This post is dedicated to anyone who has ever watched a film adaptation of a book and has said, “That’s not what happens in the book!” Take a deep breath. Textual multiplicity often precipitates violence, but it doesn’t have to!
Our family watches a fair amount of television and movies. My son, Cædmon, and my daughter, Esther, enjoy watching shows like Daniel Tiger and Thomas the Train, and, when I can persuade them, they’ll join me in watching an NPR Tiny Desk Concert or a short film on Vimeo.
I worry, though, that their little imaginations are being overrun by the powerful images of the screen. So, for example, Cædmon doesn’t just pretend that he is a robot; he pretends that he is Wall-E. An undersea adventure can’t happen without Nemo making an appearance, and a song can’t be sung that doesn’t reference (if only obliquely) the musical world of Daniel Tiger or Mary Poppins.
There’s a literary device in biblical Hebrew where the author nests a quote inside a quote inside a quote. I can’t remember in what passages I have seen it before, but I just came across another instance in Zechariah 1.1-6:
In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius,
the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo, saying:
The Lord was very angry with your ancestors.
Therefore say to them,
Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Return to me, says the Lord of hosts,
and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.
In his entry for “hymn” in A Poet’s Glossary, Edward Hirsch quotes literary critic and poet Susan Stewart as saying, “Common meter [the hymn quatrain*] presents itself as the most suitable for group singing –– the coordination of song and the coordination of social life under a common temporal framework emphasize integration and solidarity.” Hirsch continues, “Think, then, of what it meant for Emily Dickinson to fracture the common measure, thus invoking the hymn tradition and responding to its communal nature with a radical individualism of her own.”
I was chugging along in the part of Book XI of The City of God where Augustine is talking about the nature and status of fallen angels, when I came across this line:
“The obscurity of the divine discourse actually serves the useful purpose of giving birth to many views of the truth and bringing them into the light of knowledge, one person understanding the divine words in this way and another in that.” (civ. XI.19)