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On the Nature of Things, Lucretius

July 21, 2013

ImageThis was a syllabus requirement in one of the best graduate courses I’ve taken thus far—we were grappling with incredibly complex ideas (the nature of humans, the various ways people have defined human [male, free, white, straight, desiring, etc]) and reading primary sources to fuel our conversations. So we read Plato and Lucretius and Marx and Lee Edleman and Judith Butler and many more. It was terrifying. And it was amazing. Instead of reading about the brilliant minds—instead of ceding the authority to the scholars to tell us what they meant—WE were the scholars. Wow.

Isn’t this beautiful?

But shining grainfields sprout, and twigs grow green
on trees; the trees grow, too, and bear their fruits;
hence our kind and the animal kind are fed,
hence we see happy cities bloom with children
and leafy woods all filled with young bird-song;
hence flocks wearied with fat lay themselves down
out in fertile fields, and bright white liquor
leaks from their swollen teats; hence newborn lambs
gambol on wobbly legs through tender grass,
their baby hearts tipsy with winy milk.
Things seem to perish, then, but they do not:
nature builds one from another, and lets no thing
be born unless another helps by dying. (251-264)

Also this:

But now on sea and land and in high heaven
before our eyes we see things moving, here,
there, everywhere, but if there were no void,
they’d not so much be lacking speed and movement
as never, in reason, have come to be at all
in a world of matter tight-packed and motionless. (340-345)

In Angels in America, the angel screams for the humans to just STOP MOVING! It’s the fault of all of the moving that has created the rumbling in heaven, the earthquake in San Francisco, the absence of God.

Lucretius says motion is possible because of voids mixed in with the matter. I can’t move forward if a solid wall is in front of me. But to take that a slightly different way, perhaps it is the void that causes the movement. Desire, the attempt to incorporate something else into yourself (I’m not talking, strictly, about sex, which is, of course, always only an approximation anyway. I think any time you put an object on that sentence—any time it becomes “I desire [ ]” instead of “I desire”, we’ve begun speaking in metaphors.) But that desire, desire with a capital D, causes movement. My thinking here is influenced by Lacan’s mirror—we’re always seeking the regaining of that lost, fleeting self-recognition, that knowledge of whole-ness. And so the attempts to incorporate the other into our void [Desire], compelling motion.

And that’s what I think, on this broilingly hot Sunday in July.

Plot Junkie: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Rhoda Janzen

July 16, 2013

Although my chosen poison is anything lit by gaslight*, every now and then I fall into a memoir and come out blinking on the other side, feeling as if I’ve traveled the length and breadth of another’s experience. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, though, was not that book. Her experience– growing up in a Mennonite family–was the closest equivalent to my childhood in a fundamental Baptist family that I’ve come across.

Brighten the Corner Where You Are” and “Ship Ahoy” over breakfast? check. (The “Ship Ahoy” video is from the college that I graduated from. Awesome.) Embarrassingly long khaki and denim skirts? check. Absolute terror of the opposite gender (without really knowing anything at all about sex)? check. Prohibitions on co-ed exercise, dance, swimsuits and jeans? check.

Janzen, though, has infinitely more grace about her past than I’ve been able to muster. After a stunningly devastating chain of events, she retreats for a few months to her family home; her observations are a blend of the complete confidence of an insider with the outsider perspective of advanced education and extended absence. She’s somehow overcome–or doesn’t resent–the past (one never gets the impression that she was all that scarred by it, rather, that it was just a somewhat unusual origin story) and is able to be objective about the strengths and foibles of her family and the community.

And it’s funny! Crazy funny. Laugh out-loud at 6am funny. Highly, highly recommended.

*Books about either the era or the syndrome. I’m a sucker for either.

July 4, 2013


they give me permission to do the same

July 1, 2013

they give me permission to do the same

With Liberty and Justice for All

June 26, 2013


The Supreme Court just overturned DOMA. I’m proud to be an American.

Waiting for history to happen

June 25, 2013

all-rights-for-allThe Supreme Court will vote on Proposition 8 and DOMA tomorrow, both landmark cases affecting same-sex marriage rights. Here are a few resources if you haven’t been keeping up:

  • This SCOTUSblog post summarizes the cases, the issues, the implications, and the stated or assumed positions of the Supreme Court justices, in plain(ish) English. Start here.
  • The New York Times shared this chart of the possible decisions available to the Supreme Court and the ensuing ramifications.
  • Most informative: this interactive map, also created by The New York Times, which shows how the possible decisions on each case will affect the various states (i.e. if DOMA passes and Prop 8 is struck down, what happens? [answer: the states with same-sex marriage would keep it, those unions would now be recognized by the federal government.])
  • PolicyMic‘s examination of the authority invoked by SCOTUS to hear these cases
  • CNNMoney‘s analysis of the economic repercussions of passing DOMA.
  • And finally, a few reasons why you should support same sex marriage. This one is my favorite:

    Fosters True Freedom of Religion

    Freedom of religion allows a person or group to pursue the practice of their religion without governmental interference. It also protects those who do not follow a religion by shielding them from being forced to live in accordance with religious beliefs and values they do not agree with. The legalization of same-sex marriage is consistent with freedom of religion in that it removes from marriage laws religious notions that may have initially shaped those laws.

    There is no hierarchy of religions in a society which truly honors freedom of religion. Accordingly, the religious views of no one particular group should be given preference in the development of marriage laws. While some religions don’t support same-sex marriage, others certainly do support it. The most fair and ethical approach — which treats all people equally regardless of religious affiliation — is to factor out religious points of view when crafting marriage laws within a secular context.

June 23, 2013



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