Saturday, February 14, 2015

The God Interviews

The text below is reproduced from reviews of Natalie’s book on her website. I find writing here harder and harder, sometimes labouring for days over a draft and then scrapping it. In the early days I’d write simply, with the freshness and naïveté of an unguarded moment among friends; something I only manage now in comments and emails, which might be a bit loose and slapdash, but seldom cause later regret. (Note to self: a lesson here.) So I’ll let the following tell its own story:

by Ian Vincent Mulder—via personal email [to Natalie] January 30, 2015

Today I thought I would like to write a blog post about The God Interviews, but soon realized it wouldn’t do at all—I must address you personally. Your book is concise and punchy, I find myself wanting to comment in snippets, almost as if imitating its format. I shall give my personal reaction, not as some reviewer or critic whose job is to make judgements on behalf of the world. In any case, no one can give more than a personal reaction. So this is what I came up with: a kind of scorecard, evaluating the book under various headings.

The most profound page:
“What is really real about you?”
“That which cannot be imagined.” (page 82)

Most engaging, striking, enlightening (or perhaps just my favourite—especially because of the angels):
“Why don’t you just send angels to clear up the mess and end the pain?”
“There’s been a drop in the number of angels signing up for those jobs. I’m having to rely on civilian volunteers.”

It might be the wittiest as well, but I’m not doing a beauty contest on that—there would be too many contestants.

Comparison with Neale Donald Walsch:
I have a copy of his Conversations with God for Teens, having appropriated it from one of my younger children years ago. Walsch is wordy & ever-conscious of the misery in the world. His own life-experience, and thus the inspiration for his books, comes from a rather dark place. His format of short questions (apparently from real kids), answered by God at length with no word-limit, encourages the mushrooming of sermons, a multiplicity of selling points, examples, instructions. (He had a background in radio presenting, marketing & PR). Your comic-book format & artistic vocation dictates short questions and pithy answers. Your cartoon frames demand visual and conversational entertainment, inventive pictures and text. You are faultlessly fertile. Walsch soon gets tedious. I can’t think of an instance where artistry and entertainment conspire to corner you into mediocrity, or a wrong note. But I will dredge up some critical points in due course.

Most memorable image:
The Eternitree (page 43). Memorable for conveying that God stands in one-to-one relationship with all who seek this connection. See this page.

Most informative exposition of “the way God works”:
the double-page spread pp 48-49: one can only engage with God on his terms: love. The only divine power is to work as a team. The language is Goddish. I’m sure there are thousands of dense theological tomes which don’t manage to say anything as useful, or if they do, not as clearly.

Most sustained, visually inventive & witty exposition of a complex idea:
Chapter Five

Least successful chapter:
Chapter Three

Chapter Two struck me as a little odd, but I took it at face value - God saying something arbitrary to prove that Augustine is not talking to herself. And then, “If you can’t follow simple instructions, how can you prove that I exist?” which doesn’t quite make sense, is rather a non-sequitur, but I took it on board, thinking I was just dumb.

But in Chapter Three, we have strawberry = heart-shaped = symbol of Love (divine love), which is then confirmed in Chapter Four and thereafter, specifically pages 49, 88, 91, where the heart-shape is also identified with the cardial organ.

There is no doubt in my mind that the equation God = Love is not just offered as a cliché, but something felt. Yet I find a general difficulty with the word love, when it is presented as the singular attribute of your cartoon figure. Love, especially in the West, is a word we hear many times a day: in conversation, gossip, songs, all the media. Language is democratic---or rather anarchic. Every meaning is valid, even when we say that a prostitute has love for sale.

So I find a sogginess in the otherwise sharp & muscular argument, as expressed in images & words.

Best reference to Love:
Page 33:
“What did you do about it?”

“Cried, shouted, threatened, walked out, forgave, cried, punched, slammed, got revenge, cried, forgave, or didn’t”.

“You see, you have all those choices, I have only one.”

“Love, love love! But we’re not you - we’re only human!”

Listen listen listen!”

And perhaps this is the most profound page too, for it presents the pathos of God, the helplessness. For God is the still, small voice. What can he do alone? Not enough angels are signing up these days (like doctors in A&E! [Accident & Emergency, = ER in USA]) . . . And it offers the glimmer of insight, for those ready to pick it up, that God is the voice in the soul, that speaks to us. I would take it further and say that the soul is in everything, this force of Love is in everything, only as human beings we are pretty slow to catch it, we lose the connection. We are like a fish with no gills. Oxygen is all around but . . .

On the characters and their images:
Augustine is delightful throughout, even when incarnated briefly as a dog. God is vaguely Indian, and I wondered if his appearance was influenced by someone she had met. Anyhow, he carries himself lightly, as befits a figment of the cartoonist’s imagination who stands for the god within.* He is part of her, or she is part of him. Walsch’s God is a heavy-duty preacher. He doesn’t lighten up, doesn’t make jokes. I’ll never be able to read him again (not that I was in the habit of!)

Verdict:
A delight. I don’t usually read comic books. I watch “The Simpsons” a lot and appreciate how much humanity, humour and wisdom is poured into its rather crudely-drawn characters. Even your busy action frames are well-drawn where it matters. The main scenes, like the cover, where Augustine & God gaze eye to eye in profile, establish the delicacy---and I was going to say humanity, for God is portrayed as human for how else?---of the features, and the very expressive postures. Augustine with her little black dress, high heels & swept-back auburn hair, is all woman. God is athletic, like a yogi.

In the end of course God is unknowable so can only be portrayed that way, as in the evasive “wavy” answers of Chapter 10.

What do I take away from the book? Entertainment, aesthetic pleasure; further confirmation that the answers are within and it’s up to humanity.

What is the book’s message?
It doesn’t have a message. It is art. It is what Natalie D’Arbeloff does: shares her joy & sense of fun with the world, so that she and the world end up enriched by the exchange.

It is a book to own. I’m glad I have it.
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*The sentence beginning “Anyhow, he carries himself lightly” was my own interpretation of Augustine’s God, until she set me straight on the matter, thus: “My cartoon figure of God is the way Augustine (herself a cartoon) would visualise the Deity so It may resemble her but is not meant to be her. I do not believe that God is ‘the god within’.”

See 5th comment below for buying options.