Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, December 22, 2016

the tragedy of couriers

What is the real tragedy of the courier? That he should be the bearer, the transmitter, of messages which he neither initiates nor receives.

This is the great danger for all of us who practice the disciplines of interpretation, as Hegel explained long ago in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion:

There is a type of theology that wants to adopt only a historical attitude toward religion; it even has an abundance of cognition, though only of a historical kind. This cognition is no concern of ours, for if the cognition of religion were merely historical, we would have to compare such theologians with countinghouse clerks, who keep the ledgers and accounts of other people's wealth, a wealth that passes through their hands without their retaining any of it, clerks who act only for others without acquiring assets of their own. They do of course receive a salary, but their merit lies only in keeping records of the assets of other people. In philosophy and religion, however, the essential thing is that one's own spirit itself should recognize a possession and content, deem itself worthy of cognition, and not keep itself humbly outside.

This seems to describe Oedipa Maas through most of CL49, though there is the possibility of her becoming something more at the end. She has been concerned to discover whether there is a message at all, and, if there is, who are the "couriers" of that message — but she is not yet ready to confront what the message is. Not until the last page, when, as the crying of Lot 49 begins, she takes a deep breath....

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