Steps Forward

Shaping a Symposium, Steps by Steps

Illustrated initial A for 'Adam' on a leaf from 'Otto Ege MS 44'. Otto Ege Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Photograph courtesy Lisa Fagin Davis. Reproduced by permission.

Illustrated initial A for ‘Adam’ on a leaf from ‘Otto Ege MS 44’. Otto Ege Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Photograph courtesy Lisa Fagin Davis. Reproduced by permission.

In preparing the Synopsis for his Paper for our Symposium on Words & Deeds at Princeton University on 25 & 26 March 2016, our Associate Karl Morrison sent together 2 versions, dated on successive days. The longer one, dated “11 Feb., 2016”, appears, along with the other Speakers’ Abstracts, in the printed 2016 Symposium Program Booklet, which you may download here.

The shorter one, appears here, with Karl’s permission.  It now has 2 Parts (I and II), respectively of “10 Feb. 2016” and of “2 Jul. 2016”.  This bipartite Synopsis unusually records stages in the processes of reflections both leading to his paper’s theme and focus, and recording the essence of the subject and its challenges for Time Passing and Time Immemorial.

Part I describes how some on-going conversations about the Symposium, as we began to plan it, and as it began to gather momentum, then grew to bloom, as we allowed for collective reflections upon the chosen subject, in its many facets and implications.  This Part adds further reflections, which circle the theme and extend it into wider realms.

Hence its extension in the form of Part II, which emerged as the Symposium had settled into place, and scope arose for further articulation.  This development was possible only thanks to the eagerness, willingness, and skills which all the participants brought to the collective process culminating in, and extending from, the Symposium, in a concerted movement from fragmentary thoughts — and thoughts about fragments — through various reflective stages to a completed offering, or collective formulation.

An Unusual, and Open, Approach to Synopsis + Abstract

In Parts I and II here, Karl sketches the movement from first thoughts to a working draft, also as the whole Symposium developed in collaborative reflections.  We could say that the process resembled the steps of creative construction of a collaborative work, which progressed from doodling and associated ideas, growing from collective discussions, to a finished work, namely the Symposium itself, which spurred further developments beyond the event (as in its Report).


Karl F. Morrison

Synopsis: “Oscar’s Paradox: Deadly Love in Western Christian Liturgy”

Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Symposium on “Words and Deeds: Actions Enacted, Re-enacted, and Restored”

Princeton University, 25.-26. March, 2016

Part I.  “False Start = First Steps”

10 Feb., 2016.

When I suggested this paper, the focus of the Symposium was distinctly on the study of fragments [as described in its Announcement].  The rare privilege of learning and reflecting on manuscript studies as envisioned and pursued by Otto Ege gave a stunning opportunity to follow the experts in pursuing Ege’s legacies to bibliographical sciences in general and to the Beinecke Collection at Yale in particular.  This privilege and this opportunity presented the paradox that reducing works of art to fragments may be a way to preserve them, their techniques and inspirations, by consigning their disjecta membra for good or ill to the random favors of Lady Luck.

This paradox, or something like it, inspired Friedrich Schleiermacher in his hermeneutics of the fragment, first in the study of ancient sculpture and later in his resolution of the New Testament’s “Synoptic Problem,” assessing discrepancies and commonalities among the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The same paradox is current in symposia and exhibits at the Courtauld Institute, e. g. a symposium on Taking Shape: Italian Altarpieces before 1500 [2011], accompanying the exhibition on Devotion by Design: Italian Altarpieces before 1500 at the National Gallery in London [2011], and the exhibition of Unfinished . . . Works from The Courtauld Gallery [2015, with a review here]. The paradox of destroying to preserve has always been present in architecture, through the use of spolia, notably in the construction of Rome’s so-called “spolia churches.”  Recently, it has been adopted for exhibits celebrating iconoclasm as the production of new objects and modes of visual arts.1

Hardly any area has proclaimed and celebrated its fragmentary nature and global imperfection more steadily and for longer than the epicenter of Christian dogmatism: the interpretation of Scripture.  From the outset, this venture, in most of its ramifications, also proclaimed the inaccessible hiddenness of God (“My ways are not your ways, nor my thoughts your thoughts,” Isaiah 55:8), and the inadequacy of human thought and language to grasp and convey the invisible, ineffable, and inconceivable objects of faith, hope, and love.  An indelible uncertainty principle was at the heart of Christian dogmatism from the beginning.

The foundational text was this: “Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease; were there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. . . . Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; there we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part: there I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I. Corinthians 13:8-12).

Part II.  “Finished Draft”

2. Jul., 2016.

Photograph by Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896) of Oscar Wilde (1856-1900) in 3/4 length with walking stick. Via Wikipedia Commons.

Portrait of Oscar Wilde with Walking Stick. Photography by Napoleon Sorony in New York circa 1882. Via Wikipedia Commons.

In 1895, Oscar Wilde (1856-1900) began serving a two-year sentence to hard labor in Reading Gaol, to which he had been condemned on a charge of “gross indecency” with Lord Alfred Douglas.  Douglas’s father, the 9th Marquess of Queensbury, had relentlessly brought and pressed charges to bury Wilde forever under the full weight of punishment, shame, and public execration.  Wilde’s disgrace was all the more complete because he had precipitated his own fall into notoriety by bringing and failing to prove a case against the Marquess for criminal libel against him.

While he was in prison, another inmate of Reading Gaol, Charles Thomas Wooldridge, a former officer in the elite Royal Horse guards, was hanged for another crime passionel, the murder of his wife (7 July 1896).  After his release, Wilde moved to France, collected his thoughts, and, in an aesthete’s continuing effort to turn suffering into art, he wrote his last work, the Ballad of Reading Gaol (1897-98).

Intending to engage the widest possible audience, Wilde cast this poem in what, for the day, was a framework, sensational and fraught with scandal, yet deeply human.  He constructed it as a portrayal of himself in monologue, contemplating Wooldridge kept at a distance in prison, as two felons condemned and in the shadow of death for crimes passionels.  Wilde captured the part of the what the two men had in common with the entire human race in the line:  “Each man kills the thing he loves.”  He closed the paradox referring to the obvious disparity between Wooldridge’s impending execution and his own living death: “Yet each man does not die.”

There is no assertion of heroism, or death for a noble cause.  Indeed, Wilde’s line, “Each man kills the thing his loves”, savors of the interpenetration of death and love, a motif of decadence characteristic of late nineteenth-century European belles-lettres and symbolist art.  To be sure, Wilde makes an overt connection between himself, delivered up for punishment with Lord Alfred’s complicity, and the betrayal and condemnation of Jesus.

But what relevance could Oscar’s Paradox have to a much earlier age, when the height of spiritual and aesthetic exaltation was found in the coupling of the human soul with Christ, and the how-to-do-it book was from the Word of God: the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon)?  What could Oscar’s Paradox have to say about something even more remote from the occasion and theme of his poem: that is, the Christians’ tortured argument that they were different from the Jews, that they were, precisely speaking, Israelites according to the Biblical prophetic tradition?

I venture to suggest that Oscar’s Paradox alludes to its cultural roots in the analogy he drew between himself and Jesus, betrayed by friends to deadly enemies. Further, I suggest that his paradox, though not his story, was rooted precisely in early Christian efforts to read the meaning of their own afflictions in the light of Scripture, in the quest for spiritual love thought to be epitomized in the eroticism of the Song of Songs, and in the convictions that led Christians to read their own God-given destiny as mirroring, and grafted into, the tribulations, failures, and ultimate messianic redemption of the Jewish people in their Covenant with God.  “This world,” Augustine of Hippo (354– 430) wrote, “is to all the faithful who are seeking their homeland what the desert was to the people of Israel.”2

Oscar’s Paradox is betrayed or revealed by his Scriptural allusions and his self-regard as a poet-savior, suffering with love.  It had roots in the age when explorations of redemptive Christian eroticism mined the rich allegorical mysticism in the Song of Songs, and the chivalric hiddenness of the Liebestod (“Love’s Death”), the first, the extracting passion for an absent Beloved and the second, the socially enforced pathos of dying for unrequited love.



1 WebEditor’s Note. Karl spoke on “Witnessing Iconoclasm: Some Recent Collaborative Studies” for our 2014 Symposium on Recollections of the Past. The Abstract of that Paper appears in the 2014 Symposium Booklet. His Review Article of those studies appeared as “Witnessing Iconoclasm: Two Recent Books” in Studies in Iconography, Volume 35 (2015), 155–166.

2  Augustine of Hippo, “Seventh Homily [on the First Epistle of John],” in Daniel E. Doyle and Thomas Martin, ed., Homilies on the First Epistle of John (Tractatus in Epistolam Joannis ad Parthos) (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2008), c. 1, p. 104.


Illustrated initial A for 'Adam' on a leaf from 'Otto Ege MS 44'. Otto Ege Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Photograph courtesy Lisa Fagin Davis. Reproduced by permission.

Illustrated initial A for ‘Adam’ opening I Chronicles on a leaf from ‘Otto Ege MS 44’. Otto Ege Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Photograph courtesy Lisa Fagin Davis. Reproduced by permission.


The Second Synopsis (dated 11 Feb. 2016), is printed in the 2016 Symposium Booklet.  Its expressed intentions for Karl’s paper form a companion piece to the reflections in this bipartite Synopsis, which represents a new development for the approaches to Abstracts for the conference papers and event proceedings of the Research Group on Manuscript [and Other] Evidence.

As related in the 2016 Symposium Report, illness prevented Karl from attending the Symposium to present his Paper. While the printed Booklet presented his Abstract as intended to represent that Paper, the Symposium organizer, Mildred Budny, read out this First Synopsis (Part I so far) as a further record of his contributions to the discourse which helped collectively to shape the Symposium.  Part II of this Synopsis emerged after the Symposium, in response to the wish to publish the “First Steps”/”False Start” (Part I), which opened the path for the “Completed Draft” accompanying it.

What this means is that this bipartite Synopsis (Parts I & II) stands beside Karl’s Abstract for his intended Paper as printed in the 2016 Symposium Booklet.  The Three Versions present Part I (“First Steps”, here), the authorized Abstract, and Part I (“Completed Draft”, here).  As said, this is a First.  Meaningful, too.

Karl’s contributions to our Colloquia and Symposia are manifest among the Papers for Symposia, Workshops, and Colloquia (2003, 2009, 2013, 2014, and 2016). The Abstracts for his Papers appear in the Program Booklets for our 2013 Symposium, 2014 Symposium, 2016 Symposium, and here in this re-circled Synopsis.

We warmly thank Karl for his loyal encouragement for our activities.