Monday, January 27, 2014

Something of a Treatise – Joy Davidman (Part 4)

Continuing with Davidman’s letter to Aaron Kramer:

“Yours, with the hope you will not be too angry, Joy.”

I include Davidman’s conclusion to illustrate the risk she felt she was taking, “with the hope you will not be too angry.” She was asked to critique Kramer’s work and she honestly did it, working through the material he sent item by item, giving Kramer both something of a treatise and a critique. As she concludes the letter she hopes that her correspondent will not be too angry.

Telling others the truth, even when they ask, often involves risk; the risk of misunderstanding, the risk of relationship, the risk of rejection. As straightforward as Davidman is, she is concerned about the risk.

After her signature Davidman then includes a recommended reading list of around 80 authors and works, at the end of the list she writes, “The list is chosen for a specific purpose; to establish a background of culture and a foreground of good style….When you have read it all, you will not of course be really educated; but you will be able to meet an Oxford don or a Harvard Professor of English and follow, more or less, what he is talking about; and you will certainly be better able to criticize your own work…you will know how much you still have to learn and where to find it. Well, I’d better stop now before I collapse.”

She titles her list, “Education of a Poet”, and she indicates that an “*” by a title “means indispensable”. On the list is the King James Bible followed by eight asterisks with the note, “You can skip the begats; but no one can really write English well unless he has been through the Bible a couple of times.”

How long did it take Davidman to compose this letter (which takes 17 pages in Out of My Bone, The Letters of Joy Davidman, Don W. King editor, Eerdmans 2009)? How much thought and energy did she invest in responding to Kramer’s request for a critique? How seriously did she take his request? Had she already compiled a list of some 80 books and authors or did she do this just for Kramer?

This is a picture of mentoring; truthful, thoughtful, and vulnerable; Davidman felt vulnerable when all was said and done and perhaps Kramer felt vulnerable when making the request for critique – mentoring entails vulnerability for both the mentor and mentoree. How would Kramer take the critique? We’ll see in the next and final post on Davidson’s letter.

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