Friday, 27 June 2008

A curious communication

Well it’s been a quiet week on the book front but I did get one fascinating communication. It was an e-mail from a PhD student in New York, who we will simply call John, saying that he was including a chapter on my series in his doctoral dissertation and asking me some questions.

As far as I can make out John’s thesis is on the attitude of evangelicals writing fiction to technology. He has sent me the chapter, which I have so far merely skimmed over at great speed. My initial response is that he’s got some things about my books right and some things badly wrong but I hope to spend an hour or so putting together some comments. But it’s a strange feeling to have yourself written about. I have read a fair amount of literary criticism and it’s very odd to be involved as the subject rather than as spectator.

I confess to having any slightly jaded view of literary criticism. A formative experience was when in 1982 the American University of Beirut, where I was an assistant professor, had a centennial conference on James Joyce. Having read a fair amount of the old man (I gave up on Finnegan’s Wake but finished Ulysses) I attended. One speaker, becoming extraordinarily esoteric, began to discuss the significance of the coinage that Leopold Bloom had on him when he took the bus journey recounted in Ulysses. We strained to concentrate and as we did, heard no more than a few miles away, the deep boom of artillery fire between East and West Beirut. Somehow, as the air in the room began to gently vibrate and our thoughts drifted to death and destruction, the importance of literary criticism faded away.

Anyway what makes this review particularly interesting is that John is not an evangelical: he says that he is a ‘secularist, though I grew up in the evangelical church and still consider myself at least “culturally” evangelical, if that is possible’. Hmm.

Well I guess I’m flattered. I normally consider this sort of thing to be the prerogative of the dead author but I have checked my pulse and I appear to be alive. It’s nice to be taken seriously.

Have a good week.