Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reading a little Roland Barthes this morning...

From The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies (1957-1979), upon going to hear Billy Graham's troup attempt its great "MyCarthyist" "awakening" and "conversion" of "atheist"("Communist") Paris:

Billy Graham makes us wait for him [...] We recognize in this first phase of the ceremony that great sociological recourse of Expectation which Mauss has studied and of which Paris has already had a very up-to-date example in the hypnotism séances of Le Grand Robert. Here, too, the Mage's appearance was postponed as long as possible, and by repeated false starts the public was wrought up to that troubled curiosity which is quite ready to see in fact what it is being made to wait for. Here, from the first minute, Billy Graham is presented as a veritable prophet, into whom we beg the Spirit of God to consent to descend, on this very evening in particular: it is an Inspired Being who will speak, the public is invited to teh spectacle of a possession: we are asked in advance to take Billy Graham's speeches quite literally for divine words.

If God is really speaking through Dr. Graham's mouth, it must be acknowledged that God is quite stupid: the Message stuns us by its platitude, its childishness. In any case, assuredly, God is no longer a Thomist, He shrinks from logic: the Message is constituted by an outburst of discontinuous affirmations, without any kind of link, each of which has no content that is not tautological (God is God). The merest Marist brother, the most academic pastor would figure as decadent intellectuals next to Dr. Graham.[...] Billy Graham's manner breaks with a whole tradition of the sermon, Catholic or Protestant, inherited from ancient culture, a tradition which is that of a requirement to persuade. Western Christianity has always submitted for its exposition to the general context of Aristotelian thought, has always consented to deal with reason, even when accrediting the irrationality of faith. Breaking with centuries of humanism (even if the forms may have been hollow and petrified, the concern for the subjective Other has rarely been absent from Christian didacticism), Dr. Graham brings us a method of magical transformation: he substitutes suggestion for persuasion: the pressure of the delivery, the systematic eviction of any rational content from the proposition, the incessant break of logical links, the verbal repetitions, the grandioloquent designation of the Bible held at arm's length like the universal can opener of a quack peddler, and above all the absence of warmth, the manifest contempt for others, all these operations belong to the classic material of the music-hall hypnotist...(Billy Graham at the Vel' d'Hiv)

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