Monthly Archives: January 2010

Proud Loss

NC State whipped Duke’s butt last night, and although I’d rather my team had won, I’m awfully proud that the flagship Duke hoops website takes the high road in reporting on the loss (as it consistently has done over the years). NC State does deserve congratulations, and it’s very good for the ACC when State thrives.
DBR regularly shows that unwavering support and home-team boosterism can go hand in hand with honest respect (and candid criticism) for other programs — and for Duke, when that’s called for. Well done, guys, and I’ll look forward to reading about Duke basketball on your site till the last game of the NCAA playoffs.

Who Doesn’t Love A Survey?

Others blogged and Facebooked this last week, but I stalled — partly because I had other things to blog, and partly because it seemed a waste of a blogpost to mention this at the same time everyone else did. So, as others said earlier, the SBL will eventually develop a web resource to be called “The World of the Bible: exploring people, places, and passages.” Before so doing, they hope to learn from you, the general audience, just what you’d expect and desire to see in such a site, so they’ve constructed a survey for you to fill out. If you wouldn’t mind, why don’t you stop over there and fill it out. I’m not sure there’s a place to put “AKMA for Monarch of Biblical Studies!” but I won’t stop you from trying.

Th’ Wayrrre

Margaret has been following with the avid interest of a crime-novel aficionado the latest developments in Glasgow’s underworld gang war. Last week, assassins gunned down Kevin “The Gerbil” Carroll while he sat and waited outside a local ASDA supermarket. That scene itself was enough to pique interest, since the rate of gun violence is so very much lower here than in the States. But Margaret had to follow up the question of how the ruthless enforcer for the Daniel mob — got nicknamed after a cute furry rodent.
So — avid reader of Glasgow news that she is — Margaret tracked down an article that cites and explains several of the Glasgow gang members’ nicknames. (I admire the tag for Tam “The Licensee” McGraw. I keep envisioning a surreptitious encounter in a dimly-lit warehouse, where one mug warns another, “Watch ye — The Licensee is after ye.”) Evidently the enforcer was named after “Kevin the Gerbil” on a kids TV puppet show — so imagine a member of the New York Mafia known as Tony “Mr Snuffleupagus” Valenti, for instance.
Today’s update notes that the killers — the alleged killers, of course — sped out of the parking lot in a VW Golf.
But the entire scenario reminds me of a plot line from a brilliant television series set in Baltimore (the other city Margaret and I call home, for now). That set me to thinking: Port city. Rivalry among crime families. Challenging dialect. Wouldn’t there be a market for a series that takes up the issues of inner-city racketeering set in Glasgow?
(Parenthetical disclaimer in case any Glaswegian mobsters read this blog: I mean no disrespect, and certainly no hostility, apart from the general antipathy a law-abiding pacifist citizen holds toward violent law-breaking. In other words, “Nothing personal, sirs.”)


Quoted for Truth: An IHE Quick Take entitled “Accents Matter in Ancient Greek.” I haven’t seen the t-shirts in question, but I can easily understand how such a problem might arise. It goes along with the frequent problem of non-Greek-literate sign painters trying to reproduce letterforms on painted institutional crests and mottoes (Glasgow cleverly avoids this by having adopted our biblical motto in its Latin form: “Via, Veritas, Vita.”) Once I ordered Greek-inscribed t-shirts for a class, and had to make a last-minute change (at a certain out-of-pocket expense) because my memory slipped a cog on the proper form for a third-declension genitive, and somewhere in a box I have a t-shirt that students made for me with an imprecise Greek slogan on it.


Yesterday, my friend (and former student at PTS) Katie Pate called my attention to Laura Veirs’s appearance last night at my neighbourhood night spot, the Òran Mór. I’d have gone to check it out, but I was still babying my convalescing cold. I did download a bunch of her songs, though (it’s still early in my eMusic cycle, so I have — errr, “had” — downloads to spare). I’m sure I missed a great (and affordable) show, but it isn’t the first time nor will it be the last. She was appearing as part of Celtic Connections, an annual January music festival in Glasgow, of which the inhabitants are evidently quite proud. The participants aren’t necessarily from Scotland or Ireland, not by far; I suppose the idea is to celebrate indigenous musics of the world, including Celtic culture in the foreground, but that’s just a guess. Maybe it’s just a matter of “book who we can, and call it ‘Celtic’ to draw the tourists.” Is there a “Rangers Round-up” music festival in the summer?
I have to say, though, that Scotland is a rocking place — especially considering the (small) population of the country. Signs all over Glasgow proclaim gigs by numerous bands of whom I’d never heard before; I assume they’re local groups, and I wish them all the best.
But then there are a myriad of bands of whom I had indeed heard before, some quite famous and others more neglected, but all from the land of Burns: Big Country, Franz Ferdinand, Belle and Sebastian, My Latest Novel, Camera Obscura, the Proclaimers (of course!), Simple Minds, Travis, Glasvegas, Trash Can Sinatras, Idlewild, Frightened Rabbit, Teenage Fanclub, the Eurythmics, the Fratellis, the Beta Band, the Scottish Enlightenment (but not, paradoxically, Sunny Day in Glasgow), and many more. (I’m putting my fingers in my ears and pretending that the Bay City Rollers didn’t exist, and only letting the Average White Band sneak in when I’m not looking.)
That’s a very impressive showing for a wee little state such as ours. I’d have a fantastic time at a (chronology-defying) festival featuring a line-up like that.

What’s Up?

Well, let’s see. Friday morning I gave my Bibs 1B lecture, but as I wandered back to the office I realized that I felt pretty run-down, and my nose was sending me ominous signals. I accomplished as much as could only be done from campus, and then headed home to finish up my afternoon’s work from the flat.
Once I got home, I realised that I wasn’t just weary and achey. I had come down with a genuine cold, and I’ve spent much of the intervening two days huddled on the couch, watching movies on my computer, napping, and staring blankly out at the world. As colds go, this is nothing special — but it’s a real cold, and I’m a poor convalescent.
What might I have discussed more effusively if I had the energy? Well, of course, there’s the abysmal situation in Haiti. I stopped at one of the Oxfam stores on Byres Road to make a donation, but there are abundant ways of contributing digitally. I particularly commend to your attention the Haiti Partners program, of which Kent Annan, a former student of mine at PTS, is co-director. (Will C, if you can direct some airplay his direction, I expect that would be illuminating for listeners/viewers and helpful to HP’s mission.) Haiti Partners is not just responding to this week’s catastrophe, but has been working there for years.
I might have blogged about the tremendously delightful conversation I had with Euan at the Brunswick Hotel (the Brunswick is so classy that you can only find it if you are searching intently for it; I’m glad I allowed extra time for exploring the Merchant City neighborhood, because if I thought I’d just walk up to a brightly-lit marquee with a spacious lobby and liveried staff to-ing and fro-ing, I’d have missed the whole evening). Several salient points: first, if you haven’t met Euan, you probably underestimate how tall he is. I was expecting (no offense, friends) someone more the height of most of my other hyperlinked circle, but Euan is a seriously tall man. Second, if you attend only to Euan’s and my banter about my allegiance to the church and his deplorable pagan-ness, you may miss the point that on many aspects of our disagreement we diverge in quite harmonious ways. There’s a difference, but it’s a chord, not a dissonance. Third, we talked a great deal about how much we miss the good old days (about five or six years ago), when Blogaria felt more like a network of friends than like Times Square (or George Square) on New Years Eve (or Hogmanay). I won’t try to run through the list of names of people we cited — you know who you are — but we miss the days when our writing back and forth to one another in blogs and comments made for a lively, daily, neighbourly discourse among The Regulars at a local cafe. Nowadays, we catch the eye of someone we know at the hot-drinks franchise, maybe wave back and forth, but something has been lost. Anyway, we raised a glass in your honour, comrades, and we gave thanks for your friendship. And Euan, come back again, maybe to the West End, and we’ll renew the conversation.
Yesterday, I’d have congratulated our diocesan Dean (not the Big Priest of the cathedral as in the US/England, but the senior priest of the diocese wherever he or she is located) Gregor Duncan, on being elected Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway. We might have elected Alison Peden as the first woman to be a bishop in the UK, but Gregor is well-known and well-respected in the diocese, and I expect that the electors gravitated easily to a familiar, popular, admirable local leader. I’d have been very happy to serve either Gregor or Alison (didn’t know much about the third candidate), but the election of Gregor makes much good sense to me and I’m pleased for him and the diocese.
When I went to town to meet up with Euan, I left the West End early, partly because I wanted to be sure to find the Brunswick, but also because I thought I might be able to find a replacement for my black felt hat. On my trip to the States, I left my black hat in the KLM gate area of the Glasgow Airport, and by the time I realized it, there was nothing to be done. I’ve gone bare-headed for many of the intervening days, but Thursday’s chilly rain motivated me to look into the men’s millinery departments of several Glasgow merchants. A word to the wise: slim pickings. I did track down a suitable replacement, though, and am comfortably re-hatted on black-wearing days. On yesterday’s fresh-air foray to Byres Road, I looked in at a shop that sells grey top hats (such as one might wear to a wedding or the Queen’s Tea), and one of them fit me perfectly — but even so idiosyncratic a dresser as I could not think of a single situation in which it would be appropriate for me to wear a top hat. More’s the pity. If, however, it had been a bowler, well that’s another story.
To return to my health: I still feel listless and congested, but I got outdoors for an hour or so yesterday, and will probably venture forth for a while today. I am skipping church (with the Provost’s permission — I did have my Lemsip, Kelvin) this morning, and will take things at a very relaxed pace. There’s much I need to do, but banishing this cold comes first.

I’m Going To Meet Euan!

Euan and I have known each other for nearly nine years online having “met” during the early days of blogging. Swapping emails, iChat conversations and comment threads I feel like I know Euan better than people I know locally but yet we have never met face to face. Until tomorrow that is! I am taking the underground to the city centre after saying Mass and leading Historical Jesus class and am going to spend tomorrow evening with Euan. Can’t wait!

Stuff That Matters

Helping Haiti, for instance. It’s not a hard enough life for a nation trying to survive the devastating legacy of generations of exploitative coups and dictatorships with one of the two weakest economies in the Western Hemisphere — they now have to cope with their capital city being leveled by an earthquake, leveling the shanties that sheltered the preponderance of the city’s population. One of my long-ago PTS students seems to have been on a mission trip there; I haven’t yet heard that he’s safe.
It’s hard times all around, but probably nowhere harder than around Port-au-Prince. Please help, whether through ERD or some other agency.

Sorry. . . . Stromateis

See, I’ve almost got that down. A good half of my interactions with strangers now begin with one of us saying ‘Sorry’ to the other, and I’m not unlikely to be the initial Sorry-er.
I’m fighting back backed-up responsibilities: some course prep, admin meetings, an article for church news, scheduling various other appointments. I need to buy a new black felt hat, since I left my previous one in the Glasgow Airport (I’m tempted to use this as the rationale to get a top hat or a bowler, but I think relative sanity will prevail), and maybe some trousers.
•  I have a tender lump on one of my feet. I suspect that the culprit is poor circulation to my feet causing something like a chilblain, but less dramatic. I’ve had the same sort of thing happen to my other foot in winter, in other places. It does hurt, though, and I’ll look forward to summer’s coming to warm me up.
•  Dylan’s blogging a series of things that the Episcopal Church could do to support the ministries of theologians. I greatly appreciate her doing this; it runs contrary to the prevailing culture of the church, which tends to downplay the importance of theological thinking altogether. My only reservation with Dylans’s third point concerns the extent to which it presupposes a prior rich preparation for critical theological reasoning. If her first two proposals were taken seriously and allowed time to bear fruit, the third would be a fine next step.
•  Well, that’s only one, and one scrap does not a stromateis make, so I’ll point to the Mountain Goats’ performance in Pitchfork’s series of four-song sets recorded in the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. I may have neglected to link to John Darnielle’s appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series.
•  And that bit about learning to say ‘sorry’ should count as a scrap, too.
•  Whoops, I forgot about my para-chilblain. That would have been two, but now I’m up to five. I’m really racking up stromateis now!
•  Margaret’s back in the States; I miss her, even though the flat feels tremendously more spacious (that is, ‘emptier’).

One Meaning To Rule Them All

Roland Boer and Loren Rosson (here and here) have fallen into a spiral of arguments that don’t quite engage one another; both claim to have insight into the true character of the Lord of the Rings, its qualities and its meaning. They occasionally invoke the question of authorial intent, but the broader discussion departs often enough from a strict discussion of Tolkien’s intent to general hermeneutics and to specific claims about the real meaning of LOTR.
This sort of controversy illustrates the reasons I cobbled together my approach to hermeneutics, and perhaps the reason so few people affirm it, and thus the reason I often hesitate to participate in this sort of discussion. Relative to the first reason: both Loren and Roland advance evidence to support their readings of LOTR; neither of them just says “Neener neener” and puts out his tongue at the other. If we grant that both are more-or-less careful readers, we’re left with the conclusion that despite their careful reading, one of them must be ignorant of some vital consideration, or ideologically beclouded, or mentally impaired, or incapable of disinterested evaluation. “Must be,” that is, so long as there is only one privileged account of the meaning and quality of LOTR. If we can tolerate the idea that there might be two or more justifiable readings of LOTR, each operating on the basis of somewhat different premises and interpretive logics, the pertinent question shifts from “Which of these two (if either) has truly attained the One Meaning that trumps every other?” to “Why are these two excellent readers squabbling over which one is right, when each is conducting a different interpretive exercise?” But again: my position allows for the possible excellence and soundness of alternative readings at the cost of anyone having the grounds to claim that everyone else is just flat wrong.
Relative to the second “reason” to which I alluded above, most interpreters will not renounce the idea that somewhere, somehow, there subsists a uniquely true and authoritative interpretation that (if discovered) justifies claims that all ones interlocutors have erred. Many sophisticated interpreters will decline explicitly to endorse this notion, but then re-enact the pantomime of drubbing-the-Other as soon as someone challenges their favorite interpretive axiom. If more people tried to live without access to the One Meaning, we could argue with one another over stronger or weaker, more or less plausible, lovelier or uglier interpretations without worrying about whether our colleagues have ignored any necessary, transcendent, absolute, intrinsic interpretive imperatives. Those absolute interpretive axioms, however, keep sneaking back into our discourse, since they so conveniently tend always to support our side of an argument, and always to discountenance those others. Hence, a hermeneutic without One Meaning finds relatively few takers.
And relative to the third “reason” — well, I deplore repeating oneself, and I have no ambition to provide a meta-hermeneutics that resolves all interpretive conflict. My main interest involves getting at interpretive difference in ways that don’t require invoking the One Meaning to which somebody has privileged access, via the privileged method. The practice of interpretation apart from subsistent meaning strikes me as a much more interesting and productive field of discourse; but then, we can easily display evidence that almost everyone would rather propose absolute interpretations of the One Meaning than hash out the pluses and minuses of various non-absolute alternatives.
So it strikes me as perfectly intelligible that Roland thinks LOTR should be characterized as “[a] boring fable. . . an elaborate and multilayered allegory of the Second World War (during which much of it was written), of the evils of capitalism and industrialisation, of Roman Catholic enchantment versus Protestant worldliness.” I’d be much more surprised were he to confess to admiring appreciation of Tolkien’s fantasy epic. And although I’m not as well acquainted with Loren, I know plenty of folks who share his sense that such an evaluation of LOTR gravely misconstrues what Loren identifies as “the greatest story ever told,” “emphatically not an allegory,” and so on.
The problem isn’t the innate characteristics of LOTR, or authorial intention, or whether John Milbank really comments on blogs under a pseudonym, or any of a dozen other controverted points. If we assent to the dogma of the One Meaning, then we always participate under the sign of interpretive correctness, and in hoc signo vinces. Me, I’d rather that we allow that every expression is susceptible to infinite interpretations, some more plausible and some less, some that we will allow and some that we forbid, but none of them final and authoritative — in short, that we renounce the notion that any of us is in the position to grasp or wield the One Meaning. But other, better, wiser, more erudite observers indicate unwavering confidence that they have hold of The Meaning, that it’s not a matter of their interest or advantage, and that interpretive necessity obliges them to trounce anyone who questions their point. That I remain unconvinced by anyone’s claim to that effect presumably shows my own folly.