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Wikipedia’s description of Charles Barkley’s golf swing must be quoted in full:
Barkley is well known for his fondness of golf. However, his swing is often regarded as one of the most bizarre and broken swings in the sport. Barkley’s swing unravels after he brings his club back. He starts to take it forward then jerks to a stop, throwing his body off balance, before wildly striking at the ball.
You have to see it to believe it:
In his “Introduction” to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, C. S. Lewis noted that “Every age has its own outlook.” Reading “the controversies of past ages,” Lewis was struck that “both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. . . . they were all the time secretly united . . . by a great mass of common assumptions.”
I am convinced that the biblical authors have their own outlook and share a great mass of common assumptions. The task of biblical theology is to trace out the worldview that the biblical authors share with one another.
In What Is Biblical Theology?, I’m trying to get at the outlook, shared assumptions, in short, the worldview of the biblical authors, by examining the Bible’s story, symbols, patterns, and the church’s role in it all.
Just heard these on Ken Burns’s tribute to Baseball:
How to Keep Young
by Satchel Paige
- Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
- If you stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
- Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
- Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.
- Avoid running at all times.
- Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
Here’s a great post from Rod Decker:
A palindrome is a word or sentence that reads identically forward and backward, e.g., “Do geese see God?” The Greek palindrome inscription:
is from the Hagia Sophia. (In Greek, Ἁγία Σοφία is short for Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God.” This was an Eastern Orthodox church building in Constantinople, constructed in the fourth century. For over a thousand years it was the Patriarchal Basilica of Constantinople. It is now a museum.)
Written in modern orthography the palindrome reads,
Νίψον ἀνόημα μὴ μόναν ὄψιν
and means, “Wash your sin, not only your face.” I first found this palindrome in Bruce Metzger’s Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, 23.
The word palindrome is itself a Greek word, παλίνδρομος, a compound of πάλιν, “again” and δραμεῖν, “to run”/δρόμος, “a race, race course.” There were apparently many Greek palindromes current in the ancient world. Another example that I’ve run across is:
ἀμήσας ἄρδην ὀροφόρον ἥδρασα σῆμα.
“Having reaped I established a lofty-roofed monument.”
(This one I found in Lloyd W. Daly, “A Greek Palindrome in Eighth-Century England,” American Journal of Philology 102 : 95–97.)
“These were all distractions from the central business of the year, which was the story that had started as a few episodes and was being made into a novel, week by week, The Old Curiosity Shop. Against all the odds, it became the second-highest seller of all his books, surpassed only by the The Pickwick Papers, another improvised tale. What sort of a story was it? A very odd one, a picaresque tale of a child who tries and fails to escape from her fate, with a supposed protector, her grandfather, addicted to gambling, and a grotesquely wicked pursuer, the dwarf Quilp, both putting her at risk and driving her towards her death. Nell herself has no character beyond sweetness, goodness and innocence, which endeared her to male readers; and Lord Jeffrey, the great Scottish judge, critic and sometime editor of the Edinburgh Review, even likened her to Cordelia, although the only resemblance is in their untimely deaths. At the age of thirteen, Nell effectively has to look after her grandfather, who has been corrupted by his fascination with money, rather as Dickens’s maternal grandfather had been corrupted by money, and his father also, overspending, borrowing and failing to settle his debts; so this aspect of the story was quite close to home. And while there is very much more in the book than Nell, it is her death that made its fame. It was Forster who suggested that Dickens should kill her off: he seized the idea, and the slowly approaching death of Little Nell held readers in a state of excited anxiety on both sides of the Atlantic for many weeks. Letters came to Dickens imploring him to save her, and grave and normally equable men sobbed uncontrollably when they read that she was dead.
Dickens himself suffered as he wrote of Nell’s decline, and shared his sufferings with his friends through November and December 1840. He told Forster, ‘You can’t imagine how exhausted I am today with yesterday’s labours… All night I have been pursued by the child; and this morning I am unrefreshed and miserable. I don’t know what to do with myself… I think the close of the story will be great.’ Then, a few days later, ‘The difficulty has been tremendous — the anguish unspeakable.’ To his illustrator, Cattermole, he wrote, ‘I am breaking my heart over this story, and cannot bear to finish it.’ In January, Macready was told, ‘I am slowly murdering that poor child, and grow wretched over it. It wrings my heart. Yet it must be.’ A few days later it was Maclise who heard, ‘If you knew what I have been suffering in the death of that child!’
Another letter to Forster shows how Dickens used his suffering, deliberately summoning up painful feelings, in the cause of telling a better story: ‘I shan’t recover it for a long time. Nobody will miss her like I shall. It is such a very painful thing to me, that I really cannot express my sorrow… I have refused several invitations for this week and next, determining to go nowhere til I had done. I am afraid of disturbing the state I have been trying to get into, and having to fetch it all back again.’ “
Frei certainly never thought of himself as a “great theologian, ” but he did have a central passion, a central idea. That idea emerged through long study, in the 1950s and ’60s, of l8th- and 19th-century ways of interpreting the Bible. He grew convinced that nearly the whole of modern Christian theology, from the radical to the fundamentalist, had taken a wrong turn.
For many centuries before the modern age, most Christian theologians had read the Bible primarily as a kind of realistic narrative. It told the overarching story of the world, from creation to last judgment. Moreover, the particular coherence of this story made “figural” interpretation possible: some events in the biblical stories, as well as some nonbiblical events, prefigured or reflected the central biblical events. Indeed, Christians made sense of their own lives by locating their stories within the context of that larger story.
But somewhere around the 18th century, people started reading the Bible differently. Their own daily experience seemed to define for them what was “real, ” and so they consciously tried to understand the meaning of the Bible by locating it in their world.
They did that in — to overgeneralize — two ways. They saw the meaning of the biblical narratives either in the eternal truths about God and human nature that the stories conveyed or in their reference to historical events. The Bible thus fit into the world of our experience either as a set of general lessons applicable to that world or as an extension of that world developed by means of critical history.
Those two ways of interpreting the Bible remain prominent. Those who set out the moral lessons of Jesus’ teaching or focus on the insights provided by his parables believe that the real point of the Gospels lies in their general lessons for our lives. On the other hand, fueled by Wolfhart Pannenberg’s early arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and continuing scholarly efforts to establish which of the Gospel sayings were really spoken by the historical Jesus, some Christians still tend to treat the Bible as a historical source whose value lies primarily in its historical accuracy.
The whole is worth reading. I think this is basically right, and this is why I sometimes say that the aim of biblical theology is to get at the presuppositions of the biblical authors, to get into their world, and to stay there. We want to live in the world as the biblical authors conceived it.
As Placher puts it, summarizing Frei:
Frei’s theology is finally church theology: it first of all addresses the Christian community and invites that community to let the biblical narratives shape its vision of the world. To what extent parts of that community will respond to such invitations may be the most important unanswered question regarding Frei’s work.
See further Frei’s Eclipse of Biblical Narrative.
Reflecting on a post entitled “The Spiritual Ground of History,” Charles Halton describes a poignant moment in his own research:
. . . as I was going through the cuneiform tablet collection that belongs to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. I was bogged down in trying to read from broken tablets and keep track of the accounts mentioned in the various texts when, as I held a 4,000 year old tablet in my hand, I saw a fingerprint. It was a powerful sign that reminded me that as I read the tablet I was not merely reading a “sheep text” but a record of the work of a real human being. Someone who probably enjoyed his work some days and other days found it difficult and frustrating. Someone with parents who loved him or was he abused? Maybe he had a wife and child at home and worried about feeding and clothing them and about buying a new house, and so on. This tablet was no longer just about sheep, it was about the humans who engaged in these tasks.
A few lines later he has this description of history from a novel:
in Julian Barnes’ new novel, A Sense of an Ending, in which this definition of history is attributed to one of the characters:
History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.
The whole thing.
In 2008 Rowling gave a stirring address at the Harvard commencement on the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination. Some highlights:
by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
Now you might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working at the African research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.
There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.
Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.
Read the whole thing here.
Jenn Philpot closes a post on domestic adoption with this profound paragraph:
In light of Steve Jobs passing away, a few news reports have talked about the fact that he had been adopted. One great article titled Steve Jobs Changed the World: Adoption Changed His mentions other notable figures that were also adopted, such as Babe Ruth, Charles Dickens, Nat King Cole and Dave Thomas (Wendy’s). The article ends by saying “No matter the perceived worldly success of an adoptee, adoption is a loving act that transforms, not only the life of the child, but the entire family. And, sometimes, the world.”
James Barr (Concept of Biblical Theology, 49) recounts that in B. S. Childs’ essay “Old Testament in Germany 1920–1940″:
“Childs argues that the acceptance of the historical-critical method as a base is the one basic fault running through the entire series of modern Old Testament theologies before his own.”
Some have alleged that Satan is the real hero of John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost. For instance, William Blake held that Milton was “‘of the devil’s party,’ though ‘without knowing it’” and Percy Bysshe Shelley thought that Satan was “‘a moral being,’ one ‘far superior to [Milton’s] God as one who perseveres in some purpose . . . in spite of adversity’” (The Great Books, 256).
Satan is no more the hero of Paradise Lost than Judas is the hero of the Gospel according to Mark.
Why would people think Satan is Milton’s hero? A big reason seems to be the way that Milton so faithfully presents Satan’s point of view. In presenting Satan’s perspective, Milton doesn’t impose his authorial voice on the drama to pronounce condemnation on Satan. Instead, he allows the evil of Satan’s actions and purposes to be shown. Milton isn’t telling us Satan is evil; he is showing us. Milton expects his audience to recognize the evil of what Satan says and does.
Commenting on Satan’s speech in Book 9, lines 119–30, Anthony O’Hear (The Great Books, 266) writes:
This speech, as Milton surely intends, puts into perspective the admiration of Satan of some of Milton’s critics, who see only Satan’s splendid defiance in the earlier books, but pass over the extent of his sheer malice in the later ones.
Alan Jacobs joins in Robert Alter’s lament of “the heresy of explanation” at work in dynamic equivalence translation theory. Here’s how Jacobs opens his review of Alter’s The Five Books of Moses:
As the Italians say, traduttori, tradittori: translators are traitors. But the translator who shrugs and—cheerfully or resignedly—agrees that “every translation is an interpretation, after all” has too readily embraced the way of the tradittore. The translator who strives for strict fidelity, even knowing its elusiveness, will be less treacherous. In translation, fidelity is the ultimate imperative and trumps every other virtue: even clarity or readability.
Translators of the Bible seem often to forget this, if indeed they believe it at all. In the introduction to his extraordinary recent translation, The Five Books of Moses, Robert Alter points out that modern translations operate under the (perhaps unconscious) “feeling that the Bible, because of its canonical status, has to be made accessible—indeed, transparent—to all.” Alter is certainly right that modern translators have this feeling, and obey it, but the Bible’s “canonical status” is less to blame than a particular conception of how the Bible functions in the lives of believers.
Read the whole things, which Jacobs has appropriately entitled, “Robert Alter’s Fidelity.”
Mirra Ginsburg translated Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, including a three page meditation “On the Translation.” I would love to transcribe the entirety of these three pages, but won’t take the time to do so. This paragraph (p. xxviii) gets at the heart of what I want to emphasize–I put the final sentence in bold for emphasis:
“As always, however, translation is a struggle with impossibility, and there are losses that must be accepted as inevitable. Thus, the Russian ‘deyateli,’ which is rendered here as ‘men of action.’ The literal meaning of the word is ‘doer,’ and in Russian it is used to denote a ‘leading figure’ active in a given field–politics, the arts, science–with the field usually specified. To the Russian reader it is entirely clear that Dostoevsky’s (or his character’s, for it is sometimes difficult to disentangle the author’s voice from the narrator’s) mockery of the obtuse, limited ‘doers’ or ‘men of action’ (field unspecified) is aimed primarily at the liberals, the ‘public citizens,’ the ‘do-gooders’ of his time. This, alas, disappears in translation, unless the translator arrogates to himself the entirely inadmissable right to interpolate.
See also Earle Ellis’s objections to dynamic equivalence translation philosophy:
To my mind the ‘dynamic equivalence’ approach to biblical translation has serious deficiencies.
(1) It rejects the verbal aspect of biblical inspiration.
(2) It gives to the translator the role that rightly belongs to the preacher, commentator and Christian reader.
(3) It assumes that the present-day translator knows what contemporary words, idioms and paraphrases are equivalent to the prophets’ and apostles’ wording.
(4) It advocates conforming biblical language and concepts to the modern culture rather than conforming the modern culture to biblical language and concepts.
(5) It appears to discard the Protestant principle that Christian laity should have full access to the Word of God written without interposition of clergy or of paraphrastic veils.
Patrick Schreiner has posted the article where Ellis discusses these points: E. Earle Ellis, “Dynamic Equivalence Theory, Feminist Ideology and Three Recent Bible Translations,” Expository Times 115 (2003): 7–12.
By JMH on June 17, 2011 in Books, Cultural Engagement, Current Events, Great Quotes, History, Philosophy
Whittaker Chambers’ book Witness is a thrilling spy story, an autobiographical conversion narrative, and a piercing look into the communist underground. Written with fervor, clarity, and solemn joy, Chambers is a prose stylist urging that we choose life.
For Chambers, what separates communists and liberals is not a difference in belief. What separates them is merely the kind of action that is taken in the pursuit of a common purpose. Chambers writes:
“The New Deal was a genuine revolution, whose deepest purpose was not simply reform within existing traditions, but a basic change in the social, and, above all, the power relationships within the nation. It was not a revolution by violence. It was a revolution by bookkeeping and lawmaking. In so far as it was successful, the power of politics had replaced the power of business. . . . it was made not by tanks and machine guns, but by acts of Congress and decisions of the Supreme Court . . . . Whether the revolutionists prefer to call themselves Fabians, who seek power by the inevitability of gradualism, or Bolsheviks, who seek power by the dictatorship of the proletariat, the struggle is for power.
Now I thought that I understood much better something that in the past had vaguely nibbled at my mind, but never nibbled to a conclusion–namely, how it happened that so many concealed Communists were clustered in Government, and how it was possible for them to operate so freely with so little fear of detection. For as between revolutionists who only half know what they are doing and revolutionists who know exactly what they are doing the latter are in a superb maneuvering position. At the basic point of the revolution–the shift of power from business to government–the two kinds of revolutionists were at one; and they shared many other views and hopes. Thus men who sincerely abhorred the word Communism, in the pursuit of common ends found that they were unable to distinguish Communists from themselves, except that it was just the Communists who were likely to be most forthright and most dedicated in the common cause. This political colorblindness was all the more dogged because it was completely honest. For men who could not see that what they firmly believed was liberalism added up to socialism could scarcely be expected to see what added up to Communism. Any charge of Communism enraged them precisely because they could not grasp the differences between themselves and those against whom it was made. Conscious of their own political innocence, they suspected that it was merely mischievous, and was aimed, from motives of political malice, at themselves. But as the struggle was really for revolutionary power, which in our age is always a struggle for control of the masses, that was the point at which they always betrayed their real character, for they reacted not like liberals, but with the fierceness of revolutionists whenever that power was at issue.
. . . . Every move against the Communists was felt by the liberals as a move against themselves. . . . Unlike the liberals, the Communists were fully aware of their superior tactical position, and knew that they had only to shout their innocence and cry: ‘Witch hunt!’ for the liberals to rally in all innocence to their defense” (Witness, 472–73).
Earlier in the book Chambers wrote,
“For while Communists make full use of liberals and their solicitudes, and sometimes flatter them to their faces, in private they treat them with that sneering contempt that the strong and predatory almost invariably feel for victims who volunteer to help in their own victimization” (202).
Chambers also relates how his college friends had evangelized him for socialism and communism. Once he himself joined the Communist Party, Chambers went to find those college friends to urge them to join him. None of them would, and Chambers writes,
“For the first time, I understood the contempt with which Communists pronounced the word ‘intellectuals'” (208).
I was unimpressed with The Communist Manifesto, so I found Whittaker Chambers’ Witness very helpful for understanding why men become communists. Why do people become communists? What do liberals really want? What makes them tick?
As I seek to understand people and answer these questions, what I find is that everything liberals and communists want Christianity already has, and has it better. Liberals and communists want what Christianity promises, but they want it without God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit, and they want it now, in their time and in their own way. Consider the Witness of Whittaker Chambers–page numbers in parentheses below refer to this book.
“educated men become Communists chiefly for moral reasons” (8).
“Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die–to bear witness–for its faith. . . . The communist vision is the vision of Man without God.
It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world” (9).
The Communist Party “has posed in practical form the most revolutionary question in history: God or Man?” (10).
As Chambers considers the comprehensive meta-narrative communism offers, he explains the rationale for communism’s crimes in the form of a question communists answer in the affirmative:
“Have you the moral strength to take upon yourself the crimes of history so that man at last may close his chronicle of age-old, senseless suffering, and replace it with a purpose and a plan?” (11).
Chambers returns to the necessary evils communism must commit in order to bring in the golden age, again with a rhetorical question:
“What man can call himself a Communist who has not accepted the fact that Terror is an instrument of policy, right if the vision is right, justified by history, enjoined by the balance of forces in the social wars of this century?” (14).
In communist writings, Chambers found
“the simple statement that terror and dictatorship are justified to defend the socialist revolution if socialism is justified. Terror is an instrument of socialist policy if the crisis was to be overcome” (195).
As Chambers saw the outworkings of these policies, the massacres and forced starvations, murders too many to mention, he concluded that communism is evil.
Chambers is clear that communism is a godless answer to the problem of evil and suffering:
“Communism is what happens when, in the name of Mind, men free themselves from God. . . .
The crisis of Communism exists to the degree in which it has failed to free the peoples that it rules from God. . . . The crisis of the Western world exists to the degree in which it is indifferent to God. It exists to the degree in which the Western world actually shares Communism’s materialist vision, is so dazzled by the logic of the materialist interpretation of history, politics and economics, that it fails to grasp that, for it, the only possible answer to the Communist challenge: Faith in God or Faith in Man? is the challenge: Faith in God” (16–17).
What drives men to communism is the desire for an answer to the world’s problems. Chambers writes:
“Sooner or later, one of my good friends is sure to ask me: How did it happen that a man like you became a Communist? Each time I wince, not at the personal question, but at the failure to grasp the fact that a man does not, as a rule, become a Communist because he is attracted to Communism, but because he is driven to despair by the crisis of history through which the world is passing.
I force myself to answer: In the West, all intellectuals become Communists because they are seeking the answer to one of two problems: the problem of war or the problem of economic crises” (191).
At one point in the book, Chambers recounts an instance when a fellow communist reproached him for helping a poor man. The communist said to Chambers, “We can’t save them. They are lost. We can only save our generation, perhaps, and the children.” Chambers then explains that “the mind of the Communist bureaucrat” believes “that he is saving the children” as he pursues communism, irrespective of the cruelty he actually does to real people (218–19).
As he testified against Alger Hiss, the following exchange took place between Chambers and the chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee (692–93, emphasis added):
“THE CHAIRMAN: What influenced you to join the Communist Party originally?
MR. CHAMBERS: It is a very difficult question. As a student, I went to Europe. It was then shortly after the First World War. I found Germany in chaos, and partly occupied; northern France, and parts of Belgium were smashed to pieces. It seemed to me that a crisis had been reached in western civilization which society was not able to solve by the usual means. I then began to look around for the unusual means. I first studied for a considerable time British Fabian socialism, and rejected it as unworkable in practice. I was then very much influenced by a book called Reflections on Violence, by Georges Sorel, a syndicalist, and shortly thereafter I came to the writings of Marx and Lenin. They seemed to me to explain the nature of the crisis, and what to do about it.
THE CHAIRMAN: Well, I understand how a young man might join the Communist Party, but will you explain to us how a person who has made a real living in this country, a person with a large income, some of the witnesses we have had before this committee, over a period of time, what, in your mind, would influence them to join the party here in this country?
MR. CHAMBERS: The making of a good living does not necessarily blind a man to a critical period which he is passing through. Such people, in fact, may feel a special insecurity and anxiety. They seek a moral solution in a world of moral confusion. Marxism, Leninism offers an oversimplified explanation of the causes and a program for action. The very vigor of the project particularly appeals to the more or less sheltered middle-class intellectuals, who feel that there the whole context of their lives has kept them away from the world of reality. I do not know whether I make this very clear, but I am trying to get at it. They feel a very natural concern, one might almost say a Christian concern, for underprivileged people. They feel a great intellectual concern at least, for recurring economic crises, the problem of war, which in our lifetime has assumed an atrocious proportion, and which always weighs on them. What shall I do? At that crossroads the evil thing, communism, lies in wait for them with a simple answer.”
Chambers explains that he broke with communism because:
“I had rejected the right of the mind to justify evil in the name of history, reason or progress, because I had asserted that there is something greater than the mind, history or progress. I did not know [at that point] that this Something is God” (81).
He goes on to describe how he
“began to sense that the two mirages that had beckoned me into the desert–the mirage of Almighty Mind and its power to plan human salvation–were illusions” (82).
“In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.”
From Melville’s Moby Dick, Chapter ix – THE SERMON.
As Ishmael, the narrator of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, describes the Whaleman’s Chapel, he says this about the pulpit:
Nor was the pulpit itself without a trace of the same sea-taste that had achieved the ladder and the picture. Its panelled front was in the likeness of a ship’s bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on the projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship’s fiddle-headed beak.
What could be more full of meaning? – for the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.
Melville’s Moby Dick is free on Kindle.
John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, 201:
“Sanity in a writer is merely this: However stupid he may be in his private life, he never cheats in writing. He never forgets that his audience is, at least ideally, as noble, generous, and tolerant as he is himself (or more so), and never forgets that he is writing about people, so that to turn characters to cartoons, to treat his characters as innately inferior to himself, to forget their reasons for being as they are, to treat them as brutes, is bad art. Sanity in a writer also involves taste. The true writer has a great advantage over most other people: He knows the great tradition of literature, which has always been on the cutting edge of morality, religion, and politics, to say nothing of social reform. He knows what the greatest literary minds of the past are proud to do and what they will not stoop to, and his knowledge informs his practice. He fits himself to the company he most respects and enjoys: the company of Homer, Vergil, Dante, Shakespeare, and so forth. Their standards become, in some measure, his own. Pettiness, vulgarity, bad taste fall away from him automatically, and when he reads bad writers he notices their lapses of taste at once. He sees that they dwell on things Shakespeare would not have dwelled on, at his best, not because Shakespeare failed to notice them but because he saw their triviality. (Except to examine new techniques, or because of personal friendship, no serious apprentice should ever study second-rate writers).
To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write with the assumption that one out of a hundred people who read one’s work may be dying, or have some loved one dying; to write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write, as Shakespeare wrote, so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on. . . every writer should be aware that he might be read by the desperate, by people who might be persuaded toward life or death.”
John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, 192–93:
“It is this quality of the novel, its built-in need to return and repeat, that forms the physical basis of the novel’s chief glory, its resonant close. . . . What rings and resounds at the end of a novel is not just physical, however. What moves us is not just that characters, images, and events get some form of recapitulation or recall: We are moved by the increasing connectedness of things, ultimately a connectedness of values. Coleridge pointed out, stirred to the observation by his interest in Hartleian psychology, that increasingly complex systems of association can give a literary work some of its power. When we encounter two things in close association, Hartley noticed, we tend to recall one when we encounter the other. Thus, for example, if one is standing in a drugstore when one first reads Shelley, the next time one goes to a drugstore one may think of the poet, and the next time one encounters a poem by Shelley one may get a faint whiff of Dial and bathsalts. The same thing happens when we read fiction. If the first time our hero meets a given character it occurs in a graveyard, the character’s next appearance will carry with it some residue of the graveyard setting.
The effect can be roughly illustrated this way. Let a represent a pair of bloody shoes, first encountered at the foot of a willow tree, b; let c equal an orphan home, first encountered in a thunderstorm, d; and let e represent a woman’s kiss, experienced on a train, f. If a (the bloody shoes) is mentioned later in the story, it draws with it a memory of the willow (b . . .). In the same way c produces [d] as an echo, and e produces [f]. . . . Compared to what actually happens in fiction, this . . . is simple and crude in the extreme . . . Even at the end of a short story, the power of an organized return of images, events, and characters can be considerable. Think of Joyce’s “The Dead.” In the closing moments of a novel the effect can be overwhelming.”
My own opinion now: I think the best novelists are in many respects copying what the biblical authors have done.
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