Elif Batuman scored a review of her book The Posessed in the February 10, 2010 edition of the New York Times. Not that I am much of an aficionado when it comes to especially contemporary fiction. Nevertheless, there is a part of Dwight Garner's review that caught my eye.
Ms. Batuman’s search for something more from literature than “brisk verbs and vivid nouns” led her, swooning but alert, into the arms of the great Russian writers: Tolstoy, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Babel.
And it led her to write this odd and oddly profound little book, one that’s ostensibly about her favorite Russians but is actually about a million other things: grad school, literary theory, translation, biography, love affairs, the making of “King Kong,” working for the Let’s Go travel guidebook series, songs by the Smiths, even how to choose a nice watermelon in Uzbekistan. Crucially and fundamentally, it is also an examination of this question: How do we bring our lives closer to our favorite books?
Now, I ask you. Why can't theology do that? Why can't theology talk about grad school, love affairs, The Queen is Dead, and "our favorite books"?
I believe that as much as it was the printing press and mercantile politics and nationalism and justification by faith, as much as it was all of these, it was also the readability of the Reformation that made it so dangerous and so popular. How many of the church fathers were rhetoricians, trained in the subtle and liquid power of the spoken word? Why is it that the Bible not only can be literature, but is literature?
Our schools produce schoolmen, and their grammar is exactly so. And how many today read John of Salisbury or settle in with a bit of Duns Scotus? Are these inspiring or do they serve as foils for the construction of the endless paper parcels that make for an academic career?
I've said it before, I think to a large degree that the appeal of deconstructionism was a loosening of the corset of tenure for the sake of a little literary imagination. God, I wish theology would take the hint.
Elif Batuman; theology as literature; boredom; scholasticism