Augustine and the Art of Not Yet

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“I had been putting off the moment when by spurning earthly happiness I would clear space in my life to search for wisdom; yet even to seek it, let alone find it, would have been more rewarding than discovery of treasure or possession of all the world’s kingdoms, or having every bodily pleasure at my beck and call. I had been extremely miserable in adolescence, miserable from its very onset, and as I prayed to you for the gift of chastity I had even pleaded, “Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet.”

Good news! Tomorrow we’ll release our long-awaited podcast episode on St. Augustine and his amazing book, The Confessions. You can prepare by revisiting our episode on The New Testament or our episodes on Greek tragedy.

Greek Tragedy? Yes indeed. It turns out that St. Augustine was a great chronicler of tragedy. He went to see them, wept and mourned, and then agonized over what it all meant.

I have to say, I recalled reading Augustine with interest many years ago, but this time I was simply blown away. His intellectual honesty, his precision in describing his struggle, his humor, his humility…it’s a great, great book.

A fun episode – make sure you subscribe on iTunes (or Stitcher) so you don’t miss a thing!

The History of Literature Episode 41: Reading The New Testament as Literature (with Professor Kyle Keefer)

Charles Dickens called the New Testament “the very best book that ever was or ever will be known in the world.” Thomas Paine complained that it was a story “most wretchedly told,” and argued that anyone who could tell a story about a ghost or even just a man walking around could have written it better. What are the New Testament’s literary qualities? What can we gain from studying the New Testament as a literary work? Professor Kyle Keefer, author of The New Testament as Literature – A Very Short Introduction, joins host Jacke Wilson to discuss what it means to read the New Testament as literature.

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The History of Literature 2A – The Book of Job (Bonus Episode)

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Why does an all-good, omnipotent God permit pain and suffering among the innocent? Jacke Wilson takes a look at the masterful Book of Job.

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Sneak Preview: The Most Bewildering Book in the Bible

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Bonus episode tomorrow: we look at the Book of Job and the fascinating question of why a good, all-powerful God permits pain and suffering. And what happens when a lowly human dares to ask this question? The dialogue between God and Job is without a doubt one of the greatest moments in all of literature.

Joan Acocella offers some thoughts on the significance of the book and the reasons why it still fascinates today:

I believe that if you woke a lot of people in the middle of the night, and asked them why they cared about the Book of Job, they would name the most troubling, least sympathetic character in that document: God. He, not Job, is the star of the Book, and though he is not loving or fair, that seems to be part of the attraction.

Image credit: William Blake’s “Behemoth and Leviathan,” creatures of an all-powerful God. courtesy Morgan Library & Museum (newyorker.com).

History of Literature Episode 2 – The Hebrew Bible

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Examining the literary qualities of the most successful religious text in the history of the world.

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Sneak Preview: The Greatest Character in All of Literature?

Is this the greatest character in all of literature? Continue reading

Today’s Comment of the Week: The Folder of Laundry!

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Wonderful Reader [or I guess Wonderful Listener] R listens to Episode 2 of The Jacke Wilson Show and writes:

I love your whole thing about philosophers and drug effects. I had to laugh as you explained some Conte-crazed college kid jumping on a table and making some life-changing announcement. It’s amazing how ideas can MOVE people. Also thoroughly enjoyed your two segments. Honestly, just the idea of some deep-sea fish spending it’s life in darkness, unrealized by humans, BLOWS MY MIND. And the “Sign” is great. The ending is tricky with these epiphany stories. I feel they go one of two ways: Either the sign is real and he is right, or the sign is fake and the story tries to drop the other sarcastic shoe just as the reader is getting her hopes up. But your ending was much more thoughtful than either of these, and honestly I stopped what I was doing (folding laundry!) just to listen. Jacke’s reaction to the insurance lady is just hysterical! I love it! Thank you for your work, always nice to meet a fellow thinker 😉

This is so much fun for me! I don’t know why I started a podcast, other than I enjoy listening to them myself and I thought it would be a good way to try to connect with other people. Maybe to entertain, maybe make some people think. Maybe throw some ideas out into the world and see if anyone is as crazy as me.

I have a noisy household and a full-time job, so I have to record these things at 4 in the morning. (Also known as “Writing Time.”) The oddest thing about the process is not having an audience. Well, writing is like that too, but recording a podcast is even stranger, at least for me.

After I released Episode 1, I got some wonderful feedback, including some very warm comments from some longtime friends of the Jacke blog. And now this! To think that someone stopped what they were doing to listen – well, readers, I hate to admit this, but it got a little dusty in Jacke’s world today. You have to remember how many years I spent basically writing for no audience other than a few friends and family. I’ve talked about this before; it’s not something I need to go into again, other than to say how THANKFUL I am for each and every listener, reader, commenter, emailer, and generally receptive human being.

The world is a little less lonely, the sense of community feels a little stronger today. Thank you!

You can listen to the Beatles, philosophers, prehistoric fish, and all the other epiphanies here:

Download the mp3 file: The Jacke Wilson Show 1.2 – Perception and the Mind

You can also download The Jacke Wilson Show 1.1 – the Halloween Episode or listen to it here:

PS: When I thought about the last time I gushed with appreciation over a reader’s comment, I thought to myself, “Well, it’s been about a year since I did that, so it’s probably okay to do it again.” Then I found the link and realized it was LAST MONTH. Stay with me, people! I’m not always so sentimental!

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #25: The Equation

My mother appeared in the doorway and my stomach fell. What was she doing at my algebra class? In my high school, in the middle of the day? This was exciting—it was my mother, she was here to see me—but it also felt dangerous.

Years earlier, my best friend’s mother had shown up one day wearing the same expression. We had been in gym class then, playing bombardment. From across the gym, I watched my friend jog toward his mother and disappear around the corner of the stage. Where was he headed? Somewhere cool?

No. He missed school for the next four days. Our teacher mentioned that Bobby, sadly, was attending his grandfather’s funeral.

And now this: I was in the ninth grade, my mother was here, it was me who walked out of the normal world and into the unknown. In the hallway she confirmed my worst fear. My grandfather had had a heart attack. She and my father were on their way to the hospital. I should go home by myself and wait there until they got back.

“Will he be okay?” I asked.

Continue reading

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #20: The Sign

I was in my twenties and working yet another dead end job. You know how it is. Overworked. Overtired. Undervalued.

I simply could not believe that this was all there was to life. And then what? Death. Oblivion. So it was this and then that. Wow.

Or was there a Heaven to look forward to? Who knew? And what good was Heaven if we couldn’t count on it?

I decided it was time to demand a little more from the Deity.

I had not prayed since childhood. But that day, during my lunch break, I formulated what seemed like a reasonable request:

God, You have given me many trials and tribulations. I can make it through these. But I need to know that You exist. I just need to know.

I was surprised by the immediate response. Words resounded through my body like thunder.

YOU DON’T GET TO KNOW.

Continue reading

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #18 – The Monopoly Game Piece

When I was young, my class took a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. On the way back from Chicago we stopped at a McDonald’s, and along with the meal everyone received a Monopoly game piece. It was a small square piece of cardboard with the monocle man – Uncle Pennybags – on the front and two perforated tabs running down each side. On the back were rules and the red text in the Monopoly font. And the magic words:

WIN $1,000,000

Everyone else tore theirs open. A couple of kids won – a small fries, an apple pie. I put mine in my pocket and got busy with other things. I had a meal to eat, friends to hang out with – I don’t know why I didn’t open mine. I just didn’t.

I was astonished by the reaction. On the bus, everyone went crazy with the rumor – I hadn’t opened mine yet! What was in there? What was I waiting for?

For some reason this made me decide not to open it. I didn’t want to be on display. I figured I’d open it later. So I refused.

By the time we returned to the school parking lot I was surrounded by other kids.

“When you gonna open it?”

“Yeah, when? Come on.”

“I might not,” I said. “I might never open it.”

“Come on. S’amillion dollars.”

They could not fathom my refusal. People got angry. They did not forget about it. I waited. Days went by, then a week, then another, until I began to realize that it meant more unopened than opened. It was a one in 80 million chance of winning the big prize – infinitesimal odds I could live with defying – and who cared about the smaller prizes? Not opening it was worth more than a small Coke.

I kept it in my wallet. I never brought it up. Once in a while a rumor would spread that I’d opened it, and I would produce the piece to verify that I hadn’t.

I became a freak: the kid who turned down a million dollars. The rumor spread to other schools. At parties I’d be pointed at – yeah, that’s the guy. The guy with the Monopoly thing. Never opened it. He’ll show it to us if we bug him about it.

The toughest kid in school grabbed me one day and shoved me against a locker. Continue reading

On Digitization, Democracy, and Dignity

Several times now we’ve referred to the dignity of small audiences in arguing for self-publishing as a worthy endeavor, which should be celebrated rather than stigmatized. I’m glad to see the great Jeremy Waldron (incidentally a former professor of mine, and one of my favorites) has come out with a new book on the subject. As Samuel Moyn of The Nation summarizes:

In Dignity, Rank, and Rights, Jeremy Waldron—perhaps the leading legal and political philosopher of our day—argues that the notion of human dignity originated in the democratization of the high social status once reserved for the well-born.

Here we go! Self-publishing is not discussed in Moyn’s long article tracing the origins and development of dignity, but it’s easy to draw the parallel, especially when you connect dignity with democracy. In citing a particularly rousing passage from Moby-Dick, Moyn gets a little tangled up in his arguments and, in my opinion, misses Melville’s point:

Men may seem detestable as joint stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and meagre faces, but man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes…. [T]his august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. [It is] that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!

Moyn finds these references to kings and God as “strange,” since Ishmael has previously mocked the godly dignity of kings and their coronations.

But as someone who has gone on the record taking the side of the slushpile against the smelling-salts crowd, the contradiction does not strike me as strange at all. Publishing books is a great thing. That’s why it should be more widespread.

(Too bad for Melville I read this a few weeks too late. Might have given him a plus two in the Great Novella Tournament of Champions.)