Terrible Love

Thomas Satterwhite Noble
The Modern Medea, 1867
Oil on canvas

Spoiler warning ahead. I am going to discuss central plot details of the Toni Morrison novel Beloved, including information that the reader is not made aware of until the end of the first major division of the story. To be fair, in my edition of Beloved, Morrison herself spoils the plot detail in her Foreword, and she gives no spoiler warning. But she is the master, and I am not.

In her masterpiece Beloved, Toni Morrison depicts for us the complex reality of motherhood amidst freed (and escaped) slaves in antebellum America. Time and again, for instance, Baby Suggs — the mother-in-law of the main character, Sethe — wonders if she truly had any children beside the one she herself raised. We are told that she birthed many children, of course, but in her mind only Halle (Sethe’s husband) really counts as her son. There’s something about the structure of chattel slavery that not only dehumanizes and destroys individuals but also dehumanizes and destroys family units, societies, and cultures. Drawing upon Morrison’s language (though expanding it using the work of Frantz Fanon and the like) Hortense Spillers, in her essay “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” observes that chattel slavery did more than transform people into bodies, but, even further, it deformed bodies into flesh. Bodies could, perhaps, have familial relations with one another, but pieces of flesh, ripped at will, cannot.

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(Not) Defining Violence

James Ensor
Death of Jezebel, 1880
Charcoal on tan wove paper

In view of various types of bombs and military actions, of the ever-increasing militarization of the police forces, and even of the rapacious bloodthirsty-ness of certain Christians and Christian leaders, it strikes me as necessary to address the term “violence.”

The problem is, of course, that unlike Peter Leithart’s assertion in his work on the topic, there are no clear-cut descriptions in the Bible regarding the lines between Violence, that chaos of suffering that humans unleash upon humans, and what Leithart glosses as “godly retribution,” such as when the Lord brings a siege upon Jerusalem such that women are eating their children.

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Introduction: The Poet in Babylon

Briton Rivière
Daniel’s Answer to the King, 1890
Oil on canvas

Not too long ago, I put together a blog dedicated to “Christian mythopoetics.” The work I had aimed to do was to write in the spirit of the Christian humanists of the mid-20th Century (Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, Barfield, Sayers, Underhill, even their forebears: Eliot, MacDonald, and Chesterton), engaging literature from the view of Christianity. I wrote about Cormac MacCarthy’s Blood Meridian and the problem of power, about Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and the terror of knowledge, and about Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and the crisis of the modern family. Continue reading “Introduction: The Poet in Babylon”