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Archive for October, 2008

Curious Nonsense

With the US election fast approaching, I thought it might be best to post some random thoughts. Then I found James Dobson’s ‘Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America’ and am kind of at a loss of words. I don’t want to assert that the letter is hate speech – although that hasn’t been above some members in the Religious Right in the past – but I am glad that I found the letter, because I think it illustrates a point that needs to be made as we approach the national ritual of voting.

Dobson’s agenda in the letter is clearly to provoke fear. Even a general skim of the letter (which is all it deserves), will make that clear. But something that also seems to be telling in Dobson’s letter, something that Christians on both (unfortunately it’s a forced dichotomy) sides of the US political spectrum can fall into. It’s something that the Israelites in the Old Testament fell into as well – idolatry of the worldly powers.

What is most telling about Dobson’s letter, presumably addressed to Christians, is the way he opens it. His first appeal is to patriotism (although in the context he is talking about it, it could easily be confused for nationalism, and probably should be labeled as such). He immediately brings up the Star Spangled Banner, and how he can’t sing it any more.

Well, frankly, I’m not so sure why that should disturb me as a Christian. I’m fairly skeptical about singing in any case, although I don’t mean to deny that there can exist a reasonable patriotism.

The problem with how Dobson starts the letter is that it can lead to assumptions about where Christians’ loyalty lies. I trust and hope that this isn’t news for Dobson, but Christians’ loyalty lies ultimately with Christ. I assume that most of the readers of the blog are fairly liberal, but I think this is a good thing to keep in mind as the election approaches. Our hope doesn’t lie with Obama, or with McCain, or the Supreme Court or Constitution. Our hope is in Christ.

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This is a topic for discussion that is much more grandiose than merely one blog post, but I have come to the realization that it must start as a blog post and proceed from there. To put the driving thesis more simply than it ever should be put, it has come to my attention that there are essentially four important categories available to our cognition by which to understand, and therefore organize and to an extent categorize, male thinkers.

An immediate objection may be raised to the exclusion of female thinkers, and I can only say in my defense that the odds are simply too stacked in favor of the dudes. The categories are quite limiting, and one of them is so central to the other categories that it would essentially preclude women from being included on the list. So whilst I consider myself in general pretty sympathetic to the overall ridiculously slanted configuration of the literary canon towards old, white dudes, I am simply at an impasse. I think a perfectly legitimate conception of four (or more, less) categories for a similar composition of a list of women is certainly plausible, but I leave that task to others.

So with that said, the categories. They are, title-ization, coolness-of-hat(s), coolness-of-last-name, and most paramount, the phenomenology of facial hair. I leave the categories with no descriptions in the hope that the five inaugural members, as well as the antecedent conversation, will help sort this out. So without further ado:

Contemplative Tolstoy

1. Leo Tolstoy – Tolstoy is perhaps the quintessential member of the inaugural class as he epitomizes sheer awesomeness in each category. I need only a picture to prove my point, and also to mention that Tolstoy was a Count, which is a quite unique and spectacular title. This picture is not as good as others I have seen, but it does the job.

2. John Calvin – Calvin is perhaps even better than Tolstoy, although I prefer the name Tolstoy to Calvin. This picture idealizes Calvin’s beard essence, and Tolstoy had a more magisterial beard at one point in his life, but the aesthetic totality of Calvin’s beard and hat combination – which he had multiple of – is unrivaled. I’m unaware of significant titles off the top of my head, but Calvin certainly hits 3/4 criterion.

3. Stonewall Jackson – The list needs an American. Despite fighting for the wrong side in the Civil War, Stonewall Jackson is perhaps America’s greatest player in this debate. He had a quintessential beard for the times, and also wore good military hats although they are unpictured. Jackson probably has the greatest monopoly on title-ization, and that is why he has been included. Harper’s referred to him once as “the Rebel General Stonewall Jackson”, which alone probably constitutes his inclusion. But also there is the obvious title of Stonewall, which superseded his first name Thomas.

4. Miguel de Unamuno – Unamuno’s name is just plain fun to say, and the list certainly is lacking a religious existentialist – especially to balance out Calvin. Although, it must be made clear that the list doesn’t seek to make any sort of rational judgments or judgments based on the content of what the person said/wrote/etc. All are equally upheld to the four categories. With that said, Unamuno is a clear and obvious choice. Fantastic hat/beard combination that also demonstrates itself as versatile if you look at other pictures. Additionally, say Unamuno outloud to yourself a few times and you should understand his inclusion in the inaugural class.

5. Rowan Williams – I consider it an incredible feat for a living person to make the inaugural class, and no one is better qualified than Rowan Williams. He makes up for the plain jane last name with the papal hat, but his title-ization dominates Stonewall Jackson. I will list the titles I have found together and let them speak for themselves: Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, Metropolitan of the Church of Ceylon and Archbishop of Caterbury; Primate of all England.

So there you have the inaugural class of bearded men. If you have objections or seek further clarification for why a particular bearded man was included, do not hesitate to post in the comment section. There will also be future classes appearing at random, especially because there were 3 or 4 who just missed the cut. Many thanks to my research partner TJ for helping to compile and edit the list, and also thanks to Ross for various consultations.

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It is the middle of week 1 full term here, and much has happened since my last blog post. I visited Jeremy and Jamie in Policka over my fall break, and it looks like they have a summary of our visit there. The British landscapes part of my semester ended as I submitted two 2000 word essays the day before I left for Czech Republic, one on Thomas Reid and the other on George Orwell.

That means that the full term is now in session at Oxford. It was interesting to get to do the case studies in the British landscapes class, but the full term and the tutorial is why I came to Oxford. My tutorial is in Post-Kantian Philosophy, and this week I am looking at Romanticism and the Enlightenment. I have my paper completed for the week, besides some final editing. What will happen on Thursday at my meeting is I will read the paper out loud and then we will discuss the question that I am answering in the paper for one hour. The question is whether Romanticism is a reaction against the Enlightenment and reason or its progression and fulfillment.

In brief, I think it is the former, mostly because of the paradigmatic shift from objective to subjective that took place with the Romantic writers. While it is too vague to assume Romanticism as about feeling and Enlightenment as about reason, there exists a fundamental break, particularly in the work of Schelling and also Rousseau. It will be interesting to see how the meeting goes. Next week is about Hegel and it looks like it will be pretty difficult.

I am also working on my long essay, which as it stands will be about the topic of self hood in Dostoevsky. I attended a fantastic lecture on Dostoevsky today, and in general plan to attend much more than the required four sets of Oxford lectures.

Oxford lectures are a little bit different than the American scheme. They typically are only once a week and can be very large or small. I attended two back to back on Monday on Hume and Aquinas. The Hume lecture was in a large room with probably about 100-150 students. The Aquinas lecture was in a seminar room at a conference table with maybe 15-20 people. Some of the main lectures that I plan to continue attending besides the Hume and Dostoevsky ones are Christian Life and Thought in Britain and the English Speaking World in the Nineteenth Century, The Later Philosophy of Wittgenstein, Practicing (Literary) Criticism, and Nietzsche.

I had an interesting experience in a lecture session today with my friend Ross. We decided to go to a lecture on Kafka in the same place that I had earlier gone for the Dostoevsky lecture. Its in the division of Medieval and Modern Languages/Literatures, I had a sneaking suspicion that the class might involve translation or something. The lecturer began by saying the following: “Today is a great day. It has been my dream to do this for a long time [at this point Ross and I exchanged disturbed glances]. It may be your nightmare. [begin to laugh at our mistake]. For the past two years, you have attended lectures in Bad English with German translations.” The lecture was entirely in German! I don’t have much of a clue what happened, but it was interesting and makes for an interesting story.

Anyways, that my attempt at a quick and unorganized update. I have a (hopefully) landmark post coming within the next few days… I can’t say anything else about ir right now.

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