The first three volumes of the C. Henry Smith Series dealt with postmodern theory, theology, and rhetorical philosophy. Volume 4 now ventures into new areas, with Fixing Tradition: Joseph W. Yoder, Amish American, Julia Kasdorfs literary biography of the author of the well-known (among Anabaptist-Mennonite or Amish readers) Rosanna of the Amish. Even though something like 425,000 volumes of Rosanna are in print, outside of his own family and circle of acquaintances Joseph W. Yoder has been virtually an unknown. Kasdorfs interesting book fills that void.
This story fits well the intent of the C. Henry Smith series to publish interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary scholarship for the service of the church. Kasdorf uses two kinds of data to recreate the life of Yoder: living memories and archival materials. She treats him as one of what James Loewen has called the "living dead"those who "still live in the memories of the living"as well as one of the "dead," namely an individual no longer known personally by any living person.1 The distinction is important because people who lived an experience can bring a kind of critique to an authors work that cold archival materials cannot. Readers will appreciate Kasdorfs sensitivity to the still-living witnesses and her skill in weaving together their memories and anecdotes about Yoder with very extensive data from archival sources.
Joseph W. Yoder was a "character," someone out of the norm, and Kasdorf does not present him as a model for emulation. However, her analysis of the tension in his life between identity with the Amish and with American society is thought-provoking for any experiencing the tension of being Christian in but not of the world. Kasdorfs scholarship is a model for studying such tension. And it does what good biography should doopens windows to wider worlds and experiences through the life of one person. Readers will, for example, not only experience Amish worlds but also catch fascinating glimpses of the now-expired bachelor society and world of manly men of the early twentieth century.
In terms of issues discussed in earlier volumes of the C. Henry Smith series, this is a postmodern book. Without celebrating relativism and pluralism, which we do not espouse in any case, it makes us aware again that there is no ultimately normative cultural mainstream and that each of us must reflect upon the multiple ways that the church chooses to give expression to the truth that is Jesus Christ. In particular, Yoders response to World War I raises questions are raised about willingness or ability to maintain a peace churchs commitment to nonviolence in the face of a desire to fit into the dominant culture.
Yoder wrote Rosanna, the work for which he is best known, when in retirement at age sixty-eight. Intending to correct blatantly false and stereotypical images of the Amish in some contemporary novels, he wrote to fixas in preservethe image of the Amish as he knew them. A lack of positive response to his efforts from the Amish provoked subsequent literary efforts, in which Yoder attempted to fixas in correct or reformthe Amish themselves. Kasdorfs captivating account develops the entire life of the man known beyond his immediate circle of acquaintances only for what he did in supposed retirement. After reading Fixing Tradition, those who have not yet encountered Rosanna will certainly be inspired to meet Rosanna and her boys, and those who have already read it will want to read it again, as a very different book.
Working with Julia on this volume has been a pleasure. I appreciate her willingness and thoroughness in responding to requests from the editor. It was a delight to share her enthusiasm at the discoveries and new interpretations that emerged in turning her dissertation into this book and in viewing the books illustrations with her for the first time. Readers will catch that enthusiasm as well. I am also grateful to Zachary J. Walton for his invaluable editorial assistance on this manuscript.
J. Denny Weaver, Editor
Fixing Tradition orders:
|Click here to explore joining InnerCircle readers club and receiving occasional updates and special discounts.|
© 2002 by Cascadia Pubilshing House (the new name of Pandora