Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Hopeful Reading

Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Hopeful Reading

Article excerpt

Abstract: This essay redefines the task of the reader in light of Christian hope, unfolding how a theology of hope might ground literary criticism. The resulting approach to literature--hopeful reading--considers texts in light of their future becoming in the Kingdom of God. Rather than considering texts as purveyors of hope or possibility for a reader's future, hopeful reading asks critics to non-instrumentally foreground the possibilities in a text's future. The essay explains Christian hope, shows how it might warrant and construct a literary critic's vocation, and offers several extended examples of contemporary critics who seem to be reading hopefully.

**********

What's missing from the current dispensation is a sense of hope when we confront major works, the hope that they will tell us something we do not know about the world or give us an entirely fresh way to apprehend experience.

--Mark Edmundson, Why Read?

   One could abandon writing
   for the slow-burning signals
   of the great, to be, instead,
   their ideal reader, ruminative,
   voracious, making the love of masterpieces
   superior to attempting
   to repeat or outdo them,
   and be the greatest reader in the world.
   At least it requires awe,
   which has been lost to our time;
   so many people have seen everything,
   so many people can predict,
   so many refuse to enter the silence
   of victory, the indolence
   that burns at the core,
   so many are no more than
   erect ash, like the cigar,
   so many take thunder for granted.
   How common is the lightning,
   how lost the leviathans
   we no longer look for!
   There were giants in those days.
   In those days they made good cigars.
   I must read more carefully.

--From Derek Walcott, "Volcano" (116-17)

What I realized on that day in Ohio is that the created world is here and finished. Now we are walking around on creation. And since it is finished, it is the site of eternity. This is why we can still make it glorious and productive while we wait and watch.

--Fanny Howe, The Winter Sun (164)

Is there any hope for literary study? (1) In the past several years, literary critics, along with their students, have been searching for it. (2) Their efforts have been little aided, it seems, by the methods dominant in the discipline for the past two or three decades, chief among which is the hermeneutic of suspicion. (3) Many scholars feel that this hermeneutic has dead-ended; it is now almost conventional to proclaim that the discipline--maybe even all of the humanities--is in despair. There are several sorts of response to this despair. (4) Some critics have stepped back from literary theory, focusing instead on pragmatic, everyday uses of texts as a way to make their work relevant. (5) Others find their work's significance in the idea that encounters with texts can offer life transformation to readers, a transformation of which they may be purveyors. (6)

Might a theology of Christian hope offer some insight into the disciplines despair? Might it justify the vocation of the Christian literary critic and teacher? For Christians, the resurrection of Christ inaugurates the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven; all walks of life would fall within that kingdom's borders--even the walk of the literary critic.

This paper will sketch out how a theology of Christian hope could function as a foundation for Christians' work in literary criticism. First, it will identify key features of Christian hope, distinguishing it from secular and/or mundane hope. Second, it will explore the posture of the teacher-critic in light of the theology of hope. The resulting approach to literature--hopeful reading--proposes that critics consider texts in light of the texts' own future development, or becoming, in the Kingdom of God. Rather than considering texts solely as purveyors of hope or possibility for a reader's future, hopeful reading asks critics to non-instrumentally found their readings on the possibilities in a text's (or author's) future. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.