My earlier posts in this series (which began by reading Genesis but has since expanded) are: 

The Pentateuch concludes with the death of Moses and the arrival of the children of Israel at the doorstep of the Promised Land. As in the next books (Joshua and Judges) they consolidate their position, we’re moving, as I noted in an earlier post, from a world of nomadic pastoralists to a world of city dwellers — or, anyway, a world in which the embodiment of the Israelite identity is a city, Jerusalem, conceived first as the residence of the King and only later as the center of the cult of Yahweh. 

This change raises certain questions about the theology and ethics of building, especially building a city, and as it happens I wrote a series of posts about that some years ago on my old Text Patterns blog: 

The invocation of the Diaspora leads to a reflection on the city that in Scripture opposes Jerusalem: Babylon. Here are the entries in my Encyclopedia Babylonica:

I stopped writing then because I was confused about a number of things. But I am now seeing certain connections. The series on building (which focused on the Davidic era) and the series on Babylon (which focused on the era that ended the Davidic line) are, properly speaking, elements in a larger theology of the city, which I explored by writing about Augustine’s City of God

(There’s some overlap to these series because they were written independently of one another and sometimes in forgetfulness.) And I have many other posts and essays that seem to be on unrelated subjects but may not be. For instance, Ruskin — my admiration for whom I recently reaffirmed — begins The Stones of Venice by claiming that three cities associated with the mastery of the sea stand above all others: Tyre, Venice, and London. His theology of art and architecture is also a theology of the city, meant for Londoners, as the successors to the Venetians, to heed. There’s even a strange passage early in Stones in which Ruskin claims that all three of Noah’s sons founded cultures that contributed to the rise of architecture, thereby reconnecting the theme of the City to the book of Genesis.

Related: there is a long and powerful tradition of writing about London as the city, the paradigmatic or exemplary city, the city as a “condensed symbol,” to return to a theme from my last post: this is what Blake does repeatedly, and Dickens, and H. G. Wells, especially in Tono-Bungay. There are some powerful connections between Tono-Bungay and Little Dorrit that I want to explore in a future post. 

It’s strange that I have written a book’s worth of reflections on all this stuff. But what does this non-book say? Heck, what do I even mean by “all this stuff”? 

I think these concerns arose in my mind because (a) I was, and still am, frustrated by the ongoing dominance of H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, a book that still establishes the categories for thinking about how Christians live in “the world”; and (b) I felt that a richer, deeper picture is offered, however obliquely, in the poetry and prose of W. H. Auden in the decade following the end of the Second World War. (It’s noteworthy, I think, that Auden’s work is contemporaneous with Niebuhr’s: that WW2 prompted full-scale reconsiderations of the ideal character of culture and society is what my book The Year of Our Lord 1943 is all about.) Auden, instead of writing about “culture,” writes about “the city,” and that reformulation strikes me as especially resonant and full of promise, especially given the prominence of the Jerusalem/Babylon opposition in the Bible. 

Now, Auden writes about these matters in The Shield of Achilles, which I have edited — but he writes about them more extensively in his previous book Nones, which I may also edit. Even if I don’t get the chance to make a critical edition of that collection, I’m going to be re-reading it, and maybe after I do I’ll have a better idea of how to put all these thoughts, which have obviously been occupying my mind for quite some time, into better order. 

But whether I should try to turn all this into an actual book? I have my doubts about that. For one thing, few if any publishers would be interested in publishing something that is largely available online for free. For another — and this actually may be more important — do all these thoughts really belong in a book, between covers, with a beginning an ending? Some projects ought not to be closed and completed; some projects ought to be ramifying and exploratory. I suspect this is one such project. I may have more to say about that in future posts.