The light of darkness
An interview with one of TWU's newest professors.
Jamie Hall walks to the front of the classroom, sits on her desk, and allows her legs to swing back and forth. She squints and tilts her head as she ponders a student’s input into the class discussion — a discussion on the theme of death.
“Throughout the semester you’ll notice that there is a dark side to me,” Hall said on the first day of class. “I like dark things.”
Where does this enjoyment of the gothic and grotesque come from, and how has this darkness affected her life and faith as a Christian? I held a personal interview with Hall to find out.
Interestingly, her love for teaching English literature stems from a deep admiration for her own English professor, Vic Cavalli, back when the roles were reversed and Hall was in a student desk of her own during her second year of undergrad studies at Trinity Western University.
During our informal interview held in Hall’s office on the TWU campus where she now teaches, Hall reminisces. “Cavalli rekindled my love for English literature and reading and inspired me to take some more courses.” Eventually, this rekindling of passion led Hall to switch her major from psychology to English literature. She graduated with her BA in 2006.
Her love for the darker aspects of literature, specifically the use of violence in the work of her favorite author, Flannery O’Connor, developed later on while acquiring her Master of Arts in Humanities degree at TWU in 2009. “O’Connor’s work was so different,” Hall says. “I was never quite able to forget it or move away from it. It has this indelible stamp on me.”
But Hall’s exploration of the darkness of English Literature is really a fascination with human nature. “I think I am fascinated with how humans express our fears,” she says. “How we contextualize them and express them and deal with them. And then another part of it is just we have these cultural norms and what do we do when people don’t fit them? I think for me it comes down to human nature.”
Her love for darkness expresses itself throughout the course material—Lovecraft, Poe, O’Connor, and Shelley. Through studying Frankenstein, Hall explores the idea of characters who do not fit the cultural norms. “How do we respond to that?” she says. “Well, there’s the side that responds with bullying and cultural pressure, and then there’s the side that explores it and figures out ‘why’ and just embraces it.”
Throughout all this darkness, however, Hall has found a light. By exploring the grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s work throughout the course Hall seeks to point out the strength of the faith of a woman whose life was so difficult to endure. “O’Connor is a shining example of the kind of faith that I want to have and I struggle to have,” Hall says. O’Connor’s work reflects what she believes to be true about the Christian walk.
“The relationship we have with God is not limited to these things that we put limits on,” she says. “Hazel Motes in Wise Blood, for example, the guy is nuts! He kills somebody, he walks with rocks in shoes — his reaction to belief and attempt to find belief are so ridiculous, and yet he commits to it. That’s not to say we can do whatever we want, but our relationship with God is what matters, not necessarily the human conditions and restrictions that we put on it.”
As Christians we don’t need to be sheltered from the darkness; rather we can glean from the darkness the emotional truths of human nature, the empathy we can use to help ourselves and others achieve wholeness despite our wounded, fallen state. By doing so we will learn to discern between the light and the dark. Instead of hiding from the darkness, let us strive to become lights in it.
Hall was able to glean the good from O’Connor’s work. “Every time I had a crisis of faith as a grad student,” she says, “O’Connor was there in the back of my mind saying ‘You can’t give up, because God’s not going to give up on you.’”