26 April 2011


Last night I was able to meet with the book club, Legit Lit. It is another brainchild of Chad Cunningham's to adorn the intellectual pillar of Vandy Catholic. It was the last discussion on Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. Warren was selected for his connection to the literary tradition at Vanderbilt -- which the university seems happy to forget!

I was happy to revisit this book, which I had studied in high school under the direction of a great teacher, George Hazard. As an adult, I saw so much that I had not seen as an adolescent. On both readings, I liked the book very much. I like it more now. At the end of the day and practically the end of the book, I see it to be about love. Jack Burden, at least, lives in a world constrained by theories and ideals. People are merely the props for the "Great Twitch", etc. But something changes at the end. We are on course for a formulaic and deterministic, Greek tragedy-type ending; and suddenly the Furies are silenced. We end up with a comedy, in the medieval sense -- a happy ending with reconciliation and even marriage. People start to matter. Willie Stark is a great man. Sugar Boy is pitied. Jack's mother becomes sympathetic. Jack starts to care about people, not ideals or systems. Of course, it is all wildly subjective, all from Jack's point of view.

Everyone at the end of the book is worse off in a worldly sense but better off spiritually. They are not all good, but they are all free to be good. No more "Great Twitches." This is simply the Christian view of humanity. (Warren even reconciles Calvinism to the light!) We could learn a lesson from this book. Our public discourse and private reasoning is all full of the kind of thing Jack used to do, jumping from one determinism to another: from liberal intervention to libertarian aloofness. It is all the same -- ideals, not people. Warren asserts that Mind is not over matter! Matter matters, especially human matter, all entwined with ideals but not subjected to them.

Sorry for such a strange post.

P.S. This is what is important about teaching literature in high school. See Sr. Margaret Andrew's talk at the NCEA today: "What is at Stake in Literature Classes."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess the emphasis on the
human person is one of the reasons
that praying at the abortion
clinic has been so meaningful for
me. I can look at a young woman
as if she were my own child and
she was carrying my grandchild. I
can pray that she see her child as
I do--a gift from God meant to
change her, the father, the grand-
parents for the better if only
they can respond as God intends.
One writer spoke of areas of the
human heart brought into existence
that wouldn't have otherwise come
into being. This goes beyond
politics or ideology. I can gaze
upon my extended family and see
the truth of it.