I, Judas – A Book Review

James Reich is both novelist and poet.  If you accept that he has the soul of a poet, then I, Judas is one of the most difficult and lengthy poems you’ll ever read.  I say difficult not in an “oh my God, what lousy poetry” way, but in the sense of being “uncomfortable while reading” way.  I felt, while I was reading, as if I were a child being allowed to sit at the adult’s dinner table for the first time and discovering that it was much more fun at the children’s table.

Perhaps you disagree that he is a poet, then I offer this passage about that fateful morning in Dallas in November of 1963:

“jackals careened about the passenger door. Scarlet broth ran down her sunglasses. His back brace held him corseted to his cross, and the shot pealed again.”

Judas pops up in numerous momentous, and not so momentous, occasions like a modern day Lucifer peddling his influence as he skips around the globe and history.

I was raised by atheists to be a Christian.  As such I’ve always had great difficulty accepting Jesus as the Son of God but even I, perhaps because I still attend church for inspiration and solace, was shocked to contemplate biblical characters in such brazen terms.  For example, Mary Magdalene as the reckless whore and Joseph crafting the rude cross of his own son’s crucifixion, in the hopes that his wife’s lover will one day hang from one.

Recently, I was discussing the Lochness Monster with my six year old grandson as he has been doing research on Nessy lately.  I asked him if he believed the Lochness Monster was real or not and he said “I believe in all the legends Grandma”.  Reading I, Judas would cure him of that……………………….luckily he’s too young still.  I sort of wished I hadn’t read the book, if you know what I mean.

Please add your comments below if you’ve read the book.  If anyone misunderstands my comments above, I enjoyed the book, in a rather painful way.

74 Responses

  1. Okie said she’d try to check in later and I’ll be back later as well. Hopefully, someone else will have a few comments for James. I have more but don’t want to be a blog hog. 😉

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  2. Thank you. With regard to myth: one of the ideas that I was hoping to convey in ‘I, Judas’ is that an addiction to myth makes a ‘Judas’ of any one of us: a betrayal, if you will, of the individual self in favor of the convenience of inherited narratives.

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  3. Hello. This post will show as being from ‘hystericalinjury’, but I’m not really the band Hysterical Injury, I’m their manager, Wes. Visiting the ATiM site I find that I am logged in as hystericalinjury. Which will do.

    I found ‘I, Judas’ exciting to read. Like the OP, I found I was shocked by some of the portrayals of characters despite not regrading myself as in any easy a Christian believer.

    I felt I was bring treated to secrets by Judas the narrator, and then wondered if I was expected to trust him at all.

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  4. Hi Wes, that is an irony/paradox that I was pleased to exploit!

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  5. *’regarding’ for ‘regrading’. ‘way’ for ‘easy’. I love my phone but for how it conspires with my fingers to make me look like an imbecile…

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  6. The implicit unreliability of the narrative voice did liberate me from ‘historicity’ and ‘myth’ in almost equal measure, so that in one sense, the novel is an experiment involving the precincts of confession and the limits of deceit, lies and anachronism. Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Decay of Lying’ is a powerful influence.

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  7. Welcome James and Wes.

    I hope a few of our regulars will show up soon to comment as well. We’re a fairly small group to begin with and I’m still trying to generate interest in a book review feature.

    James I see your point and perhaps it’s not just the addiction to the myth but the perpetuation of it as well that makes us complicit. All the characters took on a more human and even sinister nature when stripped of their glory.

    I’m always wishing I could get to the bottom of personality in both historical and mythical naratives and this gave me a glimpse of what I might find. Not completely sure I want to go there.

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    • Although the recurring recreation of myths was nimble, I was often amused by the anachronistic juxtapositions. I even grinned while reading dark passages, like

      “Look, Judas, they are preparing for a crucifixion.” My mother licked her lips.
      We climbed with the crowd for an hour, pausing only to buy kosher hot dogs and t-shirts.

      I thought the Van Gogh/Custer chapter, the Philadelphia incident, and the Kennedy assassination were the best pure reads in the novel, perhaps because I am not fascinated by the myths of Jesus, Judas, Salome, John the Baptist, Pilate, and Herod; or for that matter by Samson and Delilah. That may be typical of the readers here or not, and I pose it because I wonder how many of us are creating for ourselves a post American Revolution mythology. While dependent in traceable ways upon biblical, Greek, and Roman antecedents we think of it as somehow more approachable and more relevant. I’m just throwing a horseshoe and wondering if anyone else had a similar division of reaction to the chapters.

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  8. James how would you describe your own spiritual our religious background (if any)?

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  9. *’or’ for ‘our’ (sorry).

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  10. Mark, I’m not completely clear what you mean by post American Revolution mythology in relation to the biblical alternative. Are you referring to the idolization of the founders for instance or Paul Revere for example? If so it’s an interesting idea but a rather short term narrative compared to the biblical examples you cite.

    I’m sorry everyone, but my son just showed up with a grandson ready to swim with grandma and I have to oblige for a bit. I’ll be back and I think you’ll find that people will swim (if you will) in an out of this thread today and tomorrow at least. Hope you’ll check back in periodically all of you.

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    • Lulu, I am not trying to posit anything but the notion that we invest EVERYTHING we learn from 1775 on with inherited and repeated narratives, and that they are daily in our lives. The vast wealth of myth that Jung relied upon is archetypal, but no longer strikes the same chords for me that even Custer’s Last Stand evokes, never mind the utter and almost surely fictitious mythology of the JFK era.

      Edit: I am not a Christian, so I studied NT as important literature and it did not have the weight or gravity for me that it ostensibly had for Christians. Further, I learned OT as a library that was largely allegorical, but neither good science nor reliable history. The Genesis and Exodus myths do have meaning for me. Samson and Delilah? Not so much. Thus I was along for the ride in much of I, Judas , as opposed to having felt like I was driving by a forty car pile-up on the freeway.

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  11. From an article I wrote entitled ‘Anti-Archetype’:

    Dependence on archetypes stems from a very simple misconception: that the fictions informing our culture are the inevitable consequence of our (un)consciousness. The error is in any faith that they express immutable laws, or universal truths from which we must learn, that they are the fundamental contexts of our psychology. Consider for a moment the protracted and perilous transit of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex from antiquity to the desk of Sigmund Freud. There is nothing *inevitable* about it. The Oedipal drama, however entertaining, ‘Classical’ and now canonical it has become, might have been lost. Belief in the inevitability of any canonical entry is bad faith, and this is also the kind of simplifying determinist philosophy in which archetypes thrive. Many are tricked by the cheap conjuring of reflexivity, or the way in which –to borrow an elegant slogan from Barbara Kruger- Your Fictions Become History. Freud might not have codified the Oedipus complex. There is nothing inevitable about the awkward imposition of a classical fiction onto the punished psychology of modernism. Our archetypes are manufactured backwards from fictions that survive as much by accident as from their ‘greatness’. It is foolish to take a Darwinian view of art; there is no meritocracy of the fittest. Irreplaceable wealth has already been lost, forgotten or burned by chance and prejudice. There is merely the arbitrarily mediated success of one literature over another and sometimes its propagation, plagiarism and derivation by others, from Sigmund Freud to Joseph Campbell to Jim Morrison…

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    • James, that is congruent with what actually happened in the development of the Freudian “theory”.

      As an empirical physician, he heard many female patients complain that they had been sexually abused as girls by adult male relatives, including biological fathers. When he presented this in Vienna, he was nearly hounded out of the polite company of physicians and surgeons, all male. He revised his findings to account for the fantasies of the women he had previously believed so that he could be accepted again in professional circles. Thus the Oedipus Complex.

      edit: not a straight line, there. He had no male patients who complained they were abused by momma – but he worked the whole Oedipus, negative Oedipus thing out to explain the female patients, who quite likely had been abused. Jung helped out by calling “negative Oedipus” “Elektra”.

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  12. Hi, all!

    First, thank you very much to James, both for writing this novel (?) poem (?) and for being so accommodating as we had to keep moving the discussion date. And welcome to Wes–hope you have a lovely time here!

    I guess I’m going to start out with what I thought was going to be my last question for James, since Wes has already asked it, also:

    what is your religious background and how did it inform this work?

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  13. James, I’ll be upfront and say that I’ve wrestled with whether or not to read I, Judas and decided I lack the emotional energy–at least for now. I did read passages “inside the book” on Amazon and was struck by your serious poetic cred. You really do know your way around language. I’m impressed.

    I decided to drop in this note after reading the other comments because they stirred my curiosity. Perhaps if I’d read the whole book, I’d know the answer to this, but I’m wondering how you were drawn to writing such an idea-driven novel. Did you find it gave you more freedom to unleash the kind of humor Mark points to and maybe a freedom to break barriers and shock people into thought? Something else?

    I think it’s fascinating to turn myths on their head–to play with them, I guess, and I mean play in all its positive sense. But thinking about this, I’ve recognized my own need for the stories we all share even if they’re thoroughly untrustworthy in terms of fact. They both ground and launch the imagination (which of course is what’s happening here). Perhaps my reluctance to read the whole book comes from a sense that, suggestible as I can sometimes be, your view of myth might erase my own, and I fear the loss.

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  14. Right, Mark – and furthermore, the logocentric and phallocentric construct of ‘myth’ and so in the broadest, European sense, “text” (as a political system of artifice) is my concern. Apologies for missing the question earlier: I am an atheist, for that reason, and others.

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    • Thanks for making my response sound scholarly, James. I’m off for tacos with the twin granddaughters and will ck back in later.

      I’ll bet the others here would like to know if you had exposure to a religious upbringing, or if you were raised an atheist!

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  15. Hi, Emily!

    I was hoping you’d be able to join us, since I always enjoy hearing author’s takes on other author’s works. Your comment about James’ use of language resonates with me, since that’s often the first thing I notice about writing (thus speaks the English teacher’s daughter).

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  16. allbutcertain, This is polemic, but the great Angela Carter once said: “If women allow themselves to be consoled for their culturally determined lack of access to the modes of intellectual debate by the invocation of hypothetical great goddesses, they are simply flattering themselves into submission (a technique often used on them by men). All the mythic versions of women, form the myth of the redeeming purity of the virgin to that of the healing, reconciling mother, are consolatory nonsenses; and consolatory nonsense seems to me a fair definition of myth, anyway. Mother goddesses are just as silly a notion as father gods. If a revival of the myths of these cults gives women satisfaction, it does so at the expense of obscuring the real conditions of life. This is why they were invented in the first place.” (The Sadeian Woman) – I think that we lose something existential if we grant too much power to the arbitrary canon that we have inherited. I’m not sure I’m a good enough writer to erase your view of myth, although, that is essentially what I, Judas attempts.

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  17. The USS Eldritch

    What is the significance of the ship?

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  18. James, Perhaps you can expand on a theme I stumbled upon in ‘I, Judas,’ or correct me if I’ve gone drastically astray. In mythology the interplay between the Gods is seen as the origin of unexplainable environmental phenomena, all of which overwhelmed primitive man with trepidation and fear. This way of thinking wasn’t merely reserved for the Greeks. The earliest most powerful God of nearly all ancient civilizations was a God of thunder: Zeus,Thor, Indra, Set, Jupiter etc. Contemporary psychologists have concluded that one of the first fears of newborns is that of loud noises, which makes sense as the impetus for these first Gods.

    Battles between the Gods were also credited with shaping the geographical landscape. The dueling Gods in the case of ‘I, Judas’ are Jesus and Judas, although wherever the go they touch trees causing hemorrhaging from branches, their interplay seems to be shaping the human psyche as it seeps into and out of the works of countless artists and thinkers. And everywhere they go they find waste and trappings of human consumption at their feet. Is this a comment on how contemporary man has utilized myth not only to betray his intellect but to betray nature by becoming an embodiment of our greatest fears?

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  19. I bastardized the name from the U.S.S. Eldridge of ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’ fame/notoriety/myth because it was a means of signifying the ongoing military operations in the region where the novel is set, but also, it is emblematic of anachronism, the fusing of bodies, conspiracy theory and even time travel. I used to find stories of The Bermuda Triangle, missing airmen etc fascinating, and I remember there being some conspiracy/weird narrative idea that the Philadelphia Experiment had resulted in a kind of time travel. I also like the idea of key events in the narrative of I, Judas and ‘the elaborate con’ of the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth directed by Judas take place in ‘the conning tower’ of the ship.

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  20. James:

    Score (and a fist pump for me)!!!! I thought immediately of the USS Eldridge, but had no idea if I was over-thinking things. Your play on “con” escaped me, but I love it it hindsight.

    I’m not a conspiracy theorist at all, but I am a fan of the concept of time travel, and also used to find Bermuda Triangle stories fascinating.

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  21. To the extent I understand what Carter is saying, I agree with much if not most of it. My own literary background is intentionally scant on the theoretical side so I’m not much good in this particular kind of debate. But I’ll offer an example of what I mean. I was scanning headlines this morning and saw one on a debris field that could be the wreckage of Amelia Earhart’s plane. I clicked on it immediately and then wondered why I was drawn to it and  have always been so fascinated by stories about her. I suspect I read a biography of her when I was a kid, one of those orange, hard-covered books that took up shelves in the library and told the stories of people such as presidents and Davy Crockett.

    if I were to look at any of those books today, I’m sure I would consider them more fact than fiction and purveyors of myth. They’re a big flaw in my early education I’m sure. Yet the stories themselves were so vivid and important in the way they stretched my imagination and triggered something aspirational. In a sense, myths are the tall tales of our lives that we all accept with a certain winking recognition. I think it’s an absolutely valid pursuit of both scholarship and literature to show their noxious effects. But it takes a knowledge of the canon on the part of both reader and writer for that to happen.  And there’s the simple power of myth as story to beguile and engage. For me, that would be diminished if I took an unpleasant Judas as guide, a person I always read as a rather moving character and lacking in power in spite of his betrayal.

    I don’t mean to suggest I only read or write things that don’t challenge my sense of comfort. There wouldn’t be much point in the whole enterprise if that were the case. But I suspect my work mostly lacks the sort of intellectual construct you’re passionate about and that we simply write from a different place even if we’re both a lot about language.

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  22. Hi Emily – well put, and I understand completely. One of my concerns in the novel is that Judas Iscariot, a very simple narrative cipher, lacking detail, has become an icon of prejudice in flux: he is ‘other’, the non-Galillean, black in Jesus Christ Superstar, redheaded Brooklyn Jew in the Kazantzakis/Scorsese version, and this too is a literary/theatrical device informed by the demonizing of Judas/suicide by the medieval church.

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  23. I meant to add that I think it’s invaluable for writers to work from different perspectives.

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  24. Dad, I laughed at all those parts too. When I saw my old chum from Austria on our trip to Bath (a Brummy exchange student in Graz, still lives in Birmingham, wanted to drive down to Bristol for our show), he raved about how much he liked the book, and told me how funny he thought it was. I am always really gratified when people get that part. I thought it was hilarious in many brain-ticklingly gratifying moments. Wes! Thanks for joining in!

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  25. If I don’t get to answer all of these questions in the next hour or so, I do promise to return to them later this afternoon/evening. I truly appreciate all of your insightful readings of the novel, and your kind words.

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  26. Hi all,

    I’m a little late to the party, but have a few thoughts. I should preface this to note that my main reading of the last few years have revolved around food and autism. The former as I’ve become passionate about cooking and the latter being the father of twins on the spectrum

    I, Judas came at me from an unexpected direction. The last I thought seriously about the historical figure was going through confirmation to join the Roman Catholic church in my late 20s. I came to think of Judas as a tragic, but necessary, figure. The crucification was a necessary act and thus it follows that the betrayal was necessary as well. The concept of Judas as manipulator is an unexpected twist.

    The novel itself is a difficult read. That’s not a criticism. The narrator dares the reader to put the book down with his deliberately vulgar descriptions. It puts me in mind of Scotch whiskey. A particularly peatey one. If I don’t entirely enjoy it, I appreciate it. II’m glad to have read this book, as it took me out of my comfort zone and challenged me. Too often, that’s not the case with my selections.

    As for particular scenes, I would go with the goat who shows up early in the novel. Judas’s care for this creature stands in contrast to his thinly masked contempt for fellow human beinngs.

    BB

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  27. and also, meant to say to allbutcertain, I’m totally with you on that last sentiment.

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  28. Long ago and far away, in university, I changed my major from English Lit to History when I realised that history was largely an invented construct that continually changed in ‘interpretation’ to suit the needs of the particular time and place or of whatever individual might be publishing. Not entirely of course; it’s all an “as told to” or “based on fact,” to use terms from literary and film worlds. But even the facts are ephemeral, let alone the purpose and meaning. For me, the appeal of history was the appeal of fiction writing.
    So all history blurs into myth. It is living in dream, or perhaps a neverending mass psychosis… interesting how we separate commonly accepted mass psychoses from aberrant individual ones.
    James could have written this book about any number – an infinite number – of myths: the Founding Fathers, Joan of Arc, Buddha, Ronald Reagan, Bix Beiderbeck, etc, etc. Of course, he has picked a big one, the biggest in the part of the world defined by Christianity (a wise decision considering the Rushdie’s problems with Satanic Verses!).
    What sets James’ book apart is not the subject(s) or the vastly interesting playing with their myth-identities, but, actually, the writing. It is a novel; it is not a thesis, not an alternate history, not even an examination of myth.
    I find it unnecessary to call it a poem; this is one of the ways a writer writes. Think of Faulkner, Joyce, Burroughs – they are not called poets. Nor Bob Dylan; he is called, and should be, a songwriter.
    James is a writer. What makes I, Judas exceptional is his writing, a potent combination of influences from the King James Bible to Burroughs with many others in between. It will be interesting to see how the prose style of Bombshell, his next, differs.
    (And I thought USS Eldritch was a reference to HP Lovecraft’s favourite descriptive word.)

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    • Charley:

      history was largely an invented construct…But even the facts are ephemeral, let alone the purpose and meaning.

      Sorry for butting in here, I haven’t read the book under discussion, but what exactly does the above mean?

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    • So all history blurs into myth. It is living in dream, or perhaps a neverending mass psychosis

      I hope not. In fact, there is precious little evidence that serious history – the sort you should have studied at university a long time ago and far away – is a dream.

      It may be inaccurately portrayed, but if it is peer reviewed it will have some semblance of a factual narrative, based on the best documentation available from the time.

      Sorry for the digression. As to the literary criticism, I agree with Charley and everyone else who has mentioned it – James’ writing in this novel is superb.

      I think anyone would credit lines like:

      Nothing gathers so well, or is as pregnant, as a lie.
      and

      As Salome, I was a clutch of caprice and spite.

      My second former wife was a clutch of caprice and spite but I did not know the words at the time.

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  29. Charley – Eldritch/Lovecraft – yes, you’re right.

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  30. I agree with Charley that what makes I, Judas exceptional is James’ writing. I didn’t mean to imply that the novel is a poem, but rather the poetic style (my impression not a technical critique) captured me. There were times I was reading the flow of words for their own sake and lost track of the story and had to go back and read it again. I found it a fascinating occurrence.

    Emily (ABC), thanks for your contributions today as well. Your input as an author is so valuable I think. You clarified, for me anyway, why it was an uncomfortable read in many ways, something I don’t find regrettable in the least. I think, if I’m to be honest, there are still stories, passions and personalities from the Bible that move me. I’m not sure it’s necessary for me to give them up in order to appreciate the fact that perhaps not all was as portrayed and laugh at the absurdity of both versions.

    If we are to take the myth phenomenon to its ultimate conclusion we are all complicit, even in our own familial stories which are part myth, part fabrication and part truism I think.

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  31. I agree with all who are taken with James’s command of language. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of authors and few, if any, are capable of crafting such exquisite prose. He’s a true talent.

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  32. Deric, thanks for joining our discussion today. After your comment I’m wondering if you might know if any of the other authors you know would be interested in participating in our book review. I don’t want to take away from James’ efforts here but if you’d be interested in discussing this more shoot me an email at plumgirls10@yahoo.com

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  33. James, will you be around tomorrow by any chance?

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  34. To Deric’s excellent points earlier: the landscape Judas and Jesus inhabit is irrevocably mythic, hence the trees allude to both Frazer’s ‘Golden Bough’ and to William Blake’s Wood of the Suicides.

    The origin of I, Judas was as a meditation on suicide and the reorientation of attitude, from classical heroism in the six OT suicides, to the ultimate pejorative of Judas, the singular suicide in the NT, unless you count the euphemistic passion of Jesus of Nazareth. Ron M. Brown wrote a brilliant book entitled The Art of Suicide – I tried to be in touch with him several times, through publishers and universities, but attempt to be in contact came to nothing.

    My background is, in part, as a writer deeply invested in art history, critical theory and philosophy, and mythography. My earliest influences were Dylan Thomas and dadaism. As a teenager, you might have found me to be agnostic at most. I discount nothing in terms of the aesthetics of religiously inspired art – will shed a tear at Blake/Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’.

    I think Charley’s point references the notion that history is written by the victors, and also that history, in terms of semiotics or a critique of logocentricism, is a narrative bound by the language(s) used to express it, hence it is not immune from the impositions and revisions of mythic narrative.

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  35. Michigoose – Certainly, I’ll continue to check in, and thank you. This has been a genuine pleasure.

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  36. Thanks very much, James–I feel very honored that you’ve spent so much time with us! I’ll have more questions for you (“uterine frost”????????) tomorrow.

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  37. I see I flipped fact and fiction in my 1:51 comment. Sorry about that. It’s a little scary.

    lms – I think your comment about our all being myth creators on some level is right. And, Charley, don’t you think that if we think about things in a certain way, virtually everything is a construct? Maybe that’s why we’re so passionate about our beliefs and differences. We’re afraid that, otherwise, we’ll be staring into the abyss.

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  38. Michigoose: re. ‘uterine frost’ – Biblical narrative (as anti-feminist) renders the ‘barren’ and the ‘virgin’ a conduit the supernatural. There is much to say about that, not least with regards to the lamentable Madonna/Whore dichotomy, with regards to the (lack of) autonomy of women (and perhaps anyone else in OT/NT narrative for that matter) and the classical concept of metaphysical rape committed by the immortal upon the mortal. In the cheapest symbology, the Moon is associated with femaleness, fertility, menstruation, tides, chaos (woman in phallocentric writing) etc. The ‘uterine frost’ renders that *symbol* frigid, as if to say the Moon is not what you would have it be. Woman is not Moon and Man is not Sun. I’m trying to disrupt the code. (see Carter quote at 12:29pm)

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  39. Above should read “…a conduit for the supernatural.”

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  40. BB: I like the goat too, as did my editor at Soft Skull! I went to university in Manchester where one of William Holman Hunt’s versions of his painting The Scapegoat could be seen at the City Art Gallery. The goat in I, Judas has ambiguous coloring through the chapters where it appears, reflecting the black and white versions WHH painted. I think this painting was once called ‘the most depressing English painting of all time’ but I loved it from childhood.

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  41. In my stream-of-conciousness haste, I’m afraid I perhaps wasn’t clear enough, and I did leave out, embarrassingly, one of my central points.
    First, about history as an invented construct: James understands what I was saying, but I’d go even further. As an example, take the well-known problems of eyewitness testimony, or the film Rashomen if you will. People at the time and place rarely can agree what happened. Then you have historians, or myth-makers, writing years to hundreds of years later, interpreting, but on a very shaky base. Markinaustin makes a point distinguishing peer-reviewed “serious history” from… what? – unserious history that doesn’t seek consensus in academia, I’d guess. I’m not quite sure academia can be granted that degree of trust; it tends by nature, like the police force, to uphold the status quo, which exerts a weighty force on its decision making process as it decides which delusions are to be commonly accepted and which are heretical or insane.
    By describing history as an “invented construct,” I am not saying there is no there there. It is an interesting idea, but I’m not an adherent of William Blake’s theory of vision, that our eyes are projectors, not receptors. Something indeed happened; we just don’t exactly know what, so we fill in the blanks. That is our art, our dream, our psychosis.
    The point I left out, in my mind when I began the letter, was that quite often the history that sticks is the best written. History may belong to the victors, but it also belongs to the better writers. I believe the King James Bible has become history for so many not because it is “true,” but because it is beautifully written. I, Judas is beautifully written and that is why we are here talking about it.

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    • distinguishing peer-reviewed “serious history” from… what? – unserious history that doesn’t seek consensus in academia

      Yes, there is that, obviously. For example, there is a sharp contrast between Doris Kearns Goodwin’s recent Lincoln volume and Bill O’Reilly’s on that count.

      I had, more in mind, the contrast between a book like David Reynolds award winning In Command of History and Anthony Montague Browne’s Long Sunset, which I am listening to now. Browne was Churchill’s private secretary from near the end of WW2 until WSC’s death. He wrote entertainingly and with true affection for, and perhaps awe of, his subject, from his diary. This is biography, and source material, but taken alone is also journalism and probably in some significant part, myth. Reynolds’ book, subtitled Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War, is painstaking. It details how Churchill wrote his history to accomplish WSC’s purposes, which were, to some extent, self serving, and in another way, were mindful of the UK’s postwar dependence on the USA; for two examples. Reynolds’ book cites Browne’s three or four times for source material, but this is a 500 pp. book followed by over 100 pp. of notes. There are conflicting sources dutifully recorded here, and a serious attempt to weigh the eyewitness testimonies, while not hiding them from the reader.

      I used those examples because I am quite sympathetic to the notion that history writing can be self serving and inaccurate. At the same time, I think the delineation between serious history and mythmaking is worth making and can be made, and I think the Goodwin book and the Reynolds book, by reason of exhaustiveness and multiple sourcing and exegesis, are examples of serious history.

      Back to I, Judas . I mentioned that the myths – more accurately, the allegorical value of the myths – in Genesis and Exodus have meaning for me. Myths tied to messages that resonate do move some of us, and when they move us toward respect for each other and stewardship of our resources they are uplifting. When they move us to hate and spoliation they are, for want of a simpler word, evil. I think a theme of this novel, simply stated, is that all myth is to be distrusted, and continually reexamined. I agree.

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  42. All, on reviewing these comments I am oh-so-regretful that I missed the discussion yesterday and hope some will return to it today. These comments, just as much as the book itself, required of me some introspection and rethinking that was uncomfortable and valuable both in regard to religion and to mythology. Well done.

    James, I join the others in saluting your command of language. I admit that I have not quite finished the book, but this is in part why. I found myself rereading passages several times until I felt I had gotten “the point.” Or just letting my mind wander over why certain constructs were returned to many times throughout the book. Or taking the time to look up a reference I had not considered in many years. That said, many of your allusions probably escaped me nonetheless, even though I am not totally lacking in exposure to previous literature. I need the annotated edition, haha.

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  43. I hope this discussion continues but regardless I’d like to thank James, all the newcomers and our regular participants for a dynamic and informative discussion. I’d really like to keep this feature going at ATiM so if anyone has a great idea for our next book review please let me know. I do think it’s valuable having the author present (thanks for your patience with us James), but we could proceed without one.

    It would be really fantastic if some of you would visit ATiM occasionally, we’re trying to do something different from the typical political blog and include discussion on a variety of subjects with a less aggressive manner than other blogs. The more the merrier for obvious reasons.

    Thanks again all and please continue, I just wanted to express my appreciation before everyone moves on.

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  44. mark, thanks for “I think a theme of this novel, simply stated, is that all myth is to be distrusted, and continually reexamined.” Agree. (And I think one of the reasons it was sometimes challenging for some.) Perhaps that is a theme we might carry over to our political discussions.

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  45. And I echo lms @7:51am.

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  46. Growing up in England, one enters a school system that assumes Christianity, or at least it did in the 1970s; obviously there have been some modifications and accommodations since then, but parables and prayer were the norm at weekly school assemblies. The culture was quaint, but insidious and -since such a tiny minority of those who profess to follow the limpid Church of England actually attend the church- a fraud propped up by *propriety* rather than piety. There was no single incident that set me against it. Taking Religious Studies as a teen allowed you to study some philosophy, Descartes, Wittgenstein, Kant, at that time; and since our literary canon(s) are so dependent on liturgy, some study of religion is common sense for a student of literature. Of course, however you think of them, I think it is fair to say that fiction and scripture both demand comparable a suspension of disbelief. With a novel, that ends when the book is closed and one ‘returns’ to reality. With scripture that suspension of disbelief is supposed to be sustained in perpetuity – Judas makes a point about this at the end of the novel.

    Okie and Mark: I think that is a fair summary, re. suspicion of myth.

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  47. James, thanks for the personal perspective on religion. I don’t at first blush see that as essentially dissimilar from my quite different “brought-upsy” — hard-core evangelical in the U.S. heart of conservatism, and a generation earlier than you. So when did it change?

    I will add that while I am not atheist, I view “scriptures” of all religions, Christianity included, to be mythologies. Not saying there are no positive things about them, but best approached with suspicion. Particularly when they are interpreted in a literal rather than allegorical sense.

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  48. Hi Okie, I mean that my impression is that the assumption that 100% of the kids at school are nominally Christians has changed with the reality that, well, they’re not. I don’t know if you remember, but it was significant news when Prince Charles declared that he would not be ‘defender of the faith, but defender of the faiths.’ (paraphrase). Also, the school system seems largely to have recognized the essentially secular nature of British society.

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  49. Ah, thanks. I was not aware of the Prince Charles deviation. Something to look into and follow?

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  50. @okiegirl, I am fascinated by this and I want to add, as someone who went to university in Norman and had a lot of friends brought up Baptist or otherwise fundamentalist, that indeed the bible belt may be the closest we can get of the enculturated church in England. As in, I remember Baptist friends saying that their public schools assumed everyone was in this boat and prayed before choir, etc. etc., didn’t worry about causing offense, and so on.

    However, I think if you did attend public schools in the US during the 20th century at all, you did not probably have quite this kind of experience, and I imagine you’d feel shocked by it… How to put it? The C of E is more pervasive a cultural trope and a “given”, while being completely disempowered and for the most part irrelevant with regard to people’s beliefs or religion.

    Here’s a story: I was shocked on our last visit to Bath this summer, when we attended the weekly school-wide assembly where birthdays were recognized, for the kid of a dear friend, who was 9. The school is a state school, and there was a long bible lesson taking place during much of the assembly, with a mini-play, Q&A and audience participation. (Bears mentioning that the more naturally skeptical or critical questions were – gently – quashed… “Yes, Miss. God is mean!” oops.)

    Our friend chose the school specifically as a less-religious option and a very highly ranked school (and it was clearly, otherwise, rather wonderful), but was, herself, shocked. She was raised with SO little exposure to religion that she was actually unfamiliar – UNFAMILIAR – with the story of Abraham almost slaughtering Isaac. Which I should point out was acted out by kids who appeared to be about 6 or 7. She was horrified by the story, it was sort of sweet. We had a talk with her afterwards about how to talk to her kid about this, as she had no inherent tools to think about religion, at all and was bamboozled by its appearance in her kid’s education… I suggested she explain that God and the bible were not like match, science or, ahem, history, that they are concepts that people believe in or not, and may gain spiritual value from, AND that people around the world believe in in wildly different ways. And that their teachers’ telling them about God and the bible makes them seem “the same” as math and so on, but they are not, and her kid must understand that her religious beliefs or disbeliefs are hers to grow into, not an academic reality to assume.

    But anyway, England has precious little religious investment in the way the US does, with most people being COMPLETELY areligious – but retains the STATE RELIGION, including presence of blatant protestant teaching in the state schools, which makes for a very ironic, and fascinating, cultural tone. To me as an expat, anyway.

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  51. And yes, I think the schools are changing, otherwise, to a great degree, as James said. Who knows a lot more about it. But that assembly thing, that did totally just happen three months ago, ha!

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  52. fille, many thanks for your comments! I am just now seeing and digesting them. You offer much to think about.

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  53. fille, at first blush you offer a perspective which is 180 from basis of what I offered. I like it. Later . . . .

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  54. fille (love that choice BTW), what fascinates you? There’s a lot of territory there.

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  55. I believe that the occasional consciousness of religion in secular Britain is best expressed in the acronym BDSM: births, deaths, seasonal, marriage.

    Yes, I know…

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  56. Really more of an abbreviation, I suppose.

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  57. OH man, that got long…
    @okiegirl – I guess I find most human response pretty interesting, ha. The longer I live, the more I see humans as creatures who tend to absorb and reflect what we are told and what we see, and often fool ourselves into thinking we are questioning things. Not that we don’t, but I believe we’re social animals that adapt in this way to our environment. Received “wisdom” may not be wise but it is almost always received, at some level. I was fascinated – and frustrated – having grown up in Austin in a [liberal, education-and-discussion-oriented] Conservative synagogue, with a feminist Methodist minister for a stepmother, and encountering a lot of religion but hardly any fundamentalism, to attend college in OK and observe the assumptions attendant with so many of my friends’ religious upbringings. They never, ever “got” any of my arguments, but definitely wanted me to “find” Jesus (except for the charismatic Episcopalians, who were in the Jews-Is-Chosen-Peeps! camp, wahey, lucky me…). But I found it fascinating. I found it fascinating in England how easily people dismiss any religious belief and frankly found it liberating to think I do not, anymore, need to say I inherently respect everyone’s beliefs, when I often don’t. That was a perspective shift for me, possibly ignoble, from my general upbringing. But, for instance, I respect a person’s genitals more than the belief they should be cut off or sewn up for religious reasons (which I do not respect).

    I could obviously go on… But the juxtaposition of this innate sense of nonchalance about the whole topic with the enculturated CHURCH from childhood is just really interesting to me. I also have to say, in the world of religious ideas that I respect or don’t, I was weirdly relieved to see my friend’s kid’s school bible lesson NOT banging on about Jesus. As I said to the mother, in the US, if you got this sort of thing, it would be in a Christian, private school, and it would almost definitely revolve around Jesus and the New Testament, and salvation and stuff. Though maybe a bit different in a Catholic one? I dunno? Of course, she barely knew there were two bits of bible to even refer to… But yeah, it was moderate, and the sort of thing I’d expect as a sensible, moderate bible class IN A CHURCH OR SYNAGOGUE, not in a school. Basically. It just messes with my head a little. I actually feel like with I, Judas, there may be something about the former observation about some English attitudes that lends to the sense of shock and offense to US readers (you’ll notice offensive-writer Julie Powell’s blurb, in line with some here, that she was shocked to find herself, as a die-hard atheist, offended…). I thought the book succeeded in being devastating literature because there is an audacity in writing from the assumption that this story is a farce, and a damaging one. I honestly think that few people the US grow up with an inherent dismissal of Jesus, for instance, as a literary idea and little more. Per my mention of growing up with a value system that told me to respect all beliefs (mind you: Mark certainly also told me to question authority, all the time) – Jesus was meaningless to me religiously but I gave the idea of Jesus credibility and respect.

    I also think a major underlying piece of artistry in this book, which I don’t think James even had to work at to achieve, is that it isn’t a didactic philosophical anti-religious text. That makes it all the more cutting, and I think that is what perhaps unhinges people or creates the sense of threat when people respond that way. For me, I feel like even if I were a devout Christian, I would love this book as an amazing piece of art for achieving this powerful intellectual and emotional effect for the reader. And I say, if a novel can throw one into serious emotional doubts about faith, then one must immediately reexamine that faith, for surely it should be stronger.

    AND that last effect speaks to my belief that people have an inherent nature to reflect and believe what they see and are told. James has said some important things to people in I, Judas, but I find that in writing this treatise on myth and suicide, he has ironically managed to create a text with its own kind of spiritual, or mythical, power, which is a hell of a thing.

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  58. fiille:

    “I thought the book succeeded in being devastating literature because there is an audacity in writing from the assumption that this story is a farce, and a damaging one. I honestly think that few people the US grow up with an inherent dismissal of Jesus, for instance, as a literary idea and little more. Per my mention of growing up with a value system that told me to respect all beliefs (mind you: Mark certainly also told me to question authority, all the time) – Jesus was meaningless to me religiously but I gave the idea of Jesus credibility and respect.

    I al”o think a major underlying piece of artistry in this book, which I don’t think James even had to work at to achieve, is that it isn’t a didactic philosophical anti-religious text. That makes it all the more cutting, and I think that is what perhaps unhinges people or creates the sense of threat when people respond that way. For me, I feel like even if I were a devout Christian, I would love this book as an amazing piece of art for achieving this powerful intellectual and emotional effect for the reader. And I say, if a novel can throw one into serious emotional doubts about faith, then one must immediately reexamine that faith, for surely it should be stronger.”

    Superb from my perspective. What do the right and libertariian leaning commenters think?

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  59. clarification: I will never support religious intolerance in government, but I no longer support the idea that, for instance, our government should “tolerate” the FLDS.

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  60. fille, “FLDS”?

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  61. fundamentalist latter-day saints. I think this man has now died in prison: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Jeffs. I recommend Under the Banner of Heaven, and at least a couple of books written by women who escaped the FLDS.

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  62. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_the_banner_of_heaven
    among other things, I am deeply disturbed by how much financial (and, uh, political) power both the mainstream and fundamentalist sects of the Mormon church have.

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  63. “among other things, I am deeply disturbed by how much financial (and, uh, political) power both the mainstream and fundamentalist sects of the Mormon church have.”

    Yes. But how do you differentiate that from any other religious group?

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  64. Funny, growing up I really had no idea how much pressure a religion could bring to bear on a person until I was ten. I rode my bike to a friend’s house and they invited me to stay for dinner on a Sunday. Sitting around the table her father asked us all to hold hands and looked at me very hard as if he were studying me. Before beginning the prayer he asked if I’d been saved. I had no idea what he was talking about and told him I’d been baptized and attended church every Sunday. He went on to tell me to kneel down and ask God to forgive me for my sins and then to accept Jesus as my savior. I jumped on my bike and rode home as fast as my little legs could go. It terrified me but I did tell him I didn’t think I wanted to do that.

    My father thought that should be the end of our religious indoctrination (his word) but my mother and I won and my sister and I continued on at our local protestant and very laid back church. As that was the same year as Kennedy’s Presidential run, whom I was very enamored with, I did quit telling my father I wished we were Catholic……..haha.

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  65. I’ve been thinking a little more about my reactions to I, Judas to try to clarify them for myself. I have several really good friends who are Evangelical Christians and while I don’t consider myself a true Christian, merely a somewhat spiritual person, I still respect their faith. Perhaps I shouldn’t, I don’t really know, but in the same way I try not to judge others for all sorts of other rigidly held views or beliefs, politics is the perfect example, I cannot bring myself to try to deconstruct them for them.

    I think while I was reading I was also thinking wow, I wonder what so and so would think or say about this. People who have a deep faith very often cannot be budged from that reality, whether we think it’s a myth or not may not matter to them. And then I tried to think what myths do I hold dear that could not be shaken even with some evidence to the contrary. An interesting exercise in self-reflection I think. Thank you James.

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  66. […] Book of the Week via Bold Type Magazine » I, Judas Review & Live Discussion The website All Things In Moderation chose I, Judas for its August online book discussion. Wherever possible, the website invites the […]

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  67. quick follow-up on distinguishing LDS from other religions – First, I think it’s an outright fraudulent religious document. However, I think people should be free to believe invented narratives as real, but wish that fraudsters like Smith and Hubbard would not “start religions” and do wish there were more protections in place for that (esp. scientology, for its demand for lots of money and hard labor as well). Still, it’s OK with me in principle if people believe in The Book of Mormon, and Dianetics, fine. What’s NOT OK with me in civil society is allowing the systematic repression and abuse of women and children (and the tearing apart of families by church elders in FLDS to satisfy sexual urges), and when this is both allowed to happen and also going hand-in-hand with an insanely powerful patriarchy, it becomes even more unacceptable to me. Parallels with especially female circumcision, stoning to death of women for being raped, in heavily Islamist societies. Shouldn’t be cleared and tolerated under the umbrella of religious freedom, in my opinion.

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