Dec 31, 2012

Most popular posts of 2012

If [Joel] Barlow was America's first atheist, he was tentative about it. "Flirtation," [James] Turner's term, seems to be accurate. He came to his unbelief privately, in the context of his reading and his private notebooks, and he kept it private too. It's significant, nonetheless, that he did go so far as to disbelieve, even if only cautiously. It was, in his notebooks, a crazy thought. And not one without consequences. Barlow hesitated, in the face of those consequences, but still might be rightly understood as marking an early moment in a significant societal shift. 
Barlow's private unbelief, as possibly America's first atheist, is an important moment in that move Charles Taylor describes as "a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood as one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace," the shift from a society in which "it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believes, is one possibility among others." 
In this sense, Barlow is significant to late 18th, early 19th century America. There may have been a historical moment, there, where in the privacy of his notebooks Barlow was the only American anywhere who thought of himself as rejecting all conceptions of God. Where he was the one who thought what was almost unthinkable, that there is no God, and thought it even to the point of tentatively, privately, accepting for himself what to most was an insult, a slur, the name "atheist."
5. On the meaningfulness of books bought, but not read 
Even if one does, eventually, read all the books one owns -- itself a dubious proposition -- there's a delay, a lag. There's no easy, simple link between buying a book and reading it. There's no simple formula by which one could predict readership based solely on sales. 
If this seems obvious, it should. Yet, without fail, cultural critics act as though there's no difference between book purchase and book reading, as if measuring the one were measuring the other. As if the one always and everywhere&nbsp meant  the other. As if there were a simple relationship between the two acts, and the only reason anyone ever bought a book was to read it, the purchase a promise always made good. 
Somehow, this needs to be broken. 
There has to be a way to talk about book purchases as culturally meaningful and yet distinct from and different from acts of reading.
 4. The myth of infatuated Žižekians
I couldn't name even one orthodox Žižekian. One really dogmatic one. One good apologist for or public proclaimer of true Žižekism.

Rather, what one finds is an almost ritual distancing and disowning.

Talk about Žižek is regularly prefaced with disclaimers. One has to apparently deny, first, any affiliation with a broader Žižek project, deny buying into a big Žižek system of thought, deny going too far, or accepting all of it, or not being critical enough. One has to start with a little ritual reiteration about how of course he's wrong, but there's some salvageable aspect in spite of all that.

If Žižek has followers, they're all Peter right before the cock crows that third time.
3. Mark Driscoll on Pot: sloppy, lazy and deeply unserious
This whole booklet seems to presuppose the reader is not a half-way intelligent, reasonably capable adult human being in 21st century America. The assumption on every page is that the reader needs the most basic information explained. Driscoll may say he wants Christians and his congregants specifically to think these issues through like adults, but he doesn't act like he's writing for adults. This booklet makes no sense unless you think the intended audience is people who are incapable of considering an issue like the morality of marijuana without a lot of handholding and rudimentary help.
2. Prophecies

1. Ignoring David Foster Wallace's religion
Though it's known that, at one point, Wallace belonged to a church in Illinois -- maybe a Mennonite church -- and also he reportedly twice attempted to join the Catholic Church, there's not much more information about his religiousness. Beliefs, practices, problems or questions, affiliations -- it's all question marks. A lot is known about his life, but not about this. His life fascinates people, and moves people. His ethical-religious reflections especially.

But no one in the position to find out more about his religious beliefs or practices seems to have been interested in doing so.