A Note: On Apocalypse, Moby-Dick & Job

[Originally posted over at my joint, but given the meandering path it took into things religious I thought I'd cross-post it here.]

Dear _______,

Your note has made my day, and it’s only yet 9 a.m. It reminds me of a conversation I was having last night with a friend in which I tried to explain why I don’t regard myself as a pessimist, in the face of all contrary evidence and claims by others.  I am, I insisted, under the influence of maudlin-making ale, an idealist who feels there is no place for ideals in the world. Of course, I know this sounds pessimistic through and through, but in my reckoning it is what feeds the Romantic / apocalyptic experience you mention.

The failure of words (& other communicative / artistic media) is necessary to their creative function. My friend and I don’t wholly disagree on this, but he seems more inclined than I to speak of one’s engagement with art as ultimately, if not immediately, disentangled from the world. While I agree that art is not wholly determined by the limitations set in stone, some quite literally, I am allergic even to a conversational nod that it ever stands beyond the fray, disinterested, hands-clean or abstract. You and I agree, romanticism & apocalypticism are indelibly linked, and as such remain inevitably messy. This messiness needn’t necessarily be a flaw, any more than existence as a whole is a mistake. I don’t see a position from which we can make such an evaluation without, in the process, doing much real-world damage. Though this has not stopped us from doing either. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in aesthetics, art, Job, Melville. Comments Off

Sermon: “That Dagonne Dagon! (The Sins of Paterni)”

The following is a sermon I’ve been kicking around for a while, and will soon deliver.  I’ve been thinking about how to preach the collapse of the idol of Dagon in a way that is not triumphalistic but as an idol of desire.  I’m not sure this is the  most theologically uniform sermon I’ve ever developed and it’s definately still a work in progress.  The tearing down of the Paterno statue in State College, PA, and the community’s reaction immediatley called me to connect this Bible Story to current events.

The Sandusky / Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal is tragic and unfortunate, and disturbing.  It has also been interesting for me, as someone native to central Pennsylvania, to see how the unraveling of facts from the Sandusky case and the cover-up have de-centered central Pennsylvania culture.  I also write this as someone who has a formal connection to Penn State, too, as an adjunct professor, and as a teacher I have a deep resepct for the academic culture and mission of Penn State.  (I found this article, from The Chronicle of Higher Education, be be a particularly interesting take on how all of these events may or may not impact the academics of Penn State.)  As a pastor in a rural part of Pennsylvania whose church’s context is directly connected with agribusiness and farm culture, I am also a fan of the positive impact of Penn State’s agricultural extension programs.

The preaching lection will be long 1 Samuel 4:2-11 and 5:1-12.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Political Theology of Lincoln and Melville

It’s hard to think of any historical moment that more deserves political theological reflection than the American Civil War, yet a very quick Google Scholar search turns up only one book (Mark Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis) that uses the phrase “political theology” (once, in passing) in its discussion of the event. Why is the Civil War so richly deserving of entering the ranks of privileged political theological points of reference (along with Schmitt’s and Benjamin’s focus on the European Baroque with its doctrine of absolute sovereignty, or Agamben’s camp and the Musselman, or Hardt and Negri’s Empire, to name a few)? Consider the constellation of factors: the crisis of sovereignty, the friend-foe decision, the state of emergency, the status of the human reduced to bare life, and, not the least significant factor, the claim made by North and South to be waging a battle for the future of Christendom. And there are two texts from the period that I think deserve a place in the canon of political theological thought from Paul to Augustine, and from Hobbes to Arendt (I rank her Human Condition as one of the 20th century’s top political theological works). The great thing is that they are both short, even shorter than Epistle to the Romans. One of them is amazingly short: Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. The other is a little longer: Herman Melville’s Supplement to his Civil War poetry collection, Battle Pieces. (Here is a PDF link to Melville’s collection; the Supplement begins on pg. 178.) I want to talk a little bit about both texts, starting with the second.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Kind-of Follow-Up Post Re: Investments

I’ve been meaning to post something about this for a couple of months, but kept putting it off until yesterday when I was engaged in an off-blog conversation about the engaging/frustrating/etc. comment thread accompanying Adam’s finance/retirement thread. There was an interesting dynamic at work in it and other similarly themed threads here and abroad in which there was a palpable defensiveness from the word go alongside a striking propensity to interpret even self-deprecation as rhetorically aggressive behavior. I don’t say that as a chastising administrator. I mention it now merely to flag the motivation for my remembrance of a post from HTMLGIANT a couple of months ago that I intended to mention then but didn’t. I waited so long, in fact, that for some reason the entire post has since been deleted–presumably, given the subject, the comment thread became malignant and had to be removed from the blog entirely, lest it take down the entire enterprise. Thank heavens for Google Reader! (The post in question was in reaction to the comment thread here, which is probably worth clicking if the following paragraph makes no sense to you.) Read the rest of this entry »

Preemptive Columbus Day Post: “With all due respect, Mr. Fitzgerald, Murder’s on the pulse…”

It’s a day of shame.  There’s an obvious reason for this, having to do with the capacity of a nation-state to enshrine as one of its “holidays” the commemoration of a figure who represents the colonizing project.  As Nas once put it:  “The Indians helped the Pilgrims / and in return the Pilgrims killed them / I call your holiday hellday.”  Columbus Day, like Thanksgiving, is adequately understood as a hellday.

Yet there is another, less considered reason for feeling shameful on Columbus Day, and this has to do with the “construction” of its commemoration.  For, nowadays at least, the celebration of Columbus Day is bound up with Italian-Americans’ need for a day that would recognize their own particular contribution to “American culture.”  Columbus Day is meant to be a day of pride for Italian-Americans—and this, I am trying to say, bears its own peculiar shame.  Columbus, it will be noted, was Italian—but what is an Italian? And what does Columbus have to do with Italian-Americans? Read the rest of this entry »

‘And so I tell myself to myself': A Dissertation!!

This [PDF warning], as it turns out, is an unpublishable book. Oh, I suppose I could keep shopping it around until something just short of a vanity press accepts it and churns out fifty hardcover editions to “sell” (in theory) at an ungodly price. Or, I could just keep sending it to more-or-less legitimate publishers, and probably drive myself batty in the process. I think most of us can agree that the end result of neither alternative is particularly attractive. Thankfully, there are are other options. (Thanks, Scribd!) Read the rest of this entry »

“Ecstasies before bunnies’ burrows”

In a certain way, I think the likes of Herman Herman — for whom “‘though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright” — might very well agree with the cynicism, much bemoaned & beloved, expressed by Michael Houellebecq about nature.

I have no time for those pompous imbeciles
Who go into ecstasies before bunnies’ burrows
Because nature is ugly, tedious and hostile;
It has no message to transmit to humans.

How pleasant, at the wheel of a powerful Mercedes,
To drive through solitary and grandiose places;
Subtly manipulating the gearstick.
You dominate the hills, the rivers, and all things.

The forests, so close, glitter in the sun
And seem to reflect ancient knowledges;
In the depths of their valleys must lie such marvels,
After a few hours you are taken in;

Leaving the car, the irritations begin;
You stumble into the middle of a repugnant mess,
An abject universe, deprived of all meaning
Made of stones and brambles, flies and snakes.

You miss the parking-lots and the smell of petrol,
The serene, gentle glint of the nickel counters;
It’s too late. It’s too cold. The night begins. The forest enfolds you in its cruel dream. (via Collapse IV)

Reading this today, I most immediately thought of Lewis Mumford’s wonderful bit comparing Ralph Waldo Emerson and Melville:

Emerson was the perpetual passenger who stayed below in bad weather, trusting that the captain would take care of the ship.  Melville was the sailor who climbed aloft, and knew that the captain was sometimes drunk and that the best of ships might go down.

Where the lesson of one such captain, Ahab, drunk with monomania if not drink, was that the “pasteboard mask” covering such truth might ultimately be there for a reason, and that one should strike through it with care; it seems to me that Houellebecq exemplifies one possibility of what becomes of us when there is no mask at all, when it, perhaps, has already been stricken.

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