Webinar Vignettes

Peter will return soon with the end of his marriage saga–It promises to be interesting.

Meanwhile, I want to offer a few vignettes from my webinars. The first is re: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.

This impressive novel is one of the few unchallenged classics of modern American literature. Stephen Crane’s immense talent is everywhere evident in his great work. This is not to say, though, that Crane’s vision is correct. No, Crane’s novel is full of Naturalism–a germinating and menacing world view still spreading across America. The Naturalistic stories and novels of Stephen Crane truly mark the maturation of modernity. Major revealing features of modernity are an unrestrained, individual freedom–the goal of which is to liberate one from all restrictions, constraints, traditions, and all social patterning–all of which are ipso facto presumed to be dehumanizing. Modernity has a contempt for other viewpoints. Ironically in its nihilistic pursuit of tolerance it becomes intolerant! Modernity is reductionist Naturalism. What does the word “reductionist” mean? Yes, Crane’s works are wholly modern in both philosophy and technique. While remnants of Romanticism may be found in the poems of Dickinson and Whitman, and some in Melville, none remains in Crane. At one point Henry faces death and “he had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death. He was a man.” The man Crane and his contemporaries create is not the man created in the image of God, the man who is precious and vital, but a man in a mob, a man who has no future. Crane offers his reader no salvation, no hope. Crane only validates the now, the sensory touch, the empirical.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, by the way, Many historians argue that we are in a post-modern era. Now, many Americans are suspicious of science and any authority. This viewpoint has as a central credo: “Anything goes if I believe it sincerely.” Stephen Crane brought us well along on this slippery trail.

In the scheme of things The Red Badge of Courage and Naturalism ushered in a new philosophical era. It was one of the genuinely new cultural events in American history. It was not to be the last.

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