Stanley Fish is doing our job for us over on the New York Times Online OpEd Section. Fish, an academic known for his postmodern literary criticism (think interpretive communities) and guest writer for the NYT, wrote a piece entitled Narrative and the Grace of God: The New ‘True Grit’ which sounds like something Nick Lannon would write about here at Mockingbird. Be Warned: Dr. Fish’s article contains spoilers though this post does not!


I haven’t seen the new Coen Brother’s movie yet, but rest assured that will be remedied in the next few days. Until then, I figured I’d post a few of Fish’s comments to hold us over:

“The springs of that universe are revealed to us by the narrator-heroine Mattie in words that appear both in Charles Portis’s novel and the two films, but with a difference. The words the book and films share are these: “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.” These two sentences suggest a world in which everything comes around, if not sooner then later. The accounting is strict; nothing is free, except the grace of God. But free can bear two readings — distributed freely, just come and pick it up; or distributed in a way that exhibits no discernible pattern. In one reading grace is given to anyone and everyone; in the other it is given only to those whom God chooses for reasons that remain mysterious…


…A third sentence, left out of the film but implied by its dramaturgy, tells us that the latter reading is the right one: You cannot earn that [grace] or deserve it.” In short, there is no relationship between the bestowing or withholding of grace and the actions of those to whom it is either accorded or denied. You can’t add up a person’s deeds — so many good one and so many bad ones — and on the basis of the column totals put him on the grace-receiving side (you can’t earn it); and you can’t reason from what happens to someone to how he stands in God’s eyes (you can’t deserve it).What this means is that there are two registers of existence: the worldly one in which rewards and punishment are meted out on the basis of what people visibly do; and another one, inaccessible to mortal vision, in which damnation and/or salvation are distributed, as far as we can see, randomly and even capriciously.”

I can’t wait to see what the Coen Brothers do with this world they’ve created: especially with this last line about random and capricious grace. If you’ve seen the movie, what did you think? Did Stanley Fish get it right? What are your thoughts?