Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, July 23, 2010

a new endeavor

Folks, just posted is the first of my monthly columns for Big Questions Online. It deals with topics congruent with those of this blog. Please check it out.

7 comments:

  • du Garbandier said...

    I do wish Big Questions offered RSS feeds.

  • They're working on it. Should be a few days at most.

  • Thanks for the link.

    I might add that not all of us care to be mystified by high priest of Cupertino. The fancy prestidigitation made possible by the iPad/Pod/Phone may provide enough hocus pocus to impress the average computer user (95% of the population), but true instrumental control lies in the the austere and disenchanted domain of the Word.

    The problem with the old Apple vs. IBM/MS-DOS comparisons is that they pitted two equally closed and opaque cultures against one another. Microsoft was and will be a Catholic hierarchy, seeking to mystify its flock. Self-taught coders and data miners and Linux iconoclasts are the true Protestants.

  • Dave, I think it might be still better to say that Microsoft is the magisterial Reformation, the Protestantism that sought and got state power, became the established religion; while the open-source people are the Anabaptists, forever on the outside of society's power structures and liking it that way.

  • The comment section is closed on your post over at Am Scene, so I hope you don't mind if I respond to it here.

    It was a beautiful piece. You nailed the "testifying" or "witnessing" tale that Sherrod was using. Her story was structured as a classic redemption narrative, where the speaker offers to share the transformative power of grace with the listeners. The audience (or congregation) is acutely familiar with the narrative arc as the speaker witnesses or testifies to how lost she once was, how blinded by sin, and how the blessing of grace now allows her to see. That familiarity is part of what opens the audience emotionally to participating in the speaker's transformation as the tale is told. And the audience indicates that they're sharing the speaker's experience at key moments -- that they're "with" her.

    An especially key moment in the redemption narrative is the "low" point -- the episode the speaker uses to illustrate just how lost he was in anger or despair and misery, how blinded he was by sin (or demon drink in the AA redemptive stories). The audience's expression at that moment isn't simply to indicate support for the speaker at a difficult time but to acknowledge their own experience, that they can recognize in themselves the low point of the sinful soul, that feeling that the world is out of kilter, of anger, of despair. It's by sharing the speaker's acknowledgement of the low point, of being lost, of being blinded by sin, that the opening is made in the members of the audience for the possibility of sharing with the speaker the redemptive grace of her tale.

    Of course, it was precisely the "low" point that the editor of the video chose to show out of context. But we should expect that it would be precisely that moment which would produce some of the most vocal supportive responses from the audience of the "we're with you" or "preach it sister".

    That's especially the case for those raised in the call-and-response church tradition. Silence would have indicated that the audience wasn't accepting the tale -- that the speaker had failed to project the necessary self-searching honesty, openness and vulnerability to engage the audience. Or silence would be evidence that the audience itself was suffering from hardened hearts and so blinded by sin that they failed to recognize the redemptive potential for themselves in the tale.

    I am appalled (but not surprised) that folks are picking over Sherrod's text looking for evidence of something nasty below the surface. Or as Conor's post immediately following yours at Am Scene illustrated, are rushing to validate Breibart's claim that it wasn't about Shirley, it was about the audience.

    The redemption narrative is so common in our culture, it's part of our national DNA. It shouldn't take a professor of English Lit to point it out. We don't have to be an evangelical Christian (or even a theist) to be emotionally cued by our culture to respond to a redemption narrative. Sheesh, even Glen Beck who thinks the social gospel is a fascist-commie conspiracy, could recognize Sherrod's story for what it was.

    If I were a believer and preaching from the pulpit, I'd be praying for the Lord's grace to soften their hearts and open their eyes so they could share the transformative experience Shirley was offering. But since I'm neither, I must simply hope that lots of people will read your fine explanation of Shirley's story and her audience.

  • Thanks for the kind words, dunnettreader. The comment threads at the Scene are a hideous wasteland, for the most part, so on the rare occasions when I post there I will disable comments.

    As you might expect, I enthusiastically agree with everything you say here. And let me just reaffirm that when you have a situation in which Glenn Beck is the voice of reasonable moderation. . . . well, enough said.

  • How do conversions across these lines move?

    Anyway, interesting analogy--especially the part about Anabaptists.

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