Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In God's hands

At the Prado today, José Ribera's "La Trinidad" (1635) - this is the upper half, taken from the generous image on the museum website - took me back to Lisbon, which I realize I haven't told you much about. This isn't the occasion for a full report, but at least a swatch...

I remember being blown away the last time I saw this work, especially the contrast between the Caravaggiesque world of the dead Christ and the cool pastel world of his father (except for his hands). This time I was struck anew by the shattered look on God's face - it's more than impassive, especially when you put it together with the infinite tenderness of those hands.

This painting took me back to our conference in Lisbon because most of the people there were philosophers doing theodicy; I was one of the few who think the doing of theodicy by human beings an offense to the dead of Lisbon, and to God. Central to my account of Leibniz (hermeneutics of charity or retrieval gone amuck?) was that he wouldn't have us think that any evil could be permitted without the profoundest regret, even in God. Since then I've also become grateful that the dry philosophical theodicies of those days have given way to responses more deeply rooted in Christian resources, including non-verbal ones. And the Trinity, which allows God to suffer with us, and attend our suffering with something like the shattered expression of this depiction, not the triumphalism of most theodicies (and many depictions of the Trinity).

Now I don't know what Ribera meant here. It'd be interesting to find out. But I have no doubt: there's an authentic theodicy in those hands.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Long road

Amazing website shows the winds blowing around the US in incredible detail. This is just a still of what, on the site, is a vertiginous spiraling inward as Sandy makes her way slowly north and northeast. More soothing, somehow, than this painfully messy infrared map from NOAA.


 Scenes as if from the movies: Cuba, WTC, Bounty, Hoboken, Gotham...

Stormy weather

I'm staying put on this side of the Atlantic, biting my nails as New York gets pounded - shores breached, trees down, electricity out, subway tunnels inundated (worst in the MTA's 108-year history), and the facade of a building across the street from where I used to live collapsed.
Oh the ways instant and instantly updated information can make you feel you're practically there even as you're too far away to do anything at all, strangest when it's your home in question! My return home from Spain, originally scheduled for today, I've rebooked for Friday.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The colors over there

I sort of guessed that I might miss the peak colors of the autumn leaves in New York this year, which had just started to turn when I came over  
here last Tuesday - the colors my friend C found in Inwood Park a few days ago. I don't expect to see any color on the trees after these colors
(from a very scary article about Hurricane Sandy) have their way with them. Now I'm just hoping the trees themselves survive intact!

Saturday, October 27, 2012


The Templeton-funded Leibniz conference in Lisbon has ended. This is a picture of some of the detritus of the final port tasting which capped three days of often very opulent feasting. Or is it a representation of the "multiverse" the final two papers discussed as ways Leibniz' ideas about the best possible world and about the incarnation (!) might be extended or amplified by today's discussions? I didn't know about multiverses before this, to my shame, and the six varieties of port have erased most of what I thought I learned. "Spatio-temporally but not causally related, issuing from the same God" is all I remember.

Friday, October 26, 2012


My European jaunt might be longer than planned. I'm due to fly back to NY from Madrid on Tuesday, but if the concerning predictions about Hurricane Sandy aren't completely off, it looks like flights might be canceled in our area right about then. Let's hope it's a false alarm, like Hurricane Irene last year!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

First date with Leibnizian destiny

Greetings from the Pestana Palace Hotel and National Monument, site of the conference "Leibniz's Theodicy: Reception and Relevance." The conference blurb: a conference exploring the historical relevance and contemporary relevance of Leibniz's Theodicy, at the site of what many took to be the clearest refutation of his view, the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The hotel's: One of the Leading Hotels of the World. Something not quite right about this. Having the conference in Lisbon at all feels like a reiteration of the famed bathroom graffiti sequence:

God is dead - NIETZSCHE

Nietzsche is dead - GOD

(Or perhaps: If there were no God we would be obliged to invent him - VOLTAIRE; If there were no Voltaire &c &c - GOD.) And did I mention the whole thing's bankrolled by the Templeton Foundation? Pestana's not an earthquake-era construction, rather the pleasure palace of a cocoa baron who made his fortune in San Tomé in the late 19th century. The posh part of town where it's located was not much affected by the temblor of 1755, I gather. Why are we here? I suppose Leibniz was fond of the hospitality of princesses...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Animal farm

Here's my reading for this trip, Mo Yan's Life and Death are Wearing Me Out - except that by the time my copy of this book arrived in the mail Monday afternoon, a new cover, with the gold Nobel Prize medallion, had already been printed. In any case, it's delightful! The author's first reincarnation as a donkey (he started as a land owner killed after the revolution) was a hoot. Ox, pig, dog, monkey, child to come!

Shouldn't I be reading something Portuguese, though? I usually make a point of reading a local novel, and have only scratched the surface of Saramago. I'm sure I'll pick up something there.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


For Sunday dinner tonight, Tetsukabuto pumpkin and eggplant lasagne.

New skyline

Out the window of a Manhattan Bridge train, a new skyline emerging.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The past is another country

Gosh, it's been such a long time since I've been in Europe, my continent of origin. I'll be there just a week, and just a day and a half in Lisbon and two and a half in Madrid on either side of a conference, but still -
I'm so excited! This 1544 map isn't really relevant, but it is beautiful. Besides, it takes us back to a point when the new worlds in which I've spent most of the last years had barely been touched by my folk.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tight race

This is agonizing. But: the Romney lead seems a mere bubble, Obama's ahead again, if by a statistically insignificant .1%. What would it be like to live in a place where you didn't know that practically half the country had voted against your candidate?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ages of man

Only bishop Homer is missing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Actually I am very excited about going to Lisbon and Madrid next week!

Monday, October 15, 2012


Used the whole board today, unpacking and repacking Tomoko Masuzawa's The Invention of World Religions: Or, How Europen Universalism was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Rooting around on a website of images from space, stumbled on this, from Cassini, August 2009. The rings of Saturn aren't all flat!


A stroll through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden - a joy in every season (though ginkgo nuts reek!).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sky over New York

An x-ray sky over Washington Square Park, as if we were in the belly of a giant animal, gave way, an hour of library work later, to pink and orange streaks arcing over the new sky-colored WTC building.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Abide with me

Here's a wake-up call. In preparation for my Lisbon talk I went looking for notes I took while working on my dissertation, almost 20 years ago. Guess what? Although they were taken in MS Word, which I have used in successive versions ever since, the current versions of MS Word won't open them. None of the various options listed worked either. So had it not been for the ingenuity of one of our IT specialists, everything I did in graduate school would have been lost to me. IT guy is helping me update all my files from those days, but meine Ruh' ist hin.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Nones on the bus

So the new Pew survey is out, and we have something big - growth in the "nones" from about 15% to nearly 25% of the population in just five year, or, if you will, a 50% increase in the proportion of those who report no religious affiliation ("atheist"/"agnostic"/"nothing in particular"). I recall downplaying the result a few years ago, since it looked like there had been an upsurge during the Bush years but then five years of plateauing, but this starts to look like a true trend, especially when you look at this breakdown by generation. (Generational differences like this can of course be read at least two ways - generations are truly different from each other, the product of changing times and possibilities - or people are different at different ages, and members of all generations go through the same general trajectory from disconnection in youth to reconnection later on.)
Two important things to note, however. First, the growth in "nones" is not a growth in atheism, which hovers, still, around 2% of the population. (You'd really want to know what it means to someone to identify as atheist, of course.)
But it's also not the case (as I was inclined to believe) that a fair number of the "nones" are the "spiritual but not religious." "Nones" are about as likely as the rest of the population to consult astrologers, believe in reincarnation, feel a connection to the earth, or see ghosts (right). But most of them aren't looking, so they're not "seekers" either. (Again one would want to factor the generational/age differences in here, too.)
I can't wait to discuss all this with my first years, since this is just the sort of data the secularization theorists feeds on.

[And hey - random factoid: this is the 2222nd post on this blog]

[PS Wednesday 10/10: Discussed this with the students in Theorizing Religion today, at the end of a discussion of Marx which focused on his critique of liberal Protestantism's individualized "religious sentiment" as the reflex of a commodity economy. The headlines announced the end of the Protestant era, but they focused on the third of their own generation evidently immune to religion altogether. Did they think we'd had a revolution without noticing it, I asked semi-seriously? Yes, some replied semi-seriously. Slightly more serious the suggestion that a generation sustained by social media has a more satisfying relationship with species nature, and so doesn't feel the alienation which drives religious projection toward the superhuman...] 

Monday, October 08, 2012

Aura labora

I've been looking forward to the event for first years we put on in the Orozco Room this evening for a long time: a recollection and continuation of the brilliant "Re-imagining Orozco" show put on in 2010 by the University Art Collection (with that amazing animation) and a
couple of Parsons classes - with a bonus presentation of the just-completed "Questions for Revolution and Universal Brotherhood" project, too. The students got to contribute to a slide show of images, and generated poems from their reactions to the work, like this one:

power religion oppression ostracization
fiery controversy imposing difference
change socialism control pride impact
motivating ombre ethnocentristic
historical representation

But truth be told I'm not sure the students enjoyed it as much as we organizers did. We relished seeing the 2010 and 2012 projects presented in this room for the first time - at one point transgressively projecting them directly on to the venerable mural: we giggled like schoolchildren.
Art's Benjaminian aura doesn't have the same complicated tingle for our media-saturated students, so neither the transgression nor the genre-busting reimaginings were quite as intoxicating to them. Still, Orozco is part of their world now. And the murals, methinks, had a blast.