Journal: Baktin, language, God


I have been reading tonight in Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the development of the novel and I began to revaluate the ways in which language can become archaic. I began to recognize connections between what his article is articulating about the development of the novel out of various genres: epic, chivalric romance, pastorals, etc. and the growing arcane nature of the Christian church and faith. I have over the past four years or so been struggling like any seemingly normal college student does when they move away from home with my own existence, my growing anxieties with my own faith, my preconceptions or conceptions that have been handed down about God, about relation to him. I have been disillusioned by the language of the church, the increasing incapability of the institution of religion to meet the spiritual needs of my generation or myself.

Mikhail’s article deals primarily with the development of the novel from the epic. The idea being that the genre of the novel is unique from other genres of literature in that it is the sole genre that continues to develop, that is as yet uncompleted. He contends that other genres like the epic have solidified into fixed forms that fail at being relevant to our present-day reality.

What the novel did well as a young genre is that it was able, because it was outside of the fraternity of older genres, to parody them, to expose the conventionality of their forms and their language. In other words, it did a good job of re-formulating and re-accentuating the older genres.

The novel is a more free and flexible medium for narrative discourse because it allows the writer and the reader to approach the subject not from an epic distance but from a dynamic yet closer look at the present in a way that allows us to see life as it is in some ways. It allows for humor, satire. It allows us to approach life in a new way; instead of looking at life through the parable of Cain and Abel, or the life of Jesus, it brings us to the real present in a way that allows us to more sensitively and deeply view the subject; to expose it, to lay it bare.

Like the epic, the church fails to have effective ways to criticize itself. It seems to me that the goal of the church is not a living and organic form but a calcified abstract and encyclopedic comprehensiveness. To understand what I mean by this one can look no further than the current trend towards the empty lyrics that drive the contemporary Christian music industry.

The problem that Christians today face is not that the lack of high ideals, or the willingness to grow in faith, but the failure to acknowledge the real world; we have become complacent. We have lost connection with the present. We fail to be open-ended, to acknowledge the world in its indeterminacy, to establish a living contact with unfinished, still-evolving contemporary reality (the open-ended now).

Basically what I am trying to say is that our relation to God was root in the deep faith of those primitive peoples that began forming myths. Those myths developed over time in the western world until they were usurped by Christians. As Christianity grew and fused with the tenets of Western thought, the language of the myth was brought high. Like the epic, whose place was in the high culture of the Greco-roman world, so too was the language of our spiritual myths taken to the high culture of the Roman Catholic church.

What has happened today to the language of faith is that it like the epic poem has lost its eros, its power, its ability to cut deeply, it has lost the Word cutting into the words. For this, it struggles to analyze and adapt to the contemporary reality. Our perspective to the world has changed in the last 2000 years, so has the modern consciousness changed. The church fails to develop a mode of being like the novel to challenge, morph, analyze, parody, bring close the realities of our current world.

I think until this happens our relation to God through the church will suffer. It is because of this inability to meet the spiritual needs of the people through language that people have begun to seek out other means of spirituality as a means of achieving wholeness.

Any relation to faith these days must honestly look at a world with genocide, increasing environmental decay, intense poverty. We must not as a faith turn our backs on the reality of the world.


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