Archive for November, 2009

Here is a great article on Umberto Eco’s Vertigo of Lists:



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Animated by the essay

During the unnaturally busy times in life, (extracurricular) reading seems like an unendurable feat. Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Paul Riceour’s, Memory, History, Forgetting, Umberto Eco’s Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov — and the list goes on — all sit, waiting to be read — devoured. Unfortunately, at the present moment in life, when the course assignments are approaching their due dates, there is not enough time to read everything one wants to read; the books for the senior project are covering the desk, stacked on the floor, resting near the couch, waiting near the bed, and sitting on the chairs at the table where we can no longer eat. In these busy moments, immersed in study, I am animated/refreshed/revived by the essay. The essay is a short, deep, fresh breath of air after emerging from the deluge of (necessary, enjoyable, still assigned) course-work. Because I know many of you are in similar situations, I have several suggestions of collections of essays that you might (and should!) enjoy.

The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry

The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics

The Hauerwas Reader

Borges: Selected Non-fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism by John Updike

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The Devil Reads Derrida, and Other Essays on the University, the Church, Politics, and the Arts is a collection of essays (and other such material) written by James K. A. Smith. The twenty-first chapter reproduces an interview, entitled Leftish Constantinianism Revisited, clarifying several of Smith’s critiques against Jim Wallis of Sojourners. The two interviewers, Lee and Lature, ask Smith, “How does one speak truth to power without ‘ceding too much to the state’ in such a way that one avoids being ‘statist’ and yet still speaks to the state, in what one might call ‘accessible’ language, so that the state can be ‘called to task’?” Smith retorts, “This way of putting the question assumes a certain confidence and hope in the state, which I think is misplaced.” In regard to the state, he is not (particularly) concerned about a calling to task. For Wallis, Christians ought to involve themselves in the political discourse. For Smith, “It’s more a matter of showing the state what it can never be: a properly ordered community lovingly aimed at bearing the image of the Triune God.”

In this (very) brief interview, Smith offers a cogent critique of Wallis, and provides a counter-politic to the popular either-or political positions that all too often pervade the Church. Smith is an animated writer, and this text is an exciting look at how we might begin to consider afresh many ubiquitous issues, which often invite tired and stale “discourse”.

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Developing discipline is difficult. Some people just seem to have it naturally. Others of us, however, have spent (and, in some cases, still spend) a certain amount of time figuring out how to structure our days, weeks, and months, in such a way that we are continuing to grow, develop, transform, and accomplish the tasks for which we are responsible (whatever it is we are working on: be it an essay, sermon, poem, novel, book, etc.). In an essay, published several years ago, in the New Yorker, by Malcolm Gladwell entitled Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity? , Gladwell wrote:

We’d like to think that mundane matters like loyalty, steadfastness, and the willingness to keep writing checks to support what looks like failure have nothing to do with something as rarefied as genius. But sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.

For those of us reading, writing, studying, and drinking coffee from sunrise to nightfall, remember the reasons why we are working so diligently, and be certain to recall: developing discipline is difficult, but the lack thereof is deadening.

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Amos Yong at NCU

North Central has been fortunate, this week, to host Pentecostal scholar and Systematic Theologian, Amos Yong. Yong is the author of several important books on Pneumatology and Pentecostal Theology; for those who are presently sporting the furrowed brow: yes, there are good Pentecostal theologians. Two of his books (one that he wrote, and one that he edited) that I have not (yet) interacted with, but am looking forward to reading soon are, Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity, and The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth: Pentecostal Forays in Science and Theology of Creation. Yong is an astute scholar, and a dynamic (and vibrant) preacher.

After an event with Yong, put on by Dr. Glen Menzies, last evening, several of us stuck around and had an opportunity to pick his brain for a bit. Near the end of the conversation, a friend — good old, A. McGuire — asked Yong (I am going to paraphrase here): What is something you did during your years as a student that might help us as we continue our academic pursuits? Yong suggested a practice given to him by his Doctoral Advisor: write (at least) a paragraph a day. (This seems like an extension of Jean Paul Sartre’s, no day without a line.) I think it is good advice — I mean, Amos Yong did say it.

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Here is a little article I came across tonight I thought some people might enjoy — I know I did.

How Do You Get to Barnes & Noble? Platform, Platform, Platform

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against the wall, the firing squad ready.
then he got a reprieve.
suppose they had shot Dostoevsky?
before he wrote all that?
I suppose it wouldn’t have
not directly.
there are billions of people who have
never read him and never
but as a young man I know that he
got me through the factories,
past the whores,
lifted me high through the night
and put me down
in a better
even while in the bar
drinking with the other
I was glad they gave Dostoevsky a
it gave me one,
allowed me to look directly at those
rancid faces
in my world,
death pointing its finger,
I held fast,
an immaculate drunk
sharing the stinking dark with

by Charles Bukowski from Bone Palace Ballet (Black Sparrow Press)

Thanks to Josh Cook for sharing this poem with me — about a year ago now!

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