[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

David Ainsworth dainsworth at bama.ua.edu
Thu Oct 1 13:08:39 EDT 2009

I'm finding the responses so far to Margie's original message 
fascinating and informative.

I wonder if the problem with the "we read of Christ that" construction 
isn't the "Christ" part but the "we read of?"  As Margie points out in 
her comment, the writer is effectively citing John as (ahem) gospel in a 
way which implies that any reader will accept it as such.

Wouldn't "John says of Christ that" work?  That statement doesn't 
require that one accept John's claims (or accept that John speaks God's 
words), while still presumably establishing a useful point for discussion.

I'd see rewriting a sentence which started "In Marx, we read of the 
proletariat that..." to "Marx writes of the proletariat that," or even 
"Marx presents a proletariat that..." as an improvement in the name of 
clarity as much as in the name of inclusiveness.


Margaret Thickstun wrote:
> I would appreciate guidance, especially from professing Christians, 
> about how to advise believing students in their use of "Christ" in 
> academic discussions of religious poetry.  Normally when my students 
> refer to Jesus as "Christ" they do so because they think "Christ" is his 
> last name, so I point out that to refer to him as Christ is to make a 
> faith claim, which they hadn't intended. 
> But this semester I have two very devout students who, in writing about 
> Herbert poems, are using "Christ" in ways for which I don't have easy 
> corrections. 
> Here is an example from a superb and subtle analysis of "The Windows" 
> which ended:
>> Such an example of wordplay serves as the perfect ornament to 
>> Herbert’s poem; for, just as the Christian is called to be like Christ 
>> and thus to be as a kind of filter for his image, so too Christ’s 
>> image filters through this poem about man.  He enters subtly, 
>> symbolically and yet perceptibly; and, in-so-doing, this poem about 
>> windows becomes, itself, a window for Christ’s light.     
> I could just ask him to substitute "God" there, but that is not 
> precisely what he meant.  Here is what I wrote:
>> “Christ,” as you know, is an honorific and a faith claim.  As such, it 
>> needs to be used carefully and sparingly in literary analysis.  When 
>> you refer to Christ in your intro paragraph, you present the 
>> argument—that the preacher must let Christ’s light shine through 
>> him—as Herbert’s argument.  So I think “Christ” is okay there.  But in 
>> your concluding paragraph, when you say that in John “we read of 
>> Christ that. . .” you not only reveal your faith position, but include 
>> your reader in that community.  What if the person reading your 
>> discussion of the poem does not identify as a Christian?  Is that 
>> person excluded from the paper’s audience?  Does the argument’s 
>> success require that readers share this faith position?
> I would appreciate knowing how others handle this issue.--Margie
> -- 
> Margaret Olofson Thickstun
> Elizabeth J. McCormack Professor of English
> Hamilton College
> 198 College Hill Road
> Clinton, NY 13323
> (315) 859-4466
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