Chilling, Lovely and Important
Reviewed at Amazon by Author Richard Schwartz. Prof of English and served as Dean of Arts & Science (1998-2006) at the U of Missouri-Columbia.
Anthony Esolen’s new book, SEX AND THE UNREAL CITY, taps into Augustine’s notion of the city of God but utilizes more of a Chestertonian voice. As such it is an old-fashioned book in its conclusions but it is very contemporary in its rhetoric. This is the kind of nearly free-association thought that recalls the work of the phenomenologists. This is a Judeo-Christian voice, however (mostly an orthodox Catholic voice) rather than that of a French philosopher. The ‘sex’ in the title (neither the title nor the subtitle capture exactly the author’s intentions) refers to a multiplicity of things—sexual morality, abortion, our degraded popular culture, and contemporary gender theory.
So what is the ‘unreal city’ to which is opposed the ‘real city’? Basically, it is the city of modern secularism but one inflected by the most common (and extreme) of today’s academic trends. One key example: in the unreal city one can state unequivocally that there are no real differences between men and women except for those which are culturally constructed. In the next sentence, however, one can lament the grievous plight of a woman ‘trapped in a man’s body’. One cannot have it both ways, except, of course, in the unreal city which is an extension of the contemporary gender studies department. In that unreal city there is no room for common sense or straightforward observation, for reason or for logic. If gender studies maxims will not demonstrate that, the common descriptions of and justifications for abortion (one of his most important subjects) will.
To this unreal city the author opposes the real city of Christian faith and does so utilizing a host of literary references, ranging from the thought of antiquity to Spenser’s FAERIE QUEENE, Pope’s ESSAY ON MAN and the modern essays of Chesterton, Malcolm Muggeridge, George Orwell, et al. The point is that what was long accepted to be true (and relatively obvious) has been eclipsed by the ideology of the modern left. In some ways the unreal city is a city built on ideology rather than philosophy, ideology based on ‘feelings’ that position themselves above common sense, logic and reason.
The result is a chilling but lovely read that evokes the often forgotten triumvirate of the good, the true and the beautiful, three things in which the contemporary academy has little interest. This is not a scholarly book larded with footnotes and appendices; nor is it a ‘thesis’ book that sets out to prove a, b, and c in successive, reinforcing chapters. It is more an extended series of interconnected reflections on cultural madness and the absurd place to which it has taken us. Placed against the straightforward but immensely deep items in the Apostles’ Creed, the author invites us to come back into the light, to rejoin reality and begin the process of intellectual rebirth.