Monthly Archives: February 2002

February 4, 2002

( 1:09 PM )
 
Okay, so part of the blog phenomenon involves locating oneself in a network of co-conspirators — not necessarily likeminded, but interesting conversation partners, and then linking to their blogs and further articulating the web. So far, so good.
 
Since I’m just a nouveau blogger, however, I have relatively few cyber-compatriots (“Hi, I’m AKMA, your electronic friend”). And among the blogs I’ve observed, many constitute different conversations from the ones that interest me most, and others look rather tidily complete (I have a horror of squeezing a chair in at a table where everyone is already engaged in active conversation, where no one knows me, and where no one — it turns out — particularly wants me to be there).
 
So, for the record, when I get around to revising the page design I’ll cite David Weinberger‘s blog, because he is someone I relish talking with, and he has cordially involved me in his conversations. And I’m looking around at other blogs, really I am. I always check Dean Allen’s blog at Textism, because I used to work in digital type design and can’t get over the summer I spent adding and deleting rows of pixels from Cheltenham Bold 24, and besides I have France envy, and because I like his voice, even when I think he’s wrong. Likewise Andy Crewdson’s blog at Lines and Splines.
 
And my colleagues at the Ekklesia Project have a snappy new zine-blog at (get this) the Ekklesia Project Online.
 
I just thought of some other people and voices I should cite, but they went out of my head no sooner than I pushed the “edit” button.
 
And I’ll keep looking around at other blogs, to enrich the conversation.
 
( 1:54 PM )
 
David Weinberger cites a book by Michel Foucault as a provocation for him to think about the way words and concepts may be changing around us under the influence of the Web. I thank David for prodding us to think about such things in public (with parrhesia); it stimulates oxygen flow to the brain, even as I feel some hesitations about his angle on the book (which I have not read yet, partly because my neighborhood bookstores don’t stock books published by Semiotext(e) — not even here in Evanston).
 
So for starters, words and meanings and concepts are always changing — they just usually change slowly enough that we don’t notice them much (although think about the career of “gay,” which in my youth meant “cheery,” in my adolescence meant “homosexual,” and now in some sad linguistic circles has come to mean “stupid” or “uncool” or “pointless”). “Parrhesia” isn’t different in that respect, though it’s intriguingly illustrative.
 
So especially when the social circumstances within which we use words are changing so rapidly, convulsively, we ought only to expect that words/meanings/concepts would be changing too, if only because there’s no fixed point to which those words/meanings/concepts might be attached to insulate them from the pervasive cultural change around us.
 
But I’m very uncertain that
 

the concepts today that no longer make as much sense as they once did [are:] Privacy. Friendship. Employee. Politeness. Sincerity.

I’m not sure of what DW is getting at here. Sure, “employee” is undergoing a mutation, especially for information-industry types but indeed also for assembly-line workers and career middle-managerial types. And the Web is obliging us to accelerate the pace of our re-examination of “privacy,” a concept which had been wavering under ideological assault from every side for a few decades. But “politeness”? “Sincerity” and “friendship”? I have much at stake, philosophically, theologically, and personally, if those are concepts that don’t hold up any more. (And why leave out “identity,” “voice,” and “conversation,” to name three concepts David has been unraveling for a while now?)
 
Yes, cybermedia complicate the concepts (or, more to the point, they amplify problems that already affected the concepts to a greater or lesser degree), but “no longer make as much sense” sounds like a different point.
 
The blog ends with the hopeful prospect of a new golden age of Athens. Sounds exciting, though we should remember (as Foucault would hasten to remind us) that the first golden age of Athens coincided the subordination of certain insignificant people to the end that the really important people could have their say. I would have nominated “distance” for David’s list of problem-words, since the Web both makes possible friendships between distant correspondents in ways that Aristotle would have dismissed as impossible, but the same technologies further conceal from me the extent to which my high-bandwidth lifestyle separates me (and sets me at odds with) others.
 
(8:34)
 
You know, there aren’t many theologically-interesting blogs out there. I’m looking, really I am, but I’m not finding.
 

Kierkegaard and Doubt

Kierkegaard: “If I want to keep myself in faith,” Climacus writes in Concluding Unscientific Postscript, “I must continually see to it that I hold fast the objective uncertainty.”
 
Right.
 
Now, the author of the article cited above, Erin Leib, continues, “In building faith out of doubt, Kierkegaard made the absence of God look like the presence of God. He constructed a theology wherein one has full faith precisely where one does not have full faith. This, to put it mildly, is slippery, and lends itself to a theological demagoguery. For engaging with possibility is not the same thing as asserting definitively. Entertaining marriage is emphatically not the same thing as marrying. The dialectical lover and the dialectical thinker lived and died a bachelor after all.” Well, to an extent; I’m no Kierkegaard expert, so I can’t make a definitive claim about his success at getting his rhetoric just right. At the same time, Leib’s position seems to oversimplify the theological sublime to which Kierkegaard aims. Those for whom “faith” or “presence” excludes an appreciation of “the objective uncertainty,” and who thereby dismiss Kierkegaard as having weak faith or impaired faith (are these not the “knights of faith” whom he so pointedly interrogates?), miss the point that “faith” itself can well include the recognition of how improbable the whole venture looks from outside, that is, the recognition of “the objective uncertainty.”
 
Now, the tawdry theologians of uncertainty make a virtue out of doubt, and I don’t believe that that was Kierkegaard’s path; he can hardly have advocated the virtue of doubt when he ascribed such transcendent importance to obedience to God’s counter-ethical demand. The pivotal line, the line so thin as perhaps not to be there, takes the possibility of intelligent doubt seriously enough to acknowledge that faith is not necessary, that atheists, agnostics, and those whose faith differs materially from “our” faith (whoever “we” are) are stupid, perverse, deranged, or in some other manner out of touch with plain manifest reason. That doesn’t make faith “unreasonable” nor does it constitute “doubt” as a virtue — but it demands humility of faith, and offers doubt the respect that we ourselves would ask for our faith.