more than 95 theses

oddments

A journal, commonplace book, and Wunderkammer by Alan Jacobs.

My blog on technologies of reading, writing, and knowledge is called Text Patterns; I am an occasional contributor to the Technology channel of The Atlantic; I'm a Contributing Editor for The New Atlantis. Also, I tweet.

My biography of the Book of Common Prayer has now been published by Princeton University Press, and I’ve created an associated tumblelog.

My critical edition of W. H. Auden’s long poem For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio is now available.

My next book will be about Christian humanism in a time of total war.

I invite you to a meditative encounter with my online project The Gospel of the Trees.

Please consider supporting this tumblelog by buying some of my books. I will thank you, my family will thank you, and the internet — surely — will thank you.

”Reverting to Type: a Reader’s Story”

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The Age of Anxiety, by W. H. Auden — a critical edition. A PDF of my Introduction to the poem is available online.

Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant

Original Sin: a Cultural History

Looking Before and After: Testimony and the Christian Life

The Narnian: the Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis

Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling

A Theology of Reading: the Hermeneutics of Love

A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age

What Became of Wystan: Change and Continuity in Auden’s Poetry

  • August 31, 2014 12:58 pm

    "

    Create systems that are ambivalent about the open or closed web. If I create a tool that’s good at posting content to Facebook and Twitter, it should also post to RSS feeds, which exist outside the context of any corporation. Now other generous and innovative people can build systems that work differently from Facebook and Twitter, using these feeds as the basis, and the investors will have another pile of technology they can monetize.

    If you don’t like the way the algorithms in Twitter and Facebook work, then this is how to counteract that. Re-create the level playing field we used to have. Stimulate the open web. Give us something new to play with. It isn’t “either/or” — it’s “and.”

    The key point is this — in everything we do we must treat the open web as equal to the private networks. Maybe we don’t have to depend on the government to do this for us, maybe we can be a bit more systematic about encouraging the wild chaos of the open network, knowing that it leads to new tools and new opportunity to profit.

    "

    How to stimulate the open web

  • August 31, 2014 8:40 am

    "My blog’s older than Twitter and Facebook, and it will outlive them. It has seen Flickr explode and then fade. It’s seen Google Wave and Google Reader come and go, and it’ll still be here as Google Plus fades. When Medium and Tumblr are gone, my blog will be here. The things that will last on the internet are not owned. Plain old websites, blogs, RSS, irc, email."

    Brent Simmons

  • August 30, 2014 4:32 pm

    "

    It was only after a decade away from Skipton that I was finally able to garner the courage to return and testify against my abuser. When I first told my mother about the abuse I’d suffered, she was absolutely devastated. The root of her anger was clear: I was heaping unbound shame on to my family by trying to bring the perpetrator to justice. In trying to stop him from exploiting more children, I was ensuring my parents and my siblings would be ostracised. She begged me not to go to the police station.

    If I’d still been living in Skipton, surrounded by a community who would either blame me for the abuse or label me a liar, I’m not sure I could have rejected her demands.

    Once the police began the investigation another victim came forward. Sohail described how he too had been abused almost 20 years before I was. Due to our combined testimony, the perpetrator was jailed for eight years.

    Within a few weeks another young woman in the community, emboldened by the conviction, told the police that a relative had raped her for several years. It had started before Sara was in her teens. We have supported her through the process of taking this to court.

    Although Sohail and I had removed a proven paedophile from the community and helped empower another woman to end her torture, we were not celebrated. On the contrary, we were shunned.

    The Rotherham report cites a home affairs select committee finding that cases of Asian men grooming Asian girls did not come to light in Rotherham because victims “are often alienated and ostracised by their own families and by the whole community, if they go public with allegations of abuse”.

    This was our experience exactly – and the experience of everyone I’ve since spoken to. In each situation, victims and their families faced tremendous pressure to drop their cases.

    "

    Ruzwana Bashir

  • August 29, 2014 1:59 pm

    "The Judean Tribune released a biography of Jesus of Nazareth, sweeping through his life, between community supporter and organizer,and darker periods of advocating for unrest, and even violence. “His life paints a complex picture. As a Jewish messiah, he preached adherence to tax laws, but his speeches could turn suddenly vulgar, speaking of eternal damnation for business owners and community figures — both Pharisee and Roman,” said the article, bylined as Staff. “He may have been the Son of God, but he was no angel.”"

    Man Killed by Local Police in the Province of Judea

  • August 29, 2014 8:20 am

    "

    I imagine a future in the church when the call to chastity would no longer sound like a dreary sentence to lifelong loneliness for a gay Christian like me. I imagine Christian communities in which friendships are celebrated and honored—where it’s normal for families to live near or with single people; where it’s expected that celibate gay people would form significant attachments to other single people, families, and pastors; where it’s standard practice for friends to spend holidays together or share vacations; where it’s not out of the ordinary for friends to consider staying put, resisting the allure of constant mobility, for the sake of their friendships. I imagine a church where genuine love isn’t located exclusively or even primarily in marriage, but where marriage and friendship and other bonds of affection are all seen as different forms of the same love we all are called to pursue.

    By shifting our practice of friendship to a more committed, honored form of love, we can witness—above all—to a kingdom in which the ties between spiritual siblings are the strongest ties of all. Marriage, Jesus tells us, will be entirely transformed in the future, barely recognizable to those who know it in its present form (Matt. 22:30). Bonds of biology, likewise, are relativized in Jesus’ world (Mark 3:31–35). But the loves that unite Christians to each other across marital, racial, and familial lines are loves that will last. More than that, they are loves that witness that Christ’s love is available to all. Not everyone can be a parent or a spouse, but anyone and everyone can be a friend.

    "

    Why Can’t Men Be Friends? | Wesley Hill

  • August 28, 2014 10:15 am
    Minding the Modern begins with an extended meditation on Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of a Gentleman in his Study (1528-30). The young man’s “forlorn, abstracted, and blank gaze [suggests] disorientation and incipient melancholy.” Indeed, he seems “utterly alone in the world—the quintessentially modern, solitary individual confined in his study.” The massive tome in the image “intimates that books no longer hold answers, perhaps because the right questions elude him. The unwieldy folio appears more as dead mass than as a repository of learning.” Considering that the tome offered in turn by Pfau has the opposite effect, Minding the Modern might be considered an adequate response to Lotto’s painting. But Rembrandt’s The Mennonite Preacher Anslo and His Wife, from a century later (1641), offers an equally effective refutation of Lotto’s modern disaffection. Here the massive folio—in this case the Bible—emits light to the point of rendering the nearby candle superfluous. While the hand of Lotto’s gentleman was irresolute and listless, the hand of the preacher Anslo finds its vocation in gesturing to the truth-gushing book. Its message thereby migrates from the luminous pages, flapping like a dove in flight, to enliven the countenance of the preacher’s wife. “Nothing more convincingly refutes the once conventional and still not quite vanquished opinion that Protestant piety erected an insurmountable barrier between a corrupt nature and divine grace,” wrote Louis Dupré, “than its artistic and poetic achievement of the Baroque.” Displaying “an intensity of religious feeling that is anything but forensic,” Anslo’s wife—her name was Aeltje Schouten—is set to be overcome with some mysterious consolation. Enamored more by the truth than by her husband, she is poised to exit that melancholic, modern condition into which the young man in Lotto’s painting is about to descend.

There have been countless like her.

— Matthew Milliner View high resolution

    Minding the Modern begins with an extended meditation on Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of a Gentleman in his Study (1528-30). The young man’s “forlorn, abstracted, and blank gaze [suggests] disorientation and incipient melancholy.” Indeed, he seems “utterly alone in the world—the quintessentially modern, solitary individual confined in his study.” The massive tome in the image “intimates that books no longer hold answers, perhaps because the right questions elude him. The unwieldy folio appears more as dead mass than as a repository of learning.” Considering that the tome offered in turn by Pfau has the opposite effect, Minding the Modern might be considered an adequate response to Lotto’s painting. But Rembrandt’s The Mennonite Preacher Anslo and His Wife, from a century later (1641), offers an equally effective refutation of Lotto’s modern disaffection. Here the massive folio—in this case the Bible—emits light to the point of rendering the nearby candle superfluous. While the hand of Lotto’s gentleman was irresolute and listless, the hand of the preacher Anslo finds its vocation in gesturing to the truth-gushing book. Its message thereby migrates from the luminous pages, flapping like a dove in flight, to enliven the countenance of the preacher’s wife. “Nothing more convincingly refutes the once conventional and still not quite vanquished opinion that Protestant piety erected an insurmountable barrier between a corrupt nature and divine grace,” wrote Louis Dupré, “than its artistic and poetic achievement of the Baroque.” Displaying “an intensity of religious feeling that is anything but forensic,” Anslo’s wife—her name was Aeltje Schouten—is set to be overcome with some mysterious consolation. Enamored more by the truth than by her husband, she is poised to exit that melancholic, modern condition into which the young man in Lotto’s painting is about to descend.

    There have been countless like her.

    Matthew Milliner

  • August 27, 2014 12:20 pm

    "

    Wilson recently calculated that the only way humanity could stave off a mass extinction crisis, as devastating as the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, would be to set aside half the planet as permanently protected areas for the ten million other species. “Half Earth,” in other words, as I began calling it—half for us, half for them. A version of this idea has been in circulation among conservationists for some time.

    “It’s been in my mind for years,” Wilson told me, “that people haven’t been thinking big enough—even conservationists. Half Earth is the goal, but it’s how we get there, and whether we can come up with a system of wild landscapes we can hang onto. I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish.”

    "

    Can the World Really Set Aside Half of the Planet for Wildlife? Sign me up.

  • August 26, 2014 9:29 am

    "

    In May 2011, Vanderbilt’s director of religious life told me that the group I’d helped lead for two years, Graduate Christian Fellowship—a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—was on probation. We had to drop the requirement that student leaders affirm our doctrinal and purpose statement, or we would lose our status as a registered student organization.

    I met with him to understand the change. During the previous school year, a Christian fraternity had expelled several students for violating their behavior policy. One student said he was ousted because he is gay. Vanderbilt responded by forbidding any belief standards for those wanting to join or lead any campus group.

    "

    Tish Harrison Warren. A fascinating article. I have come to think that by acting in this way university administrators are doing Christians a big favor. I hope we can receive it as such rather than continuing to demand official recognition and funding.

    P.S. I just now see that Rod Dreher shares my views:

    As I was reading this, I thought, “Who needs the university’s permission to meet as a Christian organization, and to do what Christians do?” Meet, do your thing, and be very public about it. Dare them to shut you down. If I were an undergraduate, I would be more attracted to an organization the campus authorities thought so dangerous that it ought to be shut down. Just what is it about orthodox Christianity that frightens Vanderbilt’s administrators so? Force the question.

  • August 25, 2014 8:53 am

    "

    Text printed on the best paper with no margins or unbalanced margins is vile. Or, if we’re being empathetic, sad. (For no book begins life aspiring to bad margins.) I know that sounds harsh. But a book with poorly set margins is as useful as a hammer with a one inch handle. Sure, you can pound nails, but it ain’t fun. A book with crass margins will never make a reader comfortable. Such a book feels cramped, claustrophobic. It doesn’t draw you in, certainly doesn’t make you want to spend time with the text.

    On the other hand, cheap, rough paper with a beautifully set textblock hanging just so on the page makes those in the know, smile (and those who don’t, feel welcome). It says: We may not have had the money to print on better paper, but man, we give a shit. Giving a shit does not require capital, simply attention and humility and diligence. Giving a shit is the best feeling you can imbue craft with. Giving a shit in book design manifests in many ways, but it manifests perhaps most in the margins.

    "

    Craig Mod

  • August 24, 2014 8:42 am

    "One other thing occurred to me as I watched the big SFX-splurgy conclusion, and it was this: when will big budget Hollywood find a way of ending SF movies that doesn’t involve crashing enormous planes into a New York City analogue? Avengers; Star Trek Into Darkness; this film. Which is another way of asking: when will that trauma no longer be so overwhelmingly dominant in the US cultural subconscious?"

    Sibilant Fricative: James Gunn (dir) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

  • August 22, 2014 12:22 pm

    "

    For some, the idea of imitating the knight of faith will seem too easy — after all, you can do it while living in a middle-class neighborhood in Copenhagen — but for the wiser it will seem too hard. Many monks and nuns say that they retreat to the monastic life because their faith is too weak to flourish in the saeculum. And if such a retreat, in any of its forms, is not as attractive to Christians as it once was, it may be because we have more protections than our ancestors did from an experience of utter exposure.

    Some of our protections are material, some political, some psychological, but in any case the world has seen, over the past few centuries, a move from the “porous self” to the “buffered self.” These are terms coined by the philosopher Charles Taylor. “The porous self is vulnerable,” he writes, “to spirits, demons, cosmic forces””and, I would add, to unpredictable natural forces and political authorities who know little or nothing of the rule of law. “And along with this go certain fears that can grip it in certain circumstances. The buffered self has been taken out of the world of this kind of fear.”

    The practices of the ancient Church were forged in eras of the porous self and were responsive to its fears and vulnerabilities. Can they be nearly as meaningful to us, surrounded by our protective buffers, as they were to our ancestors? Does their evident power suggest to us that we have paid too high a price for our buffers, that we may need to be more exposed? The self that can pursue the via illuminativa — that can be illuminated by God — may open itself to the demonic as well as the divine. The disciplines and practices of our Christian ancestors are not toys or tools; they are the hope of life to those who are perishing. This is what Alasdair ­MacIntyre had in mind when he said that, here among the ruins of our old civilization, what we may be waiting for is a new St. Benedict: someone who can articulate a whole way of life and call us to it.

    The turn to the Christian past is indeed welcome, but it may demand more of us than we are prepared to give. In contemplating the witness and practices of our ancestors, we may discover that we’d rather remain within our buffers — if we can. But can we? Current electronic technologies, from blogs to texting to online banking to customer-specific Google ads, may be drawing us into a new age of porousness, with new exposures, new vulnerabilities. And in such a new age the hard-earned wisdom of our distant ancestors in the faith may be not just a set of interesting ideas and recommendations but an indispensable source of hope. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

    "

    Do-It-Yourself Tradition. An article I wrote a few years ago that I think may be relevant to the questions surrounding the Benedict Option.

  • August 22, 2014 11:58 am

    "Sure, we may now be a nation of cohabiting, contraception-using, homosexuality-supporting, pot smokers, but we’ve also become a nation that’s infinitely less bigoted and misogynist."

    The Virtues of Libertines. Important message for Elizabeth Nolan Brown: changing the targets of your bigotry doesn’t make you “infinitely less bigoted” — in fact, it doesn’t make you less bigoted at all.

    And less misogynist? That’s not what many, many women who write online tell us.

  • August 21, 2014 7:29 pm

    "I think those hesitations are largely right, and as a Christian, I’d add that I have to wonder what these kinds of communities do to reach out to the poor, the sick, and the lonely in the world around them. I’m not sure hunkering down is what Jesus called us to, and when, for example, a member of the Alaska community I mentioned says that “If you isolate yourself, you will become weird,” I wonder how living in a remote Alaska village is not isolation. Christians are given the Great Commission, not the Great Retreat. I’m not trying to demean the people Rod profiled, but rather express that I can’t quite understand Christianity in the same way. Jesus always seemed to wandering around, telling strange stories, mingling with the kind of people Benedict Option types might prefer to avoid."

    Matthew Sitman. Well … no. Not always. In fact, the life of Jesus embodies a kind of systolic/diastolic alternation between public ministry and private retreat — with intermediate stages in the company of the Twelve or his friends.

    Each of us needs such alternation, and it seems likely that communities do too. Sometimes batteries need to be recharged, energy regained, ideas and options considered. Nobody, and no community, can live in the thick of things all the time, and it is foolish to try.

    I think individuals and communities often consider the Benedict Option not because they’re trying to avoid the wrong kind of people — a seriously uncharitable assumption on Sitman’s part — but because they feel that their spiritual lives are undernourished and unstable. Benedictine-style communal retreats aren’t usually meant to last forever, or to build permanent barriers to contact with non-Christians, any more than people who shelter under a bridge during a thunderstorm mean to set up housekeeping there.

    And typically, even when the retreats themselves become permanent, their population is always in flux: some are always coming in for rest and renewal, others (now well-fed) are going back out into the highways and byways.

    Indeed, I’m inclined to think that Christian individuals and communities that fail to build in periods of significant retreat are setting themselves up for disaster. Man cannot live by constant engagement alone. To try is surely to be gradually but relentlessly absorbed into social structures that are at best indifferent and at worst deeply hostile to Christian faith and practice.

  • August 21, 2014 2:03 pm

    "

    This little episode captures something I’ll see over and over again in Yemen. Faced with a problem, you find out who is in charge, escalate to the highest level of authority present, and communicate your sincerity by vigorous yelling. There is always a phalanx of sons (and presumably a similar, hidden number of daughters) who can be deployed as messengers, sent on errands, or otherwise made useful. Everything is done with a level of verbal vehemence that would involve grief counseling and possibly lawsuits back in the United States. People are able to operate at emotional temperatures that would melt down an American.

    If you asked me what I had witnessed, I would say angry people with guns had nearly come to blows over handwashing. But of course it’s just me who is miscalibrated. This kind of thing, repeated constantly, is how everything gets done in Yemen.

    "

    Green Arabia (Idle Words)

  • August 21, 2014 12:54 pm

    "

    I had been on the ground helping Al Jazeera America cover the protests and unrest in Ferguson, Mo., since this all started last week. After what I saw last night, I will not be returning. The behavior and number of journalists there is so appalling, that I cannot in good conscience continue to be a part of the spectacle.

    Things I’ve seen:

    -Cameramen yelling at residents in public meetings for standing in way of their cameras

    -Cameramen yelling at community leaders for stepping away from podium microphones to better talk to residents

    -TV crews making small talk and laughing at the spot where Mike Brown was killed, as residents prayed, mourned

    -A TV crew of a to-be-left-unnamed major cable network taking pieces out of a Ferguson business retaining wall to weigh down their tent

    -Another major TV network renting out a gated parking lot for their one camera, not letting people in. Safely reporting the news on the other side of a tall fence.

    -Journalists making the story about them

    -National news correspondents glossing over the context and depth of this story, focusing instead on the sexy images of tear gas, rubber bullets, etc.

    -One reporter who, last night, said he came to Ferguson as a “networking opportunity.” He later asked me to take a picture of him with Anderson Cooper.

    "

    I will not be returning to Ferguson | Ryan L. Schuessler