Thursday, April 29, 2004

Philip Pullman, Rowan Williams and the Fall of Man

Ayelle has found the interview between Philip Pullman and Archbishop Rowan Williams at the National Theatre in London -- you remember, the event for which I wanted to drop my classes and buy a plane ticket. The conversation looks fascinating enough to have been worth the trip.

PP: One of the most interesting things for me about this notion of the Fall, is that the first thing that happened to Adam and Eve is that they were embarrassed, with consciousness. For me it's all bound up with consciousness, and the coming of understanding of things - and making the beginning of intellectual inquiry. Which happens typically in one's adolescence, when one begins to be interested in poetry and art and science and all these other things. With consciousness comes self-consciousness, comes shame, comes embarrassment, comes all these things, which are very difficult to deal with.

RW: That's right. I think that as a religious person, I would say that's a neutral phenomenon. That's just what happens, and one of the fallacies of religion that's not working is to suppose that somehow you can spin the wheel backwards, and go back to pure unselfconsciousness.

PP: Which is a mis-reading because after all, it says in Genesis, there's an angel with a fiery sword standing in the way. You can't go back.

RW: Can't go back. The only way is forward. Yes, and sorry to quote Anglo-Welsh poets again, but one of R S Thomas's pieces is about there being no way back to the Garden.

I find this conversation deeply interesting as an exploration of modern myth. Of the two kinds of theology in my head -- modern Jewish theology and medieval Catholic theology (and I know neither set as completely as I should) -- neither has anything like a modern liberal Anglican treatment of the Fall of Man. The Catholics did not problematize the Fall at this depth (in texts with which I am familiar; some readers of this blog may know much better than I, so please correct me). Modern Jews completely lack the concept of a fall associated with Eve. Therefore, I read this discussion as a bemused outsider, and am very interested

What Pullman and Williams seem to be doing here -- despite their varying theological positions -- is rewriting the Fall as a non-negative (and, for Pullman, at least, positive) construct in order to match religion to the world as they understand it. Anglicanism / Episcopalianism is in the process of change -- and this dialogue between Rowan Williams and Philip Pullman is an artifact deeply connected to that change. I must say, from the outside, it's fun to watch.

I only wish Archbishop Williams had named the poem he cited by the twentieth-century Anglo-Welsh priest and poet R S Thomas. I pulled out my copy of Thomas' Collected Poems to hunt for it, but I couldn't read all 531 pages in order to find one poem about the Garden.

Iris and I used to sit in my dormitory room in London and read R S Thomas to each other for hours on end. Thomas' voice, spare and cold, in love with Wales and bitterly regretting its people's failures, unblinkingly facing disillusionment with God and human, held us still and quiet. Look at "A Welshman to Any Tourist", "Reservoirs" and the other poems available here to see why we were fascinated.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Dear Nuns,

Sorry for the long silence.. life's been hectic now that I'm working for Pam Byrnes's campaign, and attempting to *gasp* have a more.. shall we say.. variable social life? That and constantly having to call the Federal Court in Detroit to see if I have to come in for Jury Duty.. which apparently is a full two week affair.. I may have to go in at ANY TIME this week, and next.. Gads, I thought it was just two Mondays, but it's for two whole bloody weeks!!

Most people only have to go down to the local court house to serve jury duty, but some idiot decided I needed to go to a court house an hour or more away, in a city I've barely traveled in (and hate driving in, that's for sure)... if I do get called in, I am either going to request a friend to drive me, or I'll call a cab, because I'm not going to Detroit at six o'clock in the morning so I can sit around waiting for some lawyers to call me in.

In other news, I'm reading C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series, and loving it, and I just picked up A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.. so you can quit nagging me about it, Sister Andrea.