Wednesday, November 15, 2006

'God-fearing' Literature

Islamists wish to besiege and destroy Western civilization, physically for certain, but also by taking a leaf from Vladimir Lenin and obliging the West to use the rope of multiculturalism to hang itself. That is proving to be a very effective strategy against a culture that proclaims pride and self-assertion as "imperialistic" sins. And when such a culture settles for paying Dane geld or tribute to the barbarian hordes outside its gates, all it can expect in the end is conquest and destruction.

Non-Islamic university professors of literature, as well, bear an animus for Western civilization. Under the postmodernist tie-dyed banner of deconstruction, feminist criticism, and other non-objective literary theories, they are responsible for having virtually banished the "canon" of Western literary classics from the curricula in middle and secondary schools, in community colleges up to the Ivy League schools. And where the classics haven't been banished, they are subjected to relativistic vivisection. Instead of instilling in students an appreciation of great literature, courses now mostly disparage "great" literature and uphold mediocrity.

Conservative literary "theory," however, has a unique "counter-revolutionary" color to it. I received via email an ad for a book being promoted by the Human Events Book Service, The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, by Elizabeth Kantor. "What politically correct English professors don't want you to know," reads a boxed promo next to a picture of the book's cover. At first glance, the lead copy about the book looks benign and inviting.

"The study of literature is essential to preserving Western Culture and transmitting it to future generations. Yet today's English departments have come under the control of people who teach anything but the English and American literary classics. Even when the subject is Shakespeare or Faulkner, the professor's own politics - Marxism, feminism, or some other radical agenda - will be the real content of the course. Meanwhile, today's politically correct professors are busy replacing the 'dead white males' of the traditional literary canon with the authors of the 1980s bestsellers that hit all the politically correct themes."
The charges are indisputable. Kantor's book is a purported overview of the classics, what they are about and not about. A bulleted list of its value to readers, among other things, asserts that it "empowers you to see through every variety of politically correct 'literary theory,' such as 'deconstruction,'" and also "explains the real purpose of studying English and American literature."

Going by bulleted highlights of the contents, however, beginning with Beowulf and ending with Flannery O'Connor, the purpose of studying that literature is to discover or reaffirm its alleged Christian roots.

Of Christopher Marlowe: "Being 'transgressive' will take you only so far - in art, and in life." Marlowe, playwright and a contemporary of Shakespeare, was an atheist and something of a hellion who died in a tavern fight.

Of John Milton: "Our intellectual freedoms are Christian, not anti-Christian, in origin." Milton was a Christian, but I doubt he would agree with that assertion.

Of the Romantic poets: "Intelligent radicals become conservatives when they grow up - if they grow up." There are a number of conservatives at large today in the intellectual and political world who were intelligent left-wing radicals, David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens being two of the better-known "grown-ups."

Of the avant-garde and modernist literature: "Christianity trumps the edgy art world." This is a baffling assertion. Picasso paints a recognizable Virgin Mary? John Cage composes a melodic Mass? Ezra Pound writes a mystery play?

Of Evelyn Waugh: "Without religion, human beings are disgustingly selfish and shallow - and in abandoning Christianity, our culture will shrivel and die." I counter by pointing out that America is nominally Christian, and its culture is still shriveling and dying. So, there must be another explanation for its condition. Also, being selfish is not synonymous with being shallow, and selflessness can only lead to shallowness - and death.

Of T.S. Eliot: "Tradition is necessary to culture." But not thinking men? Leave it to a conservative to shill for tradition.

Of Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, and Twain: "Evil isn't 'back there' or 'out there'; it's in the human heart." To which I would reply: Speak for yourself. What is evil is the concept of original sin.

Of William Faulkner and Southern literature in general: "Civilization is valuable. A fatally flawed culture beats no culture at all." Such as the stifling religious culture that dominated the Dark Ages? It was such a flawed culture that the men of the Renaissance and Enlightenment escaped from or rose above.

Of Flannery O'Connor: "Even modern American liberals aren't immune to original sin." O'Connor, a devout Southern Catholic, wrote "Gothic" novels with pungently surreal religious themes as horrifying as "Nightmare on Elm Street."

I do not plan to read this book, but I am betting that Ayn Rand's "classics" are not discussed in it. A conservative, religious take on literature is as invalid, bizarre, and irrational as that of any deconstructionist's or postmodernist's.


Ed Cline said...

I should emphasize that my remarks about Dr. Kantor's book are directed at the ad for it. I do not know if the publisher wrote the ad copy, or Human Events. But, it is unlikely that Human Events would carry the ad unless the book was written from a strong Christian, "conservative" slant.

jpbenney said...


"Christianity trumps the edgy art world."

you might want to read Robert Inchausti's impressive book Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries , and Other Christians in Disguise. Both Kantor and Inchausti show the religious attraction of many artists in the 1920s - a trend which really only ended with the emergence in the 1970s of nihilistic punk and AC/DC.