Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

Radio National's The Book Show served up an Easter treat this morning when Ramona Koval spoke to Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Their topic? The novels and the ethics of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, of course. Williams is the author of the book, Dostoyevsky: language, faith and fiction.

Clearly the archbishop has plenty of time for the Dostoyevsky. He speaks with a lot of insight about the Russian's complicated relationship to Christ, and also about the way a novel works. Williams describes the novels like The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment as a kind of working out of possibilities and questions that would be impossible in life. Which is not to say that the novels are an idealisation of possibilities. They act like a laboratory in which the answers are never conclusive. 

The conversation between Koval and Williams is a lively tennis match, the host lobbing questions nonchalantly, yet always being challenged by Williams's insightful, probing returns. They also talked about the lack of dogma or certainty in the novel, how any good novel, any real novel, is devoid of doctrinal position. (Which is why CS Lewis continues to get a caning for the Narnia books, whatever else might be said of them.) Fundamentalism has no place in the novel. Williams is a more than decent literary critic. 

In talking about the life of Dostoyevsky, the archbishop and the journalist agreed firmly on one thing. That is, it is usually better not to meet your idols. Dostoyevsky is described as quarrelsome, hyper-sensitive and self-absorbed. Even for a writer, that's quite the trifecta.

Williams had taken leave from his role as the Archbishop of Canterbury and talked about how good it was to get up each day and write. To not have to attend endless committee meetings, and write endless letters and campaign to solve life's insoluble problems. It was someone speaking with real delight about the pleasure of his work. My only quibble was that in signing off Koval patronised Williams, aiming for match point by wishing him well in the struggle with those problems by regular prayer. He deserved better than that.

When the interview had finished (and I had finished shaving) I went in to my bedroom. There to see wife and daughter both crying, (daughter weeping) over the death of Lee Scoresby in Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass

1 comment:

thelittlestranger said...

More tears to come for your wife and daughter I'd say. Sounds like they were listening/reading the book aloud together? That would magnify the trauma!