Thursday, November 27, 2014

David M. Carr

David M. Carr is professor of Old Testament at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a leading specialist on how the Bible was formed.

His new book is Holy Resilience: The Bible's Traumatic Origins.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Carr's reply:
In my spare time I read mostly fiction, since it provides an angle on truth and writing that I miss in the mass of research reading that I do. I just finished reading (actually listening to) Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (as read by Juliet Stevenson). I listened to it twice, ever more impressed with the poetic language of the novel, Woolf’s exquisite depictions of the interior lives of her intersecting characters, and the fluid way she moved between the inner worlds of the different characters moving through the day. In one sense, the novel covers very little ground, the happenings of a single day. But in another sense the novel seems to say that the most important stories, for several of the main characters, had happened long ago. The novel traces the reverberations of these earlier stories--of love, rejection, and even wartime trauma--on the current lives of each character making their way through the one day in June. It impressed on me the maelstrom of stories and conflicting interior worlds that swirl around me all the time as I make my own way through each day.

Before Mrs. Dalloway I worked my way through Tolstoy’s War and Peace (in the translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude). I was impressed with the naturalistic way Tolstoy depicted the mundane aspects of war. Tolstoy’s “war” sections in the novel don't fit the typical mythology that has dominated most writing about war that I have read. He just seemed to be describing everyday events in these war sections of the novel, except that certain human beings were trying to kill each other. And this was heightened by Tolstoy’s juxtaposition of these war scenes with “peace” scenes in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, which were also described in incredible, naturalistic detail. What I find so powerful about this period of Tolstoy’s writing (also for Anna Karenina), is the spectacular detail with which he could render different characters, their aspirations and foibles, often without a moralistic tinge.

I also read more contemporary novels, but the consistent thread is that I seek out writing by authors who can evoke the lives and feelings of ordinary people with insight, compassion, and grace. The drama, for me, comes in being taken by a master author inside the world of a person living a very different life from my own.
Learn more about David Carr's Holy Resilience at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Holy Resilience.

--Marshal Zeringue