Elementary Lesson

Last Wednesday I learned something basic about running. That is, I already knew it in theory — but in a year of trying to run weekly, then twice weekly, my experience had been so variable and so rough that I hadn’t had the occasion to observe in practice the importance of pacing.

Wednesday I set out and felt all right, kept going, thought I could keep going steadily, and wound up pushing my not-break-stride point to Ashton Street. Then I only paused again once before finishing my mile, and I thought ‘Wow, this is bound to be a good time because I spent so little time walking.’ IOn fact, though, my time was 11:04 — a long way off my best time. I was able to keep running/jogging because I set a very leisurely pace.

So I thought that this week I would push my pace a little, but I didn’t want to lose ground on my not-break-stride progress. I did manage to get to AShton Street again, and I only paused once more, but my time again was disappointing — 10:59.

This is interesting to me, but all beside the point. My primary goal is to get the whole mile without breaking stride, at which point I can begin trying to improve the time. I still gasp and wheeze through most of the run, unlike the Spandex-clad real runners who breeze past me on the pavements of Oxford; someday, I hope, I’ll be able to run a mile in a decent time without gasping. Then I might — oh, I don’t know — I might think about a mile and a half!


Last Sunday — 10:29

Wednesday — 10:52

Today — 10:33

So, last Wednesday week looks like a fluke rather than a trend. No worries, there’s good news in the midst of the lapse. Last Sunday we’ll mark down as a regression to the mean — but at the same time I made it all the way to Leopold Street before breaking stride. Wednesday was a different story: I had spent most of Monday and Tuesday hefting and assembling a flat-pack daybed for our upcoming visitors. I couldn’t run past Magdalen & Iffley, I ached and gasped, and was (on the whole) glad merely to have completed the mile. This morning was more like last Sunday, except that today it’s raining and chilly. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d have done better in dry, warmer weather. ‘Dry’ we can expect, most of the time; it will be a while before I can realistically hope for warmer, though.


I took Sunday off — Saturday had been the Maginnis-Loves wedding and reception, which entailed a lot of standing and sitting and conviviality and eating odd things at unusual times — so that when I woke Sunday morning somewhat achey in joints and head, I determined to give myself the day off from running my biweekly mile.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I reluctantly (did I ever mention that I dislike running intensely?) clambered out of bed, squeezed my feet into my trainers, skipped rope for a short warm-up, and then ran the mile in 10:10! Not only is that my best time ever, coming after a Sunday on which I didn’t keep up my practice of biweekly running, it’s a 10-second improvement over last Wednesday, which was itself a 10-second improvement over my prior best. A ten-minute mile is now in sight, which would have seemed unthinkable even two months ago.

Moreover, I pushed my not-break-stride mark to… well, the landmark won’t mean anything to you, but it’s the garage beyond the Rusty Bicycle, beyond the 20 kph warning sign, from which somebody occasionally sells second-hand furnishings. I’d have liked to push on the extra few steps to Leopold Street, but that was not in the cards. My legs felt good — I run with the constant recollection of years when ‘running’ meant just stretching out your legs, applying some energy to operating them, and zooming along for a hundred or so metres. Those days are long gone after decades of my not resisting academic couch-potatosity — but if I recall them now when I gasp and totter along my route, the hope that sometime I may be able to run the whole mile, and that someday I may recapture the limberness, the lung power, and the vitality to just give a joyful sprint for a short distance sometimes appears in my heart and gives me a wee booster shot of capacity.

The Persistence of Modernity

I was thinking this morning about the phenomenon of people pushing back on ideas — not strictly ‘postmodern’ ideas, but ideas that have become generally accepted in the aftermath of the strong pressure postmodern thought exerted over several decades. (That last clause made me feel rather old.) Think of the idea that ‘objectivity’ isn’t a viable stipulation; sure, we should strive for impartiality, but at this point I can’ think of anyone who holds on to the discourse of being objective. Even relatively conventional biblical scholars make productive use of the premise that particular ways of thinking contribute to, and are shaped by, the cultural milieu from which they emerge. To a certain extent, postmodern thought won — that is (far from justifying Trumpism and its allied discourses of deliberate falsehood), even the sort of thinker who belittles anything to which the epithet ‘postmodern’ can be even implausibly attached has often assimilated some of the pivotal points associated with the execrated French names and neologisms.

Nonetheless, people dig their heels in and resist the full implications of the ideas that they’ve partly assimilated. In fact, they resist all the more determinedly as they’re sure that the postmodern bogeyman is wrong; ‘that’ — whatever the theoretical or political or cultural point in question — ‘is too far, that can’t be right.’ Or more often, they just take as granted some implicitly very modern premise, such as the univocity of meaning, or the superiority of the contemporary world, or some other such (usually unstqted) axiom. and because the critic knows enough that he’s not objective, or that everyone knows that the latest X, Y, or Z is best.

The gesture that says, ‘I’ve adjusted what I think about meaning, power, privilege, social location, and so on, so I can just return to interpretive business as usual’ — which I’ve seen over and over — needs a shorthand signifer. I was tempted by ‘neomodernism’, formed analocially to neoliberalism: the same thing in a slightly different form, but just as pernicious if not more so. But Neomodernism is already in play as the designation for an architectural movement and as an effort at a reasoned reassertion of modern philosophy. To avoid confusion, I think I’ll call it remodernism.

Most theological critics paid only cursory attention to the specific study of modernity (or the rich varieties of antithetical movements artificially grouped together as ‘postmodernism’), so that if there’s a general assent within the interpretive discipline that it’s safe again to do the same old thing so long as you don’t make crude blunders about the role of power/authority/race/gender/sexuality/culture, almost everyone will revert to the modern homœostasis. It’s like Peter Sloterdijk’s observations on ‘enlightened false consciousness’, only in a slightly different key. Everyone knows, but no one changes their practice. Welcome to remodernity.