We take the long view, here at Exterminating Angel Press.
And when I say the long view, I mean the really really long view.
For example, I need EAP Popular Culture Editor/Creative Director Mike Madrid, not just for his incredible eye and natty dress sense, but because, as he says, I have a tendency to think of the day before yesterday as happening around, say, 1914. I need him to point out all the many things that have happened since (Lady Gaga, the Star Wars movies, Mad Men, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t remember, but which I trust he’ll remind me of when necessary.)
That long view seems to cause some misunderstandings, which, for the life of me, I couldn’t at first figure out how to counter…except by doggedly going on doing what we’re doing, publishing what we’re publishing, writing what we’re writing. But then time goes on, and you see some small glimmerings of hope for that strategy. For example. Take the third book we published, our first year back in 2009, Brian Griffith’s CORRECTING JESUS: Two Thousand Years of Changing the Story. Oh my God (literally, in this case) (or Goddess, I told you we take a very long view, all the way back to 2500 B.C. sometimes), the over the top reactions we got about that book. Either people (of the type that Mike somewhat ironically refers to as ‘our people’) took a glancing look at the cover and went ‘eeeewwwwww. Jesus. reactionary, backward garbage. pass!’…or (and this tended to happen to poor Brian on the Internet) we got lots of semi nuts commenting about how the Bible was inerrant, and how dare anyone ‘correct’ Jesus, and etc. All this to a serious, astonishingly hard working and clear thinking historian. It was very annoying.
Just your usual battle between the religious fundamentalists and the secular fundamentalists. Yawn.
So I was terrifically pleased, this last month, to be womanning the EAP stand at both the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Trade Show, in Denver (hosted by the lovely Dory Dutton, thanks, Dory!), and then our booth at the Wordstock literary festival, in Portland, and to have it very clear, both shows, that the book that stopped ’em in their tracks, that made the most people come on over and flip through and chat, was that same CORRECTING JESUS that Brian had taken so much flack for two years ago on publication.
At Wordstock, I sold out all my copies the first day. By the third person handing over the cash, I said, “What made you pick the book up?” And she said, “Well, the title of that book, of course. You just can’t walk by a book called ‘CORRECTING JESUS’.”
Considering you could walk by it just two years ago, this cheered me up immensely. Because of course the book is a history book, not a book about religion…it’s actually a book about how stories form our culture, how those stories get started, how they get changed, why that happens…and implied in there, is how we can change culture, and for the better, by paying attention to the power of those stories.
Which of course, if you’re with me this far, you doubtless know is why everyone at EAP is in it in the first place.
Further cheering news was a young bookseller (and they are young! it’s so incredibly heartening to see the next generation of book lovers really taking control) who picked up the book, remarking that it drove her crazy that she could ‘get anyone to buy stuff in the Asian religions section, but not the Western religions section, and you’d think people would be interested in their own history!’ I’m buying that young bookseller a drink so we can talk that problem over.
I’m also betting that when we publish Brian’s next book, A GALAXY OF IMMORTAL WOMEN: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization, next May, that his work will start being seen more in context, seen more for what it is and what ideas it’s developing. That book is his trademark common sense look at the stories of Chinese goddesses over many thousands of years. His thesis is that those stories have been kept alive, and have actively sustained an ideal of social equity…and that the stories are alive and active today.
(We’re trying to get him going on his third book, too…which at one point, he tantalized us by suggesting it be about animal stories in different cultures. Now I’d like to see someone get on him about THAT one. “How dare you say that coyotes are wily! Everyone knows that…etc. etc. etc.”)
I also was thinking about that long view thing this morning, when SNOTTY SAVES THE DAY got a nice review from Publishers Weekly. And it was very nice, so I’m not only not complaining, I’m grateful. But the one little thing that did bother me was when the reviewer called the book ‘part Christian allegory’.
Here’s where the long view part comes in. When you hear ‘Christian allegory’, don’t you start thinking about Martin Luther starting all that Christian stuff? You should, anyway.
I wouldn’t say the writer of Snotty Saves the Day is Christian, exactly. Or even inexactly, come to think of it. Ex-Catholic, sure, you can’t, after all evade your own history. But Christian? Naw. I mean, seeing as how I’m that writer, I should know.
Here’s the difference between a story that’s written out of a Catholic (even an ex-Catholic) sensibility, and one that’s written out of a Christian. The latter starts about 1500 A.D. , which is barely yesterday, when you’re taking the long view. It takes for granted a number of things: that the historical Jesus is the only Son of the only God ( and that God is an old guy with a beard). That the coincidence of their story being told about countless other gods in countless other traditions is neither here nor there. That the Virgin Mary was a mere human, cut out forever from any real place at the God Table. That Man was given domininon over Nature (not Woman, mind you, very important fact for the Christian point of view) by that same old God with a beard. I mean, there’s more to it, but that’s a pretty good summary. It’s the Protestant point of view.
The Catholic point of view goes back 1500 years before that. And it has its roots firmly in the Pagan Tradition of stories. Protestants were all in favor of giving the complete heave ho to these, as being remnants of evil superstition. The Catholic tradition doesn’t like to brag about this, its close relationship to earlier traditions and their stories, having its own political reasons for clinging to the Protestant point of view, but it’s also got its own goddess worshipping tradition in the form of Mary worship, it’s got its own pantheon of gods and goddesses in the Litany of the Saints, it’s got its own stories about miracles being an ally of science rather than an adversary. It can’t help it. It’s got older roots. So any stories that come through that line of tradition go a lot farther back than to year 1 A.D.
And ‘Christian allegory’ is a rather airless box, with an extremely limited view. No, I don’t think Christian allegory is the mot juste (or the mots juste, sorry).
I don’t even think ‘allegory’, really.
I think, just ‘story’ is fine. And story at this point in our history includes an awful lot of elements. A lot more than the ones that get defined for us every day as the only ones presently allowed. Whether this definition comes from someone too scared to look at the roots of their own beliefs, or from someone too cool to have any beliefs at all.
But then. I’m taking the extremely long view. Probably about 45,000 years. Still, what’s a few thousand years between friends?