Monday, April 11, 2005

The new Boston Review is here and a worthwhile read, as usual. The theme is politics and religion, and there's a particularly useful article by Mike Gecan explaining the appeal of evangelical Christianity to ordinary Americans as THE major social force appealing to their sense of individual personhood, whereas the remannts of New Deal/Great Society programs insist on reducing them to statistical entities with statistical needs. Now I'm an atheist Unitarian Jew and I've long felt the notion of a personal relationship with God to be an act of monstrous solipsism (blasphemy if you like), mitigated by the fact that the people who need it most are those who need love and support and relationship the most and who aren't finding it anywhere else in our ruthless capitalist society. Reading Gecan's article, I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut's fundamental insight that the most devastating American affliction was loneliness: the novel Slapstick contains his fullest articulation of this idea, while the idea and its dialectical critique (sorta, kinda: Vonnegut's not the most rigorous thinker around) are presented in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. I haven't thought of either of those books in many years, but the man was onto something. So I agree with Gecan that progressives and liberals need to find a way to address, acknowledge, and respect people's desire to be persons, without falling into the trap of pandering aggrandizement. I may not believe in God, but I do believe in love as the fundamental social force (something Michael Hardt alluded to in his lecture). Clinton succeeded politically because he made you believe in his love (its efficacy in his case is another question). A political party can't love, but it can stimulate its members' individual capacities for it. I just wish people weren't so dependent on daddy-love, on the harsh ascetic love of a spiritualized Father. Love the earth, people. Love the one you're with.

Also some good poems in this issue (Sarah Manguso and Debbie Kuan are standouts for this reader), Cal Bedient on Jorie Graham's latest, and a review by Brian Kim Stefans of the new collected poems of W.S. Graham, a modernist English poet I've loved since finding his selected in Wessex Books in Menlo Park five years ago. There's an interesting page devoted to him over at Harold Pinter's website (who knew he had one?). The book is twenty-five English pounds in hardcover but hopefully it will make its way to our shores soon.

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