Parsing Poetry and Public Discourse

I have been quiet over here because I have been using the summer to finish my manuscript of Rhythm: A Theological Category. I have now submitted the manuscript and expect to be entering into several rounds of revisions over the next year or so. The last weeks of developing the manuscript have involved dealing with a few interesting side issues related to rhythm in theology that I wanted to share here. In this case, I want to talk about parsing poetry and why it matters. Continue reading “Parsing Poetry and Public Discourse”


The Poetic Shape of the Doctrine of Recapitulation

Christianity, when viewed in terms of its form or shape, is essentially made up of lines and circles. On the one hand, it includes narrative, a kind of intra-historical line from Abraham to slightly after Christ. Genealogical lines are drawn, geographical lines from point A to point B can be mapped and are considered religiously significant. Jurgen Moltmann argues that Judaism was the first historical religion in that it is based on events in space and time rather than cosmological cycles. David Abram argues something similar on account of the Hebrew development of non-pictographic writing, which lends itself to a linear way of thinking. For Moltmann this is a virtue, for Abram it is not, but both think that this linear, historical impulse became as much a part of Christianity as Judaism.

On the other hand, Christianity also includes a significant circular dimension that is often overlooked in attempts to identify Judeo-Christian distinctiveness as a virtue or an ill. The historical lines are almost never significant as lines, but only gain their significance by being bent into circles. Perhaps the most fundamental of such circles is Irenaeus of Lyon’s doctrine of recapitulation. Continue reading “The Poetic Shape of the Doctrine of Recapitulation”

Module 2, Class 1: Julia Kristeva and the Rhythms of Depression

The students leading module 2, which looks at the role of rhythm in our relationship to ourselves, have chosen to focus on depression. They began with a discussion of the first chapter of Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. All of the students are science majors and therefore struggled a little with the more psychoanalytic and philosophical perspective of this assigned text, but they addressed this challenge by bringing Kristeva into conversation with the most recent DSM definition of depression and helpfully concluded that what Kristeva might contribute to the conversation is a different language that could enable us to understanding depression from a different angle.

I think this is precisely what Kristeva’s text provides. More specifically, she actually looks at the role of language itself in depression. Her alternative vocabulary includes the concept of rhythm. Continue reading “Module 2, Class 1: Julia Kristeva and the Rhythms of Depression”

The Autobiographical Compulsion

In 1931, Virginia Woolf wrote The Waves, a poetic novel that evokes the rhythms created by the interpenetrations of cosmic cycles and particular lives. Pieces of prose describing the landscape at particular times of the day, under certain heights of the sun, intersect with an account of six individuals’ innermost orientations towards the world from childhood to old age. As the title suggests, each character is evoked and communicated through the particular way that he or she experiences and interacts with the rhythm of the waves of surrounding reality and of his or her own inner experience.

Though we can never know all the reasons an author chooses to write a particular book, we do know that in this case Woolf’s theme is in part a representation of how she experienced the process of writing itself. She says, “I am writing to a rhythm and not to a plot. … All writing is nothing but putting words on the backs of rhythm.”

The question, then, is: exactly what rhythm(s) is Woolf writing to? Continue reading “The Autobiographical Compulsion”

Why Christians should use poetry to understand the nature of time

This past week, I have been working on expanding and adapting a conference paper on what poetry can teach us about the nature of time and its end for publication in a volume  by de Gruyter. Here is a short, adapted section from the introduction that explains how the use of poetry in approaching eschatology (doctrine about the last things) is modelled in biblical literature: Continue reading “Why Christians should use poetry to understand the nature of time”

Paul Celan: Poetry and the Language of the Oppressor

Paul Celan was a German-Jewish poet who moved to Paris in light of the Holocaust. He wrote as one who was oppressed, yet he wrote in the language of the oppressor. This paradox is the cradle of Celan’s poetry, which comes out as language that tears at itself, and as image under immense pressure. Could Celan be a model for our language of lament in the light of American violence and oppression?  Continue reading “Paul Celan: Poetry and the Language of the Oppressor”