Monthly Archives: May 2012


I’ve been called many things that I didn’t like, and some that flatter (in a gratifying way), and some that feel just right. I’m going to dump some of the latter two categories here, partly out of vanity, and partly because some — one in particular that I want to preserve from Facebook’s unsearchable memory abyss — feel like epithets that I can live with, perhaps even live up to.
So, long ago, Gaspar dubbed me ‘il cappellano di Blogaria’; at about the same time, Timothy identified me as ‘the ghostly father of the blog world’. A former colleague described me as ‘a postmodern Victorian’, which rings true to me. Liz Ditz emailed David Farber, and he posted on his blog, a characterisation of me as ‘Ordained Priest, Academic…and Potential Felon?’ [that was with regard to my misadventure as the information highwayman].
A Northwestern student who took a Historical Jesus class with me summed up her course evaluation with the affirmation ‘bitchin’ biblical scholastitude!’ On a more formal note, Antonios Finitsis concluded a positive review of Faithful Interpretation alluded to my writing as ‘lucid and eloquent’ and describing me as ‘a master teacher’ (Horizons in Biblical Theology 29 (2007) 223f.).
At a recent conference, Tractorgirl observed that I was not “a product of the DIY rave culture”, but that I turned out actually to be “a middle aged bloke in a suit”. David Weinberger described me as ‘a clear, entertaining and generous writer’, and Elizabeth and I agreed that I’m a ‘post-Derridean New Critic’. Jonathon Delacour supposes that I’m ‘the only Blogarian who blogs doing dishes’. And one of my favourites will always be Accordion Guy‘s ascription to me of the title, ‘the Ferris Bueller of the Blogosphere’.
All of which is as it may be. I’m well aware that other critics will find my work inadequate or downright pernicious. That’s why all of the above merely prepares for the most recent characterization, from Judy Stack-Nelson: ‘Nietzsche in a chasuble’! I’m proud to have put that image in her head (even if she doesn’t think I’m really that dangerous a theorist). Thanks, Judy!

Meaning, Information, and Inference

I’ve been imagining, for a long time, a seminar of a sort that would undergird my particular approach to hermeneutics, but naming that a ‘hermeneutics’ course strikes me as false advertising. A student has the just expectation that a ‘hermeneutics’ course will cover people like Schleiermacher, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Ricoeur, with side trips to account for feminism, racial and post-colonial approaches to interpretation, and postmodern theory, even when these aren’t an easy fit with the hermeneutical tradition.
I think I can sit comfortably with a course designation such as that which I’ve assigned this post. My work focuses on the problem that ‘meaning’ constitutes for interpretation, it frames hermeneutics as a problem of information design, and it relies on a reception model for explaining how we arrive at ideas about ‘what it means’. While I would prefer to teach the course as a multi-year seminar that covers many of the works I identify in my imaginary syllabus, I could probably cut that down to one year-long honours reading list, or one semester’s readings for a US course, and the rest of the readings might be assigned to a recommended bibliography from which assiduous students could draw for their further research.
As the ideas for my work come clearer and clearer to me, I’m more and more concerned to have the opportunity to teach this course, and to make the thinking behind it available in scholarly and popular form. That’s something that will fuel my research and publication agenda for the years to come, and (I think) should also fuel one element in my teaching.

Interface Idea

I’ve moaned about the interface evolution that deprecates scroll bars and replaces them with a sort of reverse scroll bar, a slider that operates in the direction opposite to the direction that years of working with scroll bars has trained us to operate. This morning, it occurs to me that part of the problem, perhaps a large part or even all of the problem, arises because interface designers have used an indicator that still looks like the slider on a scroll bar — the grey rectangle in Google Apps, for instance, looks fundamentally like the slider on scroll bars from time immemorial (or at least twenty-plus years).
What if, instead of a slider-bar-like grey rectangle, the margin of a window showed a lightly-knurled arc, which seems to turn in the direction corresponding to the direction the user moves the window? I don’t have access to my graphics tools and apps here, but it shouldn’t be at all hard for devs to implement such an indicator, and it would clarify for an experienced user that the window’s controller is no longer functioning as a sliding gripper, but as a geared wheel? You could even make it an interface option or (probably) a plug-in or extension. Make it so!

In Passing

We’re bouncing around the country now, with hardly enough stabilitas even to confess our gyrovagous extravagance, but I spotted this article on honesty and why we cheat (or don’t) by Daniel ‘Predictably Irrational’ Ariely, and it struck me that it pertains in some ways to the way I think about Scripture, theology, ethics, and so on. And rather than entrusting it to my memory, I thought I’d put it here, where I can search for it more effectively — assuming, of course, that I remember to look here at all.


My favourite anecdote from our travels thus far came from when Margaret and I were standing on the L platform at Roosevelt, waiting for the Orange Line train to Midway. I was staring up the tracks, sizing up the picture I was about to take
Roosevelt, Orange Line
when a gentleman carrying a guitar in a pack on his back approached and asked me, ‘Where you get that hat, man?’ I ruefully noted that I’d bought it in Scotland, at Debenham’s. ‘Thas a bad hat, man, B-A-D bad.’
Few things gratify an ageing post-hipster more than having his chapeau recognised as a bad hat.
What else? A good and productive meeting at the Wabash Center, where we conducted a spirited discussion about politics and editorial policy. A long, wearisome drive to Interlochen, followed by a delightful reunion with our extraordinary Pippa and her school friends. A weary, bleak encounter with unindictable incompetence some where in the reservations system that links and the actual hotel where seven months ago we had confirmed our commitment to bring three rooms of paying customers to spend this long weekend (the hotel in question, the Hampton Inn in Traverse City, eventually honoured our reservations — yay, Hampton Inn! — and no one has identified the locus of responsibility for the snafu.) Yesterday we picked up Margaret’s sister Jeanne at the airport, and later tonight we expect Si and Laura to roll in. Woohoo, it’s a festive weekend family reunion!
Pippa would be embarrassed if I reported all the incandescent praise that her teachers have offered, so I’ll just note that Interlochen seems to have been a good educational match for her. She flourished in a remarkable network of friends, too, so I should add that I has been a great social match for her as well. From what we’ve seen during Pippa’s years, Interlochen knows how to do things right, and we’re deeply impressed by their care for, tutelage of, and formation of the young artists whom we entrust to them. Margaret and I, and Pippa too I think, give Interlochen a total of six thumbs up, way up.
When I moved to Glasgow, people warned me about how the cost of living must be much higher in Scotland. Three years later, after a week on US soil, I respond, ‘Poppycock!’ Now, Margaret and I don’t drive, so we don’t pay directly for petrol, but in practically every other way it looks to your humble correspondent here as though prices are generally pretty comparable. One area in which we find prices generally higher at home, though, is clothing — so we’ve made several stops to acquire lower-priced US goods while we’re over here.
Tonight is Convocation at Interlochen, and we’ll cheer applaud for our godchild Emily, for all our graduating Interlochen acquaintances, and especially for Pip, of whom we could not be prouder.
Pippa's Nests and Felted Eggs

All The Way From America

I’m over here in the States. That feels weird; it’s a mark of how thoroughly I’m settling in Scotland that being in the USA unsettles me in vague, subtle ways. But the weather is great, and it’s wonderful to be here with Si and Laura and Laura’s parents Carol and Doug (being friends with your in-laws has to be one of the very top features of your children’s marriages — we get to boast to one another about how great they are, and we all know that we’re right!), and it’s good for me to get out of Glasgow for a while, if only to love it the more when I return.
I’m on my way to a meeting of the Editorial Board of Teaching Theology and Religion, an academic journal that does what it says on the tin, during which the BBC segment which [may be] featuring bits of conversation with me will air, so if you listen to it live, you’ll be able to terrify me by saying how bizarre I sounded. Vanity and anticipatory curiosity combine to make me itchy to know how it all turns out, but there’s a lot to do before then: some miscellaneous US shopping (for my undifferentiated black socks, etc), a haircut, honouring Doug and Carol’s anniversary, travel to the Wabash Centre, Board work.
Then, off to Interlochen for Pippa’s graduation!

Erring, Losing, Yielding

Dangerous nihilistic postmodernist that I am, I’m still comfortable stating a few points as plain facts. Fact one: everyone errs, makes mistakes, misjudges, slips, blunders. (I know this in part because our progeny listened so often to Big Bird sing “Everyone Makes Mistakes” — and if Big Bird says so, it must be a fact).
Fact Two: You can’t win ’em all. At the very least, in the end, you’re going to lose your mortal life; but between now and then, you’re going to lose some little things, some very great things, maybe a lot, maybe not very often. Athletes and teams lose; lawyers and litigants lose; politicians lose; regular folks lose (frequently, which is why those who take victories from us think of us as ‘losers’).
Fact Three: There are times when the right thing to do is to yield. We encounter lots of reasons to not-yield: longstanding wounds, pure old vanity, self-absorption, the confidence that our cause is just and our hearts are pure and our minds are clear, but sometimes even when we are in the right, the right thing to do is to yield. For lots of reasons.
Erring, losing, and yielding are unpopular experiences — but you can’t avoid them. You can’t avoid making mistakes; you can’t avoid losses; you can’t avoid circumstances where the right thing to do is to yield.
And here’s the barb at the end of this already unwelcome hook — other people can’t avoid these things too, and they don’t like erring, losing, and yielding any more than we do. And if we ever try to resist acknowledging error, or struggle futilely not to lose, or refuse to yield willingly, then we can’t blame others for doing the same, even when they do it more, even when they do it gracelessly. Other people may have greater, deeper, less visible wounds than we; or they may have an obscure stake in prevailing on a certain point, a stake we (or even they) aren’t aware of; or they may sense themselves to have an urgent necessity that takes precedence over yielding. Whatever the cause, other people face the unpleasant necessity of erring, losing, and yielding, too — and they often respond cluelessly, inappropriately, gracelessly, boorishly. Or they just insist tenaciously that this case in particular isn’t one of the times they’re in error, or one of the disagreements/conflicts/manoeuvres that they’re going to lose, or that they should yield. I do that; you do that. We do it to other people (if I’m not mistaken, then they must be wrong; if I’m dead set on prevailing, then they must lose; if I’m not going to give way, I will make them yield.)
A great part of our character depends on how we deal with error, loss, and yielding — our own, and that which we require of others. The more patiently and deeply we consider why our interlocutor is so fervently resisting, the more we consider the likelihood that their determination might arise out of the possibility that we really are wrong (or we are destined not to prevail, or we ought to yield), the more we allow for the possibility that circumstances in question are in the long run less important than is dwelling in humility and gentleness, the more likely we will be to err, lose, yield gracefully, in a way that makes room for others to admit their error, to mitigate our loss, to yield, in turn, to us. No guarantees; then we’d have a ground for supposing that this time it’s our turn, we can’t be wrong, mustn’t lose, absolutely will not yield. But if we make room for others to be right, to win, to not-yield, there’s more room also for them to let us have those opportunities.
But of course, I could be wrong about that.

When Is A Seminary Not A Seminary, or Is It Even Possible That It Not Be?

Bob Carlton called my attention to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (no, it’s not the thermonuclear-ly ignorant blogpost that got so much attention) concerning ‘the future of the seminary’. I want to emphasise at the outset that I applaud the authors for their research, and for earning an attention-getting article in the Chronicle — very well done! But I have reservations about the article too, and in the spirit of taking such research seriously — even when reported in the Chronicle, whose standards now seem a little dented and tarnished — I’ll pose some follow-up questions to our intrepid oneiromancers.*
First, let’s bear in mind that we’re talking about ‘the future of seminaries’ or perhaps (it sometimes seems, hough maybe not in careful reporting of the research data) ‘the future of theological education’. If we’re going to ponder the future of such institutions, might we not first of all ask, ‘Is there something about seminary/theological education that needs to persist, or else we’re not talking about seminary/theological education any more?’ That is: Yahoo! can start out as a curated search company, branch out to become a general Web portal, then buy Flickr and show the beginnings of a promising social media hub, then start buying this and cutting that, en route to becoming a successful… or… well, maybe that wasn’t a good example. (Or maybe it was an all too good example.) But if a seminary starts out with educating people for positions of leadership in [Christian] ministry, let’s say, and then adds modern language instruction to its brief, and then notes the value of leadership training for church leaders, and eventually cuts out most of that outdated old theological education, are we still talking about the same institution, the same mission?
True, the times they are a-changing, “time makes ancient good uncouth’, ‘the Spirit will lead you into all truth’, and I’m not arguing that anyone should pretend time has frozen and seminary/theological education has to build a fantasy crystal dome to keep the modern world at bay. Rather, before we pose the question of what sem/theo education will be in the future, I wonder whether there’s anything that one might reaonably expect sem/theo education to be in general. If it turns out that language instruction and leadership training bring home the pedagogical bacon such that a place that once called itself a ‘seminary’ now devotes relatively less time to teaching about the Bible, or doctrine, or history, or theological ethics, or liturgical theology, and more time to topics related to the exercise of a professional office (and PR), do we want to say that the appropriate usage of the term ‘seminary’ has changed, or that the Grace L Ferguson Aluminum Storm Door and Theological Seminary should now just call itself GLFASD and Language and Leadership Institute?
I’ve been skeptical on this point for a long time, so for fairness’s sake, let’s mark my questions down to obdurate traditionalism. A. K. M. Adam, postmodern theorist, technologist, and narrow-minded retrograde stick-in-the-mud, that’s me. Let’s do some figuring, though. The article cites as one of the ‘changes’ facing sem/theo education that seminaries encounter ‘increasing numbers of seminary students who have not grown up in the church’. While not all churches do a great job of teaching the rudiments of faith to young congregants, it’s hard to imagine that in the aggregate, recent Christians know a great deal more about Christian faith than would lifelong adherents — or does keeping away from church convey a better sense of what church is about than remaining in and participating? (If that’s the case, if not growing up in the church is better formation than growing up, we have some fascinating years ahead — but having learned and taught in theological academia for the past thirty years, I have not encountered evidence that avoidance of church provides better education than long-term participation. In a word, the article posits a reason for suspecting that entering students know less under the general category of sem/theo education than they have in the past.
The article also notes that sem/theo institutions are ‘giving greater attention to training in leadership, business practices (such as budgeting), and evangelism, as well as… interfaith dialogue and the inclusion of religious education for their students’. So students who know less about theological topics coming in the door, are now being taught less in theological disciplines. (You obviously can’t add all these courses to the curriculum and at the same time keep the same number of hours in theological topics — as it is, we who teach ministry students face pressure to get them out the doors faster, thus saving precious time and money.)
I doubt there’s a coherent way to compare church leaders who trade away leadership training in favour of theological instruction (on one hand) to church leaders who make the opposite choice (on the other), but the results would be fascinating. As it is, we who read the research learn that clergy whose training emphasises leadership talk about how helpful it has been (terrific!), and many who take a theology-heavy curriculum complain about it (booo!). That’s an important data point — but it doesn’t show that churches should move to leadership training rather than, oh, say, theological education. If one wants to draw conclusions from that sort of research, one will have to control for a great many more variables, and show a strong set of links to support one’s hypothesis. Among the variables one will have to control for, I’d nominate: Does the research assume that the sem/theo educators were doing a good job at theological education in the first place? (It’s entirely conceivable that the reported widespread dissatisfaction with theological education has to do with mediocre theological education, after all.) Do we know that the sem/theo graduates who are enthusiastic for leadership training understood [Christian] ministry in the same way that graduates who opted for a theology-heavy curriculum understood it? (Again, it’s not at all out of the question that we’re talking about two populations with significantly different goals.) And there are the well-known problems with drawing simple inferences from complex past cultural ecologies (though the leadership trainees may have skipped a few semesters of history, so that might not be equally apparent across the curriculum).
To return to my opening rumination, as this is already getting too long, and even longer with each parenthetical digression: before we diagnose the future of theological education, might we not begin by thinking through what we mean by, want from, ‘theological education’? Before we rush wholesale into competing with one another to incorporate more ‘leadership training’, might we begin by checking to ascertain the tremendous benefits that have accrued to the practice of management through the introduction of ‘leadership training’? (We sure dodged a bullet on that financial crisis — imagine how much worse things would have been if we didn’t have a class of business leaders and middle managers who know their stuff when it comes to leadership!) And since church governance has been putting an emphasis on ‘leadership’ for more than a dozen years now, can we check the health reports of our churches to get a rough sense of how much worse off the churches would be if their leaders had spent those terms learning about theology?
Most of these questions involve research data that we probably can’t get at, and that few if any people really want to know about anyway. As the article notes, there’s ‘a widening chasm between Christian churches and seminaries’ (though before we get excited about that as a ‘trend’, we might recall the very many theologians whose students are reputed to have stabbed them to death with their pens — a cursory survey pulls up Johannes Scotus Eriugena, Artemas of Pozzuoli, Felix of Pincas, Mark of Arethusa, Cassian of Imola) (oooh, no, not church history!) (but wait, those aren’t all examples of teachers killed for their bad pedagogy!) (but you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t care about sound ecclesiastical historiography, so theological education wins that way, too). Might part of the problem lie in churches’ growing dissatisfaction with the graduates whom seminaries produce, to which seminaries have been responding by sending out graduates who are less and less well-formed as parochial theologians? (Maybe, maybe not, but assuming that the right response will be ‘even more leadership training’ doesn’t constitute a scholarly conclusion to the problem under consideration. Nor, of course, does my shooting from the hip — though I’m not advancing my marksmanship as scholarly evidence, either.)
The academy is a very peculiar place, with forces and customs and practices and neuroses distinctive to its own milieu. As culture changes around theological academies, we ought by all means expect the seminaries to change, too. We ought probably allow for them to change in some unforeseen ways, and we ought to wish they’d make some changes that seem as plain as the nose on my face. Heck, we can wish someone would change my nose, while we’re at it. But when we undertake analyses of the current state and the future state of theological education, let’s ask questions about theological education itself, and not solely supplements or alternatives to theological education.


* I use the term ‘oneiromancers’ for variety’s sake, compared with the shopworn ‘prognosticators’ or ‘crystal ball-gazers’; I don’t question the integrity of their research results in the slightest. In fact, it’s the research premises that seem problematic to me, as you will have seen if you read to the bottom before you looked for this note. If you jumped straight down to the bottom, well, I guess I should have said ‘spoiler alert!’ first. Sorry.

Two Follow-Ups (Follows-Up?)

I’ve listened to this week’s The Digital Human, which announced that ‘Next week…, we’ll be looking at another way the Web has challenged authority — who is the keeper of our faith?’ (The Radio Four website says ‘Aleks Krotoski looks at religious belief and the internet.’) I’ll be interested to learn what the producer does with my segments, to align them with those announced themes. The second is closer to what we spent most of the morning talking about.
And I brought two pens home from the Antiques Fair, but they weren’t the two I was expecting. Peter and I had crossed wires about the two 51s I thought I’d be welcoming back to the collection, and instead had replaced the nib on a Parker 61 I had passed along to him. The other pen I brought home is the Parker 51 with the stub nib (Forest Green barrel), which he adjusted on-site for me. The other two P51s will have to wait till Peter’s next trip through Glasgow. The P51 stub is a bit fiddly to write with, but it’s unusual enough that Peter asked gently about whether I wanted to have that one out as well in exchange for a fine point; no thank you, Peter, this one’s a keeper, at least for now.

Parker Sunday

A few months ago, I had only the most remote acquaintance with Parker 51 pens, one of the landmark models in fountain pen design. (I’m sure I handled one at a Triangle Pen Club meeting sometime, but just in passing.) I have several Parker 21s, which are very closely related to the 51 (and a very fine substitute if the 51 is out of your range, as it was for me for a long time). Though I kept my eyes open for bargains, I hadn’t seen any 51s in the wild.
So earlier this year, I saved up my pence, and combed my collection for pens that didn’t really fit in or that I wasn’t especially committed to, and brought them down to the Antiques Fair to Peter Crook’s booth, and traded in the pens and some cash for my first Parker 51. It’s a lovely pen, but I realised after using it for several inkings that the medium nib was broader than I like, so I put it aside for a while. Then almost immediately after, I noticed a pen on eBay that looked a lot like a 51, but which was not clearly labeled (a huge source of eBay bargains, and for some eBay scams where the seller lures alert scavengers into bidding for an apparently mislabeled pen that turns out to be a more pedestrian alternative) — so I put in a cursory bid for the might-be 51, won, and found that it was a 51 indeed. Again, though, it came with a medium nib, so I put it aside with my carefully-sourced 51.
Last month, I took both my medium 51s in to Peter for him to swap out the medium nibs for fine nibs, an operation that won’t be frightfully expensive but will make them much more usable for me. At that very Fair, I wandered past a booth with a pen that I recognised as yet another 51, and I casually asked the vendor how much he wanted for it. He didn’t answer right away, started pattering to size up my interest, so I went to put it down (I already had two of them), and he quickly got to the point — ‘Say, £3’. I made a slightly dissatisfied face, and grudgingly dug 3 quid out of my pocket, and received my next Parker 51, this one a stub nib from 1940 (according to the barrel’s dating marks).
Today I’ll stop by the Antiques Fair, pick up my newly-nibbed 51s from Peter, drop off the stub nib (its nib is slightly askew in the section, and wants a small adjustment), and will in short order be the custodian of three very fine Parker 51s, for little more than the fair price of a single example. I’m eager to put the fine nibs to work, and to see how the stub works once I get it back from Peter next month. This is part of the delight of collecting these specimens from forty, fifty, or more years back — with decent care at a craftsperson’s hands, they work perfectly, indefinitely, distinctively, and beautifully. But first I have to run off to church!

Digital, All Too Human

The past week went by quite rapidly — I’m not entirely sure why. I’m working through the (relatively short) James manuscript, developing a couple of points beyond what I had originally written, accepting the editor’s edits, and on just one point so far pushing back a bit. I had a let-down toward the middle of the week, as our administration seems to be dragging its feet about replacing the two professors in Theology/Religious Studies who have accepted positions elsewhere (this is part of the *#$€!¥!#* REF process; other institutions are stealing recruiting some of our best staff to strengthen their REF profiles, while we aren’t filling those positions even at the entry level; draw your own conclusions about the consequences of this policy for our REF results).
Ah, well, nothing I can do about that. Yesterday morning, I gathered my wits, or ‘wit’, or half thereof, and trundled down to the Main Gate of the University, to hop in a cab that had been sent there by BBC Scotland. Someone at the BBC had got wind of my work on technology, and I’d had two long phone calls with the assistant producer and the producer, and yesterday I went in to the studio to record some of what I’d been saying. I ended up talking (at the producer’s prompts) nigh on to two hours, for what will turn out to be about five minutes of air time. I tend to trust the producer, so I’m looking at this as a way of improving the odds that I actually said something interesting and sensible (though one could also interpret this as ‘it took two hours till AKMA had finally uttered five minutes of minimally useful material’).

BBC Scotland, from the Millennium Bridge


The programme will air on 21 May as part of the Digital Human series; we’ll be in the States, on our way to Pippa’s graduation (Yay, Pippa!), but you can download episodes (for a limited time only!) from the series from the BBC or from iTunes. I hadn’t listened to any of the preceding episodes before the taping, which is just as well because I would have been tempted to argue with people in the preceding episodes. I didn’t talk with the presenter (didn’t even know about her — I only dealt with the producer), so I wonder how the bits of what I said will be put together to fit with the presenter’s narration (and who the other voices will be).
The highlight of the entire experience for me, even more than having a great time talking with the producer, who’s a very pleasant gent, was ascending to the fifth-floor canteen for a cup of coffee with the Clash’s ‘Career Opportunities’ running through my head (‘Do you want to make tea / At the BBC?’). Actually, that and swapping song lyric quotations with Peter, the producer, who in his turn cited Elvis Costello’s ‘God’s Comic’ (‘they say that travel broadens the mind / till you can’t get your head outdoors’, with regard to the expansiveness of the Web).

Tell Me Something

I’m beginning to think I’m just an incorrigible old crank, a conclusion that many people surely reached a long time ago. Still, as long as I have responsibility for teaching and evaluating students, I’m going to stick with this one. I’ll add it to the “How To Exegesis?” series somewhere, but for now I can’t contain my impatience (‘My heart was hot within me; while I pondered, the fire burst into flame; I spoke out with my tongue’).

If you want to make a positive impression on me in my role as a scholar, show me that you understand the concept of an ‘argument’. Indicate that you have a point, to which you want to win my assent or at least my respect; structure your presentation, or your essay, or your manuscript-submitted-for-refereeing, or your book, or whatever, with a view to establishing that point. Don’t burden my already-complicated life with copious distracting information that doesn’t pertain clearly to the point you’re discussing. Don’t leave it up to me to guess what you want to demonstrate; that’s not my job, it’s your job to make your point unmistakably clear (‘that he who runs may read it’). You may want to summarise other scholars’ work to support your point; fine, well done, but there’s no need to cover their entire oeuvre. Epitomise the relevant part of their scholarship, make explicit the relevance you propose for it, and move on. Imagine you’re in a courtroom, with a grumpy, bewigged QC scolding you for wasting the court’s time, or with an eager opposing advocate who persistently interrupts with cries of ‘Relevance!’ You may know and admire another scholar’s work, or you may have put in laborious hours of study and note-taking for which you want some benefit, but unless the summarisation actually contributes to establishing your point, I don’t want to read about it, and I will take a less favourable view of your position (extraneous summarisation suggests that you yourself don’t know the difference between what’s pertinent and what isn’t).

You’re 100% entitled to not care what I think — plenty of people share that sentiment! But if you want to win my approval, it serves your own interests to show me a genuine argument: a specific claim, supporting evidence, and sound reasoning. I may agree or disagree in the end, but I always admire a strong argument — and I am always disappointed by poor argumentation, even when I think it aims at a conclusion I deem correct.