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Philosophy

Revisiting Deconstruction: On Definitions and Doubt

Revisiting Deconstruction: On Definitions and Doubt

This piece, a companion/response to the recent article “Closer Than You Think (The Trouble with Deconstruction),” was written by Edward Watson.

I recently read Connor Gwin’s post on the necessity of constructing faith before attempting to deconstruct it. The pedant in me was ruffled, simply because ‘deconstruction’ doesn’t mean what it is taken to mean in that post. I was later informed, however, that Gwin is responding to a movement in post-Evangelical thought of which I’d been completely ignorant, and that this use of the term is taken from there. On this basis, it seems worth writing a short post on…

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Incomplete Math and the Paradox of Grace

Incomplete Math and the Paradox of Grace

Achilles: “Well, the best way I know to explain it is to quote the words of another old Zen master, Kyōgen. Kyōgen said: ‘Zen is like a man hanging in a tree by his teeth over a precipice. His hands grasp no branch, his feet rest on no limb, and under the tree another person asks him: “Why did the Bodhidharma come to China from India?’ If the man in the tree does not answer, he fails; and if he does answer, he falls and loses his life. Now what shall he do?”

Tortoise: “That’s clear; he should give up Zen,…

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A Leaf on the Wind

A Leaf on the Wind

First Reading:

“The average person, seeing that we can predict tides pretty well a few months ahead would say, why can’t we do the same thing with the atmosphere, it’s just a different fluid system, the laws are about as complicated. But I realized that any physical system that behaved aperiodically would be unpredictable.”

~ Edward Lorenz, discoverer of the “Butterfly Effect”

Second Reading:

“I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them…

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Just My (Christian) Imagination Running Away With Me

Just My (Christian) Imagination Running Away With Me

This article was originally posted by the John Jay Institute, as part of an online symposium it held on Christian Imagination a couple years back. It’s been lightly edited.

It’s embarrassingly difficult to find oneself largely without answers but with questions, especially in the context of beautiful reflections on art, liturgy, the imago dei, and other affectively-charged elements of the Christian imagination. For example, the question of the imagination’s being ‘fully redeemed’ is one that a stubbornly literal-minded person cannot quite wrap his head around. Awash in thoughts of family farms sold, inheritances forfeited, and next-of-kin pawning them back, such etymologically-constrained…

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Kicking the Dog: The Not-So-Subtle Art of Displacement

Kicking the Dog: The Not-So-Subtle Art of Displacement

This begins a short mini-series on the wide world of defense mechanisms—how you and I do our very best to cope with the realities of pain.

We all have our defense mechanisms. In psychodynamic terms, these are the ways our egos fend off stressors—situations or circumstances or, you know, very very rarely, people that conjure realities we just can’t handle. Sometimes these stressors waylay us with personal condemnation, sometimes they demolish a sacred belief we hold dear, sometimes they are random, traumatic events. Other times, the stressors aren’t bad: there’s an exciting new career opportunity or it’s a busy time of…

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The Janus Face of Lofty Humanism

The Janus Face of Lofty Humanism

Taken from page 687 of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age:

In replacing the low and demeaning picture of human beings as depraved, inveterate sinners, in articulating the potential of human beings for goodness and greatness, humanism has not only given us the courage to act for reform, but also explains why this philanthropic action is so immensely worthwhile. The higher the human potential, the greater the enterprise of realizing it, and the more the carriers of this potential are worthy of our help in achieving it.

But philanthropy and solidarity driven by a lofty humanism, just as that which was driven often…

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Architects, Madmen and Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death

Architects, Madmen and Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

Freud, Kierkegaard, and the drug lord Heisenberg…A free peek into the Love & Death Issue, which people continue to tell us is their favorite issue thus far. Here is Ethan’s piece on the classic, Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death. If you subscribe to the magazine, and add the code JESSEPINKMAN in the notes section of your order, we’ll send a free copy to a friend of your choosing.

And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone…

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What Is It About Fargo?

What Is It About Fargo?

This past week, the third season wrapped up in FX’s Fargo. Just like the first two seasons, I remain blown away that show creator Noah Hawley and company have continued to create new narrative worlds that fit so perfectly into the landscape of the Coen brothers’ original film. What I’m writing here below is not just for those who have seen this season—the final episode of this season just got me thinking about what it is exactly that makes the show’s (and the original film’s) storytelling so compelling, beyond the impressive cinematography and soundtrack and Minnesotan accents and Peter and…

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Fluorescent Lighting and Vampire Haberdashery: Some Thoughts on Scapegoating and Parables

Fluorescent Lighting and Vampire Haberdashery: Some Thoughts on Scapegoating and Parables

For me, writing about grace is like undressing in a cold changing room, with floor-to-ceiling mirrors and flickering fluorescent lighting: self-flattery is an impossibility. Don’t worry, there is more nudity on the way.

When you can no longer unsee your own low anthropology, writing about internal work feels exposing. Feelings aren’t always reality, though, and the “me too” connection that writing can bring makes it worth the, uh, exposure.

Speaking of “me too” moments — meaning I have already done this — you know those times after you stub your toe and, instead of saying “ouch,” you yell at your dog, who did nothing wrong? Sometimes,…

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The Father You Have, Not the Father You Want: Cross and Glory in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The Father You Have, Not the Father You Want: Cross and Glory in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

“A typical American film, naive and silly, can — for all its silliness and even by means of it — be instructive. A fatuous, self-conscious English film can teach one nothing. I have often learnt a lesson from a silly American film.”

So judged the famously austere Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, fanatical opponent of intellectual affectation and devotee of Detective Story Magazine. Though I knew this remark from memory (they make you learn it when you send in your bottle caps to join the Wittgenstein Fan Club), Tasha and I did not hire a babysitter and head out Friday night in order to be…

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The Red Turtle, Beautiful but Not Sublime

The Red Turtle, Beautiful but Not Sublime

The following is brought to us by Japanese film veteran Jeremiah Lawson, a look at the Oscar-nominated film The Red Turtle.

There are times when you simply have to spoil the entire film in a few sentences to even discuss the film in a meaningful way. Where some reviewers hedge and equivocate as to what the core of the story for The Red Turtle is, I’m going to put in simple terms.

Think of the world as an island; then think of the island as being embodied in flesh and spirit by a red turtle. The Red Turtle — a feature-length film from Studio…

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From Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote

Last week, DZ posted from Oliver Burkeman’s excellent article on time management and the law of unread emails. I just finished up his 2012 book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, and, boy, good points of connection abound. Trying to get to the bottom of why we have such difficulty doing what we are told to do, or, rather, not doing what we are told not to do, Burkeman uses a study conducted by Daniel Wegner at Harvard’s ‘Mental Control Laboratory.’

When you try not to think of a white bear, you may experience some success in forcing alternative thoughts into your mind. At the same time, though, a metacognitive monitoring process will crank into action, to scan your mind for evidence of whether you are succeeding or failing at the task. And this is where things get perilous, because if you try too hard – or, Wegner’s studies suggest, if you are tired, stressed, depressed, attempting to multi-task, or otherwise suffering from ‘mental load’ – metacognition will frequently go wrong. The monantidote-oliver-burkemanitoring process will start to occupy more than its fair share of limelight on the cognitive stage. It will jump to the forefront of consciousness – and suddenly, all you will be able to think about is white bears, and how badly you’re doing at not thinking about them.

Could it be that … our efforts to feel positive seem so frequently to bring about the opposite result? … When experimental subjects are told of an unhappy event, but then instructed to try not to feel sad about it, they end up feeling worse than people who are informed of the event, but given no instructions about how to feel. In another study, when patients who were suffering from panic disorders listened to relaxation tapes, their hearts beat faster than patients who listened to audiobooks with no explicitly ‘relaxing’ content. Bereaved people who make the most effort to avoid feeling grief, research suggests, take the longest to recover from their loss. Our efforts at mental suppression fail in the sexual arena, too: people instructed not to think about sex exhibit greater arousal, as measured by the electrical conductivity of their skin, than those instructed to suppress such thoughts.

He concludes this chapter, entitled “On Trying Too Hard to be Happy,” with the metaphor of a Chinese finger trap. In the case of striving for our own happiness, he writes, “‘doing the presumably sensible thing is counterproductive.’ Following the negative path to happiness is about doing the other thing – the presumably illogical thing – instead.” In other words, try to climb out of that ditch and before long human nature kicks in, handing down a shovel.