson's, means submitting to a wild, chaotic ride replete with inductive and associative leaps, dense thickets of allusion and sudden shifts from anecdote to prophecy.
The Nation
Kirkus Reviews
Writing with his usual stylistic verve and penetration, Kazin examines our great authors' uneasy but self-sufficient sense of God. In his fifth decade of producing criticism, Kazin masterfully continues the old-fashioned, demanding critical tradition of intimately reading the great works and grounding an analysis of them in a sense of history and biography. Like his survey of nature in American letters, A Writer's America: Landscape in Literature, this new work is a focused retracing of manifestations of our country's brand of Protestantism, typically Calvinist, in the works of major writers, from Hawthorne's struggles with his Puritan inheritance to Faulkner's God-forsaken vision of the post-Civil War South.

Kazin is not out to reassess his familiar subjects — Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, etc. — in any radical fashion, however passionately he writes about them. Nor, in his august manner, does he acknowledge much previous critical writing, even, most obviously, Van Wyck Brooks on Puritanism, Twain, or Emerson. Often, basic close readings are the chief matter, such as of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and Dickinson's poetry. When he finds a good anecdote or quote, he is apt to repeat it for its own sake, to say nothing of his dropping of eminent names. Deflating memories of the elderly Robert Frost in his egotistical, hoary-Yankee mode caustically pervade an examination of the poet's complex views of human existence and natural design. Conversely, Kazin musters a stirring, fervently moral tone to take on the religious watershed of abolitionism and the Civil War, encompassing Harriet Beecher Stowe's UncleTom's Cabin ("New England's last holiness") and Lincoln's remarkable Second Inaugural Address on divine providence. Often more ecstatic than analytic, still this is an intensely erudite rereading of American authors' varieties of religious experience.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780394549682
Publisher:
Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/07/1997
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.20(d)

What People are saying about this

Louis Menand
This is a book about the place of God in the imaginative life of a country that for two centuries countenanced slavery and then engaged in a fratricidal war to end it. For Americans no subject is more compelling or, in its entanglement with the deepest roots of the national soul, more terrible. And no one has ever written as incisively, as movingly, or as unforgivingly about it as Alfred Kazin has here.
David Remnick
In the era of willful obfuscation, Alfred Kazin is the good, clear word, a brilliant scholar and an original reader. His latest book, God and the American Writer, which comes 55 years after On Native Grounds, proves he has lost nothing and gives us everything he has.
Louis S. Auchincloss
God and the American Writer does more to illuminate the fundamental purposes and motivations of our greatest writers from Hawthorne to Faulkner than any study I have read in the past 55 years — that is, since the same author's On Native Grounds.
Sean Wilentz
American writers have been born into all sorts of religious sects, but have had to struggle in solitude to make sense of God. Alfred Kazin, a cosmos unto himself, has written brilliantly and affectingly of how a dozen or so of our finest authors — poets, novelists, philosophers, and one President — endured and illuminated that struggle. Kazin is sometimes passionate, even fierce, especially in his discussions of slavery and of his hero (and mine), Abraham Lincoln. But, as ever, Kazin's writing is tempered by an enormous American empathy and by his sense of irony about our country and its spiritual predicaments. Spare, sharp, and immensely learned, God and the American Writer is the most moving volume of criticism yet by our greatest living critic.
Peter Gay
Americans have quarreled with God for nearly four centuries, and the most imaginative among them have been the most interesting. God and the American Writer, focusing on major poets, novelists, and elegant statesmen like Lincoln, pursues the great debate in a series of penetrating essays ranging from Hawthorne to Faulkner. Vintage Kazin.

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