Monthly Archives: March 2006

big block of cheese, pt. 1

In the spirit of full disclosure: I own all four seasons of the Aaron Sorkin-controlled West Wing (he and fellow executive producer Thomas Schlamme moved on before season 5, leaving John Wells (ER) as the primary producer and authority on the show), and I’ve watched them all many, many times. I am moved by the things that are supposed to move me, I laugh at the jokes even now. Sometimes I just put it on for background noise — it makes me feel like I’m thinking about serious things, even though I don’t have to concentrate as hard as I would on, say, NPR or BBC News. And I don’t mean that as a slam — The West Wing, like no other dramatic show on television, ever, raises issues about what it means to be a patriotic American. It examines most of the major issues of American public life, and tries to figure out how a serious, earnest person should deal with them. It anticipated by fully two years our public debate about the right reactions to terrorism and it supporters in foreign governments. This is a show whose first agenda is always to engage us in thought about our republic and the things that hold it back from spiritual greatness.
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looking for authorship in the Christian world, pt. 3

Again, we have no particular objection to the Lord commanding these acts to Jeremiah, nor to his doing them. On the other hand, would anyone really be disappointed to discover that he had not physically done them? Would we, in other words, have any quarrel with Jeremiah if he had simply used himself (or, perhaps more correctly, if the Lord had used him) as a character in three simple and obvious parables? For whether they are also history or not, these surely are parables — the Lord Himself makes it clear. The metaphorical weight of the acts is everything; the acts in themselves are ordinary and meaningless.
This understanding of the way even the narrations of the prophets may sometimes work — as stories whose metaphorical value completely overwhelms their value as history — will be important to us in reading other books of the Bible whose authorship is harder to discern and whose purpose seems to be entirely unhistorical.
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how to be regular

Reading a famous novel for the first time long after youth, having for years or decades willfully ignored its grand reputation, is a kind of perverse pleasure.  Reading Orwell’s 1984 would be a pleasure in any case, but it’s particularly fun to read now, as a professional “linguist,” because so much of the book treats on language and its potential to liberate or limit the mind.  Indeed, Orwell himself seems to have had the most fun writing about Newspeak.  The rest of the book plods along defeatedly to its preordained conclusion, deliberately muting anything which might suggest a possibility of escape or rebellion, but in the sections on Newspeak Orwell reveals an irrepressibly impish and subversive sense of humor which gives one more hope for humanity under totalitarianism than all of Winston Smith’s gloomy resistance.
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looking for authorship in the Christian world, pt. 2

Again, we are faced with a question. How do we reconcile the claim that “Thus far are the words of Jeremiah” with the obvious fact that half the text is written in the third person about Jeremiah? If it were fraudulent (i.e., if someone were trying to convince us that this were a text written by the prophet from beginning to end, when, in fact, it was not) we would expect the defrauders and interpolators to write in the first person as well. On the other hand, if it was written by Jeremiah, why does he go out of his way to call himself by the third person? In the first section, as we have seen, the third-person references are transitory and stylistic, but in the latter section, they are narrative and consistent.
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