Saturday, July 25, 2009

Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson

Wilson describes his work as, “an … abnormal book.” (pg. 200) In the preface he warns us that his book “does not go straight.” He’s accurate on both counts.
He attempts to find unity in cacophony. In doing so he wanders through philosophy, physics, Greek mythology, theology, atheism, Occam’s razor, theories of good and evil, Hamlet, origins, art, and probably a few more topics I forgot to write down. The writing is stream of consciousness – a thought here, a musing there. Sometimes successive paragraphs have a relationship while at other times they are on entirely different subjects. Throughout the book he plays with the pesky question: If God is all-good and all-powerful, why is there evil in the world? He defines evil as “that which displeases God.” (pg. 80) I appreciated that definition but not much else in the book.
As is often the case when we ramble or when we write what thoughts come to mind, concepts and ideas in our brains are in opposition. Such is the case with Wilson’s writings. He asks us to go the route of Annie Dillard and believe that God is not responsible for natural disasters (those events insurance policies call “acts of God”). God is not in the tornado. (pg. 64) Later he says, “I see craft in the world. I cannot watch dust swirl on the sidewalk without seeing God drag His finger…” (pg. 98) So, God makes a little dust devil but He does not make the tornado?
Wilson mixes deep philosophical and theological ruminations with silliness. While discussing the possible answers to the problem of evil, he speaks to the definition of evil, good and freedom. He continues the discussion with, “What is the best of all possible feelings?” His answer? The feeling of relieving an over extended bladder from a too long ride in the car. His answer to the best of all possible things: a toothpick. (pg. 61) Just when I am really into his rumination and he has me thinking, he makes a crazy comment and I want to throw the book away.
Who is he writing for anyway? At times I am sure it is Christians when he references biblical ideas and concepts only Christians would understand. And then I think he is writing for atheists when he works so hard on explaining God and evil and the meaning of life. And sometimes I think he is writing to old people because who, but an old person, would understand: “Is the horse dead? Hand me a whip.” (pg. 107)
A large part of Wilson’s writing is wordplay. He wants to paint with words. He wants to appeal to the senses as well as to the mind. But my mind went “tilt.” (pg. 200) I have a feeling Wilson has painted a picture but there is no one looking at it. If you want to read this book, buy it quick because I am sure it will be out of print very soon.

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