Friday, January 8, 2010

Taylor blends Photography, Theology, Philosophy, Family History, and Near-Death Experiences in Rocket's Arc of a Memoir

This past October saw the publishing of a new memoir by Mark Taylor (controversial public intellectual, prolific scholar, and chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University) which, in significant ways, breaks new ground for the genre.

Blending the clean gleam of academic philosophy and theology together with the ambiguous atmospherics of photography, the cacophony of a near-death experience and the muddiness of family history, Field Notes From Elsewhere: Reflections on Dying and Living is one book very much worth checking out!

As an appetizer to the book, this morning New Creation offers up an interview with Taylor conducted by Columbia University Press which concerns his new book.

Excerpt Below // Full Article Here

(Columbia University Press) Question: The book begins with an incredibly traumatic series of events unfolding in your life. Tell us a little about what happened to you and how you came to write the book Field Notes from Elsewhere as a result.

Mark Taylor: I had been thinking about writing a book that combined personal narratives with philosophical and theological reflection for many years. The issues about which I teach and write are often very abstract but are significant because of the ways in which they illuminate specific experiences we all undergo. I knew that this kind of writing would be different from anything I had done before and realized that the only possible research is life itself. Three years ago, I went into septic shock as the result of a biopsy for cancer. I also suffer from diabetes, which complicates everything. Septic shock is caused by a severe infection in the blood and is fatal in 50-75% of the cases. My case was especially bad. I taught a class on Derrida's The Gift of Death at noon and by 7:00 that evening was on the verge of death. I was in the intensive care unit for five days, stayed in the hospital for another five days, and then on intravenous antibiotics for five weeks. Six months later, I underwent surgery for cancer. It was quite a trip! One never really recovers from such experiences, but in the months following surgery, I felt I had done enough research and it was time to begin writing.

Q: This book is structured differently than other memoirs. How does the structure of the book interact with the writing?

MT: I did not want to write a traditional narrative. Life is not a story but is episodic—brief periods of continuity are punctuated by unexpected disruptions. I envision the book less as a memoir than as a diary or book of hours. It is also a photo album with more than 120 images. The interrelation of text and image is carefully calibrated. There are fifty-two chapters or sections, which are divided into AM and PM entries. The book begins with dawn and ends with sunset. Each section is a brief meditation on a single topic—Light, Nights, Pleasure, Money, Disease, Hope, Vocation, Ordinary . . . My hope is that people will read these meditations slowly and will ponder these issues in their own lives.

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