Monday, 27 July 2009

The depression of writing

Earlier this month, Ben Myers posted this comment about the experience of writing.
I’ve often been struck by the fact that a period of intensive writing has exactly the same symptoms as chronic depression – or rather, if someone described the symptoms of depression, you would think they were simply talking about writing. “I have sudden inexplicable mood swings. I am anxious and dejected. I am awake late at night, and can’t get out of bed in the morning. I’ve lost interest in normal activities. I forget to shower and groom myself. I no longer eat meals at regular hours. Late in the afternoon, I am surprised to discover that I’m still wearing my pyjamas. I am drinking too much alcohol. I don’t return phone calls from friends. I feel like I can’t go on.”

I'm there right now. If it wasn't for the fact that my topic deals with fidelity, and one of the pages has a loud "Keep going! Even if you no longer feel caught up in the process, keep going!" in the top paragraph, I think it'd be all over.

Friday, 24 July 2009

War As Metaphor

I'm going to take a simple phrase almost entirely out of context, but nevertheless, even within that context it is still a proof text for my point. Bear with me.
Want to know how to win a culture war? Don’t fight one. The soul of our nation has been marred from a perpetual state of culture war. In an Orwellian twist, each camp relies on conflict with their supposed enemies for the perpetuation of their own existence. The culture warrior’s clout, influence, fundraising, and organizing is based upon real or perceived attacks from the other side. These “threats” and boogeymen are their oxygen, and without them, they die.
"How to Win a Culture War" - Jim Wallis, 23 July 2009

My problem here is not with Wallis' column, although that has enough argument for its own time, my problem is with the ongoing metaphor of war as the description of any kind of conflict or struggle. It's not enough to enforce the law on drugs, it has to be a war on drugs. It's not enough to have cultures that argue with each other, it has to be a culture war... and so on. My problem is with the cognitive framing associated with the metaphor of war. As soon as the situation is described in this way, all thought is forced to engage with it within those terms. If it is a war then there are tactics, friendly fire, collatoral damage, the enemy, the necessary sacrifices by the citizenry - all in the name of the war.

In a classic Orwellian way (to steal Orwell back from the quote), by speaking about it as war we think about it as war and will ultimately try to solve it with a warlike strategy. In the end, there is only one activity in a war: kill the opposition. As soon as the other side stops opposing, we can stop killing them. Perhaps it is too obvious even to state it, but let's do it anyway. Soldiers are trained to kill. The telos of a soldier is the violent cessation of the opposing activity.

The metaphor itself guides the participants towards only one kind of conclusion. Only the total obliteration of the opposing other is permissable. By labelling something as a war, all other options are unacceptable. Anyone who does that has already made their position clear.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Thesis Update

Had another review meeting with my thesis supervisor this morning. It's all going well. I have some work to do on chapter divisions and dense text, but the content is enough.

And for some reason we struggled with Turabian referencing through EndNote. I need to check my EndNote library for accuracy. Having references of "Kierkegaard, Hong and Hong, 152" is poor performance by the citation software.

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Bad News of the Gospel

The gospel, the euangelion, is often interpreted as the good news. It's the good news from outside the human situation, good news from God. Under the traditional evangelical worldview it's good news concerning the Final Judgement. The question about heaven or hell as an everlasting destination is resolved through a confession of faith. But this is a simplification, because the good news is about moving from death to life, from sin to holiness. In other words, it has application in the here and now.

And let's take it further. Suppose that Zizek is right that the crucifixion is the death of the Big Other, taking away the need for a Final Judgment. The gospel is still the good news of being able to move from death to life, from sin to holiness. For those who are in lack, the gospel is good news because life in the kingdom of God means that their needs will be met. It is, as Luke records, a time for good new for the poor.

It's also time for the rising and falling of many. Simeon proclaims over the infant Jesus that Jesus will be responsible for the rising and falling of many (Lk 2:34). It's a kind of cosmic rebalancing in which those who have fallen will be lifted up, and those who are high shall be brought low.

And this is the part of the gospel that disturbs me, and if you live in an OECD country it should disturb you as well. Take a look at the Global Rich List site. Enter an approximation of your income and find out where you sit on the global scale. For interest, try to find the median point - the income required to be at around the 50% mark.

Now even with the approximations of this calculation, the lesson is clear. The gospel is not always the good news. Many of us have already been comforted in our wealth. We have more than enough to survive. The gospel, for us, is bad news. Sell what you have and give it to the poor. Give to anyone who asks of you. Lend and expect nothing in return.

But it is always, no matter your income, the movement from death to life. It is the movement out of perpetual accumulation of wealth into the kingdom that shares wealth. In the kingdom of God the hungry are fed... by the fed. In the kingdom of God the poor are made rich... by the rich. In the kingdom of God the homeless are given shelter... by the sheltered.

The gospel is the message from God. It is good news for all because it is the movement from death to life. But in that movement, the price is always material; a material act that confirms a verbal confession of faith. And for some of us, we will always receive that as the bad news of the gospel.


Thank you for your patience. I needed a break for a while, but it was a secret so I didn't tell you.


So the secret's out now. And posting is back on. Enjoy.