mercredi 18 juin 2008

Discovering relevant questions or - forgetting relevant answers?

In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis starts off criticising two (unnamed) English text-books that subrepticiously argue that value is subjective, and that appeal to emotions is both wrong and un-informative.

This trend of challenging received wisdom, seems to have gone on, in the teaching of English in England and US, et c, as well as in the teaching of other first languages. Witness this title, but which is not a textbook:

The Rhetoric of Fiction
Wayne C. Booth (2d edition)

Winner of the Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award 1962 and the David H. Russell Award of the Nat. Counc. of Teachers of English 1966 (?)

Obviously this book is on the influential side in these professions. And it does challenge given wisdoms, let's have a closer look: this time it is, among other things, the knowability of someone else's emotions, that is under crossfire. As this is not a text-book for pupils, the attack is pretty direct. Before quoting, let it be noted that this approach completely ruins any argument in favour of the position of "Orbilius" and "The Green Book", that value is a matter of emotion: if one cannot know the emotions of one another, how can one know that someone else, when evaluating something, is really speaking about his (presumably unknown) emotions for it?

Here we go, quoting a footnote that ends on page 18:

"[]counts, like the Bible, packed with such illicit entries into private minds, with no distress whatever. For us it may seem strange that the writers of the Gospels should claim so much knowledge of what Christ is feeling and thinking. "Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him" (Mark 1:14). "And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him ..." (5:30). Who reported to the authors these internal events? Who told them what occurs in the Garden, when everyone but Jesus is asleep? Who reported to them that Christ prays to God to "let this cup pass"? Such questions, like the question of how Moses could have given an account of his own death and burial, may be indispensable to historical criticism, but they can easily b overdone in literary criticism."

This is the passage indeed, for which I named this article. And I am not concerned with literary criticism as such, any more than C. S. Lewis*, but with answering something given when purporting to speak on literary criticism, in this case historic criticism. The question before us is, whether Christian readers of the Gospels, as well as Christian and Jewish readers of Pentateuch and Job (we'll get to that book later, touching Homer too) of long ago where blind to very simple questions - or whether unchristian readers of these books, like Mr. Booth (not easily confounded with William B.!) are ignorant of and blind to very simple possible and even (once you come to think of them) compelling answers.

If you have 2000 years accepting a text as true information honestly given and say 50 years saying it pretends to know the unknowable, since knowability is no new discovery, the spontaneous hunch would be to agree with the 2000 years, even before coming to solution of problems. Let us now approach solutions.

On the Gethsemane Question, I am actually forced to repeat what C. S. Lewis had said already, either in Miracles or possibly in Fern Seeds and Elephants. I'll try to vary the wording at least. Nowadays, music on radios, cassette recorders, CDs, LPs, singles, MTV, mp3 is ubiquitous. So was, during Antiquity, the spoken word without any amplification or preservation, spoken on occasions when we would have been silent - or out of reach from hearing it. Sometimes it provoked sleep. In BoNe you will find that reading aloud from Moby Dick sends people (and monsters) to sleep. Actually, so does monotonous speaking anyway. You won't know what I mean, if you have not been to some nowadays very unusual sermons. Catholic and Orthodox priest are not encouraged to exceed a quarter of an hour, but ... Now, unlike the instantaneous sleep magic in BoNe, when you fall asleep in real life, there is a moment when you are still listening, there is a moment when you catch isolated words and forget them immediately because you are to tired to care and only then comes the time when you hear nothing, because you are fast asleep. The New Testament gives us three examples:

1 St Paul preaches (not as in a sermon in Mass or homily halfway through Divine Liturgy, so as to let people sit, but really trying to say all essentials to newbies on one occasion, no doubt), a boy sits on the windowsill (no doubt to catch fresh air so as not to fall asleep, probably his ma or pa was more interested than he was), and falls asleep. He loses balance, falls, breaks the neck. A physician present there (enter St Luke, author of the Acts of the Apostles where you find this) makes a death warrant. St Paul raises the boy to life.

2 St Paul is on trial, he has a lawyer to speak on his behalf. As Lewis noted, the reported words are way too short for a Roman rhetor to get away with, even if he was badly paid. Probably St Paul either fell asleep and remembered only first phrases or so or gave a few sentences in exact quote before going on to a very abridged version.

and, most important:

3 Before this happened, Christ had prayed. His disciples probably slept a few hours. Which means He prayed a few hours. The words reported are too short to have been all the prayer of those hours, it is simply a few phrases that woke the disciples up because He cried them aloud. That He prayed the rest of the time is reasonably assumed without risk of mistake, because they knew His habits (I mean after three years together on practically every piece of road and field in Palestine ...)

and, not as important, but still:

4 It happens, even when priests limit sermon time, if I am to trust this:

___ Where no one can see/hear me talking during services

___ Where no one will notice me sleeping during services

___ Where no one can see/hear me talking or me sleeping during the sermon
(note: additional charge) (from Orthodixie)

Next question: how does St Mark know that Jesus felt a virtue go forth from Him, when the woman touched his garment?

Acts 19: 11 And God wrought by the hand of Paul more than common miracles. 12 So that even there were brought from his body to the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the wicked spirits went out of them.

St Paul and - more important for St Mark, perhaps - St Peter made miracles too. They knew what it felt like. I do not, but I trust the word of St Peter in the writing of St Mark. Unless, of course, St Mark had performed healings himself before writing this. Or Jesus had told St Peter and other Apostles, when speaking after the healing of that woman. A question which Wayne C. Booth does not ask, but which these texts answer is: God does work wonders by the touch of the relics (even just garments, clothes) of Christ and His Saints. Which is one reason why Protestantism is dead wrong (at least as preached at Reformation, there are Anglo-Catholics and such who are not really as Protestant as all that in this respect).

Third question: how does anyone but Jesus Himself know when He is "moved by pity"?

Indeed, how does anyone know the emotions of anyone else? Nevertheless, we pronounce ourselves on each others' emotions pretty often. Gestures, ensuing deeds, facial expression, and so on, and so forth do help us to guess pretty accurately. Sure, the pretense to empathy can be sham, as is probably the case when not just momentary emotion, but exact motive for it or subconscious motive for something else is guessed along with it (a hobby that psychiatrists and Freudians indulge in and sometimes get paid for), but I think anyone can pretty easily use signs like these, particularly with people they know, to ensure an immediate guess of someone else's emotion.

Mark 1: 40 And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down said to him: If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 41 And Jesus having compassion on him, stretched forth his hand; and touching him, saith to him: I will. Be thou made clean. 42 And when he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was made clean.

Pretty straight guess that Our Lord felt sorry for the man, isn't it? Or that he simply decided to act so. Because "having compassion" is not primarily in Biblical language a strong emotion, but a decision to act compassionately, or so I have heard people tell. Even so, anyone might feel sorry for a leper. Why not Our Lord?

Not so for Mr. Booth. If Federigo is really in love with Monna Giovanna is something that no-one can know. Especially not Boccaccio, who is a total stranger (hullo, how does Mr. Booth know that?) and not even Fiametta. He makes a long discussion of the questions involved with "omniscient author's viewpoint" in that story the pages that precede. And apparently, if someone is really in love with someone is an unknowable question. Like the State of Grace in Roman Catholic Theology. Only that emotions are so much more superficial as a question, so much closer to flesh and therefore surfaces of it, than a purely spiritual fact. But some, having decided that morality and values be based on emotion rather than spirit, apparently go along to where they treat emotions as spiritual, that is unknowable.

Fourth set of questions: who wrote Job, how does he know what God and Devil say outside human observations, how did Moses write what happened after his death?

God talked to Moses on more than one occasion. And proved He was God to Moses and the audience** by miracles. The book of Job is something God told Moses. So were the six days of creation. So might the end of the Pentateuch be, except the other explanation is that Deuteronomy has Moses for author because he is author of nearly all the text. The last chapter is only 1/34 of the whole text. Douay-Rheims Bible Online comments in red italics in this chapter. See comment on verse five.

Hans Lundahl
5/18 Juin 2008

*was in that place, that is: otherwise he was a Literary Historian by profession.
**scroll down to section marked in yellow

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