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

  • September 3, 2014 6:10 pm

    "Inevitably, I looked around for help; I’ve done enough liturgical work to know that there are always riches from which to borrow. That said, the Humanist material I discovered surprised me – although on reflection the problem was predictable. Like most contemporary ‘humanism’, it all failed rather badly to be nonreligious. I looked at half-a-dozen or more published patterns for a humanist funeral; every one borrowed central Christian texts, deleted the obvious references to God, and then used the filleted remains to shape the service. (Even Scripture was not immune; Eccl. 3 was several times in evidence. John Donne’s Divine Meditation XVII was also referenced more than once.) This of course reflects the reality – and the tedious banality – of too much contemporary Western atheism: take a philosophically-rich account of things; delete surface references to the divine; and assume that what is left will be meaningful or coherent or interesting. Nietzsche, the world hath need of thee…"

    Steve Holmes, responding to the task of organizing a non-religious funeral for his grandmother.

  • September 3, 2014 6:09 pm

    "I have been saying for a while that creativity has taken the place of salvation and divine grace, which have lost credibility with the wane of religious faith. It has become the secular equivalent of hope in the afterlife. And in the process the whole phenomenon of creativity has become mystified, as behooves a concept that people use to reassure themselves about the future."

    Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, quoted in “The Cult Of Creativity” (via austinkleon)

  • September 2, 2014 11:50 am

    "

    There’s a scene in the 1961 movie The Hustler in which Paul Newman, as a wild and talented young pool player called Fast Eddie Felson, gets his first chance to play against the legendary Minnesota Fats. They’re evenly matched. The games last through the night. At a certain point, Fats, who’s portrayed by Jackie Gleason, goes into the bathroom and puts himself back together — washes his face, reknots his tie, combs his hair. Fast Eddie stays out in the bar, cracking jokes and throwing down shots. Eventually, Eddie runs out of steam. Fats prevails. The point is that Fast Eddie needs to learn to pace himself, and eventually he does; when he meets Fats again, things go differently. What’s happened in the meantime is that Eddie has suffered. He’s grown up.

    Against the calm, clearheaded veteran Robredo, Kyrgios sometimes looked like he was out there throwing down bourbon shots. He didn’t look grown up. Well, maybe one day the sports psychologists will get hold of him, teach him to self-regulate. Maybe he’ll live up to his potential and win a handful of majors. But I don’t know. It’s that first scene against Fats that stays with you from The Hustler. It’s the image of talent in its most raw, most unapologetic state. If you think winning is everything in sports, you may find that hard to celebrate. But it’s a joy to watch. It’s a joy even when it loses. It’s a joy even when it burns itself up.

    "

    Fire Walk With Nick Kyrgios «

  • September 2, 2014 10:07 am

    "But some have suggested that companies like Twitter have more nefarious motivations for refusing to address Internet harassment than a simple lack of empathy for women. Video game developer Brendan Vance has suggested that Twitter “has far more to gain from permitting this sort of bullying” in terms of increasing user engagement “than it does from preventing it.” Twitter, Vance notes, postures as a “neutral third party” while simultaneously profiting both from its marginalized users and from the “thousands of people” who “enjoy harassing” them daily. By shifting the responsibility for ending harassment to its users by including a half-hearted block function, Twitter silently collects data and revenue from serial abusers of women and minorities while being able to claim that users can prevent harassment themselves. As games journalist Ben Kuchera puts it on Polygon, pointing toward Twitter’s “soaring stock price,” this is a “tacit statement that profit comes before people.” Jezebel’s editors too, had the impression that “Gawker’s leadership [was] prioritizing theoretical anonymous tipsters over a very real and immediate threat to the mental health of Jezebel’s staff and readers.”"

    Will the Internet Ever Be Safe for Women?

  • September 2, 2014 9:18 am
    Cover by the strange and gifted Ethel Reed. From the collection of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. View high resolution

    Cover by the strange and gifted Ethel Reed. From the collection of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

  • September 2, 2014 7:27 am

    "COBOL, a language first introduced in 1959 by Grace Hopper (‘Grandma COBOL’), still processes 90 per cent of the planet’s financial transactions, and 75 per cent of all business data. You can make a comfortable living maintaining code in languages like COBOL, the computing equivalents of Mesopotamian cuneiform dialects. These ancient applications—too expensive to replace, sometimes too tangled to fix or improve—run on, serving up the data that appears on the chromed-up surface of your browser, which gives you the illusion that your bank and your local utility companies live on the technological cutting edge. But as always, the past lives on under the shiny surface of the present, and often, it is too densely tangled to comprehend."

    Most Code Is an Ugly Mess. Here’s How to Make It Beautiful

  • September 1, 2014 9:33 pm

    "1 Yan
    2 Tan
    3 Tethera
    4 Pethera
    5 Pimp
    6 Sethera
    7 Lethera
    8 Hovera
    9 Covera
    10 Dik
    11 Yan-a-dik
    12 Tan-a-dik
    13 Tethera-dik
    14 Pethera-dik
    15 Bumfit
    16 Yan-a-bumfit
    17 Tan-a-bumfit
    18 Tethera-bumfit
    19 Pethera-bumfit
    20 Figgot"

    — The numbering system long used to count sheep in Lincolnshire. There are many comparable systems from other parts of northern England and Scotland.

  • 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.