28 October 2010

Yet Another Web Home

I don't know how often this site shows up on Google searches any more, but if you're looking for the Nathan Gilmour who lives in Georgia and teaches at Emmanuel College, I'm now part of a rather exciting group blog and podcast called The Christian Humanist.

You can catch our latest at this link: The Christian Humanist Blog

24 September 2007

I'm moved

Yes, folks, I think that the new blog is going to be my blog for the time being. If you've got hyperlinks or bookmarks, change 'em. If not, make some hyperlinks!

22 September 2007

A New Face on Things

I'm not sure I'm going with Wordpress permanently, but it's been fun playing around with it.

To see this blog with some new duds, head on over to what might become the new Hardly the Last Word.

18 September 2007

Another good day

We wrapped up our first unit on Republic proper today, and the discussions were quite good. I have to keep reminding the students (and myself) both how alien Plato's world was and how much we (the students and their teacher) are heirs to Plato's basic project.

Plato's big question in today's section was how to determine who should serve the community in which ways. Always looking for reasoned organization, Plato sets forth that ability, not ancestry, should decide who farms and who builds and who fights and who rules. There's still no hint of the individual's choosing her or his own vocation (as far as I can tell, they hadn't invented that yet), but it certainly assumes that communities can organize rationally their division of labor.

Such a distinction was at the heart of 11:00's discussion: is Plato forcing people to be what they do not want to be by training them according to their aptitudes, or does a desire to want to do something for a living only arise when choice-of-vocation is a stated category?

In 8:00 we spent more time focusing on protecting children from stories for which they're not ready. The group basically agreed with Plato's schema, in which the lewd and potentially misleading stories are reserved for those who have developed the faculties for apprehending them literately rather than as straightforward positive exempla. The sticking point for that group was that in Plato's system, there was no set rule for when that happened. They agreed that setting an arbitrary age (17 for R-rated movies, 21 for dance clubs) was too arbitrary fully to be reasonable, but they also weren't comfortable with putting such decisions in the hands of the community's guardians.

Tomorrow we start revision groups, a tiring time for me. But it's good enough pedagogically that I don't think I could do a semester of comp without them.

15 September 2007

Plato meets Michael Vick

Thursday's classes were good, and I actually mananged to have two, very different conversations in them. Since I remember 11:00 a little better, I'll start with that.

Their main concern was that Plato considers obscuring information for the good of community not much of a problem. Although they did not phrase it this way, they thought that the act of deception itself disqualifies a guardian as good.

That's where Michael Vick comes in.

When I asked them what they would say to ten-year-olds who idolized Michael Vick, they started to realize the size of the question that Plato was dealing with. After all, nine months ago (give or take), Vick was as close to a classical hero as kids get in 2006--he went out into an open field with some of the biggest, strongest, fastest people on the planet and proved over and over that he could overcome them with his own quickness and vision. Then the newspapers revealed something else, something at least as scandalous (for us moderns) as Achilles' distaste for the afterlife. I asked them what they'd tell the kids.

Because I hadn't anticipated that being the big question of the day (this was also the section in which Plato says that visiting Corinthian prostitutes and consuming pastries are basically moral equivalents and in which he formulates what later becomes "Platonic love"), I didn't articulate things that well. But I think things went fairly smoothly.

In 8:00, as I anticipated, the discussion mostly dealt with that Platonic sense of friendship, in which the best among the community love each other without the sex for the sake of harmony. Putting that in an ancient Athenian context is always a trip.

That's all I've got right now. I've got my proposal for my spring course in, and I ought to have some good working time Monday, back here at the Bogart Library. Perhaps more then.

11 September 2007

Thought Experiments

Today's reading in Plato was pretty much setup; the real argument begins in Thursday's reading. Nonetheless, my classes both engaged the text with some enthusiasm, and I finished my teaching day tired but pleased with the results.

The more I teach Plato, the more parallels strike me. The Ring of Gyges is obviously an influence on Tolkien; that's easy. But this time through, planning the lesson, I came to realize that Socrates' good man in his thought experiment bears a striking resemblance to Job--he's a genuinely righteous (the Greek dikaiosyne gets translated as "just" in Republic and "righteous" in Matthew) man who loses all the benefits of righteousness in heaven and in earth. Of course, the genius of Job is that the wronged righteous man speaks, and although I still don't think that the writer of Job necessarily knew Plato, I do think that the connection is undeniable.

As happened last year, this year's students are still working out what to do with Plato's highly specialized society. I reminded them that at least part of what he's doing is analogical, but nonetheless the question remains valid. And the pattern holds from last year: the students don't like the idea that one job is in store for a person's entire life, but when it comes to very important tasks (surgery and protection come up in every class), the students want specialists working in their behalf. Yes, this is a fun book to teach.

I also gave my preliminary "sex in Athens" speech to both sections today. Not surprisingly, a city in which the same man could have a boyfriend, a wife, and a prostitute when he felt the need struck the class as rotten. (It is in fact rotten.) But I have a hunch they'll read the sex sections of Republic a little more acutely when we get there, so I don't mind the relative embarrassment that I experience every time I have to give that talk.

Thursday we start talking about educating the guardians, always a fun time. I'll have to revisit the text before I start planning my attack, but this section always gets personal, and I like that.

07 September 2007

Freshmen can understand dialectic

Yesterday's classes were great; I really do have two good groups this year.

I did kick myself after 11:00 class for trying to railroad them into the same discussion that 8:00 had. It's a bad habit of mine, and I think I might be in the process of breaking the habit for some time still. All the same, they had read carefully enough that they pretty much took the discussion and ran with it. Like David in my Hebrew Bible classes, Socrates is always a conflicted figure, and some of my students loved him, and some of my students hated him.

One thing I did differently this year was actually to teach the dialectic form early on in the dialogue. We traced the brief exchange between Socrates and Simonides in terms of assertion and negation, and then we spent the bulk of the Plato-talk on the exchange between Thrasymachus and Socrates, noting the increasing length of each negation. Again, some students thought that such a method was great pedagogically and philosophically, and others wished that old Socrates would just get to the point. That's alright; there's more to come, and they'll get better at reading it, even if they never come to like it.

With regards to writing matters, I did an Open Document Presentation on hourglass structure and on internal organization within a paper. The former part people got pretty well, but I'm going to follow up on the former with a fuller presentation Tuesday on induction, deduction, and causality. With the talented group I've got, I imagine they'll do well on this first full-length paper. Some of them are already anxiety-ridden about it, but those are always the ones who work their tails off and end up learning how to write, so I'm not worried.

Our little book group is digging into Vonnegut's Mother Night, and already I'm hooked. Vonnegut is one of those novelists who at once says intelligent things and also makes me want to see what's on the next page. I dig that.

And although I was too busy to watch all of it, I was pleased to read that the Colts' defense, minus Cato June and Jason David and Booger McFarland and Corey Simon, still managed to hold Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister, and crew to ten points last night, and I was pleased again to see that even without Tarik Glen guarding his blindside, Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns to his faithful receivers, and I was pleased once more that Joseph Addai had a killer game as a starter. I don't expect that they'll be able to play at this level the whole season (they always slump; last year they were just smart enough to do so at the end of the regular season), but I do enjoy when they play this way.

01 September 2007

Book Forthcoming

In case you've heard through the grapevine (or, perhaps, in case you haven't), a new Ooze.com book is coming out on September 22, and one of my essays is one of its chapters. Pretty cool, eh?

The image itself links to the amazon.com entry for it.

Weekend Reflections

This fall's first-year comp groups are getting off to a really good start. Nobody seems to have flaked out utterly on paper one, and so far the discussions of Plato have been quite good. We launch into the Republic this Tuesday, and I'm excited to take this group through it.

In conversation with Mary this week I realized why I've enjoyed teaching Plato even more than I have teaching Hebrew Bible in 1102. It's not the text at hand; both are fun texts to teach. It's the differences between the populations, and it's nobody's fault particularly. In 1101, I get almost exclusively first-semester college students, and they're ready to get groovin' on some college-level thought. Nothing could suit that better than Plato; with Plato one must simultaneously hold loosely to one's assumptions and remain steadfast in the pursuit of genuine goodness, beauty, and truth. That's the stuff of college, methinks.

On the other hand, when we do Hebrew Bible in the spring, we're dealing with texts with which many of the students are already familiar. I get a fair number of people who tested out of 1101 and resent having to take 1102. I get a fair number of people who are taking freshman classes as 21-year-olds. That's not to say that the class can't be good; it's just to say that I've got to work harder, and I'm going to hit more dead spots there. Those aren't unqualifiedly bad things; they're just realities.

In the larger world, another family values politician has been caught (apparently) soliciting anonymous sex, Michael Vick pled guilty to dogfighting, and I keep my nose buried in books for comprehensive exams. I think I need to read some Vonnegut. Good thing book group is right now.

28 August 2007

Justice, Gods, and Standards

My 9:30 class (one I'm taking, not that I'm teaching) was mysteriously vacant today, so I'll go ahead and write now about today's Plato classes. (Those I teach.)

Now that I'm doing Tuesday-Thursday comp classes and have fewer days to teach, I compressed the entire trial of Socrates into today's discussion. For whatever reason (can't remember if a student initiated the diversion or if I did), we launched into a discussion of the gods and their relationship with Socrates's perceived role in the world. The big question that kept us occupied was why atheism was not only distasteful to Socrates's accusers but genuinely a crime. The discussion didn't take too long to veer into questions of modern theocratic states, in what ways and to what extent liberal tolerance of religion is better or worse than a legal system in which atheism is a crime.

We also talked a fair bit about the Crito and its assertion that only the opinions of good people ought to matter when making decisions. We talked about how that claim, harmless enough when one's mother exhorts one not to jump off cliffs that everyone is jumping off of, becomes quite dangerous politically when the prevailing system of government is democracy, in which the opinions of the good and the bad have equal weight so long as they're all property-owning males.

I finished with a bit about Paul, namely that the texts that seem to have influenced him most are the Hebrew Bible and Plato. I think we got there by means of talking about Socrates's disciples that he keeps mentioning throughout the Apology, and we finished by talking about what a profound influence that Socrates still has among humans.

I might post some more after I teach 11:00, but I might not. I'll just have to see.

16 August 2007

First Day of Class

Well, the school year is back, and hopefully I'll be posting here with some regularity about my two freshman comp classes and the groovy things that we discuss.

Both groups (I teach two sections per semester) look promising. I did my standard opening day exercise--before I introduced myself, took roll, handed them a piece of paper, or anything else of the sort, I had them pair up, learn each other's names, and write down working definitions for "republican" and "liberal." Then I had each person tell me the other's name and define one of the two words. Then, after I introduced all of the websites and software involved with the class (I do all the grading and they do peer revision electronically), I returned to those two words on the board. Next to "republican" I wrote "Rome," and we talked about how that changed the meaning of the word. Then next to "liberal" I wrote "arts," and we talked about the changes there. Then I discussed how George Washington, Tom Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and the lot of 'em in 1776 would have considered themselves both republicans and liberals and how both of those words signified something anti-monarchical at the time.

As we did these things, both groups seemed interested, and I think we'll have a good time when we really get rolling. This Tuesday I'm just marking time until drop/add ends, but after that we'll start digging hard into the trial of Socrates.

13 August 2007

Three Days More

Well, the new school year is upon me.

Tomorrow I go in for EMMA re-orientation so that I can be slightly less lost than my freshmen when they submit their papers. Then I'm going to start Sidney's Arcadia.

Wednesday I go in to help with new TA orientation, assisting bright young teachers as they learn to grade with hard heads and soft hearts. Or at least to get away with arbitrariness.

Then Thursday, at 8:00 AM, another round of Plato's Republic kicks off. I've already contacted my students via email, added them all to my WebCT section, created an EMMA space for them, and gotten two lesson plans outlined.

Once we get into some Plato texts, expect about two posts a week for the course of the semester. Teaching Republic last year led me to all kinds of good thoughts, and I imagine similar things will happen this year.

That's right, readers! Come back!

28 July 2007

Back in the Saddle

School will be starting up in just about three weeks, so look forward then to some more regular posts, most notably about my Plato class. Also, there might be Micah pictures in the next couple weeks or so.

If you look down the right column, you'll see the RSS feed for the Conservative Reformed Mafia. Despite my own Thomist leanings and suspicion of American conservatism, they've invited me to become a contributing writer. I'd like to think that I can contribute meaningfully as a friendly but critical voice. I suppose we'll see. Right now I'm working on the last of a three-part essay on Objective Truth. Go check it out!

13 July 2007

The Long Trip

Well, now that everyone's had some time to look at pictures, I'll say that the trip was good, and I'm glad to have seen everyone, but I'm also glad to be home.

The car ride up to Indiana was not too bad; we were all excited to see family, and we were anticipating a good trip. Micah, when he wasn't sleeping, was singing his ABC's. Cute.

Our week in Indiana saw everyone in good health, and we got to visit Micah's great-grandparents as well as the Indianapolis Children's Museum and the Indianapolis Zoo. Ryan came in for the last couple days, and we had a good day at the park and some tortilla soup for supper.

Then came the ride over to Pennsylvania. Again, not too bad--anticipation and all. Micah still sang those ABC's. Still cute.

We saw Mike and Susan and Mark and Kathy and all of the relevant nieces and nephews. Micah got a play in an entirely unsafe kiddie pool, and I dove and saved his little skull when (predictably) the flimsy plastic staircase up to the flimsy plastic slide buckled, sending him headfirst towards the concrete. Some scratches on his leg, but his skull didn't hit concrete.

Then came the ride over to West Virginia. Micah slept most of the way. Not bad.

In WV we spent the week with Tom and Eleanor and the relevant nieces and nephew. We went to some fourth of July fireworks and fired some of our own. We ate something beef-centered each of the last four evenings.

Then came the ride back to Georgia. Micah had apparently had enough of the ABC's and started yelling gibberish at the top of his lungs. Mary had nausea and headaches. I drove on like a soldier.

And now we're back in Georgia!

22 June 2007

Leavin' on Sunday

I've not looked forward to a trip so much in some time. Sunday after Sunday school Mary and I are loading up in the car and heading north to Indiana for a week, to Pennsylvania for a couple days, and to West Virginia until July 8.

For that reason, this will likely be the last post until the second week of July (though I might get idle enough to try to post on the road). Expect some pictures then!

Some more Micah

I'm going to clear off my memory card before we hit the road, so here are the latest from this blog's real star:

16 June 2007

Sermon tomorrow

I think I've now got an actual working sermon outline for my oration on Luke 7:36-8:3 tomorrow morning. I've got a hook, some good exegesis, and enough revisions that it actually sounds like a coherent thought now.

Now I've got to come up with something for children's sermon. Apparently everyone involved with VBS this week except me got the memo that we get the weekend off.

Nathan Gilmour

09 June 2007

Knowing Mine Enemy

I've just put a request in at the public library for a Milton Friedman book. It's only a little 200-pager, so I figure I can use it as a break from Ben Jonson and John Donne and Augustine. I figure some smart people have considered themselves capitalists, so I might as well take a gander at one of the powerhouses. More when the book gets to Bogart.

A Review of Larry Shallenberger's Divine Intention

I ought to start by saying that I'm not inclined to read spirituality books any newer than Saint John of the Cross, but Larry, whom I like a great deal, asked me to give Divine Intention a read, so I did.

At first I thought the mixed genres were tedious. Each section begins with a quotation from Eugene Peterson's The Message translation of the book of Acts. No problems so far. Then each section will include an episode from the adventures of Jonah, Alice, and Ron, Bible College Alumni, and then a few pages of Larry's devotional prose. At the end of each chapter Larry has included a handful of questions to discuss. In twenty pages, that's a lot of jumping about, but by the end of the book, the rhythm has sunk in, and the scheme makes sense.

With regards to the content of the chapters, Larry takes on the sorts of questions that come up not in the dormitories of Christian colleges but in the conversations of veteran preachers and educated professionals who remain Christian beyond the years when the structure of life lends itself to devotion. He writes of culture wars and church splits, self-evaluation and self-fulfillment. He speaks of theological questions, but he stays away from Eleatic conundra in favor of ethical reflection.

Larry's book does much to recommend itself. It stays away from bullet-point moralizing, cliches that pretend piety but do no work for the pious, and drudgery over Christian ministerial jargon. Ron and Alice and Jonah, though representing very particular kinds of people, still manage to ask questions that people want to ask. And the questions at the end of each chapter make handy points for reflection. The section that stuck to my ribs was the one in which the Alumni Power Trio (you'll have names for them too, by the end of the book) discuss the reality of evil and the doctrine of divine omnipotence. That Larry gave three different views of those difficult questions honest and compelling voices speaks volumes for his sensitivity as a pastor and his discipline as a writer.

My only significant complaint is that Larry, the consummate diplomat, tends to phrase his actual devotional passages in terms that try to be everything to everybody and thus beg questions about those bits of life that not everybody agrees on. Some might not mind at all that Larry calls Christians to present Jesus, not a culture war, to the folks around us. I wonder whether his interpretations of what Jesus means aren't themselves advances and withdrawals in that war. If you, O Reader, want a book that keeps out of squabbles, this book will be great for that. If you, like me, think that the chips are always on the table, Larry's style of presenting the big questions might be a bit off-putting.

On the other hand, were I reading this book with other people, I'd be able to put those questions to the group, and for that reason alone, Larry's book deserves good groups to read it. If your Christian book circle has not yet selected its next book, I choose for you: Divine Intention will give occasion for all kinds of good talking.

04 June 2007

A booger of a week

Comps reading bogged down somewhat this week. A bronchiolitis-sick, steroid-raging two-year-old will do that to a person.

I am back into Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition today. I'm hoping that the Ooze thread picks up, but if not, I think it'll be a valuable book for me to have read anyway.

I'm also reading back through volume one of Copleston's History of Philosophy and have purchased used copies of volumes two and three. I figure it'll give me a working background (if not a specialist's knowledge) of the philosophy leading up to Milton, and since Copleston is a Jesuit, I don't have to wade through tirades against "religion."

That's about it right now. Having watched all the movies about which we're excited right now, Mary and I are receiving the first season of Project Runway from Blockbuster in the mail and, after watching them, trading them for the first season of Rome in-store. Quite a contrast.

25 May 2007

Miscellaneous Micah

Alright, it's time to return to what brings readers to this blog--MICAH PICTURES!

These span from Easter weekend to this morning. Hence the name.

24 May 2007

Messin' with Plato

Those last Radical Orthodoxy summaries might or might not come soon.

Along with Jeff and Robert from the Ooze, I'm now working my way through Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition, and the debate is wonderful. Given the utter confidence with which Milbank and company plow through their books, it's nice to read some theology and philosophy professors punching back. I'm not entirely comfortable with some of their conclusions, and I'm almost certain that James K.A. Smith reads Plato's Republic wrong, but I'm sure all that will come out in the Ooze thread.

In another wonderful development, I've found many moments of resonance between the Platonist C.S. Lewis's English Literature in the Sixteenth Century and the Platonist John Milbank in his The Word Made Strange.

I've also finally defragged my laptop's hard drive into submission, and I now have a dual-boot Windows/Linux machine. I plan to do most of my work in the latter, but for Mary's sake (she uses it too, after all), I kept the Windows partition up and running. There's an undeniable, geeky feeling when the Ubuntu screen comes up and I start writing in Open Office.

19 May 2007

More Radical Orthodoxy essays

Alright, so here are some comments on the rest of the Radical Orthodoxy essays.

"Wittgenstein after Theology" by Conor Cunningham

Cunningham's basic upshot is that, despite Wittgenstein's reputation and his own insistence that he operates outside of metaphysical debates, he defaults to a Kantian-style immanentism, claiming agnosticism about "things in themselves." The problem with that move, as with Kant's, is that to deny the possibility of knowledge, one must have a grasp on the beyond-entity's relationship with knowable things. Thus Christian theology, which holds that God the Father is ineffable but maintains strong doctrinal confessions of the relationships between that ineffable and the created, intelligible, mediating reality through which we worship the ineffable Father, offers a more proper intellectual humility in lieu of agnostic pride.

The essay also discusses post-Scotist ontology (there's Scotus popping up again) as making room for modern atheism to happen:
If God is God purely because of quantitative omnipotence, then a Nietzschean remains "holy" in his hubristic rebellion, as it is only a matter of amount which separates creator from the created. God is in effect immanentised because God is only one more ontic entity struggling for "expression." (83)

My Miltonist heart soared when I read that section; Wes Arblaster sent me a link to a Radical Orthodoxy treatment of Paradise Lost the other day, and I'm sure he's going to make this sort of argument, but I think it will still play well if I treat PL in my dissertation. At any rate, Cunningham's argument is that analytical rejections of metaphysics really only mask a crass immanentism.

"Heidegger and the Grounds of Redemption" by Laurence Paul Hemming

The kernel of Hemming's argument has to do with nihilism and its relationship to Christian theology. Nihilism, in his argument, rejects not the God of Christian faith but the Scotist "being" that purports to precede God and creation. Thus nihilism does not nullify Christian theology but clears out the space that modernist theism once claimed, opening the way for alternatives, such as Nietzschean agonism and Christian theology, to make their appeals. A quote from Hemming works nicely here:
Nihilism is the situation from out of which I am called to redemption, it is the experience of world apart from God. Understood like this, nihilism is that place from out of which I come and into which I fall in the continuing desire to be faithful, the continuing need to redeem the place in which I find myself. (105)

"Augustine beyond Western Subjectivity" by Michael Hanby

Hanby's essay is a wonderful exploration of Augustine's major works in search of an ontology rooted in relationship. Ultimately ontology, for Augustine, happens as the human person participates both in common life and in the life of the Trinity:
The creature's "nature" is not primarily an indeterminate self-positing given, subsisting behind its intentions, but rather is finally determined through its intentions by the company she keeps and the objects of her worship, expressed through the descriptions she gives of herself and the world. Again, despite many "trinities" that can be discerned in the mind's activity, it can only be an image of God, only manifest God in creation, insofar as it doxologically participates in God's charity through the historic ecclesia. The self, who serially is through activity which is formally doxological, is an icon for the "object" of its worship, by which that "object" and the self are in turn made manifest. (115)
Self, in other words, is always relative to other selves, and being is always a gift. To negate the giftedness and the gift-character of existence itself is in fact to surrender to nihilism.

"St Anselm, Theoria and the Convolution of Sense" by David Moss

I'm getting tired of summary, so Moss's point is that Anselm construes friendship as grounding being. A quote:
Rather fancifully, one could suggest, then, that if Heidegger's way to thought was in mediation upon the concrete and universal "Here I am," and Descartes' upon the abstract universal "I am a thinking ego," than what we are set to think with Anselm is the thought: "We are friends."
Moss sees Anselmian friendship as the actual, concrete working-out of Hegel's self-consciousness. I perceive my friend while at the same time perceiving that my friend is perceiving me. Reflection of reflection and all that.

I'm not going to give a synopsis of "God's Sex" by Gerard Loughlin here; I'm certain I can remember it when comps come around. Yeesh.

I think I'll do the other summaries later; I've grown tired.

18 May 2007

Plowing Through

I've finished Radical Orthodoxy and should write synopses of some of the major essays tomorrow. Now I'm about a quarter of the way into Milbank's The Word Made Strange, which I hope to finish before Mary gets done with her school year--it's a book that takes some solitude and some time to read.

Right now I've got a copy of C.S. Lewis's monster book on 16th century English literature out from the library, and I'm going to let it serve as a counterweight (and it has some serious counterweight--it makes quite an impressive noise when I drop it on the counter!) to Greenblatt's early new historicist collection on Renaissance drama.

I'm also reading through some Beaumont and Fletcher plays, and they're lovely diversions from the weight of literary scholarship and post-critical theological essays.

All in all, my first forays into comps-reading promise good things ahead.

14 May 2007

Revelation: Of the Eye, not the Event

"The False Legacy of Suarez" by John Montag, the second essay in Radical Orthodoxy, sets out to clarify some of the changes in theological language that have happened inside those traditions called "Thomism." As the early modern era dawns, writes Montag, the medieval notion of revelation as something akin to light--something that illuminates for the sake of seeing what God has already created--gives way to a view of revelation as an event, a moment when God places intrusively something into "natural" creation that was not there before.

Of course, "nature" was something different for medievals as well. Thomas's use of the term happens within a world in which every created thing has a nature. "Natural" is always an adjective for Thomas; there are no "natural" and "supernatural" realms. Instead, supernatural moments involve rising above one's (postlapsarian) natural capabilities:
Within Thomas's conception of creation-as-gifted, the "supernatural" refers to gifts which are beyond the nature of fallen humanity, and thus to "the human being whom one finds behaving generously, justly, truthfully. (And of course, it is only God to whom the term "supernatural" could never be applied: who graces God? Who elevates the nature of divinity?)" (45; quote from Nicholas Lash)

So, Montag argues, ontological/epistemological denials of the accessibility of "the supernatural" already assume two "realms" rather than two intensities of sight (as per Milbank) with which one might see the same Creation. Once again, late medieval philosophy turns out to have been quite influential in later, post-Kantian philosophy.

Speaking of which, I thought, five years ago, that Milbank was somewhat arbitrary tracing so much back to Duns Scotus. I thought thus until semester, when materialist after materialist cited Scotus's break with Augustinian metaphysical traditions as the source of Enlightenment and later Marxist materialisms. As it turns out, Milbank must have read those dudes before I did. Go figure.

11 May 2007

Blowing my Mind

Actually understanding a Milbank essay is a nice experience. I just had such an experience. I'm reading Radical Orthodoxy for my comprehensive exams, and after a semester back in the philosophic saddle, I'm back to the point where I can understand what Milbank is writing when he writes "The Theological Critique of Philosophy in Hamann and Jacobi."

So much of modern philosophy begins with the late medievals in Milbank, and in this case, the strong separation between theology, the positive discourse about revealed data, and philosophy, the prior science that orders being and knowledge for the sake of setting up a ground for theology and other discourses, begins with Duns Scotus. Separating the science of metaphysics from the Being of God, Scotus renders all of theological speech essentially empty, giving priority to abstract being and setting the terms within which one can speak or not speak of God. Patristic theology has a more robust sense of the connectedness of reality:
By contrast, in the Church Fathers or the early scholastics, both faith and reason are included within the more generic framework of participation in the mind of God: to reason truly one must be already illumined by God, while revelation itself is but a higher measure of such illumination, conjoined intrinsically and inseparably with a created event which symbolically discloses that transcendent reality, to which all created events to a lesser degree also point. (24)
Over against this participatory mode of metaphysics, Milbank lays out post-Kantian metaphysics and epistemology as ultimately nihilistic, emptying things of their depth because, by Kantian rules, only the manifold surfaces and their transcendental products are even available.

If I can stay disciplined, I'm going to try to blog the books and essays I read for comps as I read them this summer, perhaps adding to that reflections on teaching Plato when August comes. If my ever-wonderful readers would like to comment or add to the reflections that I post, I'd be most grateful.

10 May 2007

Semester's Over


I woke up at 4:00 this morning for perfectly natural reasons, and when I'd finished being perfectly natural, I discovered that I was fully awake. So, rather than putting off until tomorrow the tabulation of my semester grades, I decided to put finishing touches on my last paper AND knock my grades and end-of-semester teacher paperwork out. I did both and dropped everything where it needed to be dropped on campus before I had to report to the public library, and I AM DONE!!

Now my months of discipline begin. I'd like to take my comps in May, but I've told all my profs that I'd do them in July, just in case. Between now and then I've got to stay focused, to read a book or two a day if I can.

But right now, sleepy and content, I'm just enjoying the moment. Okay, I've already started posting next fall's Plato and Boethius syllabus on my course web site. But that's fun for me, alright?

05 May 2007

Just seeing if Blogger will take thorns.

This is Caedmon's Hymn, BTW.
Nu sculon herigean heofonrices weard,
meotodes meahte and his modgeþanc,
weorc wuldorfæder, swa he wundra gehwæs,
ece drihten, or onstealde.

He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, halig scyppend;
þa middangeard moncynnes weard,
ece drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, frea ælmihtig.

27 April 2007

1000 logged visitors!

I just noticed that I'd hit the four-digit mark. Thanks to all my readers, and to my mom, who knows as well as I do that she only checks for new Micah pictures.



I bought four dozen of 'em this morning, and my two freshman comp classes went through nearly all of them.

Thus ends a semester that, frankly, disappointed me. I don't suppose every semester can be the best ever (life doesn't go that way), but I feel like I didn't give my best performance, and that's disappointing after last semester went so well.

But that's of no import now. I've got about ten of forty-five pages on three papers written, and May 7 is the deadline for two of 'em. Next week, I write.

I've also decided that rather than Debian, I'm going to try out Ubuntu Linux. It seems like a less labor-intensive jumping-off point into the world of open-source. Just as many hyphens, but I likely won't drown.

And finally, I'll be introduced this Sunday as Bogart Christian Church's minister of education. I've already drawn up a proposal for a new kind of Sunday School program and given it to some of the folks in positions of authority. If I can carry that off, I ought to be on my way into a good thing.


20 April 2007

The Formations of Canons

I gave a full-on lecture, by my classes' request, to my freshmen today that began with Moses' writing down the law in Deuteronomy 32 and finished with the publication of the Harper-Collins Study Bible. They wanted to know how the Bible became the Bible, so I gave them the full treatment. Thirty-five hundred years of history in forty minutes? No problem!

I did get to emphasize to them the organic side of canon formation, how Christians and Jews were using these texts in synagogues and churches well before the dudes with beards wrote down the lists. I also got to cover the differences between the Rabbinic, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant canons and the historical events surrounding those differences.

In other words, I got to play church historian/biblical scholar today in my English class, and it was quite a bit of fun.

The papers are now all outlined, and I've written significant chunks of two of the three. Barring disaster, I should have the two due on May 7 in with little problem and dust off the last one's revisions by the 9th or so. I'm going to make it.

In computer matters, I've been reading up on Linux and am considering switching my laptop over to Debian once the semester ends. I've gotten proficient enough with Open Office that I don't necessarily need Word any more, and other than that, there's really not any proprietary Microsoft programs that I use that much; the rest of what I actually use ought to work. If what I've read is true (and I've read it in several places), I'll be a Linux man for life once I make the switch.

14 April 2007

Straws and Camels' Backs

I taught my last lesson on biblical texts to my freshmen yesterday; the rest of the semester is going to be portfolio work and such. So no more musings on Job or David or Plato, for that matter. More of that in August.

I suppose I'll be the three-millionth blogger to say a little something about the Don Imus debacle that went down this month. What blows my mind is neither that a dozen newspapers dropped Coulter's column after her personal slur against John Edwards nor that CBS radio dropped Don Imus after his insult to the Rutgers basketball team; both of those moves make sense in a market where the sensible-people market is fickle. (Hardcore partisans stay brand-loyal where sensible people walk away from things that smell that bad.)

What I don't get is why this particular attack on Edwards, and not one of a hundred different personal attacks over the last five years or so, did the deal for those newspapers. What I don't get is why Imus has been doing the same thing for as long as I've been aware of Don Imus and it was this one comment got him canned. Now certainly Al Sharpton has something to do with the latter; that's obvious. But Sharpton has gotten bent out of shape on other things, and heads haven't rolled like they did here. And certainly Howard Dean had something to do with the former, but papers didn't drop columnists before.

I hope there's some theoretical framework that can render intelligible why these (by comparison lightweight) moments finally tipped the scales; if not, I hope someone comes up with one.

In a rather unrelated matter, I'm still sad that Vonnegut's dead. I know that the novels, not the man, have been a part of my life the way they have, but he's still one of those figures who makes the world better by walking around in it, and I already miss him.

07 April 2007

Finishing the Job

We took on the last of Job and J.B. this week, and once again, the students got in their best fight over the endings. On one side were those who thought that "I'm the one worthy of rule, not you, so you don't get to cite rules at me" was a pathetic way to answer Job's questions, on the other were those who thought that Job was better for having "gone through" what happened to him.

And before that, on Monday, we had our annual festival of Job movies. (There weren't really movies, only ideas for movies.) Here were some of my favorites:
  • Job in Oz instead of Uz: At least one of his children dies of a poppy overdose, a good witch and a bad witch instead of God and Satan test Job, the whole thing ends with Job waking up and realizing it was all a dream so that the story isn't so much of a downer
  • The Jobman Show: Like The Truman Show, except instead of one Christof in the booth, there's a God-figure and a Satan-figure
  • Job: The Horror Movie: Satan takes on the form of an axe murderer and does the dirty work himself; after Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar accuse Job of bringing it upon themselves, the axe murderer gets them too. Job wins a desperate fight with the murderer at the end and pulls the mask off of the dying killer to discover that it was Bildad all along.
  • Job in Hollywood: Job, having signed a stifling contract out of desperation, is assaulted both by his agent Zophar and a tabloid reporter, Bildad, as he struggles with a God-judge figure to get the contract revoked.
If I teach this class again in the fall (I'm tossing around a couple other ideas, and I might get picked up for something other than freshman comp), I think I'll make this project worth some grade points. I'd have to develop some sort of rubric, but I think it could work.

I've now met with all three of my professors and have three green lights for paper topics. I've got one of them pretty much scripted, one solidly in mind with some research still to do, and one for which I need to finish a rather substantial book before I can even begin drafting. Then I've got a set of papers coming in Monday and final portfolios two and a half weeks after that. I imagine I've got about five weeks to get it all done. Ah, graduate school.

31 March 2007

Scenes from this morning

Since Mary and I had the same Saturday off (it doesn't happen often enough), we took Micah to the park and took these pictures:

Scenes from a Saturday

30 March 2007

Eliphaz's breakdown

I really enjoy Job 22. Having lost the battle of wits with Job, having seen his arguments shredded and heard Job's speech end, at the end of chapter 21, with "all that is left of your answers is falsehood," he proceeds to make stuff up. In the face of Job's claims to innocence, and in direct contradiction to the narrator in chapters one and two, Eliphaz accuses the book's namesake of about half a dozen things that he apparently makes up out of nowhere.

J.B. has moved into its "gossiping society women" phase, and my classes are actually into it. We're about to get to the Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar scene (which seems to be MacLeish's throwaway scene), and the groups within each class will also be presenting their ideas for Job movies.

I came up with the idea when I got to the Elihu section last spring and couldn't bear the thought of close-reading seven chapters of his pontificating. Instead, I broke my (seventy minute) classes into groups and had them come up with a concept for a movie based on Job. The class was a hit, so I've given these groups about thirty minutes of class time over the last three classes to do likewise. (The original groups only had twenty, so these ideas had better be good ones.) In last year's classes, I got Job-in-Athens (starring UGA's starting quarterback as Job, the head football coach as God, and the university president as Satan--not too far off from the way people talk around here), hip-hop Job (starring Tupac, who could be Forrest-Gumped in if he didn't come out of his quasi-mortem hiding), and Job-for-president, among others. We ought to have some fun Monday (instead, once more, of close-reading Elihu).

Beowulf has wiped out the entire Grendel clan and is headed back to Geatland. I'm sure we're in for some long speeches to Higelac.

And in the paper-writing arena, I've got research done for my Milton paper, have most of it done for Hegel, and haven't even generated a solid idea for Beowulf. This is going to be an interesting month. The good news is that none of the three profs expects a full-length, 20-page paper. The bad news is that there are three of them.

Now back to grading freshman papers. 12 to go on my laptop screen, and about four more that I haven't downloaded yet. I'm on the downward slope...

29 March 2007

Making the rounds

I met today both with my major professor and with the professor over in the religion department, both of whom will be conducting my comprehensive exams a little over a year from now. Dr. Medine (over in Religion) liked my comps list, and Dr. Freer thinks I have an article-in-the-making cooking with my Milton paper. That makes three papers that I'll be shaping up to submit for publication next year (one on Milton, one on Wordsworth, and one on Irving), plus three that are themselves shaping up into a book-length project that still needs a couple chapters (they're in my mind and in my notebooks; I just need to write them) and an introductory essay (also in my mind but not yet in my notebooks). Oh, and then there's comprehensive exams to be taken and a dissertation out there to be written. I think next year will be a busy one.

Wednesday's Job lesson was rather run-of-the-mill, but the grand shape of the book is really coming together, I think, for the students. I think also that when the book makes its turn around chapter 38, the ending will be that much better for our knowing the structure of the first four-fifths of the book.

J.B. gets weirder with every scene, which makes it a joy to teach.

Although my paper proposal for Hegel class was atrocious (I fear that I might lose esteem with Dr. Cole--that's how slipshod it was), I actually have a pretty strong idea of what I'm going to be writing. My Milton paper has a definite shape. The real X-factor this semester is my Beowulf paper. But I have a hunch that I've done more thinking and research already than have my compatriots, so at least we'll all suffer together as the end of April approaches.

And in one more development, I took some time yesterday (between grading and preparing for classes) to write a scene from my perhaps-never-to-be-finished Saul novel. I like the way the scene sounds. I only hope that I'll have the time some day to build a book around it.

26 March 2007

Job 13

Today I taught Job chapters 11-14, so I've got more plainly in mind the content of ch. 13 and its place in the scene. Job's speech that starts in chapter 12 and runs to chapter 14, his longest to that point in the book, responds to Zophar's proto-apophatic claim that the depth and height of God's wisdom makes his own claims to justice not wrong but spurious. The first thing that Job does is to note the character of the wisdom tradition, that it holds wisdom intelligible and even cumulative as one grows older. Thus Zophar's claim doesn't match up with the larger literature. Then he notes the obvious disconnect between asserting Job's guilt dogmatically on one hand and divine inscrutability on the other.

Then comes chapter 13, where Job the accused becomes Job the accuser. He accuses all three, now that each has had a chance to speak, of showing partiality rather than judging with true wisdom. Moreover, he turns the traditional wisdom formulae on their heads and claims that taking sides with God, when God's wrong, will yield judgment no less disastrous than what Job has faced.

In the play, Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar have yet to appear, and they won't until very late. Both of my classes noted well that J.B. is a more human story than Job, lacking though it might be in the hardcore Hebrew intellectual content. (I'm coming to believe that Job is an even more sophisticated bit of critical Hebrew philosophy than Ecclesiastes, which used to be my favorite Biblical philosophy book.) Because the messengers carry human depravity as well as messages, J.B.'s and Sarah's receptions of bad news are at once more nauseating and more powerful.

In Beowulf class we're in the anti-hall, the lair of Grendel, and Beowulf is about to find out how useless Hrunting is in that strange subterranean world. When I start teaching full-time, Beowulf is definitely going to be on my syllabus for literary surveys--I've become entirely too familiar with it not to include it.

And in the cantata world, we've got three more practices to refine. The production sounds presentable already, so I look forward to fine-tuning it over the next week and a half.

23 March 2007

Confession of a Fanboy

I've succumbed to a bit of image-consumerism. Since I had a 25% discount coupon, I bought myself a pocket-sized Moleskine notebook at Borders today. Now I have the groovy little notebook that wannabe poets and intellectuals like so much to carry around.

The bottom of the ad page says something about contemporary nomadism... I have to chuckle at that. I'm about as far from nomadic as one might get.


It's been a while since I posted anything substantial, and I have to point to microbes as the culprits. About two weeks ago Micah got the flu. Then Mary got a virus that wasn't the flu. Then I got a bacterial something-or-other (perhaps strep?) that was unrelated to the previous two. Then Micah got strep. Then it was Wednesday of this week before I finally had a full day to work.

So unfortunately, I've been coasting to some extent through Job. I have done some real intellectual work on this unit, retooling the way I teach the text to focus on Job as a character and an intellectual (a la Hamlet, really), but I still feel like I'm cheating the book. Fortunately, J.B. is a strong enough play that it pretty much teaches itself; the fast-moving scenes are packed with philosophical land mines, and such land mines make for good class discussions.

In the world of Beowulf, we're about to translate our way into Grendel's lair, and Dr. Evans laid out a plan today to catch us back up from his sickness. I translated for three solid hours yesterday, translating over a hundred lines and pushing my brain past translation into reading for one of the first times in my Old English career. My hope is that I'll be able to reach that once or twice more before the semester's out. There's really nothing like thinking in another language as far as intellectual thrills go. I've had it happen to me a couple times each in Greek and Hebrew, and such experiences make me hope that wherever I land professionally, I'll be able to teach some sort of language classes as I go.

Hopefully I'll have some hours really to plan this week's Job lessons. I'm realizing on this read just how interesting Job is as a character, what he sees that his interlocutors don't. For the first time I'm realizing that the shape of the story might be secondary to Job's own intellectual flights. I had been so focused before on Job's speeches as apologiae that I hadn't paid attention to their particulars, to the ways that he sees.

For instance, in today's readings (chapters 8-10), Job does not simply participate in Bildad's game of blame-and-respond but deconstructs (I couldn't come up with a less trendy word) the very categories in which Bildad's game happens, noting that the same judge that Bildad would have the innocent man convince is also the blaming prosecutor. (Job isn't aware of chapter one's divine bet, I don't think.) With one character playing so many roles, Job protests, there's no chance of his winning that game. And even as he waxes theological, another level of meaning critiques Eliphaz and Bildad themselves. (At this point in the book, Zophar and Elihu haven't yet chimed in.)

In another for instance, chapter 9 ends with Job saying that he would speak his mind if he weren't afraid of spurring the wrath of God. Then the form of chapter ten is a series of indirect statements that go something like, "But if I could speak freely and without fear to God, I'd say..." The arm's-length distancing of himself from his words is brilliant, and the things he hypothetically might say but won't be blamed for saying are positively acidic.

Ah, I have a great job...

12 March 2007

Link request

To my readers with blogs of your own:

At the prompting of my department, I've created a more formal academic web site. I've put a link to it in the links section in the right column.

As a favor to me, I'd like to ask each of you to put my name, Nathan Gilmour, in a post with a link to that site. Its address is thus:


From what folks tell me, schools to which I'll be applying for teaching gigs will be Googling me, and according to what they say, it's better for one's professional web site to land high on the search list. Since I'm competing with a writer in Washington state for the "Nathan Gilmour" hits anyway, I could use some help.

So I appreciate any links you can provide. Yes, the site is still lame, but I'm working on it.