Comedy: Book One, Archival Resurrections by Patrick McGee
Eugene, Oregon. Resource Publications. 2020. 188 pages.
I SUPPOSE IN A BOOK REVIEW one should not be overtly polemical or even intrusive, supposing a reader’s viewpoint. Yet, in a time when we have seen the ideals of our democracy threatened, it seems necessary not only to reflect on those ideals but also to consider how those ideals emerged to begin with, and just what it is exactly that protects and promotes them.
This is one of the values of reading Patrick McGee’s Comedy. To reimagine, to innovate the work of Dante is audacious, to say the least, but we need both: the original Dante and McGee’s innovation. Past figures inform the present. The emphasis is to “focus on this day. / In life no man knows his effect on the world / And in death recognition becomes pointless.” In other words, the ideals of democracy, though informed by the past, must always be contemporary. Democracy is the composite of individual conscience, and sadly, “most lives waste away in self-made hell. / Still one person committed to truth outweighs / The horde lost in a bottomless malaise.” Two civilizing forces, religion and enlightenment, should work to protect us individually and collectively. Too often, unfortunately, “Every thought has its worth, / But when religions sometimes go astray, / Usually it’s their own tenets they betray / For fear some other vision may have a say.”
Within this social context, the author resurrects a significant number of personalities, as if to say we are all, individually, products of a society shaped by these eminent personalities whose presence in our history, whose real-life efforts have made our world, and to whom we are ever responding. Making use of three-lined rhyming stanzas constructed in pentameter, the poet offers thirty-four cantos. He alludes freely to numerous figures such as Jesus, Dante, Spinoza, Marx, Blake, Wilde, Lincoln, Hughes, et al. Imposing the past with its conflicted and emerging ideals onto our present sense of identity is to emphasize our current need. Can we know ourselves, in truth, without knowing what has made us, who has shaped us?
An Aristotelian concept of comedy, as survival, seems to underscore the work. I appreciate that the persona of this Comedy is guided by a teacher. The concomitant link between education and enlightenment is thus emphasized. The goal: “The transformation of the human heart / In generations that remember us. / Their faith and forgiveness, which we are bound to trust, / Will spring us forward to a world more just.”
Read Dante again. Read McGee as well. Read both anew. Read yourself, read ourselves. I look forward to Book Two and Book Three in McGee’s trilogy.
East Central University