The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
Kathryn Lofton of Yale University compares methods of Christian community (the “Bible context”) with methods Oprah Winfrey uses (the “Book Club context”) at the Conference for Christianity and Literature.
Photo credit: NATHAN SOSNOVSKE/The Falcon.
Winfrey brings redemption, Lofton says
By KALIE NELSON,
Published: May 30 2012
There is no separation of where you end and Oprah begins, said Kathryn Lofton said.
“Oprah is inside of you like mitochondria and all those toxins smothered in our drinking water,” she said.
Lofton, who spoke during a plenary session for this year’s Conference on Christianity and Literature hosted by Seattle Pacific last week, compared Oprah’s Book Club to a form of religion.
The title for this year’s conference was “Belief and Unbelief in Postmodern Literature.”
Spending much of her college years watching the Oprah Winfrey Show, Lofton took five years’ worth of notes of intellectual sayings and advice. During this time, she said, Oprah had become her intellectual playground.
“Let me put it this way,” Lofton said. “Oprah is your common sense. Oprah isn’t what you think of, since so many of you never think of her. She is how you think.”
Lofton continually referred to Oprah’s Book Club and the Protestant Reformation as two similar experiences.
“The point [of the Book Club] is not to share a close grid of impenetrable texts,” Lofton said. “Rather, the close readings of texts return women to an Oprah way of life.”
The Protestantism of the empire, Lofton said, can be seen all over by the ritual of confession that she demands from every speaker and the way that Winfrey almost requires her readers to reflect inward.
In an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show with James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, Winfrey praises Frey for his honesty about addiction and habits.
One week later, she brought him back on the show because she found out he had lied. The purpose was to indict him for his lies. Several years later, she invited him on the show again to offer a cross-redemption for herself, Lofton said.
“Oprah’s endless point is that the outside world is not the source of your redemption,” Lofton said. “Redemption is to be through your own labor and pain. She wants you to understand the level at which you are.”
Lofton feels that this reflects the process used in the 18th and 19th centuries, when evangelicals would do this to those who had done things against them.
Comparing the methods of textual communities in Christianity, Lofton also mentioned the methods used by Winfrey.
“The Bible became a site of debate in creativity,” she said. “In the American context, the question for church authority has been how to police the borders of textual communities.”
Lofton began to smile.
“In the Book Club context, Oprah constructs this territory of careful authority and sensible democracy,” she said. “Throughout the book-club conversation, Winfrey’s driving want is to create connection.”
The personalization and sense of identity that members of Oprah’s Book Club feel is what creates the textual community that Lofton refers to. The debate and discussion forms a bond between not only Winfrey and her readers, but her readers and each other as well.
“Reading the Oprah way is to read with the intent to solve the reader’s dilemma,” Lofton said. “In the empire of Oprah, the reader is always her, who ... is always you.”
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