Saturday, August 28, 2004

Une chaîne des livres

To deal with the decisions and events of the past few weeks (to be expanded upon later), I've sought shelter in the ever-comforting and orienting space of bookstores and reading. On Wednesday, while looking for a book to give as a gift, I saw this book, An Uncommon Correspondence: An East-West Conversation on Friendship, Intimacy and Love, in the Letters & Diaries section. It is a series of letters between two professors about courtship, marriage, and friendship. I was a little sceptical, but the endorsements by Cornel West and Nicholas Wolterstorff on the back cover intrigued me. Besides, one of the authors, Margaret Masson, had been raised in Zambia. Her letter writing companion, Ivy George, is from India.

So I bought the book, came home, and read it straight through. I quite enjoyed their exploration of their subject matter and the play of different cultural perspectives on their topic. I was also drawn to their friendship, which they maintained over long distances through letter writing.

Thursday, still searching for an unblemished copy of the book I want to give as a gift, I saw a small book on a display of Books about Books & Reading called Walking a Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading by Nancy M. Malone. I picked up two copies, one for myself and one to go with the other gift book. Then I came home and read Walking straight through.

Written by a nun, the book describes the books the author has read and their effect on her life and understanding of herself. She doesn't develop the labyrinth metaphor very fully, but I enjoyed the simple descriptions of her life and books.

A third person, whom I didn't recognize, had also endorsed An Uncommon Correspondence, Rosemary Luling Haughton. Coincidently, Haughton is one of the authors Malone writes about in her book (pp. 82-87)! Haughton, a non-academic and mother of ten children, had written a book in the late 1960s that was a theological analysis of everyday experiences.

Towards the end of her book, Malone writes about perception and imagination and how "reading has compelled [her] to focus [her] vision." (p. 163)
I can hardly conceive how limited my perception would be without the books I have been privileged to read, how superficial my understanding of others, how undeveloped my sympathies. And I mean here, especially, without fiction, which puts flesh and blood on, and soul and feeling in, other human beings. Precisely because of its appeal to my imagination, [...] in fiction I come to know and understand people I may not have met otherwise. And thus I am persuaded to a more compassionate, generous, and loving response in my life beyond books. (p. 164)
Last week I had checked out a book from the library this time (!) that also discusses the role of imagination, particularly in the creation accounts in the Bible. (The book is The Ethos of the Cosmos: The Genesis of Moral Imagination in the Bible by William P. Brown.)
The cultivation of cosmologies drew deeply from the well of Israel's theological and intellectual imagination. Indeed, such imagination was necessarily a moral imagination, one that powerfully informed the community of its identity and conduct, invariably sharpening and broadening its character and praxis. (p. 19)
Then Brown quotes from Iris Murdoch's Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (purchased during last night's shopping spree):
The world is not given to us 'on a plate,' it is given to us as a creative task. It is impossible to banish morality from this picture. We work, using or failing to use our honesty, our courage, our truthful imagination, at the interpretation of what is present to us, as we of necessity shape it and 'make something of it.' We work at the meeting point where we deal with a world which is other than ourselves. (Quoted in The Ethos of the Cosmos, pp. 21-22.)
This quote reminded me of my pastor and her perceptiveness and imagination to see possibilities where most others don't. She is also willing to work hard and self-sacrificially to shape and create what she can imagine. (Part of my sadness these last weeks is that she and her husband have accepted a call to another church.)

Let me add yet another link. Somewhere, I don't remember where, I saw the name Guy Davenport. On one of these recent bookstore forays (this time to a used bookstore), I happened on a collection of essays by Davenport titled The Geography of the Imagination, in which he writes that the imagination is "rooted in a ground, a geography." Recently I've been looking more carefully at the landscapes, the geography, the descriptions of nature found particularly in the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. How did their physical geographies influence their "rhetorical landscapes" (Brown, 230)?

Finally, to record the influence of my reading the Internet, another of last night's purchases, and today's book read, was Willa Cather's The Professor's House, per the recommendation of Leonard Bast, whose site was recommended, in turn, by Theory of the Daily.

[Edit: An hour later. The chain lengthens and doubles back. While checking my links in this post, I saw that Leonard Bast's entry today was about Walter Ong, whose book Orality and Literacy influenced my grad school application essay. Further, Nancy Malone, in Walking, quotes Ong in her first chapter on the interiority of reading. Then, the Books & Culture essay by Jeet Heer about Ong to which Bast points quotes Davenport on McLuhan, Ong's mentor. Finally, Heer writes that McLuhan "excited the imagination of bright young students like Ong by confidently linking together disparate phenomena, ranging from modernist art to neo-Thomist theology, into a single worldview."]

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Typewriter buddy

Laura bought a typewriter! Coincidently, my typewriter is sitting on my desk with a page two-thirds typed. One paragraph is dated August 21, 2004 and the second is August 24, 2004. Most common error: typing ¢ instead of ' as in "don¢t" instead of "don't."
NEA chair

The alumni magazine of the university at which I used to work published an article about the recently appointed chair of the National Endowment for the Arts: "Mr. Gioia Goes to Washington." The magazine also published an interview with Mr. Gioia. Here is the opening question and his answer:
Q: In 1992’s Can Poetry Matter?, you challenged us to bring poetry back out of seclusion in academia. Have you noticed any progress in this?
A: I’m both encouraged and discouraged by the trends in American art. What I find most encouraging in poetry, and in some of the other arts, is the growing awareness that the vitality of culture depends on engaging a broad, mixed audience.

Most of the innovation in American poetry that’s happened over the past 10 years has happened outside the university. We have a renewal of interest in poetry and the other arts by non-professionals. We are also seeing a groundswell of community-based activities in the arts. This trend takes many forms. It ranges from bookstore readings to neighborhood book clubs to grassroots performance groups in theatre and music. People understand, at a deep, instinctive level, the power of art to build and refine community identity. This seems, to me, a wonderful and important trend.

The university has an extremely important part to play in all of the arts, but it is not a part that can be done alone. There needs to be a broader dialogue in society between artists, academics, bohemians and the general audience.

What I find discouraging is the continuing encroachment of the commercial, electronic media on American culture. Reading and other sorts of cultural activities are in decline as people spend more time with television, the Internet, iPods, DVDs — all of the electronic paraphernalia. I worry that the average American is becoming more of a passive consumer and less of an active and engaged individual.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

AIDS and the church

Another long gap, this time because I took a trip north to Washington state to visit family. While I was there I found out that two of my extended family members had just published a book, Time to Talk in Church about HIV and AIDS: A Bible Study Discussion Guide. Because they wanted full editorial control over the contents, the authors also established their own publishing company, Bakken Books.

The book is divided into ten chapters, each of which includes a short introduction, the full text of a biblical passage, and approximately ten discussion questions. The discussion sections begin with questions focussing on the biblical text itself. Many of the biblical portions selected are stories about people with leprosy. Parallels are elicited between leprosy and HIV and AIDS.

Other questions ask for people's individual experiences with and responses to HIV and AIDS. For example, in the chapter on "HIV and AIDS at the Communion Table," which studies the story of Jesus eating at the home of Simon, who had leprosy (Matthew 26:6-13), one of the questions is, "Would you invite a person who is infected with HIV to your home for dinner?"

Yet other questions probe the enormous social issues around HIV and AIDS and what a church's response might be. The chapter on "Protection from HIV" asks, "In cultures where women are subject to men, who needs to take responsibility for protecting young girls and women from HIV?" The chapter on "The Changing Family" looks at some of the family structures found in the Bible and then poses the question, "How can extended families be assisted as they attempt to cope with the sudden increase of children orphaned by AIDS?"

Corean Bakke writes in the Foreward, "The goal is not to locate right answers—there are no right or wrong answers for many of the questions—but to study and discuss." (p. 1)

I'd highly recommend the book for group discussion or even for personal study and challenge. In her Afterward, Corean reflects on the verse from the Sermon on the Mount, "You are like salt for everyone on earth":
Jesus speaks to me in language I understand when he likens my presence in the world to salt in my kitchen. I could neither bake nor cook without salt. Is my presence that critical to the well-being of my community? (pp. 85-86)