Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Mutually Consensual Murder In 18th Century New England

From contributing editor for Rolling Stone and Harper's, Jeff Sharlet:

There aren't a lot of readers out there who'll be intrigued by the news that Library Journal's Nancy E. Adams considers my "evocation of the mood of theologian Jonathan Edwards’s work" in my recent book The Family "one of the most compelling this reviewer has ever read," but for a literary sinner in the hands of an angry God like me, it's high praise. The media response to the book has focused almost entirely on the contemporary politics of The Family and the group's role in the Cold War, but for my money, the scariest pages in the book are those about Jonathan Edwards, the most brilliant thinker -- and possibly the creepiest -- in 18th century New England. I wrote part of my chapter about Edwards in a cabin in the woods at the MacDowell Colony. I'd stay up late into the night, reading and re-reading a crumbling, early 19th century edition of Edwards' A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton, a bestseller in its day. I was stuck on -- maybe trapped in -- the story of a young woman named Abigail Hutchinson, a subject of great fascination to the theologian. But I didn't know why until one night, around three in the morning, the fog of arcane language cleared. I realized that I was reading an account of a mutually consensual murder; perverse ascetism; the slow starvation to death of Hutchinson under Edwards' approving gaze.

I ran through the woods in the dark up to the main hall of the writer's colony, where there's a stack of VHS tapes next to an old TV. Somebody had left P.T. Anderson's Boogie Nights, behind. I'd seen it before, but I watched it again, an escape, both fabulous and bleak, from the Edwardsian mood that in the woods seemed to surround me.

[via the Revealer, which I always knew I had in my Google reader for a reason.]

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