October 11, 2016 / Perspective
Taylor Ross considers how the recent unmasking of Elena Ferrante reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of language and literature.
September 17, 2015
Lila sits in the dark, tending to her mind. She opens her stolen Bible, traces its strange language—darkness covered the face of the deep—and remembers that night on the stoop, all cried out, when Doll came like wind and whispered to her: “Live!” This word of life apprehends us, summons us to light we cannot see. This is Marilynne Robinson’s darkness ablaze. In these shadows, to borrow a phrase from Teju Cole, “there are glories.”
In Robinson’s Gilead novels, darkness envelops. Lila picks roses and visits graves in darkness. Ames prays in the depths of his long night. Jack laughs and grieves in his dark tabernacle, and Glory weeps for him in the shadows. In Robinson’s novel Housekeeping, Sylvie is always sitting in the dark—enjoying the evening, she calls it—refusing to let a light-filled room withhold her from the pleasures of darkness. Characters in this fictional world hope not for the dark’s extinction but its perfection and permanence. By the altogether black lake, Ruthie and Lucille dance in the moonless cold. They move through the stark landscape of Fingerbone, “stepping from sheer night to sheer night.” And with the recent publication of Lila, we return not only to the town of Gilead but to the atmospheric darkness of Housekeeping, as if Robinson knit together one fictional world, haunted by dazzling shadows.
Robinson’s fiction confronts the reader on the stage of what Toni Morrison calls “the dark and abiding presence” at the center of American literature. If we read her texts attentive to Robinson’s figurative displays of the dark, her novels can draw us into a bewildering self-recognition—confrontations with her fictional world and the human souls that animate it bring our own lives hauntingly into view. Here in Gilead and Fingerbone, darkness apprehends us at the center of Robinson’s literary imagination, one that remains unavoidably fastened to the devastation of race in America.
Since the earliest attempts at what would become our national literature, metaphors of darkness have been reflexive utterances, what Morrison calls “an extraordinary meditation on the self.” While white writers looked upon a violently bound black population, their visually rendered ideas of darkness shaped figurative language on the page. This carefully invented dark presence—“not only the not-free, but the projection of the not-me”—became the antithesis of the American self, against which white Americans establish and maintain their identity. In a decidedly Manichean vision, darkness became the other side of a blood-soaked binary. What Morrison calls a “blank darkness” turned out to be a playground for the imagination.
Such writerly contemplation, Morrison observes, worked early on to bind the concept of the American self to a suffocated blackness—a relation no less haunting in the metaphorical register. Facing this recognition draws writers like Robinson, and readers like me, into an impossible position: without this darkness, the American self does not cohere; with it, the American self is mainly a lie. Morrison invites white readers and writers to contemplate this darkness while warning us that doing so has wrought devastation—I may risk making my own sentences, but the ground underneath them shakes. White writers face an inescapable tension: we cannot write about race yet we cannot avoid race when we write. We utter ourselves within a racial world we did not choose, one we cannot control.
Robinson’s text does not avoid these cultural waters. She wades into the history of this invented darkness, attempting to redirect devastating language toward something else. Figurative language here is never a less serious engagement with the world; it is determinative of Robinson’s ethics. By entering Robinson’s metaphorical register in this way, readers can attempt to face Morrison’s challenge: until we confront the entanglements of darkness in a literary text’s figurative language, we will not be ready to face actual black characters on the page or otherwise. Nor, and here’s the crucial point, will we be ready to face ourselves. If there are glories in these shadows, we read and demand to be haunted by them, suspecting they have something to do with the truth of our lives.
There are at least two dominant approaches to writing essays on Robinson. One type draws the reader into Robinson’s astonishing prose. These reviews often present Robinson’s most arresting sentences, leaving us open-mouthed and open-handed, ready to receive whatever gifts Robinson’s text may contain. “Gilead is not a book to be read,” one reviewer writes, “it is a song to be heard, a hymn rising off the page.” Let the prose wash over you, its current will take you where you need to go. It is a compelling approach, trusting Robinson to bring us out of our own worlds and into the strangeness of hers. But the currents these essays describe are often emptied—however inadvertently—of their dark content, allowing the white reader to engage Robinson’s text without wading too far from the shore of our imagined security. The depths of Robinson’s darkness remain hidden.
The second approach intentionally eschews Robinson’s prose to identify in her narratives a more explicit political vision, as if the loveliness of her sentences intoxicates, blinding us to her political weaknesses. We would do well, these essayists say, to keep our distance. They take up the question of race directly but leave Robinson’s figurative language untouched, instead focusing on Robinson’s casting of black characters or her engagement with American history, an approach that tends to marginalize racially inflected metaphorical language.
Consider Briallen Hopper’s excellent essay “Marilynne Robinson in Montgomery.” To be sure, Hopper is a careful and sympathetic reader of Robinson. While she aims to show that Robinson’s less than clear-eyed view of race is embedded in her otherwise powerful fiction, Hopper remains critical of reviews that mistakenly turn Robinson into an archetype of the post-1960 white American writer whose fiction assumes a racially “denuded, sanitized landscape.” She sees at the center of Robinson’s fiction a serious effort to reckon with the devastation of America’s ongoing racial history.
But within this reckoning, Hopper finds in Home what she takes to be a telling historical error, one that seems to anachronistically place 1963 civil rights news coverage within the year the book’s scene takes place, 1956. From her discovery, Hopper attempts to identify the source of Robinson’s political weaknesses. Robinson’s historical error, she says, could be a mistake. It could mean that “[Robinson’s] precision when it comes to figurative language or classic theology doesn’t extend to major events in America’s racial history.” It’s an interesting possibility, but it treats Robinson’s figurative language as a less decisive feature of her fiction when it comes to matters of race and identity. It should be set aside, she seems to say, to get to the heart of the matter—Robinson’s casting of black characters and her narration of US history.
Yet from Morrison’s view, figurative language—that dark and abiding presence at the center of our national literature—is no less devastating than the physical facts to which the metaphors are inescapably fastened. Race, Morrison writes, “has assumed a metaphorical life so completely embedded in daily discourse that it is perhaps more necessary and more on display than ever before.” In other words, race in the metaphorical register is atmospheric; it becomes the air we breathe. The metaphorical life of race is not ephemeral, not some less devastating form of that carefully invented dark presence on the page: it is perhaps America’s most terrifying racial achievement.
By eschewing figurative language, attempts to bring Robinson’s political vision into view inadvertently look away from the dazzling darkness haunting her pages and evade the self-confrontation her texts make possible. If Hopper’s essay asks the reader to clear away Robinson’s figurative language to see her political vision behind it, I see a courageous political act in her struggle with figurative language itself. Attentive to her figurative displays of the dark, we need not shut our eyes to the loveliness of Robinson’s sentences; we open them wide.
Hopper’s commitments lead her to describe what she calls Robinson’s “limits of community.” Robinson’s preoccupation with loneliness, she says, is lacking a robust vision of communal life, a weakness Hopper interprets as a manifestation of Robinson’s “troublingly individualistic theology.” Like the reviewers who concentrate too closely on Robinson’s poetic lines, Hopper shares a central preoccupation with Robinson’s descriptions of solitude. Most reviews rightly notice the way Robinson’s characters are, in some abiding sense, alone. In Housekeeping, it’s loneliness that bothers the characters. In Gilead, Ames writes, “There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn’t really expect to find it, either.” But loneliness is also more than a bother: Lila is most at ease when she’s alone by the river in the morning dark. Jack finds space to breathe in his barn loft, and Ames finds solitude is somehow a balm for his loneliness.
Loneliness in Robinson’s text is not a problem to be fixed but a condition to be faced—the default state of the human soul. In Rowan Williams’s sermon “Being Alone,” he similarly refers to loneliness as the baffling truth of ourselves, that dimension in us we cannot express publicly despite our best efforts. Loneliness names the limit I rub against when attempting to account for myself. It names our elusive reality that leaves us bewildered. Why else, Williams wonders, has the search for what is true driven so many into hermitages, into deserts? Lonely characters in Robinson’s novels are often alone for similar reasons: to be with themselves, to search for what is true, to cherish their wild inwardness.
But these lonely scenes in Robinson’s fiction are often entangled with something else. The quintessential Robinson character is not simply alone but sitting in the dark. If loneliness is Robinson’s most universal claim—that human beings are bound together by their separateness, that you are the only you, even while you are always already you-in relation—then her figurative language suggests the path toward that self is an excavation; it must go through the deep histories that mark us, not float above them. Loneliness here is entangled with Robinson’s darkness. If it’s the soul we’re after, we must not only be alone with ourselves but hurled into the shadows, stepping from sheer night to sheer night, watching for glories.
Entangled with the dark, loneliness itself comes more clearly into view. Solitude in Robinson’s characters need not be read as oppositional to community. While Hopper tends to see a weak political vision in the way grace only “stretches to connect two people for a little while,” I am inclined to read such moments in the context of what Peter Dula refers to as “heroic efforts at companionship”—shattered lives that find a listener and, in finding a listener, find voice.
This understanding of loneliness is more like Michelle Kuo and Albert Wu’s, who end their lovely essay on Robinson by returning us to the final scene in Home, the confrontation between Glory and Della. In the way these characters cultivate loneliness and inwardness, Kuo and Wu see a courageous self-confrontation. It’s their solitude and not their robust communal lives that prepares this white woman and this black woman to courageously acknowledge each other, pointing toward new social possibilities: “Despite the social evils that ought to divide them,” Kuo and Wu notice, “these two humans encounter one another on deeply personal terms, in a manner that is meditative, searching, and quietly radical.” If solitude involves a genuine effort at self-confrontation, it also involves a confrontation with our racial world. This is self-recognition as a terrifying and never-ending struggle, the beginning of the possibility of genuine encounters with others.
No better essayist articulates this terror than James Baldwin. “The really ghastly thing about trying to convey to a white man the reality of the Negro experience,” Baldwin writes, “has to do with this man’s relationship to his own life. He will face in your life only what he is willing to face in his.” Baldwin performs a similar reversal to the one performed by Morrison, transfiguring the question of race into a confrontation with the self—an attempt to disrupt our habits of contemplation. He recognizes that no matter how sympathetic white Americans may be, if no genuine effort at facing our own life has occurred, then even our most radical gestures of solidarity will only be solidarity with a phantom black persona that we have invented to establish and maintain the white American self. So Baldwin does the only hopeful thing; he hurls us into limbo, away from safe harbor. He terrifies us. We are plunged into confusion, left without handles to possess our lives. Drawn into the shadows, we become to ourselves a question.
Like her characters, Robinson, too, sits in the dark. Far from attempting an evasion, she gives darkness her deep attention. Robinson is like Sylvie in Housekeeping, who prefers her house “sunk into the very element it was meant to exclude.” What emerges from her playing in the shadows is a linguistic world that throws us, that disturbs the regular workings of our words.
Darkness in Robinson’s novels describes something that eludes the language we attempt to give it. Drawn into Gilead and Fingerbone, we move not within static visions of darkness in its most devastating forms—darkness as evil, sinister, corrupt, threatening, darkness as absence, emptiness, ignorance—but into a darkness that astonishes, that blinds with intense brightness. It’s an echo of the psalmist: “Darkness is as light to you” (139:12 NRSV). When Ames describes the decades he spent alone, his long night, he looks back and sees a miracle preparing. Darkness here is like that of a womb.
Watching the world from the dark, Robinson is driven to paradoxical utterances for reasons similar to those Rowan Williams describes in his sermon “A Ray of Darkness.” At its best, paradox does not mystify or evade speaking directly, he says, but acknowledges the way our language is “often lagging well behind the fluidity of the real world, with its subtle, rapid interactions and its puzzling quality.” Darkness here is fugitive, eluding our most careful attempts to describe it.
Consider the darkest room in all of Gilead: Jack’s barn loft. Endlessly alone, Jack grieves mistakes made long ago, his separateness from his siblings and parents, his estrangement from his beloved wife, Della. This loft is Jack’s pocket of life, filled with his fierce breath. A worn copy of Du Bois sits next to empty pint glasses, and the smell of whiskey lingers. In this already dark place, Robinson draws us deeper into the shadows: “There was a potency of loneliness about it like a dark spirit lurking in it, a soul that had improvised this crude tabernacle in place of other shelter, flesh.” Darkness here waits out of view, evading capture; it abides with Jack. It covers him, making a home for his loneliness.
Although this image is far from sinister, darkness cannot be emptied of its disturbing content. It cannot be sanitized or suffocated by our attempts to define it. It must remain wild, not as a careful invention, unless we are to perform the flipside of those devastating descriptions. Darkness on the page must remain fugitive, free to unsettle us toward more truthful utterances of ourselves and others. Ames’s long night may be like a life that prepares in a womb, but that life remains precarious. Lila may not stay in Gilead. Lila’s son may not survive his first year—“A wind could rise and take him from her arms.” It all remains painfully wild. Darkness abides with Jack, makes a home for him. But his grief and loneliness remain.
In the shadows, we find no stable way to safely utter our lives. And for Robinson, this is our moment of clarity. We cannot see ourselves, do not know ourselves, which is to say, we may for once see ourselves clearly. Opaque, we must depend on something other than our own resources. No longer can we make sense of our lives in isolation. At that moment of clear-eyed confusion, with no ground under our feet to establish ourselves at the center of our tiny narratives, we are suddenly apprehended in Robinson’s text. Here we are turned toward a particular dark. Left open-mouthed and open-handed, we are ready to receive whatever gifts this darkness may contain.
Robinson’s characters are echoes of Jesus alone with his grief in Gethsemane. We are drawn into the dark of the garden, facing the one bent over with tears. When Robinson wrote an essay on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s time in prison, she drew his life into God’s sorrow. “Watching with Christ from Gethsemane,” she wrote, “Bonhoeffer was trying to love the world.” Bonhoeffer’s loneliness, the baffling truth of his self, is also his confrontation with the one weeping with him in Gethsemane, the one who showed him how to watch the world.
And here I find Robinson’s most radical claim: these moments or decades when the world comes into view as something without safe ground, hurling us out of control; when loneliness confronts us as the inexpressible truth of our lives; when an elusive darkness haunts us as life we cannot possess, life making me a question to myself—these are the marks of God.
Back in Jack’s barn loft, we encounter a courageous response to being thrown into Robinson’s darkness: in the shadows of Jack’s loft, there is Glory, shaking next to her devastated brother, face buried in her hands. Contemplating her tears, I think of the desert fathers: one ascetic asked another, “How ought one live?” and the other replied, “Let weeping take root in you.”
The desert father’s words reverberate in Glory’s body. Her tears speak a judgment; they articulate the state of things. Look and listen to the weeping, the monk says, this is the way things are. Her weeping brings this devastating world into view. “I tell you my sad stories to see if they really are sad,” says Jack to Glory, “then the tears start,” and he knows.
What the desert father called weeping, Baldwin called trembling. In the bloody year of 1968, he addressed the World Council of Churches with a challenge no less pressing for us today. “If we have a future,” Baldwin admonished, “we must begin to tremble.” It is a call to spiritual daring, and it follows Baldwin’s haunting description of self-recognition: “If I deny what I know to be true,” that a person—human loveliness—is more important than anything else, then “I have begun the destruction of my own personality.” Baldwin draws his white listeners into the shadows, where facing ourselves happens inside our racial world, the only world we have. Tremble, Baldwin instructs, let your safe ground shake underneath you, and know this to be the truth of your life. Weep, says Glory. Let your life come into view through these knowing tears—this union of terror and hope cultivated through shaking, face buried in your hands. These voices bring into view a critical moment, one we might find ourselves in today, when the white American is only to learn how to weep and tremble, listening with terrified ears. It may be the only beginning of truthful words.
Glory and Baldwin’s challenge returns us to Morrison’s description of the dark scene of the not-me—that literary utterance of darkness Morrison describes as a profound and terrible meditation on the self. Against a carefully invented darkness, the American self knows itself not as enslaved but free; not damned but innocent; not dead but alive. The white me established against this black not-me is a vision of life that is produced by dealing death and the destruction of our own personality. Morrison wants the gaze to stay here, averted from the racial object to the racial subject—What has this devastation done to you, white reader?
And we see what we’ve always known: what fills the dark scene of the not-me turns out not to be an other at all but the projection of our own fears and anxieties. What has shaped this invented darkness is our rejected self, the self we’ve attempted to escape. Onto this “blank darkness,” we’ve extricated the deep terrors and unsettling truths we are unwilling and unable to face. In the carefully fabricated dark presence on the page—and here Glory’s tears begin to well up—we kill the self we do not want. We’ve glimpsed what frightens us—our inability to destroy the devastating myth of our identity, the personal incoherence waiting for us when we try, the illusion of a right side of whiteness—and we’ve unmade ourselves attempting to escape the horror. This is the white American self, unwilling and unable to weep at what we are. A vision of life maintained by a deep disorientation—what appears as life giving is death dealing; what appears hellish is in fact a glimpse of heaven. We no longer move generously toward ourselves; we hasten toward our own annihilation.
Facing this devastated self, Glory’s weeping continues to speak. She trembles, and her tears are a longing. They long for a way of life not built on dealing death, an ache that echoes in Robinson’s other characters. Lila longs for eternity, “where people’s lives could be altogether what they were and had been.” Goodness so understood desires the whole. Whatever we attempt to unmake, Lila seems to say, goodness longs to remake. In other words, she grants us no escape from ourselves. It is a terribly uncomfortable thought, that goodness lies not in the creation of a morally consistent self but in our ability to acknowledge and make room for our entire lives—all the inescapable tensions, the fragments. We are left with Glory’s tears, weeping at what we are, hoping grace will fall over us. We are swept up with Lila into her wild eternity, because she cannot bear to be without us. And we listen to Ruthie in Housekeeping, to her memories of sorrow, her longing for communion with others in a garden not of horror but rest. From the dark, these voices utter a hope always joined with terror—that prolonged sobbing may anticipate shouts of joy. Amid the devastation, their tears are traces of heaven.
Weeping and trembling, we watch the world through the welled-up eyes of the one bent over in the garden, where Jesus looks from dark Gethsemane toward the crucifixion. Alone, he looks toward the death of blood-soaked visions of life, the end of the self produced at the site of death. The end of unmaking ourselves. Darkness in Robinson’s text disturbs our attempts to possess our lives within devastating visions, hurling us into limbo. Robinson’s figurative language draws us into the glorious shadows, into the inescapable mystery of our wild selves, bursting with more life than we can bear. Here darkness abides with Jack’s grief, hears Glory’s weeping, draws Lila into its strange language, and whispers to us: “Live!” Darkness ablaze makes us strange to ourselves, because darkness, here, is the Lord.
 Robinson, Lila (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), 254; and Cole, “Seeing Blackness: The Vision of Roy DeCarava,” in The New York Times Magazine, February 22, 2015, 62.
 Robinson, Housekeeping (New York, NY: Picador, 1980), 99.
 Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 33.
 Ibid., 17, 38, and 38.
 Ibid., 38.
 James Baldwin wrote a similar warning to the white reader: “This is the place in which it seems to me most white Americans find themselves. Impaled. They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the personal incoherence” (Baldwin, “White Guilt,” in James Baldwin: Collected Essays [New York, NY: Literary Classics of the United States, 1998], 723).
 M. K. Chakrabarti, “An American Prophet,” Boston Review, September 2, 2005, http://www.bostonreview.net/chakrabarti-marilynne-robinson-gilead.
 Jess Row, “White Flights: American Fiction’s Racial Landscape,” Boston Review, August 05, 2013, http://bostonreview.net/us-fiction/white-flights.
 Hopper, “Marilynne Robinson in Montgomery,” Religion and Politics, http://religionandpolitics.org/2014/12/22/marilynne-robinson-in-montgomery/. Exemplifying the position that Robinson’s sentences get in the way of seeing political weakness in her fiction, Hopper writes: “I’ve barely quoted Robinson in this essay because I suspect that the sheer beauty of her words would overwhelm any criticism I could possibly make.” Commenting on the seriousness of Robinson’s novels, Hopper writes: “[Robinson] mourns the ethical declension that turned the multi-racial abolitionist outposts of the 1850s into the white sundown towns of the 1950s. She repeatedly shows us the traces of racial terror . . . the burning ember of black churches and the black flights through and from Gilead, from slavery days to Jim Crow. Race is likewise at the center of the novels’ plots and their family dramas.”
 Hopper also writes, “When I was re-reading Home recently I stumbled on a curious and troubling anachronism in the novel’s account of the Civil Rights Movement. In a dramatic passage, a TV broadcast of a brutal police crackdown on black protesters in Montgomery prompts a fraught racial conversation between Jack and his father and sister. The problem is that the events Robinson describes bear no resemblance to what actually happened in Montgomery in 1956.” Hopper’s eye is sharp, and I see no reason nor do I plan any attempt to explain away what she finds troubling. Elsewhere in “Marilynne Robinson in Montgomery,” Hopper also engages Toni Morrison’s essay collection Playing in the Dark, but she includes different sections than I specifically engage here. She sees Robinson as possibly illustrating Morrison’s critique of “the way black people ignite critical moments of discovery or change or emphasis in literature not written by them.” My attempt to let Hopper’s criticism stand is both an attempt to keep Robinson’s fiction open to contradiction and to make clear that my approach has a different entry point. That being said, my reading does, from my view, complicate Hopper’s essay. If Hopper, as she writes, truly sees Robinson’s historical imprecision as “potentially sinister,” I simply cannot see Robinson’s fiction the same way.
 Morrison, Playing in the Dark, 63.
 Hopper, “Marilynne Robinson in Montgomery”; ibid.; and Robinson, Gilead (New York, NY: Picador, 2004), 6.
 Williams, “Being Alone,” A Ray of Darkness: Sermons and Reflections (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 1995), 124
 One of Robinson’s most arresting fiction passages comes toward the end of Lila, while the expectant mother thinks about and speaks to the life growing in her womb: “You. What a strange word it is. She thought, I have never laid eyes on you. I am waiting for you. The old man prays for you. He almost can’t believe he has you to pray for. Both of us think about you the whole day long. If I die bearing you, or if you die when you are born, I will still be thinking, Who are you? And there will be only one answer out of all the people in the world, all the people there have ever been or will ever be” (Robinson, Lila, 243–244). Yet radical singularity, for Robinson, never escapes the social and historical conditions that make us possible. She wonders at the miraculous privilege of living with the mind, while acknowledging her mind as something shaped, given to her by other people.
 Hopper, “Marilynne Robinson in Montgomery”; and Dula, Cavell, Companionship, and Christian Theology (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 77.
 Kuo and Albert Wu, “Marilynne Robinson and the Miraculous Privilege of Existence,” Los Angeles Review of Books, May 22, 2012, https://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/marilynne-robinson-and-the-miraculous-privilege-of-existence.
 Baldwin, “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy,” in James Baldwin, 272.
 Robinson, Housekeeping, 99.
 Williams, “A Ray of Darkness,” in A Ray of Darkness (Cambridge, UK: Cowley, 1995), 99.
 Robinson, Home (New York, NY: Picador, 2008), 285.
 Robinson, Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (New York, NY: Picador, 1998), 118.
 Ward, Benedicta, ed., The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (New York, NY: Penguin, 2003), 6.
 I am thinking here of Paul Griffiths’s sections on lament in his book Decreation: The Last Things of All Creatures (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014). He writes: “Tears are knowledge-bearing judgments about the state of things.”
 Robinson, Home, 276.
 Baldwin, “White Racism or World Community,” in James Baldwin, 755.
 I am indebted here to a conversation with Nate Rauh, who suggested to me via Rowan Williams that silence is not merely the absence of speaking but the thoughtful beginning of words.
 Morrison, Playing in the Dark, 52 and 90. She writes: “My project is an effort to avert the critical gaze from the racial object to the racial subject; from the described and imagined to the describers and imaginers; from the serving to the served.”
 A chorus of voices has had an impact on this paragraph. I am thinking here of Peter Dula’s reading of Stanley Cavell in Cavell, Companionship, and Christian Theology. Most centrally, though, readers of Paul Griffiths will notice the influence of his most recent book, Decreation, which had a profound impact on me while writing this essay.
 Robinson, Housekeeping, 192.
 I am thinking here of Paul Griffiths’s section on lament in Decreation.
 Williams, “A Ray of Darkness,” 103. Here, Williams calls the crucifixion “our ultimate image of the strangeness of God.”
 Here, I have in mind lectures and class discussion in Dr. J. Kameron Carter’s Christology course, where we framed the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as “the death of death.” Dr. Carter excavates this christological imagination more deeply in his recent Bonhoeffer lecture, which can be viewed in full here: https://vimeo.com/113870189. Dr. Carter’s courses, along with Dr. Willie Jennings’s, continue to be crucial to my theological engagements with race and my attempts at self-confrontation as a white racial subject.
 I am grateful to Jared Brandon, Matt Elia, Justin Hubbard, Sean Larsen, Jon Nelson, Enuma Okora, Haley Schomburg, Zac Settle, and Isaac Villegas for offering their sharp observations, thoughtful criticism, and loving encouragement while reading drafts of my essay. I’m confident you’ve each made it better than I could have done on my own.
Scott Schomburg holds a master of divinity from Duke Divinity School and lives in Durham, North Carolina. His essay “The Enduring World of Dr. Schultz: Django Unchained, James Baldwin, and the Crisis of Whiteness” appeared in an earlier edition of The Other Journal.