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Creationists (Inglese) Copertina rigida – 19 set 2006

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E. L. Doctorow’s work has been published in thirty languages. His novels include The March, City of God, Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, Lives of the Poets, World’s Fair, Billy Bathgate, and The Waterworks. Among his honors are the National Book Award, two PEN/Faulkner awards, three National Book Critics Circle awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. He lives in New York.

Estratto. © Riproduzione autorizzata. Diritti riservati.

Chapter 1



The King James Version of the Bible, an early-seventeenth-century translation, seems, by its now venerable diction, to have added a degree of poetic luster to the ancient tales, genealogies, and covenantal events of the original. It is the version preachers quote from who believe in the divinity of the text. Certainly in the case of Genesis 1–4, in which the world is formed, and populated, and Adam and Eve are sent from the Garden, there could be no more appropriate language than the English of Shakespeare’s time. The King James does not suffer at all from what is inconsistent or self-contradictory in the text any more than do the cryptic ancient Hebrew and erring Greek from which it is derived. Once you assume poetically divine authorship, only your understanding is imperfect.

But when you read of these same matters in the contemporary diction of the Revised Standard Version, the Jamesian voice of holy scripture is not quite what you hear. In plainspoken modern English, Genesis—especially as it moves on from the Flood and the Tower of Babel, and comes up in time through the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, and then to the more detailed adventures of Jacob and Rachel and Joseph and his brothers—seems manifestly of the oral tradition of preliterate storytelling out of which the biblical documents emerged, when history and moral instruction, genealogy, law, science, and momentous confrontations with God were not recorded on papyrus or clay tablets but held in the mind for transmittal by generations of narrators. And so Genesis in the Revised Standard Version is homier—something like a collection of stories about people trying to work things out.

The contemporary reader would do well to read the King James side by side with the Revised Standard. Some lovely stereophonic truths come of the fact that a devotion to God did not preclude the use of narrative strategies.

If not in all stories then certainly in all mystery stories, the writer works backward. The ending is known and the story is designed to arrive at the ending. If you know the people of the world speak many languages, that is the ending. The story of the Tower of Babel gets you there. The known ending of life is death: the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil arrives at that ending. Why do we suffer, why must we die? Well, you see, there was this garden. . . . The story has turned the human condition into a sequential narrative of how it came to be; it has used conflict and suspense to create a moral framework for being. And in suggesting that things might have worked out another way for humanity if the fruit had not been eaten, it has, not incidentally, left itself open to revision by some subsequent fantasist who will read into it the idea of original sin.

Artistry is at work also in the blessings the dying Jacob bestows on his twelve eponymous sons. Each blessing, an astute judgment of character, will explain the fate of the twelve tribes led by the sons. A beginning is invented for each of the historical tribal endings known to the writer. Never mind that we understand from the documentary thesis of Bible sources—for it is, after all, the work of various storytellers and their editors—that different sons are accorded hands-on leadership by their father according to which writer is telling the story. Character is fate. And life under God is always an allegory.

Another venerable storytelling practice is the appropriation of an already existing story. Otherwise known as adaptation, it is the principle of literary communalism that allows us to use other people’s myths, legends, and histories in the way that serves ourselves—Shakespeare’s reliance on Hollinshed’s Chronicles, for example, which should have, in honor, disposed him to share his royalties. In Genesis, the ancient scribes have retooled the story of the Flood recounted earlier in Mesopotamia and Sumer, including the vivid rendition from the Epic of Gilgamesh. Yet though the plot is the same, the resounding meanings are different, as befits an adaptation. Noah is unprecedented as the last godfearing, righteous man on earth . . . who may nevertheless drink a bit more wine than is good for him. And the God of Genesis is a Presence beyond the conception of the Sumerian epic.

The cosmology of Genesis is beautiful and for all we know may even turn out to be as metaphorically prescient as some believers think it is. One imagines the ancient storytellers convening to consider what they had to work with: day and night, land and sea, earth and sky, trees that bore fruit, plants that bore seed, wild animals, domesticated animals, birds, fish, and everything that crept. In their brilliant imaginations, inflamed by the fear and love of God, it seemed more than possible that these elements and forms of life, this organization of the animate and inanimate, would have been produced from a chaos of indeterminate dark matter by spiritual intent—here was the story to get to the ending—and that it was done by a process of discretion, the separation of day from night, air from water, earth from sky, one thing from another in a, presumably, six-day sequence culminating in the human race.

Every writer has to be in awe of the staying power of the Genesis stories, which have passed through the embellishing realms of oral transmission and the literate multilingual cultures of thousands of years. They are a group effort but not at all afflicted with the bureaucratic monotone that would be expected to characterize written collaborations. One reason for this may be the wisdom of the later scribes in leaving intact on the page those chronicles they felt obliged to improve upon. As a result we get more than one point of view, which has the effect, in the depiction of character, of a given roundness or ambiguity that we recognize as realistic. Consider Jacob, for example, who will wrestle with God or His representative and be named Israel, after all, but is impelled twice in his life to acts of gross deception—of his brother Esau, of his father, Isaac. Or the lovely, gentle Rebecca, who as a maid displays the innocent generosity that the servant of Abraham seeks, offering him the water from her water jar and then seeing to his camels . . . but who, years later, as the mother of Jacob, shrewishly assists her son in depriving Esau of his rightful patrimony.

In general, family life does not go all that smoothly for the founding generations. Beginning with Cain and Abel and persisting to the time of Joseph, biblical brothers seem—like the brothers in fairy tales—to be seriously lacking in the fraternal spirit. Wives who are not themselves sufficiently fertile foist slave women on their husbands for purposes of impregnation, and then become jealous of those women and have them sent away. There seem to be two stations of wife, high and low—Hagar and Leah being examples of the low—and the anger and resentment this creates is palpable. Overall the women of Genesis may be subject to an exclusively biological destiny as child bearers—theirs is a nomadic society that to survive must be fruitful—and the movable tent kingdoms in which they live may be unquestioningly paternalistic, but the modern reader cannot help but notice with relief how much grumbling they do.

It is in the pages of Genesis that the first two of the three major covenants between God and humanity are described. After the Flood, God assures Noah that He will not again lay waste to all creation in a flood. The sign of this covenant will be a rainbow in the clouds. Later, Abraham is commanded by God to resettle in Canaan, where he will be assured that he will eventually prevail as the father of many nations. Circumcision is the way Abraham and his descendants are to give sign of keeping this covenant. It is only in the next book, Exodus, that the final element of the covenantal religion—the Ten Commandments—will be given through Moses to his people. It is here that

God will be identified as Yahweh and a ritualized sabbath—

a simulation of God’s day of rest after the Creation—is to be identified as the sign.

Apart from their religious profundity, this graduated series of exchanges between God and man has to remind us of the struggle for human distinction or identity in a precarious, brute life. This was the Bronze Age, after all. The Abrahamic generations were desert nomads, outlanders, who lived in tents while people such as the Egyptians lived in cities that were the heart of civilization. The ethnically diverse territory that Abraham and his descendants were called to was abuzz with Amorites and other Canaanite tribes. Under such difficult circumstances it is understandable that the Abrahamic nomads’ desire to be a designated people living in a state of moral consequence would direct them to bond with one God rather than many gods, and to find their solace and their courage in His singularity, His totality. But that they did so was tantamount to genius—and a considerable advance in the moral career of the human race.

For finally, as to literary strategies, it is the invention of character that is most telling, and in the Genesis narratives it is God himself who is the most complex and riveting character. He seems at times to be as troubled and conflicted, as moved by the range of human feelings, as the human beings He has created. The personality of God cannot be an entirely unwitting set of traits in a theological text that declares that we are made in His image, after His likeness. There is an unmistakable implic...

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8 di 8 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
5.0 su 5 stelle A loving look at the creative impulse 13 gennaio 2007
Di Erica Bell - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina rigida Acquisto verificato
"A writer who is not writing is a madman". That's Kafka--one of his letters, I think. Is it the one where he cancelled plans for a country holiday with friends because when a writer is creating, "he must hold on to his desk with his teeth"?

E.L. Doctorow understands. He writes in the introduction to his essays,"A novel or play has its origins in the peculiar excitement of the writer's mind. These are powerfully-felt, even inspired, responses to what may be the faintest or fleeting of stimuli--an image, the sound of a voice, a kind of light, a word or phrase, a bar of music."

Doctorow knows how fleeting inspiration is, and he seeks it from the inspired because he also knows just how damn hard it is to get it right. That's why these essays are so nourishing. He includes Harpo Marx and Einstein in this collection. With Harpo taking words and communicating silence, and Einstein thinking frantically against the limits of age, you'll see why.

His essay on Kafka's Amerika [The Man Who Disappeared] is worth the price of the book. Kleist he approaches more obliquely: where is the glorious dramatist who knew women's hearts so well (Penthesilea, The Broken Pitcher)? Later, he muses over Huck Finn, positing that he was Twain's match, a character wholly beyond Twain's ability, a giant metaphor deserving more than the plot Twain gave him. T.S. Eliot said much the same of Hamlet.

Where Doctorow loves (Kafka, Melville, Marx), he writes movingly, even nakedly. Where his mind is tickled, he is a fierce intellect, more than able to communicate the convergence of time, inspiration, culture, failure--and genius.
0 di 1 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
5.0 su 5 stelle For the creator! 16 settembre 2013
Di Gordon Hill - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina rigida Acquisto verificato
As one whose mind keeps pouring new ideas I sometimes wonder, "Why me?" and have discovered it may be a common phenomenon.
0 di 1 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
4.0 su 5 stelle Brilliant, of course, the essays are by E.L. Doctorow 10 novembre 2014
Di Marilyn Wylder - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina rigida Acquisto verificato
As E.L. Doctorow is one of the top contemporary American authors, this book of essays does not disappoint.
1 di 1 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
5.0 su 5 stelle Curiously, may be the best Doctorow that I have read 1 dicembre 2010
Di R. M. Peterson - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina flessibile
The title is awkward. This book is a collection of sixteen pieces by E.L. Doctorow, most of which are in the nature of literary criticism - introductions and afterwords, reviews, lectures, etc. Doctorow has tried to give them a common theme by positing them as "a modest celebration of the creative act". The effort is a little strained and "creationists" sounds too much like a politicized school of religious belief. But that is about the only ground for faulting the book. It is a wonderful assemblage - eminently readable and insightful. Indeed, it is as good as non-academic literary criticism gets.

The four-page introduction is a superb tribute to stories, from a masterful storyteller:

"Underlying everything--the evocative flashes, the dogged working of language--is the writer's belief in the story as a system of knowledge. This belief is akin to the scientist's faith in the scientific method as a way to truth.
"Stories, whether written as novels or scripted as plays, are revelatory structures of facts. They connect the visible with the invisible, the present with the past. They propose life as something of moral consequence. They distribute the suffering so that it can be borne."

The subjects of the essays themselves are surprisingly diverse - from Genesis to the atomic bomb, Harriet Beecher Stowe to Harpo Marx. Doctorow shows himself to have a mind of uncommon breadth as well as unusual depth. Particularly fine are the pieces on Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville and "Moby-Dick", Sam Clemens and Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But Doctorow also is well worth reading on non-American authors such as Franz Kafka and W.G. Sebald.

For example, here is a sentence from his piece on Kafka's "Amerika": "At times Kafka would seem to define the spiritual quest as the struggle to meet one's obligations without too much loss of self-respect." That's about as precise and elegant an encapsulation of Kafka as I have come across in volumes of commentary. And here is Doctorow on Sebald (specifically, "The Emigrants"): "From the modulations of his sentences and the paradoxes built into them, we infer a culture of rarefied sensibility that seems to be the florescence of a dying civilization. * * * W.G. Sebald is an elegist."

Curiously, CREATIONISTS may be the best book by Doctorow that I have read, with the possible exception of "Ragtime" - which I am now spurred to go back and re-read.
16 di 16 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
5.0 su 5 stelle All creationists are mortal. 3 gennaio 2007
Di Aco - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina rigida
I picked this up at the library, having known of Doctorow's work for years, but never reading it.

These are gathered essays, all regarding the artistic process, E.L.'s own imagination and a critical analysis of particular works.

All of the works and workers are classics. The Bible, Poe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, a terrific imagining of Melville's experience writing Moby Dick, Tom Sawyer + Huck Finn as unfulfilled projects, Arrowsmith, F. Scott, an excellent piece comparing Malraux's L'Espoir and Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls, John Dos Passos' U.S.A., why Harpo Marx stands out among his brothers, the German poet/playwright von Kleist (who I now will look out for), a nice short bit on Arthur Miller, how Kafka's first novel Amerika could be written by a guy who'd never been there, W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants (another writer and book I learned about), a great piece on Einstein's imaginative ability, and a closing essay on The Bomb, the furtive genius that created it and the brilliance it destroyed.

The Bible, poets, gigantic classics, silent comedians, scientists and mass destruction...All are created. Creationists are all mortal, but their creations are immortal.

Doctorow's impressive expertise and reverence for each of his subjects makes for terrific reading, and an education.

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