Archives For Language

 

The Flame Alphabet - Ben MarcusThe Toxicity of Words

A review of

The Flame Alphabet: A Novel.
Ben Marcus.
Hardback: Knopf, 2012.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by J. Brent Bill.

“… no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8).

In his novel The Flame Alphabet, experimental fictioneer Ben Marcus brings the words of James to life – and not just as a metaphor.  Indeed, in Marcus’ book, words are toxic – literally.

Marcus says he’s long been fascinated with the idea of toxicity of language and The Flame Alphabet gives him a platform in which to explore and experiment with that fascination.  In it, tongues spout poison.  Young tongues.  Particularly young Jewish tongues.  Specifically young Jewess Esther’s tongue.

Continue Reading…

 

“Not Your Typical Linguist

A review of
?What Language Is:
And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be

by John McWhorter

Review by Brittany Buczynski.


What Language is - John McWhorterWhat Language Is:
And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be

John McWhorter
Hardback: Gotham, 2011.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

If all books on language were this entertaining, there would be more college linguistics majors than undecideds. John McWhorter’s What Language Is: And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be is easily the smartest, clearest (and funniest) meta-literary book I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Linguistics is an incredibly complex field of study, including not only the practical elements like language families and the International Phonetic Alphabet, but the intangible theoretical aspects. Does an unwritten oral tongue count as a full-fledged “language”? How did Old English morph into Middle English and then Modern English? And why did it move in the direction it did? Are there any overriding patterns behind language evolution? Questions like these are just the tip of the iceberg for the linguistics student. The other frustrating thing is that languages are constantly changing, so unless you’re studying a dead language (e.g., Latin) you’re given the added challenge of trying to hit a moving target, almost as if a scientist were attempting to examine a squirming, live ant under a microscope.

Continue Reading…

 

A Review of

Speaking Christian:
Why Christian Words Have Lost
Their Meaning and Power
—AND HOW THEY CAN BE RESTORED

Marcus J. Borg
Hardback: HarperOne, 2011.

Buy Now:
[ Amazon – Hardback ] [ Amazon-Kindle ]

Reviewed by Shaun C. Brown

Not long after philosophers like Ludwig Wittgenstein and J.L. Austin made the linguistic turn, theologians followed suit.  An increased emphasis upon theology as speech about God continues until this day, as seen in works like George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, which emphasized a cultural-linguistic understanding of theology.  Some of Lindbeck’s postliberal heirs, like Stanley Hauerwas, have continued this emphasis.  As Hauerwas says in his recent book Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian, “To learn to be a Christian, to learn the discipline of the faith, is not just similar to learning another language.  It is learning another language” (87).  Speaking Christian represents New Testament scholar Marcus Borg’s attempt at cultural-linguistic theology.

Continue Reading…

 

“How then Shall we Speak?

A review of
Working with Words:
On Learning to Speak Christian

by Stanley Hauerwas.

Review by Chase Roden.


Working with Words:
On Learning to Speak Christian
.
Stanley Hauerwas.
Paperback: Wipf and Stock, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Christ as true king. The church as polis. Constantinianism as idolatry. Those familiar with Stanley Hauerwas already know his major themes and vocabulary. Although he has spent decades working with these ideas – many of which he inherited and adapted from John Howard Yoder – Hauerwas continues to explore them in new and interesting ways, applying his interpretation of the nonviolent gospel to different contexts. Because the core of Hauerwas’s work contains such radical ideas which run counter to the implicit thought of mainstream American Christianity, many Christians keep coming back to his writings year after year for a fresh perspective.

For these readers, there will not be many surprises in Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian, a new collection of Hauerwas’s writings. In it the Duke professor of theological ethics presents a “kitchen sink” bundle of writings admittedly not intended to form any particular argument. The writings are quite varied; of the 22 works presented (including the appendix), 13 are essays (five co-written), seven are sermons, and three are addresses – a commencement speech, a lecture, and one fascinating speech to a Christian youth conference at Duke Divinity School.

Continue Reading…

 

“Probing the Depths of Our Cruelty

A review of
Less than Human:

Why we Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others.
by David Livingstone Smith.

Review by Eric Judge.


LESS THAN HUMAN - David Livingstone SmithLess than Human:
Why we Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others.
David Livingstone Smith.
Hardback: St. Martins, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon – Hardback ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

Have you ever wondered if you could kill another person? In the right circumstances I always thought that I probably could. I assumed that my act of violence would be in defense of the life of someone that I loved, something heroic. However, David Livingston Smith’s new book Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others invites readers to look inside their own minds to examine the ways in which humans think their way into violence that is much less than heroic.  Once on a high school sports trip, I overheard my coach and another adult discussing child molesters. One of them suggested that someone who sexually abuses a child should be taken out back and shot in the head. I felt he suggested this solution not only because of the heinous nature of the crime but because of the perverted nature of the offender.  It was assumed that a child molester is a different kind of person than the rest of us and therefore needed to be put down, as you would a rabid dog.  I can not remember what, if any, names were used to describe this hypothetical child molester, but it left me with the distinct impression this person was an animal. This memory connects quite vividly to the concept of dehumanization that Smith seeks to understand and elucidate in this well written, challenging, and accessible book.

Continue Reading…

 

An Illusive Creature

A Review of
The Chameleon Couch: Poems.
Yusef Komunyakaa.
Hardback: FSG, 2011.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by  J. Ted Voigt.

Like a chameleon, sometimes words can blend in with their surroundings; only after taking a closer look can one identify the forms and edges that give them meaning.  It is this lexical shape-shifting that is masterfully displayed in Yusef Komunyakaa’s collection of new poems, The Chameleon Couch.

Continue Reading…

 

“Defining Emerging Christianity

A Review of
An Emerging Dictionary for
The Gospel and Culture

By Leonard Hjalmarson.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.


An Emerging Dictionary for
The Gospel and Culture

Leonard Hjalmarson.

Paperback: Resource Publications/Wipf and Stock, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

EMERGING DICTIONARY... HjalmarsonLen Hjalmarson has been in the middle of conversations about emerging forms of church for many years now. His blog, NextReformation.com , has been not only a place for him to post his keen insights, but also a place for conversation and exploration. Thus, I was excited to hear that he had recently published a book rooted in his experience in these conversations.  An Emerging Dictionary for the Gospel and Culture is indeed as it sets out to be “a roving, eclectic dictionary that is both ridiculously current and particular, and at the same time broadly inclusive, reaching back to Augustine and St. Benedict … the ABC’s of the emerging and missional conversations.”  Hjalmarson does a superb job introducing the topics that he has included here, which basically fall into the two categories of biographical entries and conceptual entries.  All entries here are brief (rarely more than 2 or 3 pages), engaging and helpful in their introducing the person or concept at hand.  I imagine that most readers, even those who have been deeply invested in the emerging and missional church conversations for many years will find at least a few entries here that are surprising or unknown.  For instance, the philosopher of science in me was delighted to see the entry on Thomas Kuhn here, as his work is essential to our work of understanding the times in which we live, and yet his name does not pop up often in church conversations.  There are also a number of terms here that are essential to understanding postmodern criticism – e.g., difference and L’avenir.   Hjalmarson also does a wonderful job at interweaving the entries here; one does not typically think of a dictionary as a book to sit down and read from cover to cover, but this engaging and well-written work flows along nicely and is certainly an exception to that rule!

Continue Reading…

 

A Brief Review of

Annie Dillard and
the Word Made Flesh:
An Incarnational Theory of Language
.
Colleen Warren.
Hardback: Lehigh University Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Since my intial engagements with her work in my Senior English class in high school, Annie Dillard has long been one of my favorite writers, and I especially appreciate the themes of faith that emerge as she engages the world around her in her non-fiction writings.  So, I was delighted to hear that Lehigh University Press published the new book Annie Dillard and the Word Made Flesh: An Incarnational Theory of Language by Colleen Warren.  This project, as Warren admits in the introduction, is a peculiar one, weaving strands of literary criticism and theology, but not fitting neatly into either of these categories.  The backbone of Warren’s argument here is comprised of four of Dillard’s convictions that, taken together, comprise an “incarnational theory of language”:

Continue Reading…

 

THE OTHER JOURNAL Reviews
Steve Long’s SPEAKING OF GOD
http://www.theotherjournal.com/article.php?id=885
Modern philosophers and historians were convinced of the death of metaphysics; they buried questions of existence and being deep in the grave. But according to D. Stephen Long, author of Speaking of God, even their proofs for this death borrowed from clear metaphysical assumptions, and so Long is neither surprised by the resurgence of metaphysics nor unprepared to explore its many relationships with other disciplines, particularly language, philosophy, theology, and politics. In Speaking of God, Long has fashioned a refreshing examination of these subject matters, specifically addressing reason and faith, philosophy and theology, power and truth, and metaphysics and politics. He pursues questions of reason and faith, and then, in the face of a hermeneutics of pure negation and a flat metaphysics, he argues for a richer, deeper Christian life, a flourishing life nourished by the search for truth.
Read the full review:
http://www.theotherjournal.com/article.php?id=885
Speaking of God:
Theology, Language, and Truth.
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2009.
Buy now:
A Review of Why America Fights:
Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq
http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2009/0709/book/book_brown_whyfight.html
The War in Iraq is a highpoint of U. S. foreign policy. A cruel dictator is overthrown with the wholehearted support of the Iraqi and American people. Democracy is courageously introduced in the politically oppressive Middle East. In-country hostilities are brought to a quick end thanks to a successful military surge.
To some this is what happened in Iraq. But to others, President George W. Bush’s invasion of a far-off land was a poorly explained and disastrous misadventure. The administration misled the public about the true nature of the war and its consequences. Such prevarication was a sharp break with truthful American leadership in the past.
Not quite so, says Susan A. Brewer, Professor of  History at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, in her new book, Why American Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq. Rallying support for its wars (including unsuccessful ones) by the U. S. government, she contends, is nothing new.
Read the full review:
http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2009/0709/book/book_brown_whyfight.html
Why America Fights:
Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2009.
Buy now:

THE OTHER JOURNAL Reviews
Steve Long’s SPEAKING OF GOD

http://www.theotherjournal.com/article.php?id=885

Modern philosophers and historians were convinced of the death of metaphysics; they buried questions of existence and being deep in the grave. But according to D. Stephen Long, author of Speaking of God, even their proofs for this death borrowed from clear metaphysical assumptions, and so Long is neither surprised by the resurgence of metaphysics nor unprepared to explore its many relationships with other disciplines, particularly language, philosophy, theology, and politics. In Speaking of God, Long has fashioned a refreshing examination of these subject matters, specifically addressing reason and faith, philosophy and theology, power and truth, and metaphysics and politics. He pursues questions of reason and faith, and then, in the face of a hermeneutics of pure negation and a flat metaphysics, he argues for a richer, deeper Christian life, a flourishing life nourished by the search for truth.

Read the full review:

http://www.theotherjournal.com/article.php?id=885

Speaking of God:
Theology, Language, and Truth
.
Steve Long.

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

A Review of Susan Brewer’s Why America Fights:
Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq

http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2009/0709/book/book_brown_whyfight.html

The War in Iraq is a highpoint of U. S. foreign policy. A cruel dictator is overthrown with the wholehearted support of the Iraqi and American people. Democracy is courageously introduced in the politically oppressive Middle East. In-country hostilities are brought to a quick end thanks to a successful military surge.

To some this is what happened in Iraq. But to others, President George W. Bush’s invasion of a far-off land was a poorly explained and disastrous misadventure. The administration misled the public about the true nature of the war and its consequences. Such prevarication was a sharp break with truthful American leadership in the past.

Not quite so, says Susan A. Brewer, Professor of  History at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, in her new book, Why American Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq. Rallying support for its wars (including unsuccessful ones) by the U. S. government, she contends, is nothing new.

Read the full review:

http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2009/0709/book/book_brown_whyfight.html

Why America Fights:
Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq
.
Susan Brewer.

Hardback: Oxford UP, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

 


On June 16, Bloomsday (a holiday in remembrance of James Joyce and his novel Ulysses), we sat down with David Dark to talk via Twitter about his new book: The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.  Here is our conversation:

  1. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate #Bloomsday than to sit down with @DavidDark and talk about his new book. 1:00 PM Jun 16th from web
  2. THE SACREDNESS OF QUESTIONING EVERYTHING is not only a plea for critical engagement, > 1:01 PM Jun 16th from web
  3. it also is a gloriously dizzying tour through literature and pop music! 1:20 PM Jun 16th from web
  4. @daviddark Welcome! Thanks for sitting down with us! 1:02 PM Jun 16th from web
  5. @ERBks glad to be “here” 1:02 PM Jun 16th from web
  6. @daviddark LOL! Your book is very countercultural > 1:03 PM Jun 16th from web
  7. @daviddark Why should people read it, especially ones who tremble at the thought of questioning everything? 1:03 PM Jun 16th from web
  8. @ERBks Well, potential reader, if you think asking questions is at the heart of developing (and keeping) your soul, this book’s for you> 1:04 PM Jun 16th from web
  9. @ERBks and if U think the opposite’s true (keeping your soul saved requires somehow silencing your mind) I’d say this book’s REALLY for you! 1:05 PM Jun 16th from web
    Continue Reading…