God and the American Writerby Alfred Kazin
Louis S. Auchincloss
This is the culminating work of the finest living critic of American
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 yearsthat 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 Warso 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."
"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."
"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 authorspoets, novelists, philosophers, and one presidentendured 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."
The New York Review of Books
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.
- Knopf Publishing Group
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Meet the Author
Alfred Kazin was born in Brooklyn in 1915. His first book of criticism, On Native Grounds (1942), was a groundbreaking study of American literature that changed radically our way of looking at it, and established him overnight as a major figure. In a series of books of his own since then, and in many critically edited texts of classic American literary works, he has established himself as our preeminent man of letters. He has taught widely at Harvard, Smith, Amherst, Hunter College, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and elsewhere. In 1996 he received from the Truman Capote Literary Trust its first Lifetime Achievement Award in Literary Criticism (in memory of Newton Arvin). He lives in New York City.
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