Works on the Trinity: A Request for Assistance

As I have begun to wrap up my work on The Prince of This World, I have been thinking about which direction to go next. A project on the Trinity seems like the most compelling option to me currently, and though I plan to take it easy writing-wise for a while, I’d still like to be in a position to make some progress toward that project. Toward this end, I suspect it would be helpful for me to have a list of texts on the Trinity that I can work through over time.

So let’s assume that I am familiar with the obvious classics. I did an exam area on patristics, I’ve read Pelikan, I’ve taken a course on contemporary works on the Trinity, etc. What are some non-obvious texts that I may have overlooked? I don’t need to be told that Augustine or Rahner wrote major works on the Trinity, but I might not have come across someone like Marius Victorinus. I probably know that Athanasius wrote a lot of anti-Arian literature, but may not be familiar with his Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit. That kind of thing.

Reflections after yet another Sopranos rewatch

This summer, we have been rewatching The Sopranos (my third time, The Girlfriend’s second). We just finished season five last night, and some thoughts have been percolating.

  • It’s striking how much both of the “offspring” (Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire) of Sopranos are riffing off Tony’s general story arc. Don Draper is a rising star in a powerful industry with a blonde wife, a penchant for adultery, and some serious issues to process from his childhood. Nucky Thompson is a man in a high position that many view as unearned and — in an echo of Steve Buscemi’s “Tony B.” plot — that only resulted from a happenstance event that allowed him to take the reins from the “real” boss.
  • The mafia isn’t the only dying institution portrayed on The Sopranos — talk therapy is also living out its afterlife. In both cases, drugs are eroding the dying institution’s prestige by breaking down its traditional practices. And though this theme is more submerged, I think we can draw a parallel between the corporate world (which the mafia can’t touch, as in the episode where Paulie is so pissed that Italians didn’t create Starbucks) and the rise of cognitive-behavioral therapy, anger management, etc. Christopher’s experience with 12-step programs is a little harder to place in this perspective — perhaps it’s just meant as a parallel to Tony’s talk therapy, in that both methods ultimately prove to be incompatible with the mafia lifestyle.
  • Anyone longing for a return to the gift economy should put that idea on hold until they watch The Sopranos. They deploy gifts and generosity almost instinctively as a way of creating a feeling of obligation and complicity in the people they’re targetting. Often they transition seamlessly from generosity to threats, almost as if the gift is necessary to get their claws in initially.
  • They are much more devoted to the traditional episode structure than many later “prestige” dramas. Events that I remember extending over half a season often turn out to be compressed into a single episode, and the discipline of having A and B plots with parallel themes is pretty faithfully observed. I imagine this would make Sopranos a better fit for syndication (or just randomly “dipping in”) than other members of the “prestige” genre it helped spawn.
  • Finally, it seems to me that basically everything that 2000s-vintage “prestige” drama wanted to do is already being done in The Sopranos: charismatic anti-heroes, careful attention to a very specific milieu, subtle but persistent meta-commentary on American society as a whole, more “cinematic” ambition and experimentalism (I don’t think any show does dream sequences as convincingly), riskier performances (for a whole season, Carmella is apparently all but silent and completely passive, but her feelings consistently surface in the dialogue of those around her), etc., etc. Talking with a friend about what “counted” as canonical “Golden Age of Television,” I joked that if I kept getting more and more strict, the entire genre would eventually consist of the Sopranos pilot.
  • A funny meta-element: the first major TV show to aspire to the level of artistry of film focuses on people who quite literally model themselves after movie characters.

Anyway, I think it’s a pretty good show.

On free will and necessity

All previous attempts to reconcile the contradictions between free will and necessity have neglected the decisive role of social class in distributing the two. While there are gray areas in the middle areas of the social hierarchy, broadly speaking free will is the province of the lower classes while necessity is the prerogative of the privileged.

The lower classes always “had a choice” — emphasis on the past tense. They could have worked harder in school. They could have formed a more stable family. They could have gotten a job rather than choosing a life of crime. They could have been more deferential and polite to the police officer. That choice is, sad to say, always already in the past, but it is enough to establish that practitioners of bad choices deserve what they get.

By contrast, the privileged act according to sheer necessity. They do what they must, for their families, for the country, for the company. They respond to political pressures and market forces. If they did not do what they did, someone else would — for the upper classes are all obedient servants of necessity. Even when they do not exercise their critical thinking skills to consciously discern the dictates of necessity, they “just react,” responding in a quasi-mechanical way to the choices made by those in the lower classes.

Deprived of free will, which belongs to the oppressed alone, the privileged cannot be held morally accountable for what they do — unless we think of obedience as the highest moral value, in which case the ruling classes are clearly of a much higher moral caliber than those they command. And if they are occasionally a little over-exuberant in enforcing that obedience, surely we can agree that their victims deserved what they got. After all, they had a choice.

My God, just raise taxes!

Chicago Public Schools is facing a deficit of $200 million. That obviously sounds like a lot of money, and that’s the only figure we ever hear. You never learn what that amount represents as a percentage of last year’s budget, or as a percentage of tax revenue — or basically any relevant contextual information.

Here’s another fun stat: the population of Chicago is 2.7 million. That means that this unbridgeable deficit, requiring massive slashing of crucial services, school closings, etc., could be closed by making everyone pay, on average, LESS THAN A HUNDRED BUCKS A YEAR in additional taxes.

And this is another area where we get no context: state and local taxes are trivial. If they went up by the amount needed, basically no one would notice the change in their take-home pay. Yet people hear the word “taxes” and immediately think of all the jobs that will be “killed” — and of course, to avoid that horrifying eventuality, we have to fire a bunch of public workers.

And the irony is that the “multiplier effect” for public spending is much higher than that for tax cuts, so that speaking simply on an economic level, it’s basically always a net gain to raise taxes in order to maintain spending rather than to cut spending in order to avoid raising taxes. Yet the simple and relatively painless step of raising state and local taxes by the small amount necessary is absolutely taboo.

As the man says: “My God, pure ideology!”

Since I gave up hope, I feel a lot better

A major writing project is a strange emotional journey. When you’re writing a paper or a blog post, you can often let your excitement about the idea carry you. I try to convince my students not to wait around for inspiration, but within limits, it can work for short projects. Such a strategy is not possible for a longer piece of writing, however. Even if you are unusually prone to “inspiration,” you are mostly deprived of the excitement of newness.

Routinization is the only way to make progress, and that leads to a growing disconnect between your writing process and your emotional state. You can no longer trust your own judgment about the project on a day-to-day basis — you have to trust your original concept and the plan you’ve devised to execute it. You have to be able to meet your wordcount even on those days when you are fully convinced that your project is utter nonsense that no one will read and everyone will mock and revile. Only then have you really become a writer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Twitter updates

After much reflection and thought, I have decided to create a new “professional” Twitter account that will consist solely of selected blog updates and links related to my publications and public appearances. I have arranged things so that it has inherited my old handle of @adamkotsko. It has also inherited my old block list, thankfully, but not its followers — so I encourage you to follow if you haven’t already done so. I have moved most of my social media activity over to Facebook, where I am eager to make new friends.

Magazine subscription recommendations?

Over the years, I have been an avid magazine subscriber. At times, I’ve had four going at once. I’ve done Harper’s (my first and longest, though I finally had to give up after the “maybe HIV doesn’t cause AIDS” article), The New Yorker, The Atlantic, n+1, New Left Review, New York Review of Books, Bloomberg Businessweek, and London Review of Books. The latter two kept me busy for a couple years, but I finally let my Businessweek subscription lapse and am now at a critically low level, contenting myself with LRB alone.

Hence I come to you, dear readers: should I add anything to my arsenal? Should I return to one of my past subscriptions? (For instance, has Harper’s bounced back?)

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