Hells & Benefits: A Report on American Minds, Matters, & Possibilities

Hells & Benefits: A Report on American Minds, Matters, & Possibilities

Hells & Benefits: A Report on American Minds, Matters, & Possibilities

Hells & Benefits: A Report on American Minds, Matters, & Possibilities

Excerpt

This book, a series of independent essays ridden by a theme, is about prospects for a recovery in America of belief in the variousness and pliancy of contemporary experience. It raises the possibility that certain fashionable tones and attitudes of the country's intellectual community stand as obstacles to such a recovery. Its bias is toward respect for some familiar virtues—hope, earnestness, intelligence. And its simple assumption is that at this moment the virtues named are everywhere undervalued and in a few quarters beleaguered.

To talk of beleaguerment is to set up a battlefield situation, and it may as well be admitted that, for a writer, this has attractions. A man who can think of himself as dealing damnation around the land—spanking the irresponsibles or the guilty liberals or the teenagers or the pedants— often makes a splash and sometimes makes good prose. (Ezra Pound claimed that most good prose arises "from an instinct of negation: in the detailed, convincing analysis of something detestable, or something which one wants to eliminate.") Only a poet-saint could pretend to be unmoved by either temptation. But the chance is slim that the audience of this collection will include readers who take their Evil straight, and in any event it is a fact that many of the attitudes and assumptions assessed here deserve neither outright condemnation nor celebration. Irony, for example, which figures below as an "obstacle," may not be a mode of salvation, yet it is a heady, delightful mode . . .

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