Tuesday, December 03, 2013


The Evidence of Style

Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays (© 2011; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2013), p. 318 with endnote on p. 554:
Textual problems have led some modern scholars to question the credibility of the Gospels and even to doubt the historical existence of Christ. These studies have provoked an intriguing reaction from an unlikely source: Julien Gracq—an old and prestigious novelist, who was close to the Surrealist movement—made a comment which is all the more arresting for coming from an agnostic. In a recent volume of essays,2 Gracq first acknowledged the impressive learning of one of these scholars (whose lectures he had attended in his youth), as well as the devastating logic of his reasoning; but he confessed that, in the end, he still found himself left with one fundamental objection: for all his formidable erudition, the scholar in question had simply no ear—he could not hear what should be so obvious to any sensitive reader—that, underlying the text of the Gospels, there is a masterly and powerful unity of style, which derives from one unique and inimitable voice; there is the presence of one singular and exceptional personality whose expression is so original, so bold that one could positively call it impudent. Now, if you deny the existence of Jesus, you must transfer all these attributes to some obscure, anonymous writer, who should have had the improbable genius of inventing such a character—or, even more implausibly, you must transfer this prodigious capacity for invention to an entire committee of writers. And Gracq concluded: in the end, if modern scholars, progressive-minded clerics and the docile public all surrender to this critical erosion of the Scriptures, the last group of defenders who will obstinately maintain that there is a living Jesus at the central core of the Gospels will be made of artists and creative writers, for whom the psychological evidence of style carries much more weight than mere philological arguments.

2. Julien Gracq, Les carnets du grand chemin (Paris: José Corti, 1992), pp. 190-91.

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