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'What These Cryptic Symbols Mean': Quotation, Allusion, and John Darnielle's Biblical Interpretation

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The Mountain Goats' repertoire of biblically-themed songs displays a salutary resistance to oversimplifying dichotomies. Their catalogue defies the imperative to fit into the "Christian rock"-vs.- mainstream "secular rock" market niches while at the same time it does not fit conveniently into the biblical-critical world's fascination with characterising certain interpretive methods as "legitimate" and others as "illegitimate." The Mountain Goats' songs don't challenge these dichotomies head-on, but they demonstrate the allusive richness available to an interpreter freed from rigid obeisance to these idols of the market and the library. Whereas in many popular interpretations, the Bible figures as an oracular repository of sacred law, or as a textbook of science and metaphysics, or a sourcebook for general spirituality, the Mountain Goats' biblical songs draw on the Bible as an all-too-human expression of how the world is (and will be), even when the appearances suggest otherwise. In cultivating a wide range of songs that reflects the Bible's characteristic underdetermination, the Mountain Goats make the moral and theological ambivalence of the Bible audible again without resolving that ambivalence into consoling or deplorable platitudes, theological dogmas or historical facts.

Affiliations: 1: University of Glasgow


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