Finding Love in Literary Studies (Fragment 1)

Summer Job

We needed for there to be sites where the meanings didn’t line up tidily with each other, and we learned to invest those sites with fascination and love.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Queer and Now,” p. 3

One summer—between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I think—Mom and Dad decided I should help out at the church office. Most days, I worked with the church secretary, preparing worship bulletins: making copies; folding them; and stuffing them with inserts. Sometimes I would prepare mailers for traveling church members or members who had moved away, were sick, or were otherwise “shut in” and unable to make it to Sunday services. 

Photo of page from Dad's record of sermons delivered from January to August 1997.
Dad’s Record of Sermons Delivered (Jan to Aug 1997)

This work was pleasingly monotonous. I still recall the hum of the Xerox machine; the texture of the rubber thimble I’d borrow to better grip the bulletins, inserts, and envelopes; and the sense of increasing know-how (toner, paper sizes, copy settings, paper trays, and paper jams). And though I’ve forgotten all of the names appearing on the pages of print-and-peel address labels, I grew familiar with them and wondered what kept these people away from and yet still bonded to the church.

On my favorite days, though, I would head upstairs to see Dad, who had set up for me, in the room adjacent to his office, a chair and a desk on which I’d find a a yellow notepad, some pencils, and a stack of books he had chosen from his office shelves. The stack he’d prepared included tomes from multi-volume Bible commentaries, thick one-volume commentaries (sometimes addressed to lay readers; sometimes to ministers), and occasional thematic studies (e.g., on prayer, holiness, or community). Though he’d sometimes tell me a bit about the books he’d stacked, I was usually eager to get to work in silence. My job was to read, review, and take notes on what had already been said about the scripture passage(s) Dad would be preaching on the following Sunday.

When I wasn’t on bulletin duty, then, I was Dad’s research assistant.

A stack of Dad's books on Revelation.
A few of Dad’s books on Revelation

What struck me—and what made these days my favorite—was the almost sublime feeling of how much there was to say about any given passage, no matter how straightforward it seemed. I learned to love this feeling: that here, where I thought I knew and apprehended all there was to think about the words I was reading, there was more to say and more to know. And this expansive “more-ness” could lead me in so many directions I had never considered. What did the original ancient Hebrew or Greek say? Do we even know? How many ways could the original text be translated into English? How had it been translated into Latin? What other passages could it be cross-referenced with? What does church tradition say about the passage’s social and historical context? Its author? What do archaeologists, historians, and others say about the passage’s social and historical context? Its author? What might be the theological, ethical, political, or symbolic implications of the passage? What disagreements have theologians, commentators, and scholars had about these implications or histories? Who has cited the passage and for what reason or to what end? And what, after all, might be beautiful, wise, enriching, brilliant, encouraging, or poetic in the passage?

Later, I would be taught how to situate myself among this kind of “more-ness,” but I still love now what I learned to love in the summer of ’97. A feeling of plenitude—an oddly solitary yet richly companionate abundance—that I associate with acts of study and the attachments such study makes possible.

. . . it’s almost hard for me to imagine another way of coming to care enough about literature to give a lifetime to it.

Sedgwick, “Queer and Now,” p. 3

Works Cited

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Queer and Now.” Tendencies, Duke UP, 1993, pp. 1–20.

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