God and the American Writer by Alfred Kazin

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God and the American Writer does more to illuminate the fundamental purposes and motivations of our greatest writers from Hawthorne to Faulkner than any study I have read in the past fifty-five years--that is, since the same author's On Native Grounds.
--Louis S. Auchincloss

This is the culminating work of the finest living critic of American literature.  Alfred Kazin brings a lifetime of thought and reading to the triumphant elucidation of his fascinating and slippery subjects: what the meaning of God has been for American writers, and how those writers, from the New England Calvinists to William Faulkner, have expressed it. In a series of trenchant critical studies of writers as divergent as Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, Lincoln, Whitman, Dickinson, Twain, William James, Eliot, Frost, and Faulkner, Kazin gives a profound sense of each, and his quotations from their works are artfully chosen to pursue the main theme. The centerpiece of the book is the reflection in American writing of the great American tragedy, the Civil War--so deeply involved in the whole complex issue of religion in America.  An enthralling book by a major writer.

"This is a book about the place of God in the imaginative life of a country that for two centuries countenanced slavery and then engaged in a fratricidal war to end it. For Americans no subject is more compelling or, in its entanglement with the deepest roots of the national soul, more terrible. And no one has ever written as incisively, as movingly, or as unforgivingly about it as Alfred Kazin has here."
--Louis Menand

"In the era of willful obfuscation, Alfred Kazin is the good, clear word, a brilliant scholar and an original reader. His latest book, God and the American Writer, which comes fifty-five years after On Native Grounds, proves he has lost nothing and gives us everything he has."
--David Remnick

"American writers have been born into all sorts of religious sects, but have had to struggle in solitude to make sense of God. Alfred Kazin, a cosmos unto himself, has written brilliantly and affectingly of how a dozen or so of our finest authors--poets, novelists, philosophers, and one president--endured and illuminated that struggle. Kazin is sometimes passionate, even fierce, especially in his discussions of slavery and of his hero (and mine), Abraham Lincoln. But, as ever, Kazin's writing is tempered by an enormous American empathy and by his sense of irony about our country and its spiritual predicaments. Spare, sharp, and immensely learned, God and the American Writer is the most moving volume of criticism yet by our greatest living critic."
--Sean Wilentz

About Alfred Kazin

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Alfred Kazin, a literary critic and professor of English literature, was born in Brooklyn and educated at City College and Columbia University. Kazin established his own critical reputation in the mid-1940s with On Native Grounds (1942), a study of American literature. He started work on it at the suggestion of Carl Van Doren in 1939 while, he explains, "half-heartedly doing a master's essay at Columbia on Gibbon and wondering what would ever become of me or of the maddening age." His later work, Bright Book of American Life (1973), is both a recapitulation of modernism and an evaluation of American writers who have achieved prominence since 1945. Modernism, a favorite topic of Kazin, is in his view a literary revolution marked by spontaneity and individuality but lacking in precisely the mass culture appeal necessary to its survival. Contemporaries (1962) includes reflective essays on travel, five essays on Freud, and some very perceptive essays on literary and political matters. The final section, "The Critic's Task," concerns itself with the critic's function within a popular and an academic context and with critical theory and principles. Starting Out in the Thirties (1965) describes Kazin's early years with The New Republic as book reviewer and evaluates his contemporaries in a period when the depression and radical political thought, pro and con, deeply affected literary production. In the midst of the current antihumanistic trend in literary theory, Kazin remains a literary critic of the old school, believing in the relevance of literature to modern life. Alfred Kazin died on June 5, 1998.
Published September 11, 2013 by Vintage. 287 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for God and the American Writer

Kirkus Reviews

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Writing with his usual stylistic verve and penetration, Kazin examines our great authors' uneasy but self-sufficient sense of God.

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Publishers Weekly

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Writing with the full force of his crisp and lucid style, Kazin (On Native Grounds) is chiefly concerned with demonstrating how each of the 12 major writers he covers traded heavily on their own doubts and discarded conventional Christian faith to invent a personal version of God.

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Project MUSE

From the beginning, Kazin writes, the mass of people in the United States have adhered to a “politicized, intolerant, and paranoiac religion,” but significant American writers have been radical individualists who “resist being on the side of the mob.” He devotes a chapter to each of twelve writer...

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