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  • Writer's pictureRJ Smith

Dissident Reviews #8: Sacred Shadows and Latent Light by Dustin Lawrence Lovell

Rydar Colson, an English professor, wants to produce two Shakespeare plays. In a sane world, there would be nothing to see here. The problem is, according to the author of the foreword: “That one of Shakespeare’s history plays could be a source of trouble, or seen as a text of controversy, seems, in today’s climate, both an absurd likelihood and a strong possibility.”

Colson’s desire to realise Henry IV Parts One and Two triggers drama reminiscent of the Bard’s celebrated tragedies. This unfolds primarily through the perspective of Elliot Fleming and Vesta Lloyd, students of Colson, and the activist Ermine Jackson, whose article in the university newspaper leads to the play’s—and Colson’s—cancellation.

Ermine felt a hot anger against the man, who was probably like every other homophobic white man who refused to support all shades of human life. Against the admin­istration that would hire such a man, however, Ermine felt a continuous, cold ire. B-Center students and faculty generally stood at odds with most decisions of “Ad Hill,” as most students called the administration, just as they did against all subtly authoritarian structures, and Ermine felt it his duty to fight the oppression of non-acceptance until B-Center’s uncritical solidarity was the norm everywhere.

By way of plot, most of the action flows from Ermine's antipathy to those he perceives as more privileged than himself. Given this premise, it should be no surprise we witness the full array of stupidity modern academia has to offer. Trigger warnings. Safe spaces. Silencing people based on inherent characteristics. Lovell’s book depicts an asylum in which the lunatics have decisively wrested control from the impotent and cowardly faculty and administrators. It is a story which should be dystopian, but is sadly one of photographic realism.

In many ways, this is a surprising and brave work, given the themes the book tackles and the intolerant climate which today pervades the academe. The author's passion for Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, the need for free expression and academic rigour come through clearly in the pages of the book.

Entitled “Preventing the End by Cutting Off the Means,” Ermine’s article reasoned that because in hindsight one would not hesitate to kill the baby Adolf Hitler, they also should not hesitate to shut down the return of his ideas, and that these included the yet infant but latently dangerous Spring Shakespeare production, which, considering the Henry plays’ rationalization of colonialism, may have actually led to European colonialism generally and Hitler specifically.

If I were to offer one piece of advice to the author—who no doubt knows more about the publishing industry than me—it would be to try to get this story made into a film. The book contains an important message, and the pacing and structure render the story ripe for cinema. The sad truth is people besides middle-aged, mostly female book club members—to whom this book will not appeal—don’t have the patience to read the kind of stories they can see on the big screen, which is why this book will probably not sell as well as it should.

For those of us left who still read and dissent from official policy of the publishing (and, if it is different, academic) world, this is a timely work. Ours is a post-Christian world, and therefore a world in which ends justify means. That is why we see demonstrators gluing themselves to Picasso paintings to protest climate change, and attempts to erase foundational pillars of the western canon accelerating at dizzying speed.

Sacred Shadows and Latent Light is an illuminating parable on the trouble we’re in. The lizard brain philistinism at the heart of modern activism, and how this operates under the camouflage of virtue.

If the mob can cancel Shakespeare—and we should be under no illusions they can—they can cancel anyone. It is a trite quote, but one that should forever be borne in mind: "Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future."

Sacred Shadows and Latent Light is published by Resource Publications and is available for purchase here.

About Dissident Reviews:

In this series, I plan to review—in a spirit of objectivity and constructive criticism—“dissident” works, by which I mean works establishment publishing houses would overlook for ideological reasons. My motivations for doing so are to:

  • discover works from outside the mainstream, which I consider politicised and uninteresting;

  • network with like-minded writers;

  • promote work I consider good and offer what I hope will be useful critiques for that I think could be better; and

  • promote my own work.

About me:

I am an Australian writer living in France. I am in the process of publishing a three-novel series—the first of which is available here—and have had non-fiction published in Quadrant and Quillette magazines and The Australian newspaper.

Authors are welcome to use quotes from these reviews (with attribution). If you would like me to review your book please get in touch via my Twitter page.



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