Weinstein waxes rhapsodic about Literature and Life—and Death and Depression, too.
Perhaps it’s the author’s other career, as a flashy Brown University lecturer on world literature for The Teaching Company’s audio and video recordings, that creates an identity crisis for his sometimes brilliant, sometimes bloated text. Am I a motivational speech? it asks. A pyrotechnic lecture to animate stupefied sophomores? An esoteric article for my academic peers? A vocabulary lesson for those no longer challenged by the Reader’s Digest quiz? A florid paean to art and literature? An aw-shucks populist bath for the great unwashed in a bottomless pool of allusions? To all of the above: “yes.” Weinstein’s thesis, stated early and often, is that literature deals with the most fundamental issues of humanity. There are no relevant distinctions among heart and mind and muscle. Illness and pain are not metaphors. They are life. His title alludes to the scream of humanity that pervades our “house,” connecting us all. That scream, he argues, is the subject of great art and literature. An unapologetic Freudian, Weinstein alludes to just about every name in Western literature and art, with a special fondness for Proust, Shakespeare, Faulkner, Dickinson, Blake, Sophocles, Burroughs, Hawthorne, and on and on. He writes most eloquently about Edvard Munch, whose paintings prove nearly every argument the author advances. Although Weinstein says he’s aiming at just plain folk (“I have tried to write this book in the language of everyday speaking”), his diction often betrays him, and Mr. and Mrs. America will no doubt have to click on dictionary.com for somatic usurpation, alterity, hermeneutic, entropic, oneiric, and other polysyllabic peanuts in what is frequently not basic Cracker Jack prose. Every now and then, though, he reminds us that he’s just an ordinary guy, writing about Oedipus and Tiresias and Creon as “male honchos” who are “duking it out.”
Myriad allusions swarm like bees in this busy but ultimately ordinary hive. (b&w illustrations throughout)