Sunday, December 8, 2013, 7:40 PM
Tom Lodge’s Mandela: A Critical Life does a good job of explaining the mythical, iconic attraction that Mandela attained, and finds its roots in Mandela’s upbringing, his legal training, and the deliberate effort to present him as the face of a new Africa.
Lodge writes, “Mandela’s childhood was unusual because of his early departure from his mother’s household and his subsequent upbringing as the ward of a royal regent. Mandela’s emotional self-control as a personality, as well as his receptiveness to new ideas, is, I think, attributable to his upbringing in highly institutionalised settings. Both at court and at school, Mandela absorbed principles of etiquette and chivalry that remained important precepts through his public life. They were principles that were reinforced by a sophisticated literary culture that fused heroic African oral traditions with Victorian concepts of honour, propriety, and virtue. From his boyhood, Mandela’s life was shaped by ideas or values that were shared by rather than dividing his compatriots, black and white. In this context, the absence in his early life of intimidating or humiliating encounters with white people is significant.”
This tradition of courtliness and chivalry came into play in his post-apartheid political conduct:
Sunday, December 8, 2013, 6:37 PM
Sharing a meal seems like an egalitarian, democratic sacrament. Alice Julier thinks not, and argues in her Eating Together: Food, Friendship and Inequality that food practices have built-in hierarchies. In her TLS review of the book, Fran Bigman points out that “Although affluent hosts talk about wanting to make guests feel comfortable, a formal dinner party – “trial by fork” – furnishes an excuse to show off; Julier employs Margaret Visser’s argument that ‘conspicuous competence,’ or the ability to prepare sophisticated global food, has replaced ‘conspicuous consumption’.’ Some of Julier’s less affluent interviewees react against these ‘snob dinners’ by hosting nights such as ‘beanies and weenies’ at which no dish may have more than three ingredients. Others, including one young, gay African American man, produce burlesques of the dinner-party form at which they cook elaborate meals, such as ‘Crepe Purses Mushroom Duchelles [sic]‘, a parody of the seventeenthcentury French dish.”
Potlucks come closer to an egalitarian model: “Rather than enforcing social exclusion, potlucks honour difference and symbolize cultural blending.” Even with potlucks, though, “hierarchies remain; hosts generally provide the main dish, and the meals often foster community within, not across, social groups. The custom seems unlikely to catch on in Britain. Julier explains that when an English couple who had studied in California threw a potluck dinner after their return, their guests found the idea stingy and inhospitable.”
Even when everyone has a place at the table, some places are more equal than others.
Sunday, December 8, 2013, 6:31 PM
After his early death in 1960, J.L. Austin was nearly forgotten,. In recent years, there has been something of an Austin revival, as philosophers have given renewed attention to the issues of ordinary language and epistemology that Austin raised. Writing in the TLS, Duncan Pritchard notes that Krista Lawlor’s Assurance: An Austinian view of Knowledge and Knowledge Claims is an important contribution to this revival.
Lawlor focuses on “a ‘relevant-alternatives’ account of knowledge: to know something does not require the knower to rule out all possibilities of error, but only those that are ‘relevant’. To this account of knowledge she adds an account of knowledge claims: to claim that one has knowledge, on this view, involves presenting one’s audience with an assurance that what is claimed as known is true.”
Austin used this sort of argument against skepticism, and Lawlord follows.
Sunday, December 8, 2013, 6:20 PM
Virginia Postrel is the insightful author of a number of works of cultural analysis, including The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness and The FUTURE AND ITS ENEMIES: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress. Leslie Camhi reviews her latest, The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion in the current issue of NYTBR. Postrel wants to formulate a theory “that explains, in her words, ‘how Jackie Kennedy is like the Chrysler Building or a sports car like a Moleskine notebook, or why some audiences might find glamour in nuns, wind turbines or ‘Star Trek.’”
Postrel distinguishes between style and beauty, which are about people and objects, and glamor, which she claims is “inherent in our perception. One of the main components of glamor, she says, is mystery:
Sunday, December 8, 2013, 6:12 PM
Caroline Webber reviews Alisa Solomon’s Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof in the NYTBR. You thought it was just a musical? Think again. Solomon’s book “explores not only the making of the musical, but also the way the show reflects evolving Jewish cultural identity in America and around the world. It’s about how gentiles see Jews and about how Jews see themselves. It’s about a particular moment in American history when identity politics, feminism, generational rifts, ethnic pride, concerns about authenticity and an interest in immigration history came together in a rich cholent. It’s about a particular time in Broadway history when the musical was changing from something stagy and stilted to something more musically and formally challenging. Oh, and it’s about ‘Fiddler’ productions across cultures and time periods, and ‘Fiddler’ in pop culture — from ‘The Simpsons’ to an ultra-Orthodox novel that ‘reads like a kosher version of the evangelical Christian ‘Left Behind’ series to the Amazing Bottle Dancers (a troupe of fake Hasidim for hire at bar mitzvahs, doing Jerome Robbins’s astounding wedding dance choreography with paste-on payes , hats with holes cut into them and shatterproof bottles on their heads).” I want to hire those guys.
It’s also a parable about the irresistible power of American pop culture. Solomon recounts struggles of Tevye’s creator, Sholem Aleichem, “to adapt his own work for the stage presaged the troubles Robbins, Joseph Stein (book), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Jerry Bock (music) had in creating ‘Fiddler.’ They worried endlessly about creating a work that was too sentimental, too much like old Second Avenue Yiddish theater. And the creator of the original Tevye once vowed, ‘I will never permit myself to give in to American taste and lower the standards of art’ . . . until he needed money badly enough, relented and sentimentalized his play ‘Stempenyu.’ ‘What can one do when America commands?’ he asked helplessly.”
Sunday, December 8, 2013, 6:05 PM
Michel Delon’s recently translated The Libertine: The Art of Love in Eighteenth-Century France examines one of the main cultural values of eighteenth-century France. It documents, in the words of the NYTBR reviewer, “the dazzling breadth and depth of the 18th-century obsession with pleasures of the flesh. In the final decades of ancien régime France, an unsentimental, frankly hedonistic brand of thrill-seeking called libertinage — an enterprise in which, according to the playwright Pierre de Marivaux, ‘one still said to a woman: ‘I love you,’ but this was a polite way of saying: ‘I desire you’ — infused every genre from fiction to poetry, theater to philosophy, memoir to popular song (all well represented in short, artfully selected excerpts). It also preoccupied Frenchmen and -women from every walk of life — as Delon emphasizes in his introduction when he compares his book to ‘a ball attended by seducers and seductresses from all levels of society.’”
Philosophes put their minds to rationalizing sexual liberty: “Some characters, mouthpieces for radical freethinkers like Denis Diderot and the Marquis de Sade, extol debauchery as a political statement, a defiant challenge to the oppressive pieties and gross hypocrisies of the Catholic Church. (The word ‘libertine’ derives from libertinus: Latin for freed slave.) Other libertines, empirically oriented philosophes , class the joys of sex among nature’s ‘most striking phenomena,’ as arresting — and morally neutral — as sunsets and moonbeams. Still others, like the jaded, aristocratic roués of Choderlos de Laclos, suggest that the moral bankruptcy of France’s preposterously idle, pampered and self-indulgent nobility is leading nowhere good.”
Sexual liberation was one of the not-so-secret agendas of the Enlightenment. It still is.
Saturday, December 7, 2013, 8:29 AM
The intimate link between the eucharistic and ecclesial body of Christ was a commonplace of medieval theology, and continued into the early Reformation. Thomas Davis writes that “before the Protestant conflicts over the presence of Christ’s true body in the Eucharist came about, it was a common pastoral/devotional emphasis” (69).
In a 1519 treatise on the sacrament, Luther wrote that “To receive this sacrament in bread and wine, then is nothing else than to receive a sure sign of this fellowship and incorporation with Christ and all his saints. It is as if a citizen were given a sign, a document, or some other token to assure him that he is a citizen of the city, a member of that particular community.” He followed with a discussion of the one-and-many imagery of 1 Corinthians 12, arguing that “if one wishes to understand the sacrament” one needed to grasp the nature of the body of Christ. Indeed, the “natural” body is presence in the eucharist precisely so that Christians could be “drawn and changed into the spiritual body.” It is in fact “more needful that you discern the spiritual than the natural body of Christ. . . . For the natural body without the spiritual profits us nothing in this sacrament” (70-1).
After 1520, though, “Luther began to emphasize more the individual rather than the social aspect of the Eucharist—at least, he made the social consequence of the Eucharist dependent upon the personal (that is, faithful)—appropriation of Christ’s natural body, the order was thus reversed In 1518/1519, the social aspect directed the individual, by 1523, the individual directed the social” (71). And at the same time, the sacramentarian controversy was brewing.
Saturday, December 7, 2013, 8:00 AM
Stephen Strehle examines the differences between Luther and Zwingli on faith and righteousness in a 1992 article in the Sixteenth Century Journal. Faith in the accomplished work of Christ on the cross dominates Zwingli’s views, while Luther focuses on the Christ who died and rose again who unites Himself in living fellowship with those who believe and gives them hope for total deliverance from sin. Zwingli looks back; Luther looks forward.
Strehle writes: “The focus of Zwingli upon the death of Christ constitutes above all the fundamental distinction between his message and Luther’s. For Luther, as seen in his polemical struggles with Zwingli over the eucharist, the Christ who lives is related to the believer and is the source of salvation in nobis, not simply pro nobis. While Christ’s righteousness ever remains his own (aliena), he still in uniting himself to the believer lives as the source of righteousness in, with and under him. And this righteousness is not merely a datum, full and finished, and certainly not static, but a dynamic and proleptic power which moves toward the day in which all sin will be removed. Justification is a dynamic work of Christ in the believer. While sin might no longer be imputed to him, this non-imputation is only in light of the promise which God affords to him to drive away all iniquity. It is this hope which transforms the present as we seek the salvation which is ever before us. This existential orientation toward the future, while not totally absent, is not the direction toward which Zwingli’s concept of faith and our justification is looking, especially in his doctrine of the eucharist. His glance is backward toward an event which transpired once for all. His faith is fixed to the Christ of the past and not directed toward the Christ who is coming” (9-10).
Stephen Strehle, “Fides aut Foedus: Wittenberg and Zurich in Conflict over the Gospel,” Sixteenth Century Journal 23 (1992) 3-20.
Saturday, December 7, 2013, 7:45 AM
Calvin’s early Eucharistic theology was neither Zwinglian nor Lutheran. It was Melanchthonian, argues Richard Muller in a 2010 Calvin Theological Journal essay: “Of great interest here is that the 1536 Institutio, despite its denial of a substantial presence of Christ’s natural body, does not develop anything like his later doctrine of Christ’s eucharistie presence as a sursum corda, namely, as a work of the Spirit raising the heart of the believer and joining together in heavenly places things otherwise disparate. Instead, Calvin argues that, given Christ’s ascension to heaven, he cannot be corporeally present on earth; but, inasmuch as he now sits at the right hand of God, his kingdom and power extend everywhere, and he can hold forth his body and blood to believers. Calvin’s focus is on a presence understood christologically, not pneumatologically. . . .
Friday, December 6, 2013, 2:54 PM
Anthony Baker begins his mediation on the notion of “perfection,” Diagonal Advance: Perfection in Christian Theology, with the Romantic Prometheus and various responses to it. Deleuze and Guattari make an appearance, and one would think that they have put the Romantic well behind them. Not so, says Baker:
“in the summoning of an image of foundational schizophrenia, they appeal tacitly to a transcendent order of things in general and of the human thing in particular. Being itself, they say, is schizoid, and any move toward functional unities on the part of those agencies that emerge within it will always be secondary. I, and we, exist in a realm of actuality that can freeze within the endless chaos of virtual, but will always be ‘untrue’ to the formless being that issues it. Why and how is this simply the case? It could only be because virtuality itself, the depths of ontological schizophrenia, stands sovereign over us in the way God and the Id once did. The unmanaged array of desiring machines is a new ontological positivism, and insurrection against this order of things is futile. Just as Mercury tries to convince the chained Titan, the only possible existence under the aegis of this unassailable God comes through submission” (12).
Friday, December 6, 2013, 11:49 AM
Andrew Louth explains the fundamental intuition of sophiology in his characteristically lucid Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology: “the gulf between the uncreated God and the creation, brought into being out of nothing, does not put creation in opposition to God; rather, Wisdom constitutes a kind of metaxu, ‘between’: between God and man/creation, for Wisdom is that through which God created the universe, and it is equally through wisdom that the human quest for God finds fulfillment. Wisdom, one might say, is the face that God turns toward his creation, and the face that creation, in human kind, turns towards God. Creation is not abandoned by God, it is not godless, for apart from God it would not be at all; it is not deprived of grace, for it owes its existence to grace. Rather, creation is graced, it is holy; in creation God may be encountered” (44-45).
But you can get everything Louth says you get from Sophia without positing Sophia, and the intuition that he claims leads to Sophiology seems to rest on an elementary mistake: God isn’t “in opposition to creation” because God is both within and outside, filling and embracing creation simultaneously. The Father holds creation in the “two hands” of His Son and Spirit. Or, to borrow from John Frame: God’s transcendence, rightly understood, is not in opposition to His immanence; rather, God is everywhere near precisely because He transcends all created limitations – immanent because transcendent. Why does God need a face other than that of the Son, the image of the Father, to face creation? Why need for anything other than the Spirit’s presence and operation to say that creation is “graced”? When need is there of a metaxu? Why can the Spirit be the “between”?
Sophiology, like (some) Orthodox uses of the energies/essence distinction, seems to me to arise from a less than fully Trinitarian theology.
Friday, December 6, 2013, 8:11 AM
Israel camps at Kadesh, sends in spies, but ultimately refuses to enter the land (Numbers 13-14). “Kadesh” transliterates qedesh, from qadash, which means “make holy.” Kadesh is not only an oasis in the desert, but a sanctuary. Like Adam, Israel sins in a garden-temple.
Now, we may be able to extrapolate backwards from Numbers to Genesis. Israel’s sin was a refusal to enter the land, to receive their inheritance from Yahweh. They were supposed to move from the garden into the land of milk and honey, from their respite into a land where they would rule.
Adam’s sin is different because it involves grasping something forbidden. But the setting is similar. Adam was formed and placed in the garden-sanctuary. He wasn’t supposed to remain there, but to move out from his original “Kadesh” into the land. He jumped the gun and was driven away from Kadesh. The punishment was a delay in Adam’s entry into the land, a delay of several millennia.
Friday, December 6, 2013, 7:49 AM
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie promoted and even committed violent acts against the Apartheid regime. Earlier this year, I summarized Tom Lodge’s review of Stephen Ellis’s External Mission: The ANC in Exile, 1960-1990, which maintains that Mandela was part of a small group of Communist ANC leaders who wanted to launch a sabotage campaign. Some of the violence was pretty horrific: Blacks who “collaborated” with the white government were punished by necklacing them, encircling them with gasoline-filled tires and setting them alight. The ANC officially renounced the practice, but Winnie Mandela notoriously said that South Africa would be liberated with “boxes of matches” and “necklaces.”
The ANC used the same toolbox of terror that Mugabe had in Rhodesia, but that only sharpens the point: South Africa is no Zimbabwe. Given his past, Mandela’s conduct in power is something of a miracle. Max Boot writes,
Friday, December 6, 2013, 7:25 AM
The saints who overcome the dragon do so because of the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because “they did not love their life even to death” (Revelation 12:11). Martyrs don’t care enough about their own lives to preserve them in the face of threats. This is the way of victory.
That phrase about “not loving life” occurs earlier in the Bible. It’s a surprising context, given the way the phrase is used in Revelation. In Deborah’s song, the sons of Zebulun are commended because they “despised their lives to death” (Judges 5:18). Deborah’s song is an exuberant psalm, celebrating the armies of Israel, Jael (“most blessed among women”) with her tent peg, taunting Sisera’s mother because her son will never come home with those embroidered garments as plunder. It’s a wonderfully bloodthirsty song of victory.
Revelation is also about victory, and the shedding of blood. But the battle is turned upside down. In Revelation, the victorious warriors are those who die, not those who kill. The saints who do not love life are Jaels, who pound a peg to defeat the dragon, following the example of Jesus who crushed the serpent’s head at the cross, defeating death by death.
Friday, December 6, 2013, 5:23 AM
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Advent anticipates the final judgment. It’s a season not only for celebrating Christ’s first Advent but for preparing for His final coming.