Saturday, June 9, 2007

Meaningful Coincidences

I admit that I left yesterday's post hanging there. I really need to say more about how and why we look for meaning in coincidences.
Could the precise mention of my 43rd birthdate be more than a meaningless coincidence? Is the only meaning it can have for me as reader whatever meaning I may care to invest in it? It appears that even if some occult shadow somehow engineered my being introduced to David Lodge and led me to this novel, where I would find the "birthday sign," its only more or less "objective" meaning would seem to be something elementary like, "Hey, pay attention!" I would still have to invent whatever further meaning there might be....
First, I point out that "meaning...for me as reader" is ambiguous. "As a reader"—that as, as an interpreter of a work of literature—I might have to acknowledge that the writer chose a particular date simply to support the plot. Within the world of the book, a particular date may have no "meaning" other than that.

So it was me as something other than reader who wondered whether there might be some occult significance in the date. This morning, in such "cold light of reason" as I can attain to, it seems fairly clear that in order to derive occult or any other "extra-textual" meaning from the experience of reading a book, I have to be disposed to look for it. And since the first thing I thought of looking for was that there might be a shadowy angel (some emissary of "God") trying to give me a message, it appears that my disposition might be to want to believe in angels, believe in "God," believe that "God" tries to communicate with people.

Coincidences have a way of getting our attention. So do anniversary years that end in zero (or, better yet, double-zero). We don't make a big deal about turning twenty-nine, but, oh, when we turn thirty! We ignore that the zero factor depends on the base of our number system for counting. Coincidences may have as little significance as that. All of the things that we experience as going on at the same time are occurring coincidentally. But we consider very few such pairings to be coincidences. Any date that Lodge contrived for a book set in the decade of my forties would have been coincident with some date or other in my life....

As far as being disposed to find "extra-textual" meaning in a book, what about Scripture? We'd better synchronize our understanding of that word by doing a dictionary check: "A sacred writing or book...A passage from such a writing or book."* I had actually expected to find that "Scripture" meant a "writing or book" thought to be "the Word of God." I'm relieved to find that it isn't so, because the given definition seems to support my sense that to interpret a particular Scripture as "the Word of God," you have to be disposed to do so.

I am already well on record elsewhere as not being so disposed. I am rather disposed to interpret all such books as the works of men, works written, edited, selected, translated, intepreted by men (or women, of course).

Yet...I do seem disposed to expect "God" to communicate with me in some way or other. Curious.

I guess the question (or "a question," anyway) is: Is such a disposition part and parcel of magical thinking? And nothing more, that is.
* A New College Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.


  1. A good question. I too find myself in a place of wonderment. As I ask myself how a "God" could answer my prayers while allowing so many people to die around the world. I find myself still speaking to him. And, within my soul, I believe someone or something hears me.

  2. Ed, thanks so much for your comment, for coming to read and comment at all. For though I say that I'd write here daily whether I had any readers or not, I think the truth is that I need at least one reader, and I'm not sure that my need for "God's" being there to read me ensures that He actually is. I'm glad for you.