Adventures in Cultural Consumption, Metaphysics Edition

Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Propulsive and difficult to put down. Not, perhaps, the most finely written of novels, but enjoyable. As the distance from reading it grows further, I am more dissatisfied with the way in which the novel resolves itself by side-stepping its central question about the relationship between the old gods and the new.

A metaphysical quibble: as I understand it, the book is agnostic on the god-iness of the gods. It is sufficient to say that gods gain their power from worship, especially in the performance of certain sacred rites; this is how Easter can be strong even though no one knows who she is or the relationship of their celebrations to her worship. The underlying idea is that America is a hard place for gods to exist, because they are too easily forgotten and left behind, the new technological gods as easily as the old cultic gods.

All of which is fine, except that Gaiman ignores the elephant in the room: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. If all that matters in performance of the rites, then the gods associated with each of these should be quite strong, even dominant, certainly much more than Wednesday or Loki or anyone else. But to admit this would undermine the central tenet of the book, that America is hostile to the gods. Nor can one argue that the Norse gods, et al, are real and the Christian God, et al, are not, since it seems to be the case that worship is constitutive of the reality of the thing worshipped. So it seems like the book has to fail on its own terms.

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