Sunday, January 31, 2010

Looking Ahead: How is the Economic Downturn re-shaping The State of the Arts?

There is a tendency to think that art and economics have little to do with forming one another, but anyone with extended study into the matter knows that such a view is a flimsy left-over from the culture wars that put artists on one side and business people on the other.

Given this reality, a timely question is now being raised across artistic mediums regarding what effect the economic downturn will have in shaping the state of the arts.

You can catch a glimpse into the answer(s) to this question by taking a look at
this thoughtful article up this morning from
The New York Times on how the economic downturn has begun to affect the way that Broadway sets are being slimmed-down and streamlined - even in the genre which would seem most averse to such a move: the musical.

(The photo at right is from the Broadway run last fall of "A Steady Rain," with Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman. It was a show which was not only mostly about its stars, but where the set was profoundly minimal - and it's not alone in that respect across Broadway.)

Full Article Here // Excerpt Below

For the big Broadway musical, surviving the recession often means that the sets are rarely stars anymore.You don’t hear many audible gasps these days when the curtain rises, or when scenery transforms to reveal a theatrical vision.

You don’t hear many audible gasps these days when the curtain rises, or when scenery transforms to reveal a theatrical vision.

Not like the oohs and ahhs of audiences at Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals like “The King and I” in the 1950s, Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince productions like “Follies” and “Sweeney Todd” in the ’70s, or later spectacles like “Starlight Express,” with its roller-skating apparatus, and “Miss Saigon,” with its helicopter — neither of which, to be sure, was for everyone.

Instead, this season on Broadway some theatergoers and critics have been asking whether musicals have become increasingly cost-conscious with their visual artistry, and with mixed results.

The four major musical revivals so far this season — “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Ragtime” and “A Little Night Music” — were panned in some quarters for stage design that seemed thinly conceived or even flimsy.

Even the most commercially successful recent productions of musicals — “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” “Hair” and “West Side Story” — lean to the stripped-down, partly in hopes of highlighting the choreography and plot.

The drift toward smaller-is-better Broadway musicals will continue to be scrutinized through the spring, as producers and directors weigh whether scaled-down productions like “Hair,” which recouped its $5.8 million capitalization in five months, are a smarter way to go in this economy than extravaganzas like “Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark,” which delayed its February previews because of difficulty raising money for its estimated budget of $50 million.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"A Thug Theology" // Michael Eric Dyson discusses Tupac, Snoop Dogg and other Eminent Rappers in relation to Theology

The Washington Post has uploaded an absolutely fascinating and profoundly thought-provoking 15-minute video interview with leading thinker Michael Eric Dyson, of Georgetown University, discussing the relationship between Hip-Hop and Theology.

He makes connections and asks questions that you won't see coming. Please take 15 minutes to check this video out! Click here to begin.

A Call To Create "Kingdom-Focused Art"

Here is a thought-provoking mini-essay from Brian Campbell in Philadelphia of
Christian Community Development Association on the potential for developing communities through the arts. There are a number of interesting ideas in this piece, but Campbell's notion of "Kingdom-focused art" seems of particular importance.

Full Article Here // Excerpt Below

The most important aspect of imagining God’s flawless future is that it presses us to recognize the inadequacies of the present. This process of transcending ignorance to become aware of one’s own situation is called “conscientization.” Art can point out oppression, exclusion and vulnerability that would otherwise remain hidden in silence. And Kingdom-focused art cannot help but demonstrate that a community’s gloomy present is not its only option. Kingdom-focused art forces the artists and encourages the audience—which, again, must encompass the entire community—to visualize positive alternatives to the status quo.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

From Folk Music to the Musuem: Dylan's paintings on Display

Over the decades Bob Dylan has explored the borderlands between theology and the arts in nuanced, profound and unexpected ways. Whether it was spiritually charged political anthems like "Blowing in the Wind" in his early days, or his explicitly Christian albums (such as Shot of Love) from his born-again phase in the early 1980s, or his ghostly magisterial late-career magnum opus Modern Times in 2006, Dylan has been a master explorer of theological aesthetics. But did you know he can handle a brush just as well as a 6-string?

SPEAKEASY, The Wall Street Journal's arts blog, reported the following yesterday on Bob Dylan's paintings:

// Full Article Here // Excerpt Below //

The times may be a-changing, but Bob Dylan is still a maverick, in the traditional sense of the word.

The 68-year-old singer songwriter—who once declared, “All I can do is be me, whoever that is”—is now a serious painter. From Feb. 13, a collection of 12 canvases by Dylan will go on show at London’s Halcyon Gallery, with price tags that range from £85,000 ($137,000) to £450,000 ($727,000). The images capture moments from Dylan’s everyday life on tour – a motel pool, a staircase, a portrait of two sisters – and seem to take stylistic cues from the likes of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

The art exhibition isn’t Dylan’s first. A few years ago, a curator in the German town of Chemnitz came across “Drawn Blank,” a collection of drawings Dylan had sketched on tour from 1989-1992, which was published by Random House in 1994. The curator encouraged Mr. Dylan to transform the collection of sketches into paintings, and Chemnitz staged the first-ever exhibition of the singer’s paintings in 2007. The paintings on show at the Halcyon Gallery are the final installments in the “Drawn Blank Series” and the only ones on canvas (others were water-color and gouache on paper).

“He has been drawing all of his life; he is an artist in every sense of the word – a true artist,” said Paul Green, the director of the Halcyon Gallery. “I was really very pleasantly surprised and shocked at the caliber of the work and also the thought process behind it.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

At Duke Chapel: "Families of Abraham" photography exhibit reveals commonality of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

If you will be anywhere near Duke Chapel over the coming month, you simply must make time to take in the fantastic black/white photographic exhibit entitled "Families of Abraham" which explores the enduring meaning of Abraham, the common father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The photographs are found throughout the Chapel's cavernous sanctuary, quietly hovering as beacons of reconciliation.

To learn more about the exhibit itself and the curatorial work behind it, follow this link.

To learn more about the exhibit as it appears specifically at Duke Chapel, follow this link(excerpted below).

“Families of Abraham,” an exhibit of 180 photographs documenting the day-to-day life of Jewish, Christian and Muslim families, will be on display in Duke Chapel from early January through the end of February.

Admission is free and the exhibit can be viewed during regular visiting hours at the Chapel. More information about visiting the Chapel can be found or by calling (919) 681-9488.

“By bringing this exhibit to Duke Chapel, our hope is to promote understanding and opportunities for dialogue between people of faith,” said Sam Wells, dean of Duke Chapel.

The photographs in “Families of Abraham” feature Jewish, Christian and Muslim families who were willing to be photographed during their day-to-day lives for a year. There are depictions of many faith traditions such as weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and worship services, as well as major observances such as Yom Kippur, Easter and Ramadan.

This exhibit was first shown at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, N.C., in 2006. The curator, Eleanor Brawley, a photographer and poet from Charlotte, said the idea for this project came from learning that nearly half of humanity are Jews, Christians or Muslims, and claim the same ancestor -- Abraham.

Musicians Gather Around The World to Provide "HOPE FOR HAITI NOW"

Today, Friday (Jan. 22) will see musicians gather around the world in NYC, LA, London and elsewhere to raise money and offer existential uplift in support of relief efforts for Haiti. Read more via the MTV News report below:


"Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief," will air Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on MTV and many other networks. It will include performances by Madonna (performing in New York) and Haitian artist Emeline Michel (in Los Angeles), Wyclef Jean, Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, Shakira and Sting in New York; Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Dave Matthews, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift and a group performance by Keith Urban, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow in Los Angeles; and Beyoncé, Coldplay, and a special group performance of the new song "Stranded," which was written and recorded within the past few days for Haiti by the collaborative team of Bono, The Edge, Jay-Z and Rihanna to be performed in London.

Music performances from "Hope for Haiti Now" will be available for purchase and download on the iTunes Store. Beginning on Friday, iTunes customers will be able to exclusively pre-order both the Hope for Haiti Now full performance album ($7.99) and the full two-hour video telecast ($1.99). Pre-orders will be delivered in the days following the telethon. Individual audio performances will also be available for purchase and download for 99 cents each in the days following the telethon. Apple, the record labels and the artists will donate their share of the proceeds to Haiti relief funds managed by "Hope for Haiti Now" charities.

// // // //

UPDATE: MTV News reports Sunday (Jan. 24) the following:

'Hope For Haiti Now' Sets New Record For Money Raised By Disaster-Relief Telethon:

More than $58 million raised to date; album is biggest one-day pre-order in iTunes history.

As donations continue to pour in from around the world, "Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief" announced on Saturday (January 23) that it has raised more than $58 million to date — a new record for donations made by the general public through a disaster-relief telethon. The preliminary figure includes donations made via phone, online and mobile, and does does not include donations by corporations and large private donors, or iTunes sales figures, all of which are still being calculated.

The "Hope for Haiti Now" albumis the biggest one-day album pre-order in iTunes history and is currently the #1 iTunes album in 18 countries. The studio version of "Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour),"the original track performed by Bono, The Edge, Jay-Z and Rihanna during "Hope for Haiti Now," is currently the #1 song on iTunes in 12 countries.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti in Ink and Tears: A Literary Sampler

Over the weekend, Madison Smart Bell of The New York Times offered up a "literary sampler" of Haiti in order that the people of this suffering land might achieve a more genuine and complex humanity in the eyes of those looking in from the outside. Bell plays the role of editor in about 3/4 of the article, organizing the literary snippets under one-word themes like "song," "death," "grace," "longevity," "tenacity."

// Article in Full Here // Excerpt Below //

Haiti offers, keeps on offering, a shimmering panorama of visual art and a wealth of seductive and hypnotic music, much of it rooted in the rhythms of ceremonial drumming. For the past 50 years a remarkably vivid and sophisticated Haitian literature has been flowing out of Creole, an ever-evolving language as fecund as the English of Shakespeare’s time. The Haitian world is not all suffering; it is full of treasure. Here are a few of the many voices, native and not, inspired by Haiti.

Faith & Healing in Words and Images: The first Sunday in Haiti since the earthquake

The New York Times reported from Port-au-Prince yesterday on the first Sunday church services after the earthquake. Read their article (excerpted below) and watch a 2-minute video which accompanies the article.

// Excerpt Below // Video Here // Full Article Here //

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Five days after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, an evangelical pastor in a frayed polo shirt, his church crushed but his spirit vibrant, sounded a siren to summon the newly homeless residents of a tent city to an urgent Sunday prayer service.

Voice scratchy, eyes bloodshot, arms raised to the sky, the Rev. Joseph Lejeune urged the hungry, injured and grieving Haitians who gathered round to close their eyes and elevate their beings up and out of the fetid Champ de Mars square where they now scrambled to survive.“Think of our new village here as the home of Jesus Christ, not the scene of a disaster,” he called out over a loudspeaker.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

At Duke: King commemoration kicks off with lecture by famed film-maker Orlando Bagwell

Friday, January 15th, is the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In commemoration of his life's enduring inspiration, Duke University (along with universities across the USA) has scheduled a number of events beginning with a lecture by famed film-maker Orlando Bagwell (Eyes on the Prize, Citizen King) on January 15th at 6pm in the Richard White Lecture Hall on Duke's East Campus. The lecture is free and open to the public. Learn more about Bagwell's lecture and the other upcoming King-related events by visiting the site linked here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

At Duke Divinity on January 21st: Nicholas Wolterstorff's lecture “Through Beauty and the Aesthetic to Art in Life”

The first of Duke Divinity School's Distinguished Lectures in Theology and The Arts will be given by renowned scholar Nicholas Wolterstorff and will take place at Duke Divinity School in room 0014 (Westbrook) on Thursday, January 21st at 5:30pm. The title of his lecture is: "Through Beauty and the Aesthetic to Art in Life"

Professor Wolterstorff is Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University. DITA (which stands for: Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts) is directed by Dr. Jeremy Begbie. To learn more about Dr. Wolterstorff's lecture, upcoming lectures, as well as Dr. Begbie's larger vision for theology and the arts at Duke, visit the home site of DITA.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS!!! // The Second Annual Duke Divinity School Juried Visual Arts Exhibit

Duke Divinity School students, faculty, staff, alumni and their immediate families are invited to submit visual art pieces for the 2010 Duke Divinity School Juried Arts Exhibit. The exhibit will run from March 22nd through May 2nd in the Divinity School.

The theme under which this year's exhibit is curated is “The End of Words,” based upon the book of the same title by Richard Lischer. The theme may be interpreted broadly in a variety of ways and in a variety of media. New work is encouraged, but previous work may also be submitted. First, second, and third place entries will be awarded $200, $100, and $50 (respectively) in gift cards to the arts retailer/supplier of their choice.

There will also be an Artists’ Reception, open to all Duke Divinity School and the broader community, to celebrate all exhibit artists and their entries (Date/Time/Locale are TBA).

The Deadline for submissions is Thursday, March 18, 2010

Contact Duke Divinity School ThD candidate Laura Levens for more information

(Image at above right: Lena McGrath Welker, from her 2004 exhibit "Navigation Cycle" at the NDMOA which inquired into the end(s) of words as well as the nature, limits, potentialities and structure of communication.Artist Biography: Welker comes from Oregon and her work grew out of her early years as a weaver. She makes densely layered installations about language both written and musical. She is interested in how communication takes place without either words or musical notations. Learn more about her seminal 2004 exhibit, "Navigation Cycle" by clicking here.)


The exhibit "The End of Words" and its surrounding ancillary events are all sponsored, organized and produced by New Creation Arts Group (an official student group of the Divinity Student Council).Join us on facebook by clicking here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

NEW CREATION Asks: How might an informed theological aesthetic(s) help church-leaders in responding to technologically-induced "mini-generation gaps?"

As every church-leader knows, holding together your congregation as one body often takes blood, sweat, tears, and more blood, sweat, and tears. Differences caused by gender, class, race, income, sexual orientation, education, politics, ideology, etc. can not only hold a congregation back from realizing its greater potential as the body of Christ - it can cause it to implode altogether.

It is in the light of these inescapable realities of ministry that New Creation brings you this short but important new article suggesting that technology may be ushering in the emergence of "mini-generation gaps" which could be a cause for greater (and more subtle) rifts amongst those within congregations.

With all this mind, New Creation asks: What role could a robust and thoughtful theological aesthetic(s) play in helping churches adapt to these coming 'mini-generation gaps' wrought by the continuing onset of social media and the greater assimilation of technology into our everyday lives?

It's an important question as pastors are going to need, as always, every tool at their disposal to reconcile differences amongst their congregations. Certainly there is a role for the arts to play here, but what exactly might it be? Ruminate on these and other questions after reading Brad Stone's short article "The Children of Cyberspace."

Full Article Here // Excerpt Below

My 2-year-old daughter surprised me recently with two words: “Daddy’s book.” She was holding my Kindle electronic reader.

Here is a child only beginning to talk, revealing that the seeds of the next generation gap have already been planted. She has identified the Kindle as a substitute for words printed on physical pages. I own the device and am still not completely sold on the idea.

My daughter’s worldview and life will be shaped in very deliberate ways by technologies like the Kindle and the new magical high-tech gadgets coming out this year — Google’s Nexus One phone and Apple’s impending tablet among them. She’ll know nothing other than a world with digital books, Skype video chats with faraway relatives, and toddler-friendly video games on the iPhone. She’ll see the world a lot differently from her parents.

But these are also technology tools that children even 10 years older did not grow up with, and I’ve begun to think that my daughter’s generation will also be utterly unlike those that preceded it.

Researchers are exploring this notion too. They theorize that the ever-accelerating pace of technological change may be minting a series of mini-generation gaps, with each group of children uniquely influenced by the tech tools available in their formative stages of development.

“People two, three or four years apart are having completely different experiences with technology,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. “College students scratch their heads at what their high school siblings are doing, and they scratch their heads at their younger siblings. It has sped up generational differences.”

Novelist Clyde Edgerton on the importance of Narrative in Ministry and Leadership

A fascinating piece just up from Duke Divinity's Faith and Leadership on the importance of narrative within ministry and its potential import for leaders across the board.

Excerpt Below // Full Article Here

Clyde Edgerton spoke with Faith & Leadership about storytelling and imagination, teaching and preaching, how story-telling assumes uncertainty, as well as about the fascination of relationships that continue to inspire his own writing.

Edgerton, who teaches at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, has been a Guggenheim Fellow and is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Three of his novels have been made into movies and five have been listed as New York Times Notable Books. The plot of his first novel, “Raney,” revolves around the marriage of a Free Will Baptist and an Episcopalian. His latest book is “The Bible Salesman,” about the adventures of a Bible salesman and a car thief.

Edgerton grew up in a family with 23 aunts and uncles and was inspired to be a writer after hearing Eudora Welty read “Why I Live at the P.O.” What he heard in that story was the beauty and simplicity of the particular details that create relationships between people. His nine novels are filled with this kind of Southern storytelling.

Q: How should Christian leaders approach storytelling?

I think they should look at the parables of Jesus.

Q: Why?

Because the parables of Jesus are fascinating in that they often talk around a subject. They can be interpreted in different ways sometimes. And they usually are not telling you what to do or not to do.

Leaders tend to think that that’s their job to tell people what to do and what not to do. And you would think, if we look to someone like Jesus as a leader, there clearly are places where he tells you what to do and what not to do, but there clearly are places where he illustrates with a story. So I think illustrating with a story can engage.

Storytelling assumes uncertainty. Storytelling assumes that the other person is involved. When you tell a story you’re using your experience -- when you’re telling a story that you made up -- your experience, your observation, what you know about and you’re using your imagination. And when you tell that story, it lands on another human being who has his or her own experience, his or her own observation and knowledge and his or her own imagination. So it might not be the same story that left your mouth. And if you recognize that, life is much more exciting.

And I think that’s one of the truths about the parables of Jesus. They land on different sets of imaginations. So leading through a story recognizes right away that the way we are designed and made up is variable from one to the other. So, to order proclamations and directions may not set well and may not be as effective as storytelling.

But storytelling assumes story listening. By that I mean when I deliver my story, that might not be the end of it. Why should I not have a story told back to me and in doing so find out that my story did not work the way I had anticipated it? And thus I need to tell another story. Where I’m coming from, two-way communication is helpful in leadership.

NEW CREATION Asks: Is There A Role For Theology & The Arts To Play In Mediating The American Culture Wars?

Last weekend saw the arrival of a splendid and urgently important Op/Ed piece by one of the most thoughtful thinkers of our day, David Brooks of PBS and The New York Times.

The article, entitled "The Tea Party Teens", lays bare that 2009 was (among other things) a vicious return of America's "culture wars" in a rather zealous fashion, with a larger canyon opening up not only between left and right, but between the educated class and the rest of the nation. The crucial and practical question which Brooks' article leads New Creation to ask is: "In what ways might a thoughtful and creative theological aesthetic(s) be able to mediate, re-frame, and reconcile the American culture wars?"

It's a particularly important questions for pastors-to-be in the United States, as many will soon find themselves in congregations where this problem stares them in the face.

Ruminate on this question (as well as others) and probe for your own answers after reading Brooks' "The Tea Party Teens."

Full Article Here // Excerpt Below

The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year. The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.

In the near term, the tea party tendency will dominate the Republican Party. It could be the ruin of the party, pulling it in an angry direction that suburban voters will not tolerate. But don’t underestimate the deep reservoirs of public disgust. If there is a double-dip recession, a long period of stagnation, a fiscal crisis, a terrorist attack or some other major scandal or event, the country could demand total change, creating a vacuum that only the tea party movement and its inheritors would be in a position to fill. Personally, I’m not a fan of this movement. But I can certainly see its potential to shape the coming decade.

Architecture & Beyond: The High Cost of Ignoring Beauty

A recent Duke Divinity alumni passed along this fascinating article on architecture, "The High Cost of Ignoring Beauty" (which has distinct theological overtones) to New Creation last week! Thank You to Miss Seattle (and the beau by your side) for thinking of us! : )


Read the article in full by clicking here

Looking Ahead: In 2010, Chopin's bicentennial dominates performance landscape

The Los Angeles Times' arts blog Culture Monster notes the following:

"The dominant theme in the 2010 musical performance landscape is the Frederic Chopin bicentennial. More than 2,000 worldwide events will honor the beloved Polish composer and his elegiac piano scores. Chopin festivals abound seemingly everywhere: London, Rome, Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv, New York, Miami, Tucson, et al."

Friday, January 8, 2010

At Duke Divinity on January 21st: Nicholas Wolterstorff's lecture “Through Beauty and the Aesthetic to Art in Life”

The first of Duke Divinity School's Distinguished Lectures in Theology and The Arts will be given by renowned scholar Nicholas Wolterstorff and will take place at Duke Divinity School in room 0014 (Westbrook) on Thursday, January 21st at 5:30pm. The title of his lecture is: "Through Beauty and the Aesthetic to Art in Life"

Professor Wolterstorff is Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University. DITA (which stands for: Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts) is directed by Dr. Jeremy Begbie. To learn more about Dr. Wolterstorff's lecture, upcoming lectures, as well as Dr. Begbie's larger vision for theology and the arts at Duke, visit the home site of DITA.

Theology for Atheists?: For believers and atheists alike, the Biblical text remains as alluring, elusive, and urgently relevant as ever

Harold Bloom once commented that the God of the Bible has, "an awesome power to not go away," (in Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine) and while that statement may be contentious to some, this article (Theology for Atheists, by Nathan Schneider) from The Guardian certainly makes clear that the textual Bible no doubt has precisely such an awesome staying power - even for atheists.

Schneider's remarkable and short piece lays out the profound and seemingly infinite literary and political resources of the Bible, for believers and non-believers alike.

We, at New Creation, offer this article to you because of its implicit (as well as explicit) insights about the relationship between theology and literature - in this case, merged together within the Biblical text itself. The article also, subtly, asks the question of what sustained inquiry from different vantage points might mean for the future of theology and the arts.

Excerpt Below // Full Article Here

James Wood, a writer who himself has lived between the tugs of belief and unbelief, made an eloquent call in the New Yorker last August for "a theologically engaged atheism". Concluding a review of Terry Eagleton's recent attack on Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, he imagines something "only a semitone from faith [which] could give a brother's account of belief, rather than treat it as some unwanted impoverished relative."

At the American Academy of Religion meeting in Montreal last year, he may have gotten his wish, or something resembling it. Following an apocalyptic sermon from "death of God" theologian Thomas J.J. Altizer, to the podium came the ruffled Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, a self-described atheist and "materialist through and through", before an audience of religion scholars, theologians, and costumed adherents. He spoke of truths Christianity alone possesses and how Christ's death reveals that "the only universality is the universality of struggle." Atheism, he explained, is true Christianity, and one can only be a real atheist by passing through Christianity. "In this sense, I am unconditionally a Christian", said Žižek.

Taylor blends Photography, Theology, Philosophy, Family History, and Near-Death Experiences in Rocket's Arc of a Memoir

This past October saw the publishing of a new memoir by Mark Taylor (controversial public intellectual, prolific scholar, and chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University) which, in significant ways, breaks new ground for the genre.

Blending the clean gleam of academic philosophy and theology together with the ambiguous atmospherics of photography, the cacophony of a near-death experience and the muddiness of family history, Field Notes From Elsewhere: Reflections on Dying and Living is one book very much worth checking out!

As an appetizer to the book, this morning New Creation offers up an interview with Taylor conducted by Columbia University Press which concerns his new book.

Excerpt Below // Full Article Here

(Columbia University Press) Question: The book begins with an incredibly traumatic series of events unfolding in your life. Tell us a little about what happened to you and how you came to write the book Field Notes from Elsewhere as a result.

Mark Taylor: I had been thinking about writing a book that combined personal narratives with philosophical and theological reflection for many years. The issues about which I teach and write are often very abstract but are significant because of the ways in which they illuminate specific experiences we all undergo. I knew that this kind of writing would be different from anything I had done before and realized that the only possible research is life itself. Three years ago, I went into septic shock as the result of a biopsy for cancer. I also suffer from diabetes, which complicates everything. Septic shock is caused by a severe infection in the blood and is fatal in 50-75% of the cases. My case was especially bad. I taught a class on Derrida's The Gift of Death at noon and by 7:00 that evening was on the verge of death. I was in the intensive care unit for five days, stayed in the hospital for another five days, and then on intravenous antibiotics for five weeks. Six months later, I underwent surgery for cancer. It was quite a trip! One never really recovers from such experiences, but in the months following surgery, I felt I had done enough research and it was time to begin writing.

Q: This book is structured differently than other memoirs. How does the structure of the book interact with the writing?

MT: I did not want to write a traditional narrative. Life is not a story but is episodic—brief periods of continuity are punctuated by unexpected disruptions. I envision the book less as a memoir than as a diary or book of hours. It is also a photo album with more than 120 images. The interrelation of text and image is carefully calibrated. There are fifty-two chapters or sections, which are divided into AM and PM entries. The book begins with dawn and ends with sunset. Each section is a brief meditation on a single topic—Light, Nights, Pleasure, Money, Disease, Hope, Vocation, Ordinary . . . My hope is that people will read these meditations slowly and will ponder these issues in their own lives.