The Split Open Centre

Steve Hanson – A Book of the Broken Middle (Fold Press)

‘These are Roman, whipping times, the day burns like an oven.’ These are terms of Steve Hanson’s latest academic monograph: that we live in times of tribulation, of apocalyptic urgency. Offered as a purgative to the complacency of academic writing, A Book of the Broken Middle is a tapestry of interwoven quotations from the Bible, William Blake, Gilgamesh and the works of seventeenth century Ranter Abiezer Cobbe, all brought together and translated into Yorkshire dialect. Drawing on the insights of theologian Gillian Rose, whose late-in-life works abandoned formal modes in favour of memoir and personal revelation, Hanson’s work defies academic tradition without losing sight of what is at stake in our theorising.

Far from the sociological subject matter of his previous book, Small Towns, Austere Times (Zero, 2014), this is a work of furious anger and visceral imagery. The grammar is that of the King James Version, but all mention to God has been stripped out and all heavens and hells have turned to metaphor. The result is what Canon Andrew Shanks, in his wonderful foreword, describes as “a sacramental enactment of negative theology… the pure element of the sublime” (p.18).

The rich and the hypocrites receive a verbal beating as one might expect, but so do liars, cheats and manipulators, the prideful and decadent who our modern economy has normalised and celebrated.

Hanson has stripped out the misogyny and homophobia of the official canon and somehow kept that Old Testament moral fury. It’s a fury which drives many writers of critical theory, although the polished surfaces of their texts might not show it. This, at least, is the gambit of Hanson’s offering; that a return of the Ranters is possible, this time against the Church of current academic form.

It’s pocket-sized, like a holy hand grenade, and packed with enough tight prose to keep a confirmed atheist hooked. This is not the ‘fancy music fer few ere’s’ (p.26) that Amos rails against, although it may very well be a voice in the wilderness. A brave experiment, of which we need more.

– Joe Darlington

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