Saturday, December 31, 2005
(2:49 PM) | Dominic:
Thought Experiment"A Freudian slip is when you say one thing and mean your mother"
Interesting report here from the MLA:
When Darwin Meets Dickens
This paper in particular sounded intriguing:
The second paper, by Auburn's Donald R. Wehrs, argued that infantile sexual experiences based around either the satisfaction of basic wants by mothers or proximity to maternal figures grounded the metaphors used by various philosophers of religious experience. Drawing on work that argues that consciousness emerges from the body's monitoring itself in relation to objects outside of it, Wehrs sketched a metaphoric continuum of images of religious fulfillment with St. Augustine at one end and Emmanuel Levinas on the other; he also briefly located the preacher Jonathan Edwards and Ralph Waldo Emerson on the continuum too. As Hart the respondent noted, Wehrs showed that there's "an emotional underwebbing to the history of ideas." That is, a set of diverse philosophers expressed a "common cognitive ground rooted in infantile erotic experience rather than practical reasoning."
Augustine, says Wehrs, conflates the divine and human and locates the origin of love and religious ecstasy with the stilling of appetite or desire. In essence, peace is understood as the absence of bad appetites, which accords with one basic infantile erotic or physical response to wants. Levinas, on the other hand, also draws on infantile experience but focuses not on ingestion but on proximity to the mother. Both of these reactions are basic cognitive realities that all humans experience as infants; together, they create a range of possible metaphors that recur in religious discussions. On the one hand, Augustine talks of being one with God (and the mother), of an inviolate bond that shows up in somewhat attenuated form in Jonathan Edward's imagery of being penetrated by God. On the other, Levinas stresses proximity to the Other, which mirrors infantile cognitive experience of closeness with the mother. This understanding, he said, is also reflected in Emerson's metaphors of resting and laying in Nature.
So, the thought experiment indicated by my title: whenever you see the word "other" in some philosophical context, prepend a letter "m". For "Other", substitute "Mother". In how many cases does illumination follow?
(11:47 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Year-End Top Five
This is not a meme intended to measure one's cultural consumption for the past year. It is an exercise that I am undertaking, simply for my own edification and reflection, which anyone may choose to undertake at their own sole discretion. None of these categories necessarily refers to items that first came into existence in 2005, but rather to items that became most important to me in 2005.
or, Ceci n'est pas une « meme »
Defining Albums of 2005:
- Iron & Wine, The Creek Drank the Cradle
- Regina Spektor, Soviet Kitsch
- Andrew Bird, Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs
- Cat Power, You Are Free
- Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (yes, still)
Favorite Books Read for the First Time in 2005:
- Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains
- Origen, First Principles
- Jacques Lacan, Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse
- Giorgio Agamben, The Man Without Content
- Pierre Bourdieu, L'ontologie politique de Martin Heidegger
I guess one could do TV shows and movies, too, but I hardly ever go to the movies anymore, because (somewhat bizarrely) I get motion sickness very easily. I was somewhat shocked that it took me so long to come up with a list of books, but that's mainly because this year was made up of a lot of retreads, plus the translation project and the task of picking up German both seriously cut into my reading time. This was the first year of this century during which I did not read any book by Zizek.
One would expect my thought patterns to focus primarily on the school year, but the fact that I moved to Chicago early last January makes the calendar year a much more vivid indicator. Similarly, the year before, Richard and Kari moved out around Christmas time, and the year before that, Richard and I moved into the Bresee Ave. Bordello in February. I'm keeping up a pretty solid pattern of moving only during the dead of winter, preferably when it's incredibly icy out. (At one point during my move with Anthony and Hayley, I suddenly fell flat of my ass from a standing position, due to some very serious ice. The move before that, my truck, parked on the street, was randomly rear-ended due to icy road conditions.) Thankfully, the next time I move it will most likely be in the middle of a crippling heat wave.
Were this a meme, it would be the suckiest meme of 2005. I'm glad it's not a meme.
Friday, December 30, 2005
(3:27 PM) | Dave Belcher:
Christmas in Paris
As many of you know, my mom and brother are in Burkina Faso (Northwestern Africa) for the year. Ougadougou Unviersity gave my mom a Christmas break, and since Paris is the only place she could fly to directly from Burkina, she decided to fly her family--including Jodi, Samuel, and I--to Paris for Christmas.
Though I only have a low-level reading proficiency of French, have never had a class in French, and can't speak it very well at all, I was doing about as well or better than the rest of my family while there; so, you can imagine that it was somewhat difficult communicating. This was probably the only thing I didn't like about our trip: even when I would say something in French to someone that was correct, and French (and I can at least say this comparatively, based on hearing other French people saying these fucking words), they still looked at me as though I had dropped in from some other planet, and would say, "Pardon?" Towards the end of our trip, I discovered myself saying things like, "I can't wait to get back to the States where I can actually speak with people in English." Many people have said the same thing about the French: they are very exclusivist, they refuse to allow anyone to speak their language who is not French, they are stuck up, etc. I found that this is true of some people--definitely true. However, there were many very kind people that were just as nervous when I would ask (only by necessity, as any other stupid fucking American who doesn't know more than their own language and maybe Spanish would), "Parlez vous Anglais?" Regardless, I feel I did pretty well given the language barrier.
I won't go into detail about the whole trip...just one point for now. Notre Dame was a real let down...especially compared to the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. We were at the Notre Dame on Christmas Eve and there was a service happening...they had a jumbotron outside the front for all of the visitors who didn't actually (or perhaps couldn't fit?) want to go inside the church. It was much different, but it felt sort of like a Benny Hinn crusade--in one sense at least. On the inside there people EVERYWHERE, and people were flashing pics all over the place (despite the signs which said NO FLASH), and being loud.
The Sacre Coeur felt different, however. Positioned at the top of a large hill overlooking Montmartre--and I suppose all of Paris--the arabesque shape of this basilica gave an aura of mystery not captured in the Notre Dame. Of course there were people everywhere here too, but inside the church, people were ushered along to keep people flowing in and out (except for those who wanted to actually sit reverently), and there were...I don't know, I suppose you'd call them security guards requesting quiet--by Shhshing--from those who got too noisy--and thus disrespectful of the mystery contained therein. Furthermore, the inner half-dome (not the main central one, but the one over the altar) contained a mosaic of the Christ with the sacred, burning, golden heart which is quite stunning and awe-inspiring at first sight.
So, if you visit Paris anytime soon, look at pictures of Notre Dame, glance at it as you go to the Saint Chapelle, but make sure you make the hike up Montmartre and spend some time at the Sacre Coeur.
In between our Christmas eve and two-days-after-Christmas visits to the Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur, we were able to see the Eiffel Tower (on Christmas night...it was packed and FREEZING), the Louvre (well, some of it at least...for Jodi and me, we saw the Greek, Roman, and Etruscan sculptures, as well as the medieval paintings), much of the Latin Quarter (don't visit Shakespeare and Co. bookstore...it was a huge let-down), the Pompidou museum of Modern Art, the Musee d'Orsay, and my brothers went under the city into the Catacombs. It was a great time, and went by too fast...but at the same time, we had almost too much time, and it's good to be home. It will be nice to visit again someday...perhaps in another life, cause Jodi and I will probably be broke the rest of this one!
(9:16 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: And so this is New Year's
I confess that I derive a certain satisfaction from the thought that a likely origin of the use of "Happy Holidays" as a late-December greeting seems to be the desire to refer to both Christmas and New Year's.
I confess that when I read 9/11 "conspiracy theory" type of stuff (i.e., that the US government had a direct hand in some of the destruction and allowed some of the rest to happen), I find it to be really plausible and I am filled with despair. I confess that it's pretty cool that a theologian, David Griffin, has written two books on the subject.
I confess that it's beginning to look as though the tasks I have set myself for January might be physically impossible to achieve in one month, to wit:
- Finish the Nancy part of my Agamben/Nancy study
- Read The Parallax View (of which I have already received an advance copy) and write two reviews
- Start learning Latin
- Work kind of a lot
- Revise and send off my paper for the Nietzsche/Kierkegaard class -- that also involves sitting down among the journals for a few hours to see which ones would be appropriate venues for the kind of work I'm doing.
And now, at this solemn time of year, we turn and reflect on our failings and vices. In the discarded calendar we see a potent symbol of the self we have been, and in the fresh calendar placed upon the wall we see the potential of what we could be. It is fitting, then, that we make resolutions, because even if we fail to fulfill the particular resolution we have made, our resolve in itself testifies to the ever-present possibility of change -- and our failure to live up to the resolution testifies to the unpredictable nature of such change. Calling to mind all of this, I hereby make a proper and holy New Year's Resolution: In 2006, I shall gain a reading knowledge of Latin.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
(12:51 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
An Open Letter to Eric SantnerProf. Santner,
If you could offer a course on either Benjamin, Kafka, or both next academic year, that would be very convenient for me.
Chicago Theological Seminary
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
(12:47 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Potential for Future Damage: Fatherly Reflections, pt. 2 of 2In my previous unpopular post on this topic, I reflected on the themes and patterns that struck or surprised me in my reading of selected church fathers over the past six months. This time, I will take up a two-pronged approach to possible venues for further research, first thinking in terms of other texts I might need to peruse, then turning toward topics from my current reading that I might address in further detail.
I'd like to do at least some reading in mystical theology, starting probably with Pseudo-Dionysius or with Gregory of Nyssa's "Life of Moses" (which I didn't "officially" read as part of my study, though I have it checked out from the library). I noticed the privileging of mysticism in Athanasius and the Cappadocians, and while it would be interesting to ask about historical causes of how that came about at that particular time, it would also be interesting to see how a privileging of mysticism changes theological method -- does the mystic simply have a trump card, or are they still trying to form convincing arguments? Where is the continuity and where is the change? Where does the cross fit in? Since I like to make semi-arbitrary connections: Does later mystical theology cohere with Badiou's reading of how Paul treats privileged mystical knowledge?
In more general terms, I'd like to read some of the figures who came between the Cappadocians and Augustine, as well as some figures I passed over, such as Tertullian. One person who seemed to be held in especially high esteem by all these people (at least those who came after him) was Gregory Thamaturgus, so I'd like to see what the big deal is -- though I suspect that I won't "get it." I also feel as though I would need to plow through Plato and Philo if I were to do anything really serious with Origen or any of the other Alexandrians -- possibly even some of the neo-Platonists as well. (That might wind up creating a bridge to Agamben as well.)
One potential avenue of deeper research would be an attempt at understanding theological anthropology in terms of animal and angel, as I have already discussed somewhat. The thing about drawing a parallel to computer technology in the present day or of bringing it into really detailed conversation with Agamben's work in The Open may or may not turn out to be a productive road to go down. I've probably more thoroughly documented the animal references in the works I've read than, say, the Christological arguments. Another possible venue for research is Basil's reference to the Holy Spirit as a kind of location (based on the use of the preposition "in" with reference to the Spirit). As far as I saw, it didn't come up anywhere else, and I'd like to take a closer look at what he's getting at there. Again, some potential reference to contemporary philosophy is always going to cross my mind, so some work with this and (Derrida's) "khora" might be interesting.
Another potential thread to pick up would be the references to Indian religion, which I first really noticed in Clement but which extends through Athanasius. I would envision a way of broadening the Derridean project of mining the Abrahamic religions to show the ways in which an infinite qualitative distinction between the far and near east (which later becomes east and west) will not stand up. Obviously Origen, with his idea of transmigration of souls, would be a starting point here, but it could potentially branch out to a much broader perspective. I don't know if I would ever really be competent to follow this up, however, without devoting my entire career to it (which I am at all not perpared to do), or else finding some Sanskrit scholar to collaborate with.
Some type of serious work with Origen would be great -- possibly a study of his theory of the soul and of Gregory of Nyssa's critique and reworking of that theory. I'd also be interested to study the relationship between free will and random chance in Origen's thought, together with the implications of the finitude of God in the First Principles. A study beginning with a comparison of Origen's metaphor of each successive world as pouring out a bag of grain and Nietzsche's image of the dice throw could possibly be productive. Generally, a kind of "materialist reading" of Origen, at least of his (basically unique) treatment of miracles as indifferent in terms of evidence for the gospel, might be interesting. I had a fantasy of doing a series of books treating various church fathers simply as thinkers, rather than as potential theological authorities, focusing on what these thinkers found to be important rather than with what later orthodoxy found to be important, and Origen's ambiguous status as church father and heretic would make him an obvious starting point. (Once I'd done all the church fathers, I'd move on to the American founding fathers. Hopefully that would give me enough to do, because I'm drawing a blank in terms of another group of thinkers normally called "fathers.")
I would also like to do some work with Irenaeus, particularly his recapitulatory Christology. I'm sure that it's "been done," but I would personally just like to gain a deeper understanding. A more general study of the persistence of the ransom theory of the atonement might also be fun -- just like with allegorical reading, I was predisposed to find the theory ridiculous (penal-substitutionary all the way! YEAH!), but there were a lot of creative reworkings of the ransom theme, especially in Gregory of Nyssa's catechism.
To do all this, I need to learn Latin and Greek eventually, at least well enough to fake it using facing-page translations and what have you. I'm going to begin work on Latin very soon -- potentially even tonight, after work -- but I have a feeling that it's going to be more difficult and frustrating than German was, and then that Greek will be even worse. At the same time, what's the point of doing a PhD if not to use it as a pretext to pick up language skills that I probably won't be able to justify taking the time for later on in life?
Next semester, I press on toward Augustine, in a course on his Trinity team-taught by David Tracy and Jean-Luc Marion. After that, hopefully some medieval stuff, then maybe even a little Aquinas. I suppose that eventually one must do the Reformers, too -- but can't I just skip from Aquinas to Barth? Or Hegel?
(9:04 AM) | John Emerson:
Nine Theses for the MLA Convention
so I thought I'd give them some wise (albeit unsolicited) counsel.
1. Literary works and scholarly works can have a political-ethical intention or not. Either way is OK. If there is a political-ethical intent, often the real effect of the work conflicts with the intent -- all human action is like that. But closing off options is bad.
2. Any work can be analyzed either as autonomous object, or in relation to a larger whole of which it is part, or in terms of the components comprising it. Everything is potentially related to everything else.
3. All scholars have agendas. These need not be explicit. Having an agenda, even quite an odd one, is in no way disqualifying, but no one needs to take anyone else’s agenda seriously. (An inexplicit agenda is not a “hidden agenda” except in rare cases where nefarious intent can be shown).
4. All scholarship is caveat emptor. Scholars should be aware that readers have the right to mock or ignore them. Readers should be aware that scholars might be just plain silly.
5. Criticism is a worthwhile activity but not really a very important or authoritative one. But among the ways people have of enjoying life, reading literature is one of the finest. It’s good to enjoy life.
6. Because criticism is not important or authoritative, even though it has its value, pluralism is fine. It’s not like medicine, where a non-standard treatment might kill people.
7. Attempts to define criticism by limitation, and to make these definitions authoritative, usually can be traced to old-boy networks trying to guarantee jobs for their students. Since literary scholarship has been defined as a productive job, and since high-level scholars get paid real money, it couldn’t be any other way. Within the bureaucratized university, putatively objective criteria have to be given for hiring, firing, and promotion, so methodologization and paradigmatization were inevitable.
8. What is inevitable is not necessarily good, and the methodologization, etc., of literary studies is really the shitty colonization of an ultimate value or form of play by instrumental, productive, positivist, and bureaucratic forms of organization.
9. Deal with it, sucker.
Blogger is being an asshole again, so: http://www.idiocentrism.com
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
(1:55 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Assessing the Damage: Fatherly Reflections, pt. 1 of 2It has been suggested that in the wake of my recently completed directed study of selected church fathers, I should write out some reflections, perhaps even as a blog post. I've decided it would probably work best as a two-part post -- the first dealing with themes that struck me as especially prominent or surprising and the second dealing with avenues for further study (either in terms of writing up something over the material I've already read, or else continuing into new areas). For review, the following are the figures under consideration:
- The Apostolic Fathers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, et al.)
- Justin Martyr
- Clement of Alexandria
- Gregory of Nazianzus
- Gregory of Nyssa
At the same time, it was amazing how much wasn't in place -- basically, how weird a lot of this stuff was. Barnabas and Hermas stand out as the most bizarre, the former for the almost ridiculous lengths to which allegorical reading is taken, and the second in basically every respect. I'll be honest and say that I didn't understand Hermas at all, except for the most basic aspects of the text (which I arguably knew beforehand -- such as claiming there is one possibility of further forgiveness after baptism). Thus I was surprised by the extent to which the Alexandrians in particular held Hermas in such high esteem -- and I wondered what Christian history might have looked like if it had made it into the canon. The allegorical readings were particularly strong in Alexandria, and though it seemed to me as if Origen was more restrained than some others, that may just be because I only read his commentary on Romans, rather than on a narrative or legal text (thus, to preview the next installment, I'd like to read his commentaries on John and Leviticus). What began to scare me was the way in which I was getting used to the allegorical reading -- we moderns are taught that the allegorical method consisted of the following steps:
- Pick a point you want to prove
- Pick a random text out of the Bible
- Craft the least convincing possible argument to support the connection between that text and your preconceived idea
Related to this kind of Platonic reading of the Scriptures, I was surprised by the prestige of the Septuagint (LXX) in early Christianity. My days of reading Catholic apologetics had acquainted me with the use of the LXX as the origin of the "extra" books of the Old Testament in Catholic Bibles, but in the early years in particular, there was an attitude that if the Hebrew text conflicted with the LXX, so much the worse for the Hebrew. The legend of the translation of the LXX was repeated by Justin Martyr and others, giving the LXX the aura of divine inspiration, but there was also such a conviction that the Old Testament was obviously all about Christ that any counter-evidence was taken to be a deliberate falsification by the Jews. In the early years, of course, such argumentation cannot be taken to be strictly anti-Semitic, given the indistinct boundaries between Judaism and Christianity -- but it does become quite disturbing in its prevalence over the years, particularly in the accusations that some heretics are "Judaizing." Origen even says that the Jews contemporary with him would have crucified Christ just as readily as the generation contemporary with Christ, and other similar things -- at the same time as he defends Judaism against a common enemy in Against Celsus. And to bring this paragraph back into focus, even though Origen went to the trouble of learning some Hebrew and of juxtaposing the Hebrew text with various Greek translations in his critical edition of the Old Testament, the goal was ultimately to establish the authentic text of the Septuagint.
I was struck by the sheer genius of Origen and in fact read substantially more of his works than of anyone else's. His First Principles, though far from flawless, is an incredibly rich work of both philosophy and theology -- and one could view the reception of Origen's work as a kind of turning point in theology, whereby creative theological work is more and more entrusted to churchmen. The catechetical school in Alexandria was, for whatever reason, ultimately an unsustainable model, but it was an attractive one -- one sees in Clement's writings a distinctly philosophical Christianity, in the ancient sense in which philosophy would imply a particular mode of life as well as speculative thought. This more philosophical as opposed to priestly mode of Christianity seems to have had more of a place for women, as well -- Origen, in his capacity as head of the school, was supposed to have castrated himself precisely so that there could be no objection to his teaching women.
The shift from Origen to Athanasius was particularly stark, in that on the one hand you have an audacious speculative thinker and near-obsessive scholar of scripture, and on the other hand you have a capable propagandist who makes the most of his own "martyr" and outcast status in the context of imperial politics. Athanasius was largely as I had expected him to be, with the exception of the double work Against the Heathens/On the Incarnation, where we get some hint of what Athanasius might have produed had he not been constrained by the Arian controversy. The stark distinction between polemical and creative works was particularly striking in the latter half of my study, although it was present to some degree in the early works as well. The ways in which these thinkers would soften and complicate their positions when they were outside the context of church controversy was interesting and ultimately led me to go easier on them in their polemical works.
At first, I felt as though there was some seriously dishonest arguing going on -- and I'm still not convinced that it was appropriate to cast inaccurate beliefs about God as a specifically moral failing -- but by and large, I came to see what their real concern was in such superficially outrageous statements as accusing the Arians of giving in to philosophical speculation (even while the Nicene camp was crafting the idea of the Trinity, one of the most intricate intellectual structures in the history of humanity). Gregory of Nyssa's creative works seemed to me to be the most helpful in terms of understanding what was really at stake -- whereas the heresies tended to follow out the logical consequences of the various terms at play ("Why, if we're talking about an ousia, then that must mean this...."), Gregory and the orthodox more generally refused to let the terms dominate what they were supposed to be pointing toward. That is, if we are dealing with something that is properly inexpressible, then it represents a major misunderstanding to think that the terms used somehow introduce constraints on God -- for instance, claiming that if God is "one," then the Son can't also be God, because then it wouldn't fit what we mean by "one." Although one might wish that the orthodox had been less assholish, I do find orthodoxy to be the most convincing available account of God's work in Christ and (paradoxically, perhaps) the humblest theological method, at least as compared with the heresies under consideration thus far. (If I'd read further, then maybe I would have found Nestorianism hugely convincing or something -- who knows?)
Finally, I was struck by the extent to which so many of these thinkers were arguing based on commonly held ideas -- for good and for ill. I could wish that some of the Platonic assumptions about the nature of God and of the soul had been less firmly held, but I found the idea that one could come to find the Trinity or the incarnation to be rational very appealling, as well as the deemphasis on Scriptural authority as such. Some have faulted these thinkers for not really being concerned with what the Bible really means, but they never seemed to think of themselves as simply repeating the Biblical arguments or as elaborating "biblical concepts." I don't think that the encounter between Christianity and philosophy -- or the idea of Christianity as (the best) philosophy, as even someone as late as Gregory of Nazianzus seemed to hold -- was primarily a negative one, and in fact, I'm not sure how it could have been avoided. Even the prestige of mysticism in the later writings (such as the importance of Paul's vision, etc.) seems to grow out of, rather than contradict, the philosophical inheritance of Christian theology.
Overall, I feel like this exercise has rescued me somewhat from my tendencies toward a "Rousseauism of Christianity" -- that is, it doesn't strike me that anyone really ended up "selling out" in particular. Even the least appealling texts in this study took me by surprise -- for instance, both Barnabas and Justin Martyr with their emphasis on economic justice, even in the midst of their unfortunate polemics against the Jews. If I had time, I would read (almost) every one of these texts again, and then some. (I'd skim Justin Martyr -- sorry, Doug.) Hopefully I will eventually gain the language skills necessary to do some useful research in these texts, but I already feel like this exercise has benefited me precisely insofar as I intend never to be a historian of doctrine, but instead -- shall we say -- a "contemporary" "theologian." In fact, on a purely personal level, I was struck, going over my notes, by the connections I was drawing between my other research and these thinkers, during an approximate six-month period in which I was reading a lot of different things at different times, and none of them struck me as stretching in retrospect.
The next installment will deal with some potential future avenues for research, from the perspective of "world enough and time."
(9:04 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: MorningI hate waking up in the morning. I hate how I get pissed off about very minor things right when I wake up. I hate being asked questions right when I wake up. I hate how quick I am to perceive things as personal insults in the morning.
I hate that my neck hurts, as do my wrists and fingers -- and the latter is particularly annoying as I have basically just taken three days off from typing, except for one blog post.
I hate that I'm going to sound ungrateful for this: I hate when I am specifically asked for a Christmas list and get only one item that I asked for. That one item was, however, a winter coat, which my parents had previously suggested I should just buy for myself, because I'm apparently so hard to buy clothing for, and then they'd reimburse me -- yet when someone is asking for a very basic item for Christmas, isn't the encoded message "I cannot afford to buy this very basic item for myself"? (Apparently they decoded it.)
I hate how many wet spots I have stepped in this morning, in all different parts of the house.
UPDATE: Don't be a bad person. Show some Tuesday Love as well.
Monday, December 26, 2005
(12:10 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Holiday Love MemeScott Eric Kaufman has memed me based on a post in which he is given holiday love -- but I must be honest and say that I don't know exactly what the meme is. If it's the ten blogs I read most regularly, then I'd have to say (in no particular order)
- Bitch PhD
- Crooked Timber
- Long Sunday
- The McElroy Family Experience
- The Valve
- Le Colonel Chabert (assuming that we can count my readership of Alphonse van Worden on the Colonel's scorecard)
- wood s lot
- Political Theory
I don't know that any of those blogs particularly inspire me to keep blogging, and certainly none of them got me started in the blogging business -- the majority of them are younger than my blog (including Crooked Timber, though by only a matter of days), and I didn't discover the others until long after I developed a crippling blogging habit. No, I cut my teeth reading Tom Tomorrow, whose blog I only discovered through the link on his comics in Salon every week. Out of the blogs that I used to read most back then, Matt Yglesias is the only one I still read at all regularly, and that's still not very regularly.
I'm glad for all the friends I've made through blogging, and my reading habits now mainly reflect that, rather than a fantasy of one day "going mainstream." Long Sunday of course represents a whole broad circle of friends, whose participation in various conversations and particularly in the Agamben reading group has been much appreciated. I would also like to thank all of my co-bloggers, particularly Doug Johnson, who has performed admirably as the designated Thursday sub, as well as Brad Johnson and Anthony Smith (at least before he took his indefinite hiatus for mental health reasons). I'm glad that John Emerson was able to settle in temporarily here, and I hope he won't be too disinclined to continue to post once in a while now that his blog is back up to full power. I had hoped to make The Weblog a group blog from close to the very beginning, but I feel like it's only been within the last year that the group aspect has been very stable, so I'm glad for that.
I feel like I'm becoming an old hand at blogging at this point -- and an old hand at writing blog posts where I'm glad that the year is over. I don't want to write that again this year, but it really is the case. I have some hope that next year I won't have to write that -- a lot of fresh prospects, a lot of potential for productive renewal of old ones. So we'll see.
How does this meme work, then?
Friday, December 23, 2005
(10:46 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: And so this is Christmas
I confess that I slept in again and that the Confessional is likely to continue to be posted later now that I'm working from 4-10pm. I confess that I had way too much coffee yesterday.
I confess that I'm looking forward to leaving tomorrow morning specifically because I know all the roads will be basically empty, and it's a lot of fun to drive in Chicago when there's no traffic whatsoever.
I confess that Hayley has become a gift-making dynamo in the last couple days -- pillows, blankets, homemade soap, homemade marshmallows. It is a sight to behold.
I confess that next week might be a lot of Church Fathers blogging, because I've been assigned to do a wrap-up reflection on the whole process, and I'll probably just spread it out over several blog posts.
Have a happy holiday everyone. No blogging this weekend from me, not that you'd probably be checking anyway.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
(3:21 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Intelligent Design? An Analysis of KitzmillerMy first thought on seeing Berube's immediate jubilant reaction to yesterday's decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District was to think 'yeah, but won't it just be overturned?'. The opinion, as Berube's long quotes generously demonstrate, is something of a rhetorical tour de force. Eventually I couldn't resist and took a look at the 100+ pp. document myself (though I can't seem to link to it this morning without damned explorer shutting down on me). After perusing the document I was quite impressed. A legal juggernaut as well. For instance, even though Jones had already found that teaching ID violated the first prong of the Lemon test (and was thus unconstitutional), he went on to analyze whether it met the second prong, which observers had claimed would be the more interesting question. (See the Wikipedia article for a brief summary of the Lemon case and its three pronged test). In any event, the particular case almost certainly won't be directly overturned because there is no one left to appeal it after the eight Dover board members who passed the policy were thrown out on their asses by Pennsylvania voters.
However, the issue ain't going away as there are court cases being pursued in several other states including Georgia. Eventually the Constitutionality of teaching ID will come before the Supreme Court. That august body has, after all, arrogated to itself the right to have the final word on every important domestic issue (and a great many foreign ones as well). And here's the rub: while Jones' decision is thorough, brilliantly crafted, and entertainingly worded, it is a decision that doesn't sufficiently deal with the drift of the current Court. The last time the Surpreme Court dealt with creationism substantially was in a 1987 Louisiana case, a ruling to which Judge Jones refers quite frequently. Jones' decision would be impeccable were the Court the same today as it was from the early 70's (when the Lemon standard was first promulgated) until 1992 when a significant challenge to the Lemon test was brought by George I's administration in Lee v. Weismann (a school prayer case).
The Lemon test had long been used to strike down almost any government policy or action that could be construed as non-secular. In 1992 conservatives were confident that with two newly Bush appointed Justices, they could start to take back the country for Jesus. Souter, however, surprised them and, with Sandra Day, joined a thin 5-4 majority in upholding Lemon. The minority opinion suggested that the Court overturn Lemon in favor of a position much closer to Michael McConnell's religious neutrality principle. And while Lemon held the day in 1992, the Court has since beat a steady path toward full acceptance of neutrality rather than secularlism as the standard.
The last Supreme Court case dealing squarely with religious issues came in 2000 in Mitchell v. Helms which ruled in favor of allowing states to loan neutral, non-ideological educational material and equipment to private, religious schools. Significantly the decision was 6-3, rather than a standard 5-4, with Stephen Breyer joining O'Connor, Kennedy, Scalia, Rhenquist, and Thomas. And that wasn't the first time neutrality was used as the primary standard. In Agostini v. Felton (standard 5-4) 1997 the Court upheld a law that included provisions for public school teachers to tutor in private, religious schools. What's more Souter's 1994 opinion in Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School v. Grumet made extensive use of the neutrality principle as did a unanimous 1993 decision in Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District. Another unanimous 1993 decision heavily freighted with neutrality rhetoric (Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah) declared unconstitutional a Florida law banning animal sacrifice - yeah animal sacrifice!
In short, while Jones' opinion in Kitzmiller has made immediate waves, it is unlikely to stand the test of time. Under the Lemon test, the case was surely decided rightly. The Dover board in no way had a secular purpose in requiring Intelligent Design teaching. But Lemon is for all intents and purposes dead. The Supreme Court upheld it in 1992, but has since heavily favored neutrality language (one could say that the second prong of Lemon is becoming king at the expense of the first prong). Will Kitzmiller stand up to analysis solely in terms of neutrality? Absolutely not. In fact, neutrality standards will shift the weight of the law against evolution-only teaching. McConnell's neutrality test demands that the government not show an inclination toward any particular religion or toward secularism.
As such, where IDers have been put in the dubious position of having to argue that ID serves a secular purpose, those opposed to ID will soon be in the awkward position of having to argue that evolution is in no way hostile to religion. Otherwise, a court could find that teaching only evolution puts the state into a position of hostility instead of neutrality with respect to religion. In such a situation, my friends, the question of whether or not ID is Science would become legally irrelevant.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
(11:17 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Animal and AngelAgamben's premise in The Open may be inadequate. I came to this realization through my reading of the early Christian literature, where a kind of theological anthropology is played out in the tension among animals, humans, and angels. In the modern world, the parallel structure is given away in the term Agamben uses to discuss the production of the human out of the distinction between human and animal: the "anthropological machine."
Arguably, the replacement for angels today would be robots. I use the term robots primarily to highlight the parallel -- the robots that come to mind when one says robots really do not exist yet, and even though the church fathers believed angels were real, they had never seen one. More mundanely, one might say that the replacement for angels is the computer in general. For instance, think of the Turing test -- couldn't that be construed as a sort of negative test for finding what is distinctively human? The analogy of the computer with human cognition became popular, as far as I can tell, even before computers were widespread -- certainly before the advent of the PC. Although admittedly Agamben is primarily working with early modern to early 20th century sources, which might render the computer thing less obvious, even at that time there was some real anxiety at the thought of a literal "anthropological machine" if this post is to be believed.
This whole thing might make a decent dissertation -- but I claim the right of first refusal, you plagiarizing bastards.
(9:37 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Christmas Cheer (with apologies to Adam Robinson)Sufjan Stevens' multi-volume Christmas compilation, Hark!, is pretty good if you're into that kind of thing. Even the original songs are good, reflecting Sufjan's gift for carefully calibrated sentimentality. In short, every song on there is better than Eddie Vedder's Christmas song and Billy Corgan's Christmas song put together.
This year I have had the singular privilege of hardly ever hearing any Christmas music other than by my own choice. (There was a brief period in the Border's coffee shop -- again, apologies to everyone -- with The Girl where it was kind of touch and go, but I made it through that alright.) This stands in sharp contrast to the last three years, where I was subjected to The Worst Christmas Music Satellite Channel Ever at the chiropractor's office. That was where I heard Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan, for instance. I also heard the Dixie Chicks' immortal classic "E-mail Santa" at least twice a day, together with all eight versions of Jingle Bells. Probably my favorite, however, were the Robert Goulet songs -- his renditions of the classic Christmas favorites was nothing short of extraordinary. At one point I decided to hit up every used record store in Kankakeeland[*] looking for a copy of his album, but then the mail came and I had to process some insurance payments or something, so I forgot about it.
Now I'm back on the data entry grindstone, and I've got to tell you -- it's much more satisfying to be putting payments on people's accounts and making sure everything balances out than it is to copy over the information from a Sunday newspaper ad into a database so that people can click on the damn ad and see... exactly what was on the ad. Apparently one can also compile a shopping list from across retailers, so you can print off your page for when you pick up the 2/$5 Planters Cashews from CVS and whatever else. Thanks to me, the cause of bargain shopping is advancing by leaps and bounds. If I ever go on The Price is Right, I'm going to kick some serious ass.
The main thing is that they pay me. I've been very satisfied with that aspect of the job so far. The last few years, Christmas has been tight for me -- for a variety of mysterious reasons [**], my efforts at budgeting prove to be ineffective, and the little bit of student loan money I get at the beginning of every semester is used up by then. One year around Christmas time, for instance, Richard and Kari moved out. They graciously left me a lot of crucial items, but I got home from work one night to find that I didn't have a garbage can, or a pasta strainer, or a can opener -- and that's only the beginning. Christmas was great that year, a kind of consolation prize for the wedding shower -- I got a microwave and coffee maker and toaster. I also took a couch back with me, one of the Victorian ones, to declare my independence from the Country Living hegemony.
Now Hayley started a subscription to Country Living. Out of respect for privacy concerns, I won't reveal the exact details, but discussions with my sister have confirmed my suspicions that Hayley and my mom have very similar personalities.
My mom, aunt, and grandma owned a store called The Country Way that sold country furniture and decorations. They would go to the conventions, often taking me and my sister along, and tour other stores in the area -- never once did they cede even an inch to tackiness, an ever-present temptation in country-style decoration. A friend once arrived in my house and announced that it looked like a Bob Evans, but that only reflects an insufficiently developed sense of taste.[†] At his house, I doubt there was all-new furniture every year, and I seriously doubt that it was all rearranged once a month. They had to shut the store down, around 1991 or 92 if I remember correctly -- during the first Bush recession. Maybe if they'd stuck it out a year or two more, they could have cashed in on the 90's boom, serving the furniture and decorating needs of the sprawling subdivisions that are still springing up around the home town. But on the other hand, those are exactly the kind of people who would prefer to drive a half hour out to the commercial center of Genesee County -- not located at a city center or traditional downtown (like where The Country Way had been located, for instance), but at the intersection of I-69 and I-75/US-23.
When I had to get household products, I went to Target. Once, I decided at 11:00pm on a Sunday that I needed to get a new phone, and I went and did it, right then -- K-mart, open 24 hours. Convenient, comfortable.
In the long run, not having obligations toward the store freed my mom to go to college without overly alienating my grandma and aunt. She just finished her first semester as a teacher -- English and Social Studies at a middle school[††]. Her students think she's hilarious, which is true. If you ever visit my family, be prepared: the hegemonic sense of humor is just like me. My sister is just like me, and we're both just like my mom. It's this sarcastic, biting thing that is hard for some people to get used to. We all try to facilitate the process by taking a full-immersion approach -- already when I first meet someone, I'm saying stuff I don't really mean and expecting them to get it. But we're a lot of fun. When people from CTS met my parents briefly, they said that it didn't make sense, that there was no way I was raised by them -- but it makes perfect sense, the most sense possible.
*No human being has ever uttered the word "Kankakeeland" sincerely. Formed by analogy with "Chicagoland," this word is only ever used in advertising, and like its etymological parent, it is never used by anyone who actually lives in Chicago. The same could be said for the word "Chicagoan," which according to the OED has only ever appeared in car commercials.
**Some scholars hypothesize that at least some of my budgeting problems might stem from the fact that the greatest academic bookstore on earth is located in the basement of the seminary I attend and an excellent used bookstore is conveniently situated between the seminary and the bus stop. More recently, some have begun to investigate the impact of foreign-language book-buying -- for instance, how urgent is it, really, that I have the major works of Jean-Luc Nancy, in the original, on hand at all times? (Mondialisation is great, though, and untranslated so far.)
†It may sound like I'm being sarcastic here, but I'm not -- on its own terms, my mom's (and aunt and grandma's) approach to home furnishing has been flawlessly executed.
††Possibly a junior high -- I'll have to confirm that when I go home.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
(9:35 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
AusnehmezustandI'd be surprised if Congress knew that they were suspending the constitution when authorizing the President to use force to defeat al-Qaeda:
President Bush and two of his most senior aides argued Monday that the highly classified program to spy on suspected members of terrorist groups in the United States grew out of the president's constitutional authority and a 2001 Congressional resolution that authorized him to use all necessary force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.My question -- if Iraq is a seamless part of the War on Terror, why did he need to go get authorization from Congress separately?
I'd imagine that the motivation in the back of the mind of at least some members of Congress was that Bush was obviously going to invade Iraq regardless, and if we had to have a war, they didn't want to see what would happen if the war was obviously illegitimate.
(1:17 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: Hudson's Adventure IslandI hate that I was never able to complete Hudson's Adventure Island, even when I used the full force of an emulator's cheat features. I also hate that I never beat Zelda II, because the save game battery actually wore out before I got to the end -- which means, obviously, that I suck. I hate how sucky the computer opponents on Windows Hearts are in retrospect, and how much more pathetic that renders all the time I spent procrastinating by playing Hearts, just starting over again and again hoping for that one time that I could win by shooting the moon four hands in a row.
[UPDATE: Has anyone ever heard of this Carl Schmitt guy? I read a post about him and wanted to learn more.]
I hate carpal tunnel syndrome, which I probably don't technically have -- yet.
I hate that this one weekend of intense labor showed how long ago I could have been done with this whole church fathers directed study.
I hate a lot of petty things about work, particularly software-related issues, but all work-related issues, particularly the degree of boredom involved, are properly unspeakable. I hate how much of my emotional health apparently depends on having a job, no matter how boring and odd it might be.
I hate sentimental platitudes. I hate advice that has to do with altering my inner dispositions. I hate overblown romantic rhetoric.
I'll just say it: I hate the holiday season. January 2 will be a good day for me. I'm not good at receiving gifts -- any time I'm expected to feel a certain way and then convey those feelings to others, I just lock up. I slept through the bulk of the only really good New Year's party I've ever attended. All the good memories of getting cool stuff or whatever -- yeah, great, awesome, I've lived a really privileged life in that respect. I really just wish I had someone I could take home to meet my family, in addition to the Hickory Farms sampler pack, Game Boy game, etc.
I guess it's not too late -- any of my esteemed female readers want to volunteer? Or does anyone know the number of a reputable escort service with reasonable rates?
[UPDATE: You should all be making a trip over to the Tuesday Love to balance things out. It's been going on for months, but I'm just now linking to it because I'm a bad friend.]
Monday, December 19, 2005
(2:13 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
An Open Letter to Gmail's Spam FilterDear Mr. Spam Filter,
Work, damn you! Work!
Chicago Theological Seminary
(11:57 AM) | John Emerson:
Idiocentrism back up and runningOver the last few months, while I've been posting here now and then, my own site (Idiocentrism) has been down. But I've got it up and going again.
Featured today is my best statement yet about education and the humanities. Unlike most of my earlier pieces, it isn't just grumbling, but expresses a positive vision: the unprofessional, decadent scholarship of Les érudits maudits (by analogy with les poètes maudits).
But it probably won't actually cheer anyone up very much.
(9:20 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Carman: Musical TerroristLast night Anthony had a friend over who brought some old Christian music videos he had found. There was a DC Talk one (from before they went with the lowercase "dc"), which was annoying and naive without being really offensive -- even when Toby Mack dedicated the song that goes "Some people have to learn the hard way" to the prison audience they were playing for, one thought, "What a dumbass" rather than "What an asshole." They were basically just well-groomed celebrity airheads -- one could take this as the point where Christian music had truly gotten the imitation thing "down," on an almost ontological level.
What was offensive were the Carman videos. There were several highlights. Probably the best was when he gave his personal testimony of feeling the Lord wanted more from him: "Was I going to be a Christian musician, or a musical terrorist?" The second was evidently going to be a step up in terms of devotion. (Admittedly, this was back in the early 90s, before we all knew that terrorism was bad -- 9/11 changed everything, etc.) After deciding, apparently, to be a "musical terrorist," he cut to a live performance of the deeply personal song that came out of that spiritual journey, introducing it with some probing questions: "How many of you love the Lord? How many of you want to give your all to him?" (Here Anthony interjected: "How many of you want to strap a bomb to your chest and rush into an abortion clinic?")
Carman felt a special burden on his heart for America. The sad thing was that he apparently had nearly constant paranoid delusions, such that he wouldn't recognize the real America if he saw it. For instance, even in the worst inner-city school, I'm pretty sure that murder and rape aren't "the rule." I remember crying myself to sleep the night before my first day of high school, which would have been when Carman's career was at its peak -- I'm sure that this vision of America's high schools as a haven of violence was a big part of my anxiety, which turned out to be totally unfounded. He had a big emphasis on prayer in schools, even claiming that the Kennedy assassination was punishment for abolishing the practice. A "hedge of protection" fell when we -- everyone say it with me -- kicked God out of our schools. The Supreme Court banned God, and God had no choice but to comply! We can hope for a reversal of the court decision, but until then, God's hands are tied -- his omnipresence no longer includes American classrooms, and the evil secularists have insulated the walls with prayer-blocking materials, such that if a student tries to pray, the signal will never make it to heaven. What a weak, petty God Carman must worship.
There was also the charming moment when Carman derides the PDA taking place in our nation's schools, then cuts to a scene of a black guy making out with a white girl. The situation is rectified in the course of the video -- after the Christians (led by Carman and Petra's John Schlitt) forcibly take over the school, there is a scene of inter-racial Bible study. Much hilarity ensued as we clever disaffected evangelicals riffed on Carman's suggestion that Bibles should be passed out instead of condoms.
I'm also pretty sure that the Founding Fathers weren't also the founders of the Christian religion -- which is the impression that one would get based on the complete lack of references to the Bible (that is, the words contained in the Bible, rather than using a physical Bible as a magic charm) or Christian history (aside from a bizarrely distorted vision of the Inquisition wherein an expectant martyr suddenly "turns the tables" on his captors and starts kicking some serious ass!). There are denunciations of the religious apartheid against Christians -- in the same video that includes the inter-racial make-out scene as an example of what's wrong with this nation -- and declarations that the secularists have had their turn and have nearly destroyed the country. "It's our turn now!"
They ended up having to wait about eight years, through the nightmarish peace and prosperity of the Clinton years -- but boy, was it worth the wait! An uncontrollable debt load, financed by foreign bankers; a needless war, sold to us by lies; torture as a regular practice of our military and intelligence services, and as a major topic of informed debate in the mainstream media; a growing gap between rich and poor -- I'm so fucking glad that those evil secularists aren't in charge any more.
I can't believe I was subjected to this shit. It's unimaginably embarrassing that, whether I ever "believed" it or not, I used to be willing to spout this kind of stupid shit. That's what it is, just stupid -- this idea that a bunch of Enlightenment deists were charismatic Christians, this idea that our schools are "war zones," this idea that everything was good in the 1950s (including, apparently, racial segregation, though we can't come right out and say it), this idea that Christians are a persecuted group. It is stupid shit. And it's uniquely American.
The 1800s at least got something interesting like Mormonism, with a whole new Scripture and an attempt at a whole new social structure to go with it -- we get this as our own little home-grown brand of Christianity. This historical parallel does give us some hope -- perhaps the generic church-growth style Evangelicals will be satisfied if we just give them Colorado.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
(8:06 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!They'd better show the new Family Guy in its entirety after Bush is done shitting out of his mouth.
UPDATE: A quote from the local Fox News broadcast: "Military doctors amputated her legs, but no one could amputate her spirit."
I totally think we can beat these guys.
UPDATE (2): For those who were worried, they did show a new episode of Family Guy, after the rerun of every speech Bush has given in the past couple years.
(12:35 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Sunday Church Fathers BloggingIf one were to rank the church fathers I have read by "coolness," I think one would end up with a list something like this:
Gregory of Nyssa (tie)
- Clement of Alexandria
I still haven't read nearly all of what's available, however. This study has only taken me up to the end of Arianism -- there's all that delightful parsing out of the relation between the human and the divine in Christ that I haven't yet touched on, really. Those controversies always struck me as the most boring -- probably because these supposedly vile heresies keep looking more and more like orthodoxy. It was a lot more interesting back in the days when heretics were coming up with some seriously off-the-wall shit, like Gnosticism. We need to get back to that. Perhaps we at The Weblog could start a radical new heresy, if we haven't already.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
(4:42 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Ticking Timebomb ScenarioWe're all familiar with the "ticking timebomb" argument in favor of torture:
We might be faced with a terrorist who knew the location of a nuclear device that was about to go off and not have enough time to get the information out of him using non-coersive means. In this case, every decent human being would be willing to torture this person in order to prevent the deaths of millions of innocent people. Therefore, the government should be given broad discretion to use torture in a wide variety of situations.The last part is a logical leap, to be sure, but it seems to be an argument that a lot of people find very compelling, probably because it sounds very tough and realistic.
I was thinking, though -- when would this situation come up? (This has been discussed in detail on many blogs, and I apologize to everyone, such as Belle Waring, for not linking to those posts.) It would have to be a situation in which the government knew for a fact that the terrorist knew where the bomb was and that we would be able to extract the information from him in time, though only through the use of torture. Clearly, the only way this could ever happen in real life would be if the government put him up to it in the first place. That is, they track down some Islamic extremist, somehow psychologically profile him so that they know that he won't cave under normal interrogation methods but will "break" relatively quickly if tortured, and they send some government agents disguised as terrorists to give him a bomb and tell him to hide it somewhere in Los Angeles or wherever and set it to go off at a certain time. Track him up until like an hour before the thing's going to go off, then capture him, torture him, and collect the bomb (which, just to be safe, doesn't even have to be real). A glorious pronouncement by Alberto Gonzalez, talk show appearances for the brave agents who weren't afraid to torture, perhaps we'll even get lucky and some fringe Senator will want to have these guys put on trial so that the usual suspects can grandstand -- the whole media package can be arranged.
Suddenly, it's no longer a hypothetical situation -- this really happened! And all these hand-wringing liberals are trying to hold back the government from doing what it needs to do to prevent nuclear apocalypse, etc. They don't understand what we're dealing with here!
No, they really don't.
(1:37 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Housesitting for MarxTo follow up on my post At Marx's House, last night I read a paragraph in Nancy in which he contrasted what is the case chez Marx and what is the case pour nous -- I looked it up in the dictionary, and it said that pour in that case meant something like "as for us," apparently emphasizing the contrast (I immediately thought of the Bible verse where Joshua says, "As for me and my house...," but in the two French translations I can easily find online, they do not use pour in that verse -- of course, this whole exercise is of limited usefulness given the existence of a third language in this particular transaction). So all this to say: Richard G, perhaps the French really do use pour like we use "for" to refer to something like "in an author's work." Perhaps someone better educated than me can help us out in this regard.
I was thinking of extending this "at Marx's house" metaphor to the phenomenon of the "introduction." Those of us who have housesat or babysat are familiar with the rapid-fire series of disembodied "tips" that the homeowners usually rattle off just before leaving -- "Oh, and the cat is really evil so just leave him alone;" "The toilet is kind of tricky so make sure to hold down the handle;" etc., etc. I personally always hate these kinds of things, just like I would hate the advice from older students in orientation sessions in school -- always pronounced from on high, always incomprehensible outside of the situation. It occurs to me that the "introduction" to a book, especially when written by someone other than the author, is similarly incomprehensible, making sense only in retrospect, once one has hung out in Marx's house for a while. It's just like the housesitting situation, except in this case the rapid-fire advice is, "Oh, and make sure to watch out for Hegel's influence on Marx," or something like that. The process of hearing the incomprehensible advice may be annoying, and in the course of the experience itself, the advice will either make sense or not -- and yet wouldn't it be inhospitable to give no advice at all?
Friday, December 16, 2005
(10:58 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Koufax AwardsSince I'm just getting home from work at 10:45 on a Friday night, I decided it would be best to go all the way with the dorkiness and nominate people for the fourth-annual Koufax Awards. I will gladly share my nominations and encourage you to make your own.
wood s lot
Amish Lovelock -- I love all my commenters, but Amish is operating on another plane entirely
The Poor Man
BEST NEW BLOG:
Le Colonel Chabert -- who is totally the kind of person they had in mind for "left" blog awards
The Truth Will Set You Free by Adam Kotsko
It's like voting for Nader. Since I'm scared to do that in real life, I'm doing it now, for the blog awards. (That's why I didn't nominate Bitch PhD -- she's "establishment" now. Hopefully few of you are familiar enough with the world of blogging to see which nomination up there represents significant hypocrisy on this front.)
But really, I sincerely think that in a just world, Language Hat would be considered the best possible blog. The rest of us are just playing games, poorly.
(10:50 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: TV Movie
I confess that I slept in as a result of a rearguard effort to maintain some sort of social life despite working from 4:00 to 10:00pm. I confess that I'd be willing to change to something like 2:00 to 8:00pm if need be, or even like 9:00am to 3:00pm. I confess that I'm looking forward to spending the entire weekend doing nothing but reading Gregory of Nyssa, because then I will be done with this patristics directed study that I started in June.
I confess that getting out of the house on a daily basis has done me a world of good. I confess that I was a little worried when my direct deposit, which is supposed to happen at midnight Thursday, wasn't there at 2:00am, but it's there now, so I'm completely fine and calm. Totally calm. I confess that I'm looking forward to shifting around my bookshelves to fit in some new purchases and even to paying bills, because I, you know, can. I confess that I have pretty well absorbed what I take to be the Pauline and general New Testament advice to submit to the governing authorities in the hopes that they will leave me alone.
I confess that I have stopped following the news from Iraq, having done the math and determined that no matter what happens, it will still be a complete clusterfuck. I confess that I have decided that in discussions with conservatives, I will counter their claims of Gore's wimpiness, in the counterfactual situation in which this country's electoral system had not been made a mockery of, by claiming that if Gore had been president, 9/11 wouldn't have happened in the first place, because Gore actually cares about real life and about getting things done.
Not that he's all our hopes and dreams embodied, of course, but anything's better than the worst-case scenario we're currently living through.
I confess that I might as well just post this now.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
(1:42 PM) | Brad:
Out of Love
When you've submitted your thesis, and you're in that in-between state just before the examinatory eschaton, and you're a lazy piece of crap like me, you often don't know how to fill your days. Online poker and porn get old, after all. So, you read. Sometimes you read something you've been meaning to read for some time (i.e., Theology and the Political); sometimes you re-read something (i.e., Hans Urs von Balthasar's dissertation on Schelling); sometimes you grab something at random (i.e., Jason Wirth's The Conspiracy of Life); and other times you're looking for a specific passage to get you through the day, hour, moment. Today was such a day for the latter.
My selection today was the English translation of Patrick Süskind's modern classic, Perfume. If you've not read it, shame! More to the point, though, if you've not yet read it but intend on doing so, you may wish to skip all that follows. Why? Because I'm set to give away the ending. I think it may do us all well. Enjoy.
He walked across the Pont-Neuf to the right bank, and then down to Les Halles and the Cimetière des Innocentes. He sat down in the arcades of the charnel house bordering the rue aux Fes. Before him lay the cemetary grounds like cratered battlefield, burrowed and ditched and trenched with graves, sown with skulls and bones, not a tree, bush or blade of grass, a garbage dump of death.
Not a soul was to be seen. The stench of corpses was so heavy that even the grave-diggers had retreated. Only after the sun had gone down did they come out again to scoop out holes for the dead by torchlight until late into the night.
But then after midnight -- the grave-diggers had left by then -- the place came alive with all sorts of riff-raff: thieves, murderers, cut-throats, whores, deserters, young desperadoes [ed. Sounds a bit like the fair community we have here]. A small campfire was lit for cooking and in the hope of masking the stench.
When Grenouille came out of the arcades and mixed in with these people, they at first took no notice of him. He was able to walk up to the fire unchallenged, as if he were one of them. That later helped confirm the view that they must have been dealing with a ghost or an angel or some other supernatural being. Because normally they were very touchy about the approach of any stranger.
The little man in the blue frock coat, however, had suddenly simply been there, as if he had sprouted out of the ground, and he had had a little bottle in his hand that he unstoppered. That was the first thing that any of them could recall: that he had stook there and unstoppered a bottle. And then he had sprinkled himself all over with the contents of the bottle and all at once he had been bathed in beauty like blazing fire.
For a moment they fell back in awe and pure amazement. But in the same instant they sensed their falling back was more like preparing for a running start, that their awe was turning to desire, their amazement to rapture. They felt themselves drawn to this angel of a man. A frenzied, alluring force came from him, a rip-tide no human could have resisted, all the less because no human would have wanted to resist it, for what the tide was pulling under and dragging away was the human will itself: straight to him.
They had formed a circle around him, twenty, thirty people, and their circle grew smaller and smaller. Soon the circle could not contain them all, they began to push, to shove, and to elbow, each of them trying to be closest to the centre.
And then all at once the last inhibition collapsed within them, and the circle collapsed with it. They lunged at the angel, pounced on him, threw him to the ground. Each of them wanted to touch him, wanted to have a piece of him, a feather, a bit of plumage, a spark from that wonderful fire. They tore away his clothes, his hair, his skin from his body, they plucked him, they drove their claws and teeth into his flesh, they attacked him like hyenas.
But the human body is tough and not easily devoured, even horses have great difficulty accomplishing it. And so the flash of knives soon followed, thrusting and slicing, and then the swish of axes and cleavers aimed at the joints, hacking and crushing the bones. In very short order, the angel was divided into thirty pieces, and every animal in the pack snatched a piece of itself, and then, driven by voluptuous lust, dropped back to devour it. A half-hour later, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille had disappeared utterly from the earth. When the cannibals found their way back together after disposing of their meal, no one said a word. Someone would belch a bit, or spit out a fragment of bone, or softly smach his tongue, or kick a leftover shred of blue frock into the flames. They were all a little embarrassed and afraid to look at one another. They had all, whether man or woman, committed a murder or some other despicable crime at one time or another. But to eat a human being? They would never, so they thought, have been capable of anything that horrible. And they were amazed that it had been so very easy for them and that, embarrassed as they were, they did not feel the tiniest twinge of conscience. On the contrary! Though the meal lay rather heavy on their stomachs, their hearts were definitely light. All of a sudden there were delightful, bright flutterings in their dark souls. And on their faces was a delicate, virginal glow of happiness. Perhaps that was why they were shy about looking up and gazing into one another's eyes.
When they finally did dare it, at first with stolen glances and then candid ones, they had to smile. They were uncommonly proud. For the first time they had done something out of Love.
(10:50 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
At Marx's HouseIn French, the preposition chez can mean, among other things, "at a person's house" and "in a person's work" -- so if, say, Engels were to say a sentence in French starting with Chez Marx..., he could potentially be saying something roughly equivalent to when we English-speaking academics say, "For Marx, [some particular thing is true about the world]," or else wanting to tell someone about this really comfortable chair at Marx's house.
I find this overlap amusing for some reason, and I think it's actually appropriate. To combine both meanings, we might end up saying, "If you're ever over at Marx's place and really make yourself at home, this is how the world will seem to be." It's similar to Zizek's use of "Lacanese" or "Hegelese" -- as though these thinkers' ways of thinking and speaking were the official language of a foreign country, which in a certain sense, they are. The locative meaning is also fitting for Derrida, who might be something of a presumptuous guest in the various philosophers' houses, rooting through their medicine cabinets and underwear drawers.
(9:26 AM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Typologies of Early Christian Ultimate AllegianceFollowing up on a comment I left under Adam's post below on Litigious Bloggers:
A paper I wrote awhile back sparked an interest in obedience and allegiance, especially in early Christian communities. As I like to tell the story, Obedience and Allegience are inseperable. Paul's suspension of the law - and of course I mean suspension very intentionally -for missionary purposes opened up a pandora's box with respect to whom or what ultimate obedience was owed in place of Torah. Before Paul, pious people of God took it as axiomatic that a conflict between the Torah and any other authority gave cause for disobedience to the lesser authority. Ultimately, the complicated relationship between medeival church and state basically eliminated all answers that didn't run through the bishopric or the state sovereign. As has been noted, biblical authority was often appealed to against the king and church in the period intervening Nicaea and the Reformation. However, for a century and a half or more there were a plethora of options (with everyone agreeing that obedience was owed, to whom or what is the question). To name a dozen or so:
-words of Jesus
-pattern of Jesus death
-state (only mentioned negatively)
-Scripture (somewhat different than just Torah, could include some early N.T. writings?)
-Holy Spirit (often undefined what that would mean)
-charismatic authority (closely related to previous option)
-subjection based upon gifts of the spirit
-direct obedience to God
(12:02 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Repeated StoriesI really hate it when I tell someone the same story twice. This is probably because of the really exaggerating ribbing my dad would get whenever he, being a fallible human being, told a story twice. Just tonight, I told a story for the second time to someone I've only known a short while -- on my own score card, a rather inexcusable mistake.
It occurred to me: Why not set up a database? Under the entry for every person in my life, I could list the stories I've told. I could set it up so that it beamed a message to my cell phone, giving me a list of all available stories for that person. Once I've told them all to someone, I marry that person.
Then I realized that the blog ruins everything. It's always awkward to meet someone who has been a long-time reader of the blog, because I don't know what to talk about -- it feels like they already know everything. But even worse -- when someone in the biosphere reads the blog without my knowing it. I assume that all blog material is available for use on all biospheric residents with no obvious blog-reading habit, but then I end up repeating myself in such a way that even a database couldn't prevent the error.
But if I were to do the database, the first "story" entry would be for the story about how I hate to repeat stories, because I tell that one to everyone.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
(2:26 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
An Open Letter to Salon.comDear Salon.com,
Maybe I would be more willing to sit through your stupid "day pass" if you took me directly to the article I was trying to get to in the first place, rather than dumping me on the front page.
Chicago Theological Seminary
(10:41 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Lawsuits Among BloggersLast night, I was discussing one of the most recent cases of a threatened lawsuit against a blogger. Some have already remarked on the fact that such a threat, in the context of a normal conversation, raises the stakes in a disproportionate way, but in thinking further, I decided that bringing in the agency of the state is always implicitly a threat of violence. The state is defined by its monopoly on violence (and in the modern world, it would seem, only by that monopoly), and once all the appeals are exhausted, the losing party of the lawsuit has to either comply with the decision of the state or face some sort of punishment under the law.
It would seem to be this violent aspect of the suit that most appeals to those filing them, because a simple glance at the history of civil lawsuits in America shows us that the intervention of the state does not always guarantee that reason will prevail. In the case of individuals or small groups suing a corporation, bringing in the coersion of the state is the only possibility of having a fair fight. In a blogging dispute, the power differential is almost always going to be negligible, and the threat of bringing in the power of the law always has the air of the absurd -- aside from the inevitable public shaming of the person by other bloggers, the very act itself shames the person bringing the suit. It represents a betrayal of the promise of blogging -- to threaten violence against a blogger qua blogging is to threaten the field of blogging itself, in which the state should finally be uninvolved.
This brought to mind a parallel in the New Testament. In one of his best-known passages (Romans 13), Paul too seems to define the state by and large in terms of violence -- the state bears the sword, so do what you can to stay out of the way. Often, this will mean obedience and fulfilling declared obligations -- taxes to whom taxes are due, etc. As is well-known, many take this passage and declare a New Testament mandate for obeying the state as such, but based on this other passage, I think there is something else going on here:
When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unjust, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters? If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that? In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that. (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)If the state is God's minister to do us good, then why not bring our disputes before the state tribunals? Won't they decide what's best? But here Paul is calling the judges "the unjust" (the NRSV and every other fucking English translation has "unrighteous," but I have been taught to mentally replace forms of "righteous" with forms of "just," at least as a thought experiment). And so my question here -- are they unjust because they deploy coersive force? Is it one of the distinctive marks of the messianic community to remain outside the purview of coersive force, including making every effort to avoid being the object of such force (except in the last instance, where the state requires the renunciation of faith itself)?
[If Agamben is right that Benjamin's messianism is Pauline in some sense, perhaps this kind of thing might help one to understand the enigmatic "divine violence" in Critique of Violence.]
Of course, it would be stupid to say that blogging constitutes a messianic community -- except, perhaps, to the extent that it is a community that tries to live outside the purview of law.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
(9:03 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: The FearThere are two kinds of boring people. The first is the laid-back boring person, the one who doesn't say much, who just blends in with the furniture. I have no problem with such a person. Maybe it would be "better" in some way for the person to be more assertive, to have more interesting interests, to have more to offer socially, but still -- at the end of the day, all praise to the laid-back boring person! The second is the actively boring person, that person who really puts himself out there and actively bores those around him. Such a person may well have watched funny television programs and have some idea of what it might be like to be funny -- but in fact, he is anti-funny. Any previously humorous conversation into which he enters is murdered, gruesomely, mercilessly. He drinks its blood.
I hate actively boring people. The sinner, not the sin.
I hate being a perfectionist and a worrier. I hate it when I drink way too much coffee. I hate the bad coffee at work, which I often drink nonetheless, leading me to wake up in the middle of the night, every night.
I hate it when the magazine rack at Border's is too crowded. I hate that the Randolph St. Blue Line exits are closed. I hate that I keep buying food at work every night.
I hate sincere people. I hate waiting. I hate the universalized itchiness that seems to last from late November to early March. I hate wearing a scarf. I hate parallel parking in the snow.
Monday, December 12, 2005
(12:17 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
A Christian TraditionJaroslav Pelikan reports that the Emperor Justininian "made the quite unsubstantiated charge that Origen 'in the very time of his martyrdom denied Christ and paid his worship to the many gods of the Greeks'" (The Christian Tradition, vol. 1, pg. 343). Since he is dealing with the Emperor who consolidated both Roman law and Christian doctrine in a way that remained determinative for the entire Byzantine period, Pelikan perhaps thought it indelicate to refer to such a statement as a "lie," even given that it seems highly unlikely that we will find evidence to "substantiate" the claim that Origen abandoned the faith to which he devoted his entire life.
This is just one of the most egregious examples of a trait that is shared almost universally among the defenders of orthodoxy: a willingness, perhaps even an eagerness, to indulge in overblown rhetoric and petty slander against all opponents, real or imagined. Simply on the basis of Jesus and Paul, I have always been suspicious when people claimed that calm, measured reasonableness was a distinctively Christian trait, and now I might be willing to venture the opposite claim: a close adherence to the canons of politeness and fair-minded debate is the sure sign of a heretic. One could say that this infallible rule is what gets Origen condemned repeatedly, while Augustine's doctrines, just as speculative and idiosyncratic if not more so, get a free pass due to his excessively vituperative tone.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
(3:57 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Sunday Cat BloggingDue to the fast-paced, exciting life I lead, I often tell stories about Anthony and Hayley's cats. Even with my recent change in employment status, I still spend more time in the house with the cats than I do in any other social situation. But this brings up the issue of how to refer to them. Calling them "Anthony and Hayley's cats" or "my roommates' cats" is cumbersome, but calling them "my cats" is just untrue -- I only very occasionally feed them in the morning, and I've cleaned their litter box only once, in a true emergency situation, so I'm clearly disqualified not just on the level of legal ownership but also on the level of caregiver status.
"The cats" is a good compromise for conversational purposes, but just now I thought of a more precise way to denote my relationship with these particular cats. I get to enjoy the benefits of having cats -- in fact, one of them is sitting on my lap as I write this -- but in the last instance, someone else has to clean up the mess and pay for their upkeep. Thus, we could say that they're my "grandcats."
This fits even better since they are all descended from me through my son, who by a freak genetic mutation came out as a cat.
(3:50 PM) | Dominic:
Bonhoeffer and "The Jew" (ii)First of all, a correction: the statement of Bonhoeffer's that I will discuss here was a response not to the Nuremberg laws (passed in 1935), but to the Deutsche Christen's proposal in 1933 to apply the "Aryan clause", formerly used to expel Jews from the civil service, to German Christian congregations.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum hosts an informative online exhibition by Victoria Barnett on Bonhoeffer's stance during this period, and his subsequent resistance, imprisonment and murder. That exhibit mentions Bonhoeffer's "supersessionism", his adherence to the doctrine that Christianity superseded Judaism and that the ultimate destiny of the Jews was to be converted. In this post I will look more closely at Bonhoeffer's response to the crisis within the Confessing church: his statement on "The Church and the Jewish Question".
Bonhoeffer's statement opens with two quotations from Luther, each concerned with Jewish-Christian brotherhood:
Luther 1546: "We would still show them the Christian doctrine and ask them to turn and accept the Lord whom they should by rights have honoured before we did"..."Where they repent, leave their usury, and accept Christ, we would gladly regard them as our brothers."
Luther 1523: "If the Apostles, who also were Jews, had dealt with us Gentiles as we Gentiles deal with the Jews, there would have been no Christians among the Gentiles. But seeing that they have acted in such a brotherly way towards us, we in turn should act in a brotherly way towards the Jews in case we might convert some. For we ourselves are still not yet fully their equals, much less their superiors...but now we use force against them...what good will we do them with that? Similarly, how will we benefit them by forbidding them to live and work and have other human fellowship with us, thus driving them to practice usury?"
The imperative of brotherliness towards the Jews is owing to the brotherliness of the Jewish Apostles: it is a question of reciprocation, of the repayment of a debt, "[f]or we ourselves are still not yet fully their equals". At the same time, this imperative is itself conditional on Jewish repentance and acceptance of the Christ "whom they should by rights have honoured before we did". There is a default on both sides, a failure to give the honour that is owing "by rights". The priority of the Jews, their pre-eminence in relationship to God, places the Christian church in the position of a weaker and less-favoured younger sibling reminding the first-born of his duties. It is a family affair, of an old-fashioned variety.
The place of "usury" in each these two quotations reveals a further asymmetry: it is the practice of "usury" that the elder sibling must renounce, in order to be re-admitted into a brotherly relationship with the younger; but "usury" is the practice of those against whom force has been used, who have been excluded from "human fellowship". The origin of the tort indicated by this "usury" is in the younger sibling's use of force, his violent rejection and exclusion of the elder whom he should have honoured and treated in a brotherly way.
What "usury" further announces is that there is something rotten in the state of the debt: an exorbitance, a false reckoning of what is owing. The "usurous" practice of lending "at interest" has a relationship to the social that is both extra-legal and vitally/lethally mediating: without the interest demanded by the usurer, the flow of credit would be restricted and the prosperity nourished by speculation would wither. The Nazi spectre of the "Jewish financier", who engineers the disaster of whole economies for sinister gain, arises in part from the ambiguous status of finance itself.
These quotations from Luther would no doubt have been scandalous enough in their contradiction of Nazi doctrine. They establish the terms of the Confessing Church's "mission" to the Jews, which the Aryan clauses would have obstructed. Their appearance at the start of his statement also indicates Bonhoeffer's fidelity to that Church and to its Lutheran inheritance. It is this fidelity which dictates the course taken by Bonhoeffer in his treatment of "the Jewish question".
From the start, Bonhoeffer's critique of the course taken by the Deutches Christen takes the form of an ecclesiological analysis, which proceeds on two fronts:
The fact, unique in history, that the Jew has been made subject to special laws by the state solely because of the race to which he belongs and quite apart from his religious beliefs, raises two new problems for the theologican, which must be examined separately. What is the church's attitude to this action by the state? And what should the church do as a result of it? That is one question. The other is, what attitude should the church take to its members who are baptised Jews? Both questions can only be answered in the light of a true concept of the church.
On the first front, Bonhoeffer seeks to establish the correct relationship between the church and the state. He rules out, immediately, any suggestion that the role of the church might be to criticise specific actions of the state, or to raise humanitarian objections to the manner in which it enforces its decisions. Both of these are tasks for individuals and "humanitarian associations", acting out of conscience and moral principle.
The task reserved to the church is to know, and to attest to, the true nature and role of the state: "[h]istory is not made by the church, but by the state; but of course only the church, which bears witness to the coming of God in history, knows what history, and therefore what the state is". The church is the guardian of the state qua state, in its function of "creating law and order by means of force". Because the use of force will always entail moral concerns, the church does not (although individual Christians may) moralise about this or that action of the state; but "it can and should, precisely because it does not moralise in individual instances, continually ask the state whether its action can be justified as legitimate action of the state, i.e. as action which leads to law and order, and not to lawlessness and disorder".
This understanding of the role of the church in relation to the state is already marked by an opposition between "Gospel" and "Law": there is a radical gulf between "the standpoint of the Gospel" and "the standpoint of the Law", that forever removes the church from the field of moralising intervention in the history made by the legitimate state. The distinction Bonhoeffer makes between the obligation of "bandaging the victims under the wheel" of the state's use of force, and that of "putting a spoke in the wheel itself", does not therefore depend on the degree of force used, or the severity of the victims' injuries. It is neither a moral nor a humanitarian consideration that produces the compulsion to intervene. Rather, it is when the state endangers itself qua state through its own use of force that the church must act against the state, precisely and paradoxically in order to restore it.
The motif of anti-legalism that runs through this rejection of any intervention by the church in the normal life of the state receives a confirming flourish when Bonhoeffer notes that "the necessity of direct political action by the church is...to be decided at any time by an 'Evangelical Council', and cannot therefore ever by casuistically decided beforehand." The path to the exceptional situation, in which exceptional action must be taken, can never be indicated by the Law or by moral casuistry: it involves a decision, the need for which may arise "at any time", and which will always be a reflection on the necessity, rather than the legality, of that action.
In my third post on this subject, I will turn to Bonhoeffer's treatment of the distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians, and the perhaps surprising character of his argument against the exclusion of Jews "by race" from the Christian congregation. I will try to show how and where anti-legalism becomes anti-Judaism, and how this anti-Judaism paradoxically informs Bonhoeffer's Christian defence of Jewish-Christian brotherhood.