more than 95 theses


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

  • September 18, 2014 8:50 pm


    Geeks claim to know what it’s like to love art that’s been neglected or reviled by their culture. Well, this is the status of fans of traditional high culture now; those who like opera, jazz, experimental fiction, theater, and other types of traditional high culture are generally ignored in our mass media. When they are thought of at all, it is as snobby and irrelevant. Geeks now need to recognize their great fortune, enjoy it and extend a little sympathy in the direction of us sad few who prefer other things.

    Yet I wonder if any such recognition is even possible at this point. My fear is not merely that the geeks will never come to acknowledge their triumph, as comfortable as they are in their self-professed victimhood. I fear too that we have come to so thoroughly associate fandom with grievance that the two are now inextricable. That, I suspect, is the long-term consequence of the rise of the geeks: that we no longer know how to enjoy art without enjoying it against others. That’s a bitter, juvenile way to approach art, and if it’s the real legacy of the rise of the geeks, it’s an ugly legacy indeed.


    Geeks, You Are No Longer Victims. Get Over It.

  • September 17, 2014 2:02 pm

    And while on the subject of Southern eccentrics on late-night talk shows, here’s the late and much-lamented Vic Chesnutt.

  • September 17, 2014 1:54 pm

    While I’m at it, I might as well post my favorite Victoria Williams song.

  • September 17, 2014 1:44 pm

    Kind of hard for me to believe that Victoria Williams was ever on the Tonight Show.

  • September 17, 2014 1:37 pm

    "In other words, the Christian alternative to the post-religious spirituality outlined earlier is not simply ‘religion’ as some sort of intellectual and moral system but the corporately experienced reality of the Kingdom, the space that has been cleared in human imagination and self-understanding by the revealing events of Jesus’ life. Standing in this place, I am made aware of what is fundamental and indestructible about my human identity: that I am the object of divine intention and commitment, a being freely created and never abandoned. Standing in this place, I am also challenged to examine every action or policy in my life in the light of what I am; and I am, through the common life of the ‘Assembly’, made able to change and to be healed, to feed and be fed in relations with others in the human city. Faced with the claims of non-dogmatic spirituality, the believer should not be insisting anxiously on the need for compliance with a set of definite propositions; he or she should be asking whether what happens when the Assembly meets to adore God and lay itself open to his action looks at all like a new and transforming environment, in which human beings are radically changed."

    The Spiritual and the Religious: Is the Territory Changing? - Rowan Williams. I can’t imagine a more important paragraph for today’s Christians to meditate on. Seriously, this whole address is absolutely vital.

  • September 17, 2014 1:08 pm

    "Instead of accepting a common opinion that Twitter is slowly replacing RSS readers, we should flip that around. What kind of changes could be made to RSS readers to embrace microblogging and make Twitter itself less important? Because once we do that, we get back control of our own short-form content and at the same time encourage open tools that will survive independent of whatever happens with Twitter and Facebook in the future."

    Microblog links | Manton Reece. EGG-ZACTLY.

  • September 17, 2014 9:47 am


    Revolutionaries readily sacrifice living people to achieve the glorious future. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, they tell us, but while the eggs are surely broken, the omelet is never made. If people are sacrificed for an ever-receding goal, Herzen argues, then sacrifice is all there will ever be. The greatest tyranny results from the attempt to abolish it altogether. In the book’s most quoted passage, the skeptic asks:

    If progress is the end, for whom are we working?… Do you truly wish to condemn all human beings alive today to the sad role of … wretched galley slaves, up to their knees in mud, dragging a barge filled with some mysterious treasure and with the humble words “progress in the future” inscribed on its bows?… This alone should serve as a warning to people: An end that is infinitely remote is not an end, but, if you like, a trap; an end must be nearer — it ought to be, at the very least, the laborer’s wage, or pleasure in the work done.

    Each present moment, and each human life, is precious in itself, not just as a means to some exalted goal. This is a lesson revolutionaries never seem to learn.


    "The Minister of Paradox," by Gary Saul Morson - The New Criterion

  • September 17, 2014 9:40 am


    He said a day came at the hospital when his doctors summoned him down to a room, where he sat “like a monkey, hunched over on a stool,” while about 10 people looked at him. At this point, he was labor-camp thin. “Unshaved for weeks.”

    One of them said, “You’re very sick, and you’re very psychotic, and we can take care of you.”

    They told him they wanted him to undergo electroconvulsive therapy. He could take time to think about it. A nurse led him back into the hallway and down to his room.

    The news destroyed him. Not because he didn’t believe them, that it was the best thing for him, nor even because he feared the pro­cedure itself (though naturally it terrified him to face it), but because he believed it would mean the end of him as a writer. That his talent would be scattered. His brains scrambled. The mechanism disassembled. Not to write? A living death. What would it even mean to go about your day?

    Also he felt that it was, he said, “a confirmation that I would never leave hospitals.”

    He sat down on a chair. “Not 20 minutes later,” he said, “a patient called out, ‘Mr. Antrim,­ there’s a phone call for you.’ ” He shuffled down to the phones near the medication dispensary. He picked up.

    “Donald,” a voice said, “this is Dave Wallace. I heard you were in bad shape.”


    Donald Antrim and the Art of Anxiety -

  • September 16, 2014 7:40 pm
  • September 16, 2014 6:27 pm
  • September 16, 2014 5:33 pm

    "Future shock is over. Apple Watch reveals that we suffer a new affliction: . The excitement of a novel technology (or anything, really) has been replaced—or at least dampened—by the anguish of knowing its future burden. This listlessness might yet prove even worse than blind boosterism or cynical naysaying. Where the trauma of future shock could at least light a fire under its sufferers, future ennui exudes the viscous languor of indifferent acceptance. It doesn’t really matter that the Apple Watch doesn’t seem necessary, no more than the iPhone once didn’t too. Increasingly, change is not revolutionary, to use a word Apple has made banal, but presaged."

    Future Ennui

  • September 16, 2014 9:16 am
    Fire at Yosemite, by Darvin Atkeson. Via @pourmecoffee on Twitter. View high resolution

    Fire at Yosemite, by Darvin Atkeson. Via @pourmecoffee on Twitter.

  • September 12, 2014 11:07 am

    "In romantic thought, repetition is the enemy of freedom, the greatest force of repression both in the mind and in the state. Outside romanticism, repetition has a very different import: it is the sustaining and renewing power of nature, the basis for all art and understanding…. Repetition lost its moral value only with the spread of the industrial machine and the swelling of the romantic chorus of praise for personal originality. Until two hundred years ago virtually no one associated repetition with boredom or constraint. Ennui is ancient; its link to repetition is not. The damned in Dante’s Hell never complain that their suffering is repetitive, only that it is eternal, which is not the same thing."

    — Edward Mendelson, Early Auden

  • September 12, 2014 10:45 am

    Killer Over the Rainbow

    I wrote this for the Oxford American a long time ago (Issue 27/28). I’ve added YouTube links.

    Forget about the marriage — his third, her first — to the thirteen-year-old cousin, Myra Gail Brown. (“I plumb married the girl, didnít I?” he asked, plaintively, not comprehending the outrage that almost ruined his career; to him, it wasn’t as though he had seduced and abandoned her.) Forget that both Jimmy Swaggart and Mickey Gilley are his cousins. Forget all the stories — for example, the one about how his career as a preacher-to-be ended when he was expelled from Bible college for turning the hymns he played into raucous roadhouse anthems. Forget the Lewis Ranch, in Nesbit, Mississippi, that scaled-down Graceland which occasionally gets attached by the IRS but currently features for its guests “The Killer’s Kar Kollection.” Forget the plain-faced bragging: “My only regret in life,” he said not long ago, “is that I’ve never sat in the audience and watched a Jerry Lee Lewis show.” There are many other things people claim he said, most of them being braggadocious too; forget all of them.

    Of course, I’m asking too much. Long, long ago Jerry Lee Lewis became those stories, those reports, those scandals: taken together, they constitute The Killer. But every now and then I almost forget, and when that happens I hear the songs. Not “Great Balls of Fire,” not “Whole Lotta Shakiní Goin’ On.” I doubt I’ll ever be able to hear those again. But take another song, a relatively unknown one: when “Great Balls of Fire” came out in 1957, the B-side was a Hank Williams cover, “You Win Again.” When Hank Sr. did it, it was terrific, a classic guitar-based country blues. But Jerry Lee and his piano take it altogether elsewhere: the rolling boogie-woogie bass line in the left hand, sounding almost like Fats Waller at times, the gospel chords and blues licks with the right, the max-reverb vocal soaring above it all — it’s a masterpiece, nothing less, and though Hank wrote the song Jerry Lee makes it utterly his own. Listening to “You Win Again” you wonder, for a moment, why Elvis is Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis just another “legend of rock and roll.” You think, the momentum could have swung the other way.

    But, largely because of the disastrous marriage to Myra in 1958, it didn’t. When the news got out, promoters canceled Lewis’s concert dates and record store managers swept his records off the shelves. It would be the better part of a decade before Jerry Lee could reassemble his career into something reasonably whole, and he achieved the reassembly, in large part, by preserving and even exaggerating every quirky trait that he had become famous for in those early days: the heavy-fisted glissandos, the constant thundering boogie rhythms, the vocal squeals and hiccups — and yes, stomping on the piano, that kind of thing too. But eventually Lewis extracted a kind of magnificence even from self-parody.

    Twenty-three years after “You Win Again” he released his version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” in his hands a song completely without restraint or taste. “You Win Again” sounds demure in comparison. Someone once said that Casablanca is a great movie not because it avoids film clichés, but because it joyfully employs every possible cliché into its two hours; Jerry Lee’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is like that. He simply wonít acknowledge the clash between his trademark mannerisms and the song’s style and structure: he takes the old classic and unhesitatingly filters it through his sensibility, making no compromises and taking no prisoners. It goes in Judy Garland and comes out the Killer. As I listen to the song, a part of me says that he’s simply crazy, laughably crazy; but I also recall that we sometimes have another name for this abject refusal to swerve or be sidetracked. That other part of me says: if this ain’t genius I don’t know what is.

  • September 12, 2014 10:22 am

    Today just got 10X better. You’re welcome.