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Saturday
Sep282013

On Position Papers

 I must admit that whenever I come to write another little-what-not on this collaborative site, a fear, or rather a concern, seems to rise before me as a specter at the gate of the very outset. For, as it has been wisely put "there is nothing new under the sun," my worry consists of the fact that the point I am about to make was probably already made this week, in a much more cogent fashion, on some other blog. If not lately, a bloke fifty years ago pointed it out in a well circulated pamphlet or book. It gets worse. The fact is and odds are, most of the current readers of this passage have probably read those other self-same things and are wondering under what kind of dusty slab I make my rounds. 

However, now that I have let you in on my secret troubles, I will let you in on the magic of the very same assumptions. For, if another fellow, probably an unmitigated sapp like myself, has already come to this conclusion, mine is a mere seconding and both of our points become much more sure. For it is a trustworthy saying that the most basic conclusions of the simplest minds make for the surest footing, where as, the most profound decree of the brilliant intellect is the slippery slope. Theories of the PHD's will pass us by on the desert track while the simpleton will stop to give us a drink of water.

Now that the realization is starting to dawn on you that even the knowledge that I am being repetitious won't stop me from proceding, I perfectly understand if I will be going it alone.

 

Thesis: Funny thing about position papers, they seem to assume a different underlying position for each situation.

 

I made it to this point in my thought processes before I realized I don't agree with this thought/thesis, so there is really no point in going on. However, there is one loose end. It is, as you may recall, that another bloke probably made this point somewhere else quite recently. I guess what you do with him and his point is now up to you. Maybe you can second him. It is a competition in the end, and maybe by siding with him you may be on the winning side and I will be left to regroup and look at rebuilding for next season.

 

N.B. Seeing as how I don't agree with my above thesis, position papers may soon follow.

 

Phillip Tippin
The cool rains having started
Roeland Park, KS

Painting:
Catherine Wood
"Books and Papers on a Desk"
Unknown Date 

Thursday
Sep122013

Killjoy Criticism

    Kiljoy Criticism—criticism for the Ironic Age.  

    There are too many happy children. I'm talking about those giddy school boys you see on benches reading senseless books and laughing at the pictures. Or their female comrades reading fairy tales and getting all caught up in the story. These happy children must be stopped. The giddy boys get these foolhardy ideas that they must be chivalrous and, well boys, while the girls believe themselves to be helpless princesses locked in tall towers guarded by dragons . This joy must be quenched at the source, we must, as best we can, suck the fun out of our reading: have Prince Charming hanged on the nearest tree and tell Sleeping Beauty to keep hitting the snooze button. For the book is a very serious issue and reading is the highest form of art. I argue, in these here brief words, that the end of our reading should be a sort of depressed seriousness. This should be the end goal, and we should seek, as best we possibly can, to find ways which encourage this depressing seriousness. I grant the current deluge of literary theories out there, but not a single one of them advocates that we read in order to be depressed. Killjoy Criticism is the highest theory. It asks the question, "How can I approach this text in such a way that will make me as depressed as possible?" Killjoy Criticism is the theory that will lead us back to ourselves. We must read to be depressed.

     We should come to books as we do a funeral. And as with any funeral, we have the characters, but naturally we sit and ponder our own end. Thus, we should enter those pages with a grave seriousness that is solely focused on ourselves. This seriousness will completely transform our reading experience. Every character will come alive, and every symbolism will point back to you, the reader, for who is more important in this life than you? And an important person is a serious person. Therefore, the primary thing that must be done when we enter these tomes is to look for ourselves as much as possible, ignoring at all costs the historical or biographical context that may add to the text. Evidence is on our side here as well. For it does not take long to find that the most selfish and narcissistic person in the room is usually the most depressed. Just look at all those egoists on Facebook, and you will see how taking ourselves seriously leads to a fantastic depression, something our reading desperately lacks. Fitting ourselves into the narrow cracks of the narrative we're reading is the primary step needed if we are to come out depressed on the other side.

     Over-analysis is key for the Killjoy Critic. If you wonder if something's meaning is a stretch, that is all the more reason for the validity of your reasoning. Huck Finn should not just represent you the reader (though this is primary), he should represent Othello, Samuel Johnson, Henry Ford and Hans Zimmer. Frankenstein's Monster is a clear illusion to an obscure body part, and Shylock represents the repressed females of the 20th century. Words too should be stretched beyond comprehension. For words are merely a social construction; they don't actually mean any one thing. The more meanings and symbolisms you can pack into the most constrained word the better: "Strain the gnat but swallow the camel." You should come out of your first reading of Moby Dick with at least 20 different readings readily available. For in the end all this relativity is depressingly serious. It is a serious statement that says anything can mean anything  and everything means nothing. And when we've reached the end of the nihilistic river we've created, we'll be freely depressed in a world of obscurity and meaninglessness just as Jim was freed at the end of his journey with Huck.

   This brings me to story. Killjoy Critics believe story is the last thing any reader should be focused on. Getting caught up in a story only produces excitement, adventure, and ultimately joy. This is a huge detriment to reading books. Books are merely here for social and cultural advancement. Serious stuff. Not kid story-time. Who ever approached a fairy tale with true seriousness? The last thing a good, serious reader should get out of the Grapes of Wrath is that the Joad's traveled from Oklahoma to California. Oklahoma to California? Try Irkutsk to St. Petersburg. The Joad's didn't start in Oklahoma, they began as the bourgeois elite and traveled to a proletariat prison. Story's produce joy, multiple meanings creates chaos, pain and depression like the married couple that can't seem to interpret each other correctly. Thus, we should seek for the "hidden meaning" behind the story and ignore the joy of the narrative altogether. The reader will be depressingly serious, knowing that St. George didn't just slay the dragon but was actually fighting the slave trade, aids, and endangered Moon Bears.

    But the Killjoy reader, apart from being solely devoted to himself, is also conscious of the social issues around him. Remember. We come to literature to be depressingly serious. Nothing on the planet, apart from yourself, is more serious than social advancement. This social advancement is discovered in three major categories of culture each of which leave you depressed: 1) social oppression, 2) economical oppression , and 3) the oppression of the ecosystem and animals. Now, we should tackle one at a time.

   This first one coincides with the oppression of a sexual revolution. Everything in literature must correspond with this ideal if we are to be aptly depressed on the other side. The pervert is usually a depressed person because he takes his perversion too seriously, and likewise the perverted reader is depressingly serious. So when you're reading Pride and Prejudice, you should only consider how Elizabeth Bennet's sexuality is being severely repressed by Mr. Darcy. The last thing Pride and Prejudice is is a tale of two blockheads who found love. This is too humorous and humor, above all, must be annihilated. But when Elizabeth states in the novel that "Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing at all," she is clearing pioneering the current third-wave feminist cause.

   In Chaucer's Miller's Tale, the Miller is telling a story about how the proletariat of the post-Civil War era struggled to find their identity. John specifically represents the proletariat who simply couldn't find their way, and his being cuckolded by Nicholas (bourgeois) with his young wife Alisoun (capitalism) while the parish clerk Absolon (corporate greed) seeks to get a piece of Alisoun (capitalism). But keep in mind our earlier principle. John does not just represent the lost class of people after the Civil War. He's also an oddly specific reference to George Bush's last four years in office. Chaucer knew it all. Nevertheless, when Chaucer says "She was a fair young wife, her body slender as any weasel's, and as soft and tender" (Coghill's trans.), he's actually directly quoting Marx signifying that Capitalism (Alisoun), though beautiful in outward appearance, was actually nothing but an emaciated weasel, willing and able to deceive the proletariat. If the economy does not leave you depressed, nothing will, and so economics should certainly find their way into your reading.

    Finally, we have the oppression of our beloved planet. The Killjoy Critic firmly believes that one of the most depressing things to think about is the planet's apparent dissolving on its own accord. There is no more clear indication of this than in the Pickwick Papers. When the four travelers are setting out for Dingley Dell, a clear instance shows itself in their inability to control the horses. Winkle, nominated to ride solo, is unable to control his beast and eventually the horses in the cart take off from the other travelers. All this clearly indicates nature's revolt against man. And Mr Pickwick's frustration at not being able to get rid of the horse indicates man's general misunderstanding of Mother Nature.

It's like a dream... a hideous dream. The idea of a man's walking about, all day, with a dreadful horse that he can't get rid of!

   And despite man's attempt to embrace the supernatural through religion, he still finds himself in the depressing cell of his natural world.

    These here are the core techniques every Killjoy Critic should adopt. Anything else lies under our base tenant: "If a book cheers you up, read it differently." Remember: Nothing is more serious than yourself. You are the center of your world, find yourself in books. But remember that though every single protagonist out there represents you, they also represent everything else under the sun, and this is depressingly serious business. These peculiar techniques for reading are a sure-fire way to find the act as deplorable as possible. And that is the best way to read. Not like a giddy schoolboy who fights dragons for damsels in distress; not one who seeks to improve himself by contemplating on the mysteries of some deep spiritual passage in an outdated and irrelevant book; not one who only wishes to expand his experiences by vicariously visiting other worlds, planets, and countries and seeing how those people view the world. No. After all the narrative has been stripped and all the additional meanings have been inserted into the text by some whimsically depressing rationale which can't possibly be taken with even the slightest amoutn of seriouness, the Killjoy Critic knows that, deep down, the best way to read a book is to read like a depressingly serious post-postmodernist.

Sam Snow (theficklefarce.wordpress.com)
In "The Catacombs"
September 10, 2013

Image:
"Old Man in Sorrow"
Oil on Canvas - 1890
Vincent Van Gogh 

Friday
Sep062013

North and Newton

This piece originally appeared on my (former) blog for the Newton Kansan newspaper on May 30 of this year.

     When I was sixteen years old, two Zambian orphan baby boys were placed in my arms, and I was told to name them. I asked if they needed first and middle names and was told only first names would be requisite. Without much hesitation I christened them with two of my favorite boy names at the time: North and Newton. I had no thought of the Kansas town at the time. North was a compass point and had a strong, virile Norse association for me. Newton made me think of a brilliant physicist and health-sustaining apples. So, if the LORD has sustained them, there are two nine-year-old boys growing up on the dusty Zambian plain north of Lusaka. I wonder every now and then whether they have heard the story of their Christening by the gangly, pale American youth, and if they wonder about me like I wonder about them.

       Well last Tuesday I drove to North Newton (the town) and ran on the Bethel track for a workout, reliving my track days, sans the hurdles. It was sunny, not too windy and not too warm. I ran a couple miles and a couple sets of stairs and headed home. As I drove home, windows down, on I-135 I thought of North and Newton, the only two people to whom I have given names—except my wife, and that was more of a legal, covenantal gesture than a creative one.

      The ill-fated Juliet Capulet famously asked, “What’s in a name?” And, where I Romeo listening below her balcony I would have responded, “Forsooth, quite a bit, Juliet. Just readith thou the Bible. God set great import on the name he gavest his son, Jesus. God didst change Abram’s name. Saul was transformed to Paul, following his vexing encounter with the risen Christ. Ah me! What’s in a name? All, my dear. Now, make haste. Get thee back to bed. I am no good for thee. Alas, it would not end well. Wherefore art thou tarrying? Fly! And do thou avoid all apothecaries and Montagues.”

       So I hope North and Newton are healthy, happy and well-fed, spiritually as well as physically. The town for which I accidently named them seems to be thriving, and I can only hope they are too.

 

R. Eric Tippin
in The Study on 8th Street
May 30, 2013

 

Image:
"Christening Sunday (South Harting, Sussex)"
Oil on Canvas - 1887
James Charles

Thursday
Sep052013

Spiritual Sunglasses

 When working outside, I often wear sunglasses to protect my eyes and avoid throbbing headaches. Unfortunately, my discombobulated mind frequently neglects to remember my glasses and I am forced to work throughout the day without their protective lenses. On such occasions I have made a curious observation—when entering a low lit room upon being exposed to intense sunlight all day, my eyes are unable to focus clearly. A haze of light seems to blanket my mind and I cannot see details easily.

            While light is essential for sight, my inability to focus on a chair obstructing my path indicates real drawbacks to excessive light exposure. Removing light in order to see more clearly sounds paradoxical, but my bruised shin says otherwise. Comparatively, my bruised brain communicates the dangers of excessive exposure to information, specifically information regarding interpreting the Bible. The same stupor caused by excessive sunlight seems to replicate when I am bombarded with excessive amounts of information. My mind is blinded by a haze disabling distinction between concrete truth and camouflaged lies. More often then not failure to indentify truth in today’s world is hindered not by a lack of information but by a saturation of possibilities. This haze of potentialities either blurs the truth or eliminates the possibility that truth exists.

            Upon entering my kitchen after a hard day’s work earlier this summer, I remember stumbling toward the cabinet in search of a drink mix in order to make a delightful, ice cold beverage. As I removed the box containing several drink flavors, I realized I could not identify the peach tea packet (my favorite) from the remaining flavor assortments; the haze from suddenly being removed from the direct sunlight blurred my vision to the extent that I could no longer recognize the correct packet.

            Searching for biblical truth can sometimes be a futile quest for a specific truth through a blinding haze of possibilities; many moral potentialities are presented, all claiming biblical authority. While a plethora of biblical information can be both helpful and stimulating, it can also cause confusion and stagnancy. Consider the debate over modesty. Go to one hundred different churches and you will very likely identify one hundred definitions. Church discipline also possesses differing degrees of intensity depending on the body of believers. These and countless other moral, theological, and church government contentions provide countless interpretations all claiming the authenticity and authority of God’s Word. So is it possible for believers to identify a correct interpretation of scripture or do many correct interpretations exist? How do believers shake off the blinding haze of excessive possibilities?

            Similar to wearing sunglasses to protect my eyes from excessive sunrays during the summer, believers must also utilize scripture interpreting shades (preferably aviator style). The first protective layer of scripture interpreting sunglasses is limiting your sources. I say this with timidity and care because I do believe identifying and understand differing schools of thought about any given issue is healthy, but absorbing numerous and opposing sources can be like staring at the sun through a telescope (ask Galileo how that turns out). Identifying trusted sources and diligently comparing their assertions with the entire biblical context is far more productive than reading numerous interpretations and picking one that meets your needs. A great place to begin is by asking a trusted leader in your church about a specific topic you desire to contemplate further. Trusting your Godly leader’s such as pastors, elders, and Sunday School teachers can be a great way to filter your spiritual intake. Their guidance toward biblically sound material will help you avoid wasted time and, more importantly, avoid confusing contradictions.

            Another useful filtering mechanism of Bible interpreting sunglasses is viewing the Bible contextually. A majority, if not all, of inaccurate interpretations of scripture fail to calculate the specific text within the entire context of the Bible. While contextual interpretation sounds noble and righteous, application seems far more elusive. I propose that a practical and audacious starting point would be to read the Bible in its entirety, whether from cover to cover or chronologically. So many times believers profess that “context is king,” but have never read the entire context for which they are advocating. My grandfather was an inspiration in this regard. He did not become a believer until his late teens, but upon accepting Christ, he read the entire Bible every year of his remaining life (more than 65 times). I’m not advising this for everyone but what better way to understand the context of scripture than to read the context. This simple yet admittedly daunting task can protect your spiritual eyes from being stunned with the brightness of varying possible explanations.

            Most would agree that sunlight is a positive and delightful aspect of God’s creation, but excessive amounts can present a severe hindrance. Admittedly, it took me a considerable amount of time to identify my need for sunglasses (I am not quite so bright as I would hope sometimes) while working outside in the summer, but I am so thankful for their protective lenses. They removed the momentary haze when entering a low-lit room and diminished my headaches. Spiritually protective glasses can similarly provide protection from excessive biblical insinuations. Limiting your biblical commentary sources and reading the entire Bible are two fundamental layers of protection for believers attempting to avoid being blinded by biblical interpretation saturation.

 

Stuart Busenitz
September 5, 2013

Image:
"A Sunny Afternoon"
Oil on Canvas
Hamilton Marr (1846-1916) 

Monday
Sep022013

Of Mirrors and Men

I suggest that a ten or twenty years' abstinence both from the reading and from the writing of evaluative criticism might do us all a great deal of good. -- CS Lewis, An Experiment in Crticism

The hypocrisy of the modern is one in which he will willingly allow himself to enter into the mindset of another person so long as that mindset allows him to better love himself. Thus, the modern is more apt to vicariously enjoy a movie or TV show because there he meets himself. He will not read an old book because he is nowhere to be found in it. All his preaching about accepting the views of others and tolerance is rejected in his actions which suggest he really only cares about himself. This is no more true than in popular literary theories which allow for readers to bring themselves into a text they have no right to enter. If, for instance, I read King Lear objectively, I do not meet myself. But the modern rejects this, warps the text itself and makes Lear about something which it was never about all in an effort to "relate to the text": If the work has no bearing on me the reader, the work has no bearing period. This is a sentiment CS Lewis argued against in his book An Experiment in Criticism.

Lewis' essentially forgotten book argues that literary criticism should primarily be focused on what types of books make good readers. He spends a better part of the book explaining the difference between a good and bad reader. Good reading is reading in which the reader essentially leaves himself and enters the world of the text -- that world which the author created and intended. The good reader understands that his world is best affected not by "discovering" himself in the work but by letting the world of the text work on him in a way that changes his own world.

The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through the eyes of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself... Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

The Christian believes that God ordained reading as his primary means to know him, and this little book is a call to the importance of reading fiction. If reading literary works is merely a practice in which our theories can be played out, we have done the novel an injustice. If reading is only a practice in which I can better see myself, I am a narcissist. We do not come to books for truths about lives as most books are very different than the world we inhabit. We do not come to books as an aid to culture. For it is better to come to books as they would have us so we can understand the culture in which they were written rather than pulling out cultural topics that were never there in the first place. Lastly, and most importantly, we do not come to books as we do mirrors. We have Facebook for that. But literature is the great means by which we can better see through our brother's eyes and love him. For it is easier to "love your neighbor as yourself" when you have entered into, even accepted for a time, his perspective of the world.

Sam Snow

(theficklefarce.wordpress.com)

Image: "Friendly Critics"
Oil on Canvas - c. 1883
Charles Martin Hardie