American Literary Trait: Solitude with God and One's Imagination

Article excerpt

God and the American Writer

By Alfred Kazin

Alfred A. Knopf 272 pp., $25 The early church fathers brought with them to New England a hatred of fiction as deep as their unified faith in God. Ironically, over the past 400 years the model theocracy they hoped to create evolved into a capital of religious pluralism and entertainment hegemony. According to "God and the American Writer," Alfred Kazin's latest epistle on the canon, this remarkable religious history has posed special challenges for American authors trying to articulate their isolated visions to such a diverse audience. In a dozen essays that mix biography, historical analysis, literary criticism, and even personal experiences with some of the authors, Kazin discusses "the unavailing solitude" in which American writers from Hawthorne to Faulkner have struggled to communicate. The theological promise of his title is more subtle in the book itself. Indeed, several of the authors he presents had no clear religious interests. Kazin admits that he is "interested not in the artist's professions of belief but in the imagination he brings to his tale of religion in human affairs." In the irresistible egotism of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, Kazin sees writers from a culture "drenched in religion" choosing instead to posit their fervid individualism as their own special creed. He explains, "The American writer was so self-sufficient that if his art was entirely his own, so (if he had one) was his religion." Kazin explains his own definition of religion "as the most intimate expression of the human heart," he writes, "as the most secret of personal confessions, where we admit to ourselves alone our fears and our losses, our sense of holy dread and our awe...." As the greatest moral crisis in American history, slavery serves as the book's spine. …