Novak (novak) wrote,
Novak
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Theological Notebook/Personal: Carpet, Identity Crisis, Origen, Brideshead

A rambling kind of day here. I was summoned by Mike and Donna over to the Ardmore to look at a carpet that the girl who had just vacated my new apartment left behind. It is convenient to have your friends be the managers of your new building. It was cut to fit the living room and looked to be intact and clean, although after being rolled up, the first thing I shall have to do after the apartment is cleaned is unroll and vacuum the thing. Would that I could get them to shampoo it as part of the cleaning process. I will be content if they finished off the replastered patch of wall in the bathroom.

Otherwise, today was a day given over to reading. Such a rare event in my life. Reading for DQEs (Doctoral Qualifying Exams--scheduled for early October) today consisted of the first chapter of Peter Widdicombe's The Fatherhood of God from Origen to Athanasius. This first chapter on Origen has been quite good thus far, giving me a lot of information of which I was unaware about the context of Origen's writing in the Middle Platonism of his time. For instance, it was particularly useful to discover that the Peri Archon, or De Principiis, or On First Principles (whatever language you pick, the title is so cool!) was a text in an already-established genre. Knowing that, and having the genre explained, gives me much more to go on in understanding Origen's intent for the book: "on the necessity of establishing a coherent and encompassing science of God." Not that that is news as far as that goes: what was news to me was that this was an established genre within the culture, instead of something entirely unprecedented, and that tells me something more about the intellectual life of the Empire in the 3rd century. What's really struck me most so far is the emphasis on God's incorporeality. Certainly that was there in reading the book, but Widdicombe has let me see how fundamental the idea is to Origen: that for him, it is "incorporeality" that more than anything else designiates God as the most fundamental reality of all--Being itself/Himself, "He who is," "I AM Who Am." In my own words, or in a more Thomistic language Origen doesn't have, I think that what he seems to really be getting it at is the idea of God as the necessary being, as non-contingent; while all other reality flows from God, but is created, contingent, and not necessary.

Along with that, I read all of DC's Identity Crisis, which could be at turns brutally painful and quietly beautiful. The very last scene was exquisite. It was both a disturbing moral drama, and a pretty good mystery, too: I would have enjoyed it even more had I not realized in issue five that someone had talked to me about this earlier and told me "whodunit," but nevertheless it still kept my attention.

Along with the slow, ongoing re-read of The Wheel of Time as my bathtub book, having gotten to volume 10 now after beginning during the Christmas holiday, I also whiled away the hours by starting to watch the DVD version of Brideshead Revisited, which one enthusiastic reviewer modestly proclaimed "the best television ever." It was the international breakout role in '81 for Jeremy Irons, and really, I have to report after watching the first episode, was captivating. It apparently totals some 11 hours (I have no idea how they're going to have to fillet it down for the film version that's apparently in the works. Actually, since the screenplay is said to focus on Charles' and Julia's affair, I'm sure I know exactly how they'll trim things down: just by getting rid of the "unnecessary parts!") and so I've several evenings to enjoy the whole, if I don't go overboard. Which may be fun, too.

It is interesting to see that John Mortimer, in his screenplay adaptation of Brideshead Revisited has used material from the early edition of the book, as well as from Waugh's later, revised edition. When woven together, the more aggressive and conceptual earlier material flows into the material later re-written that emphasis more Charles' upbringing and family, while the material replacing the earlier passage [in brackets, sic] leave out the earlier specifics:
I had no religion. I was taken to church weekly as a child, and at school attended chapel daily, but, as though in compensation, from the time I went to my public school I was excused church in the holidays. The view implicit in my education was that the basic narrative of Christianity had long been exposed as a myth, and that opinion was now divided as to whether its ethical teaching was of present value, a division in which the main weight went against it: religion was a hobby which some people professed and others did not; at the best it was slightly ornamental, at the worst it was the providence of ‘complexes’ and ‘inhibitions’ - catch words of the decade - and of the intolerance, hypocrisy, and sheer stupidity attributed to it for centuries. No one had ever suggested to me that these quaint observances expressed a coherent philosophic system and intransigent historical claims; nor, had they done so, would I have been much interested. [I had no religion. I was taken to church weekly as a child, and at school attended chapel daily, but, as though in compensation, from the time I went to my public school I was excused church in the holidays. The masters who taught me Divinity told me that biblical texts were highly untrustworthy. They never suggested I should try to pray.] My father did not go to church except on family occasions and then with derision. My mother, I think, was devout. It once seemed odd to me that she should have thought it her duty to leave my father and me and go off with an ambulance, to Serbia, to die of exhaustion in the snow in Bosnia. But later I recognised some such spirit in myself. Later, too, I have come to accept claims which then, in 1923, I never troubled to examine, and to accept the supernatural as the real. I was aware of no such needs that summer at Brideshead.

I cannot help but notice, however, that the narrative the earlier version gives of how Charles had been taught to be dismissive and resistant to Christianity seem to be almost exactly the unchallenged and even unconscious assumptions of students today, minus the catchiness of the latest Freudian psychoanalysis.
Tags: books, personal, theological notebook
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