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American Book Review to feature prolific writer, professor

March 21, 2010 at 11 p.m.
Updated March 20, 2010 at 10:21 p.m.

Book excerpt

"America's Hot Air Gods" from "The Barbaric Heart: Faith, Money and the Crisis of Nature" by Curtis White:

What we seem to require of belief is (certainly!) not that it make sense but that it be sincere. This is so even for our more secular convictions. Recently, for example, National Public Radio has revived Edward R. Murrow's "This I Believe" program and driven the idea of belief to one of its extremes: the trite. Here we can learn that belief is about the little things in life, like Jello. Or we can learn that you "should live every day to the fullest." Colin Powell, waxing banal, tells us that America is an immigrant country and a land of opportunity.

Clearly, this is not the spirituality of a centralized orthodoxy. It is a sort of workshop spirituality that you can get with a cereal box top and five dollars. And yet in this culture, to suggest that such belief is not deserving of respect makes people.anxious. This anxiety is expressed in the desperate sincerity with which we deliver life's little lessons. This sincerity is surely one part ardor but it is also a warning. It says, "I've invested a lot of emotional energy in this belief, and in a way I've staked the credibility of my life on it. So, if you question it, you can expect a fight." (The Taliban have perfected what might be called a Black Hole version of this tendency: a belief of such density that no light escapes at all. For the Taliban, the writing of this little parenthesis itself is a sort of death sentence for its author.)

But here in the West, there is an obvious problem with the spirituality of personal conviction: it is all done in isolation. Each of us at our computer terminals tapping out our convictions. It's as if we were each our own foreign country and we wanted to know what the people in the land of Ken or Brenda or Eduardo believe. How quaint their curious customs! How fascinating their rituals!

Looked at honestly, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that our truest belief is the credo of heresy itself. It is heresy without an orthodoxy. It is heresy as an orthodoxy. The entitlement to belief is the right to "each his own heresy." Religious freedom has come to this: where everyone is free to believe whatever she likes, there is no real shared conviction at all, and hence no church and certainly no community. Strangely, our freedom to believe has achieved the condition that Nietzsche called nihilism, but by a route he never imagined. For Nietzsche, European nihilism was the failure of any form of belief (a condition that church attendance in Europe presently testifies to). But American nihilism is something different. Our nihilism is our capacity to believe in everything and anything all at once. It's all good!

If you go

The American Book Review reading series will be at noon Thursday in the Alcorn Auditorium at the University of Houston-Victoria. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, call 361-570-4848 or go online to

The next speaker for the American Book Review is an internationally recognized voice in modern fiction and social commentary.

Curtis White, distinguished professor at Illinois State University, has written several widely acclaimed books, including seven novels, three nonfiction books and more than four dozen essays and short stories, according to the university.

His works have been published by not only academic presses, such as the University of Iowa Press, but also major publishing houses such as HarperCollins and Viking, and smaller presses such as Fiction Collective 2. Among his book titles are "Memories of My Father Watching TV," "The Middle Mind: Why American's Don't Think for Themselves," "Requiem" and most recently "The Barbaric Heart: Faith, Money and Crisis of Nature," according to an American Book Review news release.

His essays have appeared in Harper's Magazine, Orion and The Village Voice.

In 2007, White was appointed as a distinguished professor at Illinois State, for his prominence as a public intellectual, his mentorship to young writers and his extensive work and commitment in the small press industry to promote new and experimental writing, according to a 2007 university news release.

He has also won a National Endowment for the Arts and several Illinois Arts Council fellowships.

He has also been featured on National Public Radio and CSPAN.



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