Why Literalism Bites

Posted by: Richenda at Thursday June 7, 2007 in

Well, tonight’s blog is a break from all things religious which seem to be swirling around my head lately. I wonder about God. I wonder some more. I get elated. I get frustrated. I shake my head. Then I wonder about Life. And then I wonder about God again, and….well, you get the picture. When I get it all sorted out I’ll let you know.

(BTW. If you have it sorted out already, hold your tongue! Not to be rude (and I’m sure you’re plenty clever) but frankly, I don’t want your answers. I’ll get my own answers when I’m dead, thank you all the same. And as for now, I’m trying to enjoy the questions.)

In the meantime ( before I’m dead) I wasted (are books ever wasteful?) the afternoon surfing through the ebook offerings at Gutenberg.org. God Bless them! (Back to God again.) Hurrah for them!

[Note to Gutenberg.org and all your proofreaders: God Bless You! Hurrah for You!!]

I especially had fun with this ebook: The Chronicle of Dalmailing during the ministry of the Rev. Micah Balwhidder. Written by himself and arranged and edited by John Galt.

The Chronicle begins in 1760 and continues until 1810. And it’s marvelous. The Rev. Bal whidder makes careful notes about who does what in his parish, for how long, and at whose expense. Among the joys to be found on his pages is this peevish description of a Mr. Macskipnish and his dancing school. Year 1761:

But a thing happened in this year, which deserves to be recorded, as manifesting what effect the smuggling was beginning to take in the morals of the country side. One Mr Macskipnish, of Highland parentage, who had been a valet-de-chambre with a major in the campaigns, and taken a prisoner with him by the French, he having come home in a cartel, took up a dancing-school at Irville, the which art he had learnt in the genteelest fashion, in the mode of Paris, at the French court. Such a thing as a dancing-school had never, in the memory of man, been known in our country side; and there was such a sound about the steps and cottillions of Mr Macskipnish, that every lad and lass, that could spare time and siller, went to him, to the great neglect of their work. The very bairns on the loan, instead of their wonted play, gaed linking and louping in the steps of Mr Macskipnish, who was, to be sure, a great curiosity, with long spindle legs, his breast shot out like a duck’s, and his head powdered and frizzled up like a tappit-hen. He was, indeed, the proudest peacock that could be seen, and he had a ring on his finger, and when he came to drink his tea at the Breadland, he brought no hat on his head, but a droll cockit thing under his arm, which, he said, was after the manner of the courtiers at the petty suppers of one Madam Pompadour, who was at that time the concubine of the French king.

It’s all fictional, but what fun! Who says there is no truth in fiction? This book captures a kind of meta-veritas. Um. Can I glue meta and veritas together with a hyphen? And…can I then precede them with a ‘kind of’? Hm… Let’s try it and see who hates us for it. I feel airy tonight, and ready for a bit of mischief!

But the book is lovely. It all reads like it unfolded along a cotter’s lane in the village at the center of the universe. In this village you get the unapologetic truth—not just the ‘actuals’ and/or ‘particulars.’

This book, my friends, is a good example of why literalism bites. When you squeeze your fist to make a ‘truth,’ not only will little bits get squeezed out and float away, but the shape into which you squeeze the rest can only be your own. So ironically (tragically) in pursuing truth, you’re hopeless to actually find any of it.

Said another way, truth isn’t the residue, the squeezed up bit you managed to name and control. That bit is hopelessly mutilated and out of shape. Truth is…well, truth is much more fluid, and far grander than that. As far as literalism goes, ‘truth’ is the bit that got away.

Enough of that.

If you have an afternoon to waste on The Chronicle of Dalmailing during the ministry of the Rev. Micah Balwhidder, I suggest you do! You can download it from Project Gutenberg Search for John Galt.

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