Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Deep Comedy - Peter J. Leithart

Deep Comedy: Trinity, Tragedy, & Hope in Western Literature by Peter J. Leithart
Canon Press

This is another book I am totally unqualified to review. I'm going to try anyways because I want you to be inspired to read it. (If you haven't...I know I'm always shamefully behind.:-)
It's quite simply amazing.

We had a wonderful Sunday school class talking through David Bentley Hart's book on beauty. Deep Comedy was mentioned and I knew I wanted to read it. :-) I have an awesome mama and a brother who works at a book store, so it was diligently acquired. Thanks Mama! I know your going to like it as soon as you get done with Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl...already. ;-)

This book was both easier and harder than I anticipated.
Easier because Leithart is a gifted and hard working genius and can make the difficult clear and direct so people like me can understand.
Harder because I'm not very sharp and don't know very much about many of the people and stories he mentions.
Still, I could understand the concepts he was writing, even if I didn't always understand the people he was quoting or arguing against. I never felt completely lost, just vaguely stupid.

I loved the book. It wasn't a hard read. I read all but the last 10 pages in two sittings and I'll want to read it again.
It's direct and eye opening. It is laced with good humor (I literally LOLed in several parts). It is a book about story and about hope. By the end I was feeling disgustingly cheerful. :-) It was amazing.

Since I know I'll fail at trying to paraphrase I strongly suggest you pick the book up yourself. It's only 157 pages. Anyone can manage that.
Leithart crams a lot in. I really can't begin to summarize. He gave me a whole new dimension to understanding the way our faith in the Trinity shapes our world view. He gave me a clearer understanding of story and all that goes along with it. It was simply thrilling. :-)
I know I'm raving now, so I'm going to move on.

Here are two of my favorite quotes...

"If the Gospel is true, if new life was unleashed in the world on Easter morning, then we would expect there to be some signs that this is the case."

Unleashed. I love that. How often do we think of new life as unleashed?

"Satan digs a pit for the merry, but Satan falls into the very pit of merriment. And it tortures him forever."

And here was a quote that really got me thinking...

"Christian literature not only produces deep comedy but also, and for precisely that reason, deep tragedy. Christian tragedy can no longer mean what ancient tragedy meant. There are still sad stories, but Christians cannot believe the world is a sad story without abandoning their fundamental convictions about the triune God and the incarnation of the Son. So I should add to this book a companion book on deep tragedy."

I hope he does.

I particularly liked what he said about Christian tragedies. It seems like too much modern Christian thinking tries to ignore sad stories because it spooks them. We know that life isn't a tragedy but sometimes we can't understand why tragedies happen. We try to ignore them so we write fuzzy feel good fiction or try to shelter ourselves from reality.

He also mentions in passing that many "Christian" tragedy's are even sadder because there was an unrealized hope of redemption.

This helped me understand myself in relations to The Mayor of Casterbridge. I'm not sure where Thomas Hardy was when he wrote it. I know he was bi-polar when it came to his "faith" but I think the movie gives an interesting interpretation. It is so extremely sad because there was hope of redemption. He could have turned around.
Like Saul, which he resembles, Henchard is given a good life (numerous times) and good friends, but because of his sin and pride he will not repent and be reconciled. And it's absolutely, terribly heart rending!
The story is not meaningless. It is not a story meant to depress you. It shows the stupidness of sin. The depravity of man. But also the mercy of God. Henchard is blessed over and over again, he just never gets it.
And in the end the long-suffering daughter gets a good life with a righteous man (whatever is ultra-weird, irrational behavior towards woman comes in).

My conclusion seemed to be this-- Christian stories can be sad (even sadder then non-Christian) but they can not be ultimately depressing.
I know I'm not explaining this very well, but it helped things line up in my mind...

Okay, one last quote (sorry about the longness, but it's worth it).

"The conclusion of the matter is this: for the ancients, for the moderns, and for postmoderns, human existence is fundamentally tragic. The world is built for tragedy. As a matter of sheer observation, we all die, and this is one of the few things that can be guaranteed about life. Time marches toward death and in the end we all die. Change can perhaps be good, but change is ultimately decay, because in the end we all die. Desire is either fulfilled in the motionless statis that might as well be death, or is never fulfilled leaving us frustereated, and in the end we all die. Law gives a semblance of order to the process of decay and the forces of chaos, but law is uncertain, and in the end we all die.
With their tragic narratives of human history, Hesiod and Ovid give mythical expressions to the story of the world that ancient, modern, and postmodern all tell.
Apart from the Gospel, what other story is there?"

I consider this book invaluable to readers, writers, and Christians.

Now, if you haven't, go read it. :-)

Thanks for reading.
Miss Pickwickian

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