The Information Literacy Song Trilogy
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In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art. (Susan Sontag, "Against Interpretation")
And it is the defense of art which gives birth to the odd vision by which something we have learend to call "form" is separated off from something we have learned to call "content," and to the well-intentioned move which makes content essential and form accessory. (ibid.)
...it is the habit of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art. (ibid.)
...interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world--in order to set up a shadow world of "meanings." It is to turn the world into this world. ("This world"! As if there were any other.) The world, our world, is depleted, impoverished enough. Away with all duplicates of it, until we again experience more immediately what we have. (ibid.)
Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life-its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness-conjoin to dull our sensory faculties.... What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.
The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means.
Translation attains its full meaning in the realization that every evolved language (with the exception of the word of God) can be considered a translation of all the others.... Translation is removal from one language into another through a continuum of transformations. Translation passes through continua of transformation, not abstract areas of identity and similarity. (Walter Benjamin, "On Language as Such and the Language of Man," in Reflections; trans. Edmund Jephcott)
For the word (λόγος) of the Lord is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with him we have to do. (Heb. 4:12-13)
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.
Work on good prose has three steps: a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven. (Walter Benjamin, "One-Way Street," in Reflections; trans. Edmund Jephcott)
If in times gone by our ancestors offered other sacrifices to God, in the shape of animal victims (sacrifices which the people of God now read about, but do not perform) we are to understand that the significance of those acts was precisely the same as that of those now performed amongst us--the intention of which is that we may cleave to God and seek the good of our neighbor for the same end. Thus the visible sacrifice is the sacrament, the sacred sign, of the invisible sacrifice. (Augustine, City of God 10.5; trans. Bettenson)
The instructions about the multifarious sacrifices in the service of the Tabernacle or the Temple are recorded in Scripture as divine commands. We see now that they are to be interpreted as symbolizing the love of God and the love of one's neighbor. For "on these two commands the whole Law depends, and the Prophets." (ibid.)
For we are his temple, collectively, and has individuals. For he ocndescends to dwell in the union of all and in each person. He is as great in the individual as he is in the whole body of his worshippers, for he cannot be increased in bulk or diminished by partition. When we lift up our hearts to him, our heart is his altar. We propitiate him by our priest, his only-begotten Son. We sacrifice blood-stained victims to him when we fight for truth "as far as shedding our blood." We burn the sweetest incense for him, when we are in his sight on fire with devout and holy love. We vow to him and offer to him the gifts he has given us, and the gift of ourselves.... We offer to him on the altar of the heart, the sacrifice of humility and praise, and the flame on the altar is the burning fire of charity. (Augustine, City of God 10.3; trans. Bettenson)
The embryonic stem cell research debate is steeped with religious arguments, with some faith traditions convinced the research amounts to killing innocent life, others citing the moral imperative to alleviate suffering, and plenty of religious believers caught somewhere in between.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called Obama's move "a sad victory of politics over science and ethics."
"This action is morally wrong because it encourages the destruction of innocent human life, treating vulnerable human beings as mere products to be harvested," Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, said in a statement.
Some religious traditions teach that because life begins at conception, any research that destroys a human embryo, as this research does, is tantamount to murder and is never justified. The Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention are among those that oppose the research.
Catholic bishops have been outspoken in opposing embryonic stem cell research. Other Catholics, though, are more open to lifting the Bush-era restrictions, with caveats. The Rev. Tom Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said restrictions should be put on embryonic stem cell research — including prohibition on their buying and selling, and using only embryos that otherwise would be destroyed.
"I'm trying to make an argument for some middle ground here," Reese said. "Hopefully down the line we can reach a point where we don't have to use embryonic stem cell research."
Polls show some believers are willing to buck their leaders on the issue. Fifty-nine percent of white, non-Hispanic Catholics and 58 percent of white mainline Protestants favor embryonic stem cell research, according to a poll released in July 2008 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Only 31 percent of white evangelical Protestants, however, favored the research.
The Rev. Joel Hunter, an evangelical pastor from Orlando, Fla., who serves on an Obama White House advisory panel, said he was encouraged by Monday's developments.
"The principle is still that it's not only understandable but in some ways moral to use embryonic stem cells that are destined for destruction for research for helping people," he said. "I think we have to tread very lightly and very carefully, and I think we have to be vigilant for years to come."
But most evangelicals criticized Obama's move. Gilbert Meilaender, a Christian ethicist at Valparaiso University and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, created by President George W. Bush, said Obama's decision was especially disappointing because scientists are advancing toward being able to produce cells that act like embryonic stem cells without destroying any human embryos.
On the other side is the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a United Church of Christ minister and a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary.
"There is an ethical imperative to relieve suffering and promote healing," she said. "This is good policy for a religiously pluralistic society that cares about human suffering and the relief of human suffering."
Obama alluded to religion in announcing the changes, saying, "As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly."
Other more liberal traditions, including mainline Protestant and Jewish institutions, believe the promise to relieve suffering is paramount. In 2004, the governing body of the Episcopal Church said it would favor the research as long as it used embryos that otherwise would have been destroyed, that embryos were not created for research purposes, or were not bought and sold.
Under Jewish law, an embryo is genetic material that does not have the status of a person. According to the Talmud, the embryo is "simply water" in the first 40 days of gestation. Healing and preserving human life takes precedence over all the other commandments in Judaism.
Some groups and faiths are divided on the issue. Muslims disagree over — among other things — whether an embryo in the early stage of development has a soul. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon church, has not taken a position.
The Platonists may prefer to call those good angels "gods" rather than "demons," and to include them among those whom Plato, their founder and master, writes of having been created by the supreme God. They may do as they like; there is no need for us to engage in a tiresome dispute about words. If they mean that they are immortal, but, at the same time, created by the supreme God and that they are blessed, not by themselves, but through adhering to him who made them, then their meaning is the same as ours, whatever title they use. That this is the opinion of the Platonists, or at least of the better Platonists, can be proved by their writings. As for the actual title, the fact that they give the name "gods" to creatures who are immortal and blessed in the above sense, there is here not dispute between us, simply because one can find in our sacred Scriptures such quotations as "The Lord, the lord of gods, has spoken," and in another place: "Give thanks to the God of Gods," and "a great king above all gods." (Augustine, City of God 9.23; trans. Henry Bettenson)
March 7, 2009
Doctoral Candidates Anticipate Hard Times
By PATRICIA COHEN
Chris Pieper began looking for an academic job in sociology about six months ago, sending off about two dozen application packets. The results so far? Two telephone interviews, and no employment offers.
“About half of all the rejection letters I’ve received mentioned the poor economy as contributing to their decision,” said Mr. Pieper, 34, who is getting his doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin. “Some simply canceled the search because they found the funding for the position didn’t come through. Others changed their tenure-track jobs to adjunct or instructor positions.”
“Many of the universities I applied to received more than 300 applications,” he added.
Mr. Pieper is not alone. Fulltime faculty jobs have not been easy to come by in recent decades, but this year the new crop of Ph.D. candidates is finding the prospects worse than ever. Public universities are bracing for severe cuts as state legislatures grapple with yawning deficits. At the same time, even the wealthiest private colleges have seen their endowments sink and donations slacken since the financial crisis. So a chill has set in at many higher education institutions, where partial or full-fledge hiring freezes have been imposed.
A survey by the American Historical Association, for example, found that the number of history departments recruiting new professors this year is down 15 percent, while the American Mathematical Association’s largest list of job postings has dropped more than 25 percent from last year.
“This is a year of no jobs,” said Catherine Stimpson, the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University. Ph.D.s are stacked up, she said, “like planes hovering over La Guardia.”
The anticipated wave of retirements by faculty members who are 60-something is likely to slow as retirement savings accounts and pensions wither, administrators and professors say. That means that some students who have finished postdoctoral fellowships and who expected to leave for faculty positions are staying put for another year, which in turn closes off an option for other graduate students coming up the ladder.
“I was encouraged to aim very high initially, but as I have watched more and more jobs pulled, I am worried about whether I can even get a postdoc,” said Vanessa Svihla, 33, a graduate student in science education at the University of Texas, Austin. She is defending her dissertation next month. “Amidst all the normal stress of finishing a dissertation and trying to get publications out, hiring freezes are a bit overwhelming,” she said.
Although some people think that graduate school is a good place to wait out a crash, some undergraduates said they had either canceled or postponed plans to enter graduate school this fall because of the bad economy or their inability to get student loans.
Aisha Hadlock, 21, a senior at Oberlin College who majored in Islamic studies, decided to delay graduate school for at least a year. “I don’t have the financial means to support myself through grad school in this economy, and grants and loans are so hard to get right now,” Ms. Hadlock said. The types of programs that offer generous financial aid “will be overrun with applicants,” she added.
Andrew Delbanco, the chairman of the American studies program at Columbia University, said that the system producing graduate students was increasingly out of sync with the system hiring them.
“It’s been obvious for some time — witness the unionization movement — that graduate students are caught between the old model of apprentice scholars and the new reality of insecure laborers with uncertain employment prospects,” Mr. Delbanco said. “Among the effects of the financial crisis will clearly be shrinkage both in graduate fellowships and in entry-level academic positions, so the prospects for aspiring Ph.D.’s are getting even bleaker.”
Many in the humanities fear that their fields are going to suffer most. Humanities professors are already among the lowest-paid faculty members, according to the Humanities Indicators Prototype, a new, decade-long effort to establish a database of information led by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
What’s more, nearly half of all the positions are part time — with no job security and no benefits — a situation that many educators expect to worsen.
Many students now finishing their doctorates began working on them when the economy was in much better shape. It often takes about nine years to complete a dissertation in English, said Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard, explaining that students have to devote so many hours to teaching and making money that they don’t have time left over to write.
William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Mich., who writes a column for The Chronicle of Higher Education under the name Thomas Benton, has frequently tried to dissuade undergraduates from pursuing a graduate degree in the humanities. He is convinced that the recession will push universities to trim the number of tenure-track jobs further.
In the past 30 years, public and private money dedicated to the humanities has also significantly declined. The budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities is roughly a third of what it was at the high point of 1979, after adjusting for inflation, according to the Humanities Indicators data, though stimulus money may raise that figure.
Only 13 percent, or about $16 million, makes its way into scholarly projects. And unlike the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes for Health, the humanities endowment does not give awards to postdoctoral students.
Of course the humanities don’t require labs and expensive equipment, but as Leslie Berlowitz, the chief executive of the arts and sciences academy, notes, the humanities suffer more from across-the-board cuts because those professors are much less able to generate financing outside of the university, unlike the hard and social sciences. Such scholars also find fewer job opportunities outside of academia.
I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second, or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case, I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer--not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, etc.--is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists. (Jorge Luis Borges, "Argumentum Ornithologicum"; trans. Andrew Hurley)
...as a boy, I would be astounded that the letters in a closed book didn't get all scrambled up together overnight... (Jorge Luis Borges, "The Aleph"; trans. Andrew Hurley)
Not to find one's way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance--nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city--as one loses oneself in a forest--that calls for quite a schooling. Then, signboards and street names, passers-by, roofs, kiosks, or bars must speak to the wanderer like a cracking twig under his feet in the forest, like the startling call of a bittern in the distance, like teh sudden stillness of a clearing with a lily standing erect at the center. Paris taught me this art of straying; it fulfilled a dream that had shown its first traces in the labyrinths on the blotting pages of my school exercise books. (Walter Benjamin, "A Berlin Chronicle" in Reflections; trans. Edmund Jephcott)
And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within.... (Rev. 4:6b-8a; RSV)
and lithe of wing, she is a terrifying
enormous monster with as many feathers
as she has sleepless eyes beneath each feather
(amazingly), as many sounding tongues
and mouth, and raises up as many ears.
(Aeneid 4.238-42; trans. Mandelbaum)
Death mingles and confuses itself with our life throughout. Decay anticipates its time, and even insinuates itself into the course of our growth. (Michel de Montaigne, "On Experience," Essays 3.13; trans. J.M. Cohen)
And those men who think they can lessen and check our disputes by referring us to the actual words of the Bible are deluding themselves, since our mind finds just as wide a field for controverting other men's meanings as for delivering its own. (Michel de Montaigne, "On Experience," Essays 3.13; trans. J.M. Cohen)
There is more trouble in interpreting interpretations than in interpreting the things themselves, and there are more books on books than on any other subject. We do nothing but write comments on one another. The whole world is swarming with commentaries; of authors there is a great dearth. (ibid.)
I would rather understand myself well by self-study than by reading Cicero. In the experience that I have of myself I find enough to make me wise, if I were a good scholar. Anyone who recalls the violence of his past anger, and to what a pitch his excitement carried him, will see its ugliness better than in Aristotle, and will conceive a juster hatred for it. Anyone who remembers the ills he has undergone and those that have threatened him, and the trivial happenings that have brought him from one state to another, thereby prepares himself for future changes and for the understanding of his condition. (ibid.)
To learn tha tone has said or done a foolish thing, that is nothing; one must learn that one is nothing but a fool, a much more comprehensive and important lesson. (ibid.)
Assertion and dogmatism are postiive signs of stupidity. (ibid.)