The bi-monthly "Lee On Literature" blogs used the lens of classic literature to examine current events. 2014 was marked by an intensification of "split consciousness" of American culture, where economic concerns increasingly overshadowed spiritual/ human concerns in media discourse. Discussions of Vladimir Putin's land grab in the Crimea, an immigration influx from Central America, Republican domination of mid-term elections, and rebellions in Syria, Gaza and Ferguson all have an underexplored spiritual side.
Classic texts inform the spiritual, moral and humanistic aspects of these issues.
The first example of "split consciousness" was Putin's annexation of the Crimea. Seizing this land and establishing a military presence ensured that vast oil and gas reserves offshore would be developed by Russian companies rather than Western companies like ExxonMobil and Shell. This economic tussle blew a Cold War gust between Russia and the West, creating displacement, death and misery for thousands in the Eastern Ukraine (not to mention the 298 killed on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17). The spiritual motivations of this conflict are strikingly similar to the clash between merchant Lopakhin and Lyubov's aristocratic family in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (1904).
The Republican domination of mid-term elections in America also highlighted a "split consciousness." At the voting booth, Americans emphasized their support for the Republican Party platform pillars: repealing universal health insurance ("Obamacare"), redefining tax code to further exacerbate income inequality and increasing military spending. All three emphasized economic protection for elites, yet also enhanced an "inequality distortion" with perilous side effects of isolation, ennui, human suffering and pent up energy. A similar overt imbalance between the spiritual and the material has lethal consequences in Richard Connell's 1924 classic, "The Most Dangerous Game."
Sandra Cisneros stylishly articulates the dissociation, desperation and exploitation facing immigrants to America in her 1984 classic, The House on Mango Street. Here she explored the spiritual impact of immigration, whereas leaders like Texas Gov. Rick Perry favored National Guard "force multipliers" to "secure the border" against economic intrusion. Ironically, American's voracious consumption of drugs—an salve for spiritual underdevelopment—is the principal driver of most immigration-related problems.
Rebellions in Syria, the Gaza strip and Ferguson also had spiritual origins. In each case, a group was economically isolated to the extreme and took up arms. A similar economic degradation led to the rise of Nazism in Germany and two world wars. Shortly after World War II, Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus beautifully articulated the spiritual challenge that the world again faced in the heart of St. Louis and the soul of the Middle East. Camus' masterpiece The Plague, emphasized inherent collective destiny over individual destiny, a "togetherness" which naturally appears in times of war and sickness, a fact that takes many by surprise. In short, Camus believed, "A loveless world is a dead world."
A world of love, human foible, solitude, mistakes, destruction, loyalty and betrayal—a full spectrum of human spirit—also inhabited the stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a literary avatar who passed away this year Revisiting Gabo's books, or any of the other classics explored in 2014, will bring a unique pleasure, a better an understanding of self and the world, and more balance between economic concerns and spiritual awareness. Pick up one of these stories, read or reread and discover a new way to reconcile American culture in 2015.
Lee Miller graduated from Cornell University and has taught writing for over ten years at the secondary and post-secondary levels. He has published three books, including the historical /spiritual novel, Kali Sunset (www.clovercreekpress.com), about a Calcutta family conquering 20th-century India's greatest challenges.