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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark - Part 1- In Over My Head

I want to go home…I’m out of my step here- it’s all over my depth-out of my head –over my step over my head body! – I tell you it’s all stopping to a death, it’s boding to a depth, stepping to a head, it’s all heading to a dead stop –

Rosencrantz  in : Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead -Act I

I’m a little out of my depth, here, I’ll admit it. 

My friend, Joel Watts has sent me a review copy of his book Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark: An Introduction and Commentary [i] And I have begun reading it, but I feel like I’m in over my head.  I must admit that I am only an amateur theologian, an armchair New Testament scholar.  I have no formal degree.  I can’t read Greek.  

I am and have been, since high school, an autodidact. Mostly.  I will read, and read voraciously, on those topics that interest me, and especially in the area of Theology / Biblical Studies.  But I haven’t read the right books, apparently.

In Part I of Joel’s book he “(re)introduce[s] mimetic criticism.”[ii]  But for one like myself who had not been previously introduced, this is a bit like being thrown into the deep end of the pool without the inflatable floaties around my arms.  (This, by the way, is not a criticism of Joel’s work.  The ignorance is mine.)

I am able to understand (I think) what he is saying – but it’s not with the ease of familiarity.  Of the authors he has cited so far (Sandmel, Carrier, Thompson, Verenna, Casey, Suetonius, Zahn, MacDonald, etc…) I have read exactly: none.  Oh, I have a beginner’s familiarity with Plato and Aristotle (thanks, in part, to the Monty Python sketch, The Philosopher Drinking Song) and I recognize several of the author’s names – and I’ve even interacted a little bit on-line with Tom Verenna. But, I am not immediately familiar with all the work that’s gone before Joel’s book.[iii]

And in a book about mimesis – that’s important – knowing what’s come before.

Still, it is an engaging and informative book so far.  I’m learning new words. If nothing else, I’ve increased my vocabulary.  I’m also adding to the list of books that I’d like to read (or that I need to read.)  This list is always getting longer.  I can’t read fast enough to keep up.  Qoheleth was right!

And I am trying to keep in mind that the successive chapters of this book each build upon the previous.  Part I (Chapters 1 and 2) have been preparatory, a laying of the foundation.  In these two chapters, Joel has been giving the reader a guide to the proper use of the tool (the Kopis – that’s one of those new words…) that is mimetic criticism. 

But what is mimetic criticism?  I would bet that most of those who read my blog are, like I was, completely unfamiliar with the concept.  It is the probing of a text to discover what texts the author may have been imitating… it is looking carefully behind the words to identify the intertextual relation between a work and its sources.  But it’s more than just a dry list of source material…

It’s also noticing the ways in which the text has deviated from that which it is imitating, the ways in which it heightens or exaggerates its source material.  It is looking for the way that an author has used the works that have come before, in order to create something new (both in the text s/he is writing and in the world around.) 

But I really don’t feel comfortable trying say more about it than that, yet.  I’ve already admitted my ignorance; I’d rather not demonstrate exactly how deep that ignorance goes.

I am enjoying this book.  Really, I am.  If it is difficult, it is not because Joel’s writing is impenetrable or obtuse.   He writes well, and makes many clever phrases.  I may be in a little over my head, but I don’t think I’ll drown just yet. 

*In the interest of full disclosure: I have been given a copy of the book - but have not been otherwise compensated. My opinions, like my ignorance, are my own.  

[i] Watts, Joel L. Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, Wipf & Stock, Eugene Oregon, 2013.
[ii] Page 5.
[iii] I have been able, however, to recognize his references to Dr. Who and to Star Wars… does that count for anything?

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