Posts

Alan Jacobs on avoiding unpaid labor for surveillance capitalism

...it’s important to understand that a lot of what we call leisure now is actually not leisure. It is unpaid labor on behalf of surveillance capitalism, what Shoshana Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism. That is, we are all working for Google, we are working for Facebook. I would like to spread a model of reading that is genuinely a leisure activity and that escapes the loop of being unpaid labor for surveillance capitalism. That will start small, and maybe it will stay small, but my hope is that it would be it would be bigger. Even people who have very hard, demanding lives can spend an enormous amount of time in this activity that we have been taught to feel is leisure, but is as I have said unpaid labor. It’s interesting to see how things come into fashion. Think about how in the last few months we have decided that nothing is more important than the Post Office—that the Post Office is the greatest thing in the world. One of those bandwagons that I’ve been on for

"TV" by John Updike

TV By John Updike As if it were a tap I turn it on, not hot or cold but tepid infotainment, and out it gushes, sparkling evidence of conflict, misery, concupiscence let loose on little leashes, in remissions of eager advertising that envisions on our behalf the better life contingent upon some buy, some needful acquisition. A sleek car takes a curve in purring rain, a bone-white beach plays host to lotioned skin, a diaper soothes a graying beauty’s frown, an unguent eases sedentary pain, false teeth are brightened, beer enhances fun, and rinsed hair hurls its tint across the screen: these spurts of light are drunk in by my brain, which sickens quickly, till it thirst again.

A surefire way to increase the number of books you read this coming year

is to read less online. Not just to be online less, but to read online less. Read less news ( or no news ), fewer blogs and newsletters and Substacks, altogether fewer websites and online essays and articles, and replace that time with reading books. I promise you that your book-reading will increase dramatically, even exponentially, in 2021. Nor would you lose much. Whatever you are reading online, of whatever quality, it will always prove to be inferior in substance, style, or relevance to your life than what has already been published in a book. Have you read Auden, Eliot, Thomas, Rilke, Levertov, Hopkins, Herbert, Shakespeare, Milton, Dante? All of them, and all of what they wrote? If not, then what you're reading online is subpar by comparison. What about the novels of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Eliot, Austen, Melville, Twain, Trollope, Ellison, Baldwin, Morrison, McMurtry, Robinson, et al? No? Get on it. It's better than whatever you're reading on the internet. Take that

Publication round-up: recent pieces in First Things, Journal of Theological Interpretation, Mere Orthodoxy, and The Liberating Arts

I've been busy the last month, but I wanted to make sure I posted links here to some recent pieces of mine published during the Advent and Christmas seasons. First, I wrote a meditation on the first Sunday of Advent for Mere Orthodoxy called "The Face of God." Second, I interviewed Jon Baskin for The Liberating Arts in a video/podcast called "Can the Humanities Find a Home in the Academy?" Earlier in the fall I interviewed Alan Noble for TLA on why the church needs Christian colleges. Third, in the latest issue of Journal of Theological Interpretation , I have a long article that seeks to answer a question simply stated: "What Are the Standards of Excellence for Theological Interpretation of Scripture?" Fourth and last, yesterday, New Year's Day, First Things published a short essay I wrote called "The Circumcision of Israel's God." It's a theological meditation on the liturgical significance of January 1 being simultaneously

Peter van Inwagen on disciplinary hubris, relevant expertise, expectations of deference, and ordinary prudence

In the early 1990s the philosopher Peter van Inwagen wrote an essay called "Critical Studies of the New Testament and the User of the New Testament." It is a long, detailed philosophical investigation of the epistemic nature, or status, of academic biblical scholarship; specifically, it asks whether ordinary Christians or readers of the Bible ought to consult such scholarship, or defer to its judgments, prior to or in the course of their readings of the Bible or accompanying theological judgments. After many pages, his answer is a firm No . Here are the final paragraphs of the essay (bolded emphases are mine): I conclude that there is no reason for me to think that Critical Studies have established that the New Testament narratives are historically unreliable. In fact, there is no reason for me to think that they have established any important thesis about the New Testament. I might, of course, change my mind if I knew more. But how much time shall I devote to coming to know

New piece published in Mere Orthodoxy: "Befriending Books: On Reading and Thinking with Alan Jacobs and Zena Hitz"

I'm in Mere Orthodoxy with a long review-essay of two new books: Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader's Guide to a More Tranquil Mind by Alan Jacobs and Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life . Here's a section from the opening: If the quality of one’s thinking depends upon the quality of those one thinks with, the truth is that few of us have the ability to secure membership in a community of brilliant and wise, like-hearted but independent thinkers. Search for one as much as we like, we are bound to be frustrated. Moreover, recourse to the internet—one commonly proffered solution—is far more likely to exacerbate than to alleviate the problem: we may find like-minded souls, yes, but down that rabbit hole lies danger on every side. Far from nurturing studiositas , algorithms redirect the energies of the intellect into every manner of curiositas ; far from preparing a multicourse feast, our digital masters function rather like Elliott in E.

New piece published in LARB: an essay review of N. T. Wright's Gifford lectures

This morning I'm in the Los Angeles Review of Books with a long essay review of History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology , which are the book form of N. T. Wright's Gifford lectures. Here's the opening paragraph: DOES GOD EXIST? An affirmative answer is presupposed by the world’s major religions traditions, particularly those that claim Abraham as forebear. Contemporary atheists, however, are far from the first to wonder about the question. Ancient philosophers and Abrahamic believers of every stripe have grappled with it in one form or another. For Christians who reflect on the matter, the catchall term is “natural theology.” But there is no one habit of thought or mode of analysis captured by that title. Rather, it gathers together a complex heritage marked as much by internal disagreement as by shared inquiry. That heritage is in part a genealogy. In order to come to terms with natural theology today, therefore, one must have some se

Between pandemic and protest: introducing The Liberating Arts

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to join a group of gifted Christian scholars with an idea for a grant proposal. The idea was to respond to the crisis facing institutions of higher education, particularly liberal arts colleges, proactively rather than reactively. That is, to see the moment—pandemic, protest, political upheaval, demographic collapse, threats to the future of the liberal arts on every side—as an apocalyptic one, in which deep truths about ourselves and our culture are unveiled, as it were, from without. What to do in light of those revelations? How to shore up the ruins, and more than that, to articulate a positive and hopeful case for the institutions and areas of expertise to which we all belong, and by which we have been so profoundly formed, in the midst of so many competing challenges and voices? Led by Jeff Bilbro, Jessica Hooten Wilson, Noah Toly, and Davey Henreckson, the proposal was approved and we received the grant from CCCU. Earlier this month the pr

On "anti" films that succeed, and why

More than one friend has pointed out an exception or addendum to my last post on "anti" films, which makes the claim that no "anti" films are successful on their own terms, for they ineluctably glorify the very thing they are wanting to hold up for critique: war, violence, misogyny, wealth, whatever. The exception is this: There are successful "anti" films—meaning dramatic-narrative films, not documentaries—whose subject matter is intrinsically negative, and not ambiguous or plausibly attractive. Consider severe poverty, drug addiction, or profound depression. Though it is possible to make any of these a fetish, or to implicate the audience as a voyeur in relation to them, there is nothing appealing about being depressed, addicted, or impoverished, and so the effect of the cinematic form does nothing to make them appealing: for the form magnifies , and here there is nothing positive to magnify, only suffering or lack. So, for example, The Florida Projec

No such thing as an anti-war film, or anti-anything at all

There is no such thing as an anti-war film, François Truffaut is reported to have said. In a manner of speaking, there is no such thing as an anti- anything film, at least so long as the subject in question is depicted visually. The reason is simple. The medium of film makes whatever is on screen appealing to look at—more than that, to sink into , to be seduced by, to be drawn into. Moving images lull the mind and woo the heart. Moreover, anything that is worth opposing in a film contains some element of goodness or truth or beauty. The wager or argument of the filmmaker is not that the subject matter is wholly evil; rather, it is that it is something worthwhile that has been corrupted, distorted, or disordered: by excess, by wicked motives, by tragic consequences. Which means that whatever is depicted in the film is not Evil Writ Large, Only Now On Screen. It is something lovely or valuable—something ordinary people "fall for" in the real world—except portrayed in such a wa