Ktismatics

11 November 2013

Time Out of Joint in the Creation Narratives

Filed under: Fiction, Genesis 1, Reflections — ktismatics @ 12:48 pm

Stephen had parked in one of the reserved spaces behind Martin’s office but, since he had nowhere in particular to go, he left the car where it was and strolled back into downtown. He was exploring without curiosity the side streets branching off from the pedestrian zone, peering into the rehabbed frontier-era storefronts, when a sign caught his eye. Black print on a four-by-six white index card, stuck with yellowed tape to the wall, the sign certainly wasn’t designed to grab the attention of the passing window-shopper. It read:

SALON POSTISME
Portals, Intervals, Alternate Realities
Henry Adamowicz, Proprietor
“Get Different”
Walk-Ins Welcome
(ring bell for service)

A short corridor and a long stairway were all that could be discerned through the smoky glass door. With nothing to do and less to hope for, Stephen rang…

***

Here’s another reason why narrating the story in the present tense might be misleading, or at least weird. It’s because time is out of joint between the making-of and the made.

In diagetic time, Stephen and Martin are the two guys walking out of the bar in the opening scene. They part ways, and the narrator follows Stephen on his solitary walk down the block from Martin’s office. Diagetically, this is a single continuous scene. From the making-of standpoint it is not. The opening scene in the bar and the beginning of the out-the-door stroll were written in November 2010, but the passage in which Stephen happens upon the Salon Postisme was written much earlier. I don’t even know quite when I did write it. In November 2003 I incorporated the bit about Hanley finding the Salon into an earlier version of this book, but the annotation I wrote at the time indicates that it was a fragment “imported from prior work.” I probably wrote it sometime in 2001, but I can’t put my hands on the original. Between one sentence and the next in the same paragraph there’s a gap of nearly ten years. Portals, intervals, alternate realities.

***

In the beginning the Elohim created the heavens and the earth and the earth was formless and void…

In the beginning, Genesis 1 reads like a continuous narrative: only the small and ubiquitous Hebrew conjunction and separates the Bible’s first two references to the earth. But doesn’t the continuity convey the impression that the Elohim did not create the universe ex nihilo, but rather that he (or they) came upon a pre-existing formless void and organized it? That’s heresy. To reconcile the canonical text with orthodox theology sometimes calls for hermeneutical creativity. Advocates of what has come to be known as Gap Theory propose that something went wrong between verse 1, when God created the earth, and the formless void of verse 2. Perhaps an extended interval should be inserted between the first two verses, an interval that lasted for eons. Geologic eras came and went; ice ages alternated with times of tropical warmth. A wide array of life forms emerged and thrived. Maybe even the primates, even those which paleontologists regard as forerunners of homo sapiens, appeared on the scene. Then some sort of widespread evil corrupted the earth, causing everything to wind down and to fall apart. Floods and earthquakes, volcanoes and meteors disrupted land and sea and sky; every species went extinct. What had been created as an orderly world degenerated into the formless void of Genesis 1:2. There’s something alluring about the idea of opening up the tiny space between verse 1 and verse 2 and seeing inside of it an entire prehistory of the world lasting billions of years. It’s an exegesis based on the space between words, on the absence of written evidence – as if the meaning of the text is to be found not in the words themselves, but in the spaces between the words; as if all Biblical meaning consists of what is not written.

[Editorial Note:  In the prior paragraph there’s a temporal gap in the writing. The first four sentences I wrote just now; the rest I cribbed from a nonfiction book about Genesis 1 that I wrote in 2005-6. Three years later I dismantled and fictionalized that book, turning it into what is now the seventh volume in the cluster of novels.]

***

Then the Elohim blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it he rested from all his work which the Elohim had created and made. This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that Yahweh Elohim made earth and heavens…

The first sentence wraps up the seven-day creation narrative; the second introduces the Garden of Eden story. There’s not even a chapter break separating these two accounts: one follows the other as part of Chapter 2. But the details of the creation as it unfolds are not compatible between the two accounts. In the second story Yahweh creates Adam out in the desert, then he plants a garden in the east, then he brings Adam into the garden to tend it, then he creates all the beasts and birds and brings them to Adam so that he can name them. It reads as if the gods (elohim is a plural noun) created the larger world first, and then later one of the gods, named Yahweh, created his own microworld inside that larger world, in the desert of the Real as it were, outfitting it with his own plants and his own gardener.

But what about the sequence in which these creation narratives were written — the making-of of the Making-Of? The Documentary Hypothesis contends that the Garden narrative was written hundreds of years before the Seven-Days narrative, and that only later did redactors reverse the sequence in the canonical merged text. Now the Seven Days can be read as a just-so story contrived by priests for justfiying landowners’ exploitation of peasants. Why do we have to work six days straight, with only one day off? Because that’s how God did it. And why do we have to go to temple? Because God blessed and sanctified the seventh day. For the landowners that sort of mystification must have been worth the ten-percent tithe. Of course it’s only a hypothesis: the originals can no longer be retrieved from the archives.

***

If there’s one book that has exerted the greatest influence over my fictions, it’s the Bible. Here we find a congeries of textual fragments, written by many authors in many styles over hundreds and hundreds of years, cobbled together into a single, continuous, third-person preterite narration. But the seams and the sutures are still evident in places. Prying them open, the reader gets a glimpse into the tohu vabohu, the Formless Void, on whose surface the whole Creation bobs along like a flimsy raft.

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