Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On Being a "Popularizer"

In academia, one of the most derogatory comments one can make about a colleague is to label them a "popularizer." This is pretty much akin to being labeled a Democrat on FOX News. The irony, of course, is that almost all scholars are engaged in the profession of teaching which is, by its very nature, the art of a certain kind of popularization.

I was reminded of this recently while reading Saul Bellow's Ravelstein, his very thinly-veiled take on Allan Bloom. (I still hope to post some notes on this over at What I'm Reading.) In the story, Ravelstein (the Bloom-ish character) finally writes a "popular" book which encapsulates the core of the philosophical vision he's been disseminating to students for 30 years. The narrator observes:
To his own surprise, Abe Ravelstein then found himself writing the book he had signed up to do. The surprise was general among his friends and the three or four generations of students he had trained. Some of these disapproved. They opposed what they saw as the popularization, or cheapening, of his ideas. But teaching, even if you are teaching Plato or Lucretius or Machiavelli or Bacon, is a kind of popularization (p. 22).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Poetry Reading at Literary Life

FYI for locals: I'll be reading my first-ever published poem ("The Temptation of Icicles") as part of the Literary Life Chapbook Celebration, an event to launch the chapbook of select poems from their First Annual Poetry Contest. Here are the details:


Wednesday, May 27th, at 7pm

As you may remember, we recently announced the winners of the First Annual Literary Life Bookstore Poetry Contest, judged by Heather Sellers. Now, you can read the award-winning poems, along with a few select poetry contest entries, in our new chapbook, available for purchase in the bookstore. Enjoy a bit of bubbly (and breads + spreads!) as we listen to a few of the poets read their works, mingle with like-minded literary peers, and peruse the bookstore shelves. For more information, call us at 616.458.8418, or email us at info@literarylifebookstore.com.

The book will include cover art by local artist Rick Beerhorst. (Some Fors Clavigera readers might recognize Beerhorst's work from the etchings that appear in Stanley Hauerwas' Cross-Shattered Christ.) In fact, the Beerhorsts live just around the corner from us and kindly loaned us spigots to tap our maple trees this spring. This is yet another taste of how delightfully local and rooted this whole project is, spawned by the hospitality of Literary Life.

Friday, May 08, 2009

What's Right with the Prosperity Gospel?

Some Fors Clavigera readers might be interested in a new little article of mine just published by the good folks at Catapult magazine: "Abundance for All: What's Right with the Prosperity Gospel?." It's part of an issue devoted to "Life Abundant."

This piece began it's life as a chapel talk at Calvin College in a sermon series on "God's Economy." It grows out of my continued interest in looking for points of intersection between the pentecostal and Reformed traditions.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Catholic Republicans?: Brooks on Ford

David Brooks meditation today on filmmaker, John Ford, is worth a read. As he rightly notes, Ford's "westerns" are not about the rugged individualism that has captured the Ayn-Randish imaginations of the Republican party. As Brooks comments,
the greatest of all Western directors, John Ford, actually used Westerns to tell a different story. Ford’s movies didn’t really celebrate the rugged individual. They celebrated civic order.

For example, in Ford’s 1946 movie, “My Darling Clementine,” Henry Fonda plays Wyatt Earp, the marshal who tamed Tombstone. But the movie isn’t really about the gunfight and the lone bravery of a heroic man. It’s about how decent people build a town. Much of the movie is about how the townsfolk put up a church, hire a teacher, enjoy Shakespeare, get a surgeon and work to improve their manners.

The movie, in other words, is really about religion, education, science, culture, etiquette and rule of law — the pillars of community. In Ford’s movie, as in real life, the story of Western settlement is the story of community-building.
There's an important explanation of this that Brooks doesn't cite: Ford was a Catholic. The lone cowboy that characterizes most other westerns is a distinctly Protestant, and therefore deeply American, phenomenon. Ford's western cinematic imagination stands out, I would suggest, because it is implicitly informed by the communitarianism of the the Catholic tradition. For a lucid and insightful exploration of this thesis, see Richard Blake's marvelous book, Afterimage: The Indelible Catholic Imagination of Six American Filmmakers (chapter 5).