Monday, April 05, 2010

a matter of the imagination

after a hideously all-too-brief chat with Joel as he downed some breakfast in a hurry, i thought i'd experiment with video-blogging. a frustrated hour later i concluded i can't get it to work. so, for now at least, i'll have to settle for trusty old text.
i was inspired by David's 'Evolving Church' video over at Peer Pressure is Forever -- both in form (it made me wonder if i had the technology to respond in kind. right now it seems i don't.) and in content (some stuff i'd been thinking about blogging fits somewhat as a response to his conversation starter.)

going by the title, 'Evolving Church, David is evidently speaking at the Evolving Church conference: Kingdom Economy in Toronto next week. it's organised by a small group called the Epiphaneia Network
(incidentally, epiphaniea is the greek noun for, 'an appearance' or 'an appearing'. it's the root of the English word epiphany. seems to me that links nicely with David's definition of the classic.)

David's talk of 'cosmic plainspeak' links with a series of conversations i've got going on at the moment. there's a rolling theme of definitions around which the core of Christianity is based and whether we (or Christianity) are better served (a) by a singular agreed unifying literal definition or (b) by multiple definitions that go beyond the fixed, literal, absolute to embrace the multiplicity of definitons that extend across the metaphorical, the poetic, the psychoanalytic, the imaginative... you can guess which i go with i'm sure... it also links with some reading and writing of late...

For Christmas, David and Sarah gave me a copy of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin.
By coincidence, while i was reading it, i had a class on the theme of the sexual division of labour -- a radical feminist theory that draws on Marxism to explore how labour is divided along gender lines into the productive and the reproductive. we explored theoretical texts and also fictional texts -- in particular, Marge Piercy's A Woman on the Edge of Time and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. It was a happy coincidence because The Left Hand of Darkness is (among other themes) an exploration of gender difference, social ordering, reproduction and duality.

When were given a list of essay questions for that course, along with the option of coming up with our own title, i decided i wanted to explore the sexual division of labour theory and incorporate LeGuin's novel. so, i sat down with my lecturer, (also called Ursula), and we came up with this:

Is it gender difference that determines our primary caring roles, or is it our inability to imagine another order?

i like the use of 'imagine' there. it opens up a possiblity to explore how our thinking is often unimaginative - we assume that gender and gendered roles are ordered because that's simply the way it is, it's common sense, there's no other way we might do it, because we forget or ignore it is in large part a social construction. 'imagine' also allows me to see what we might learn from those who have imaginatively explored these issues through fiction.

when i came up with that title, i had not (consciously) remembered that the opening lines of The Left Hand of Darkness are these...

I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its teling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. And both are sensitive.
The story is not all mine, nor told by me alone. Indeed I am not sure whose story it is; you can judge the better. But it is all one, and if at moments the facts seem to alter with an altered voice, why then you can choose the fact you like best; yet none of them are false, and it is all one story.

That line, 'Truth is a matter of the imagination' seems to connect a lot with what David's got going on with his 'cosmic plainspeak' and 'life sentences' and 'the classic'...

I did a bit of research and discovered that in the 1976 edition of the novel, LeGuin inserted an author's introduction in which she explores this very theme of truth and imagination. she sees science fiction as descriptive rather than extrapolative or predictive. It's a thought experiment, in which we explore the present by using the future as metaphor.
In some ways i am thinking we could take what she has written about science fiction and apply it to scripture... and it's got connections to what i want to do with my paper as i play with 'imagine'...

for revelation, for epiphanies and appearances, for telling to be the kind of gift that keeps on giving, for the classic -- we need more than the empirical, the literal, the kind of proofreading that says there's only one reading... we need to approach text with our whole selves and with our imaginations open to possibility, to revelation. to use another line of LeGuin's "a book is just a box of words until a reader opens it"

and, to quote Joel's nephew Patrick,
"The problem with talking about canon is that you end up talking about texts rather than ideas."

anyways... there's some dots.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin at amazon

1976 author's introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness

the Insurrection tour has reached Nashville. as i type Pádraig is sleeping in Joel's house. that is both comforting and delightfully weird to wrap my head around in a way that it wouldn't have been last summer. i'm sorry to be missing it all.


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