Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Joy of Reading Great Books, Part II

Years ago, I came across this meaty article. I tried to relocate it (the former link is now broken), finally found it, and reposted it here divided into five parts due to its length

Enjoy and tell me your favorite quotes!

Part 1 is here.


The Joy of Reading Great Books
by Kathleen Nielson

In Great Books We Encounter the Depth of the Fall

The story of the Fall chases down the story of Creation: The second doctrine we must be quick to mention is that of human depravity. The grievous truth and consequences of the Fall offer a second answer to the why of great literature, which is made up of the stuff of human experience in a fallen, broken creation that used to be Eden. Literature tells over and over again the story of fallenness and brokenness, as well as of a longing for the Eden we lost. Sometimes the telling is explicitly Christian, as has been the case with much of Western literature. Its Christian roots, of course, constitute one major reason Western world literature is being debunked and an important reason why Christians must claim it as a treasured heritage. Dante in the 14th century wrote not theology but rather a huge theologically-based poem about the results of sin; there is hardly a more vivid way to grasp the nature of sin and its logical end than to descend the levels of hell with him in the Inferno. In such poetry we encounter the Fall, lived out to its depths.

But such telling comes not only from centuries past and not only through Christian voices. The 20th century overflows with examples of those who imaginatively portray the truth of lostness and depravity, even if in many cases the authors would not have explained their works in that way. T.S. Eliot, when he wrote works like "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Waste Land," was expressing even in the magnificently ordered fragmentation and startling imagery of his poetry the malaise of a whole civilization that had turned away from God and the certainties of faith. Only later in his life did Eliot embrace Christianity. From then on his poetic portrayals of the fallen human condition became increasingly full of the light of biblical hope.
Literature not only reflects depravity; it also is infected with depravity, for the whole imaginative process both of creating and receiving has been distorted by the Fall. Literature at best reflects truth imperfectly and at worst offers or induces an unbiblical view, or even sinful behavior.

Part 3 tomorrow.  

No comments: