Sunday, January 30, 2011

Overly polite? Or a necessary clarification?

It's always bothered me in published work when the author writes (either in an acknowledgments section for a book or an initial/final footnote for an article) something like this:
"I'd like to thank persons A, B, and C, who read drafts of this work and offered helpful comments, suggestions, and criticisms.  Any remaining mistakes are, of course, my own."

If I'm reading someone's work, I'm interested to know who they consulted during the writing and revising stage; such consultation is an important step in academic research, fosters much better writing, and is especially important when journal reviewers so often fail to give extensive comments on article submissions.  Recognition of these consultations helpfully signals to the reader those with whom an author is in conversation.  But I don't know why anyone would reasonably think that a mistake in the final work should be attributed to those who reviewed drafts along the way.  For all the reader knows, the mistake could have been corrected by a reviewer and not incorporated into the final manuscript by the author.  Or the reviewer might only have expertise in one aspect of the work and not presume to comment on another aspect of it, which may indeed turn out to be incorrect.  The reviewer may also disagree with a conclusion of the author, but have the sense to realize that this is the author's paper and not the reviewer's and while the reviewer could draw attention to problems within the author's thinking, there's no sense in rewriting the paper as if it were the reviewer's own.

Reading manuscripts is a service in the profession and I think everyone recognizes it as such.  I've never seen the need to include an ornamental recognition that "the buck stops with me, the author".  Of course it does.  Which brings me to another gripe... even worse, these acknowledgments often say, "All mistakes are, of course, my own."  They refute their own reason for being!

Is this an entirely bizarre pet peeve of mine, or does this have some wider resonance with people?  I'm assuming that the practice is just a matter of etiquette when it occurs, but it just doesn't strike me as a very needed clarification.  The byline says who takes responsibility for the ideas.  The acknowledgment says who spoke constructively with the author at some point.  We don't clarify in the byline that review was sought elsewhere; I don't see why we should be redundant about genuine authorship [which entails responsibility for mistakes] in the acknowledgments note.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Memoriam: Edmund Hill

Edmund Hill died on 11 November 2010.  I hadn't heard the news until running across Fergus Kerr's notice in New Blackfriars.  Hill is probably best known for his translations of Augustine, and Kerr has some interesting commentary on Hill's approach to de Trinitate

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chicago Events...

A number of good looking events going on at the Divinity and elsewhere on campus this next week:

On Monday, the Early Christian Studies Workshop is hosting Dean Margaret Mitchell, who will be speaking on, "Paul, the Corinthians and the birth of Christian Hermeneutics"

On Tuesday, the Divinity School will host Sonja Luehrmann, who will speak on "Confess, Forget, Remember: The Tainted Past as a Moral Resource in Russian Orthodoxy Anti-Abortion Activism".

At the same time, the Theology Workshop will host Vince Evener, who will speak on “The Eye that Offends Us’: Suffering and the Transformation of Perception in Martin Luther’s Break with the Roman Church”

On Thursday, Vasileios Syros will present his work at the Martin Marty fellowship, "Jewish Political and Religious Thought at the Intersection of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period: The interaction of the Jewish and Christian political and religious traditions between the Mediterranean and the Alps."

 Two conferences will also be going on... Monday & Tuesday feature one on Sufism and Judaism, and Thursday & Friday feature one on Pierre Hadot and Spiritual Exercises.

I think all of these are free and open to the public, but check the events pages to make sure if you aren't a part of the university community.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A few items...

  • The European Commission has come out strong against Google and in renewed support of its own Europeana, which doesn't carry some of the draconian regulations that Google does for preferential use.  I blogged about Europeana a bit when it came out two years ago, and the material available today is much more extensive than it was then.    You can always find a link to Europeana (along with some other digital libraries) at the bottom of the right sidebar. One of the main strengths that I see in Europeana is that it aggregates the cultural items from various sources around Europe (museums, libraries, archives, etc.). I think the worry with dispersed resources rather than one source like Google is that the knowledge store becomes pretty balkanized and difficult to manage. Europeana, however, links you to the original sites where all of these items were digitized, allowing member institutions to do their own work in their own house, but also bringing it under one digital roof for access. This strikes me as a much more sensible structure than Google's rather monopolistic philosophy.
  • This is a little old now, but worth reading if you haven't-- the director of the Harvard University Library writes about three threats to research libraries... two related to journal prices, and the third to Google.  
  • Jason Goroncy mentions a brilliant plan to guard libraries against austerity measures. 

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Sources for Milbank on power

    I've heard that writing a blog post with "Milbank" in the title draws a good bit of traffic, so I'll be curious to see what comes of this.  I've never written about Milbank directly on the blog, but I had some thoughts when I read his "Power is necessary for peace" article published at the end of last October. 

    I know the ship has sailed on this conversation, and there are plenty of more comprehensive and enlightening blog conversations out there from the days following the article's actual publication.  This short bit from Milbank struck me when I first read it, though:
    "[...]without the addition of power to charity would the church have survived at all? To refuse this addition is in a way to refuse the resurrection, and the fact that in the end it is Christ's kingly role which is eternal, and not his mediating priestly role."
    Who says Milbank's work isn't properly christological or focused upon the resurrection?!  Actually, I wondered whether this made its way into his explanation partially to counter such characterizations of his work.  He cites no source here, but the logic reminded me of the Norman Anonymous, which I considered in my recent article (564-565):

    It is also worth noting how the Norman Anonymous distinguishes the extent of the kingly reign as opposed to the priestly.  In the last quoted passage, the Anonymous states of Christ, 'regnabit in eternum et ultra.  Qui sacerdos dicitur in eternum, non ultra.  Neque enim in eterno vel ultra eternum sacerdotium erit necessarium.'  The royal role, therefore, goes into eternity while the priestly role extends to eternity, but no further.[32]  This ironically grants a greater dignity to kingship even though it is based on the scriptural claim that 'you are a priest forever'.  It is also notably in contrast to other contemporary exegetical traditions that are not so much 'papalist' or anti-royalist as they are simply anti-hierocratic.  Philippe Buc has described what he calls 'pro-egalitarian' exegetes who rejected the hierarchical conception advocated by Isidore of Seville whereby the domination of humanity over creation was allegorized into an explanation of temporal rule.  In contrast to the kingship existing into eternity that the Norman Anonymous presented,
    their early Gloss on the Pauline Epistles incorporated a startling denial of the permanence beyond the end of history of any form of hierarchical authority.  On 1 Corinthians 15:24, 'When He will abolish every principality, every power and every virtue,' the masters commented: 'As long as the world lasts, angels govern angels, demons govern demons, and human beings, human beings, to serve or deceive the living.  But when all shall have been gathered, then all power (prelatio) shall cease, for it will no longer be necessary.'[33]

    [32] Williams, The Norman Anonymous of 1100 A.D., pp. 128-9, Libelli de Lite, Vol.3, p. 663.
    [33] P. Buc, 'Principes gentium dominantur eorum: Princely Power between Legitimacy and Illegitimacy in Twelfth-Century Exegesis', in Cultures of Power: Lordship, Status, and Process in Twelfth-Century Europe, ed. T.N. Bisson (Philadelphia, 1995), pp. 310-28, p. 316.

    The argument isn't exactly the same: Milbank (sounding very Protestant, ironically) wants to mark a discrete end in Christ's priestly work with His death, whereas the Anonymous sees Christ the priest as continuing to eternity.  But the idea in both cases is that one way or another, kingship goes beyond priesthood as a christological office, and so it should be privileged in political thought as well. 

    Milbank is often identified as "medieval" in his thought.  Sometimes this is proclaimed as a good thing, and sometimes it's meant to be derogatory.  In either case, though, it always seems like an incredibly vague identification.  Here, perhaps, is a suggestive possibility for whom Milbank might actually have in mind when he follows certain lines of argument.  The connection is further recommended by the prominent place of the Anonymous in later Anglican thought of an Erastian bent.  More importantly, the quote from Buc brings to the fore other exegetical possibilities from a historical period that is usually just assumed to be cornered by certain of today's nostalgic modes.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    Charity and Disagreement

    A common misconception takes interpretative charity to be an inability to say anything contrary about someone's thoughts or actions... a sort of well-meaning but naive refusal to engage in argument because a nicer and more well-meaning interlocutor could always be plausibly imagined.  The idea is that the overly-charitable interpreter nuances a person's position to death so that even the worst crimes and falsehoods could be justified in the name of standing aloof from uncivil polemic.

    On the contrary, nothing about interpretative charity prevents strong disagreement, despite any conventional wisdom otherwise from the blogosphere.  The basic idea of interpretative charity is this: I interpret a thinker under the assumption that they have every intention of being coherent and reasonable in what they say, and that as a result of this intention there's probably a good bit of coherence and reasonableness that can actually be granted to them before simply dismissing their thought as so much nonsense.  In a very mundane sort of way, we all depend upon charity to get along with everyday communication.  We fill in gaps and make implicit distinctions explicit whenever we talk with someone, simply because we're charitable enough to assume that they have basic communicative abilities and intend these sorts of things in the first place.  Interpretative charity simply assumes the same about higher levels of discourse... that if a thought is compelling or meaningful for someone else, there's probably some level of coherence and reasonableness that would at least make it reproducible and recognizable in my own thinking (if not always equally compelling).

    Alain Badiou articulates something like this in The Century, taking matters straight to the classic test case of Nazism:
    "Allow me to raise what nowadays is a provocative, or even forbidden, question: What was the thought of the Nazis?  What did the Nazis think?  There is a way of always leading everything back to what the Nazis did (they undertook the extermination of the European Jews in gas chambers) that completely precludes any access to what they thought, or imagined they were thinking, in doing what they did.  But refusing to think through what the Nazis themselves thought also prevents us from thinking through what they did, and consequently forbids the formulation of any real politics that would prohibit the return of their actions.  As long as Nazi thinking is not itself thought through it will continue to dwell among us, unthought and therefore indestructible." (3-4)
    [side note: an interesting flip-side to the Nazi example is Badiou's caution against anti-political moralizing conclusions on p. 53, following his discussion of political violence]

    Something like that strikes me as similar to what is meant by a charitable stance... simply a prior assumption of thinkability (and one might add in most cases, of significant coherence and reasonableness)... but it certainly doesn't prevent harsh critique.  Quite the opposite, any harsh critique only really hits its mark to the extent that charity has carried the preparatory interpretation as far as it will go.

    While I don't see any need to link other conversations, this post originated out of continued frustration with the idea, held by a few folks, that I can be something of an etiquette obsessed contributor to theological conversations on blogs, unwilling to ever just go out and offer a straightforward criticism.  This may be the case... for the most part I don't see the draw of spending one's time arguing with others over a screen... but any such avoidance of criticism shouldn't be associated with interpretative charity.  The two are quite different practices.  Conflating them will just lead to making charity less appealing to theologians and theology an even more useless exercise than it has already become in some cases.

    For an example of one of my own attempts at interpretive charity done for primarily critical purposes,  I'd recommend reading my 2009 article, "'Fullness of the Spirit' and 'Fullness of Catholicity' in Ecclesial Communion", in IJST.  The argument I make against the CDF and the sitting pope simply couldn't have been made without taking most of the paper to follow through certain arguments on the basis of their own most reasonable terms.  That is, without prioritizing interpretative charity some critiques actually remain unavailable.