John Wilson’s Brooding Spirit


In 1998, John Wilson, the founding and only editor of Books and Culture, wrote a column titled “America the Ugly.”  In that piece, Wilson described how he learned to acknowledge the “complexity and tragedy of American history.”  He thanked Mark Noll for refusing to “settle for rousing tales of the Founding Fathers.”

In a recent piece at First Things, Wilson comes at the issue of American identity from a different perspective:

Now that I think about it, I may need to contradict myself. After all, if large numbers of Americans actually believe that the state of the nation is so dire, despite all the evidence to the contrary, then it follows that we are living in a dystopia of sorts, a country in which a critical mass of the citizenry has lost all sense of proportion. That’s an unwelcome thought. But maybe the ranting voices we hear are not so representative as we’re led to believe. And maybe a lot of the people who are warning that we’re on the eve of destruction don’t really believe what they’re saying. That would be much better, more like business as usual. In any case, the Cubs are playing the Cardinals in a few minutes. It may not be the National Pastime any more, but baseball remains a sovereign remedy for a brooding spirit.

Read the entire piece here.

2 thoughts on “John Wilson’s Brooding Spirit

  1. As an SF litfan since the Seventies, all I can say is “To discover the worries and fears of a particular culture, read their Dystopias.”


  2. Wilson is perhaps somewhat over-subtle here. He draws a parallel between the fears of his MacArthur-loving, FDR-hating relatives back in the day, and what he sees as the hysterics of the anti-Trumpers now, but then concludes that the prevalence of the opinions of the latter might indeed justify a conclusion that we are “in a dystopia of sorts.” Is he implying that the fears of his relatives also indicated an America teetering on the edge of dystopia, or is he saying hysterical fear is apparently baked into our national temperament, and we should just accept its periodic outbreaks the way we accept other unfortunate things, like herpes, or fireworks, or Christmas music?


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