Thursday, 4 March 2010

A note on unwritten books

When life becomes a thicket of writing deadlines and commitments, I tend to escape into daydreams about the books that I would like to write one day. Just as a married person might dream of an affair, so writers find solace from their immediate duties by indulging in the subversive fantasy of other writing projects. (And the irony is equally cruel in both cases: as the mistress is destined to become another wife, so the fantasised writing project will be satisfied only when – triumphantly – it becomes merely another deadline.)

So anyway, here are a few of the books that I've been dreaming of writing:

  • An extended essay on the ethics of friendship. (I've been planning this one for quite some time, and I'm hoping to start writing it by the end of the year.)
  • A book on prayer, where each chapter is a meditation on one of George Herbert's poems. (If I'm ever asked to give a series of talks on prayer, I'll use that as my opportunity.)
  • A book on Melville's Moby Dick as the great anti-theodicy, Nature's shattering reply to Paradise Lost. (Frankly, it baffles me that more theologians have not written on Moby Dick – though Catherine Keller is an outstanding exception.)
Of course, these are not the only writing projects ruminating in my mischievous head. But some fantasies – again marriage is the analogy – are best kept secret.

24 Comments:

Ed Lewis said...

I completely agree with the statement on "Moby Dick". Personally after I read that novel, the very next week I preached from it. Though, that is different from what you implied here, it was quite intriguing.

Brad Johnson said...

Not strictly a work of theology, but Ilana Pardes' Melville's Bibles is a wonderful contribution.

Should my book finally get published, one will find discussion of Moby-Dick -- but I tend to frame it in terms of Melville's evolution as a whole, and what this evolution has to say to and about theology.

Ben Myers said...

I'm delighted to hear it, Brad — please let me know when your book is published!

itonlygoesuptoyourknees said...

I've just started my first project, for personal benefit only - a revised edition of George Osborn's 13 Volume Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, with an extra volume of biographies (George, John and Charles)and a volume of all the bits Osborn missed. I'm so jealous of the Library set that I thought I'd make my own. I've actually started, which has surprised even me.

Wes said...

Roger Lundin has also reflected theologically on Moby Dick in his book Believing Again (Eerdmans, 2009).

Virtual Methodist said...

Rob Warner has already used Herbert's poems as the introductions to the various sections in his book on The Lord's Prayer - Praying with Jesus...

byron smith said...

I read Moby Dick for the first time in the week preceding 11th September 2001, and the two events are now forever mutually interpreting for me.

kim fabricius said...

Graham Ward has several pages on MD in True Religion (2003) (pp.106-13) - and he's English! (Even the literate British, I've found, generally have a poor knowledge of American literature).

J said...

Moby Dick...Nature's shattering reply to Paradise Lost.

Yes, as traditionally read. Then others read it as Melville's cryptic encoding of his love for....Nate Hawthorne (the...Beast!).

Student said...

Dear Ben,

I'm currently touring New England with a mind to live near Boston. Harvard Div school and library.

But speaking of Melville. I'm holed up in a snow storm on Cape Cod and near a bookstore. You inspired me to waddle over here and look at Melville as I can't recall if I ever read MD.

Well I looked him up to learn he schooled in Albany NY, and wrote MD in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. I was in those areas just 2 days ago! Incredible mts valleys and skies. Spiritual vortex for sure.

Typing on iPhone so excuse mistakes. Wanted to say you inspire this lonely traveler and yours the only theo blog I read daily.

Because you write well, true, easy. May you write all you dream of.

Blessings to you.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these various references — I've just taken a peek at Roger Lundin's Believing Again, and it appears to be jam packed with good stuff about Melville.

And thanks especially for that delightful comment from Cape Cod — I envy your Melvillean climes (minus the snow storm), and I'm very grateful for your kind words!

Anonymous said...

Hey Ben, intrigued by your comments on MD as the great anti-theodicy. I loved DB Hart's The doors of the Sea and his scathing critique of traditional theodicies. Are there any other books/people I should be looking up along these lines?
Thanks and all the best
Rob

Arni Zachariassen said...

I plan to one day write "Foxe's Book of Failed Martyrs". We always hear of brave Christians facing death for Christ. But what about all of those who couldn't go through with it? What do you do the (Sun)day after you deny Christ? What happens to your faith? How do you justify it in your mind? The book would include both historical figure and contemporary ones. Might make a good documentary too (or instead).

kim fabricius said...

Hi Anonymous,

To get you started ...

From the Wittgensteinian philosopher D. Z. Phillips,The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God (2004)

From the theologian Terrence W. Tilley, Evils of Theodicy (2000)

roger flyer said...

Arni-
For those of a certain persuasion...how about:
"The Backslider's Bible." Comfort and direction for the bedraggled, beat up loser pilgrims who got lost in the woods.

Student said...

Roger, Brennan Manning considers that in his "Ragamuffin Gospel" and other works. I like your Backslider book idea and it might also be a strong seller.

J said...

Did Melville even.......believe?

Unlikely (tho' yes it would take the usual longwinded, literary snipehunt to establish HM's disbelief). Only Ishmael lives to tell the tale, and it's hardly a comforting or pious tale he tells.

Brad Johnson said...

Hawthorne's description of Melville is well-known but still apt:

'Herman Melville came to see me at the Consulate, looking much as he used to do (a little paler, and perhaps a little sadder), in a rough outside coat, and with his characteristic gravity and reserve of manner.... [W]e soon found ourselves on pretty much our former terms of sociability and confidence. Melville has not been well, of late; ... and no doubt has suffered from too constant literary occupation, pursued without much success, latterly; and his writings, for a long while past, have indicated a morbid state of mind.... Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he had "pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated"; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists -- and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before -- in wondering to-and-fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us.'

kim fabricius said...

Andrew Delbanco, in his rip-roaring Melville: His World and Work (2005) describe's Hawthorne's description of Melville [thanks, Brad] "as arguably the most incisive account of his temperament ever written": it "captures perfectly Melville's uneasy suspension between faith and skepticism."

Melville once said to Emerson: "I love all men who dive."

And speaking of Roger Lundin, his Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief (1998, 2004) is a masterpiece. Lundin remarks that Dickinson "knew very little" of her contemporary Melville, but avers that she "resembled Dostoevsky more than Melville... Like the Russian novelist, she won her way through doubt to a tenuous but genuine faith."

Student said...

I'd like to write a treatise:
"Sinners in the Hands of a Joyous God." Currently studying Jonathan Edwards via Marsden. Perhaps when I'm done. I already hear fundamentalist "Yeah, but... "

Have long liked idea"Unoriginal Sin." Perhaps already taken. Would "Light Day of the Soul" be too corny? Sh well joy doesn't sell.

Josh said...

arni: shusaku endo's "silence"

Richard L. Floyd said...

Regarding Melville, he wrote “Moby Dick” at his farm “Arrowhead” here in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where I was pastor for 22 years (and where I still live). Melville is a bit of a cottage industry here, and Melville scholars turn up like pilgrims to Mecca. There have recently been studies of Moby Dick as jazz, on the homoerotic in it (of course!‚) and numerous other details. But the book you envision hasn't yet been written, and should be. You inspired me to blog about all this today at: http://richardlfloyd.blogspot.com/2010/03/ruminations-on-moby-dick-as-theology.html

J said...

Regarding MD and religion, one should not overlook Queequeg and his few odd comments on the "white man's God." See the Shark massacre section for hints--tho' admittedly Ishmael doesn't always agree with Q. See the Crow's Nest for Ishmael's occasional....idealist reflections (and quite sublime)....then Starbuck also at times offers some dee-eep thoughts (ah would contend more...rationalist--Starbuck's the Apollo figure of the Pequod, with Ahab as...either Dionysius...or lucifer). MD theo-person features a veritable panoply of metaphysical ponderings!)

Chris Donato said...

Just an encouragement to get on that Herbert project. The church needs this!

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