Archive for June 6th, 2010

Summer books

I’ve really been enjoying these last weeks since I finished the spring semester. In particular, I’ve had the time to read some really great books–without the pressure of assignment or deadline! Here is what I have been reading:

The Italian Actress by Frank Lentricchia

This short novel is by a literature professor at Duke with whom I am taking a class on ‘modernism’ in the fall semester. Here is the description on the back cover of the book (it sounds fairly horrific, but it was actually a rather enlightening and tasteful read):

“Set in Italy, Frank Lentricchia’s sixth novel features a has-been Italian American filmmaker, once internationally acclaimed for the beauty of his images and his experiments in pornography but now stuck in prolonged creative drought. At an obscure film festival in Volterra he meets the aging but still stunning Claudia Cardinale, star of Fellini’s 8½. She falls in love with him, but he resists, yet all the while wanting not to resist. Instead of remaining with Cardinale, he casts his lot with a perverse but compelling couple who convince him that he can regain his renown and achieve artistic immortality if he will only make a new film starring the two of them–an explicitly sexual film of shocking violence.

The Italian Actress is a meditation, by turns lyrical and bluntly brutal, on our obsession with celebrity, ambition, the cult of youthful beauty, romantic desire, the aging body, mortality, the power of the visual image, and underneath it all, the nature of visuality itself.”

Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas

This was simply delightful. I’ve been reading Hauerwas for a number of years now, and this book tells the endearing story of how this “son of a brick-layer Texan” came to be one of the most influential theologians of the last thirty years. Especially enjoyable was reading about Hauerwas’ account of the friendships that made his life possible and led him to the surprising conclusion that he is, in fact, a Christian. I was privileged to be able to take a class with Hauerwas this semester, allowing me to experience first hand the personality that makes this book such an enjoyable read.

Race: A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter

This one I’ve been waiting to read for quite some time. Again, it a book written by a professor whom I will be taking a class with in the fall. It was a challenging and dense read, and it certainly has changed some of my fundamental assumptions and convictions about Christianity, culture, theology and race. The book’s argument is simply profound. Here is the product description from Amazon:

“In Race: A Theological Account, J. Kameron Carter meditates on the multiple legacies implicated in the production of a racialized world and that still mark how we function in it and think about ourselves. These are the legacies of colonialism and empire, political theories of the state, anthropological theories of the human, and philosophy itself, from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment to the present.

Carter’s claim is that Christian theology, and the signal transformation it (along with Christianity) underwent, is at the heart of these legacies. In that transformation, Christian anti-Judaism biologized itself so as to racialize itself. As a result, and with the legitimation of Christian theology, Christianity became the cultural property of the West, the religious ground of white supremacy and global hegemony. In short, Christianity became white. The racial imagination is thus a particular kind of theological problem.

Not content only to describe this problem, Carter constructs a way forward for Christian theology. Through engagement with figures as disparate in outlook and as varied across the historical landscape as Immanuel Kant, Frederick Douglass, Jarena Lee, Michel Foucault, Cornel West, Albert Raboteau, Charles Long, James Cone, Irenaeus of Lyons, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor, Carter reorients the whole of Christian theology, bringing it into the twenty-first century.”

Marxism and Form: Twentieth Century Dialectical Theories of Literature by Fredric Jameson

This book by another Duke professor was recommended to me by a friend who is doing research on John Howard Yoder and Marxism for his dissertation. I’ve been drawn lately to literary theory and its relationship to cultural analysis and criticism, and this book was certainly a ‘baptism by fire’ sort of introduction into the field. Jameson gives an account of the major Marxist theorists of the twentieth century–T.W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, Ernst Bloch, Georg Lukács, and Jean-Paul Sartre–and constructs a framework for analyzing the connection between art and the very historical conditions that provide the context and possibility for its making.


On another note, I’ve been enjoying my internship so far. For the first time in a while, I’ve been spending consistent and significant time outdoors. I am enjoying the farm at the camp–especially eating vegetables that I personally dug out of the ground–and I was even able to do a ropes course. If I recall correctly, it has literally been 20 years since I last flew down a zip-line. I’ve also, for the first time, been leading worship, which has proved a fruitful challenge and learning experience. So far its only been for the group of twenty or so counselors who arrived last week.  I’ll let you know how it all turns out, as camp officially starts on June 11.


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