Friday, November 14, 2008

Speaking of John Calvin...

Marilynne Robinson on our "great amnesia"

It seems that one recent pulitzer prize winning author for fiction finds at least part of her inspiration for writing from a most unlikely source. You guessed it: John Calvin.

In 2005, Marilynne Robinson's novel, Gilead, won the pulitzer prize for fiction. Before winning the prestigious award, Robinson was relatively unknown as a writer, having only one other novel (written 20 years earlier) and a few rather obscure books of essays to her name. After the publication of Gilead, she could hide no longer. She became an overnight, literary success.

What also became clear, almost overnight, is the fact that Robinson is unique among novelists of her time. She is a 21st century writer who holds religious, historical, and literary convictions more akin to the 16th century. Robinson is deeply committed to the long standing tradition of Western literature and believes the 20th century's deconstructionist turn has systematically undermined history, religion, and language--cornerstones on which life and culture are built and maintained.

In a recent lecture at Amherst College (published in Harpers Magazine a few months back) Robinson decried the "great amenesia" that has settled on the consciousness of our time. "Those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and society does indeed seem to be reverting to a dismal past, which, in our ignorance, we call an inevitable future. But this is true too: Those who are ignorant of history deprive themselves of the hope that they might learn from what is best in it. Generous hope is embedded in this landscape and in the national landscape, waiting to be remembered."

Interestingly, part of Robinson's love for the past is rooted in her love for theology, and a particular theologian, John Calvin. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Robinson notes how post enlightenmnent history has falsely caricatured her theological hero, and that in his writings, we discover one of the most brilliant crystalizations of Biblical truth.

Robinson recently wrote a preface to a short selection of John Calvin's writings entitled, John Calvin: Steward of God's Covenant (Harper Collins, 2006).

If you're interested in learning more about Marilynne Robinson or her books, just follow this link, "At 'Home' With the Past," to the WP article.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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