Mark Slouka’s Essays from the Nick of Time—divided into two parts: “Reflections” and “Refutations”—is a critique of a recent soaring of “un-Americanness.” As a writer, Slouka is known as a sustained critic of American culture with profound love for American values. His anxiety expressed in this book in the form of ‘refutations’ of meanness in insane politicians is a testimony of his love for his cultural values–democracy, freedom, equality, justice, etc. He reflects on how coercive political mechanism is working in America to ‘dehumanize’ its own people and also spoil the American image in the world around. How people like George W. Bush, in the madness of power and pelf, are destroying the dream his (Slouka’s) forefathers have had since the banishment of Jews from Babylon. The surging un-Americanness in American cultural life is what Slouka means by the ‘nick of time’: it refers to some uneven indentation in American time itself. In essays like “Democracy and Difference,” and “Coda,” Slouka is showing how a culture of obedience is imposed upon people in the pretext of democracy and rationalization: “ The primary goal, after all, is not power per se but a higher profit margin, a motivation amply shared, in today’s America, by those in the “business” of governing. I am assuming that there is still some useful distinction to be made between the public and the private sectors, between the Bush Administration’s CEOs and their brothers in industry, between the increasingly authoritarian behavior of our “elected” representatives and the generally authoritarian climate of the American workplace, which seems unlikely.” Likewise in “Dehumanized”, Slouka discusses the dehumanizing effects of commercial education that American universities are selling out: “The place of a poet” is reduced to “worker’s rank.”
Slouka is also suspicious about the ever increasing technocratic domination on our world, for instance in “Speak, Video” : “I’ll admit that I prefer basic materials: wood and stone. . . .[though] I am not insensible to the benefits and beauties of technologies.” This indicates that Slouka’s modernism fairly incorporates a desire for ‘pre-Columbian’ civilization, which he wants to retain amidst the “benefits and beauty” of contemporary American industrial culture.
The collected essays, some of which have already appeared in different national magazines, provide a commentary on American culture, which is saddled with “un-American” elements such as genocide, war, crime, slavery, dehumanization and inhumanity. To live in a truly “American century”, Slouka wants “a reversal of direction” of where America is going now. The essays deal with how we act, feel and think under the “rational absurdities” controlled by authorities. Reading these essays means finding ourselves in the “intersection of memory, history and fiction” that the writer artistically weaved in the intersection of beauty and absurdities in American life. The overall tone is of a liberal humanist in his critique of authoritarianism, control and dehumanization of American people today. The vivid, varied, and lively imageries from American cultural lives, and their underpinning ironical meanings, make the collections superb.
Mark Slouka’s Essays from the Nick of Time
Graywolf Press, 2010
208 Pages, $16.00
Yubraj Aryal, a Ph.D. Student at Purdue University, is Secretary of The Society for Philosophy and Literary Studies (SPLS) and Editor of its publication Journal of Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry. He is also a Committee member for Asian Philosophers and Philosophies of American Philosophical Association (APA). Aryal also writes short stories, and his most recent book The Humanities at Work: International Exchange of Ideas in Philosophy, Literature and Aesthetics was published in Nepal in 2008. His research areas include modernist aesthetics, affects and transnationalism.