OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.

Re: The Sir Toby correspondence

Re: The Sir Toby correspondence

The email correspondence summarized in my prior installment unfolded between 6 and 12 September 2007. On the 12th I launched a new Sir Toby’s episode called “Invisibility Cloak”. As I recall, I intended to explore Jesus’ miracles, speculating on how he might have accomplished some of the seemingly magical deeds reported in the gospels. On that same day I cross-posted this new Sir Toby’s instlallment on my own blog, Ktismatics, introducing it with some background information about the Sir Toby’s conceit as it had evolved on OST. Sam Carr, a frequent contributor to both blogs, expressed enthusiasm for Sir Toby’s on my blog; in response I voiced my own skepticism:

After reviewing the initial Sir Toby’s posts it seemed that The Trappist, Peter’s character, repeatedly shifted the conversation back to the Son of Man prophecy in Daniel, which is perhaps the keystone in Andrew’s theology. Peter is also a rather orthodox Christian, perceiving himself as a sort of anchor to Andrew’s more heterodox interpretation of the Gospel. And Peter also acknowledges being drawn by polemics and argumentation. In short, for Peter Sir Toby’s is a side room within Open Space Theology, the mission of which is to hash out an emerging post-evangelical theology. For me Sir Toby’s was a heterotopia that offers “tantalizing possibility” only if it veers into its own fragile realm between serious theology and the play of the imagination. More a place for conducting thought experiments exploring alternate theological realities, a place of divergence rather than convergence. I’m afraid it’s likely to be crushed by what Wallace Stevens called “the pressure of reality.” So, for example, this post about Jesus’s ability to render himself invisible is certainly not a mainstream topic in emerging evangelical thinking, so it’s likely to be subjected to orthodox correction — it’s not magic, Jesus had no apprentices who received secret knowledge, etc. Even more likely is that it will be ignored — as if by magic it had been rendered invisible…”

The next day Peter entered into the story I had begun on OST. However, almost immediately the thread seemed on the verge of unraveling, perhaps because the direction I’d intended to take the post remained ambiguous after the first installment. Peter’s Trappist enters Sir Toby’s, disguised behind a false mustache and carrying a “manifesto.” The Trappist asserts that this manifesto is the “central object” of concern among the principal characters at Sir Toby’s and over which he is about to precipitate “the climactic confrontation.” And what is the name of this manifesto? “Otherways” — it’s Andrew’s book, newly published at the time, based on OST theological discussions. Peter had written a review/critique of Otherways, but I had neither read nor commented on the book. The Sir Toby’s thread I’d introduced was being hijacked into yet another vicarious confrontation… with Andrew!

Sam Carr decided to join in the fun, creating his own alter-ego at Sir Toby’s and making it a threesome. Sam introduced a rather Eastern notion — that the visible world might be no more “real” than the invisible. In my next installment I ignored Peter’s lead entirely, interacting instead with Sam’s Eastern monk and exploring further the idea of invisibility. Then Peter returned with an extended and intriguing follow-up. Musing on the direction the thread was taking, Peter’s Trappist doppelganger realizes that he must “call on all of his powers of rhetoric and persuasion - subterfuge even - to address the dark powers which lay behind the seemingly innocuous vacuity of the discussion.” By the end of his long, erudite and amusing harangue the Trappist has shifted the visible/invisible antinomy toward the allegedly underlying theme: “Emergent!” Peter’s installment ends in a dramatic gesture by the Trappist:

With a flourish, he drew from his cloak a copy of the manifesto which had been the true focus of the triumvirate’s deliberations, and from which the Elderly Sage had sought to distract attention by the smoke-screen of misleading theological controversy. “Thus,” thundered the Trappist with prophetic intensity, flinging the manifesto to the floor, “may the words of all heresy find their ultimate destination and doom!””

I wrote another installment, in which “the goateed Austrian” — a thinly-disguised analog for Freud — tried to interpret the Trappist’s obsession. Sam followed up with an attempt to restore some sort of continuity between the invisibility theme and the Trappist’s disguised subterfuge. Then Peter returned with… an escape plot!? The Trappist and the Sage fall through a trapdoor where they encounter the Westerner and the Antipodean. Muses the Trappist: “Disappearing monks, Viennese Alienists, characters from nursery rhymes - I think it is time that the Project was relocated from these dismal quarters and relaunched from somewhere more salubrious.” He leads a procession away from Sir Toby’s to another nearby inn where they can “relaunch the Project.”

And with that, Peter abandoned the Sir Toby’s post I had begun and launched his own, called “From Sir Toby’s to St. James’s”. In this new installment the Sage has been abandoned to his own ruminations, leaving the other three “conspirators” to consider the “manifesto;” i.e., Andrew’s book. Quite soon enough the discussion veers from postmodernism to an engagement of Andrew’s “critical realism,” the importance of Israel vis-a-vis Abraham in God’s historical trajectory, and so on — familiar themes to regular OST readers. Meanwhile Sam and I tried to salvage some sort of coherence from the other Sir Toby’s story, still running in parallel to this new one of Peter’s. Eventually the narrative dissolved into meta-narrative — interesting in its own way I suppose, but far removed from the original intent of the post. The St. James episode likewise soon “petered out.”

Back on Ktismatics I groused publicly about the turn of events, more or less washing my hands of the whole affair. Peter and I exchanged another brief round of emails in which we agreed that this latest Sir Toby’s experiment had not come off at all well. Peter and I contributed to each other’s posts in gestures of mutual goodwill. In the following months Peter would later return to Sir Toby’s — twice I believe — but these later adventures were largely solo voyages. It seemed that the collaborative writing project had come to a disappointing end. Not until I read Peter’s announcement in this post did I realize that he’d compiled the various Sir Toby’s adventures in a book.

(Next: Redidivus?)

The Sir Toby Chronicles By: peter wilkinson (27 replies) 3 March, 2009 - 17:34