Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Authentic" language--

One of the many things that I need to tuck into my day is a going-over of this May's underlinings and scribblings in Peter Leithart's Deep Exegesis because on Thursday morning I am an invited guest at a regional priests-and-pastors study group--I think that it will be fascinating. Leithart's book focuses on exegesis of scripture but continually embraces poetry as well. And writers tend to be allured by the idea of peeking inside private worlds.

Here's a bit about Milosz, Clive James, the Bible, language, and civilization from an early chapter, "The Text is a Husk":
Picking through the rubble of postwar Poland to find something worth keeping, Nobel laureate poet Czeslaw Milosz came upon the Bible. Though he could not believe the Bible was literally true, he concluded that it was the "common good" of both believers and unbelievers. For intellectuals in the West, the Bible has "provided a standard of authenticity against the pervasive falsehoods of advertising, social engineering, moral uplift, demagogic politics--all the verbal corruptions of democracy, the language of illusion." For Milosz, "the scriptures provided a standard of authenticity against a much more dangerous language, the language of legalized murder."

In his brilliant collection of essays, Cultural Amnesia, Clive James reflects on Milosz' remark and wonders if the Bible's importance can only become clear when civilization is collapsing. In our more comfortable surroundings, we fool ourselves into thinking that "the eternal can become outdated, and safely forgotten." Forgetfulness, James argues, is not confined to unbelievers. He chides Christians for the ease with which we have "let the bible go." Though himself a lapsed believer, James laments the "successful reduction of once-vital language" to the "compendium of banalities" of modern English translations.
That's just a nibble from a complex, rich meal. I'd better make time to read through my notes...


  1. So very interesting Marly! I will be getting a copy for myself. And in a way, this post is so on point given last week's readings which focus on our lapse of faith when things go well. " God has imprisoned all human beings in their own disobedience only to show mercy to them all." Romans 29-32. Looking forward to hearing about the event!

    1. Leithart is thoughtful with both scripture and poetry, and I think you will like it. I am curious about the meeting--have no idea how big the group is, or anything, but I'm looking forward t it, even though it starts way, way early! Breakfast meeting.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.