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April 6, 2004

“Evangelicals in the Dock”

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In “Evangelicals in the Dock,” published in the March 2004 issue of First Things, Peter Leithart examines the way the recent meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society handled the case of Clark Pinnock and John Sanders.

Both men hold to “open theism.” Both deny that God knows the future: His statements about the future are probable, not certain. But the charges against them focused instead on whether the two men really hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. After all, the ETS’s doctrinal statement has only the two items: inerrancy and the Trinity.

In the end, the men were allowed to retain their membership in the Society because they were able to convince the majority of the members that they affirmed some sort of inerrancy. Isn’t that good enough? Leithart doesn’t think so and he challenges the ETS’s whole approach.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:31 pm | Discuss (0)
April 5, 2004

Tutti-Frutti

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This afternoon, Duff Crerar, one of the history profs at the Grande Prairie Regional College where I volunteer as a chaplain, passed on to me the following old memo from the Canadian army. Enjoy!

From: Officer Commanding Royal Canadian Regiment
To: Adjutant General, Ottawa, Canada

Springs, Transvaal
June 6, 1900

Sir:

Referring to your memo: of 30th May last respecting the efficacy of the “Tutti-Frutti” Gum presented by the Messrs. S. T. Butler and Company of Toronto for the use of the Batt’n under my Command in South Africa. I have the honour to report that the experience of our men has been entirely favourable to its use as a means of allaying thirst and has therefore been of material benefit to them on more than one trying march.

I have the honour to be
Sir
Your obedient Servant

W. D. Otter, Lt.-Col.
Commander Royal Canadian Regiment

(Source: National Archives of Canada, Department of Militia and Defence, Deputy Minister’s files, Box 444, file 19123.)

Posted by John Barach @ 6:01 pm | Discuss (0)

A Son In God’s Image

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In Genesis 1:26, prior to creating man, God says, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” Contrary to the fanciful ideas of some that God is speaking here to the angels or that he is using a “plural of majesty,” the text of Scripture indicates that there is a sense in which the one God is also many.

After all, the angels aren’t mentioned anywhere in this chapter, nor does the Bible ever say that man is made in the image of the angels. Rather, we read that God created man in his (singular) image (Gen. 1:27). Furthermore, when God speaks to man in verse 29, he doesn’t use a “plural of majesty”: he says, “I have given you every herb….” But earlier in this chapter, we have heard about “the Spirit of God,” hovering like a mother bird over the waters. The chapter itself indicates that there is some plurality in God, and the rest of Scripture makes it clear. Genesis 1:26 is an agreement between the Father, Son (Word), and Holy Spirit.

But why is it here in Genesis 1? God does not speak in this way before creating the animals, and therefore this statement distinguishes the creation of man from the creation of the animals. But what does it say about man?

It seems to me that this intratrinitarian resolution indicates that man, unlike the animals, is created in a special relationship to God. The agreement has to do with creating man in God’s image, according to his likeness, and giving man dominion over the animals. The man is therefore to be God’s representative and God’s vice-gerent.

But it seems to me that more can be said if we think about man as the image of God and the ways in which man reflects God. In verse 27, we are told that “God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

That last line is significant. There’s a sense in which each person, male or female, is created in God’s image. Every person is designed to reflect and represent God.

But God didn’t create a single individual here; he created a community. As Rich Lusk writes in an essay with the provocative title “God is Not Enough: The Story of Christian Community” (Auburn Analecta, 10.2),

This is part of what it means to be made in God’s image. God is not a single individual. He is a community of three distinct persons, bound together in oneness of love and fellowship. For man to image this kind of God required a plurality of humans in fellowship with one another” (pp. 1-2).

But it’s not just that God creates a plurality of people. He could have created a bunch of guys who could hang out together and work on projects together.

But he didn’t. Instead, he created a man and a woman whom he would unite in marriage (Gen. 2:18-24). That diversity is important. As we see in 1:26, God is both one and many. He is three distinct persons. And so he creates man in a way that reflects both his unity and his diversity. He creates man, but he creates male and female, and then he brings the man and woman together in the bond of marriage so that these two very different sorts of people are one flesh (Gen. 2:24).

So every individual is himself created in God’s image. But being in the image of God includes community. And more specifically, it includes marriage. The unity of husband and wife in a bond of love is a creaturely imaging of the covenantal relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But we can go further. That bond of love is expressed in the two becoming “one flesh.”

Now there’s an important sense in which a husband and wife are one flesh, joined in marriage, even apart from any sexual union. If, for instance, an accident rendered a man physically incapable of having sexual relations, that wouldn’t mean that he could never really get married or be “one flesh” with his wife. If he and she have taken wedding vows, if they have gone through the ritual of marriage, God has joined them together and let no man put them asunder.

But normally the marriage bond is consummated through sexual union in which a man is physically “joined to his wife” and in which they become “one flesh” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:16). That union, though it can be perverted by sin, was designed by God, it seems to me, to reflect the union and communion (perichoresis, if you want the theological term) between the Father, Son, and Spirit — the very union which comes to expression when God says “Let us make man in our image, according to ourlikeness.

And from that sexual union come children, children who are in the likeness of their father. That’s what we see in Genesis 5:

In the day that God created man [adam, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them “man” [adam] in the day they were created. And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image…. (Gen. 5:1-3).

And now, I think, we can put a few things together. The union between man and wife in which the man is joined to his wife and the two become one flesh — that union which is expressed in sexual union and which leads to the birth of children in the image and likeness of their father — is part of how we image God. And here in Genesis 1:26, we see the persons of the Trinity coming together, uniting, agreeing together. And in that intratrinitarian union and communion, God creates man in his own image, according to his likeness, male and female so that man can image him in his unity and diversity and particularly through sexual union between husband and wife, a union from which come children in man’s image.

Or, to put it another way: What is the significance of the intratrinitarian resolution in Genesis 1:26? What does it say about Adam? It implies that he is God’s son (Luke 3:38), “born” out of the bond of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, designed to represent his Father in his rule over creation and in his relationships, and especially in fruitful marital union.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:22 am | Discuss (0)
April 3, 2004

Norton

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Argh! My new Norton SystemWorks 2004 not only slows down all my web browsing, but also deletes all my important cookies every day so that everytime I sign on a page, I’m a stranger. Amazon doesn’t know me anymore, and neither does Sensus Plenior.

I think I’ve found a way to fix that problem, but what a nuisance!

Posted by John Barach @ 12:33 pm | Discuss (0)
April 2, 2004

Fault-Finding

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This afternoon, I was reading Thomas Oden’s Pastoral Counsel, volume 3 of his Classical Pastoral Care, and thought I’d pass on these quotations on fault-finding (pp. 170-171).

The first is from Climacus’s The Ladder of Divine Ascent:

I have heard people slandering, and I have rebuked them. And these doers of evil replied in self-defence that they were doing so out of love and care for the person whom they were slandering. I said to them: “Stop that kind of love.” … A charitable and sensible mind takes careful note of whatever virtues it sees in anyone, but a fool looks for faults and defects (Step 10, secs. 4, 16).

The second is from Hugh of St. Victor:

Because a person once puffed up has learnt to think thus highly of himself, he disdains to bring his own actions before the bar of reason, and the less he thinks there is within himself that merits blame, the readier he is to hunt down someone else. Yet this pride cloaks itself at first under the semblance of good zeal, and it persuades the deluded heart that he who acquiesces in another’s fault is no perfect lover of righteousness, and that he undoubtedly so acquiesces, who neglects to rebuke an offender while he can.

Deluded by this error, therefore, the sorely imperceptive soul gives itself over wholly to the vice of curious inquiry. And by degrees, as the disease increases, while at the outset it makes a habit of chasing after other people’s faults without restraint, it ultimately reaches a condition in which, with everything it sees, it tries either to misrepresent it openly, or to interpret it unfavourably.

Thus, for instance, if such persons see that some people are a trifle anxious about common needs, they call them covetous. Those whom they see provident they call misers. Those again who are friendly and cheerful towards everyone are, so they say, given to the vice of flattery; and at the same time they believe that those who generally go about with a sad face are eaten up with jealousy (Selected Sacred Writings, pp. 109-110).

And finally, this little gem from Luther:

Everyone enjoys hearing and telling the worst about his neighbor and it tickles him to see a fault in someone else. If a woman were as beautiful as the sun but had one little spot or blemish on her body, you would be expected to look only for that spot and to talk about it (“Lectures on Galatians, 1519”).

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Chanting

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I haven’t read Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship yet, but I’ve heard that in one of the essays, Terry Johnson questions the value of chanting the psalms instead of singing metrical versions of them. He claims, for instance, that chants are too difficult for most congregations to sing (which leads, then, to their being sung by choirs while the congregation remains silent). As well, he says, chanting isn’t as vibrant as other forms of singing and doesn’t have as much impact on the emotions.

Both of those claims are questionable. Johnson believes that simplicity is essential for Reformed singing. Is it? If so, then why ever progress beyond the level of “God is So Good”? What is important, it seems to me, is singability, which is not the same thing as simplicity.

Are chants singable? Well, contrary to what Johnson says, generations of Christians have found them to be singable. There are congregations that chant well. In fact, picking up on Johnson’s other point, the chanting I heard, for instance, at the Biblical Horizons conference last July was certainly well done and quite emotionally stirring as well.

Of course, if you have an English boys choir performing the chants, they’re likely to sound ethereal. But if you have a whole group, including a bunch of guys chanting down in the bass, it’s a whole nother story.

It’s true that chanting takes effort. It isn’t easy. But then neither is good congregational singing of any kind. At least, not at first. Even catchy songs can be hard to teach if the congregation resists learning new things.

But is it worth the effort for a congregation to learn how to chant the psalms? Johnson doesn’t think so, but I do. Why? Because when you chant a psalm, you’re chanting it exactly as it is in your English translation and that’s a whole lot closer to the way God inspired it than most metrical versions.

The Psalms don’t appear in the Bible with metre and rhyme. To make them fit a metrical scheme so you can sing them in 4/4 time, for instance, and to make the lines rhyme, you usually have to do a fair bit of work, tinkering with the text. You have to shorten some lines and pad some others to make the metre work. You have to substitute words that don’t rhyme for words that do.

Some metrical psalms have rather odd word orders. Think of the famous version of Psalm 23:

The LORD’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness
Ev’n for His own name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill;
For Thou art with me, and Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.

When you sing this song, line by line, you miss the semicolon in the third line, so that it sounds as if He’s leading us in green pastures when it’s actually that He makes us lie down in green pastures. That’s one flaw. But you also have such odd phrases as “makes me down to lie,” “the quiet waters by,” “me to walk doth make,” and “staff me comfort still” — the kind of thing that led someone to refer to these sorts of songs as “the Psalms according to Yoda.”

When you chant a psalm, however, you aren’t constrained to make the psalm fit your metrical scheme or your rhyme scheme. If a line is exceptionally long, so what? A metrical song will try to shorten it to fit, but a chant will just sing it as it is. God had a reason for inspiring the psalm that way, long line and all. The form of the text is inspired, after all, and not just the “meaning” of it.

That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to sing a paraphrase of a psalm. There are some good paraphrases out there. I’ve particularly enjoyed using Canon Press’s Cantus Christi and the Canadian Reformed Church’s Book of Praise. But they are paraphrases. Wouldn’t it be good to learn to chant something that isn’t a paraphrase? Wouldn’t it be good for our children to learn to sing the psalms and not just rhymed and rhythmed versions of them?

Oh, but chanting just sounds and feels sort of Roman Catholic, doesn’t it? I’ve heard that comment. And it’s true: Many Roman Catholic churches do still chant. So do many Anglican and Orthodox and Lutheran churches. That shouldn’t scare us off chanting. Perhaps it should actually humble us and spur us on to learn from these other traditions.

In a recent e-mail to a mailing list I participate in, Paul Buckley made a number of insightful comments in response to Johnson’s critique of chanting. This one made me laugh out loud, and he’s allowed me to post it here. It’s worth thinking about:

Lots of non-inerrantists think it’s important to sing the psalms in a real translation; lots of inerrantists think it’s more important to wrangle with the text until it obeys a favorite meter and rhyme scheme. Behold, I tell you a mystery.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:02 pm | Discuss (0)
March 5, 2004

A Lion With Wings

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This week, I finished reading Stephen Smith’s A Lion with Wings: A Narrative-Critical Approach to Mark’s Gospel. Smith provides a helpful summary of some of the recent literary studies of Mark’s Gospel. At times, Smith draws attention to details in the Gospel which may easily be overlooked. Still, having read David Rhodes and Donald Michie’s Mark as Story, I had already covered much of the turf Smith covers and so, though I took some notes, I didn’t learn a lot that was new.

Both books, in fact, were somewhat disappointing, largely because I’ve grown used to the rich literary studies of James Jordan and Peter Leithart. Both Smith and Rhoads & Michie spent a lot of time talking about characterization, point of view (ho hum), and setting. Smith had some discussion of irony. But I had hoped that these books might provide an examination of other literary features in Mark’s Gospel. Where were the discussions of chiasm or other structural features?

Furthermore, the books were disappointing because they focused so strictly on the Gospel of Mark. Neither book was interested in the actual history, which led to some blunders. Rhoads & Michie, for instance, lump all the various opponents of Jesus together, in spite of the radical differences between the Pharisees and the chief priests. Smith speaks about the Pharisees as if they were the leaders of Israel. Both books, therefore, could use a good dose of N. T. Wright.

The strict focus on Mark also meant that Mark was read out of the context of the whole canon. In particular, Mark was read without much reference at all to the Old Testament background. While both books do recognize that Mark sometimes alludes to the Old Testament, they don’t do much with that framework. I would have preferred to see more discussion of the symbolism in Mark’s Gospel, for instance.

All of which is to say that, though I did learn some things from these books and will be referring to them as I work on Mark’s Gospel in my sermon preparation, they were not as profitable as I had hoped.

I would also add that, in spite of his great title (drawn from a poem by D. H. Lawrence), Smith doesn’t really talk about Mark as “a lion with wings.” Of course, that discussion is probably beyond Smith’s particular focus, but it is interesting that the Christian tradition identified Mark’s Gospel with the lion face of the cherubim. Identifying Matthew as the man, Luke as the ox, and John as the eagle, however, seems wrong to me. Matthew is the ox (priest), Mark the lion (king), Luke the eagle (prophet), and John the man (image of God). Nevertheless, the tradition did get Mark right, and the cover of Smith’s book has a really cute picture of Mark, the winged lion, writing his Gospel, with a rather sheepish look on his face. The picture is from Hereford Cathedral in the 12th century.

Posted by John Barach @ 10:42 pm | Discuss (0)
March 2, 2004

“Our Citizenship in Heaven”

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I’ve been working on Philippians 3:17-21 for a sermon this Sunday. Here are N. T. Wright’s thoughts on a common misunderstanding of what Paul means when he says “our citizenship is in heaven”:

Many have thought that if our citizenship is in heaven that means that heaven is our real home, the place to which we will eventually go. But that is not how the language of citizenship functions. The point of being a citizen of a mother city is not that when life gets really tough, or when you retire, you can go back home to the mother city. The people to whom Paul was writing in Philippi were Roman citizens, but they had no intention of going back to Rome. They were the means through which Roman civilization was being brought to the world of Northern Greece. If and when the going got tough there, the emperor would come from Rome to deliver them from their enemies in Philippi, and establish them as a true Roman presence right there. So, Paul says, “from heaven we await a saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” This is, I suggest, much more integrated with a theology of new heavens and new earth than with a theology of going from the present space-time world to a non-spatio-temporal one. It ties in with other passages such as Gal 4.21-31, which speaks of the Jerusalem “which is above.” The purpose is not to escape to that Jerusalem, any more than the muddled Galatians thought they had to go and live in terrestrial Jerusalem in order to be proper Christians. No: they were under the dangerous influence of the terrestrial Jerusalem, and Paul is saying, in effect, “you must be under the influence of, and act as the agents of, the heavenly Jerusalem.” Philippians 3 and Galatians 4 both speak of the dimension of the present reality which is to be informed by the mother city, not of a sense of escaping from present reality to that mother city (New Heavens, New Earth 8).

In his Paul for Everyone volume on Philippians, Wright expands on this exegesis:

At once many modern Christians misunderstand what he means. We naturally suppose he means “and so we’re waiting until we can go and live I heaven where we belong.” But that’s not what he says, and it’s certainly not what he means. If someone in Philippi said, “We are citizens of Rome,” they certainly wouldn’t mean “so we’re looking forward to going to live there.” Being a colony works the other way round. The last thing the emperors wanted was a whole lot of colonists coming back to Rome. The capital was already overcrowded and underemployed. No: the task of the Roman citizen in a place like Philippi was to bring Roman culture and rule to northern Greece, to expand Roman influence there.

But supposing things got difficult for the Roman colonists in Philippi. Supposing there was a local rebellion, or an attack by the ‘barbarian’ tribes to the north. How would they cope? Their best hope would be that the emperor himself, who after all was called “saviour,” “rescuer,” would come from Rome to Philippi to change their present somewhat defenceless situation, defeat their enemies, and establish them as firmly and gloriously as Rome itself. The emperor, of course, was the ruler of the whole world, so he had the power to make all this happen under his authority.

That is the picture Paul has in mind in verses 20 and 21. The church is at present a colony of heaven, with the responsibility (as we say in the Lord’s Prayer) for bringing the life and rule of heaven to bear on earth. We are not, of course, very good at doing this; we often find ourselves weak and helpless, and our physical bodies themselves are growing old and tired, decaying and ready to die. But our hope is that the true saviour, the true Lord, King Jesus himself will come from heaven and change all that. He is going to transform the entire world so that it is full of his glory, full of the life and power of heaven. And, as part of that, he is going to transform our bodies so that they are like his glorious body, the body which was itself transformed after his cruel death so that it became wonderfully alive again with a life that death and decay could never touch again.

Knowing this will enable Christians to “stand firm in the Lord” (4:1); and now we can see more clearly what that means. It doesn’t just mean remaining constant in faith. It means giving allegiance to Jesus, rather than to Caesar, as the true Lord. Paul has described the church, and its Lord, in such a way that the Philippians could hardly miss the allusion to Rome and Caesar. This is the greatest challenge of the letter: that the Christians in Philippi, whether or not they were themselves Roman citizens (some probably were, many probably weren’t), would think out what it means to give their primary allegiance not to Rome but to heaven, not to Caesar but to Jesus — and to trust that Jesus would in due time bring the life and rule of heaven to bear on the whole world, themselves included (pp. 126-127).

I think Wright’s approach is correct. Paul isn’t preaching escapism here. Rather, he is making a statement about how they are to live on earth — indeed, a political statement.

Paul sees the church as a colony of heaven with the task of living out that heavenly citizenship. In fact, “live out your citizenship” is a decent paraphrase of the word in 1:27 which is often translated “conduct yourselves,” since this word is a verbal form of the noun translated “citizenship” or “commonwealth” in 3:20. The word is related to the noun polis meaning “city,” from which we get our English word “politics.”

And politics is indeed on Paul’s mind here. He wants the church to “live out her citizenship” in a way that is “worthy of the gospel.” And what is the gospel? Here in Philippians, it is the announcement that Jesus is Lord.

Just as the Roman citizens in Philippi were imitating the Roman pattern, the Christians are to imitate the heavenly pattern. Just as the Roman citizens were making Rome’s authority visible and advancing that authority in their environs, so the Christians are to advance the gospel (which is what “striving together for the faith of the gospel” in 1:27 means). And they are to keep doing that, no matter what opposition they may face until God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, because Jesus, not Caesar, is the Lord and Saviour and, though they may be oppressed now, he will bring them to share in his exaltation and glory.

That’s Paul’s point here: not “you get to go to heaven when you die or when Christ returns” but “you have a calling here on earth and you can trust that, no matter what opposition you may face, the King is going to come from heaven to vindicate you and exalt you to share in his glory.”

A related question: Why do so many hymns focus on heaven as if the Christian’s ultimate goal is to go to heaven when he dies or as if, when Christ returns, we’ll spend eternity in heaven with him? Even apart from the corny language with which this expectation is often expressed, what has become of the doctrine of the resurrection and of the new heavens and new earth on which, the Bible tells us, we will live in the age to come?

I recall an older OPC pastor once telling me that he didn’t think many Christians believed in the resurrection. I recall, too, struggling to teach catechism students about the resurrection — struggling, because the students just didn’t seem to think the resurrection was all that important or even all that plausible. Has our hymnody and our popular piety shaped our thinking so that we have lost sight of our true future hope?

One elderly man in my former congregation lost his wife, for whom he had cared through a long, long illness. I was told that someone had assured him that her spirit was with the Lord now. He responded, “But I loved her body, too.”

I’m afraid that some Christians might think his response indicated some deficiency on his part, but I think he got it exactly right. While it is true that this woman is still living with the Lord, that isn’t the final goal. The good news is that the Lord hasn’t abandoned her body and will one day raise it in glory. But the heavy emphasis on “going to heaven when you die” and the corresponding downplaying of the resurrection robs people of that full comfort which is ours in Christ.

Another related question: Would hyper-preterism (which teaches that the final resurrection has happened and that all we have to look forward to when we die is disembodied life in heaven with no future resurrection of our bodies) be as attractive to people if the church had properly emphasized the goodness of physicality and the centrality of the resurrection instead of just “going to heaven when you die” ?If we truly delighted in physicality, in having bodies (and in our loved ones’ having bodies), would we be attracted to a view that denies the bodily resurrection? If the church didn’t believe — or act (or sing) as if she believed — that “going to heaven” is all that matters, perhaps she could have shut the door to the Gnostic heresy of hyper-preterism.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:45 pm | Discuss (0)
February 20, 2004

Real Genius

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Another snippet from Borges‘ “Autobiographical Essay.” He’s been talking about a friend of his, a philosopher and conversationalist of a rather eccentric bent:

Macedonio was fond of composing small oral catalogs of people of genius, and in one of them I was amazed to find the name of a very lovable lady of our acquaintance, Quica Gonzalez Acha de Tomkinson Alvear. I stared at him open-mouthed. I somehow did not think Quica ranked with Hume and Schopenhauer. But Macedonio said, “Philosophers have had to try and explain the universe, while Quica simply feels and understands it.” He would turn to her and ask, “Quica, what is Being?” Quica would answer, “I don’t know what you mean, Macedonio.” “You see,” he would say to me, “she understands so perfectly that she cannot even grasp the fact that we are puzzled.” This was his proof of Quica’s being a woman of genius. When I later told him he might say the same of a child or a cat, Macedonio took it angrily (pp. 229-230).

 

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February 18, 2004

Critics

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Here’s Borges on his critics:

People have been unaccountably good to me. I have no enemies, and if certain persons have masqueraded as such, they’ve been far too good-natured to have ever pained me. Any time I read something written against me, I not only share the sentiment but feel I could do the job far better myself. Perhaps I should advise would-be enemies to send me their grievances beforehand, with full assurance that they will receive my every aid and support. I have even secretly longed to write, under a pen name, a merciless tirade against myself. Ah, the unvarnished truths I harbor! (p. 259).

Posted by John Barach @ 5:37 pm | Discuss (0)

Borges and Blindness

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Later on in his “Autobiographical Essay,” Borges talks about going blind:

My blindness had been coming on gradually since childhood. It was a slow, summer twilight. There was nothing particularly pathetic or dramatic about it. Beginning in 1927, I had undergone eight eye operations, but since the late 1950’s, when I wrote my “Poem of the Gifts,” for reading and writing purposes I have been blind.

Blindness ran in my family; a description of the operation performed on the eyes of my great-grandfather, Edward Young Haslam, appeared in the pages of the London medical journal, the Lancet. Blindness also seems to run among the directors of the National Library. Two of my eminent forerunners, Jose Marmol and Paul Groussac, suffered the same fate.

In my poem, I speak of God’s splendid irony in granting me at one time 800,000 books and darkness. One salient consequence of my blindness was my gradual abandonment of free verse in favor of classical metrics. In fact, blindness made me take up the writing of poetry again. Since rough drafts were denied me, I had to fall back on memory. It is obviously easier to remember verse than prose, and to remember regular verse forms rather than free ones. Regular verse is, so to speak, portable. One can walk down the street or be riding the subway while composing and polishing a sonnet, for rhyme and meter have mnemonic virtues (p. 250).

Posted by John Barach @ 5:33 pm | Discuss (0)

Mark Twain on Jane Austen

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In his “Autobiographical Essay” at the end of The Aleph and Other Stories, Borges mentions how much he dislikes his first seven books:

In fact, when in 1953 my present publisher — Emece — proposed to bring out my “complete writings,” the only reason I accepted was that it would allow me to keep those preposterous volumes suppressed. This reminds me of Mark Twain’s suggestion that a fine library could be started by leaving out the works of Jane Austen, and that even if that library contained no other books it would still be a fine library, since her books were left out (pp. 230-231).

I don’t agree with Twain, and I don’t know that Borges does either, but I found that comment amusing, and all the more so since Borges is applying the comment to his early works.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:25 pm | Discuss (0)

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