Monday, April 7, 2008

A Fine Day for English Majors (and Those Who Love Them)

Stanley Fish, about whom I harbor no strong feelings or opinions, has written an agreeably simple review of a forthcoming book called "French Theory" (&c. with a long subtitle). Dr. Fish's review appears as part of his blog on the New York Times website. He devotes most of the review describing what we would have called (in grad school) the "contours" of French theory, which is to say that "French theory" is shorthand for something very diverse and hard to define, and quite special without being too important.

Dr. Fish points out that "deconstruction," which is really just a way of reading, became a weapon of choice for many participants in the "culture wars," which made and lost many fortunes and careers. He also points out that the "culture wars" are simultaneously more amusing and more frustrating when viewed through the lenses of deconstruction.

A wedding, too, is the very sort of thing that deconstruction is a good tool for examining.

As I read, I was reminded of a lovely text that appeared in Harper's several years ago, and which often comes to mind when I feel that I have to explain why we are having a wedding that has no legal meaning when all our friends and family already know the strength and value of our "united state."

The text I remember is the wedding ceremony of a college professor and an artist, as delivered by the judge who officiated at the event. I hope you will read the whole thing, because, although it is quite heady, one gets a sense of the sweetness that the couple shared. Maybe the most important passage is the one that says this:

It is misguided to think that what validates a wedding ceremony is the making public of innermost feelings, and the sincerity or earnestness thereof. That may be a satisfactory performance, but it is beside the point of the wedding vow.

This is one of the things that I tried to express in my earlier post about sacraments. And, it is also one of the reasons why we have chosen to cleave as closely as possible to a traditional Catholic ceremony, rather than a personalized one: it is not "as if somehow the more heartfelt and confessional your ceremony is, the more married you are."

Indeed, although our feelings that have brought us to this point, we still believe that marriage has a permanent, objective value for us, for our families, and for our community. So the wedding ceremony has to have a bigger scope, and it truly should not be "all about us."

We will take some small advantage of having a wedding outside the traditional institutional structures of Church and state. Our Scripture readings, for example, are some that you are unlikely to have heard at any other wedding, but they probably won't leave you scratching your head either.

I plan to write more about the legal, social, and political meanings of our wedding over the summer -- and, like it or not, it will carry some meanings in each of those realms. I hope that by deconstructing this thing, this event, this day -- at its heart it should always be mostly a party -- we can do a better job of getting down to the core business of making something happen.

1 comment:

words and steel said...

can't wait to hear more.

the inner grad student in me squees with glee at the prospect of melding Derrida and wedding vows.