The Manchester Literature Festival Blog
Review: The Gaeia Manchester Sermon with Audrey Niffenegger
Festival Blogger Fran Slater gets religion after hearing author Audrey Niffenegger’s Manchester Sermon…
The Manchester Sermon has now become a kind of centrepiece to the Manchester Literature Festival, so it’s inevitable that each one will draw comparisons to its predecessors. After Lionel Shriver’s ‘anti-sermon’ last year, we faced a more gentle approach from Audrey Niffenegger, the author of The Time Traveller’s Wife. It’s interesting, though, that both authors followed the introductions from reverends and the hymns from the church choir with a kind of rally against religion. Although last year’s was more vociferous, Niffenegger’s suggestion of an alternative to religion was no less clear.
Niffenegger believes in the Church of the Funnies.
Brought up as a church-goer, she began to have doubts in her early teens when read in the Bible about the ban on graven images. Around her she saw crucifixes, statues, and stained glass windows with depictions of religious scenes. She struggled to see how these fit in with the instruction that had caused those first seeds of doubt.
Because, even at such a young age, she was already devoted to art. And as her doubts grew, the Church of the Funnies started to form in her mind. It was something more inclusive than religion, something that you could be a part of while you looked at a picture in a museum, or while you sat at a desk writing your 1000 page masterpiece. Anyone with an interest in the arts was a member of the Church of the Funnies.
It’s an interesting concept, and certainly one that appeals more to me than any other religion I’ve come across. And in many ways, it makes sense. If you spend your days writing or reading, painting or looking at pictures, is that really very different to worship?
So even if this was a softer approach than Shriver’s, it suggested something a lot more powerful. Artists of any kind will know how isolating their work can be, so it’s appealing to think that there are many others out there who you can claim as your community. When applying for art school, Niffenegger told the judging panel that she wanted to be an ‘art nun.’ That she would devote her life to the arts. I, for one, would like to join her.
Fran Slater is a Manchester-based writer and editor who is currently taking far too long to finish his first novel. Read his fiction, reviews, and poor attempts at blogging here.