Sunday, March 20, 2005

God is in the ... Course Texts?

In the Thursday tutorial, Jessica commented on her perception that, while she sees how the course texts do form a chronological arc of stories which represent Vancouver as "Terminal City, she has observed a lot of God in the course texts. (The allusion in this post's title, by the bye, is to a saying of contentious attribution that "God is in the details.") Since it was I who had bespoken the course texts and from a very different set of criteria, I've had to think over Jessica's the welcome query for a time.
Having now done that, my best response is that the presence of a religious theme to the course texts and lectures is -- with the obvious exception Hey Nostradamus! -- incidental. For my own part, as a student myself of the material, here is my reading of that theme.
Of the short stories, Alice Munro's "Forgiveness in Familes" is the best in the Gerson collection, far and away. Munro to my knowledge is not considered a religious writer: but the potent fact of religion is well within her fictional purview. Innocent Traveller is Ethel Wilson's fictional narration, in the character of "Rose," of the life of her aunt Eliza ("Topaz;") neither of whom are notably religious. The elder sister and long-term matriarch -- "Annie" -- is a deeply and influentially pious character, but that was a biographical fact too strong for literary art to try to diminish.
Here is a quotation that I believe sums up the religious attitude in Innocent Traveller:

Into her majority and forever, Topaz took her three loyalties. Not religion, though she had an indigenous faith in God, for Topaz might well have been (and perhaps she had been) a heavy-footed Bacchante, a milder Maenad with satin-white skin, dancing heavily and happily, excited before the flickering shrine ...
Of John Mills' autobiography it can be said that it recounts his conversion mid-life to Christianity and that event redounds to his life's -- and autobiography's -- underlying theme: to wit, what he terms each person's "symbol at the door." Yet here again, the conversion forms a small - albeit reinforcing - part of the literary whole. The world of Jobs and the author's mother are the major content, and the antinomy of phenomenal and numenal the major theme. Which brings us to our current text, Hey Nostradamus!, where religion is front-&-centre. However, as the initial lecture on Coupland hopefully made clear, it is the sheer, even radical, unexpectedness of the religion in the book that demands our attention. In that sense, then, as far as the lectures go, God should be at least somewhat anomalous in the course texts.
Well, so much for my take. All of yours are most encouraged in seminar, in office hours, or perhaps best, in the comments section below...

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