Monthly Archives: December 2005

Adium Rocks

When I mourned about the deficiencies of iChat (relative to GoogleTalk’s Jabber protocol), my wonderful readers recommended Adium X. I downnloaded the latest version and it started up smooth as silk.

I had to reset the alert sounds, but everything else works like a charm. I love tabbed chat windows, and the fact that the dock icon tells me whose message just arrived.

One remaining desideratum: a number of my contacts and I enjoyed seeing what’s playing on one another’s iTunes; is there a hack that enables that for Adium? (Not that it would have mattered for the last week or so, since I turn off iTunes when I’m playing Warcraft.)

(Micah recommended this solution.)

A New Crop

Josiah and I elled down to the Cathedral yesterday to celebrate the ordination to the priesthood of my former students Dave, Leigh, and Jane, and my former colleague Horace. It was wonderful to share their moment, and to catch up with alum friends such as Susie and Jane.

Since no one else has blogged this yet, I will note for the record that Bishop Persell opened the service by asking if it were the congregation’s will that these people be ordained bishops — a slip that occasioned exuberant mirth, and inordinate speculation about these clergy’s futures.

It was particularly good to catch up with Horace, who left Seabury very suddenly this fall. He moved to New York with indefinite job prospects, but has landed nicely on his feet at General Theological Seminary in New York. Well, done, sir!

In Case You Were Wondering

Margaret and Si landed just fine at Midway last night, despite intermittent snow squalls. It would be untrue — or inauthentic? — to suggest that I have devoted all my attention to Margaret since her arrival. I have spent much of the time with her, but a chunk of my afternoon and early evening went to introducing Josiah to World of Warcraft and, unwittingly, getting into a very time-consuming dungeon instance.

Exciting as that underground battle was, the part that prevented my putting the computer down and returning to Margaret’s side was the social element; four other people had set aside a chunk of their afternoons (or mornings, or evenings, or nights — I don’t know where in the world they were located) to accomplish that dungeon along with me. I didn’t want to discountenance the team, or disregard the time they’d invested. A hat tip to the Warcraft designers, for engineering the game to draw so effectively on that sentiment.*

But, it sure is great for Margaret to be back home again. That goofy grin on my face is neither just my usual expression nor some particularly favorable turn of the game’s fortunes — it’s due entirely to my sweetheart’s presence in the very same Zip Code (plus four!) as me.

* By the way, it just occurred to Si and me that the player whom Pippa created and designed looks a lot like Mena Trott, only taller and darker-skinned, dressed in a battle skirt. But since Joi roped us into playing, I suppose that just keeps things all in the family.

Backed-Up Links

I’ve been holding a bunch of links in tabs for days (some for weeks), waiting to say something substantive about them. It’s come clear that I won’t get around to devoting extensive reflections to them, but in order to close out the windows I need to throw the links somewhere, so I’ll just dump them here in a big heap.

+ I’m not sure what all these links lead to, but it includes a variety of ancient Judaic and Christian scriptural, deuterocanonical, rabbinic, apostolic, and patristic texts. Some of these might not be conveniently available elsewhere — haven’t had time to compare.

+ Hugh’s right; meaning scales. We could have a long discussion about what that implies, and how to deal effectively with it, but the premise is spot on.

+ Al Kimel and I disagree forcefully about very many things, and I doubt that I’d refer to “open communion” as “blasphemy,” but I read this pontification with some sympathy, not least because Al found himself beset by intransigent interlocutors from further to the right than he. The effort to articulate a sound, careful position between left and right can be very frustrating, can’t it?

+ I’m bemused by the whole “Christmas Under Siege” charade, especially because it seems to be orchestrated by heirs of the Reformed tradition — which itself sought to eliminate Christmas as a legacy of idolatrous paganism and Papist superstition.

+ Miss Manners talks good sense about watching your language when speaking about, even thinking about, people who have cancer. Meaning scales, and meaning matters.

+ A Creative-Commons downloadable book on Enquiry-Based Learning and Problem-Based Learning, from the All Ireland Society for Higher Education. Maybe I’ll have time to read it someday.

+ An ideal case for blogging in an educational context.

+ Congratulations, Rhonda!

(Makes a Dissatisfied Face)

Wasn’t there going to be an OS X version of the Google Talk client? I followed the directions for making iChat work with Google Talk’s Jabber interface, but it never seems to work. It avails only to give me two pop-up dialogue boxes every time I change my iChat status, advising me that the login is not secure (no, really it is, says Google), then that I wasn’t able to connect to a Jabber server. Every time.

Authenticity Redux

Frank questions my interrogation of the positive value of “authenticity”: “Mark Woods has linked to this post, giving it more substance and weight than I think it deserves. The Hermenaut link is as much piffle as the Fishko presentation. Either can be criticized or enjoyed for the superficial mind candy that each of them is.”

One way of getting at my dissatisfaction, Frank, is to confess that I’m a very careful, deliberate writer. That’s my style; were I to try to write more spontaneously, with more of the visceral spontaneity that characterizes Jeneane’s writing, I think it would be inauthentic for me (in the sense that it would give a false impression of my character and my typical mode of expression). To that extent, careful writing is authentic for me, that’s the kind of guy I am; and no-holds-barred vividness is authentic for Jeneane. [Side note: I’m picking on Jeneane here because she’s put a lot of energy into advocating her visceral bloggery, which is great with me and I admire her style, and also because she knows I think she rocks, so she’s not likely to construe my argument here as an attack on her or her chosen authentic style.)

But many people use the term “authentic” to mean, “baring the performer/writer’s inmost feelings, holding nothing back” — and to those who use the term that way, the style of writing that best fits my gnereal persona would likely seem inauthentic, inasmuch as I express myself in measured, deliberate prose. I do bar some holds. I do hold back some of my thoughts and feelings.

Which is why I raise the question, “authentic to what?” Do I fail the test of authenticity if I don’ write more like Jeneane?

Or to put it another way (because I admire Shelley, and I want to share out my links), if we were to find out that the Burning Bird’s phoenix-song were very carefully composed, to convey the effect of having been written by someone very much like the Shelley we imagine when we read her heartfelt, sometimes very pointed, clarion-calls — would that be inauthentic? What degree of deliberation and painstaking composition disqualify a recording or literary work from the category of “authenticirty”? A brilliantly gifted writer, after all, may well be able to depict impassioned spontaneity with utterly convincing prose. Is it only authentic if she really felt it?

The Hermenaut article’s invocation of Philip K Dick touches on the point for which I’m arguing. The relation between “the convincing artifice of genuineness” and “heartfelt painstakingly-devised prose” defies a binary taxonomy of authenticity. I like hearing the mistakes and rough edges when some performers play, the eyebrow-scorching graphic explicitness of some writers’ prose — and the elegant precision in some performers’ recordings, and some writers’ fine, exquisitely-assembled literary compositions. I like them all, authentically. Or not.

Imperfection, Authenticity, and Excellence

I was in a cranky mood yesterday afternoon at about 4:45, so when NPR commentator Sara Fishko started expatiating about her recent hunger for “authenticity” in recorded music, my buttons didn’t even need pushing; she merely brushed them, and set off my temper.

This is not a new topic; others have treated it with wisdom and profundity, online and offline. I don’t have time to search for specific links right now, but I’m sure Jeff Ward, Tom Matrullo, the Happy Tutor, and Ray Davis would provide more than enough grist for an edifying mill; I’d love to convene an online seminar on “authenticity” with those luminaries, chaired by Heideggerian philosopher David Weinberger — what a treat! Hermenaut’s article on “fake authenticity” opens the topic nicely, and if you’re more comfortable with print media than digital media, Adorno’s Jargon of Authenticity and I’m inclined to think there’s something by Dorothee Soelle that led me to Adorno — her critique of Rudolf Bultmann — that led me to Adorno, but I can’t find the reference right now.

The short expression of why “authenticity” vexes me comes down to, “There’s no there there.” Fishko rhapsodizes about the informal, flawed performances that she prefers to the technically-refined, highly-engineered masterworks by perfectionist performers. She’s entitled to that preference, of course, but identifying it as “authenticity” perpetuates a critical sleight-of-hand by which Fishko’s preference for endearingly imperfect performances ascribes to the work in question a positive attribute: “authenticity.” That ascription, though, occludes the question of “authentic to what?” Are the missed notes and “risks” that Fishko admires part of, say, the composer’s own vision of the work? Or do they constitute a more genuine performance than one in which the instrumentalist doesn’t miss any notes, or take risks with the piece?

In other words, “authenticity” all too often serves as an ideological placeholder term for “stuff I like, for which I don’t have a more precise or reputable adjective that justifies this appreciation.” That’s sloppy thinking, and I object to it.

For the record, I too tend to prefer performances that involve risky, technically-imperfect expression of the compositions in question — though not by any means across the board, and certainly not because such performances are more “authentic.” Some performances benefit from a swung tempo, some from an urgency that missed notes actually reinforce, some from precision and immaculate engineering, some from the casual ambiance that amateur recordings imply. Some rare, astonishing performances combine technical virtuosity with imagination and risk-taking in a sublime confluence of the highest standards in accuracy of performance, recording and artistic imagination; would they be more authentic if the performer flubbed a few notes, or the engineer recorded the performance with a narrow dynamic range and mediocre microphones? When performers deliberately select minimalist, one-take recording techniques, are they opting for greater authenticity, or are they inauthentically adopting a style that doesn’t reflect their customary practice or capacities? Different listeners will assess different combinations of qualities differently, but not because one recognizes true authenticity while the other doesn’t.

To paraphrase the quotation I have most often heard ascribed to Sam Goldwyn, “The secret to success is authenticity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Third Advent

Ooops, I didn’t call it “the liturgical season before Christmas” — I must be one of the secularizers who are ruining Christmas (parishioner and Trib columnist Charlie Madigan’s take on the War is here, behind the Trib’s annoying free-registrration firewall). Well, you can judge for yourselves how anti-Christian I am if you care to read this morning’s sermon in the extended version of this post.

Anyway, we have a short break before Advent (otherwise known as “Pre-Christmas”) Lessons & Carols. If St. Luke’s posts a recording of the sermon, I’ll link to it here.
Continue reading Third Advent

Here’s Why

Someone somewhere got the idea that blogs owed certain sorts of writing to particular topics. We’ve seen several sketches of “bloggers’ code[s] of ethics,” and I’ve heard various people opine that “_______ bloggers” (fill in the blank with the modifer of your choice, though recently the topic of “bibliobloggers” has been pressed on my attention) should write more about ______ (fill in the blank with the topic of your choice, presumably pertinent to the modifier you chose before). I’ve tried to opt out of these discussions (as the previous iteration, “What is a blog?”). They strike me as gravely misguided, conceptually confused (who appointed whom the High Commissioner of What Blogs Are And Ought To Be?), and antithetical to what I do here: namely, to converse semi-monologically with whatever readers happen by, on such topics as I suppose may be of some interest to some of them and to me. If they think I should write more about professional biblical studies, or less; or more about U. S. civil politics, or less; or more about technology, or less, that’s their lookout.

My exasperation factor has peaked, though, because somebody has decided that there’s something amiss with the fact that “Religious bloggers” or “Christian bloggers” haven’t devoted copious attention to the plight of the Christian Peacemaker Team hostages in Iraq. Now, let it be recognized right away that nobody mentioned this blog, much less singled me out for remonstrance. At the same time, since I’m arguably “religious” and almost undeniably “Christian,” the column implicates me by category anyway.

Some of the comments to the article point out that it’s better for the hostages that Christian groups not raise a hue and cry that might amplify hostility between Muslims and Christians. I suppose that’s right, although it wasn’t why I had not mentioned these peacemakers yet.

I hadn’t blogged about them because I hadn’t conceived that to be a topic on which I had something to say more than my readers might expect, nor does their captivity and jeopardy touch me so as to elicit from me a personal expostulation of fear and sorrow as it would have if the Peacemakers involved were Leah and Jonathan. I didn’t blog about the unfortunate family whose car was crushed at Midway airport the other day, killing their 6-year-old son; nor do I blog frequently about the thousands of U. S. troops killed in the Iraq conquest, or the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed in that same war.

Anything more that I say will sound tinnily defensive, and I can offer no defense to the accusation that I do not devote enough of my energies to the cause of peace. Nor is the point obliquely to elicit testimonials from people who think I’m not all that bad.

I’m writing about this now to foreground the question of whose expectations were going unfulfilled, and what claim readers’ expectations have on bloggers’ writing. Whatever one decides in answer to those questions, it shouldn’t be simple, and it may not be that bloggers stand under an obligation to write whatever readers expect them to. It’s more complicated than that.

End, Indeed

Today was the last day of chapel for the term, the last day of classes, pretty much the last all around (apart from one of our classic all-day faculty meetings next week, followed by a faculty-colleague evaluation). I’m six papers away from being done for the term.

Meanwhile, I’m preaching at St. Luke’s on Sunday, a sermon for which I had a notional start — except that there’s been a death in the congregation, which will have to affect the way I address the congregation, the theme, pretty much everything about the day. I’ll try for a good night’s sleep, and see whether I can summon up an insight that’s respectful of grief while not immediately signaling to visitors that they’re not in the loop, that attends to the season and also acknowledges that holidays bring not only joy and togetherness, but can also bring despair and isolation. Oh, and that good news persists through all of this. And do laundry, maybe finish off those papers, and devote some time to the Pip.

Tall order — I guess I should get to bed right away.