I sometimes liken studying humanities at Newcastle to engaging the ocean beaches here. In the beginning of your studies you learn to swim, avoid riptides, and maybe start to body surf a bit in the waves. More advanced students eventually learn to make surfboards with wood lying about and some become quite acrobatic. Later even boats can be made and whole crews join massive research vessels that take off to sail the ocean blue. However, it seems to me that advanced studies in philosophy, religion and theology are something more akin to scuba diving. We study those ships that sink, interrogating their integrity under extreme conditions. Our task includes the various disciplines that surf and sail, maybe even sublating them to draw on Hegel's terminology. However, our aim is to look beneath the waves. It might be called an interest in substance, but probably best to leave it vague given how many ways we've come to think of being since Aristotle first identified metaphysics as such.
To some surfers it's hard to tell what we're doing, as we're invisible below the water. To others who care to peak, it seems rather odd that we might be interested in such de(con)struction. Still the passion for scuba is so strong that I've even known some of my colleagues to sink old ships intentionally and wait for the coral to grow. It's messy at first, but soon, whole new ecosystems develop. New schools of fish come to swim and eek out an existence (new sharks too). I've come to think that some of the new things we're doing in religion and theology at Newcastle require some sinking and settling. But there's a reef waiting for us if our wreck catches those age old ocean currents.
Two scriptures always come to mind at these times. Firstly, before the book of Job unfolds into a debate about justice and theodicy, Job's friends respond in silence, presence and empathy: "They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great" (Job 2.13, NRSV). Secondly, notable both for its powerful echo of Job, much more its brevity: "Jesus wept" (John 11.35, KJV). Maybe more theology should begin in tears.
Interesting short interview of Jürgen Habermas by Francis Fukuyama:
Wondering how to bring back the joy and excitement of the childhood advent calendar? The clever folks at Masters of Malt have it in one:
Just read through an interesting review on digital humanities and the emerging shift from literature to data, by Stephen Marche, "Literature is not Data: Against Digital Humanities," LA Review of Books,
http://bit.ly/Rs8F7w. Marche, it seems to me, is not against digital humanities as such. Rather his concern is for the hubristic utopianism that pretends that digitisation of data will save the humanities. This relates to my own research on the theological meaning of the codex book at the moment. As Marche puts it:
Recently, I've tried to think through the meaning of writing after Derrida, and Lyotard, etc. What's often missed is the strange set of side comments and footnotes that they made on writing itself. As Derrida recognized, this concern for writing goes back to Plato's record of Socrates' aside on the priority of speech (most famously in the Phaedrus). It's as if the need to record and repeat is part of philosophy itself somehow and digital media is the latest radicalisation of this tendency. Radical both in its change, and in its return to the root (radix) of the problem.
As book historians attest, the codex provided a set of techniques which we developed to make meaning. Pages cut, margins spaced, paragraphs, periods and breaks, all designed to humanise information, aid the memory, and connect us to the infinite abyss poeticized in Gilgamesh all those years ago. And yet, we stand today in a collective amnesia of this history of the book, a blind eroticism of the latest iPhone, or the milliseconds it takes Google to produce its limited results. Little care or concern is voiced for what we are losing in this shift to data.
"Insight remains handmade," Marche writes. A simple summation of the small side comments and technical reviews, which concern themselves with the digital devices' strain upon our eyes and hands. Will these comments lead to some sense of the ease with which these grim data reepers help or hinder the meaning making work which we linguistic animals must labor to achieve?
Let me be clear, I am not a luddite. My aim is simply to point out the need for ancient humanist techniques and not to leave it to a few tech executives and focus groups at Apple or Google. Just as Nietzsche declared God to be dead, which decried our feeble theologies more than the life of transcendent deities, so too, we must remind people that Steve Jobs is dead. It is not his corpse that should concern us, but the spectre of a single magician who would be responsible for the fragile, finite, human struggle we are in.