Introduction to Literary Theory with Paul Fry

Spent a lot of time in the car today. Found this on Open Yale Courses and listened to the first lecture. I highly recommend it for both personal and professional reasons.

“In this first lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the course’s title in three parts. The relationship between theory and philosophy, the question of what literature is and does, and what constitutes an introduction are interrogated. The professor then situates the emergence of literary theory in the history of modern criticism and, through an analysis of major thinkers such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, provides antecedents for twentieth-century theoretical developments.

The Long, Complex Sentences of Ernest Hemingway

So they sat there in the shade where the camp was pitched under some
wide-topped acacia trees with a boulder-strewn cliff behind them, and a
stretch of grass that ran to the bank of a boulder-filled stream in front
with forest beyond it, and drank their just-cool lime drinks and avoided
one another’s eyes while the boys all knew about it now and when he
saw Macomber’s personal boy looking curiously at his master while he
was putting dishes on the table he snapped at him in Swahili. The boy
turned away with his face blank.

People who say Hemingway only wrote in terse, simple sentences forget passages like this one. That whole graph is just two sentences, and the first sentence has three hyphen-words spaced in such a way that they balance and even out like lines of parallel Hebrew.

Last Night’s Reading, Yesterday’s Writing

Last night, I read:

“The Woman Who Rode Away” by DH Lawrence

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Chapters 1 – 3.

If anyone would like to talk about either of those selections, please do comment below. 

Yesterday, I revised (tried to re-see) a poem I’ve been working on and got to what I think is a good place with it.  The middle section still needs attention, but I did what I could with the energy I had.  

It was one of those days where I knew in my head (I don’t mean my mind…I mean I had one of those headaches where you just feel tired all day) I wasn’t going to get much new writing done, but I’m happy with what I was able to do in revision.  That’s not to say that revision isn’t new writing, but it’s not from scratch or the ether or wherever else these things in their mirror images form before you make them stick.

If you’re writing today, good writing!

Chuck Palahniuk and the Second Sunday of Advent

If your first thought is that the title of this post would be a great name for a band across multiple genres, I agree.  But the truth is, in this case, even cooler than the fiction.

This is the Gathering Thought posted at the bottom of the cover of these week’s bulletin at First Presbyterian Church of Allentown:

“Are these things really better than the things I already have?  Or am I just trained to be dissatisfied with what I have now?”  – Chuck Palahniuk

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Chuck quoted so prominently in a church setting.  For those of you who know of my fondness for some of Chuck’s work, I should also state that I had nothing to do with this bit of timely subversion.  Fits very nicely with the liturgy for the Second Sunday of Advent, and for the themes of the Advent Conspiracy at First Pres.

BOMB Magazine Gets Me All Theological

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
I freaking love this guy.

Harnessing both my theological and literary training, I present the curious parallel between BOMB Magazine’s “tips for writers” and Romans chapter 7.

Please do not send genre fiction. Please read the magazine before you even think of submitting work. Sample copies are available for purchase.

Setting aside the fact that samples aren’t usually something one pays for, BOMB has, by the sly legalism of these suggestions, already made me an offender.  Had I not thought of submitting to BOMB, I never would have read the commandment to read BOMB before thinking of submitting.  Sisters and brothers, this is a quandary.

I’m inevitably reminded of St. Paul’s lament in the seventh chapter of his epistle to the Roman church:

7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”[b]8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.


Then, one of my favorite Pauline images:

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

It’s quite the predicament we’re in.  Even if the language of slavery and sin doesn’t resonate with you, I’m reminded at a very basic level how quickly our good intentions can turn to crap, or how, from one moment to the next, our tempers flare and we lose the plot with peers, co-workers, and loved ones. We do things we don’t mean to do.  Say things we don’t mean to say.  Hurt people we don’t mean to hurt.  Having to balance the tradition of the law and the freedom he felt in Christ, Paul does some exhausting footwork getting us to the point that shame for our shortcomings is only such because the law has named them.  The law has, in a sense, enshrined our every failing.

Paul loses me when he says next that it’s not him sinning in these moments, but sin in him.  I mean, I get it, I guess: if sin is the manifestation of the all the marks we miss, and we wouldn’t think of it as sin without knowing the marks the law sets, and if knowing what the standards are entices us to miss them, then, yes, okay, who can really blame us?  Except for when we choose to miss the mark, when we fail, on purpose, to help the poor, speak justice to the powerful, or extend care to those who need it.  I think what Paul’s groping for is some explanation of why our good intentions don’t keep us from both kinds of failings: the harsh treatment of a friend in a moment of stress or the convenient overlooking of a neighbor’s plight.  Why do we do the things we do?  Why aren’t we perfect?  Why does Paul suffer from this thorn?  Why intrusive thoughts, anxieties, distractions?

I don’t know.  What I can say is that theologies of guilt, of fear, of shame, can lead to dangerous places.  I’m back on track with Paul when he talks about God’s power being made perfect in our weakness.  When he points us to the cross and encourages us to see the world through the lens of a broken, beaten God.  A God who mourns when we mourn, who’s mourning even now, with you, with me.

I don’t know if the law makes us sinners, but it can make us feel like shit.  It made a dead man out of Jesus…it made a mourner out of God.  And that makes God our ally, help, and hope.

And so we hope.