Tuesday, January 17, 2012

evangelicals, poetics, and sex

Some links from Matthew Lee Anderson with a handful of quotes


As religion reporter Mark Oppenheimer wrote way back in 1999, “America is in a golden age for Christian sex manuals.” 

from Peter Leithart
... Christians today often read the Song as lusty celebration of sex. Some try to wipe away the prudish poetry to peep at the sex acts of Solomon and his Shulammite. Such an approach simply projects contemporary obsessions into an ancient text. It assumes that we already know what real sex is. We have outgrown romance and now know that sex is no more than a clash of bodies and an exchange of fluids. There is no magic, no mystery, only friction, only technique. Reading the Song as disguised pornography reinforces and sacralizes the sexual confusions of our age.
Even as an erotic poem, the Song has much to teach. Robert Alter observes that in much of the world’s erotic literature, “the body in the act of love often seems to displace the rest of the world.” By contrast in the Song, “the world is constantly embraced in the very process of imagining the body. The natural landscape, the cycle of the seasons, the beauty of the animal and floral realm, the profusion of goods afforded through trade, the inventive skill of the artisan, the grandeur of cities, are all joyfully affirmed as love is affirmed.” Solomon is no courtly lover who abandons the world and all to chase after his bride. When he turns from the world, he rediscovers his world in her. That insight alone is enough to justify the Song’s inclusion in the wisdom literature.
The poet John Donne would later transform this poetic elision of lover and landscape into, "Oh my America, my Newfoundland. ... how I am blest in thus discovering thee!"

When Donne wrote that poem the New World was still being explored and discovered in all sorts of ways.  Perhaps Donne's metaphor has lost all its power now that we can buy topographical maps of almost any detail in America now?  We can work out the annual rainfall per state and know the cash crops of each particular region.  There's even a weather channel or two and we can use satellites and GPS to navigate all sorts of places. America, perhaps, has ultimately risen to the occasion of completely demystifying the metaphorical force of an English poet's use of America as a metaphor through evangelical instructors on sex and marriage.

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