Thursday, August 28, 2014

Prophetic Writing at the Periphery

Paul Elie has a fascinating blog post about Flannery O'Connor.  He's been traveling in Africa, and he sees that region, the Global South, as very similar to O'Connor's South, the U.S. South of the middle of the 20th century, so different from the U.S. South of today.

This part will stick with me all day.  First he quotes himself from an earlier lecture that he gave:  "Her work will make sense when the “Protestant South” is the territory of Central and South America. It will make sense when the admirable nihilist, the practitioner of a do-it-yourself Christianity, is an oilworker on a derrick in Nigeria or a “house Christian” in Beijing. It will make sense because she looked forward, not back—looked forward imaginatively through the “realism of distances,” another term for prophecy."

And then he continued:  "Well, to travel in southern Africa is to know that this is true already – or rather, that it has become more true in this part of the global South while it has become less true in Atlanta and Louisville and New Orleans.  The coexistence of races, and the separation of the races; the busyness and disorganization and drama of public life at streetside and open market; the do-it-yourself churches with their creeds handpainted on the walls outside; the constancy of poverty; the sense that life is precious, because life is dangerous, and one’s own survival is not assured – all these are recognizable in the big cities, the villages, the townships of South Africa."

He talks about writers who speak to the periphery and how the periphery is larger than we imagine.  I have spent much of my life thinking about writers who either choose to depict life in the margins/periphery or writers who have been marginalized, which can be a different group.

I have been thinking about writers who are trying to create work that builds bridges between cultures who haven't often talked to each other.  I've thought about my own work, as I've been creating a query letter for Phoenicia Publishing.  Could my work, that's coming out of a Christian tradition, appeal to my atheist friend?

I don't always think of myself as writing from the periphery, but I am working at a for-profit school, a marginalized place in some ways for people from a traditional academic background.  I am a Christian in a world that feels indifferent to faith--and I feel fortunate for the indifference, as I am well aware that in many parts of the world, I wouldn't be just marginalized but under threat of death.  And I am also an artist making my way in a capitalist world, an immigrant/pilgrim of a different sort.

In a way, I feel I'm claiming a title that I don't deserve by claiming my status as writing from the periphery.  After all, I'm solidly middle class, with resources that many middle class people don't have.  I have multiple degrees.  I exercise and eat sensibly most days.  I have a rather boring life, where I go to work every week day and return at night to a loving husband. 

Can this be the world where prophetic visions are birthed?

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