Friday, April 10, 2009

A novel approach

Image: swambo's photostream

The lenten's season's epiphany is this: For many years, my recent years' churchgoing notwithstanding, I have, in certain circles, responded to queries and quotations about (and "by") Jesus which presume a basis in historical fact with the indubitably derisive "You mean, Jesus: The Novel." This derision has been underscored by a number of things in recent years: the Christian tradition's penchant for co-optation without attribution ("Jesus's" "invention" of the Golden Rule, without citing its source in Hebrew scripture); the Messianic readings of, say, Isaiah as nothing more than Christ-prognosticating; the audacity of referring to the Tanakh as the "Old" Testament, while "we" have the New (and improved) model. My acerbity was certainly not helped (or, depending upon your point of view, certainly was helped) by my diabolical affiliation with H. Bloom's scriptural critiques, who weighs in heavily on the "New" Testament for reasons both theological and aesthetic, finding all but Mark's Jesus as mere pretenders in comparison with the sublime creative "invention" of J's Yahweh, a creature of fiction he finds every bit as worthy of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Mind, he does not put Mark's Jesus on the same level as Yahweh, but he does find this Jesus at least compelling in his abruptness and his self-covering - what Bloom reads as a resistance to what this Jesus is discovering about himself. Mind, too, that Bloom is not advocating for Yahweh, a creature he finds as altogether too petulant and inconsistent (in a word, all too human) to trust. For HB, what Yahweh lacks in perfection, Yahweh more than makes up for in complexity.

But back to the epiphany: since I am a writer of fiction, and since I do in fact make a kind of living as a "teacher" of both the writing and reading of fiction, and since both writing and reading have, to my mind, a sacredness of their own, the absurdity of my derisive "Jesus: The Novel" insult finally hit me. Appending "The Novel" to Jesus should by rights have elevated him in my "book," not demeaned him. Even in my twenty years as a psychotherapist, I found my reading of fiction as far more revealing of the human processes with which I interacted than any of the desert-like aridity of clinical "literature." For me, to read or write a novel is to live intimately with its people, their stories, the very air they breathe. As I read or write, I care not a whit for any notions of "truth" or "fact": the stories delve deeply within me, far beneath my twittering mind. To follow my heart's logic, appending "The Novel" to "Jesus" should have been an invitation, a seduction, not, as it turned out, a first line of defense.

I can't say that with the season's epiphany I have made my "peace" with the Novel Jesus, that I have begun to dig in with the kind of fervor that I've been digging into Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (my still twittering mind asks, "Fine, it's a novel, but is it a good novel?"). But, I have made a commitment to stop using my age-old insult, and see if, in fact, in time, there is a seduction lurking...



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