Today, we live in a culture that encourages too many people to openly voice their ill-considered opinions on some topic or another. Social media and the Internet in particular encourage this sort of banal form of communication and egotistical promotion of sense of self.
Thus, it is refreshing to come across a physical publication that contains some considered and authoritative commentary on some less popularist aspect of literature than the usual diet of horror, fantasy or erotica.
The Myth of the Enlightenment by poet and visionary Frederick Glaysher is a collection of essays that articulate his belief in the possibilities of a global, post-modernistic society based upon religious values that are acceptable to both the East and the West.
The book opens with an essay on the religious beliefs of the poet John Milton (1608–1674) and in particular of Milton’s pamphlet ‘Of True Religion’. This extends into a personal discourse on the nature and role of religion in society.
There then follows an essay on Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910), who was a writer with whom the author admits to having a deep and abiding interest.
Like Milton, who was a firm believer in the concept of universal religion, Tolstoy is surprisingly revealed as someone with deep spiritual interests and Glaysher records how the Russian novelist experienced a deep spiritual crisis following the completion of his epic ‘War and Peace’ from which he emerged to study philosophy.
Continuing with an assessment of Tolstoy, Glaysher describes in his next essay the circumstances surrounding his own introduction to the Russian writer—one that occurred whilst he was studying at university. He focuses this essay upon Tolstoy’s ‘Hadji Murad’ and the subjects connection to a Sufi group that was an offshoot of Islam
Another poet that was instrumental in the formative years of the authors life was Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941). It was his poem ‘Reminiscences’ that impacted so greatly upon Glaysher.
In this essay, he cites him as one of the most important global voices of the modern era. He describes as
the W B Yeats of India.
Glaysher’s next essay deals with plagiarism—something that Tagore was accused of but which, as the author points out, was also an aspect of the work of William Shakespeare, T S Eliot and Thomas Mann.
From this point of entry, the author considers the possible positive impact of Eastern spiritual philosophy on the West.
The next essay opens with the author’s personal reflection of Saul Bellows (1915–2005) and his novel ‘Ravelstein’. The essay closes with consideration of the existence of God and the writings of Allan Bloom.
Robert Hayden is also the subject of the next essay in The Myth of the Enlightenment. This time, the author reveals a little more of his own personal life and the poets that have influenced his career decisions.
Glaysher was given the opportunity to study with Hayden at the University of Michigan and he reflects upon the fact that, as a young student, he was particularly struck by Hayden’s confrontation within his writings of injustice and modernity.
Here, Glaysher quotes extensively from Hyden’s own published poetic commentaries on violence and warfare.
Moving on in time, but back in history, Glaysher then shares his opinion of Aristotle (347 BCE).
Here are revealed some of the core influences that forged the concepts behind Glaysher’s own deep desire to compose an epic poem of Aristolian magnitude. The result was ‘The Parliament of Poets‘ (published in 2012).
Next, the reader is introduced to the concept of decadence as defined and explored by Jacques Barzun (1907–2012).
At this point, Glaysher reveals his own personal cynicism towards modern culture and its inherent decadence. He later counter-balances this with a candid acceptance of the opportunity for mankind to embrace a more universal concept for the human experience. This essay is easily the longest in this collection and equally the most challenging regarding the nature of spiritual philosophy.
Part Two of The Myth of the Enlightenment features reviews and interviews.
Starting with an appraisal of Ben Johnson’s ‘Bartholomew Fair’, it is followed by a vitriolic discourse on the decline in the humanities on offering the American education system. Here, Glaysher advocates a new global vision of life on this planet to act as a precursor to a new way of teaching at a higher standard of thought.
The next extract dates from the year 2000 and deals with political activist Fang Lizhi (1936–2012) and the delicate subject of human rights in China. Lizhi was believed by the Chinese authorities to have organized the student pro-democracy demonstrations in the country in 1986.
More commentary then follows on China and the author’s own personal experience of the country along with his observances on the nature of its political system. This includes commentary on pro-democracy advocate Harry Wu (b.1937) and the activists bitter struggle to change the labor-reform system.
Politics more closely related to home emerges in Gaysher’s next commentary—this time on the constant usurping and under-mining of the United Nations by the United States of America.
In the next essay, the work of poet Daniel Rifenburgh is considered followed by an interview between the author and Orrin Judd. It focusses upon The Bower of Nil before leading the author into part three of this collection of essays, titled ‘Race in America’.
Here, Glaysher returns to reflect upon the influence that his mentor and university lecturer, Robert Hayden, had on his life and career.
Hayden was part-African and part-Irish, which placed him in the unenviable position of suffering prejudice from both sides. For him, issues of race were significant factors in his life.
This emphasis on race relations closes with Glaysher revealing his own close experience with race and ethnicity during the time that he was growing up in Detroit during the 1960s and 1970s and through the era of local race riots.
The Myth of the Enlightenment closes with a short series of further essays and commentaries on the subject of race relations in America.
Whilst comparatively divergent in their make-up and composition, the essays in The Myth of the Enlightenment form an enjoyable collection of insightful and erudite commentaries on spirituality and the nature of being human.
At times, the essays reveal the author’s clearly deep emotional and philosophical beliefs and the passion that oozes from out of the text is thoroughly commendable.
This is, however, a publication that embraces a large amount of literary criticism and, as a result, much of it will resonate only to those with a firm grounding in poetry and philosophy.
Nevertheless, it is through the author’s direction and guidance that this book opens up some potentially fascinating and educationally rewarding terrain.
The Myth of the Enlightenment is a rich tapestry of insight and personal reflection that many poets and lovers of a free world will gladly embrace.