Book Review: Master Of Disguises

Master Of Disguises, by Charles Simic

It is this book that reveals at least a great part of the potential of the author, and his wrestling with serious issues.  Even if the author does not come to necessarily the most godly conclusions, one can get the sense at least that he is aware of the stakes of his poetry and of the struggles for authenticity and honesty that writers face.  This book is not necessarily a pleasant one, for the author is too aware of the faults of the contemporary world and of the evils of history to blithely write.  At his best, the author has some worthwhile songs to say about deep matters [1], and even at its worst or most slight, this book offers a genuine look of an author really wrestling at the height of his powers with some deep questions about the ironies and absurdities of life and about the difficulty of maintaining faith when one is aware of what is going on in the world.  If the author does not have the same perspective I do, I can at least credit the author for the honesty of his struggle with the darkness both inside of him and outside in the world.

This book is divided into five parts, but the last two parts consist of one poem each.  The poem that makes up the fourth part, “The Invisible,” is an attempt to grasp what cannot be seen, how successful it is a matter that must be left to the reader, but the fifth part views shows the poet thinking of himself as trying to speak for a God who he believes has never spoken to him.  While the poet is no doubt sincere in his belief, I believe him to be deeply mistaken.  God cries out in the silence as well as in speaking, and as He formed us and gave us our gifts and talents by which we seek insight about the world, He has spoken to the poet and to us all that is necessary for us to realize that we are condemned by our deeds.  The poet is at least wise enough to recognize this, as he presents a picture of nagging wives pointing out the mistakes of their husbands, and gives a skewering look at exiles seeking to keep the memory of a dead dictator alive even while remaining unrepentant about their own misdeeds that have led them to this point.

When the volume is taken as a whole, we can see this book as a sort of initial argument that would be successfully answered by a theodicy that makes sense of the materials in this poem, the injustices and wrongs of history, including Hitler’s own murderous rise to power.  Too self-aware to deny the existence of evil within him or in the world as a whole, the author seeks to justify himself by using the tu quoque argument that attempts to defeat any argument of the author’s evil by pointing out that there is no one with pure enough hands to judge him.  Yet on some level, he recognizes the need for “our salvation,” and the fact that we must reach out to God even when we do not understand His ways and even when we feel that He needs to justify His ways to us.  If this book is not written by a person of faith, it is written by a person who has wrestled with faith and who is honest enough to recognize himself as a fallen being in need of redemption even if he does not trust in that redemption because he does not understand how it can take place or how the evils and wrongs of this world can be redeemed.  Such sincerity, even if mistaken, deserves to be appreciated on its own terms.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: Master Of Disguises

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Lunatic: Poems | Edge Induced Cohesion

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