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Radiant Truths

Radiant Truths: Essential Dispatches, Reports, Confessions, and Other Essays on American Belief

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Radiant Truths
    Book Description:

    Beginning with Walt Whitman singing hymns at a wounded soldier's bedside during the Civil War, this surprising and vivid anthology ranges straight through to the twenty-first century to end with Francine Prose crying tears of complicated joy at the sight of Whitman's words in Zuccotti Park during the brief days of the Occupy movement. The first anthology of its kind,Radiant Truthsgathers an exquisite selection of writings by both well-known and forgotten American authors and thinkers, each engaged in the challenges of writing about religion, of documenting "things unseen." Their contributions to the genre of literary journalism-the telling of factual stories using the techniques of fiction and poetry-make this volume one of the most exciting anthologies of creative nonfiction to have emerged in years.Jeff Sharlet presents an evocative selection of writings that illuminate the evolution of the American genre of documentary prose. Each entry may be savored separately, but together the works enrich one another, engaging in an implicit and continuing conversation that reaches across time and generations.Including works by:Walt Whitman • Henry David Thoreau • Mark Twain • Meridel Le Sueur • Zora Neale Hurston • Mary McCarthy • James Baldwin • Norman Mailer • Ellen Willis • Anne Fadiman • John Jeremiah Sullivan • Francine Prose • Garry Wills •and many others

    eISBN: 978-0-300-20696-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: This Mutant Genre
    (pp. 1-16)

    The title of the 1919 poem by Marianne Moore from which I’ve borrowed these lines is “Poetry.” But its paradox—imaginary gardens with real toads in them—is at the heart of literary journalism, the practice of using fictional techniques to write factual stories. This poem, for instance, is a fact, a real toad; my appropriation of it, my arrangement of the facts, is the garden.

    Moore kept revising “Poetry” for five decades. The version she published in her 1967Complete Poemsdid away with all of the above, leaving only three curmudgeonly lines.² (Strictures of copyright law prevent me...

  5. From Specimen Days (1863/1882)
    (pp. 17-24)

    But it was the tug of Saturday evening, and through the night and Sunday morning, I wanted to make a special note of. It was largely in the woods, and quite a general engagement. The night was very pleasant, at times the moon shining out full and clear, all Nature so calm in itself, the early summer grass so rich, and the foliage of the trees—yet there the battle raging, and many good fellows lying helpless, with new accessions to them, and every minute amid the rattle of muskets and crash of cannon, (for there was an artillery contest...

  6. From The Maine Woods (1864)
    (pp. 25-38)

    At length we reached an elevation sufficiently bare to afford a view of the summit, still distant and blue, almost as if retreating from us. A torrent, which proved to be the same we had crossed, was seen tumbling down in front, literally from out of the clouds. But this glimpse at our whereabouts was soon lost, and we were buried in the woods again. The wood was chiefly yellow birch, spruce, fir, mountain-ash, or round-wood, as the Maine people call it, and moose-wood. It was the worst kind of traveling; sometimes like the densest scrub-oak patches with us. The...

  7. From Innocents Abroad (1869)
    (pp. 39-50)

    Gray lizards, those heirs of ruin, of sepulchres and desolation, glided in and out among the rocks or lay still and sunned themselves. Where prosperity has reigned, and fallen; where glory has flamed, and gone out; where beauty has dwelt, and passed away; where gladness was, and sorrow is; where the pomp of life has been, and silence and death brood in its high places, there this reptile makes his home, and mocks at human vanity. His coat is the color of ashes: and ashes are the symbol of hopes that have perished, of aspirations that came to nought, of...

  8. Maggie Darling (1894)
    (pp. 51-68)

    Christ was a man. It is therefore easier to conceive of him as a pilgrim tramp, footsore and hungry, resting his weary limbs among the bums in the police station, than to conceive of his marred image in a female shape. But the woman-Christ like the child-Christ, either as the Christ of the Dolorous Way or as the redeeming and regenerating Savior, is a conception which must never be lost sight of.

    The Christian Church, which for more than a thousand years has consecrated its proudest temples to the memory of the Magdalen, is a witness throughout the ages to...

  9. Dead After Purim (1898)
    (pp. 69-74)

    Harris Freedman of 28 Orchard Street celebrated Purim like the good, pious Jew that he was. His religion bids the sons of Israel make merry on the fourteenth of Adar, and he did. In the morning he attended the reading of the Book of Esther at the synagogue. Willy, his twelve-year-old boy, Purim rattle in hand, was with him, and every time the Master Reader called out Haman’s full name, Harris nudged the little fellow not to miss his chance. “Give it to him, my child!” he would say. “Make it hot for the enemy of the Jews, my darling.”...

  10. The Ordination of Asoka (1903)
    (pp. 75-88)

    My invitation came from Oo-Dhamma-Nanda. That was his name “in religion.” Earlier he had been indicated by another, which implied, to those who knew it, an Irish diver employed in the pearl fisheries of Ceylon. But since the pearl-diver had gone forever, so, naturally, had his patronymic. There remained a priest of the yellow robe of Buddha called Oo-Dhamma-Nanda—“Lord of the Law of Happiness.” He himself chose the designation, he told me. “You were not afraid,” I said, “of such a name?”

    “Oh, not at all,” he replied. “I thought I’d like it.”

    He sat looking at me steadily...

  11. The Devil Baby at Hull-House (1916)
    (pp. 89-108)

    The knowledge of the existence of the Devil Baby burst upon the residents of Hull-House one day when three Italian women, with an excited rush through the door, demanded that he be shown to them. No amount of denial convinced them that he was not there, for they knew exactly what he was like, with his cloven hoofs, his pointed ears and diminutive tail; moreover, the Devil Baby had been able to speak as soon as he was born and was most shockingly profane.

    The three women were but the forerunners of a veritable multitude; for six weeks the streams...

  12. Yearning Mountaineers’ Souls Need Reconversion Nightly (1925)
    (pp. 109-118)

    Dayton, Tenn., July 13.—There is a Unitarian clergyman here from New York, trying desperately to horn into the trial and execution of the infidel Scopes. He will fail. If Darrow ventured to put him on the stand the whole audience, led by the jury, would leap out of the court-house windows, and take to the hills. Darrow himself, indeed, is as much as they can bear. The whisper that he is an atheist has been stilled by the bucolic make-up and by the public report that he has the gift of prophecy and can reconcile Genesis and evolution. Even...

  13. I Was Marching (1934)
    (pp. 119-132)

    I have never been in a strike before. It is like looking at something that is happening for the first time and there are no thoughts and no words yet accrued to it. If you come from the middle class, words are likely to mean more than an event. You are likely to think about a thing, and the happening will be the size of a pin point and the words around the happening very large, distorting it queerly. It’s a case of “Remembrance of Things Past.” When you are in the event, you are likely to have a distinctly...

  14. Hoodoo (1935)
    (pp. 133-150)

    Now I was in New Orleans and I asked. They told me Algiers, the part of New Orleans that is across the river to the west. I went there and lived for four months and asked. I found women reading cards and doing mail order business in names and insinuations of well known factors in conjure. Nothing worth putting on paper. But they all claimed some knowledge and link with Marie Leveau. From so much of hearing the name I asked everywhere for this Leveau and everybody told me differently. But from what they said I was eager to know...

  15. Artists in Uniform (1953)
    (pp. 151-170)

    “Pour it on, Colonel,” cried the young man in the Dacron suit excitedly, making his first sortie into the club-car conversation. His face was white as Roquefort and of a glistening, cheese-like texture; he had a shock of tow-colored hair, badly cut and greasy, and a snub nose with large gray pores. Under his darting eyes were two black craters. He appeared to be under some intense nervous strain and had sat the night before in the club car drinking bourbon with beer chasers and leafing magazines which he frowningly tossed aside, like cards into a discard heap. This morning...

  16. From “Down at the Cross” (1962)
    (pp. 171-184)

    I was frightened, because I had, in effect, been summoned into a royal presence. I was frightened for another reason, too. I knew the tension in me between love and power, between pain and rage, and the curious, the grinding way I remained extended between these poles—perpetually attempting to choose the better rather than the worse. But this choice was a choice in terms of a personal, a private better (I was, after all, a writer); what was its relevance in terms of a social worse? Here was the South Side—a million in captivity—stretching from this doorstep...

  17. From The Armies of the Night (1968)
    (pp. 185-198)

    Since the parking lot was huge as five football fields, and just about empty, for they were the first arrivals, the terminus of the March was without drama. Nor was the Pentagon even altogether visible from the parking lot. Perhaps for that reason, a recollection returned to Mailer of that instant (alive as an open nerve) when they had seen it first, walking through the field, just after the March had left the road on the Virginia side of the Potomac; there, topping a rise, it appeared, huge in the near distance, not attractive. Somehow, Mailer had been anticipating it...

  18. Whittier: First Day (1970)
    (pp. 199-218)

    Nixon spent the last weekend before election 1968 in Los Angeles, at the posh tiered Century Plaza Hotel, site of a big demonstration and semiriot when President Johnson stayed there (we now have many such unmonumented battlefields). Nixon was resting, readying himself for the ordeal of the campaign’s last hours—the election eve telethon; the long flight back on election day; then the eerie time he has known so often, waiting for the oracle that issues piecemeal from election booths to be put together, less and less enigmatic as the night passes, pronouncing his future.

    He needed rest. He had...

  19. Truth and Consequences (1977)
    (pp. 219-234)

    “The first commandment,” said Reb Noach, “is to know there is a God.” We were resuming a conversation we had started a few days earlier. “The disease of Western thought,” he had said then, “is: ‘There is no absolute truth.’ But it’s intuitively obvious that either something is true or it isn’t. Listen—‘There is no absolute truth.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are youabsolutelysure?’” I could afford to laugh. I believed something was true or it wasn’t; I just didn’t think we could know for sure which was which. “They call us fanatics. But a fanatic is someone...

  20. Shochets (1987)
    (pp. 235-256)

    Shochetsare slaughterers, ritual slaughterers, Orthodox Jews who kill animals according to an ancient code that divides the world of flesh into things clean and unclean. The killing they do is religiously sanctioned, conducted according to an intricate set of laws that link men with God by sanctifying the most elemental acts. What they do is a sacrament, like the taking of bread and wine, a religious service commanded by God, that permits others to obey Him. From what I had read, a kosher kill is quicker and less painful than the one I’d seen in Omaha, done with a...

  21. From The Rainy Season (1989)
    (pp. 257-270)

    I couldn’t tell what was happening. I’d been back and forth to Haiti four or five times by now, but things were getting out of control, and I couldn’t always understand what I saw. On the street outside St.-Jean-Bosco, Father Aristide’s small yellow church, a crowd of five or six hundred had massed, carrying branches and beating on wooden blocks. I didn’t see Aristide anywhere; this was unusual. Typically, the first thing you noticed when you came to St.-Jean-Bosco was Aristide—the priest who had lectured me after Duvalier fell—surrounded by a group of young people, talking. This time,...

  22. Arguing with the Pope (1994)
    (pp. 271-306)

    I am Roman Catholic in the way my eyes are brown—it is not a condition from which I can, or wish to, escape. But from time to time my love for my Church is sorely tested, as it was when I went to Denver last summer to see the Pope (who had designated the week of August 11 to August 15 as World Youth Day). I had no way of knowing at the time that an encyclical—a pastoral letter to the whole Church, designed to protect the faithful from “fundamental error”—would soon be published. On October 5...

  23. Under the Brush Arbor (1995)
    (pp. 307-320)

    The card he pressed into my hand read: “Charles McGlocklin, the End-Time Evangelist.” “You can have as much of God as you want,” he said. His voice was low and urgent. “These seminary preachers don’t understand that. They don’t understand the spirit of the Lord. They’re taught by man. They know theformsof godliness, but they deny thepower.

    Brother Charles was a big man in his early fifties with a full head of dark hair and hands the size of waffle irons. He didn’t have a church himself, and he didn’t particularly want one. He’d preached on the...

  24. The Sacrifice (1997)
    (pp. 321-334)

    Long before Shee Yee turned into a tiny red ant and bit the evildabon the testicle, he spent three years apprenticed to a sorcerer. He learned how to change himself into anything he wished, to killdabs,to fly like the wind, to heal the sick, and to raise the dead. Shee Yee’s services as a healer were sorely needed, because there was much illness in the world.

    This is how the illness had come. The wife of a wicked god named Nyong laid an egg as large as a pig house. For three years, the egg did...

  25. Heartland, Kansas (2004)
    (pp. 335-348)

    Pagans aren’t supposed to tell their Craft names to strangers but Candy Ayres, also known as Elowen Graywolf, was a “crone,” already a senior witch and a grandma at 47, which meant that even though she couldn’t twiggle her nose to make the dinner dishes disappear, it was in her power to grant an exception with the help of a little magic.

    “That’s m-a-g-i-c-k,” Elowen told us.

    “What’s thek, for?”

    “Keep David Copperfield Away.”

    No hocus-pocus for her, no card tricks. To cast the spell needed to let us in on her magickal identity, Elowen simply shook her hands...

  26. Upon This Rock (2004)
    (pp. 349-384)

    It is wrong to boast, but in the beginning, my plan was perfect. I was assigned to cover the Cross-Over Festival in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, three days of the top Christian bands and their backers at some isolated midwestern fairground. I’d stand at the edge of the crowd and take notes on the scene, chat up the occasional audience member (“What’s harder—homeschooling or regular schooling?”), then flash my pass to get backstage, where I’d rap with the artists themselves. The singer could feed me his bit about how all music glorifies Him, when it’s performed with a...

  27. The Aftermath (2006)
    (pp. 385-398)

    A woman walked through the valley, toward the funerals. She wore black. The field was harvested and empty, and she moved across it slow and straight, like an earthbound raven.

    In the pale landscape, only she moved. She and a piece of caution tape, caught in the wind. Yellow. A color so familiar by now that it worked against its nature. Instead of warning the curious, it drew them in, promising thatYes, it happened here.Flickering in the wind.Right here.

    Jack from Boston grinned. He flashed a little camera in his pocket. “How close can we get?” he...

  28. Untitled (2011)
    (pp. 399-402)

    As far as I can understand it myself, here’s why I burst into tears at the Occupy Wall Street camp. I was moved, first of all, by what everyone notices first: the variety of people involved, the range of ages, races, classes, colors, cultures. In other words, the 99 percent. I saw conversations taking place between people and groups of people whom I’ve never seen talking with such openness and sympathy in all the years (which is to say, my entire life) I’ve spent in New York: grannies talking to goths, a biker with piercings and tattoos talking to a...

  29. NOTES
    (pp. 403-406)
    (pp. 407-408)