I recently finished reading Anthony Esolen’s Sex and the Unreal City-The Demolition of the Western Mind. This book is a must read for those who wish to garner a deeper understanding of the literal unreality of our time that has taken hold of the West in the last several decades. Esolen first draws the reader into his classroom with Unreality 101. For those who are unfamiliar with Anthony Esolen, he is a distinguished Professor of Literature and writer in residence who is currently teaching at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in New Hampshire. His career spans several decades of teaching at the university level as well as authoring many books on varied subjects including the Modern Library version of The Divine Comedy. You will find that Esolen is a prolific writer whose books cover the topics that matter, such as Defending Boyhood (see my review of this book Defending Boyhood – Cream City Catholic), Nostalgia, Out of the Ashes-Rebuilding American Culture, and a book of poetry, The Hundredfold-Songs for the Lord, a tapestry of hymns, monologues, and short lyrics that pay homage to the master poets named Donne, Milton, and Hopkins as he composed poetry in tribute to our Lord and our God. These are the things Esolen decries as lost to the modern heart and imperative to the soul. I’ve yet to pick up his book dedicated to the best of the best Catholic hymns long forgotten, Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church. It’s definitely a wish list item.
In Sex and the Unreal City Esolen uses his rapier-like wit, humor, and love for his fellow traveler as he takes us through the ruins of our once rock-solid Western civilization. He leaves no stone unturned as he weaves through the megalopolis that is Unreal City. Esolen paints the picture of this other-worldly place with such clarity that the reader, unless one has been paying attention, likely missed much of the destruction of culture, society, and truth that has created this unreality and the incredible demand for more of it. He declares, “That we cannot get enough of unreality. It is like cotton-candy to a greedy child, with mouth perfectly pink.”
Drawing on his extensive knowledge of Scripture, and the great works of Shakespeare, Plato, Dante, Homer, and Milton, to modern thinkers such as Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Muggeridge, et al. He cleverly uses stories from literary and film characters in all their revealing flaws and attributes to paint the ugly and dysfunctional picture of Unreal City and her adherents. Esolen uses his extraordinary gift of prose to express this understanding to show how reality and unreality have eventually and finally come to that fork in the road that must be taken. He exposes all the lies and deceit we have fallen under while at the same time he leaves us signposts along the way to remind us of what is important and what is not; and how to get to where we ought to go. The citations littered throughout the book will make the careful reader want to increase their personal library.
Esolen is unafraid to draw the political and religious things, as well as figures, out in the open and name them outright. As Esolen deconstructs the crumbling infrastructure that is Unreal City and lays bare the demolition of Western Civilization, he then leads us to the only solution that will restore and save humanity. The only way back is to rediscover what makes us real again and unfettered from sin and destruction. He leads us to restore humanity on the pathway to the City of God with all its joys and graces that can only be found in Jesus Christ. The final chapter is dedicated to unpacking the Apostle’s Creed as it applies to this matter. This is one book that will lift your spirits again as we revert to the good, true, and beautiful through exalting the virtuous life and the proved realities that led Western Civilization for over two thousand years. Let us be more conscious of the urgings and answers found in this book.