Tuesday, February 28, 2006


For class this week I read an essay by Martin Heidegger called “Building Dwelling Thinking” and he offers some interesting thoughts on the nature of Dwelling.  Dwelling for Heidegger is the essential activity of humanity.  But it is about more than making a building (although that is part of it) and more than sleeping.  It is about uniting “the fourfold” – earth, sky, humans and the divine.  As he explains it “to preserve the fourfold, to save the earth, to receive the sky, to await divinities, to escort mortals – this fourfold preserving is the simple nature, the presencing, of dwelling.” (156)

This sort of existential peace of being-ness seems a heavy weight for a word like dwelling.  And it makes me wonder how much time we spend in places without dwelling there.  Without caring about the earth, without even noticing the sky.  How often are we in a place when we don’t even notice the other people there, not to mention await divinities.  This reminds me of a Lauren Winner article about cell phones that Matt posted about recently.  Which brings me to this question: does our technology keep us from dwelling?  Are we too busy with far-off people, and listening to ipods and watching international hit tv on tivo that we don’t dwell where we are?  It seems to me that the climate-controlled, individualized, homogenized, shallow parts of our culture lead us to a danger of forgetting the things that (according to Heidegger at least) make us human.  In between instant coffee and the Today Show, do we have time to await divinities?  Are we even aware enough of our specific place that we are capable of dwelling there?

Another thing I like about Heidegger’s discussion of dwelling is that it makes me think, again, about the significance of John’s Gospel saying that the Word dwelt among us.  And of the psalmist who says he will dwell in the house of the Lord.  Perhaps the house of the Lord is the best place for it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Rant on Singleness in Christianity

It’s no surprise that articles from Focus on the Family make me upset. One of my friends sent us one about “Rethinking the Gift of Singleness.” In her defense, she was reading it for a discussion group and thought we might like to join the discussion. So I assume she wasn’t all the way on board with the author either.

This article has so many things wrong with it, it is hard to know where to begin. And one problem is that the author says a few things that make sense. Let me come out of the box right here and say I am in favor of the following things: Love, marriage, commitment, sex, babies, parenthood, family. Some women who I know and respect choose to get married at a young age, and choose to stay home with their children, and I have no judgment for them, although I don’t think that I need to be like them. Debbie Makon makes some interesting points about our unique historic time and what that does to the institution of marriage, dating, and gender, and I appreciate the reminder about chronological snobbery. However, I also think that any story of history makes choices about what to include in the narrative. When Makon talks about historic marriage practices, she conveniently leaves out the monastic tradition of celibacy. She also fails to mention that women were not allowed to be educated, or to do really anything to contribute to society other than get married (unless they became nuns). So of COURSE “old maids” and “spinsters” were persons to be pitied. They didn’t have anything worthwhile to do! She also conveniently leaves out the many unhappy and abusive marriages that result from marriages of obligation.

I also have some problems with her quick and flawed detour into biblical backing. As far as I can tell, she is referencing biblical culture more than biblical mandates. They practiced polygamy then too, you know.

The root problem here, though, is essentializing women. Makon’s underlying view seems to be that women were created to be, and are only happy and fulfilled when they are, wives and mothers. Men, on the other hand, can do whatever they want. They need to be in a marriage because it is their obligation. Women, though, are mothers to the core. In a life of singleness, they are necessarily unhappy and outside the will of God. What can they do for God’s Kingdom if they can’t gestate and then raise the next generation of faithful?

I’m sure Makon would feel sorry for me. I have fallen victim to the system. (or perhaps my feminism has lead me to a well-deserved spinsterhood). I am far too involved in the “protracted education system that doesn’t really educate” for my own good. And I know my life is not perfect, and sure, I’d like to be married sometime. But I’d like for Debbie Makon to step into my life for a few weeks and tell me that I would honestly be serving God’s will better if I was home with a newborn instead of in graduate school. I’d like her to show me how my gifts would be better served taking care of my own children instead of learning things, meeting people, and teaching students. I know that homemaking is a gift and a good thing, but my papers are far better organized than my kitchen, and I am way better at explaining how to make a thesis statement than I am at dealing with toddlers. So is it so crazy to think that perhaps God has called me, in this time and in this place, to do exactly what I am doing? And that's not to say that I won't start being a mom and wife later and love it and value it. I'm just saying that Makon shouldn't devalue all the worthwhile things I'm doing now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

this post will soon be classified

Okay, evidently the federal government is re-classifying documents that are mundane, too old to be relevant, or embarrassing.  Why?  We’re not sure.  Since the reclassification program is… classified.  Now, of course I understand that secrets are sometimes necessary for the national security, but just seems a little contradictory that the same government that won’t tell us much about what they’re doing, or even what they did decades ago, thinks we should be perfectly fine with the patriot act and wiretapping etc etc.  I thought democracy was built on transparency and accountability to the citizens…

Sunday, February 19, 2006

posting our adolescence

I read an interesting NY Times article today about the ubiquity of photo self-portraits, especially among adolescents, on the internet. The article talks about how this functions developmentally for teenagers. And, indeed, most teenagers spend time posing in front of a mirror, trying on outfits, and writing soul-searching diary entries. I did. Ok, I still do. But the point here is that this is not a new development in adolescence. What has changed, though, is that this kind of behavior is taking place in a more public forum.

So, I guess, what is the difference between posing in front of the mirror for hours and snapping countless photos? Between volumes of paper journals, or kilobytes of online diaries? What changes when this kind of identity experimentation is moved from the private sphere to the public? In some ways, it seems that Harriet the Spy syndrome becomes almost expected. Instead of feeling betrayed because your peers have violated a diary, kids set up diaries in ways that invite readers. They beg for comments, troll for an audience. My adolescent diary has moments of acknowledging some future me or biographer that might read, but many teen blogs seem to cry out for acknowledgement on a regular basis, often by begging for comments or phone calls. It is my initial (perhaps old and grumpy) impulse to wonder if so much public performance somehow makes this search for identity less authentic, since the audience is potentially broader than oneself and a few friends or siblings. Suddenly girls are not posing in too much makeup in front of my own mirror asking their best friend if it looks good, but posting the photo on myspace (or worse, hotornot) to find out if people think they are beautiful.

Of course, this invites predators etc etc, but the sheer volume of it means that not everyone is going to get their own voyeur. But I think also teens want this kind of stuff out in public, because suddenly it’s not just your mom and your teacher telling you you’re normal, there’s a whole internet full of other self-conscious teenagers trying to figure out who they are by posting awkward photos and angsty blog entries.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

cultural critics and high art

I’ve been reading cultural critics for my Invention, Design and Mass Culture class.  And I have been thinking about a lot of things, but one thing lately is the role of high art as a participant or resistor to mass culture.  

Adorno lauds modernist music (especially Shoenberg’s 12-tone stuff) and theatre (Brecht) as resistant to the Culture Industry and its implicit ideologies.  Barthes, in a similar way, references modern poetry as language that is resistant to mythologization (if that is a word).  Adorno likes modern art (by art here I mean all the arts, not just visual) because it is resistant to understanding – it takes work – and he sees this as counter to the Culture Industry because it forces those who choose to interact with it to think, whereas products of the Culture Industry do not.  In fact, it is the very unthoughtfulness of the Culture Industry is the problem – it encourages us to believe in stereotypes and archetypes that are familiar and keep us apathetic.  It keeps us from thinking, criticizing, and perhaps creating a Marxist revolution.  Barthes, on the other hand, is not so explicit about the danger of Mythologies, but it works in much the same ways.  He says that mythologies are the implicit meanings, connotations, understandings that we connect with words, concepts and images.  These are highly culturalized and very tied up in the cultural values and ideologies that they represent.  He notes that poetry is perhaps the only language that mythology cannot appropriate as a signifier into its myths.  He says this is because modern poetry attempts to bypass conventional meaning and signification to get at deeper truth.  I’m not sure I buy this about modern poetry, but there you have it.  Both of these theorists don’t think that art is the primary mode of resistance.  For Adorno it is criticism, for Barthes it is counter-mythology.

Since the 1950s when these guys were writing, contemporary high art has moved away from that and become more accessible.  There are few people (at least not getting any attention) that are doing stuff like Schoenberg or Eliot, that is thick to the point of inpenetrability.  Some Adorno scholars suggest that the distinction between high art and the culture industry has become so blurred that it is no longer worth discussing.  It seems to me that a lot of contemporary high art uses the resources of the culture industry and cultural myths to create something new.  This might be Barthes’s idea of counter-myth or even the sort of parody the situationists practiced.  Do you think the movement toward more accessible high art is a result of realizing that difficult art does not necessarily resist in any effective way?  Maybe it’s a result of the laziness of the public: there is no audience for difficult art anymore.  This is the most pessimistic hypothesis, but I think some complex films might me to reject it.  I am inclined to think that artists have decided it is better to bring any kind of thoughtfulness to a larger public than work that is very difficult to very few.  Am I too optimistic about the state of contemporary art?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

blogging and relationships

NPRs story of the day for today was about blogging and marriage.  You can listen to it at their website.  The commentator talks about how she and her husband have developed an etiquette of blogging – reader obligations, who has the rights to blog about a topic or event, etc.  She talks about the affirmation of comments and hits on her site counter.  And I know what she is talking about.  Not that I have a marriage that is either benefiting or hurting because of blogging.  But it lead me to think about what blogging does to my friendships (which I have discussed several times before).  

And I think it mostly is a benefit.  It allows me to write thoughts succinctly and to have long-term and even long-distance discussions of issues that matter.  Or issues that don’t.  And it opens up the discussion to people who wouldn’t be part of an interpersonal discussion because they are far away or too busy or I don’t really know them.  And I think that’s kind of cool too, although it does take away from the intimacy of the conversation.

I think, though, of silliness like the author emailing her husband to see where he is, or checking his blog to find out what’s going on.  And it reminds me a little bit of days in the WA office when our conversation would lead to independent blog posts, which were written, announced, and commented on (digitally and verbally) all in each other’s presence.  That was a little silly.  But, then, if we hadn’t had the blogging habit, we wouldn’t have the blog post as an artifact of the conversation, which would probably be long forgotten by now.  And if dad and I didn’t sometimes post as a result of our commute conversations, we wouldn’t be able to include other people in those conversations either.

Is digital communication inherently less beneficial to relationships?  I can understand that a marriage relationship has a physical element that the relationships I’m discussing doesn’t have, so maybe it needs to be discussed differently.  And I also think that there is something inherently good about in-person interaction, mediated only by language and nonverbals.  Like the NPR commentator, I am slow to pass judgment one way or another, but I am fascinated by it regardless.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

more brilliance from the administration

I read in the NY Times this morning that a federal higher education commission wants a measure to make sure the universities are doing their job.  Possibly through standardized testing.  Because we all know how well standardized tests taken in high school predict college performance, and how much they improve high school education.  The idea that a single test could measure what all kinds of different people in different programs at different schools get from their education is ludicrous.  Did these bureaucrats GO to college?  Hopefully this is one guy talking and won’t turn in to policy.