Ripping Off Moisés Silva

by Feb 6, 2010Dissertation, Exegesis, Humor, NTScholarship

I’m stealing brazenly from Moisés Silva (see my previous post quoting him at length), but perhaps this post may still amuse and inform you. Silva provides the set-up, I the made-up text and exegesis. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Silva: "It is approximately the year 2790. The most powerful nation on earth occupies a large territory in Central Africa, and its citizens speak Swahili. The United States and other English-speaking countries have long ceased to exist, and much of the literature prior to 2012 (the year of the Great Conflagration) is not extant. Some archaeologists digging in the western regions of North America discover a short but well-preserved text that can confidently be dated to the last quarter of the twentieth century. It reads thus:"

mlwj: Because of my interest in all forms of dance—I worship Martha Graham and Mikhail ….shnikov—I decided to take a course in aesthetics. I hoped that my new class wouldn’t burden me too heavily with responsibilities, because my daily peace was already being disturbed by incessant cries from my colicky baby. I loved the textbook and the lectures, and I deployed all my best writing tricks to produce papers that would impress my professor.

Silva again: "The archaeologists know just enough English to realize that this fragment is a major literary find that deserves closer inspection, so they rush the piece to one of the finest philologists in their home country. This scholar dedicates his next sabbatical to a thorough study of the text and decides to publish an exegetical commentary on it, as follows:"


• This small piece, probably part of a ritual (note the word "worship" in a place of prominence in the very first line), is a fascinating example of 20th century American religious prose. The writer is afraid of having a heavy burden, probably of sin (notice the threat to her "peace"), by entering a new social "class," namely the "aesthetic" class. This was a group of writers, musicians, artists, dancers (as here), and general aesthetes who valued visual and aural beauty religiously. Scholars now generally regard them as a separate religion within American culture. Babies apparently played some unknown role in that class.

• The text is slightly damaged after the word "Mikhail," but the remaining letters likely were part of the word "Kalashnikov," a type of military fire-arm very popular in that day (notice the clever use of the military term "deployed" later in the piece).

• "Cries" denotes anguish, but not emotional anguish, for King Lear in Shakespeare’s play of that name is said to have "cried out loudly to find out if anyone was at home."

• "Love," too was a beloved 20th century concept. Literally dozens of so-called "love songs" were written during that period, and love was broadly considered the highest virtue. A large cache of ballpoint pens bearing the phrase "Love is a Choice" were recently found in what was once the city of Colorado Springs—with the name "Gary Smalley," a religious preacher, beneath. For the writer to say that he or she "loved" her textbook and lectures shows again the religious devotion she chose to have toward the Aesthetic Class.

• "Produce" is a term used in all sorts of places, but pre-eminently the grocery store, where it denoted a specific set of food items which were "produced" (led or brought forth, from the Latin pro– [forward] + ducere [to lead]) directly from the ground rather than processed. This is probably what the writer has in mind here: she did not use a "paper mill" to write her assignments but did them herself.

• An interesting consonance and assonance develops toward the end of the piece: "impress my professor." This writer had a masterful command of her language.

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