I was asked the other day if I read much. The answer was that I don't read as much as I used to, especially when it comes to fiction. I'm not sure what it is a sign of, but I find it increasingly difficult to finish novels in particular. I'd rather watch good TV, or a film, or browse blogs. Even my non-fiction reading is becoming functional - I read on a need to know basis.
Thing is, I still love reading good writing for its own sake. Whether it is fiction or not matters little. Whether I agree or not with the message makes no difference.
And this is the thing that worries me. Can a reader enjoy or measure the aesthetic quality of writing apart from its meaning or purpose? For example, the best contemporary writing I've read comes from those American literary giants, Updike, Roth, and perhaps (the Daddy of them all?) Mailer. But the technical quality of the writing often stands against the bleakness and darkness (the godlessness) of the subject matter.
The same thing can be said about other artistic work. The poetry of John Donne. The images of Andy Warhol. The pop music listed on my blogger profile. Technical excellence, yes, but do the artists mentioned in this post exhibit any moral beauty in their work?
I started writing this post after browsing upon www.fyodordostoevsky.com. I can still remember reading Crime and Punishment one summer in the mid-90s. I remember feeling as if I was Raskolnikov, as if I was the one who had committed the crimes. FD (pictured above) does what every writer and preacher should do - he doesn't tell the reader something, he shows us the scenes and the feelings so that they become our experience too.
But, how can it be good to evoke such feelings within my consciousness? Does common grace grant us such aesthetic tastes? Does special grace stretch to redeem us from imagined sin too? I often ponder 2Cor5:21. And I often think about verses like Hebrews 2:14. Did Christ have any sense of being like a sinner, even while he was without sin? Could he have read the penitential Psalms, and respond in the same way that I did to reading Crime and Punishment?