Friday, September 09, 2016

Four Talks (One with Balloons)

1.  A response and discussion with Thomas Pfau and Jeffrey Barbeau from some time back.
2.  The video of my response (among others) to Volf at the Islamic Foundation of Villa Park earlier this year.
3. Among other talks, my defense of John Ruskin (without slides, I'm afraid). Ruskin: #Tradinista before it was cool.
3. And some remarks (WITH BALLOONS!!!!) to kick off this year at Wheaton entitled Stone and Spirit.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Top Ten Insults of Object-Oriented Ontologies

Call it Speculative Realism, Thing Theory, OOO (Object-Oriented Ontology), ANT (Actor-Network Theory), neo-Lucretianism, hyperstition, or simply the materialist magician predicted long ago by some obscure British thinker, the New Materialism is here, it's hot in both art and academic worlds, and best of all it's new. It's a "broad theoretical shift," explains Brooke Holmes, "...querying stuff long perceived to be off-limits or just ignored under the conceptual regime of poststructuralist theory: objects, matter, bodies, plants, hurricanes, etc." Or as Matthew Ritchie puts it, "Something is emerging other than the artist and the viewer, a feeling of possibilities embedded unpredictably in, and through, interconnected objects in space and time, impenetrable to an immediate reading from the human perspective." So what's after theory? Things! Things that can save us.

The new mood is theological - a panting for the transcendent after secularism's scorched earth. As D. Graham Burnett (movingly) puts it in the pages of October:
I remain a theological thinker. Which is to say, I believe we have an obligation to train continuously to think impossible thoughts. For God is an impossible thought, toward which we must work to think. We will not “think” God, of course, just as we will not fly. But the arabesques of a leaping dancer are a beautiful form of failed flight, and they have in them much of what flying would be.... and so I like the mad and trembling and urgent and counterintuitive mood of the "new materialism."
But more commonly, the new movements is doggedly anti-theological. As Graham Harman, one of the founding voices puts it, "Art must not become the handmaiden of prose revolutionist booklets where it was once the handmaid of Catholic dogma." More strongly, Suhail Malik demands "the theological hangover has to be discarded in in all its varieties" if object oriented ontologies are to succeed. Speculative Realism, moreover, is "perhaps the inversion of the Christian redemptive scheme," claims Michael Newman.

But I'm quite sympathetic, really. After all, here at Wheaton our stones actually speak, and at Princeton (easily the largest institutional representation of the recent October forum), well, they just don't. But before anyone gets too excited, here's the promised, carefully curated top ten affronts to the movement (and how much there was to choose from!):

And so, the New Materialism is....
10. "commodity fetishism in academic form" (Andrew Cole in Artforum)
9. "the Real Presence of late capitalism" (D. Graham Burnett in October)
8. "New Age spiritualism dressed up as secular realism" (Bruce Holsinger in Minnesota Review)
7.  "Erector sets of the imagination" (Andrew Cole in Artforum)
6. "A people person's philosophy, after all, in the sense that objects are people too" (Andrew Cole in Artforum)
5. "Avant-garde thought...  tipping its (fetching) bell-boy cap and scrambling to do justice to all the shopping left on the curb by its paymasters.... (D. Graham in October)
4. "perfect justification for [art institutions] to collect, reify and institutionalize every scrap, every residue, every trace" (Julia Bryan-Wilson in October)
3. "a spectacular regression: a non-investigated submission to 'science' here re-mythologized" (Patricia Falguières in October)
2. "concerning... Given the brutality that accumulates with every passing day in the US and elsewhere, I am increasingly weary of arguments that matter matters...  rather BLACK LIVES MATTER" (Julia Bryan-Wilson in October)
1. "Etsy kissed by philosophy" (D. Graham Burnett in October)
Honorable mention goes to the following:
  • "The new materialisms reproduce the faults of the old but in updated language." (McKenzie Wark in October)
  • "I can’t understand why matter requires a 'materialism' to plead its case. The more fragile hypotheses, in need of advocates, are the self, the person, consciousness, imagination.... The thing is not a subaltern." (Christopher S. Wood in October)
  • new materialism "has some fans in the humanities" (Andrew Cole in Artforum)
  • "A new materialism would need to exit the incestuous circle of the academy that reinforces traditional Western figures of authority..." (Camille Henrot, in, that's right, October)
  • Now's not the time to demote human responsibility and agency, or hide in your own museum." (Andrew Cole in October)
"a fetishism of the artifact in art history that is in keeping with the fetishism of 'personal
devices' in the commodity world around us" (Hal Foster in London Review of Books)

  • "Talk of 'thingly' consciousness as vitality or voice will not 'indicate' much of anything but a philosopher's love of language, consumer goods, and entertaining thing-examples like hailstones and tar, aardvarks and baseball." (Andrew Cole in Minnesota Review)
  • "An anthropocentric object-oriented ontology would be a contradiction in terms, because objects are not a means to our ends: they are meaningful whether or not we perceive them." (Andrew Cole in Artforum)
  • "even the ancient Israelites had a more sophisticated program of narcissistic self-loathing!" (D. Graham Burnett in October)
  • Again, I'm sympathetic, but permit a delicate jibe of my own: Hasn't anyone (and I mean this quite seriously) read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble? You don't want to be a rock.

    UPDATE: I'll admit I wondered if treating OOO as a belief system comparable to tradition religion in this post was unfair. But then I was reminded of the closing pages of Bennet's Vibrant Matter:
    I will end with a litany, a kind of Nicene Creed for would-be vital materialists: "I believe in one matter-energy, the maker of things seen and unseen. I believe that this pluriverse is traversed by heterogeneities that are continually doing things. I believe it is wrong to deny vitality to nonhuman bodies, forces, and forms, and that a careful course of anthropomorphization can help reveal that vitality, even though it resists full translation and exceeds my comprehensive grasp. I believe encounters with lively matter can chasten my fantasies of human mastery, highlight the common materiality of all that is, expose a wider distribution of agency, and reshape the self and its interests."
    I suppose this makes me - in respect to belief in the full animation of matter - an Arian. 


    Tuesday, August 23, 2016

    Academic Stardom

    It helps no one, least of all the stars. Here's how Hugh of St. Victor (1096-1141) diagnosed the problem from the outskirts of twelfth-century Paris.
    Although the lessons of humility are many, the three which follow are of especial importance for the student: first, that he hold no knowledge and no writing in contempt; second, that he blush to learn from no man; and third, that when he has attained learning himself, he not look down upon everyone else. Many are deceived by the desire to appear wise before their time. They therefore break out in a certain swollen importance…  they slip farther from wisdom in proportion as they think not of being wise, but of being thought so. I have known many of this sort who, although they still lacked the very rudiments of learning, yet deigned to concern themselves only with the highest problems, and they supposed that they themselves were well on the road to greatness simply because they had read the writings or heard the words of great and wise men. "We," they say, "have seen them. We have studied under them. They often used to talk to us. Those great ones, those famous men, they know us." Ah! Would that no one knew me and that I knew all things! You glory in having seen [famous academics], not in having understood…. (Didascalicon, Book Three, p. 94-95).
    John Henry Newman said the University of Paris was "the glory of the Middle Ages." Vainglory, Hugh might have replied. He was already seeking wisdom in exile even before the enterprise began.

    Monday, July 25, 2016

    The Secret

    Remember that New Age book "The Secret"? I haven't read it, but I have a feeling this secret is both harder to take, and more instructive in the long run:
    The truth about ourselves is inevitable; whatever it is, it is going to come up. When the dust settles after the first fervor of religious conversion, we once again confront our old temptations. They may be worse than before because now we are more honest, open, and vulnerable. The great struggle is not to get discouraged when the divine reassurance begins to recede. It seems that God wants us to know experientially just what he has been putting up with throughout our lives. He seems to expect us to receive this information not as a reproach, but as a gift - like a friend revealing secrets to a friend. But instead of saying, 'Thanks,' we are ready to get up and walk out.
    From Thomas Keating's Invitation to Love (p. 16), which pairs nicely with this meditation on Jacob from Frank Lake (via Scott Jones at Mockingbird). 

    Monday, July 18, 2016

    Heyschastic Turn

    I'm expecting this essay will result in Trump - Clinton too! - laying down their political ambitions at the foot of Huntington's statue of the Holy Family just as Ignatius of Loyola laid his arms at the feet of Our Lady of Montserrat. Others can fill the office of president and fill it better.

    Unlikely I know, but remember the power of positive thinking.

    Monday, June 13, 2016

    Virgin of Mercy & Our Sigisimondo

    Here is the image created by a studio art/art history course I taught with Bruce Herman in Orvieto, Italy, in conjunction with the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  It incorporates Orthodox, Protestant & Catholic themes (and I'll be talking about it more as we approach 2017). I'm imagining the victims of yesterday's Florida shooting under that mantle of mercy as well. And here is a piece on, among other things, our own home grown Sigisimondo.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2016

    Wet Icons & the Other Internet

    Here's a brief essay on my pilgrimage to Romania, not to mention my review of Matthew Crawford's The World Outside Your Head (subscribers only), and a podcast/ video interview with Phil Vischer and Skye Jethani.

    Saturday, March 26, 2016

    Publication & Podcast

    Behold a beautiful new book based on our conference on the image, edited by Beth Jones, Jeffrey Barbeau and the tireless David Congdon. In my chapter I contrast the failed resistance of most contemporary art to the firm resistance of one particular micro-art world.

    And here is a Mockingcast interview with Scott Jones in which I discuss the central illustration I used in the chapter - the transformation of the venerable Church of the Holy Communion into a mini-mall.

    But if only I had known about the Church of Skatan!

    Tuesday, March 01, 2016

    A Friendly Response to Volf

    For the few interested in what's actually going on in regard to Muslims & Christians at Wheaton College, here is my response to Miroslav Volf this weekend at a very encouraging event at the Villa Park Islamic Foundation. Volf's reply, like his opening remarks, was smart and gracious. He added that he related to being misunderstood (the "Common Word" project he worked on expressing commonalities between Muslims & Christians had to fork out $50,000 for a New York Times ad because good news is never news).

    Monday, February 22, 2016

    Monday, February 15, 2016

    Baylor or Bust!

    I'll be giving two talks in Waco this week. If you're in town, don't be a stranger.

    Friday, February 12, 2016

    NPR Won't Listen? Try NPW!

    In this New Persuasive Words podcast , I reveal the REAL culprit behind the recent Wheaton controversy (but you have to listen to the end to find out).

    Tuesday, February 09, 2016

    Restoration in Progress

    Someone at the what is now "We Pray for Wheaton" Facebook page eloquently employed the famous Mt. Sinai transfiguration mosaic as an illustration of how everyone at Wheaton matters, and as a symbol for praying for this place. It was fitting, as we have a show of mosaics right now in the Art Department from the Chicago Mosaic School. I can only add that the mosaic having been seriously damaged might be a better way of focusing prayer. I was at Sinai during the restoration several years ago and was able to snap this photograph. I even pass around bits of the tesserae used in the restoration in class. I am hoping that the service tonight (of repentance, not celebration) will be the first step towards restoration. There is a lot more that needs to be done.
    Another (perhaps melodramatic) image might be that it was seriously difficult to drive the stakes of our Lenten prayer signs into the frozen ground today. But if we really are going to lengthen our cords and strengthen our stakes, so must it be. My colleague Noah Toly has a more in depth analysis of where things stand at this point. Suffice it to say here that it is Shrove Tuesday, and we have some shriving to do.

    Saturday, February 06, 2016

    How Isaiah Won Facebook

    As L'Affaire Hawkins endures, Facebook pages emerge. Who knows who controls them or if the record will survive? I therefore preserve my various interventions here. Ridiculous assertions on both sides, however amusing, have been rare. The general tone has been civil.
    • At the Wheaton Record Page (our student newspaper)

    • At "I Stand with Wheaton" (a forum that leans toward the Administration)

    • At "We Stand with Wheaton" (a forum that leans toward Professor Hawkins)

    Thank you Ruth! It's not for nothing that they call Isaiah the fifth gospel. Only by cord lengthening (welcoming a richer variety of voices) while stake-strengthening (doubling down on our Trinitarian faith) can Wheaton College come out of this stronger than we were going in.

    In the meantime, whether or not they pray to the same deity, the Christians and Muslims of the city of Wheaton are unified in one thing: We sure hope this will be over soon!