So, I'm in this creative writing class that lasts for the entire rest of my Senior year here at the University of Oregon. I now know what I'm going to be doing in respect to creative writing. Here is my proposal. Does it sound academic enough?
The Shaping of Truth through narrative and commentary: The Gospels of Jason Clay
An LOI by Chris Halverson
My line of Inquiry, that is the textual aspect of the evolution of a religious truth, is sort of a strange topic for a creative writing program, but I think it really will work. I would like to look at the initial event of a religion that begets a religious text AND how textual variations away from the beginning event is imbued with variations of religious interpretation and truth. I want to find the standard deviations between an event and the personal interpretations of the event. I would like to do this through a series of 4 renditions of one short story about the death of an American GI, Medic Clay, in Iraq.
The way I will explore this evolution of truth is to write the initial "religious truth" that of a straightforward story of a soldier, Jason Clay, and how he meets his eventual end at the hands of Javed Ihab, an Iraqi civilian who’s family was killed in the initial days of American Bombing. What makes things interesting is that from this initial story I will make four new versions of the story from four different sources, one from Major Benton Fritz, Clay’s commanding officer, one from Maggy Clay, Clay’s wife, one from Lewis Bliss, a British journalist, and one from Javed Ihab. From these four texts I will go even further, injecting interpretation into these stories through commentaries in the footnotes. In the footnotes I will add commentaries on the structure of the 4 stories, how they relate to one another, as well as their religious implications. I will mimic the structure of the 4 canonical Christian gospels re-telling of the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
The reason I am so invested in this question is that I am a very religious person, a future Lutheran Pastor to be precise, and I am also a very thinking person, so these lines of questioning often come up. As a Religious Studies major I have read lots of textual criticism of the Gospels, and have an overall understanding of how, and in what contexts, they were constructed. From that what fascinates me is, of course, getting past the biases of each author and to the overall message of the Christ, but also understanding the importance of the differences in each Gospel.
On top of that I have read and seen a lot of different depiction of Jesus, from the slightly irreverent, and very seventies Jesus in Jesus Christ Super Star, to the darkly engaging and human Jesus in Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ. All of these depiction leave me wanting to try my hand at defining my own Character, Jesus or otherwise, in several different, but not untrue ways.
My senior year of high school read The Sound and the Fury in which Falkner tells his story by bouncing his narration from character to character, from the man-child Benji to the suicidal Quentin. The book itself was good, but the aspect of it that left the largest impression upon me was Falkner’s technique of using multiple points of view. Years ago I had the pleasure of reading the Ender Wiggens series by Orson Scott Card, and more recently I picked up a very interesting book, Ender’s Shadow, which was a book portraying the same events as were in the book Ender’s Game, only from a different character’s perspective. At the time I just thought it was a great way to look at the Synoptic problem, but more recently it has made me think again about this phenomena of using multiple viewpoints to tell the same story.
I believe this line of Inquiry is worth my attention because as the Rabbi’s say, "Everything is in the text" and I believe it, and I sure as hell want to prove it. Without the text events are just stuff that happens, but in their telling they gain power, in people’s trying to make sense of things, they gain meaning. I think this topic is important on a level beyond my own self-gratification and attempts to prove something about the texts as well, I think my LOI will tackle the issue of religion and modernity, which, in this world on the cusp of becoming post-secular, is something that must be addressed. Iran’s government fell because of the voice of a religious leader, Usamma bin Laden kills people in the name of God , Bush won because of many evangelical’s belief that he could save America from Sodom, and people blow themselves up because of a mix of dispair and religious devotion. Not that this piece is going to solve any of these problems, or even look at most of them, but it will look at the interaction between the real world and the written word in a religious context. Is there any better place to tackle such issues than a University creative writing class?
So far in the KIDD program there has been one batch of readings that explicitly deals with my issue, Memory. Patricia Hampl’s "Memory and Imagination" is the best example of this, her memory was unreliable, and so her music book was a different type than what she believed it was. How much more will this change when there are 4 people and countless (well, me tackling the text from multiple perspectives) commentators all messing with memories of one single event?
I hope this thing I shall write will be a respectful continuation of textual traditions that stretch back for millennia, from Talmud (Rabbinical commentaries), to modern Historical Critical Biblical Scholars, to the Sharia commentators that may well create governmental laws in Nigeria, to the average American citizen who struggles to give meaning to this thing we have done in Iraq, to anyone who wonders how texts and truth play off one another.
The 4 Canonical Gospels— These four texts are what I am structuring my LOI off of. These four Gospels tell the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus from the perspective of four different authors. The first three Gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, follow a similar structure (much of their telling of Jesus’ life come from the same sources) whereas the Gospel of John is much different in it’s emphasis as well as it’s structure.
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (384 pages)—This is a Science-Fiction book is about Ender Wiggins, a boy who ends up leading earth to victory over an alien race. The story is told from the perspective of Ender.
Ender’s Shadow, Orson Scott Card (480 pages)—This book tells the same story as Ender’s Game, except from the perspective of Bean, a sometimes friend of Ender Wiggns. I feel this story would give me a further feel of how to balance perspectives.
Last Temptation of Christ, Nikos Kazantzakis (496 pages)—This is a fictional account of Christ’s life that makes him way more human than the Gospels, I am only halfway finished with it, but it was one of the things that inspired this LOI and I think it deserves finishing.
The Sound and the Fury, William Falkner (336 pages)—Falkner does a really good job of making each switch in character narration very distinct, I think this could be useful for my development of unique voices for my "authors."
The Passion of the Christ- I can see how Mel Gibson interprets Jesus’ last days, which may inspire me further with my telling of Jason Clay’s last days.
Rashomen—I’ve been told this is THE MOVIE that exemplifies the subjectivity of story. Apparently many different characters tell the same story and each one sees the events very differently.
Timothy Gianatti—He is a Religious Studies Professor here at the U of O, and focuses on Islam (and has been to the Middle East). I think I could pick his brain a bit about specific realistic details about Islamic society and make the character of Javed Ihab believable.
Daniel Falk—He is another Religious Studies Professor, his focus is Biblical Studies, I think he could help lend an air of scholasticism to my commentaries.
Historical dictionary of Islamic fundamentalist movements in the Arab world, Iran, and Turkey, Ahmad S. Moussalli—I will use this as a resource for understanding the Fanatical Islamic aspect of my story.
Historical dictionary of Arab and Islamic organizations, Frank A. Clements—Once again this will be a resource to add realism to my story.
Army talk, a familiar dictionary of soldier speech, Elbridge Colby—I figure this will add authenticity to the dialogue my soldiers will be having.
Soldiers of the old army, Victor Vogel
Area handbook for Iraq, Harvey Smith—This will make the place of Iraq seem more real.