Derrida Does Dallas

"In vino caritas" - Publius

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Reflecting on Osama, Part I

Osama bin Laden is dead. There have been a wide range of reactions to this in the last few days, and later this week I'll post my own. Before I do, though, I was reminded of the mass email I sent to friends and family at the end of the day on 9/11. I was an RA in a freshman dorm at Georgetown University in Washington, DC on that day. My residents had been away from home, some for the first time in their lives, only about two weeks at that point.

Here you go:
I can't believe the news today
I can't close my eyes and make it go away

I saw the movie Pearl Harbor for the first time on Friday. I didn't enjoy it, despite the outstanding special effects and stunning imagery its producers were able to give us. The magnitude of such an attack was unbelievable to people of my generation, the grandchildren of those who fought so bravely in that war.

Unbelievable, that is, until today.

I woke up this morning a little before ten am. I've been recovering from a cold and I stayed up late last night to console one of my freshmen who had just broken up with her boyfriend. I saw my mother instant messaging me, and we chatted a little before she said "Two planes hit the world trade center and the Pentagon has been bombed." I thought it was a joke, a comment to make me more talkative. God how we all wish it had been a joke...

I pulled up the blinds to my window to see a billowing cloud of smoke. The Pentagon is not even three miles from where I live, and from the roof of the apartments next to my dorm one can see it on any given day. Today, it was given away by the torrents of hell that grew to the heavens in gray columns. I was shocked, and it was around that time that my freshmen started to ask questions. "What happened?" "Are we going to be ok?" "What are we supposed to do?" "Do we have classes today?"

Needless to say, today has tested me as an RA in a way that depression counseling, roommate mediation, and alcohol busts never could. Today I looked in the eyes of over a hundred young men and women, most of whom have been in Washington DC for a mere 18 days, and see concern, anxiety, and fear. I've watched them spend hours with a phone system that barely worked as they simply tried to let a parent know they were alright. I talked to a resident who's dad had a meeting in the world trade center this very morning but, thank God, he slept through his alarm. I've seen them spend hours in our lounge, watching ABC for every new bit of news. I've hugged, patted, and consoled so many people today.

I have already heard estimates of ten thousand dead in New York to go along with the thousands injured, the millions scarred, and the three or four buildings that didn't make it. I'm angry. I can't even imagine a time when I felt so much anger inside me. Like Anne Frank, I still believe that people, deep down, are basically good, and maybe that's what angers me so much. It is so infuriating to see so many people work so hard to destroy beauty, to destroy life, to try to destroy hope itself, and yet to still know that there is some goodness inside them, begging to break free. I had a meeting last night with the Charity and Social Justice Committee for Georgetown, and even our work there doesn't charge me up for justice as much as the events of this day.

I do thank all of you who called, IM'd, or emailed to check on me today. Your prayers and good will played no small role in my making it through today. I hope you continue to hold in your hearts all those affected by this tragic day. Perhaps from this horror we can draw a firmer resolve and a clearer vision of what sort of peace we should strive for.

God bless and take care,
Steve Okey, RA 2nd floor New South

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
-Matthew 5:4-5:9

Stay tuned, a further reflection to follow.

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Magnum is going to blow us all away

In meeting with my committee, as well as looking at the response from the EPC, one of the concerns that has come up is the unpublished nature of David Tracy's alleged "God Book." It's supposed to be this great, ground-breaking work that he's been writing for nearly twenty years, but no one has seen it. Moreover, due to his retirement and his age, it seems likely that this will be his crowning achievement in a long and distinguished theological career.

It occurred to me the other day that Tracy has a lot of similarities to Derek Zoolander. First of all, Analogical Imagination, Plurality and Ambiguity, and On Naming the Present are sort of like Le Tigre, Ferrari, and Blue Steel. It's largely the same point, made over and over, in different ways (for those of you new to Tracy, I highly recommend reading Plurality and Ambiguity first - the rest of his work makes a lot more sense if you start with that one). Moreover, the entire modeling community in the film is waiting, with baited breath, for Zoolander to unveil Magnum.

The question that remains is whether or not the God Book, like Magnum, will in fact blow us all away, or if it will just be another example of his "one look." Either way, I don't know if I can finish my dissertation, or at least finish a good dissertation, without Magnum.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The EPC said yes!

Hello, ever-forgiving blog readers! I post today with great news - the theology department has APPROVED my dissertation proposal! Yes, they seem to agree that it's a great idea for me to toil away for the next two years on a singular topic! It only took five drafts, a half dozen meetings, and several months of blood sweat and tears, but that stage is over. If it took that much effort to produce eight pages of text and 12 pages of bibliography, then perhaps I should be more nervous about my two year (more accurately, 19 month) plan.

For you faithful readers, wondering what it is I eventually settled on, here is a snippet from the proposal:
This dissertation will interpret, analyze, and evaluate the theological anthropology of David Tracy. Professor Tracy is one of the foremost American Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. His work has had a perennial influence on topics such as theological method, hermeneutics, the public character of theology, and religious and theological pluralism. Perhaps his best-known contribution has been the idea of the ‘classic,’ that expression of truth that comes out of a tradition and bears an excess and permanence of meaning.

Appraisals of and engagements with Tracy’s work have tended to focus on the methodological and hermeneutical aspects of his work. Yet Tracy himself has lamented that his interlocutors have not dealt with what he calls his “substantive” arguments, particularly regarding Christology. His continuing work over the last fifteen years on what has come to be colloquially known as “The God Book” is in part a recognition that the substantive, doctrinal aspects that permeate his work have gone unnoticed by his reviewers.

In this dissertation, I intend to offer a corrective to this lacuna in Tracy studies. Two questions guide this research. First, what are the focal points of David Tracy’s theological anthropology? Second, how does his work in this area develop from and contribute to the broader contemporary Christian and Catholic conversation about theological anthropology?

The dissertation’s thesis is that Tracy’s anthropology engages various traditional categories in Christian theological anthropology from a perspective characterized by liminality, plurality, and ambiguity in human life. This perspective profoundly shapes the four dominant foci of Tracy’s anthropology: finitude, relationality, sin, and grace. Tracy creatively develops these four foci from the broader tradition of theological anthropology in relation to limit-situations, pluralism, and tragedy.

So that's exciting. I know you will all rush out to Borders to buy a copy as soon as it is released to the public, so I'm not worried about giving you a little foretaste here.

The main thing that this means is that, from here on out, until the final horn blows, I need to do some work on this every single day. Read some chapters, some articles, compile some sources, do some writing, have significant conversations with my interlocutors, whatever, something has to happen every day.

And writing on this blog doesn't count, although I hope it will be updated more frequently now that I've been approved.

Get excited, my friends. This is what we've all been waiting for

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Not a dissertation day

Yes, it's true, this post has nothing to do with the diss. Perhaps the saddest part about that is it means there's no haiku in this post. At least not one at the top.

The theme for next year's annual Catholic Theological Society of America conference is "All the Saints". On the description sheet they included with the packet at this last year's conference, there was a mention of interest in papers that analyze the (potential) relationship between saints and celebrities.

Obviously, this is a topic that was invented for me. Unfortunately, in the call for papers the CTSA posted, there is no explicit mention of it. There are a couple of sessions I think it could be shoe-horned into, and I could possibly even propose a special session on it. And believe me, I will find a way to submit my proposal. All I'm saying is I'm glad the planners shared an intuition with me, I just wish they had followed through on it.

Proposals are due Sept 1, and I shouldn't have any trouble putting one together by then. I've recently started reading Gezim Alpion's book on this topic with respect to Mother Teresa. He's a sociologist, not a theologian, so I think it will be interesting to see what he says. I think his emphasis is more on the celebrity aspect, and I'm hoping to write more about the similarities between sanctity and celebrity. Nonetheless, it's a good starting point.

The other question I'm debating about it is whether to write my paper as a response to his book, and in that case focus on Mother Teresa, or to instead use some of his work to focus on a different figure.

It should be awesome, either way.

Mother Teresa
A saint, or celebrity?
I seek holiness

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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Dissertation Day, #129

Labor in silence
Texts rain down like missioned leaves
Thesis equals life

Ah dear friends, the way of the dissertation continues. So many things have happened over the last nearly three months that I am unable to fill you in on all of them. Perhaps, then some highlights are in order?

* Prof Hinsdale has agreed to direct for me. Prof Goizueta has agreed to be a reader, and I believe soon so shall Prof Lawrence. Committee, thou are formed.

* The project has shifted, slightly, to a more intent focus on David Tracy's theological anthropology. I still want to study media and theology, and this will peer in that direction, but I wish all the more fervently to finish this project in under two years. Thesis indeed equals life, in that upon its completion I will embark for new shores.

* I had a chance to speak with David Tracy in person and by phone in April and May, and he is supportive of the project overall. He has confirmed that he in does in fact have a theological anthropology, and that no one that he knows of in the United States is working on this topic.

* I went to the Catholic Theological Association of America's annual conference, where several people of repute expressed interest in my work. I also had a chance to catch up with fan favorites Tom O'Meara and Vincent Miller, who have both been very kind and generous teachers to me.

* I am, at present, ankle deep in Tracy's most famous book, The Analogical Imagination, and expect to conquer it entirely over the next week.

* As part of my studies of Tracy, I have joined a small group of students who are wrestling with Bernard Lonergan, and especially his epic tome Insight. We are currently covering some of the articles in Collection in preparation for the larger work.

* Lastly, and arguably most importantly, I have begun the David Tracy page on Wikipedia. It is very limited at the moment, so please feel free to help with that.

More thoughts to come soon. Furthermore, for those of you in the twitterverse, you can now get information about updates to this blog from

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Dissertation, Day #46

One question, two years
Has it been formulated?
Internal debate

After a little more than a month of reading, note-taking, and conversation, I have arrived at something resembling the guiding question for my dissertation research. As you might note, there are still some decisions to be made about wording and particulars, but here's its current state:

"How does the growing role of electronic media (TV/internet) in contemporary Western/American society influence and contribute to a (Roman) Catholic understanding of the human person"

Further, the theologian whose texts will provide the most fodder for this will be David Tracy, esteemed emeritus professor of the University of Chicago's Divinity School. Obviously there will be many other thinkers to draw on and engage with, and I have lots of questions left to pose and to answer. But this seems like a good start.

I have a meeting with a potential diss director on Wednesday, so high hopes there.

And of course, any thoughts or suggestions people have on this would be appreciated.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dissertation, Day #34

The forest bird's song
So lovely, so transient
My thesis slips away

Hard to believe I've at least technically been working on the dissertation for a month. I have written nothing. I have outlined nothing. I have met with only two professors. I have not worked out a moderately formal statement of my guiding question. I am still loathe to talk to people who ask "so what is your dissertation on?" I am happy to report "theology and media," and sometimes to even go further and say "how media culture shapes the human person," yet I still am vacillating on what theologians to use, what method to pursue, what questions in anthropology to focus on, and so forth. I know that I have time, but I don't want to dick around forever.

The truth is, exams are still a recent memory. I took time off, I read novels, I had fun, but on some level I'm still a little burnt out from exams and from grading for the class I TA for. And as summer approaches, I need to apply for jobs and find a way to make some dollar bills. So much is going on.

But this is fine. I work best under duress, in crisis. I need to schedule some meetings, submit some applications, read some books, and kick some ass. Time to go do that.