Sunday, June 12, 2005

Flapdoodle Freudian

A Book Review
Title: Sister Amiee
Author: Daniel Mark Epstein

This late afternoon, I was reading Daniel Mark Epstein's biography of Aimee Semple McPherson, entitled "Sister Aimee", published back in 1993 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, which I had checked out from the nearby library. (Yes, we are literate and have libraries here in Land-In-Between.) Epstein's biography appears to be well researched, and the book has an extensive bibliography. So far I don't have many complaints about the book, but it is clear that Epstein will interpret his materials within the framework of his secularistic categories of thought. That he does this wasn't at all surprising or unexpected for me. It's just that occasionally the results can get a little ludicrous. For example, after retelling McPherson's childhood account of her escaping a dangerous encounter with an irate bull, Epstein concludes by saying:
But we can read this story, with its vivid details — the girl in the white frock with red moons, the bucket of kindling, the polled bull — as an elegant and precise sexual allegory.
This is pish-posh. But I am sure the perverts editors at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich probably liked it for its quasi-freudian insight. But then again, probably not many editors in NYC have ever grown up on farms. Livestock can be a little dangerous to be around if they're in a surly or unhappy mood; even a seemingly docile cow can throw around many hundredweight's worth of mass, enough to break some bones if you happen to be in the way, and therefore you always have to be careful around livestock. All this is just a simple everyday fact of farming life — Aimee grew up on a farm in Canada — and people who've lived on farms can tell many stories about farming life. And I guess modern biographers in turn will never fail to dream up flapdoodle freudian interpretations for these stories. But inspite of Epstein's occasional flights of inventiveness, he does keep the narrative mostly on course.

I understand of course Epstein's predicament as a biographer. He doesn't have any personal faith in the Gospel — at least none that can be discerned in his book — and furthermore, to get his book even published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, he necessarily has to approach his subject — the life of a flamboyant woman evangelist who was very emphatically a believer — purely from the viewpoint of a contemporary secularism that is acceptable to the educated elites, the foundation of this secularism being its unspoken confidence in its own intellectual superiority to xtians such as Aimee. Yet, even though Epstein confidently supposes he can always explain Aimee better than herself, there are some aspects of her life that necessarily will remain completely and forever opaque to him. And, of course, if Aimee were still around today, she herself would probably disagree with many of Epstein's interpretations of what was happening in her own life, maybe going as far as to denounce them vigorously. Nevertheless, Aimee is such a fascinating personality that, in various places in Epstein's book, she somehow still manages to explain herself fairly well, even stealing the show from her own biographer, despite his best attempts to do the explaining for her.

I've always wanted to read a complete biography on Aimee Semple McPherson, especially considering that she has had, howbeit remotely, a great influence on my life. On several occasions, many years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Angelus Temple, back in SoCal, but that is a long story. Anyhow, I did take a peek at the ending of the Epstein's biography where I found out that Aimee had died on September 27th, 1944, from an accidental overdose of a prescribed sleeping medication.