Category Archives: on Literature

fiction, drama, poetry, and critical prose.

Goldsmith, Plato, and the Opiate

Here’s another undergraduate paper (senior year at TMC), this one a straightforward thematic reading of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield.  I remember being told, I believe by Dr. Hotchkiss, to enjoy those undergraduate days of such reading and writing, because from graduate school forward there would always be loads of criticism in the way.  He was not wrong.  There are certainly compensations; but there are costs, and the simple pleasure of reading, understanding, and explaining has often been obscured by many another concern for months, even years, on end.

Here, then, something simple, with a lot of little hints (often pretty unformed) of some of the key issues that would recur in my Religion & Literature work:  an anti-dualist theme, coded as suspicion of the “Platonic” here (the Vicar is nothing if not a Boethian, methinks); a very Milton-inflected insistence on “conscience” that provided a few more years of fuel for a misguided, defiant individualism; an interest in the temporal workings of Providence, and the integration of interior with public life.

The Vicar’s Dialectic
A Critical Paper Presented to Prof. John Hotchkiss
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of English Novel (E 405)
by Peter G. Epps
December 15, 1998

The hero of this book . . . is drawn as ready to teach, and ready to obey, as simple in affluence, and majestic in adversity. In this age of opulence and refinement whom can such a character please? Such as are fond of high life will turn with disdain from the simplicity of his country fire-side. Such as mistake ribaldry for humour will find no wit in his harmless conversation; and such as have been taught to deride religion will laugh at one whose chief stores of comfort are drawn from futurity (Goldsmith 305).

In The Vicar of Wakefield, Oliver Goldsmith presents both an easy, comfortable novel—and an horrible picture of a Job scenario acted out in eighteenth-century England. The interesting progression of the Vicar’s reduction from affluence to debtor’s prison, from a happy family to a more-than-decimated one, is told with all the charm of a pious (if somewhat pedantic) rustic. The Vicar and his family, though in many ways caricatures, are at the same time well-developed and likeable characters. Thus the reader’s sympathies are directed to the Vicar, and the points the Vicar makes at the depth of his suffering are as direct and true as the points he makes before it are often fatuous. The Vicar’s progress from affluence to poverty to affluence again is more than just a story, however; it is a learning process, at the end of which the Vicar and those around him have “learned their lessons” and are fit for a Providential change of fortunes once more. Along the way, however, a view of God’s relation to man is presented which is an mixture of truth, error and good intentions. In allowing the Vicar’s theodicy to be the crux of his return to good fortune, Goldsmith sets before the reader an idea and leaves it up to his good judgment to learn from the example, as he makes clear from his own preface (quoted above).

The Vicar’s beginning state, that of unsuspecting and comfortable affluence, is best characterized by simplicity. With his wife and family, frequent visits from neighbors and relatives, and good prospects for the future, the Vicar’s happiness is real but untried. Perhaps the best description of the “good life” for the Vicar can be found in the catalog of “those little rubs which Providence sends”:

My orchard was often robbed by school-boys, and my wife’s custards plundered by the cats or the children. The ‘Squire would sometimes fall asleep in the most pathetic parts of my sermon, or his lady return my wife’s civilities with a mutilated curtesy. But we soon got over the uneasiness caused by such accidents, and usually in three or four days we began to wonder how they vext us (306,7).

The family living is resigned to the Vicar’s wife’s care, while the Vicar bestows his salary to the unfortunate as the family has sufficient wealth to be able to afford such gifts. Thus there is no criticism to be made against the Vicar’s state of affluence, except that in his simplicity the Vicar wants some prudence; which is no grave fault, he never having had need of much. The parson’s plan for managing his parish is charming in its simplicity; he “set a resolution . . . of being acquainted with every man in the parish, exhorting the married men to temperance and the bachelors to matrimony . . . it was a common saying that there were three strange wants at Wakefield, a parson wanting pride, young men wanting wives, and ale-houses wanting customers” (308,9). Surely there is nothing in this to criticize. There is already present, in seedling form, the message which will become the book’s theme: “those little rubs which Providence sends to enhance the value of its favours” (306) are here minor mishaps; later, as the trouble grows and the Vicar learns greater prudence, he will also deepen out this view into an entire theodicy—and an evangelistic message.

The Vicar’s troubles begin when his pedantic pursuit of a minor theological battle ends up barring his son’s marriage; immediately on the heels of this gap between his simplicity and necessary prudence comes the loss of his fortune. Still, in the face of his own principles, the Vicar is honest when he refuses to dissemble until after the wedding. Here a paradox begins to open up. It is obvious that the parson’s scruple over remarriage (after the death, not divorce, of a spouse) is spurious; at the same time, it is obvious that he is right to stick to his conscience, rather than prudential considerations which might press him to dishonesty. This upholding of even a meaningless scruple against strong motives to bend becomes one of the Vicar’s primary characteristics throughout the story.

The descent takes several stages. First, the family is financially driven down into middle-class living, compelled to move to a new parish and take up farming to add to their living. The Vicar presses the family to adjust their standard of living to the new situation, with some success. The temptation to press up to the level of affluence is subdued, and the simplicity of affluence is replaced by a readily discovered sufficiency. In learning to be content with enough, rather than to rely upon the comforts of wealth, the family becomes able to live within its means and to provide for itself well enough.

The next level of the decline is when the family begins to be torn apart by the struggles of maintaining their standard of living, with the various social agendas attached to bourgeois life. From portraits to horses, the family tries to live up to the imagined expectations of those who style themselves better—often over the protests of the Vicar, though he acquiesces in them when he believes they may have some practical benefit. These attachments which seem to have so much promise fall through quickly, and the family are left with only the struggles. As they descend below the middle class toward the lower class, the struggle to hold the family together becomes greater. The desires of each to be more than their present circumstances will allow is difficult for even the Vicar to deny; and a series of unwise attempts to improve their economic condition result only in further losses. The family dissolution continues when Olivia, the oldest girl, elopes with the profligate Squire Thornhill. In pursuing her (by a false trail carefully laid to deceive him), the Vicar exhausts his health and his resources, finds his son George who has been wandering the continent since the loss of funds to support his education, and sees him off to a commission in the Army. Returning home, he finds Olivia nearly dead in an inn near town; he brings her back with him just in time to see the house burn down.

With the burning down of the house, the Vicar’s family begins its slide from the lower class into the underclass. This is completed when the Vicar is cast in debtor’s prison and his family dispossessed of their lands by the Squire, when the Vicar refuses to withdraw his objection to the Squire’s marrying another woman. The social context is complex and largely irrelevant to this exposition: the key fact is that the Vicar is once more standing on a scruple that many would vacate to the prudential considerations that weigh against his stand. In this case, however, it is more than a matter of his beliefs in some arcane theological controversy; it is his daughter’s honor which is at stake. In taking his stand, the Vicar ends up imprisoned, burned from the fire and ill; Olivia is believed dead, Sophia kidnapped; George (the eldest son) is arrested on a capital charge (for challenging the Squire). The dissolution of the family is complete; though the younger sons remain, the underclass pattern of living disrupted by constant chaos and the seducing influence of lower characters has manifested fully.

However, the Vicar remains faithful, preaching to the prisoners until some actually begin to reform their lives; and it is in this context, on the occasion when the misfortunes have been capped by the news of George’s imprisonment, that the Vicar delivers at last the full message which has been weaving itself throughout Goldsmith’s dialectical narrative. In the message, the Vicar distinguishes between philosophical and religious modes of dealing with the pain in the world:

“philosophy . . . tells us that life is filled with comforts, if we will but enjoy them; . . . that though we unavoidably have miseries here, life is short, and they will soon be over. Thus do these consolations destroy each other; for if life is a place of comfort, its shortness must be misery, and if it be long, our griefs are protracted. Thus philosophy is weak; but religion comforts in an higher strain” (437).

The error, according to the Vicar, lies in the shortness of the view; the exigencies of this life cannot be stretched into anything like a fulfilling pattern. Rather, the Vicar advocates an Irenic view of the world’s troubles: “Man is here . . . fitting up his mind and preparing it for another abode” (437). Of course, the Vicar’s religion has more than a little Platonist philosophy in it; he speaks of the “good man” who “leaves the body and is all a glorious mind” (437). Therefore, “to religion . . . we must hold in every circumstance of life for our truest comfort; for if we are already happy, it is a pleasure to think that we can make the happiness unending; and if we are miserable, it is very consoling to think that there is a place of rest. Thus to the fortunate religion holds out a continuance of bliss, to the wretched a change from pain” (437).

It is at this point that the critique becomes applicable; to steal a march from the Marxists, this sort of religion is the “opiate of the masses” if not carefully tempered. It gives to those who are downcast hope in the hereafter rather than temporal hopes, and directs them to accept the exchange as for their benefit. It gives to those who are wealthy and stay within the bounds of religion no direct connection with the well-being of those around them; after all, their concern is with the way they are presently building toward their eternal happiness. However Goldsmith may shape the plot in The Vicar of Wakefield, teaching such as this tends to dull the daily activity of the poor in acquiring means of betterment and the rich in aiding them.

The dialectic is completed; having uttered the whole truth at last, the Vicar is soon delivered from his trials: he is released from prison, finds Olivia alive and Sophia rescued; George is freed; the family is restored to affluence; and Olivia’s honor is upheld. Sophia and George are married, and all is well. Though there is no causal link between the Vicar’s speech and the resolution which immediately follows, the thematic relation is too obvious; having realized the understanding necessary to his fuller appreciation of Providence, the Vicar is Providentially delivered and restored to that simplicity of life—but now with greater wisdom. Thus does Goldsmith, under the guise of a tale, take the reader through the entire development of a worldview; and thus does the Vicar end by saying, “I had nothing now on this side of the grave to wish for, all my cares were over, my pleasure was unspeakable. It now only remained that my gratitude in good fortune should exceed my former submission in adversity” (461).

Goldsmith, Oliver. The Vicar of Wakefield and other writings. (New York: Random House, 1955)

An Inchoate Apocalyptic Aesthetic

Here’s one from quite some time ago–my junior year at The Master’s College, in fact. I’m going to offer it in as near to its “student paper” form as possible. Some of the very sketchy analysis here formed the basis for both my pursuit of Nineteenth Century Poetry as a field and my eschatologically-oriented approach to H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction in my master’s thesis.

Yes, at this stage I reflexively lumped all “seems evolutionary” lines of reasoning in the “reject” basket, much like at this point in my thinking “seems Catholic” would have been a reason to reject something. We are shaped by many things before we are fully formed, friends!

 

Peter G. Epps
Victorian Age
Dr. Pilkey
5/7/98
Tennyson’s Forward Glance

In Memoriam A.H.H. opens on a note of bleary agnostic resignation, but ends on a nearly apocalyptic affirmation of the glory of God’s rule of creation. In so doing, Tennyson reflects the fact that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” but that “the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of a faith unfeigned.” Therefore, while his beginning and end both acknowledge the superiority of God and the rightness of his goals, the beginning reflects the fearful insipidity of those who have not come to a right knowledge of God. The conclusion, on the other hand, reflects a fuller understanding of and submission to God’s ability to guide the universe.

The opening lines state flatly Tennyson’s agnostic view of God’s work, where he speaks of a God “Whom we, that have not seen thy face,\by faith, and faith alone embrace,\Believing where we cannot prove.” Further, Tennyson seems able only to acknowledge that God’s arbitrary crushing of man is accompanied by a like arbitrary raising of him; he seems unable to sense any purpose in this. Fear is the key here; it is precisely a lack of faith that makes it so necessary to constantly affirm one’s faith. That which faith truly apperceives is already seen as certain; it is that which one doubts that one must attempt to consciously affirm by faith. It is this state, however, of fearing the consequences of either accepting or rejecting the truth, that allows the Spirit fertile ground to work in men’s lives. In Tennyson’s case, it seems that such a work occurred on some level.

Tennyson acknowledges the need of such a work when he says,

    We are fools and slight;
We mock thee when we do not fear:
But help thy foolish ones to bear;
Help thy vain worlds to bear thy light.

Forgive what seem'd my sin in me;
What seem'd my worth since I began;
For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee.

The constant cry for forgiveness and the almost cringing tone is indicative of one who has not learned confidence in the love and promises of God, who still believes that God is too far beyond human thought to make any ethical standard applicable, or any final understanding possible.

Over the course of the work, however, Tennyson achieves a number of moments of clarity; the finest is in his epilogue. In closing, Tennyson speaks in glowing terms of a final marriage, one reserved for the end of time, which he sees typified in his sister’s marriage. The language is brilliant and full of hope, and the climax comes at the very last:

A soul shall draw from out the vast
And strike his being into bounds,

And, moved thro' life of lower phase,
Result in man, be born and think,
And act and love, a closer link
Betwixt us and the crowning race

Of those that, eye to eye, shall look
On knowledge; under whose command
Is Earth and Earth's, and in their hand
Is Nature like an open book;

No longer half-akin to brute,
For all we thought and loved and did,
And hoped, and suffer'd, is but seed
Of what in them is flower and fruit;

Whereof the man, that with me trod
This planet, was a noble type
Appearing ere the times were ripe,
That friend of mine who lives in God,

That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.

Of course, it cannot be ignored that Tennyson is powerfully influenced by the growing evolutionary consensus of his day; nor can it be supposed that he had an unclouded vision of the future state. At the same time, there is a powerful image in these lines of the coming man—that which has been missing from the agnostic piety of the Christianity to which Tennyson weakly appealed in his opening lines. It is the same appeal as that which Nietzsche makes when he postulates Ubermensch, the same as the appeal of the Marxist utopian fantasies of the great socialist worker. It is the lost Christian hope of the race which God has spanned time and space to collect, of those whose faith has made them whole by their apprehension of the grace of God in Christ. In the end, it is the hope of the future Sons of God which Tennyson’s poetic fervor envisions; it is the Bride of Christ who meets the Lamb face to face for the first time who exclaims, “Worthy!” in his lines. Tennyson’s hope which subsumes his grief is the knowledge that somehow, in some way, God will raise men above their present pitiful state and make them one with His divine presence in their midst. Recognizing this, Tennyson shakes of his languor and exclaims, affirming in the feast his pleasure and the sense of Hallam’s final glorification.

“For by Him, and through Him and to Him are all things; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

From my First Published Article

In my first year in graduate school at Baylor University, I had the pleasure of taking a seminar in Robert & Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry with Dr. Mairi Rennie, of Oxford, visiting head of the Armstrong Browning Library.  Based on her suggestions, I extended and finished my seminar paper, which was published in Studies in Browning and His Circle the following year.

I’ve selected an excerpt which I am pleased with, in its working with texts and the insight it helps to establish (one I capitalize on later in the paper), and also—quite intentionally—one that reflects my prejudice, at the time, about “Romanism.”  I will point out that what I say in this excerpt is definitely true of Robert Browning’s attitude toward the Catholic Church:  he was reputedly a vehement anti-Catholic through much of his life, and had been reared in a radical dissenting sect (developing such an infatuation with the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley in adolescence that he declared himself an atheist for a couple years).  You will not fail to notice, though, that at the time I originally wrote this I reflexively adopted the same perspective.  I am most grateful that I have been afforded the time and gracious opportunity to thoroughly reverse that attitude!

Here, then, an excerpt from “Tipping the Scales:  Contextual Clues in Bishop Blougram’s Apology”:

“Healthy vehemence.”  The first issue in unravelling Blougram is, of course, its dramatic form.  Whether Browning’s use of the dramatic form is intended to insure an ultimate relativity of perspective or to engage the reader in an active, rather than passive, process of understanding, its immediate effect is to obscure whatever “truths” the poem may convey behind the limited and possibly suspect viewpoint of an artificial character.  The speaker’s coloring of the facts of experience will, of course, depend on his reactions to that experience.  It is especially interesting, then, that the narrator of the epilogue in Blougram characterizes Gigadibs’ final reaction to his dinner with Blougram as “healthy vehemence.”  The idea of “health” becomes a key reason to believe that it is the later Gigadibs of the epilogue, not the early Gigadibs seen through Blougram’s eyes, nor Blougram himself, that is the intended protagonist of Blougram.

The image of “health” recurs in a later poem of Browning’s, “Confessions.”  In this brief poem, a dying man recounts the view of life he derives from the memory of a secret love affair carried on in his youth.  The ending, “How sad and bad and mad it was– / But then, how it was sweet!” is a typical Browning affirmation of the beauties of love when acted on courageously.  The most intriguing image in the poem, however, comes in a passing phrase uttered by the speaker:  “is the curtain blue / Or green to a healthy eye?”  The speaker then gives his own perspective:  “To mine . . . Blue.”  The question and answer provide a key example of Browning’s use of literary and Biblical contexts.

The question concerning “blue or green” is a reference to the literal coloring of perception caused by jaundice.  More specifically, it echoes the line “all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye” from Pope’s Essay on Criticism.  A glance at the passage in which this line appears reveals the exquisite craftsmanship of the allusion:  Pope is defending the truly original poet against overzealous critics, and says,

Yet shun their fault, who, scandalously nice,
Will needs mistake an author into vice;
All seems infected that the infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.

The plea, of course, applies equally well to the words of the dying man, whose description of the forbidden love affair gives the reader no real reason to believe it was an immoral encounter, and to Browning himself, whose critics persistently misread him.  The important statement, however, for both the dying man and (by implication from Pope’s context) the poet, is “To mine, it serves for the old June weather / Blue above lane and wall.”  The yellow cast of jaundiced perception would make the curtain appear green, but the speaker’s vision is healthy:  he sees blue.  It is those who censure him that are “infected” and “jaundiced.”

The charge of infected perception invokes a familiar Biblical context as well.  Paul, defending the believer’s liberty against external laws, says, “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure.”  As is the case with Pope’s attack on “scandalously nice” critics, so Paul’s warning about fastidious religionists reverts the charge of immorality on those who do not have a fundamentally healthy perspective.  In this context, the dying man speaking to his minister (“reverend sir”) is able to level a substantial critique against superficial moralisms; not only are they the product of a “jaundiced eye,” but they reflect a heart that is “defiled and unbelieving.”

The identification of “healthy vehemence” with spiritual and mental clarity also occurs in Browning’s paradigmatic religious poem, Christmas Eve.  In the poem, the speaker moves through four major viewpoints:  the Zionist chapel, his own initial position, Roman Catholicism, and higher criticism.  In the end, the speaker rejects the mere dogma of Romanism and the mere data of criticism in favor of the most vehement expression of love for God, that of the Zionist chapel.  The transformation of the speaker’s perspective, though, is not a mere intellectual assent or mystical abnegation of self:  it is a healing.  While the speaker “cannot bid / the world admit [God] stooped to heal / My soul,” he is certain that (like Paul and Mary Magdalene) “he named my name”; like the woman in Matthew 9:20-22, he leaps out to seize “the hem of the vesture” for healing and springs “at a passionate bound” back into the chapel.  Having been healed, he is now able to make the affirmation “I choose here!”

The image of health in Blougram, then, should be taken as a serious indication of perspective.  Indeed, Blougram himself argues from the premise that health equates with affirmation when he asserts that the early Gigadibs’ skepticism must force him to “keep [his] bed, / Abstain from healthy acts that prove [him] a man” in order to avoid making any assumptions.  The argument is sound as far as it goes; Gigadibs’ apparent refusal to have any faith if he can’t have all faith is inconsistent with his own actions.  Blougram is more consistent:  he avoids such “healthy acts” as those represented by Napoleon and Shakespeare because he prefers to dine, / Sleep, read and chat in quiet.”  However, as the later Gigadibs’ reaction of “sudden healthy vehemence” illustrates, Blougram’s self-justification undermines itself by demonstrating that he suffers from a “jaundiced eye” because he is “defiled and unbelieving.”

Keep Riding Forth

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?
Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga!
Eala þeodnes þrym! Hu seo þrag gewat,
genap under nihthelm, swa heo no wære.
Stondeð nu on laste leofre duguþe
weal wundrum heah, wyrmlicum fah.
Eorlas fornoman asca þryþe,
wæpen wælgifru, wyrd seo mære,
ond þas stanhleoþu stormas cnyssað,
hrið hreosende hrusan bindeð,
wintres woma, þonne won cymeð,
nipeð nihtscua, norþan onsendeð
hreo hæglfare hæleþum on andan.
Eall is earfoðlic eorþan rice,
onwendeð wyrda gesceaft weoruld under heofonum.
Her bið feoh læne, her bið freond læne,
her bið mon læne, her bið mæg læne,
eal þis eorþan gesteal idel weorþeð!
Swa cwæð snottor on mode, gesæt him sundor æt rune.
Til biþ se þe his treowe gehealdeþ, ne sceal næfre his torn to rycene
beorn of his breostum acyþan, nemþe he ær þa bote cunne,
eorl mid elne gefremman. Wel bið þam þe him are seceð,
frofre to Fæder on heofonum, þær us eal seo fæstnung stondeð.

(source: Anglo-Saxons.net : The Wanderer)

So spake the wise man in his mind,
where he sat apart in counsel.
Good is he who keeps his faith,
And a warrior must never speak
his grief of his breast too quickly,
unless he already knows the remedy –
a hero must act with courage.
It is better for the one that seeks mercy,
consolation from the father in the heavens,
where, for us, all permanence rests.

If you love life, if you love beauty, if you love truth and goodness, you must love Jesus Christ. You must love Christianity, the faith of Jesus Christ. You must love the Church that Jesus Christ founded. You must love the People that Jesus adds to that Church. You must love the teachings and the wisdom of that Church, the Spirit’s fulfilling of the Promise of Christ and the unfolding of the Word given to the prophets and apostles. You must love the saints, living and dead, struggling and suffering and blissful.

And you must keep loving truth, keep loving beauty, keep loving goodness, even if you are called “fundamentalist” by hirelings and “bigot” by wolves, for there is no way to love sinners except by taking on the wounds of Christ, that is, the reproaches of the self-saving and the self-hating, and showing the truth as true, the beautiful as lovely, and the good as worth the hassle.

(posted on Facebook first)

Back to Life, Back to Reality

I’m going to mention this post again, because in light of a stray (and on its own terms quite sensible) remark in an interview with Chicago’s new Archbishop Cupich and other comments I’ve seen, it seems relevant.

There are several word/thing relationships that we really MUST distinguish (not sever, sunder, separate, or believe to be exclusive–but observe that the terms do not refer to precisely the same thing in precisely the same way). Let me just enumerate as briefly as I can manage:

  1. marriage per se, or “natural marriage”
  2. marriage of the baptized, or “sacramental marriage”
  3. civil recognition of marriage
  4. ecclesial recognition of marriage

Each of these deals with either a state of affairs (1 & 2, a describable, observable, intelligible, verifiable condition) or an official notice that such a state of affairs exists, needed in order to adjudicate its consequents (3 & 4, instruments whose meaning is wholly contingent on acknowledgement of a state of affairs).

In dealing with these, we potentially encounter a whole realm of “other” terms, as well, terms which describe states of notification or transition or discovery with regard to #1-4: attempted marriage, putative marriage, nullity, “annulment,” marriage license, divorce, “remarriage,” etc.

What happens to people deeply confused by the radical nominalism that undergirds our entire system of Constitutional laws and classical liberal presuppositions about politics–that is, my fellow children of the Enlightenment (made children of dubious legitimacy by the discovery that we are also Heirs of God in Christ Jesus)–is that we confuse arguing about how to settle arguments about words about things with the actual constitution of things. We barely even notice that we have quit believing we can know things, know them good and well, without our knowing being subject to renegotiation by clever wordsmiths.

I spent over a decade of my life working hard to be a card-carrying post-structuralist literary critic/theorist while also arguing that «il n’y a pas de hors-texte» opened modernity to Biblicist interpretation of divine revelation. I do know well how profoundly we are ensorcelled by our own spelling of words, friends.

But it is quite impossible that any real state of affairs–in a community, in a family, in a nation-state, in a communion–should meaningfully persist across generations merely by continuous renegotiation of words.

We must–it is utterly essential that we do this–return to an understanding in which our language (including our legal language, and especially including our “science” of humanity, which has been so badly vitiated by the separation of the reality from the data) is subordinate to reality, serves our understanding of reality, and therefore can only carry authority to the extent that its claims are demonstrably about reality.

In such an understanding of reality, a cleverly construed counterexample to one register of a word’s meaning would not justify erasure of that word’s connection to the reality which is always, intrinsically, greater than the word. Where such an understanding of reality is institutionalized, nihilism is not permitted to win; it is prevented, with authority backed by power, from doing so. Only such an understanding preserves human life and provides for the flourishing of those who, body and breath, have “become a living soul” and may, by becoming “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” cause others to do the same.

And so, I apologize to those whose critiques of post-structuralist hermeneutics I scoffed at when I, like some who read me now, mistakenly believed that I could see the trajectory better than they. Their vantage was superior, and what I have said above is deeply dependent on the words of others.

But it really does come to this: a state of affairs exists; that state of affairs has consequences; those consequences implicate civil society and ecclesial communion; and the only just way to acknowledge that state of affairs and adjudicate those consequences is one which preserves the essential distinctions between one sort of thing–a marriage, that is, a potentially fecund, indissoluble, voluntary bond between a man and a woman–and whatever other sorts of things you might like to arrange.

It is this distinction, and not any larger “religious” versus “secular” distinction, which is really at issue, here. It is not a question of whose will is to be imposed, though our incoherent politics makes it so, but of what really *is* and whether we plan to compel each other to lie about it.

And it is the situation of this question at present as “you must all lie, or you will be treated as beyond-the-pale, as those who have no claim on justice while you persist in these views” to which the faithful have no choice but to vigorously and vehemently object, and which we are obligated to use all just means to resist, reverse, undermine, and nullify.

Or, as I said in the linked post:   Continue reading »

A Comedy of Errors About Teaching Shakespeare

I like to think I’m a pretty fair Bardolater, as these things go, but Ryan Cole has seriously overshot, here:

A new study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) reveals, depressingly, that only four of the nation’s top colleges and universities require a Shakespeare course, even for English majors. ACTA, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., that encourages college trustees to act on behalf of academic freedom and excellence, surveyed U.S. News and World Report’s top 25 national universities and top 25 liberal-arts colleges. Of the former, only Harvard (the lone Ivy League institution to make the cut) and the University of California–Los Angeles require English majors to study Shakespeare. Of the latter, only Wellesley College and the United States Naval Academy do.

(source: English Majors sans Shakespeare | National Review Online)

Now, if this showed that students were making it all the way through K-12 and a 4-year college degree without ever reading Shakespeare, I’d be pretty concerned–like I am seriously upset that my students enter my college lit courses unfamiliar with even the names, dates, and most major works of writers like Donne, Milton, or Wordsworth.  It’s hard to enforce on their understanding how important Charlotte Smith is when they don’t even know how big the influence of Wordsworth and Coleridge proved to be!

Simply put, however, Shakespeare is still a go-to in lit courses. Continue reading »

A Little Self-Promotion

From my Amazon.com author page:

As an English teacher, scholar, and poet, I map the world with words.

I am a true devotee of the liberal arts. From the smallest question of paragraph structure to the profoundest meditation on “this quintessence of dust” who dwells “on this isthmus of a middle state,” I teach English in order to guide, guard, and goad my willing students into habits that make for virtue.

I have travelled farther than I ever could have imagined, and am happier to have come home than I ever would have believed. My first home taught me that if I truly know where my home is, I need never be homesick. Coming home to the Catholic Church and to my loving wife now teach me how to dwell, to abide.

…and I will read by any light I can find.

(source: Amazon.com: Peter G. Epps: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle)

From my Lulu.com author page:

Finds that seeking the True, the Good, and the Beautiful is sometimes more like fumbling in the dark for a light switch than like a hero’s quest.

A small-town preacher’s kid who has travelled farther than he ever could have imagined, and is happier to have come home than he ever would have believed. Home taught him to love his roots, but never be homesick. Coming home to the Catholic church and to his loving wife are teaching him to dwell, to abide.

Writes poems. Teaches students. Loves his wife.

Reads by any light.

(source: Peter G. Epps’s Books and Publications Spotlight)

 

Speaking of Silence….

Catholic Fiction.net has just posted a review I wrote earlier, a profoundly mixed review of Shusaku Endo’s Silence. Here is the conclusion:

Given the nature of the critical literature surrounding Silence, the example of Endo’s own trajectory through Deep River, and the most obvious reading of the story itself, no one should recommend Silence as an exemplary Catholic novel without qualification.  Teachers and parents who share it should be careful to surround it with good literary instruction and sound catechesis; where this is not possible, it may be better to leave Silence for later.  For those who seek a novel indelibly marked by the baptismal faith of the author, and who are prepared to struggle and pray their way through a gripping and tragic confrontation between a faith shaped by martyrs and a world full of collaborators, Endo’s work has much to recommend it.  Artists should seek to emulate Endo’s mastery of narrative style; and anyone interested should turn from the portrayal of Garrpe’s martyrdom to the many historical accounts of the Japanese martyrs, and pray for the souls of their kinsmen.

(source: Silence)
What are your thoughts?

Unadulterated Text: Literary Criticism Archives

Unadulterated Text: Literary Criticism Archives:

It is both flattering and unsettling for a literary critic to find a work he penned seen as an object of criticism. It gives one pause about writing criticism. . . .

This piece is not new, but I had forgotten it. As it links to a journal which I like, and which has published me again recently, I’ll bring it up again. The following passage seems to me to be where the reader coincides most with any intentions I may have had in writing the poem:

The octet ends with an apparent death, a “clotted brain.” The broken vessel of the opening line of the sextet, is then initially read as a blood vessel, and thus is tied inextricably to the woman. This sets up a concrete metaphoric relationship between the woman herself and the vessel which has just dropped from her lifeless hands.