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Reporting the Universe
by E. L. Doctorow
Harvard University Press, 2003
Cloth: 978-0-674-00461-0 | Paper: 978-0-674-01628-6
Library of Congress Classification PS3554.O3Z475 2003
Dewey Decimal Classification 813.54


"The writer," according to Emerson, "believes all that can be thought can be written...In his eyes a man is the faculty of reporting, and the universe is the possibility of being reported." And what writer worth his name, E. L. Doctorow asks, will not seriously, however furtively, take on the universe? Human consciousness, personal history, American literature, religion, and politics--these are the far-flung coordinates of the universe that Doctorow reports here, a universe that uniquely and brilliantly reflects our contemporary scene.

Rich with philosophical asides, historical speculations, personal observations, and literary judgments, Reporting the Universe ranges from the circumstances of Doctorow's own boyhood and early work to the state of modern society. An account of the "Childhood of a Writer," along with pieces on Kenyon College and the author's first novel, comprise a pocket-sized memoir. In reflections on Emerson, on "texts that are sacred, texts that are not," and on literature and religion Doctorow concerns himself with the status and fate of literature. And in "Why We Are Infidels" and "The Politics of God" he engages some of the most pressing anxieties and ideologies of our day.

This series of reflections comes together as an artfully sustained meditation on American consciousness and experience, discrete episodes converging, as in the author's fiction, to form a luminous whole--a "report" by turns touching and funny, ironic and exalted, and, in its unique way, universally to the point.

Table of Contents:

Childhood of a Writer
Texts That Are Sacred, Texts That Are Not
First Novel
The Little Bang
Why We Are Infidels
The Politics of God
The Civil Religion
Canto XXV
Apprehending Reality
Paradise Lost
Literature as Religion

Reviews of this book:
Whether he's contemplating the irony of our "God-soaked country" being officially secular, or his father's love of Edgar Allan Poe, "our greatest bad writer" (for whom he was named Edgar), or deriding the "mendacity" of politicians, Doctorow is here, as in his fiction, a wordsmith of the first order. It's a pleasure to read these essays--some autobiographical, some literary, some dealing with issues of the day--full of memorable phrases and evocative images, as well as incisive ideas.
--Publishers Weekly

As Reporting the Universe (the phrase is Emerson's) unfolds with its piquant and enlightening blend of the personal, the aesthetic, and the political, Doctorow uses the axis between the secular and the religious to take measure of the transcendent powers of literature and key ethical issues in post-September 11 America. As he forthrightly contrasts the rigidity of fundamentalism with the fluidity of intellectual and artistic explorations, Doctorow, who always works on deep, even mythic levels, creating brilliant arguments out of breathtaking metaphors, perceives great danger in the current blurring of the line between church and state, and in the enormous influence of corporate interests on governmental policy. Ultimately, this potent collection of elegantly distilled essays offers a fresh perspective on our species' capacity for both the sublime and the horrific.
--Donna Seaman, Booklist

Doctorow's essays...start as a personal memoir, and unfurl into a sharp look at the state of America, its soul and its literature, all perceptively portrayed via one another. On the way through this fascinating melange, Doctorow illuminates the business of writing and reading, the two central occupations of his own life, through which his America appears framed.
--A. C. Grayling, Financial Times (UK)

Elegantly written and bracingly thoughtful.
--Peter Terzian, Newsday

There hasn't been such a generous batch of essays in the decade since his own Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution.
--John Leonard, New York Review of Books

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