An analogy for the “unanticipated career” of books

Martin E. Marty develops a clever analogy for the “unanticipated career” of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison:

The improbable reception and expansion of influence into what should have been resistant settings puzzled and, it must be said, often nettled Eberhard Bethge. Diplomatically friendly though he was to East German ventures, he was also clearly anxious when, looking over his own left shoulder, he saw how the life of the book was progressing in what he called “communist countries antagonistic to the West.” Bethge soon learned what many an author and publisher has found: launch a book just as you conceive and give birth to a child and you cannot control all aspects of its or her destiny. As parent, midwife, or teacher, you can do much to nurture and influence the child and will certainly interpret her ways as she begins to make the first tentative and often confusing steps in the larger world. Still, every parent has to know that accidental and contingent events can disrupt the patterns of nurture and throw the offspring off course or, at least, into a very different and unanticipated career. The child will be subjected to all kings of influences over which her elders have little control, among them those of friends in adolescence, professors in college, comrades in the military, tempters of some sorts, and ideologues of others. Bonhoeffer through his career and in the letters gave no hint that he was or would be seen as revolutionary or that he could be coopted and claimed by radicals.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography (Princeton)


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