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The Table Video

Eleonore Stump

Wandering in Darkness (Eleonore Stump Full Interview)

Professor of Philosophy / Robert J. Henle Chair in Philosophy, Saint Louis University
March 19, 2018

Philosopher Eleonore Stump and CCT Director Evan Rosa discuss the problem of suffering. This discussion has been ongoing for centuries, and the prospect of ever arriving at a fully satisfying answer seems impossible. However, Dr. Stump suggests that we supplement the philosophical approach to this question with a narrative one. Viewing experiences of suffering through the lens of narrative may offer some uniquely helpful perspectives. Also discussed in this interview is an account of the phenomenology of suffering, as well as the project of theodicy in light of the Christian tradition.

[soft piano music]

I wanted to thank you so much for joining me today. I would like to as you about what has been called your magnum opus. Your book, Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering. First, thank you for really a life’s work in philosophy and theology and this book in particular has had a pretty far reaching impact and so many discussions that are happening about it. So, asking you about it today is going to fit in with our exploration of Suffering in the Good Life at the Center for Christian Thought. I thought I’d start by asking you about your perspective on the problem of evil, the problem of suffering. How do you like to explain this problem?

Well first, let me say thank you for having me here. Thank you for the opportunity to speak in this interview. Thank you for all your good work in this conference which looks as if it’s gonna go very smoothly today, based on what I saw yesterday, which was just lovely.

Well, your part was an important part of that.

Well, I’m very pleased to be here and I’m very pleased to be part of the work that you’re doing for sure. Pleased to see old friends here at Biola and meet new ones too.

Evan: Mm-hmm.

And thank you for your kind words about the book, too. For sure it was a book I had my heart in, no question about that, at all.

Evan: That’s evident.

I would like to say for the record, I hope no one minds, that there is one more book coming. It’s just headed to the press in just a matter of days now and–

Can you give us a little sneak peek?

Well sure, I mean it’s a fat book too. But, it’s on the atonement of Christ. So, it’s on guilt, forgiveness, love, redemption and things of that nature.

Mm, mm. Well, I think that’s good for a lot of people and saying that I’m excited to read that.

I’m excited to get it done too. So, but what you asked about was the problem of suffering and… you know, the West has thought about the problem of suffering for many centuries and of course, not just the West. This problem is represented can be found in the thought of every culture going and it’s a thought that goes something like this. If there is some sort of supernatural entity that watches over human beings, if that entity or entities has care for human beings and has power and mind, why do we suffer the way we do?

Evan: Mm.

What’s wrong with our world? That it looks like this. Now, there are some people who think obviously, because we suffer the way we do, there can’t be any such supernatural entity that watches over us. There couldn’t be. I mean, the thought of these people is something like this. Look, if you want to tell me that you’ve just been diagnosed with leukemia and the dog died and the house burned down and your mother got lost because she has dementia and no one can find her, she’s wandering somewhere in the city, I can understand what you’re saying. And if you wanna add in on top of this, that there’s an all powerful, all knowing perfectly good being who really loves you, then I’m gonna think something’s wrong in this story. So, that’s the problem with suffering. It seems as if these things don’t make sense. This story doesn’t make sense.

I wonder if you’d comment on, will you take the nature, perhaps the psychological aspects, the phenomenology of suffering to be. What is suffering?

Well, it’s a good question. So, often and reflectively we think that suffering is a matter of pain. If you have pain, you’re suffering and if you don’t have any pain, you’re not suffering. But, that’s a kind of limited way to think about suffering, for sure. There’s a lot of bad things that happen to people that don’t have pain in them and they are even some things that have pain in them that don’t really count as suffering. So, there are women that strongly prefer what we call natural childbirth which is childbirth without anesthetic and they suffer, for sure they do. But, even after having tried it once, there are women who want to do it again because something about that pain doesn’t seem to them to be aversive. But, just seems to them to be ingredient in something that they price and value and really, nobody says the fact that there are women who choose to have natural childbirth and suffering, and that’s what chose me, there is no God. I mean, people don’t talk that way. So, what this shows you is that pain is not necessarily or sufficient for suffering. So, another way to think about suffering and it’s an age old way that is very wise is to see suffering as a function of what we care about. We care about our own flourishing as the human beings that we are and the things that get in the way of that flourishing. Those are the things that cause us suffering. If you know that something about the oppressive society in which you’ve lived makes it impossible for you to give your child an education of any kind, you will suffer on behalf of your child because education is part of what goes into human flourishing. So, there are all those things that make human beings the best they can be and when a person is deprived of some of those, she suffers. But, on top of that. On top of that, there are other things that have value for us just because we set our hearts on them.

Evan: Mm.


Based on our desires.

Yeah, these are things we care about, not because in themselves they are intrinsically valuable, on the contrary, they have value for us because we set our hearts on them. So, I have children, you have children and I don’t think my children are more valuable than your children. I really don’t. But, I love my children way more than I love yours. [chuckles] So, my children have much more value for me than your children have for me. Not because I assess the intrinsic value of the children that way. But, this is a case where something has value because you set your heart on it.

Something matters to you.

Something matters to you and has value to you because it matters to you.


So, maybe your grandmother has past away and was very dear to you, but before she died she left you the quilt she had made when she was a young girl and now that quilt, which may be old and tattered and faded, this is a priceless object to you. So, we have things we set our hearts on and when we lose those, or we fail to get those, then we suffer, too. So, one way or another it’s what we care about that makes suffering and therefore, the question is really something like this, if there is an all powerful, all knowing, all good, perfectly loving God, why wouldn’t he want you to have what is good for you and what you care about? That’s how you would feel toward your own child. Why wouldn’t a deity think that about his children?

That’s what sets up what philosophers call theodicy, an answer or an attempt defense to the problem of evil, to the problem of suffering. I wonder if you’d comment about the way you… What are your starting points for thinking about theodicy?

Well see, it goes something like this. People think, okay look, there couldn’t be a world that had suffering and God in it. There just couldn’t be. But, of course that’s way to fast. The response is yeah but, Yeah but, there could be if God had a morally sufficient reason for allowing you to suffer and then the question on the other side is, oh yeah, and what would that reason be exactly?

Evan: Right.

And now we are off on running on the project called theodicy.

And that reason appears to be something that would be deeply tied to human purpose. Suffering is so rampant.


And so universal that whatever that morally sufficient reason is, it sounds like it must be tied fairly deeply to the core elements of human purpose.

Oh yeah, absolutely. What’s really interesting, if you look at the history of Christian West, is to see the way in which this problem has and has not come up. So, for us it’s an obvious problem. It’s an obvious problem. But, if you look back at the patristic period, in the first centuries after Christ, when the persecution of Christians was severe. It’s worth noticing that not only do the Christian’s of that period were suffering in the persecution not ever, ever think to raise the problem of suffering, never even think about it. And why? They might ask, but why? But, they don’t and not only that but… They celebrate, they glorify the people who suffer.

There’s this expectation of us.

There’s an expectation that there is something absolutely magnificent in being allowed to suffer in this way. So, Chrysostom, John Chrysostom, the famous patristic theologian, he knows that there are people who are scandalized at the sight of Christian suffering, in these persecutions and he says, “People who are scandalized at this suffering “don’t realize that having this suffering “is the privileged of those “who are especially dear to God.” Not every age, not every culture sees suffering in the same way.

Evan: Right.

And if you think about your own children, you begin to have some idea of how to look at this problem in a different way. So, you get a magic lamp. Aladdin’s magic lamp and the genie appears and says, “What would you like? “Would you like me… “Evan, would you like me to make it the case “that for each one of your children “that child never has any suffering? “No skinned knees, “no failure to get a Valentine at school on Valentines Day. “No disappointments, no heartbreak. “Would you like that? “‘Cause I can do that.” And then you’re gonna think to yourself, “Hmm, would a human being without any kind of suffering really be the human being I hope my children will be?”

Right, right.

Yeah, and you can see the point right away. So…

But, do you think that’s tied to a kind of… Acceptance of, well this is life and it’s really not supposed to be that way.

No, it’s tied to the fact that you know that the children who grow up and highly protective, overprotective, rich… Cuddled, sort of, surroundings, yeah. Where they never face suffering and they never face challenges. You know they’re not gonna come out very well.

It’s really about character formation then.

Yeah, or–

Becoming the kind of person that is a good person.

Yeah, I wouldn’t think of it as character formation, exactly. See, if you look at the Greek world, the Greek world is a pagan world and it cares about character formation and it has the idea, which it has transmitted to the West, that suffering is required for Wisdom. So, the Greek tragedians say, “Zeus has put suffering on the road to wisdom.” So, now they’re thinking of character formation. Oedipus at Colonus, in Sophocles’ last great play. Oedipus at Colonus says, “I have suffered more than any other “human being in the world. “I am more disfigured, “more tried than any other human being has ever been before “and I am the person most blessed of God.” So, there we have the idea that there’s something about suffering that goes into character formation. None in the sense that it makes a person courageous and temperate. But, in the sense that it makes a person deep, spiritually deep, wise and so on. But, that’s the Greeks and Christians are not Greeks. So, Christianity is characterized by a doctrine of god as Trinity, at the ultimate foundation of all reality, there are persons and you can’t reduce those persons to anything impersonal and you can’t reduce the three of ’em to anything else that is just one. The doctrine of the Trinity says that, “Though there is just one God, “there are three persons “and they don’t reduce to anything else.” The harder Christianity is, personal relationship. Persons sharing love with each other and so, for Christians, the greatest thing for a human being is not character development, but it’s loving personal relationship and the idea in the Christian tradition is that something about suffering enables you, doesn’t make you, but it enables you to open and open and open and open more deeply to God and when you are more open to God, you are also more open to other people. So that the best thing for human beings in the world, is personal relationship.

Evan: Yeah.

And that’s the thing that suffering enables you to have more of. That’s the idea. And of course, it’s just an enabling. It doesn’t guarantee it. You can become bitter and hateful in suffering, also. And it is really important to see that neither for the Greeks, nor for the Christians, does this thought about suffering change it from being a bad thing to a good thing. To say that something conduces to a good end, isn’t to say that it’s intrinsically good. Chemotherapy drugs are valuable. We’re grateful for them. They save lives. But, in themselves they’re just poison. They poison the whole system.

Evan: Yeah

So, if you have a child with cancer and the doctor says, “Good news. “Good news, it’s a very treatable kind of childhood cancer “and we’ve got drugs for these “and of course the bad news is, “you know, the drugs are toxic. “And your child’s gonna suffer. “But, we will heal him with these drugs.” Then you will be so grateful for the drugs because of the good that they produce. But, in themselves, they’re awful and suffering is like that. In itself, is awful. And you never forget it and there’s nothing about theodicy that can change that. So, theodicy says that by means of this awfulness, the best thing open to human beings will be yours. But, the thing in question that helps get you there is still awful. That’s the way it works. So, the morally sufficient reason for God to allow suffering, has to do with the good that suffering brings. But those goods, closer personal relationship with a loving God and with each other, that doesn’t make suffering any less awful and you must never get confused and think it does.

Eleanore I think this is a good spot to ask about the role of narrative and understanding that personal relation to God and the kind of closeness of human relationships that matter so deeply to us. If that sets the stage for both the possibility of suffering and really, and the good that can emerge from suffering, even though suffering itself is not intrinsically good. I wonder if you would introduce the role of narrative in your understanding of answering the problem of suffering.

See, if I say what I have just said to you about suffering and the good that it can bring, the general response of people is, skepticism or outrage. Do you mean to tell me that for every bit of suffering that goes on in the world and so on, it looks like an implausible thesis. Highly implausible or outrageous thesis if you just look at it in a flat kind of a way. But, when you look at it in that flat kind of way, you’re missing half the data which go into the story. So… Sometimes I have been asked, can you condense your 660 page book on the problem of evil, into just a couple of minutes for us. [laughing] and then I–

I hope you say, “No!”

And then I do it, I do it like this. I say, I’m one of those people who hates talking to people on a plane. I eat on the plane, I pull my book out real fast, so you know I’m not available for talking to you. I don’t want a conversation with you. I wanna be myself, alone, and I want you to stay away. But, if that plane starts to go down, I will talk to anybody. And now you begin to understand, it is something about the nature of suffering and the terrible thing that suffering is that opens us up.

It’s an opening.

It opens us up. In those circumstances, we will reach out to one another and we will reach out to God, too. And without that, we will be inclined to withdraw in ourselves, into a kind of willed loneliness that seems to us, both comfortable and safe. But, that is, in the end, the real toxic thing for us.

I recently heard a quote by the author, Junot Díaz who wrote The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, he said that, “Vulnerability is the pre-condition to contact.”

I believe that that is true, really. But, I would turn it just a little. I would say it’s your own perception of your own vulnerability that’s the pre-condition, because the vulnerability we all have constantly, but a lot of us prefer not to recognize it or not accept it.

We remain and that leaves us remaining closed.

That is correct and here I just need to say one more time, you know? Nothing about this makes evil at all a good thing, doesn’t turn the world upside down in that way. Suffering remains lamentable and each of us has a duty to do whatever we can to alleviate it, prevent it and so on. In the whole Earth, is soaked with the tears of the sufferer and that is a horrible fact. But, one thing worth noticing is, it’s a horrible fact about us, you know, that’s who we are. We perpetrate such ghastly suffering on one another. That’s part of the story. That’s part of the story. That’s part of the vulnerability we have to recognize to, we are prone to do these things to one another and that kind of recognition is also important, for the problem of suffering. So, think about our great heroes, so for me a great hero is Harriet Tubman, I have great admiration for her. I have awe at which she accomplished as a human being. I think her life is splendid and luminous. And I think it is in part because of the terrible things she suffered. But, does that make me feel anymore friendly towards the people who enslaved or inflicted her. It doesn’t. On the contrary, it makes me, I don’t know what. It makes me hate them. They deserve that kind of hatred because there is, in the evil that was perpetrated on the slaves in this country, there is an evil really worth rejecting with as much vehemence as you can manage. Nonetheless, it is the case, she is a luminous example of a human being.

So, with vulnerability as our context with being open to relationships. I wonder if you’d say a little bit about story and narrative and reading these lives as a way of helping us to understand an answer and I realize this is a multifaceted component of your work in the book. But… could you go there?

That’s where I was starting when I was saying to you, if you just look at these things in a pedestrian way as philosophical claims, they have very little purchase on you. But, when I tell you the story about the plane, all of a sudden the point comes home to you. Well, in the same way, when we hear a story, if it’s a good story, it’s a well done story, we see the myriad details that go into a human life. So, I told a little thin story about Harriet Tubman, but if you actually go to look at any particular detail of her life, it’s the details that are necessary for thinking about whether God was justified in allowing her suffering.

Evan: Mm.

She herself thought he was. And if you look at the way in which she herself understands her life and the details of the things that she suffered and the details of the heroic acts she undertook as well, in all those details you might say, the problem of evil lives in these details about human lives. And you aren’t gonna get details in abstract philosophical pros. That’s the point.

Evan: Certainly not. That’s what leads many people just to respond to attempts at theodicy or attempts at answering the theoretical problem of evil. It leaves us, understandably, feeling cold, feeling unsatisfied.

Or angry and offended and insulted and I understand that reaction entirely and often, this I think is also part of the story here, often, these plain philosophical approaches to the problem of suffering, they think just in terms of character formation or they think, just in terms of some individual intrinsic good related to human flourishing that can be got out of suffering and then people feel in their hearts, that this is an inhumane way of thinking about human suffering. You can see it if you think about, if you think about Job. So, if you think that the point of suffering is character formation, then here’s what you’re saying to Job. Hey Job, I’ll take all your kids and kill ’em all. But, don’t worry I’m gonna trade you something for this and here’s what I’m gonna trade you for, you’ll have a much better character than you otherwise would.

Yeah, you’ll get better.

Yeah, no. Any decent person would say, “Keep your stupid character formation “And let me keep the kids.”

Evan: Right.

So, it’s important to understand that suffering has got a lot more human detail, a lot more complexity to it than something as simple as intrinsic individual valuable characteristics of a person. And it’s also important to see… it’s also important to see the details of what a trade could be in any individual life, what you lose in suffering. Or think about it this way, in suffering you lose something that you care about, and now if God is gonna be justified in allowing that suffering, it has to be that somehow, you get more of what you care about, than you would if you hadn’t suffered.

We say the devils- Oh, go ahead.

Well, I was just gonna say, see, one way to think about the story of Job here is, is to notice that Job has the longest face to face conversation with God of any character anywhere in the biblical stories ever. Ever. Yeah and that’s part of the story, too. If you leave that out, it’s harder to understand what’s going on in that biblical book.

Sometimes we say, “The Devil’s in the details.” Or perhaps, God is in the details.


And what I wonder is, even in the mist of that conversation or beyond the conversation with Job, I wonder if… What your perspective is on God’s experience of suffering. Does God suffer? And does the break, the psychic break within human person in the break of relationship with God, what kind of pain does that cause God?

Well, here’s the thing that really matters to me. It matters to me that Christians are literate in their own tradition. You can’t do any good in medicine if you try to figure it out for yourself from scratch. You have to learn from what everybody else has already done. And in the same way, any culture cut off from it’s own tradition is correspondingly weakened. There is a marvelous deposit of expertise for the Christian community in the theological tradition from the patristic period, through now. So, start with that deposit and look at it and then you get the answer to your question that goes like this, So… does God suffer? Certainly not. A perfectly good, perfectly omniscient, perfectly powerful being inside, doesn’t suffer at all. Point one.

Evan: Mm-hmm. Point two. What is Christ? One person with two natures. A fully human nature and a fully divine nature and who’s the person? One person with two natures. Who’s the person? Is the second person of the trinity and therefore God? Now, when Christ does anything, he does it either in his divine nature or he does it in his human nature. In his human nature, he can be hungry and his divine nature, he can’t be and so on. But, the only person doing anything is a divine person.

Evan: Yeah.

So, when there’s somebody there who’s hungry, the hungers in the divine nature. But, the only person to feel that hunger is a divine person. So, now let’s go back to where we were.

You meant that the hunger is in the human nature.

Hungers in the human nature, and the person is the divine person. So, go back to the question, does God suffer? And the answer is certainly. Of course. [chuckling] In the human nature which God has in the incarnate Christ and let’s add in dying. Can God die? Of course not. Certainly not. Because a perfect being can’t die. But, of course when Christ dies, the only person there is to die, the only available person who’s the subject of dying, that would be a divine person.

Evan: Yeah.

So, it’s heretical to deny that God dies.

Evan: Right.

That’s interesting. That’s a very complicated, interesting result. And now, let’s backtrack again to where you started. When we suffer, does God suffer? Well… When the biblical text said, “Jesus weeps.” Who’s weeping? We have only one candidate. The person of the incarnate Christ is weeping and that person is divine.


That’s God weeping. And, I mean, just on the logic of these early church doctrines, that’s the inescapable conclusion. That’s not a sentimental 20th century, neo-liberal protestant approach to whatever it is, that’s the logic to those doctrines.

Yeah, one of the components of your work in Wandering Darkness, is establishing as a centrality, the union or the united love between God and human persons, a kind of desire for that union on a part of God. And really, perhaps remote, perhaps broken, But a present desire in human persons as well. Can you speak to why union matters in the context of answering in the problem of suffering?

Well see, everything depends on what you take union to be. You take hydrogen and oxygen and unite ’em in the right sort of way and you’ll get water. And there people who think about union between God and human beings in the same sort of way. You unite them and then you get some divine attributes that show up in the human nature or some human attributes that show up somehow connected to the divine nature and so on. But, that actually is not what we really mean when we talk about union between persons. For union between persons we mean something second personal. Something where there are two things, each of which counts as having a mind and a will and so being a person. And each of these two persons are somehow in a position say “you” to the other one.

There’s an I thou relationship.

Exactly, and an interesting thing to notice about the deity is God likes to say “you” to everything. So, when in Job, God says to the ocean, God wants to determine that the Ocean has boundaries and doesn’t overflow those boundaries. God speaks to the ocean with second personal address. “Thus far your waves go and no further.” And when Christ is determined to punish the fig tree for not producing figs, he doesn’t say, may this fig tree be blasted, or he doesn’t say, I’m blasting the fig tree, or the fig tree won’t bare figs anymore. He says, “No man eat fruit off you forever.” He addresses the fig tree a you. And Jerome commenting on a similar place where Christ rebukes the waves by saying to the waves, “You be still.” Jerome says, “This is what it is to be God. “These things are your creatures.” And so, you can say “you” to them and they can say, “you” back to God. “That doesn’t mean panpsychism is right.” Jerome says. It means that that’s what it is to be in a relationship of creature to creator.


If even waves and fig trees can be addressed as “you” by God or the incarnate Christ, then see, we can also.

Evan: And have much more.

And have much more. And so, union is a matter of being in a position you might say, to share attention with God, to share face to face interaction with God and the old law about the fruits and the holy spirits go like this, “Every Christian, every person in grace has the indwelling Holy Spirit. And the fruits of the Holy Spirit begin like this, love, joy, peace. Love because you’re beloved is yours and you are his. Joy because you’re a joy in the presence of your beloved and peace because what is more worth wanting than anything else is yours already. That’s what union is and you don’t get love, joy and peace because your beloved is yours and you are his, if all we’ve got is that you get some divine attributes. So, people who think of deification or theosis as a matter of somehow underneath a level of consciousness, you’re getting some really cool stuff in your nature. They are missing what is actually on offer. What is actually on offer is to be in face to face relationship with your maker, who loves you. That’s the idea and nothing can be better than that. Nothing can be greater than that. Nothing can be more glorious than that and nothing besides that in the end will really bring you love, joy and peace.

We often think about these things, especially philosophically, just through the lens of knowledge, we want understanding. But, you and your work bring up the concept of Franciscan knowledge of persons. What if you describe that concept and it sounds like it’s operative, even already in what you’re explaining.

Well sure, because think about how it is we know things. How do we know things? So, my son calls me up and he says to me, “Mom,” he says, “I’ve met someone and you need to like her.” [laughing]

Uh oh.

So, now I’m on high alert. Right, uh oh is- I’m on high alert. And I say, “Okay, tell me about her.” And he can talk forever and I won’t be satisfied. And neither would you. What we know, everybody in circumstances wants is this, I wanna see her. And why? Because when I see her, I will know her. Which is different from knowing things about her. To know a person is different from knowing things about her. So, it’s a kind of knowledge which is somehow, I would say, non-propositional. Or however we are to describe it exactly. But, this kind of knowledge is there in all areas of human experience. So, you listen to what’s just come on on the radio and you think, I know that music. And you don’t mean, I know the name of the music. You don’t mean, I know the composer of the music. You might in fact know those things. But, that’s not what you mean. You mean, you know the music. And you could know the composer and the name of the piece and still not know the music. The radio announcer could have said, this is Mozart’s Ave Verum and you could say, I don’t know this music. But, I’m going to know it after this ’cause it’s beautiful. Like that.

Evan: Yeah.

So, for all kinds of places in life, there is this alternate approach when Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Price for her work in biology, she was asked, “How in the world did you get these results “when so many other people working “in your field didn’t get them?” and she said, “I take the trouble to get to know each one “of my plants individually and I don’t think they do.” I have no idea what she’s talking about. [laughing] But I recognize, I recognize something familiar to me. She’s trying to point to a kind of knowledge which is not knowledge about or knowledge of that something or other is the case.

Evan: I think of Jean Vanier’s Concept of Encounter.

Mhmm. Yep, that–

Evan: Or as philosophers may say, acquaintance.


But, there’s a familiarity, there is a kind of contact between two–


Evan: Entities and when it’s a contact between two persons, and that’s where it seems to be something special and meaningful.

Sure, and there’s also information flow. It’s just not information flow that’s knowledge that. So, Oliver Sacks tells a very funny story about being in the neurological ward of a big hospital, with the TV on. And the people watching the TV were aphasics. So, they’ve lost the good of language. They can’t produce language, they have a great difficulty comprehending language. They’re watching a news show involving Richard Nixon during the Watergate hearings and although these people, so Richard Nixon comes on the screen and all these people can’t understand what he’s saying. Oliver Sacks says the whole room burst into laughter ’cause they could all tell he was lying.


Yeah, so there’s information flow through these other capacities and the interesting thing from my point of view is, we now know a lot of the neurobiology of how these other capacities produce information, what they do. And they don’t produce it by sending it through the language module, they produce it in a different sort of a way. But, this knowledge is also crucial and important for our wellbeing as human beings.

And I think that, what that raises is something unique and special and something I wanna personally thank you for, for what you do in the book with the use of art, poetry, literature and story that’s interwoven into your philosophical argument. You use epigrams in every chapter.


To perhaps get at some of this kind of, contact knowledge. This personal knowledge that can’t be done just through left brain means. So, I wonder if you’d first maybe read as an example of what some of the things that you’ve included in the book. One of those is a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, I wonder if you’d read that for us and… and describe your use of that.

So, I’m grateful to you for paying attention to the epigrams. People generally disregard epigrams. They think that the point of the epigrams is for the author of the book to enjoy herself by putting some bits and pieces of things that she’s sentimentally attached to in her book and everybody else can safely ignore them, except maybe the mother of the author who might wanna know. But, my own thought was… My own thought was the things that I picked out as epigrams are actually part of the philosophical work of each chapter. If you will wrestle with what’s there in the epigram, you will have another access to the thought that I am trying to produce and lay out in the chapter. So, my thought is, just as there is an alternate way of knowing things that’s not language based or prepositionally focused or presented as knowledge. That just as there’s an alternate kind of knowledge to that sort of knowledge, in the same way there’s an alternate avenue to understanding and poetry can help you find that road to understanding if you will just struggle with it, in the way you would struggle with philosophical argumentation. So, the epigram for the whole book is a little bit from a poem that was found in Auschwitz after the war. And it was written on the wall by someone who suffered horribly in an unspeakable evil. And it goes like this, it says, “There is grace though “And wander on the way. “Only they are hard to see.” “Hard to embrace.” “For those compelled to wander in darkness.” And the person who left us this, Bore witness to the beauty of the human spirit that in the darkest suffering and the worst evil, it is possible to acknowledge that there is grace and wander on the way. Even if we are also compelled to wander in darkness.

Eleanore, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for your work. It’s an honor to have host you here and I look forward to your next book. [chuckles]

Thank you, I’m pleased to be here too. Thank you for a good interview.


Thank you.