Dirty Books: Why You Should Read Mutiny… and Why Many People Won’t

by , under Books, Resources, Theology

 

One of the nicest parts about publishing a book is getting the feedback from people once they’ve read it. Not the reviews – that’s more distant – but actual readers on the ground.

With Mutiny! (which is on special 25% discount for the next few days) what’s been interesting is hearing people’s reactions to what is essentially a book with a very wide scope. It covers history, economics, psychology, film, parenting, personal development, music and the arts… and some theology too. And this, in essence, is why many people will end up not reading it. That’s no sob story on my part, just the honest truth. For most people, they like things to be compartmentalised: they want their economics to be about economics, and their theology to be about theology. When they go to church they don’t want to hear about work, and when they go to work they don’t want to hear about psychotherapy.

Talking of which… one of things that’s become clear in the work I’ve done with a therapist is that I’m strongly attracted to the Jungian archetype of the Trickster. That will come as no surprise to those who’ve read my other books, as they have drawn on this idea of the trickster quite heavily. Lewis Hyde summarises their work thus:

‘As a rule, Trickster takes a god who lives on high and debases him or her with earthly dirt – or appears to debase, for in fact the usual consequence of this dirtying is the god’s eventual renewal.’

In other words, Tricksters, like pirates, throw shit around. They take something that is ‘pure’ and stir in some dirt, appearing to debase it… yet the outcome of this is a work of renewal and re-creation. There are countless Trickster myths that follow this plot, and you should read Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World if you want to explore them. (In fact, if you’re an artist you should stop what you’re doing now and just read it. It’s that good.)

In terms of my writing, this manifests itself in works of synthesis: I could write something more purely theological, or something more purely historical, but my natural instincts are to synthesise these works and try to get theology to resonate with history and history to resonate with psychology and economics to resonate with the arts.

And this is what you get with Mutiny!. It’s a filthy book about pirates, and a piratic book about filth. It throws earthly dirt at all sorts of things. And this is why lots of people are simply not going to read it: it’s too Christian for the historians, and too historic for the Christians. For those who like to keep their lives nicely ordered and compartmentalised, they’re going to hate it.

But, at the same time, this is precisely why you definitely should read it, for the corollary of Hyde’s Trickster construct is this: pure works create nothing new. There is nothing new in the elements; newness comes from dirty synthesis – and if there has been one over-riding comment in the feedback I’ve had talking to people about the book it’s this: it’s highly original. You really won’t have read anything like it 😉

This is not to say it doesn’t have a clear aim or that it lacks focus. One reader recently got in touch and said this:

I have thoroughly enjoyed the way you properly educated the reader with a pirate knowledge base, in order to properly grasp what those implications would have on “the greatest battle of them all.”

And here you have a smart reader…because the history and economics and examples of pirates in film and literature are all there to build towards the final chapters, where, with the knowledge we have gathered, we can take on the piratic implications for theology. This is why I’ve always said that this, despite appearances, is my most theological work. It takes some work to get to the ‘reveal’, sure, but it’s work that I believe is all vital, connected and important.

I hope you enjoy it. And as a little holiday bonus, the paperback is 25% off for a while.


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  1. Simon

    Absolutely agree Kester. My two favourite books of the moment are … Pirates and “Unclean” by Richard Beck. Both “pollute” their theology with in you case history, economics and popular culture and in Beck’s case scientific psychology. Both too mix a bit of dirt into the sanctuary. I think its pretty easy to see the parabolic teaching of Jesus as a hashing up of the pretty mundane features of first century poverty, with some riffing on the better bits of the law and the prophets. Find it harder to hear Paul doing that, but that’s probably because the voice of Paul I hear as I read is a bit of a religious bore sometimes. Perhaps I need to hear the snarky, trickster comedic Paul telling the Galatians to chop their own knobs off…

    The other element of the Jester archetype I like (not sure if that’s the same as Jung’s trickster) is the ability to be the only one in the room brave and stupid enough to speak the truth in respect of “power” and “normal” and “respectable”, and to do it all with a merry dance and easily misconstrued risky langauge. You just know that eventually its going to get him killed, but you just have to listen, and in that moment feel the freedom he is alluding to. Thinking of the late Bill Hicks for a moment as I write this.

    Sorry I haven’t posted an online review yet. Promise I will…

  2. KB

    You’re spot on about jesters – they spoke truth to power, but had to walk a fine line between jest and mockery…between laughter and death. And this is why pirates (‘yo ho ho…’) are in the trickster archetype too. They – we – will never see wild success, because of the lack of orthodoxy and purity, but it’s a vital role, a fertilizing of the ground with some merry shit to keep things growing.
    Thanks – look forward to review!