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

  • July 10, 2014 5:38 pm

    "A straw man can be a very convenient property, after all. I can see why a plenteously contented, drowsily complacent, temperamentally incurious atheist might find it comforting—even a little luxurious—to imagine that belief in God is no more than belief in some magical invisible friend who lives beyond the clouds, or in some ghostly cosmic mechanic invoked to explain gaps in current scientific knowledge. But I also like to think that the truly reflective atheist would prefer not to win all his or her rhetorical victories against childish caricatures. I suppose the success of the books of the ‘new atheists’—which are nothing but lurchingly spasmodic assaults on whole armies of straw men—might go some way toward proving the opposite. Certainly, none of them is an impressive or cogent treatise, and I doubt posterity will be particularly kind to any of them once the initial convulsions of celebrity have subsided. But they have definitely sold well. I doubt that one should make much of that, though. The new atheists’ texts are manifestoes, buoyantly coarse and intentionally simplistic, meant to fortify true unbelievers in their unbelief; their appeal is broad but certainly not deep; they are supposed to induce a mood, not encourage deep reflection; and at the end of the day they are probably only a passing fad in trade publishing, directed at a new niche market."

    — David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God. Reading Hart is such a … bracing thing. Sort of like knocking back a tumbler of white lightning.

  • July 10, 2014 5:31 pm
  • July 10, 2014 3:52 pm

    "And on the other hand, the material value is apt to undermine the manly character; so that it must be our work, in the issue, to examine what evidence there is of the effect of wealth on the minds of its possessors; also, what kind of person it is who usually sets himself to obtain wealth, and succeeds in doing so; and whether the world owes more gratitude to rich or to poor men, either for their moral influence upon it, or for chief goods, discoveries, and practical advancements. I may, however, anticipate future conclusions, so far as to state that in a community regulated only by laws of demand and supply, but protected from open violence, the persons who become rich are, generally speaking, industrious, resolute, proud, covetous, prompt, methodical, sensible, unimaginative, insensitive, and ignorant. The persons who remain poor are the entirely foolish, the entirely wise, the idle, the reckless, the humble, the thoughtful, the dull, the imaginative, the sensitive, the well-informed, the improvident, the irregularly and impulsively wicked, the clumsy knave, the open thief, and the entirely merciful, just, and godly person."

    — John Ruskin, Unto This Last

  • July 9, 2014 7:59 pm

    "Stanley was extraordinarily logical, inclined to have everything seamless. Hollywood movies in general, nowadays especially, with the story or scriptwriters coming last in the pecking order, tend to have vast flaws in the story logic because quite often the story is still being cobbled together during shooting. But Stanley wouldn’t allow anything like that. He needed to spend years and years to have everything perfect, to have the machine, the clockwork impeccable before the shooting commenced. And then of course he would spend about two years shooting, the philosophy being that once you have everything gathered together, you might as well film the same scene 50 times over, rather than just doing it a couple of times and saying ‘wrap’. Because, if you do it 50 times, something “interesting” might happen; this basically involved the actors going so far beyond just being actors that they were either living the role by then in a Zen state of hypnosis, or they might go crazy and do something completely original, fresh and strange."

    Ian Watson on working for Stanley Kubrick

  • July 9, 2014 12:51 pm

    "Brazil didn’t lose 7-1 because it is a nation on the verge of hysterical collapse. Despite the impression given by the TV pictures, Brazil was never going to grind to a halt, or come weeping into the streets. The players were horribly keyed up within their sealed environment. The media were obsessed with the players being horribly keyed up. But Brazil itself? People were drinking and laughing and chatting away in the bars of São Paulo on Tuesday night. It is a patronising myth that Brazilians are dementedly obsessed with football, just as it is a ludicrous simplification to suggest the original Maracanazo created “a scar” on the “national consciousness” (there is, let’s be honest, no such thing as “a national consciousness”). People cry in the stadium when they lose, then go home and stop crying just like anywhere else, and without samba dancing on the way, or weeping about Neymar, or worshipping Pelé. Update: Brazil still not collapsing."

    Brazil World Cup humiliation by Germany should serve as a call to arms

  • July 9, 2014 10:26 am


    This book is written in the fundamental conviction that no cogent answer to the contemporary Christian question of the trinitarian God can be given without charting the necessary and intrinsic entanglement of human sexuality and spirituality in such a quest: the questions of right contemplation of God, right speech about God, and right ordering of desire all hang together. They emerge in primary interaction with Scripture, become intensified and contested in early Christian tradition, and are purified in the crucible of prayer. Thus the problem of the Trinity cannot be solved without addressing the very questions that seem least to do with it, questions which press on the contemporary Christian churches with such devastating and often destructive force: questions of sexual justice, questions of the meaning and stability of gender roles, questions of the final theological significance of sexual desire…

    Some of the most significant figures in the historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity (Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, especially) feature large in this volume because of the fascinatingly different ways in which they relate their perceptions of intense desire for God, their often problematic feelings about sexual desire at the human level, and their newly creative understandings of God as Trinity.


    — Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’

  • July 9, 2014 10:17 am

    "Thus the demand for ‘poverty’ or simplicity in the lifestyle of the Christian is inseparable from the vocation to peace-making. The beatitudes are all about ‘making a whole’ of our world of relationships, in relation to an order of balanced mutuality and growth in and with one another. So campaigning for peace is, in the long run, inseparable from resistance to what I have called ‘passive consumerism’, to the cheapening and trivializing of desire. And it is in this context, incidentally, that I believe Christian criticisms of pornography should be understood: the question we should ask about alleged pornography is not about its ‘explicitness’ but about its collusion with neurotic, self-protective and violent fantasy, the various forms of rejection of the world and of the other. Its problem is not eroticism, but that it is not erotic enough — not concerned with desire in its central human significance."

    — Rowan Williams, The Truce of God

  • July 9, 2014 10:16 am

    "The ‘return’ to the lost, the excluded, the failed or destroyed, is not an option for the saint, but the very heart of saintliness. And we might think not only of Jesus’s parable of the shepherd, but of the great theological myth of the Descent into Hell, in which God’s presence in the world in Jesus is seen as his journey into the furthest deserts of despair and alienation. It is the supreme image of his freedom, to go where he is denied and forgotten; he shows his inexhaustible mercy for all by identifying even with the lost."

    — Rowan Williams, The Truce of God

  • July 8, 2014 7:35 am


    Thomas Wright, An original theory of the universe, 1750. London. Via Linda Hall Library

    1 cross section of the model of the Milky Way galaxy. 2 Multiple solar systems with comets.  3 The symbolic eye of Deity in all star systems: A finite View of Infinity. 4 The first depiction of multiple galaxies in a book  

  • July 8, 2014 7:26 am

Untitled [Strange Devices…],  Ray Johnson, c. 1955-1960 (via MoMA)

  Stange devices resembling TV antennae are mounted on roofs in Tibet to entangle passing ghosts.

If I were in NYC, I’d find my way to this show. View high resolution


    Untitled [Strange Devices…], Ray Johnson, c. 1955-1960 (via MoMA)

    Stange devices resembling TV antennae are mounted on roofs in Tibet to entangle passing ghosts.

    If I were in NYC, I’d find my way to this show.

  • July 7, 2014 4:21 pm


    Funny medieval doodles

    With their wild hair and frantic gaze, these doodled men look like fools. They are waving as if to seek contact with the reader. The thing is, the reader is busy singing and listening to a sermon. That is because these 800-year-old images are found in a Missal, a book used during Holy Mass. What a shock it must have been for the serious user of the book, to flip the page and suddenly find yourself face to face with these funny creatures. And what a great contrast: a serious book with silly drawings.

    Pic: Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, MS 95 (Missal, 12th century). More about the manuscript here.

  • July 7, 2014 12:18 pm

    "This becomes clear when we contrast Hobby Lobby to Little Sisters of the Poor. Whereas the owners of Hobby Lobby sued to avail themselves of the obfuscatory accomodation, the Little Sisters of the Poor who (as a nonprofit) already have this obfuscation available to them but are suing to denounce it as mere obfuscation and completely remove themselves from even obfuscated provision of all birth control. Specifically, the Little Sisters are refusing to fill out EBSA Form 700 stating their objection to providing contraceptive coverage since to do so would trigger provision through their insurer and they see this as involving themselves in something morally objectionable. That is, while Hobby Lobby would be delighted to wink and nod (and the Obama administration was reluctant to allow them to do so) the Little Sisters are adamantly opposed to a fig leaf (and the Obama administration would be delighted were they to play along with the face-saving obfuscation)."

    Obfuscation Form 700 | Code and Culture. Really thought-provoking short post by Gabriel Rossman.

  • July 6, 2014 6:22 pm

    (Source: lireler)

  • July 6, 2014 6:21 pm

    (Source: lireler)

  • July 6, 2014 4:45 pm

    "It is no doubt very wrong to long after a naughty thing. But nevertheless we all do so. One may say that hankering after naughty things is the very essence of the evil into which we have been precipitated by Adam’s fall. When we confess that we are all sinners, we confess that we all long after naughty things."

    — Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage