Posts tagged with: American literature

Bellow BiographyI’m slowly working my way through James Atlas’ biography of Saul Bellow, and I came to the section where Saul Bellow returns to his birthplace in Lachine, Quebec, for the dedication of the municipal library in his name. At the dedication he gave a speech, which includes this section:

I am here as a kind of testimony to the fact that it’s possible for a child from Lachine to do some things which have been called—not by me but by others—extraordinary. It also fits very well with my own resistance to that deterministic philosophy that tells you that the place that you come from makes you absolutely; it does not. The human soul has its own way to declare its own freedom and to develop itself in its own way, and it is not true to say: “Show me where you came from and I’ll tell you what you are.” That’s not the way things really are; we are people capable of freedom, and some of us are even willing to take chances for the sake of freedom: I see the thing that way. It is not necessary to be fully determined by one’s surroundings. Your mind and your spirit have their own liberty, and each individual should be loyal to that.

Stirring stuff, that.

But lest anyone misunderstand and think that Bellow was advocating merely a libertine individualism, we might consult the conclusion of his novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet, which as Myron Magnet writes, includes the connection between the freedom and the moral nature of the human soul. Thus, writes Magnet:

From page one of Mr. Sammler’s Planet, Bellow himself insists that, beyond the explanations we construct through Enlightenment reason, the soul has “its own natural knowledge.” We all have “a sense of the mystic potency of humankind” and “an inclination to believe in archetypes of goodness. A desire for virtue was no accident.” We all know that we must try “to live with a civil heart. With disinterested charity.” We must live a life “conditioned by other human beings.” We must try to meet the terms of the contract life sets us, as Sammler says in the astonishing affirmation with which Bellow ends his book. “The terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. . . . As all know. For that is the truth of it—that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know.”

“They say they want justice for Mike Brown,” says Mumtaz Lalani, an store owner in Ferguson, Missouri, “Is this justice? I don’t understand. What justice is this?

Lalani was referring to the looters who, on Saturday, robbed his store and attempted to burn it down.

The events in Ferguson are heartbreaking, but they will soon be all-but-forgotten. Within a few weeks the media—and the public’s limited attention—will move on to another story. Within a few months the criminal justice system will determine who is most responsible for the tragic death—whether it was Mike Brown or the officer who pulled the trigger. But the impact on Ferguson of the looting and riots will likely last for decades. And if other cities are any indication, Ferguson may never recover. As Fred Siegel explains,
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Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Like many people, I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Maya Angelou this week. Her voice – both her speaking voice and her literary one – were unique, rich and resonant. I’ve always wondered if God did not grant her such a special voice in order to make up for all the years she didn’t speak, the story she recounts in her classic, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

I had the great fortune of hearing Ms. Angelou speak in person a number of years ago. I still have the notes from that evening. One thing she said was that each of us was a teacher: we were all teaching those around us by the way we lived our lives. She challenged us to make sure that we were good teachers, to show others what it meant to live a good life. It is safe to say that she herself was a good teacher.

Michael Hyatt does a nice job of summarizing some of the most important lessons Maya Angelou taught us. First, she taught us that faith in God was the source of courage:

When I found that … I was a child of God,” Angelou told an interviewer about her faith, “when I understood that, when I comprehended that … when I internalized that, I became courageous. I dared to do anything that was a good thing.”

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Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
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You may have heard that Ayn Rand really disliked C.S. Lewis. But do you know what happened when Saul Bellow met Whittaker Chambers?
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Former editor of Poetry magazine Christian Wiman struggles, like many of us, to make sense of suffering and faith. His struggle is poetic:

God goes belonging to every riven thing.

He’s made the things that bring him near,

made the mind that makes him go.

A part of what man knows,

apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.

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james lee burkeEvery artist, whatever the medium, is a pale example of our Creator God, and the best artists know that. James Lee Burke, whose novels are full of violence and glimpses of evil, seems to be an unlikely candidate for drawing attention to “God’s thumbprint” in our world, but he consciously does just that.

In an interview with PBS’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Burke talks about how religion (specifically his Catholic faith) plays a role in his writing. His primary character is Dave Robicheaux, a Louisiana cop and alcoholic. (more…)