Sunday, January 27, 2002

   ( 3:27 PM )
It’s interesting to observe the tides with which particular artists wax and wane in popularity in the cyberworld of the Gnutella, Napster, and Hotline networks.
I happen to be very enthusiastic about the Pyschedelic Furs. I am both a fan and an advocate; I relish the listening/croaking-along experience, and I admire the music as compositions, arrangements, and performances. They’re a pretty well-known band, right? They’ve inspired some covers, their single “Pretty in Pink” was adopted as the title of a movie I never cared to watch, and they’ve reassembled recently to release a live album featuring a new single. But the P2P networks seem never to have heard of “Alive (For Once in My Lifetime),” though the number of tedious make-fun-of-Osama jingles and ‘N Sync blockbusters seems limitless. In a recent Gnutella search, only four Furs songs came up, three of them versions of “Love My Way.”
Now, lots of factors enter into how far the Gnutella system searches, how many hits it returns, but all the same it seems clear that the Psychedelic Furs occupy a lot less bandwidth than I would have thought.
   ( 5:12 PM )
I should add, in the name of honesty, that I also get pedantically vexed by people with tin ears and short attention spans, who can’t tell the Cure from the Furs, or the Pretenders from the Proclaimers, or They Might Be Giants from any other band with pretensions to being amusing. Likewise those who can’t spell “Psychedelic.”

[Early Ecclesiastical Rant]

I get weary of well-intentioned Christians using their air time to run down the church.
Yes, by all means, Christians have done and continue to do dopey, destructive things, too often in the name of their faith. That’s a true, significant problem, and no one better try to sweep it under the rug. Clear? Okay.
On the other hand, exactly what good do we accomplish by furiously parading our most grievous follies before people? It begins to seem as though part of the point of Christian faith is to talk at length about what a terrible historical force Christianity has been. Remember that I’m not talking about folks from outside the church here; their gripes have a different texture, and one would have to discuss the merits of their complaints differently. I’m talking about people who get up and preach (often) about bad stuff Christians have done.
Is there a way to communicate about the faith without either suppressing our failures or making it seem as though everything to this point has been a more-or-less grievous flop, but perhaps beginning tomorrow we’ll get it right?
Part of my point is my own general orientation toward encouraging people to learn and self-correct without getting hung up on having tried something that didn’t work out (here I’m thinking of my students, not about big terrible ideas like tolerating slavery or persecuting Jews); when I look beyond my classroom to the broader horizons of institutional practices, I still think that the only way forward from grievous error is a manifest commitment to doing better. Self-flagellation elicits titters from students who know how misguided that ascetical practice is, but numbers of them then go on and practice ecclesiastical self-flagellation in the name of candor about the church.
There’s a difference. It’s more complicated than the binary alternatives of belaboring sins or papering them over.
And I’m weary of folks behaving/speaking/preaching as though the only way to exorcise the demons of the past is to dwell on them–especially because no one (hardly anyone) ever did these beastly things in the full knowledge that they were wrong, but precisely because they were convinced that it was the right way forward for their faith, every bit as much as the earnest denunciators of today’s church are convinced that they now are in a position cavalierly to reprehend the guilt of past generations.
They may have understood more than we guess, and we may understand less than we guess, so let’s concentrate on what we can do, now, among the people with whom we live, and encourage one another to do better. And remember that if the church really believes what it teaches about repentance and the forgiveness of sins, that repeating conventional outcries against sins of the past itself may lock us to those sins, binding us up in Jacob-Marley-like chains of our own, forged in life link by link, and yard by yard.
Part of our recuperation from past sins is a willingness to acknowledge them, and to build lives that have been freed from those sins. And though we may never forget, we may well decide that there are more constructive things to highlight in the limited time that anyone’s paying attention to us.
Well, that’s off my chest.
[Early posts to this blog, in the halcyon days of Blogger, did not have topic headers or comments. I’m adding these posts retrospectively to my WordPress blog to tidy things up.]

[Early, Boring Entry]

So the Pippa is over at my office this afternoon, drawing pictures of palm trees and cocoanuts and waves and seagulls (because I only had brown and green and blue markers available) and a bathing suit and towel and washer and dryer (to remind me to do laundry before her swimming lesson tomorrow). She’s here helping me work because Margaret is on a field trip for her Church Architecture class, Nate is working at the Art Store, and Si is at his gym class. we’re having a jolly, if not very productive, time.
Notes to and from students and former students, ruminations about Magritte and biblical interpretation, a note to David P. asking about a presentation at Catholic Biblical Association this coming summer. And discussions with the Pip about her observations concerning my office, its size, the number of books therein, and when Si will come take her home.
[Early posts to this blog, in the halcyon days of Blogger, did not have topic headers or comments. I’m adding these posts retrospectively to my WordPress blog to tidy things up.]


Derrida eulogizing Pierre Bourdieu here in Le Monde; Jennifer had just given me The Work of Mourning for my last birthday. What a peculiar role for Derrida, chronicling the passing of the monumental generation of philosophico-cultural types among whom he has stood! And yet (complaints from the peanut gallery notwithstanding) he’s one of the contemporary writers whom I would most readily trust with a delicate topic. He writes with exquisite precision; indeed, the precision with which he writes constitutes one of the major impediments to reading him, since his finesse requires a concomitant close attention from the reader.
And with Bourdieu’s death, we lose yet another brilliant topographer of [post]modern culture.

(Pseudo-First Post)

Yet another public figure has had his reputation tarnished by plagiarism. The president of Hamilton College (Clinton, NY) has confessed that when greeting the incoming freshmen class, he used words first uttered by someone else. In this case, it was some phrases in a review of the book “Overnight Float.” The president apologized abjectly and then explained that in speeches he “only occasionally” uses the “systematic footnoting” required in scholarly works.
How absurd. As absurd as pillorying authors who didn’t alter phrases enough to meet some tastes but who cited the works in their footnotes.

I take it back. Asserting rights of possession over the wording of footnoted phrases — or of humiliating a college president because he didn’t put footnotes into a welcoming address — isn’t just absurd. It threatens to put up passport control points every ten feet in the landscape of ideas.

And doesn’t it seem obvious that this is being fueled by the rush to lock up intellectual property on the Net? We are able to exert such exquisite control over every phrase we utter digitally that the real world is looking intolerably sloppy. So we’re raising the stakes in the real world, and waving indignant fingers at people who demonstrably weren’t trying to get away with anything. If you want to see how the Internet is affecting expectations in the real world, look no further. Too bad in this case it’s the worst of the Net that’s having an effect.

[The above is part of a somewhat arcane joke. This post originally read only as this.]

iTunes Libraries Query

I have more MP3 files than I want to keep on my TiBook. I recently conceded the file-management war to my iTunes, letting it put files wherever it jolly well wants to, since that’s more convenient for my iPod. So, does anyone out there have advice that would let me use my external hard drive as the main library for my files? I’d like to be able to keep the main library on my external drive, and just pick up files from it when I want them; but iTunes seems to want to deal only with a single library, and that on my CPU.

This is why I (and plenty of other users) object to file systems telling us where we ought to want to keep our files. We may have reasons and ideas that the file hierarchy doesn’t know about. Grrrr.

Hermeneutics Follow-Up

I actually started writing this response while sitting at the airport in Indianapolis, prospecting for a wifi signal (found one, but it wasn’t open). So at that point I couldn’t respond to comments from Juliet on the hermeneutics article, nor can I call back the specifics of the Tutor’s challenge to connect my advocacy of differential hermeneutics to his urgent question, “What shall I do to be saved?” (I want to check that article he cites on donor-centered philanthropy, too, as I have corresponded with Phil Cubeta and have a certain respect for him.) What I opted to do was blog back to email messages from my generous correspondents, as follows, and now that I’m home I hope to finish up the blog with my responses to Juliet and the Tutor.

To start with, friend Tom Matrullo (in an email, now posted in extenso here) suggests that I move ‘quickly’ to the assumption that texts are unintelligible, from which he identifies two contrasting sets of failures endemic to the two currents of interpretation I described: ‘endless failures to agree on a meaning, or endless efforts to elucidate individual interpreters’ errors.’

First response, then: I don’t assume texts are ‘unintelligible,’ but that they aren’t finally intelligible. That is, I don’t think that we ever come to the end of interpretation. That seems unsatisfactory, so far as I can tell, only if we suppose at the outset that there must be an end to interpretation to which we could come. I don’t share that assumption — at least, I don’t assume that interpretation comes to an end under the sublunary conditions of mortal life. In my experience, people don’t so much come to the end of interpretation, as they come to the end of their patience for interpreting. At that point, they satisfy themselves that their own interpretation, or the interpretation their favorite teacher propounded, or the interpretation that the Bishop of Rome mandated, or the interpretation upheld by most of the interpreters they respect, some chosen bulwark marks the end of the interpretations for which they will sit still.

All of these are more-or-less sensible grounds for winding down one’s interpretive process; one has to stop somewhere, and each of these criteria can with some seriousness claim finality. The question then becomes, “To which criterion do you adhere?” and here again we meet with differential responses.

If I don’t begin by positing a unitary meaning to the text, I needn’t believe that every interpreter errs.

He then picks up my suggestion that the most pertinent “unity” resides in the Body of Christ, within which we may see differentiation as well as integrity. Tom asks whether he understands me to affirm that the “unity” to interpretation lies in the practice of the interpreters (yes, so far) and thus

one turns to interpret the Church, or the community of interpreters, in hopes of gaining some sense of the complexity, tension, dissonance, alterity, inscrutability which might be attributable to the text, since those attributes appear to reasonably describe the evidently un-unified community — the very “meaning” unleashed by the text.
That is to say, the Church as metaphor of the meaning of the text becomes its own subject, and in seeking to read itself, is subject to the aporia between integral and differential hermeneutics. The practice of the community is the hermeneutic pursuit of the meaning of the text, but that meaning, it turns out, is the various incompatible practices of its reading.
This seems a conundrum.

Indeed it does, and it’s a beautiful, subtle point. I would try to disspell the conundrum by resisting the phrase “Church as metaphor of the meaning of the text” (because I don’t assume that there is a meaning in texts) and the phrase “attributable to the text,” (because I don’t ascribe those qualities to the text). Were I to begin ascribing qualities of “complexity, tension, dissonance, alterity, inscrutability” to the text itself (in any but a conventional, colloquial sense) I’d have tilted the table in the direction of integral hermeneutics.

Where Tom suggests that the Church provides a metaphor for the meaning of a the text, I would propose that the Church provides a metaphor for the text. Both are underdetermined as to their identity, but both stand for a fictive unity (whose posited unity begins to dissolve when examined closely). Any given account of the unity of the text/Church will persuade some, but not all, of the concerned parties—and that mixed success itself testifies to the weakness of the proposed unity.

Just who is included in the unity of the Church (Mormons? Unitarians? Catholics? even Episcopalians?)? Who do we trust to decide?

Just what counts as the unity of the text (An unseen but implicit authorial intention? The text itself, apart from an alleged intention, as the American New Critics taught?)? Who do we trust to decide?

One of my concerns relative to integral hermeneutics concerns figuring out who gets to tell me the meaning of the text, and whom they banish from legitimate understanding of the text. As I asked in my initial foray, how do I know which prominent authority to rely on?

I’ll continue this topic next blog, but I want to wrap this one up for now.

DRMA: “New Man In Town,” Mighty Sam McClain; “Gospel Medley,” Destiny’s Child (see, Halley, I was listening); “Armando’s Rhumba,” Chick Corea/Jean-Luc Ponty; “You Can’t Make Me Doubt Him,” Abyssinian Baptist Gospel Choir; “I Ain’t Got You,” the Yardbirds; “Christ for President,” Wilco; “Alabama Getaway,” Grateful Dead; “You and Me and the Bottle Makes Three,” Big Bad Voodoo Daddy; “Waiting on my Wings,” The Word; “Fool in the Rain,” Led Zeppelin; “Party Out of Bounds,” the B-52s; “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” Muddy Waters; “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Mighty Sam McClain. (By the way, I bought the Allman Brothers’ “Beginnings” CD, a replacement of my vinyl copy, this afternoon after remembering from some MP3 downloads how strong both those first two albums were.)