Monday, March 24, 2008

Am I Postmodern?

What does it say about me that I think Stanley Fish makes a whole heckuva lot of sense? This essay is one of many that I've read this election cycle and thought Why doesn't anybody else sound this reasonable? But Fish was always "the bad guy" in my educational circles: that crazy postmodern scholar who denied that a text means what the author intended it to mean.

I should note an exception to that generalization. Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer was always good about not laughing off a position that he and most of the classroom didn't agree with. "I should be careful here; I'm not suggesting that Fish is making a silly argument. . . ."

On the other hand, Dr. Vanhoozer wanted us to spell "postmodern" with a hyphen, which just looks ugly.

To answer my own question (first line of the post), it probably just means that I've learned to think like an academic. I don't mean that in the sense of "I've learned to reason and do research." More in the sense that I've been sensitized to the kinds of arguments that a curious subculture called academia likes to make.

In other news, a coworker (also spelled without a hyphen!) offered to sign his house over to me if I could do twelve pull-ups. I had to give that a shot . . .

Pitiful, isn't it. It's been a long time since I was in the running for a Presidential Fitness Award.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Worst. Episode. Ever

Well, that was the most incoherent story I've ever seen on Law & Order. True, it's a challenge to make the whole Christian-fundamentalists-as-terrorists story line seem fresh, but here's a hint: Don't cast Samwise Gamgee as the ringleader. He couldn't brainwash a college student into sleeping late on a Saturday.

Fake Memoirs

We've been having an extended conversation at work about the "fake memoir" phenomenon. Here are some articles that have been passed around on the topic, to get you up to speed:

A NY Times Summary
How to Write a Misery Memoir
A Spoof Publishing Memo

I went on record in the work conversation blaming this trend on postmodernism. Authors are more willing to fabricate life experiences because we’ve lost confidence in truth and reality. Why not construct your own reality if all reality is constructed?

I also cited the existentialist factor. Writing an interesting novel just makes you a novelist, but an interesting memoir makes you a celebrity in your own right. We esteem people who have had authentic experiences (that's what makes you a good existentialist hero). So these people are hypocrites of authenticity: They recognize the value of having “real” (“gritty”) experiences and fake having them.

Then I was directed to this New Yorker essay (HT: Jon Schindler). I think it partially supports my arguments and partially contradicts them. What I thought of as postmodern turns out to be fairly thoroughly modern (this seems to happen a lot). The gender division between history and novels is something I never thought of before.

If I had the discipline, I would like to write an essay interacting with the New Yorker article and the study of biblical history, another essay about the Victorian concepts of reason and gender, and another essay about Tim O'Brien's "How to Tell a True War Story."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I love North Carolina

I'm back in Illinois after an all-too-short jaunt in beautiful NC. The paper presentation went well, despite my racing heart, my overuse of the sound umm, and the awful classroom I was in. Why is it that preaching labs are always in basement rooms with no ventilation? TEDS people, you know what I'm talking about. Might as well be in a locker room. Still, the beauty of the rest of the campus kind of makes up for it.

I got to meet some great people, including Vinson Synan, the author of a spectacular history book called Century of the Holy Spirit. The keynote speaker for the conference was J├╝rgen Moltmann, who I didn't get to meet. Just as well, since all I would have had to say is, "You are clearly a very intelligent man." Also at the conference was NT scholar Gordon Fee (author of another book that influenced me greatly, How to Read the Bible For All It's Worth), although I didn't even see him. Oh well. Enough name dropping.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Short week

I'm preparing to depart for Raleigh, so I will have to keep my posting limited to links.

This is an interesting, but depressing article about how our economy depends upon ever-increasing bouts of self-delusion. The good news is that some members of my family may benefit from the next boom. If the article is accurate, I pray they survive the bust.

An article about kids these days and their laptops. I think the author is on to something, especially with the desire to be in multiple places at once. That's what I'm doing right now, of course, by blogging. I don't talk on a cell phone when I ought to be attending people who are actually in the room, so I can pat myself on the back for that. But my multiple virtual locations (even low-tech virtual locations like books) do compete with my attention to people who are actually there, especially to the Person Who Is There. I would suggest that in addition to being an intellectual discipline, it's a spiritual discipline to limit yourself to being in one place. At least give it a shot now and then.

Sorry for the repeated video below. Here's the video tribute to editors I intended to give you:

Friday, March 07, 2008

One of the funniest sites I have ever read

Stuff White People Like

The entries that really hit home:

Graduate School
Study Abroad
Mos Def (but I discovered him because of my black friend!)
Kitchen Gadgets (although I don't own any of the ones mentioned other than a blender, I do covet the holy KitchenAid Stand Mixer)
Vintage (Someday I will have a card catalog!)
Arrested Development (C'mon!)

How about you?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Drum of the Covenant

The author of this Time Magazine article needs to read J. L. Schindler.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

summer employment option...

I want this job. How amazing would that be?!?!

What are your dream jobs?

Fry took Linguistics 101

That's some good parody. It reminds me of a documentary about linguistics I once watched. It was hosted by George Carlin, of all people. His example of a sentence that had likely never been said before was something like "Throw me some more of those hammers in your hip pocket."

Investing your surplus

An important concept for those with middle class upbringing to remember. Someone in the comments mentions that one reason for lower levels of savings among poorer people is that relatives "come out of the woodwork" looking for money. That's one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at this behavior, which is common among people living in subsistence, is as an investment in social capital. From the middle class point of view, when you have surplus, the best thing to do is make a personal investment--buy stocks or a house. From a lower class perspective, the best use of surplus is to give it away to those around you who need it. You act as a safety net for others, and they in turn will act as a safety net for you in the future (ideally).

I once heard a professor say that according to the Gospel of Luke, the only legitimate use for surplus is giving it away. It's easy to believe that when you read a passage like this.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Spirit of God: He's kind of a big deal

So you may have noticed my habit of starting threads and not finishing them. I could claim that it's an artistic choice to leave you, the reader, with a sense of unresolved existential tension, driving you into deeper introspection about the topic at hand . . . actually, I think I'll go with that.

Pretentious excuses aside, I want to finish my thought started in such posts as this one, and this one. The question that still lingers in my mind is, "If God wants to give us good things, what good things does he have in mind?"

It's interesting to compare Matt 7:11 and Luke 11:13 in this regard. Matthew and Luke seem to be drawing off of some common source (since this passage isn't in Mark, it is often linked to the hypothetical source Q). While Matthew translates Jesus' message here into a general statement, that the Father will give good gifts, Luke translates it into a very specific statement, that the Father will give the Holy Spirit. It's as if Luke, wanting to make "good things" as compact and concrete as possible, picked out the best "good thing" that God could give us. Think about that. The Holy Spirit is the best thing God can give you.

(Of course, it's possible that Luke was copying more directly from underlying sources and Matthew generalized "Holy Spirit" to "good things." We can't know, because we don't have their sources. But my point is that I believe both statements are accurate translations of Christ's teaching.)