Against austerity


In an essay in her new non-fiction collection, Marilynne Robinson marvels at the enormous number of English words that describe the behaviour of light. “Glimmer, glitter, glister, glisten, gleam, glow, glare, shimmer, sparkle, shine, and so on,” she writes. “These old words … reflect an aesthetic attention to experience that has made, and calls us to make, pleasing distinctions among, say, a candle flame, the sun at its zenith, and the refraction of light by a drop of rain.” “Imagination and Community” is ostensibly about language, but, like all the essays in When I Was A Child I Read Books, it is written through the prism of Robinson’s Christian Calvinist faith. Rather than focusing on mystical awakenings, she calls the everyday material of life a “sacred mystery”, and argues that religion should illuminate, rather than be separated from, science, politics and literature. “My point is that lacking the terms of religion,” she writes, “essential things cannot be said.” As a novelist, Robinson imbues ordinary, concrete details with grace, in the manner of the authors she most admires – Emerson, Whitman, Melville, William James, Emily Dickinson – “for whom creeds fall away and consciousness has the character of revelation.”

more from Emily Stokes at the FT here.