Giacometti Fixed My Head

Giacometti, Homme Qui Marche, 1947 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve worked for twenty-seven years (and counting) as an engineer on water resource problems, but I’ve never had a career. As much as I think the water work needs doing, it’s never felt like something I pursued because it was rich and valuable to me. Rather, it’s just been a series of jobs in which I’ve felt restless, like I’ve had an itch I can’t scratch.

In 2017, I finally discovered writing, and it’s been a paradigm shift in satisfaction with my work. When writing, I often feel like I’m doing what I’m made to do. At times, my day job in engineering still feels like a storm that could shipwreck my soul, but my writing serves as critical ballast, preventing capsize. Though I won’t feel I’ve had a writing career until my words get published (which is yet to happen), the writing itself often gives me joy.

And yet. And yet.

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A Lesson in Anti-Racism: Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black

Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan

In recently reading Esi Edugyan’s majestic 2018 novel, Washington Black, I noticed a thematic similarity with Paul’s New Testament letter to Philemon, which I have studied for the past few years as I’ve been writing a novel telling a backstory of the letter. Both works suggest an important distinction between two possible motives for helping someone.

In this post I’ll spell out the distinction in both works, then draw from it what I think is an important lesson for white allies hoping to support their black and brown neighbors in the swelling anti-racism movement. Spoiler alert: What follows will divulge plot information you may not want to know if you plan to read Washington Black (which I highly recommend doing).

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Harry Potter Article Mentioned on American Library Association Blog

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Back in 2010 (when I should have been working on my dissertation), I wrote a three-part article on the controversy over Harry Potter in Christian circles for my children’s books blog (which is now effectively defunct, though I’ve left it online here).

Recently, there has been a revival of interest in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels in the media (see, for example, this article in Forbes) owing in part to the fact that September 1, 2017, apparently marks the date of the Epilogue (titled “Nineteen Years Later”) of the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and roughly 20 years since the publication of the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

As part this revival of interest, the article I wrote back in 2010 has recently received some favorable attention. In particular, the Intellectual Freedom Blog associated with The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association mentioned the article in a post revisiting the religious controversy over the Potter books. This is hardly fame and fortune, but I thought it was worth celebrating with a blog post. Nice to get some unexpected favorable attention in the blogosphere. My original article series on Harry Potter starts here, if you are interested.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

As part of the research for my fiction project telling the backstory of Philemon in the New Testament, I recently read I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Originally published in 1934, it is a gripping novel portraying the Roman ruling class from roughly the beginning of the common era to the assassination of Caligula and accession of the emperor Claudius in 41 CE. Although it is a novel, it hews closely to the actual history of the period, as far as I could tell. It has been claimed to be one of the best novels of the 20th Century.

The story is told in the first person by the protagonist, Claudius, who was an outcast of the ruling family as a child and young man because he was born lame and stuttered. In part as a result of his consequent isolation from most of his family, he befriended books and became a scholar and a historian. The novel is cleverly cast as a portion of his autobiography written for distant future generations (us!). As an admirer of the scholarly life, I found the descriptions of Claudius’s relationships with the Roman historians Livy (a mentor to Claudius) and Pollio to be especially clever and interesting.

The novel portrays the tumultuous and often deadly jockeying for power among Rome’s first family and those connected with them in ruling the empire. Continue reading

Ahab’s Failure to Forgive

I’ve been reading Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick and came across the following passage describing how Ahab’s mania for the great white whale occasionally wakens him from sleep and sends him rushing to the deck of the ship:

“For, at such times, crazy Ahab, the scheming, unappeasedly steadfast hunter of the white whale; this Ahab that had gone to his hammock, was not the agent that so caused him to burst from it in horror again. The latter was the eternal, living principle or soul in him; and in sleep, being for the time dissociated from the characterizing mind, which at other times employed it for its outer vehicle or agent, it spontaneously sought escape from the scorching contiguity of the frantic thing, of which, for the time, it was no longer an integral. But as the mind does not exist unless leagued with the soul, therefore it must have been that, in Ahab’s case, yielding up all his thoughts and fancies to his one supreme purpose; that purpose, by its own sheer inveteracy of will, forced itself against gods and devils into a kind of self-assumed, independent being of its own. Nay, could grimly live and burn, while the common vitality to which it was conjoined, fled horror-stricken from the unbidden and unfathered birth. Therefore, the tormented spirit that glared out of bodily eyes, when what seemed Ahab rushed from his room, was for the time but a vacated thing, a formless somnambulistic being, a ray of living light, to be sure, but without an object to colour, and therefore a blankness in itself. God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.”

The passage strikes me as a vivid picture of the human soul when it fails to forgive. Ahab, of course, has previously lost one of his legs to the great whale, and now he is back sailing the seas, seeking to kill this oceanic incarnation of evil itself. In a word, Ahab is gripped by vengeance. What is the result? Continue reading