Posts tagged with: literature

Ender_WigginOne of the recurring themes in Ender’s Game is the dynamic surrounding Ender Wiggin’s apparent uniqueness: he was, it seems, quite literally born for the purpose of ending the conflict with the Formics. The source material as well as the film released last week raise moral questions surrounding what we might call “bloody callings” quite pointedly.

A popular quote from Frederick Beuchner sets a helpful framework for discussing the question of whether there can be legitimate callings to offices that require violence. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” says Beuchner. Alissa Wilkinson has helpfully pointed out something that Beuchner’s quote omits: our skills. The world may need something that we enjoy attempting to provide, but we may be no good at providing it. Wilkinson consider the case of the aspiring writer, but her observations apply to any pursuit.

Ender’s skills, if we might call them that, are apparently uniquely suited for competitive achievement. As his name suggests, he ends things. Ender embodies total victory. So how does Ender fit within this threefold requirement for discerning vocation?
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The other night, I sat down with my kids to read one of my favorite Rudyard Kipling poems, “The Camel’s Hump,” a remarkable 19th-century takedown of 21st-century couch-potato culture.

With typical color and wit, Kipling takes aim at idleness, decrying “the hump we get from having too little to do” — “the hump that is black and blue.” Kipling proceeds to elevate labor, noting that hard work refreshes the soul and reinvigorates the spirit: “The cure for this ill is not to sit still / Or frowst with a book by the fire / But to take a large hoe and a shovel also / And dig till you gently perspire.”

The illustrations in my 1949 version of the poem offer additional flair to Kipling’s contrast, aptly showing what can happen, physically and spiritually, if we do or don’t get our hands dirty. But don’t let the boy’s youthfulness fool you: “We all get the hump / Cameelious hump / Kiddies and grown-ups, too!”

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Page-2-Camel

 [The above pages are taken from Volume 2 of the 1949 Childcraft collection, Storytelling and Other Poems.]

zombie-cartoon-will-work

“Mmm…neoliberalism.”

One of the more curious cultural movements in recent years has been the increasing interest in zombies, and in particular the dystopian visions of a world following the zombie apocalypse.

Part of the fascination has to do, I think, with the value of thought experiments in speculation about such futures, however improbable. There may be something to be learned from gazing into a sort of fun house mirror, the distorted image of humanity as seen in zombies.

But zombies have not only captured the popular imagination. They have also become the object of academic (or at least ‘intellectual’) discourse.

Peter Paik, for instance, has a working paper at SSRN on “The Walking Dead” as an exploration of attempts to escape the “state of nature,” characterized by pessimism regarding “a better future and the fear of moving beyond an economic system that permits unlimited acquisition.” Neoliberalism is for Paik the defining feature of the run-up to the zombie apocalypse, which might say more about the captivity of academic discourse to dominant modes of cultural interpretation than anything of value about real-world political economy: “The mindless, undead ghoul that consumes the flesh of human beings lends itself almost too easily as a metaphor about our current economic predicament.”

One of the takeaways from the surprisingly (at least to me) interesting World War Z has to do with a central insight into post-apocalyptic political economy, and is a word of caution pace Paik concerning the relative valuation of a “neoliberal” order. At one point, Gerry Lane’s wife Karin appeals to Gerry (Brad Pitt) to talk to his friend, Thierry, an official with the UN. Gerry response: “Thierry isn’t in charge of anything anymore.”
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Is the morality of an act solely based on the intentions of the person acting?  Moviegoers may get some insight into this question when Ender’s Game is released in theaters Nov. 1.

Orson Scott Card’s classic Ender’s Game book series began in 1985 with its most well known first installment, winning the Nebula and Hugo Awards for best science fiction novel.  The book tells the story of an alien invasion, where the world’s population prepares for an imminent second attack by training as many specialized soldiers as possible.  Most of these special soldiers are children, honing their skills on an orbiting space station in zero gravity simulations called “Battle School.”  Ender is a potentially gifted future commander, selectively bred by the International Fleet, the organization combating the alien force.  The book follows Ender’s journey through the beginning of Battle School.

In an interesting essay on Ender as a killer from the International Review of Science Fiction, John Kessel concludes that Ender is far too innocent for someone who commits murder and violent acts in the book (warning: this essay contains many spoilers if you have not read the book).  John makes some good points, illustrating the expertise of Card in encouraging the reader to root for the “innocent killer.”  The book’s story is even more potent when you add the fact that Ender is abused during most of his life, partly because he is a third child when couples are only allowed to have two.  Does the reader root for the “murdering savior,” or is Card content in saying that committing immoral deeds in ignorance is acceptable?  These questions and more are addressed in the rest of the Ender series.

…when you write without deliberately expressing moral teachings, the morals that show up are the ones you actually live by. The beliefs that you don’t even think to question, that you don’t even notice– those will show up. And that tells much more truth about what you believe than your deliberate moral machinations.

–Orson Scott Card

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Not Quite Alone in the Wilderness,” I examine the intergenerational infrastructure of innovation and civilization through the lens of Richard “Dick” Proenneke, whose efforts to build a cabin in the Alaskan wild, alone and by hand, are recorded in the popular documentary, often featured on PBS.

Here’s a clip that gives an extended introduction into the project:

As Proenneke says, “I was alone, just me and the animals.” In his recent book Redeeming Economics, John Mueller relates how classical economists would often use the fictional example of Robinson Crusoe, who was shipwrecked on an island and left to survive alone, to get at the anthropological knowledge necessary for a coherent political economy. In this week’s piece, I do something like this with Proenneke, whose experiment has the advantage of being something that actually happened.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 22, 2013

DenethorI’m reading through the Lord of the Rings trilogy with my son, and there’s a striking exchange between Gandalf and Denethor in The Return of the King. Gandalf has just arrived with Pippin from Rohan, and the two have been admitted into an audience with the Steward of Gondor.

As Denethor says of himself to Gandalf, “Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.”

To this Gandalf responds, “Unless the king should come again? Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see. In that task you shall have all the aid that you are pleased to ask for. But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”

Consider this claim not only in contrast with the decadent stewardship of Denethor, who conflates the particular good of his realm with the common good of Middle-earth, but also with respect to the corruption of Saruman. For as the resurrected Gandalf the White says, “Indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been.”

For a funny look at what Gandalf’s stewardship responsibility amounts to in the LOTR, check out the “Gandalf Problem Solving” flowchart (HT: Jon Acuff):Gandalf Problem Solving Flowchart

Update: Rev. Jensen has posted part 2 of his review. You can read it here.

Rev. Gregory Jensen, who writes at the Koinonia blog, recently reviewed Rev. Robert Sirico and Jeff Sandefer’s new book A Field Guide for the Hero’s Journey.

This is what he had to say about it:

Prudence along with justice, temperance and courage, is a cardinal virtue. Unfortunately as contemporary Western culture has become more secularized it has formed generations of men and women who are deaf to the music of human virtue.  Many of us embrace a vision of human life that counsel spontaneity not habit as the mark of a life well and fully lived.  And since any discussion of virtue necessarily brings with it a discussion of tradition such a conversation is an affront to the atomistic individualism that is at the center of contemporary culture.

And as I read [Hero's Journey] something unexpected and wonderful happened—I began to see myself in a new light. (more…)

Rev. Robert Sirico, President of the Acton Institute and Jeff Sandefer, entrepreneur, teacher and educational innovator, have co-authored the new book, “The Field Guide to the Hero’s Journey: inspirational classics and practical advice from a serial entrepreneur and an entrepreneurial priest”. The book is set to be released in early December.

Rev. Sirico and Mr. Sandefer sat down to discuss their collaboration.

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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sam Gregg’s response to President Obama’s latest invocation of the “my brother’s keeper” motif brings out one of the basic problems with applying this biblical question to public policy. As Gregg points out, the logic of the president’s usage points to the government as the institution of brotherly love:

But who is the “I” that President Obama has in mind? Looking carefully at his speech, it’s most certainly not the free associations and communities that Alexis de Tocqueville thought made 19th-century America so different and alive when compared to his own already state-centric native France. No: Our number-one “keeper,” in our president’s mind, is the federal government.

To this idea that the president is the “keeper in chief,” I echo the question attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who guards the guards? Who watches the watchmen?

Or more to the point: Who keeps the keepers?

I remember in a seminary class a student ripped into all the flaws and translation mistakes that mark the Authorized 1611 version of the King James Bible. The professor, of course well aware of any flaws in the translation, retorted that it was good enough for John Wesley and the rest of the English speaking world for well over three centuries. The professor made the simple point that it was the standard English translation for so long and there is really no way to diminish the depth of its impact upon the world and the English language. This week marks the 400th anniversary of the translation.

“Reap the whirlwind,” “a law unto themselves,” “labor of love,” and “the root of all evil” are just a few examples of vernacular expressions given to us through the King James translation. Its impact on political freedom, literature, and music is indeed deep. Those in the Protestant tradition should know the stories of the English translators, like William Tyndale, from which the King James Version is largely shaped. The path that translated the Scriptures into English was purchased with blood and often violent martyrdom.

In Benson Bobrick’s book Wide as the Waters: The story of the English Bible and the Revolution it Inspired, he says of the translation:

In the end, the King James Version was such a book, wrote Macaulay (In his essay on Dryden) that ‘if everything else in our language should perish it would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.’ Its subsequent impact on English (and American) literature might be traced in a thousand ways – in the work of religious writers like Milton and Bunyan, or their more secular brethren like D.H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman, and Defoe. Without the King James Version, it has been said, ‘there would be no Paradise Lost , no Pilgrim’s Progress, no Negro spirituals, no Gettysburg Address.’

On Christmas Eve in 1968, Apollo 8 crew members Jim Lovell and Frank Borman took turns reading from the first ten verses of Genesis. The footage of earth from a brand new vantage point captivated viewers across the world. It was the largest television viewing audience ever at the time. Below is Lovell and Borman reading from the King James Version: