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Beautiful Theology

Signifying truth in more than words alone

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The story so far

I came to this reading list, and the arguments that these works catalyzed for me, from a variety of angles. First, I grew up at the peak of the first wave of pop culture/mass culture, the sixties (and the part of the seventies that the sixties slopped over into; much of the sixties, after all, didn't happen till the seventies). I watched Saturday morning cartoons and movies; I read comic books; I listened to AM and then FM radio. At the sam time (second), I grew up in the household of two English teachers, reading from the family bookshelf. I read Burgess and Pynchon, but as I frequently tell my students, I grew up in the nineteenth century: Dickens, Trollope, Wilde, Austen, and their contemporaries defined for me the admirable life. Third, though I am a sadly untalented draftsman (despite attending school at a time when we took woodshop and mechanical drawing as part of the normal curriculum), I have a certain sense for design and pattern. I had an early interest in the works of M.C. Escher and René Magritte. I’ve worked with computers and graphics for ages. I hacked the college computer system repeatedly in the seventies (not a real trick, mind you, since the main principle of security was "I didn't think any one would do that"), and I worked in computer graphics for a start-up from 1980 to ’83. Fourth, I majored in philosophy in college, with a heap of English courses that didn’t quite amount to a minor.

When I started seminary and began studying the Bible with a particular view toward interpretations that met fundamental criteria for soundness and met my own standards for interesting, compelling exposition, I encountered an impasse for which I had not been prepared. On one hand, my Bible teachers knew their stuff inside out, and had well-established, intelligible criteria for legitimate interpretation (and seemed to worry about interpretive legitimacy a lot — not my profs themselves, necessarily, but the guild they represented). On the other hand, almost all the interpretations they proposed were interesting in only an academical way; I couldn’t see the hand of a Dickens, or Sterne, or for that matter a Monet, or a Warhol or a Magritte.

I knew that there must be a way of talking about meaning, of understanding interpretation, that accommodated both the intellectual rigor of my professors and the expressive power of Donne, or Billie Holiday, or Goya. I spent my further years as a student trying to puzzle out some of the clues toward that more satisfactory account of meaning, and traveled to the far-off lands of French poststructuralist thought as a path toward seeing my home terrain from a very different perspective. That helped, and I did indeed obtain some clues in Vincennes, but the pieces only began coming together in a big way after I graduated and could read and think without supervision.


Blogger Pascale Soleil said...

The "next" link is broken.

February 15, 2007 1:20 AM  

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