Sunday, April 30, 2017

Bad Sociological Writing



It's a pitiful truth that most prose from the court of sociology reads as if it were the transcript of a forlorn jester - unenthused, serious, opaque - or worse yet, like a document from the judge's desk in the supreme court! Filled with political, legalistic jargon that is "too sophisticated" for the normal man or woman to understand, the document was to never leave the judge's locked drawer. But alas, a key has been found, provided by libraries who spend too much on the indulgent nonsense of the intelligentsia (no more Foucault references, please!).


Condescending remarks aside, sociology articles certainly can differ in their prose style. Some articles read like quantitative research papers, others like personal stories - or, "people sharing their narrative" as postmodernists might put it, and still others may utilize ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, which are explicitly on the qualitative side of social science town. What is interesting about these stylistic differences is that all of these articles share the quality of being proper scholarly sources; and yet, they use different means to achieve the same end.

One such reason for this includes the audience for whom these collections of knowledge were produced. For instance, the description for the American Sociological Review mentions that an emphasis is placed on quality and general interest with regard to the works they publish. Another journal, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, has quite a different aim: “…editors encourage an informal style that has literary merit." In addition, Science and Culture has a different aim as well, as it publishes articles that are “…readable, attractive, lively, often humorous, and always jargon free." In short, guidelines, even at a linguistic level, can affect knowledge production and distribution.

Now, upon considering the standards of these journals, it seems like their communicative compasses are pointed in the right direction. However, I still contend that the guidelines for sociological writing don't generally tend to be that innovative, especially compared to, say, a subject like philosophy which brims with fun arguments, beautiful prose, and razor sharp thought. I suppose if sociology, for instance, wants to fit the mould of being a "hard science" it will want to maintain an identity of seriousness, for that seems to be a perceived attribute of science. But how true is this notion that science has to be serious? When Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969, I highly doubt that they were maintaining stoic faces and pondering the serious terms in which they could later explain their experience to outsiders. Moreover, there are a plethora of fun scientific activities for laypersons, such as experimenting with slinkys.

A lot of sociological work can come across as being quite impersonal, as if the sociologist is somehow, almost supernaturally, watching over the world instead of being within it. I patiently wait for the day when the ivory tower prose stylists discover slinkys. I propose that it is time to drop the ego, and instead, pick up the pen.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

God: as a question, as an answer

God is a question that I don't have the answer to, and yet, its importance demands my utmost attention. God is an answer that all the questions in the world bow down before, and still, my utmost attention remains ignorant.

Christian churches and denominations have been a worry for me this past year or so; which one is most right in the eyes of God? Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism all have their questionable characteristics to me. I suppose that's bound to happen with any and all human institutions, that is to say, they are necessarily imperfect. Churches have the rare ability of having their feet in two worlds: the natural and the supernatural.

At what point does ruminating over these problems become an idol? Surely the realness of God exists wholly apart from any institution of this world, or else, we're merely building some anthropomorphic construct. But if it's the polar opposite of being socially related, you run into a Kierkegaardian individualism.

But must we content ourselves with a quasi-Schrödinger's church? Is it only when human-life comes to an end that the members of a church will find out whether theirs was actually God's - that their church was truly a fount of spiritual life?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Art as a Practice of Honesty or Beauty

Art may be defined as: "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power" (emphasis mine). There seems to be a lot of talk these days about how some artists are so 'real' and 'honest,' which I take to be within 'emotional power,' but my question is, where have the artists making beautiful things wandered off to? The honest artist is stuck in the quagmires of this world, thundering grumbles and groans while no one is there to help them - at least, so they think. To borrow an idea attributed to Kierkegaard, you can't see clearly when you have tears in your eyes. The honest artist has mud on their eyes, is unable to see their comrade's hand of help, and so, they look pitiful and confused. They are confused from the inside. But from the outside, why, they look so naive and silly you'd think that they were playing a game of hide and go seek with a ghost! The space of the beautiful artist is unknown, on the contrary, as their concern is not this-worldly but hidden entirely in God.

My fear with this praise of honesty among some of those in the Christian art world is that they are abusing it, that they are making a lie out of honesty. It is a lie to use honesty for the sake of vainglorious purposes. Honesty is true to God; vanity is only true to self. If honesty is what promotes this swearing-like-a-sailor hooligan of an attitude*, then it has traded its character of respect for one of rebellion. What does it rebel against? It rebels against moral laws, and since laws are thought by contemporaries as being in relation to the legal, morality undeservedly becomes legalistic**. It is a lie to oneself to deny that art should be beautiful.

* I'm not solely addressing cursing here, though to be honest, I was motivated by the recent controversy surrounding The Classic Crime's soon-to-be-released album. I take it that vulgar language may be defended as being more 'honest' than non-vulgar language by some, so I used it here as an example. Plus, I find 'swearing like a sailor' to be a humorous idiom.

** Inspired by an idea on page 18 of Ecumenical Jihad by Peter Kreeft

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Christian Mysticism is for the Commoner

It is a truism that Christian mysticism is difficult to define, and furthermore, that it renders mixed responses. A conservative, Protestant website like Got Questions Ministries deem the theology an oxymoron, while there is less hostility among Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. This becomes apparent when considering some of the prominent mystics, people like Augustine, Saint John of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvaux, Teresa of Ávila, Thomas Merton, and Fr. Stephen Freeman. Most of these people were Catholics, save for Fr. Stephen Freeman who is an Orthodox Christian. Still yet, Christian mysticism has not been entirely separated from Protestantism, as made evident through the work of A. W. Tozer. In his introduction for The Christian Book of Mystical Verse, he defines 'mystic' as: "...that personal spiritual experience common to the saints of Bible times and well known to multitudes of persons in the post-biblical era ... [who is] aware of the Presence of God in his own nature and in the world around him."

The other day I was thinking to myself about the accessibility of mysticism to the Christian. All of us can relate to a dark night of the soul, or a time of spiritual dryness, but my guess is that there are many of us who have lacked Teresa's visions of Christ's appearance and resurrection, for instance. Those who have received the more ecstatic varieties of revelation from God must not be made subject to animosity, however; but rather, those who have lacked such experiences should know that as long as they are pursuing God, they are mystics. Paradoxically, a lack of a perceived closeness to God can assure the believer that they are close to God because, they are, in deed, seeking Him. I suppose these few remarks are not far off from the concept of the dark night of the soul, though. Perhaps the new understanding I have attained is that Christian mysticism is for both the eccentric and the commoner, and that commonality is a test by which it might ironically be overcome - in all its apparent sterility - and that spiritual reality will be seen in a place that seems, at first, non-spiritual. The dark night of the soul is a mystic phase of life rather than a meaningless phase that merely leads to Christian mysticism proper.

"If we live a life of prayer,
God is present everywhere."
~ Oliver Holden

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Rotten Stroke Spoils the Whole Artwork: My Critique of Banksy

I was recently thinking about how I used to enjoy Banksy's artwork. If you're having trouble putting the art to the artist, they stenciled this image of a man with a bouquet in his hand, instead of a grenade, presumably. A few years back, I made a photo album on Facebook that included some of their art works. Most of the photos in the collection were of the political variety, those maudlin works of art that are usually tainted by some iota of hypocrisy and always tainted with evil aggression. I really liked their art style a few years back, but nowadays it leaves me feeling sick to my stomach. It's as if I retain that it's objectively good, that Banksy has an objective skill or set of skills, but that I can no longer enjoy it.

I suppose the first thing that bugs me is how Banksy uses art to convey political messages. The first problem I see here is that art can never properly convey political messages. A batch of spray paint on some grimy wall in England simply cannot properly account for any ideology, especially an ideology that finds itself globalized, that is to say, an ideology that exists at numerous points. Banksy's art stays on a single wall, in reality; yet ideology keeps its place in the minds of many, meaning that it is at many points.

Related to the note above, they criticize social media, yet have their own Instagram account. The only place I've ever seen Banksy's work is on the Internet, ironically enough. For Banksy to be deemed a social activist for merely spraying some conflict-theory oriented images also seems a tad bourgeois to me.

The second thing that bugs me is that Banksy wants to focus on politics at all. The most beautiful art tends to be that which focuses on something higher than the ordeals of this world. Yet Banksy and their propagators want to make the rest of us feel bad by complaining about capitalism, technology, religion, and other subjects I'm guessing they're not well-studied in. The aesthetic magniloquence of their work offers no proper response to the ugliness they so wish to be absolved of; it is mere critical theory without any answers or any theory for that matter. If rhetoric were an art style, it would be defined as 'Banksy.'

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Grotto

Alone in a grotto and I have no complaints to echo. History is a dentist - no tooth, no claw, no lilting. The quiet can make no mark. This void, so beautiful; it is for me, just as I am for it. This can't be the vanity of halcyon days. How long will emptiness remain? I don't mind. When do the waves come?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Lifesavers Underground - Shaded Pain

L.S.U. haven't received much play from me recently, but for whatever reason I was thinking about them the other day, and decided to listen to "Shaded Pain" again. I thought I had overplayed that song so as to no longer enjoy it, but a break from it proved to keep my interest in tact. Melancholic songs are a dime a dozen but there's something special about "Shaded Pain," methinks.