Saturday, December 14, 2019

On "Flight" by John Steinbeck (7661 words) *****

One of my favorite stories of all time, this one reminds me of what I found so engrossing about John Steinbeck when I was a teenager. It's a bit overwrought and melodramatic toward the beginning, but the slow, deliberative descriptions of a young boy--er, man--on the run fits with the inevitable end. Read the story here.

On "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez *****

It's been a long while since I read Garcia Marquez, and this reread was well worth the time, suiting my mood precisely. In the cannon of Latin American writers, Garcia Marquez has generally ranked behing Borges and Cortazar for me, but were it not for those two great writers, I'd probably think much more about the Colombian author.

This tale is wonderful for its various details but also for its tone. Garcia Marquez builds the story as if a man were really conducting research on an incident from earlier in his life. We read of interviews he's conducted, his own memories, written accounts. In that sense, the Chronicle is like reading an investigative report.

The story revolves around the killing of Santiago Nasar for the apparent deflowering of Angelica Vicario, whose new husband returns her as such. As we read further, we learn not just how the killing went down but how Nasar was implicated--even as his actual guilt is called into question. By the end, I found myself saddened by the course of events, which is as good as one could hope from such a story. The novella can be read here.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

On "The Last Asset" by Edith Wharton (12,119 words) *****

A journalist befriends an American woman who is at the center of the social world from which he draws his stories. She in turn wants a favor--she wants him to get in touch with her husband, from whom she has been separated for years. The husband is needed for the daughter's wedding, or else no wedding can take place. Why the husband is separated, how he lives, and why he has no interest in helping is at the center of this story, a center which comes to encompass even the journalist. The story is told in the third-person limited perspective of the journalist, and yet, it's one of those tales that fits in with The Great Gatsby or On the Road insofar as the story isn't really about the main character but about someone whom the main character is obsessed with (although actually, this story is about the main character insofar as he is the one transformed in it, even if he's not the main spring for the events). Those two novels are first person, and I wonder to some degree why, given that the story is still told from a limited perspective, why Wharton didn't settle on first person for this one. Read the story here.

On "Early Biblical Interpretation" by James M. Kugel and Rowan A. Greer ***

Book 3 in the Library of Early Christianity, this one focuses on how Bible readers interpreted the scripture up through about the third century CE. The main thing that I got out of the book was something very obvious, something I just hadn't given much thought to: namely, even the later Old Testament scriptures are even interpretations of the earlier ones. Thus, Chronicles, written after Kings and the Torah, in many ways reads the events recounted in those books in a new way, "making past events bear on present reality" (38).

Much of the book--though not as much as I feared, since that wasn't something I was particularly interested in reading about at present--is given over to the rise of and cannonization of scripture. Much is also given over to different genres of the scripture, at least in the Old Testament, and of interpretation--wisdom writing, apocalyptic writing, interpretations among the Qumran sect, interpretations among the rabbis, the hellenistic allegorical approach.

While the first half of the book focuses on the Old Testament, the second half focuses on the New. The author of this half is particularly interested in Iraneaus's view of the scripture, as he is the first to reference most of the books in the New Testament in his own work. The author delves into the various ways early Christian writers put Old Testament scripture to work within the new Christian framework (Jesus in the Old Testament, the church as the new Israel, etc.). He also looks at the differences between the Alexandrian allegorical school and the Antiochan typological school, showing that actually the two schools are not perhaps as different as one might initially claim, as their main interest was in making theological points.

The book's final line is perhaps most telling of the two religious traditions that come out of interpreting Old Testament scripture: "It is instructive that the figure of Wisdom, portrayed in Prov. 8:22ff, as God's agent of creation and revelation, was equated in Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira) with the Torah but was identified by Christians as early as Paul with Christ. From the same point of departure we thus find two paths, strikingly similar in many of their presuppositions and methods, but finally divergent" (203).