After many brief searches in the last month and one concerted hour-long search this weekend, I finally gave up hope of ever finding my copy of Kenneth Burke’s The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology. Not exactly a heart-pounding title, but the book was central to my religious development from a lapsed Catholic to a faithful Orthodox Christian. I had read traditional introductory books to Orthodoxy by Kalistos Ware and Paul Evdokimov, but the Rhetoric of Religion was a rhetorical studies book, not religious in instruction at all. I’d owned it since a rhetoric class in college, when I’d just skimmed it as required reading. But three years later it became the linchpin to my conversion. I remember coming away from the religiously-disinterested Burke’s work thinking language, religious belief, and human nature were all wrapped up and that Burke’s study of the creation myth and the Fall were imperatives practically built into language, which happens to be a key component to Orthodox Christianity, that belief happens in the realm of language and that deification, to use a laden Orthodox term, happens as we accept that realm’s limitations.
My copy of the Rhetoric of Religion—the chapter on Genesis at least—had a lot of marginalia. It was a record of my thoughts at a key part of my life. Underlines, paragraph-length questions, long bars I use to highlight favorite passages, all of it unique to a week in my life in 2003. And now that I’ve lost the book, I’ve lost the record. I mourn it.
The only physical thing I can compare this to, the only thing that has that combination of other’s thoughts and one’s own time-sensitive interpretation, is the loss of a photograph. I’m reminded of my mother’s story about a roll of photos she took minutes after my birth. Taken minutes after labor, taken by my mother herself with the SLR that’s now mine years later, taken with me all gross and brand-new and not even whisked off yet to the nursery. . . .
The developer lost the roll. All twenty four pictures.
When she talks about this, my mother has this look on her face like she’s remembering someone who died too young, a mix of low-key anger and acceptance that memory is too frail, and would be even without the physical aid. That’s how I feel about my book. It might have been lost in my move last year. I might have accidentally put it in a box of books to give away. Who knows. My life will move forward identically as if it were still on my shelf. But I’d really rather have the book back.