[Geoffrey Hill] always was, of course, a Christian poet, and much of his poetry is about wrestling with his faith (or more specifically, wrestling with aspects of himself, with depression and despair specifically conceived in terms of sin), a set of beliefs and attitudes I did not share. He was also, I suppose, what we might call a politically ‘conservative’ writer (although actually I think Hill’s politics were quite complicated and more idiosyncratic than the tag ‘conservative’ implies), although I was not, and am not. But then, Coleridge was also very much both a Christian writer and, in his later life, a political conservative, and there seems to me actual merit, quite apart from my personal enjoyment, in reading him against the grain. from a position, like mine, that does not share many of those assumptions. I don’t mean in order to critique those attitudes, but on the contrary to try to read them in good faith. But writers like Coleridge, and I think Hill, need to be rescued from readers who identify too strongly with the positions they are dramatising.
Samuel Taylor Bloggeridge: The Orchards of STC. Adam Roberts here articulates (and pracrices!) a wonderful and too-little-followed model. I try to talk about this model of reading in my Theology of Reading, where I contend that charitable interpretation is often most vividly seen when a reader is wrestling, fairly and generously, with a writer whom he or she fundamentally does not agree with. There’s a false charity, I think, that arises when we try to find ways to fit a writer within our own assumptions and preferences. In response to a Christian critic who said that James Joyce was a fundamentally religious writer, William Empson growled that it would be more accurate to say that Joyce had a pathological hatred of religion. And Empson was right. You can’t read a writer charitably unless you allow him or her to be different from you. And sometimes when those differences are acknowledged you get more fruitful interpretations than you get from “readers who identify too strongly with the positions [a given set of writers] are dramatising.”