One of my first posts on this blog asked why the Gospel of Mark was not more often interpreted in a way we would normally interpret any other form of literature. I was referring to Frank Kermode’s discussion of the Gospel of Mark in The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative. This post explores a more in depth reading of Kermode’s chapter titled “What Precisely Are the Facts?” Here Kermode addresses what it is about the Gospels — the literary devices used in them — that lend them an air of being “true” or believable narratives. When on occasion I encounter even an academic scholar affirming that a Gospel narrative “rings true” or has an “air of historical plausibility” about it I am dismayed at the naïvety of such assertions.
Conscious awareness of the power and functions of rhetorical styles is easily lost on many of us and Kermode goes some way to explaining why. Not everyone has ready access to Kermode’s book, so I allow readers to glance over my shoulder and see the following snippets I have taken from this chapter. I have bolded the main points that I think deserve quick attention. The first point ought, to my mind, be simple enough to take for granted if we stop to reflect that the written word is just another means of human expression and humans are by nature capable of being misread, misunderstood, and — whether for good or ill — skilled in pretence and deception. Were it otherwise there would be no need for court systems and no place for a lot of theatre and not a lot of point in lying.
In practice we may feel that we have no particular difficulty in distinguishing between narratives which claim to be reliable records of fact, and narratives which simply go through the motions of being such a record. But when we think about it, as on occasion we may compel ourselves to, the distinction may grow troublesome. (p. 101) Continue reading “Why are the Gospels so believable?”
Just heard snippets of the broadcast I mentioned in previous post. Loved bits I heard. So John Carroll is also another Frank Kermode fan! That’s surely one of the best reads on the gospel of Mark — check out Interpreting Mark like any other work of literature.
One reason I want to read Carroll’s book, The Existential Jesus, is to follow up his intriguing idea that the Gospel of John understood the Gospel of Mark and was an exposition of the mysteries coded in Mark. I can’t imagine more two totally opposite gospels so this is surely (hopefully) going to be an interesting read. (About the only thing in common that immediately hits me is their apparently less than “orthodox” provenance.)
I just know our public broadcaster the ABC is a secret front for book publishers.
For those like me who end up going in circles trying to follow the studies of the Gospel of Mark by authors with theological interests, reading a literary criticism of GMark by a trained and renowned literary critic, Frank Kermode, will be a refreshingly stabilizing experience. Kermode himself writes of this failure of biblical (implying ‘theological’?) scholarhip to guard its literary texts against the treatment secular literary critics have honed: “it is astonishing how much less there is of a genuine literary criticism on the secular model than there ought to be.” (p.137)
Listed below are extracts from Frank Kermode’s “The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative” (Harvard University Press, 1979). Many would make excellent bylines for email signatures or ‘quote of the day’ bites — but that is the result of how I have made the selections and ought not be seen as a reflection on the depth of Kermode’s analysis. Publisher blurbs are normally to be played down as little more than hard sell but I encourage anyone new to this book to read Harvard Press’s summary — it is in my opinion spot on (except that Kermode’s focus is predominantly on the Gospel of Mark.) Continue reading “Interpreting Mark like any other work of literature”