Language, a tangled web woven about us

I am reading some interesting non-fiction at the moment. I’ve progressed very slowly through James K.A. Smith’s The Fall of Interpretation. I’m not sure exactly why I am reading this quite so slowly as I am, but the contents of the book interest me. I’m provoked to rabbit-trails of thought, which is a good thing. It does, however, make for slow reading. In Smith this morning, I read some discussion of language in Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine (alternate English title: On Christian Teaching). My transit reading for the day was Northrop Frye’s The Educated Imagination, the Massey Lectures for 1962. I made it through the first two of Frye’s lectures. They are fascinating reading. I imagine they are also fascinating listening.

The interplay of first reading Smith writing about Augustine writing about language, then reading Frye’s words on literature as opposed to other uses of language has set my head spinning. I’m not sure how my brain will land on this. More thought is needed. Here, as food for your own thinking, are some quotes that have me thinking hard on how to teach a class on telling stories in religious education.

From Frye:

This allusiveness in literature is significant, because it shows what we’ve been saying all along, that in literature you don’t just read one poem or novel after another, but enter into a complete world of which every work of literature forms a part. This affects the writer as much as it does the reader.

From Smith (on Augustine):

Language is required in order to express that which is interior to the soul by means of something external (verbum); thus language “makes public” the “private” intentions and desires of the self; words are therefore “common property,” belonging to a community. Language must span a gulf between interiorities, precisely because the other has “no means of entering into my soul.” The “space” between souls requires the mediation of signs, which in turn requires interpretation.

Shared stories are essential to community, particularly a community of faith. We need to tell these stories, using language well, in order to share faith with others.


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