Notes on and links to a couple of different pieces, entirely unrelated (but I'll try to relate them here), about cultural mazes.
The first is only marginally related to the subject of this blog -- but so what, I loved the piece, so here it is: "The Best Mind of His Generation," a lovely eulogy for and appreciation by A. O. Scott of the writer David Foster Wallace, author of the mega-novel Infinite Jest and an incredible variety of other work, dead by suicide at 46. The title of the piece, a reference of course to Allen Ginsberg's Howl (a central document of the American religious experience, in my estimation) suggests something both of Wallace's talent, and his torment.
"But he will be terribly missed by those of us who were lost with him in the maze of self-consciousness and self-doubt that defined our peculiar destiny. He illuminated the maze brilliantly, even if he couldn’t show us the way out."
Mark Noll helps readers find the way out of the maze of God and Race in American Politics, the title of his new book. My extended review of Noll's work is featured as the book of the week in Books and Culture. This is a short book, published from lectures given at Princeton, and is more interpretive synthesis than pathbreaking new material. I hope it will reach a wide audience. Just a brief bit here from a summary of Noll's conclusion, and back to the maze for a moment:
In the end, Noll concludes in some theologically based reflections, "reliance on the Bible" has produced "spectacular liberation alongside spectacular oppression." Thus, properly understood in all its complexity, "historic Christian faith," Noll suggests, offers the best standpoint "from which it is possible to see how much believers themselves have done to promote the evils of racism in American politics while at the same time recognizing how often they have offered hints of redemption as well."
I hope the review encourages you to check out the book, and the appreciation by Scott will lead you to read something by David Foster Wallace if you missed him (as I mostly did) during his too-brief career.