Monday, February 04, 2008

On Story

In any narrative laid out before us, we are drawn to inhabit varying degrees of audience-ness. On one pole, that of entirely audience, are those which watch, read or listen to the story from without. They do not identify with any aspect of the story. That is extremely disconnected to what stories involve and reflects on the story (if it managed to represent nothing that is "true" to us) or on the audience (who lives as a practical solipsist). One the other pole is the complete identification with the story. This characteristic in ourselves finds us taking a role in the story like some plain, intellectually self gratifying female of perpetual singleness finding that she breathes the very atman of Elizabeth Bennett. Again this reflects either on the quality of the story or its audience.
The first pole mentioned is pointless to story as stories seek to convey and nothing was conveyed. It was just some thing, an article, like a rock, but a rock has no intention of communication. The second or other pole matters a great deal. The actualness of the story, its truth regarding objective truth, calls to everyone to align themselves truly to the parts they ought. There are women just like Elizabeth Bennett and they should see themselves in her. Tragically there are more Mr. Collins than those who recognize it and equally tragic, fewer Mr Darcys than the actual Elizabeths would like.
But for all this I think about the Gospel. The narrative told us by God is that we are sinners, every man jack of us, and as sinners damned eternally. Now the above description of audience applies. Within Christendom (not Christianity) there are many who see the narrative of God's salvific purpose without seeing their participation in the story. They may advance the story. They may say the story is true. Certainly they, in this advocacy of the story (remember they inhabit Christendom), are not at the first polar extreme. They have heard the story with the attendance and enjoyment of a Stars Wars fan. They have willfully suspended their disbelief and they pretend that the story is true and the equally pretend (for the serious fans) that they are like one or more of the characters. While at a Christian church or conference or concert they participate in the story with the back or nature of their mind ready to realize, on leaving the "theater", that they are not Han Solo. Christianity asks for something more. It tells a story that we are not supposed to enjoy temporarily as if only meeting it with story and audience clearly distinct. It tells a story that is about us. We don't just find that we are "like" a character in it, we "are" a character in it. Those sinners it speaks of are all of us who hear it. To fail in this identification is to fail to have a faith that will beseech God for forgiveness of Our Sins.

The great thing, if we wish to visit our Jane Austen motif again, is that once we discover that we are, actually are, Elizabeth Bennett we know that the story has promised Mr Darcy. We are the sinners in the story of the Gospel and Jesus Christ has died for us.


Thomas Banks said...

I'm not sure this is entirely fair to those that "See the narrative of God's salvific purpose," etc; the depiction of them here (Star wars fans, et. al.) paints servility and groupthink in broad strokes, but at other times, we opt to portray these same persons in a light gaudily tinted with what we take to be their hubris; surely some explanation is in the way, or we have contradicted ourselves, no?

Enjoyed it otherwise,


The Oracle said...

I didn't mesh those two, Bom. The Star Wars fan is the pretend sinner, who knows that he/she isn't, but is willing to talk that way while the time of pretense is upon them. These are those mentioned earlier as faux-Elizabeths. The Star Wars example forbids much personal alignment as the fans can't be what isn't. The fiction is too inaccessible. With the Gospel, it is and with the hearing one doesn't think he is, he pretends to be, or he knows he is.

Thomas Banks said...

Apologies, I should be more clear:

I saw that in this post you had been consistent in your line of attack, as you point out in your reply; I was comparing the flavor of this post with that of previous things I think I've heard you say about the motives of teleological narratives- that they are arrogant, self-aggrandizing, etc.- If this doesn't sound at all familiar, let me know; I thought I had detected two perpendicular strains of rhetoric, but now that I think about it, the "Evan thinks postmillenialism is pompous" thing may be an imputation on my part. I could be wrong. (I read this post at late hours)

For whatever that's worth...

The Oracle said...

The Oracle does think postmillennialism pompous. The self aggrandizing quality of it smacks of the same quality in the narrative of the Premillennial. The first wants importance in their inevitable world domination (beginning now and with them of course) and the other wants the importance of being the last generation (cuz wouldn't that be cool). Importance is pompous if it is self-importance. Neither story is true but both have a Darcy and all of us want to be that Darcy. Were either story were true, and we aligned ourselves truly with the important, the importance would not be pompous. But more so with the Gospel. It is true and we can truly align with an important but not heroic character. With the Gospel it is who we truly are in the true story that averts the charge of self aggrandizement. We are the Orcs not the Elves. Boromir not Aragorn. Gollum not Frodo. And in keeping with my LOTR pattern, we are the dorks of the story not the cool.

Thomas Banks said...

But this is exactly my point: We can't rightly accuse pomills of that sort of overconfident prigishness while at the same time alleging them to be servile flatterers of every misinformed historical tradition that treads past them; It is difficult for one to abase himself and, in the same motion, to inflate his ego, at least not without some sacloth and ashes and a liberal dose of the theatrical. You may be right in diagnosing the mentallity in question as being guilty of one of these two faults, or of the other, but to be guilty of both? Unlikely.

The Oracle said...

The "servile flattery of every historic tradition" is merely the recognition of those greats who passed the baton on to them. It takes servility to convey (not to those long dead but to self) how much you deserve to be the next annointed step. I don't see the A is not A aspect of this but perhaps I miss something.

Jeff Moss said...


Good thoughts, thanks.

With all due respect, if in your analogy LOTR represents The Story, do we have to see ourselves as orcs or Gollum? As minor characters who have been gifted with a role on the right side, aren't we really more along the lines of a Pippin?

JoshuaGibbs said...

Blogga please!

Importance is pompous if it is self-importance. I'm afraid I have to issue one of the Ten Biggest Whatevs Of All Time to this statement. From one blogger who toots his own horn to another blogger who toots his own horn, you got no business talking this kind of game. I know you. You and I both blog up enough ethical and doctrinal gerrymandering to choke a horse.

For someone who sides with no one on the issue, pinning "self-importance" on either side of an eschatological argument is a laugh riot.


Thomas Banks said...

I think it boils down to this:

Can we rightfully impute arrogant motives to a set of persons, be they premill or postmill, for wanting to be around for the climax or catastrophe of the narrative they are, or think themselves to be watching?

The Oracle said...

Why is it that the plain girls always think they are like Elizabeth Bennett? For the same reason the premill thinks he is in the last generation (when have you ever met one whose eschatological views weren't self gratifying?) and the post mill thinks that what he and his do are a crucial stepping stone for the Lord's victory (let alone the broad hubris of winning in numbers, the mega church idea gone postal). The story offers the presence of a heroic place to stand, the self important like those stories because that heroic offers him or her a place to put their indentification. Heroes are important, always thinking we are like them is self importance.
Our presence in self inflating narratives is an easy way around the advice that "another should praise you and not your own lips". Narrative theologies sell well like cheap romantic fiction or adolescent pulp. They all give needy people a place to go and to identify with. A fiction or a futurism (but I repeat myself)which ennobles the twerp in us all. The Gospel doesn't sell well as it tells a story that is "straight and difficult".

Jeff Moss said...

More than any other view, the postmill one actually encourages the guy who holds it to see what he's doing as comparatively insignificant. Postmillennial theology says, "Whatever you do today will probably be left in the dust because of the glory of what will come in future generations."

Let's say the millennial views are a bunch of construction workers putting together the Empire State Building. The premill guys keep saying, "Sometime today the boss is going to come and lift the top onto the building, and we'll get to see it happen -- maybe even get our names in the paper for being here!" Never mind that they've said the same thing every day for the last year.

The amill people say, "Sometime soon, the enemy is going to smash this whole thing to smithereens, but at least we'll be working on it and get to die as martyrs when that happens!"

Meanwhile, the postmill people are saying, "Hey, this thing is supposed to go 100 times taller than it is now, so quit talking and lay another brick! When you've done a good day's work, then you can go home and somebody else will work on it."

So now, which of these is pompous and self-aggrandizing?

(Of course, not every post-mill guy is necessarily consistent or logical in the way he applies his theology.)

Matthew N. Petersen said...

And I should add, "in humility consider others better than yourselves." I assume Evan, you believe that post-mills and pre-mills are far better off, far more humble than people who hold Domitian was the beast?

And often people think they are like Miss Bennett because they love her, and want to be like her. It's humble, kinda like a little girl imitating her mother, thinking she is actually like her mother. Maybe if Maggie Simson things she is actually making the car honk, there is a little pride mixed in--but it is so overwhelmed in childlike humility that it is hardly noticed.

Or to put the same thing another way, "you must become like little children if you wish to enter the kingdom of heaven." But on of the things that little children do most and best, is think they are like their parents, and imitate their parents--in complete and unassuming humility. I can see it in a certian student I have who thinks he is like his father, though he is far to young to be like you. But though he is wrong that he is now like you, he believes he is without a taint of pride, or with hardly any, and he is well on his way to becoming like you.

Thomas Banks said...


I should add that the fact that Postmillenialism jaggedly contradicts the Great Man theory (Rock on, Carlisle) is the foremost reason I am not a postmillenialist. Which reminds me, I need to get you a copy of "Past and Present."

But you should keep trying, when we meet. I think it is good for me.