Recognition is a feeling. Especially if you’re in “ElfQuest.”

So now I’ve read the entire Grauniad article from which that Francis Spufford quote was pulled. A couple thoughts: 1. The bit Alan Jacobs quoted was the best bit.

2. The opening is much too long, and seems whiny. Possibly in Britain this comes across as extended self-deprecating humor?

3. Spufford seems to be conflating a few things. When he says that “emotions” are the form and substance of his faith, I think he means both recognition–he recognizes in Christianity something shaped the way the world is shaped, something which understands and responds to both the joys and the horrors of real life–and consolations. And thinking religious faith is made of consolations is very, very dangerous. I hope he talks, in his book, about the times when he felt he needed a reminder of God’s presence and didn’t get one. Lots of believers, maybe most?, have this experience eventually.

But I do think it can be useful, illuminating, to think of faith as a matter of recognition: As Spufford writes, “I think that Mozart, two centuries earlier, had succeeded in creating a beautiful and accurate report of an aspect of reality. I think that the reason reality is that way – that it is in some ultimate sense merciful as well as being a set of physical processes all running along on their own without hope of appeal, all the way up from quantum mechanics to the relative velocity of galaxies by way of ‘blundering, low and horridly cruel’ biology (Darwin) – is that the universe is sustained by a continual and infinitely patient act of love.”

This makes faith an inward response to an outward reality; both the subjective and objective parts have to be there for recognition to even exist as a concept. (You can’t recognize beauty in math or geology if beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You might still feel that science is beautiful, but you’re just reporting facts about yourself, not facts about math and science, and nobody who doesn’t see what you see is actually “missing” anything. Cf. CS Lewis, in I think The Abolition of Man, on why “This waterfall is sublime” does not mean “I have sublime feelings when I look at this waterfall.”) We know that recognition in most other contexts can be made much more difficult by prior expectations and experiences. It can be hard to recognize a dangerous situation, for example, if you’re in an unfamiliar culture. It can be hard to recognize a larch from a long way away! So it shouldn’t be too surprising that circumstances, including prior experiences and preexisting beliefs and expectations, affect whether people recognize God’s fingerprints on the world and how they identify those fingerprints.

4. The Guardian piece was a mixed bag. I’m still incredibly excited for his book, though, because it’s hard to exaggerate how good I May Be Some Time was. Seriously, if this guy’s next book was Breads I Have Eaten (Not Including Pastries), I would at least consider getting a copy.

5. Now that’s Recognition. Wow, this is comic-book writing at its shaggiest. I love this series.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!