Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Modified Poll: Favorite Christ Figures

In light of one paper on the appropriation of the Christ figure in French literature that I will be presenting at a conference this week, I wanted to ask my hypothetical readers what some of their favorite Christ (or messianic) figures in literature are. This poll works by way of comment rather than clicking on a button in the sidebar. From the obvious to the obscure, from French literature to American literature (or even cinema, if you like), from obvious messianic figures to slightly less clear-cut instances of biblical imagery, if you have any favorite Christ figure(s), let us know.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cours en anglais, or should I say, courses in English?

So there is this proposed law in France that won't pass but that is highly scandalous in a country that prides itself more than most on its language (which nonetheless we must remember is as "impure" as the next language, and, historically speaking, a creole of Latin in itself...whoops!). The law would promote the teaching of more university courses in English (and some other foreign languages). Whatever one thinks of this, it is a noteworthy point of linguistic history. English has never had the same political backing as French, even in the colonial era, yet it has become the lingua franca at least in North America and Europe if not the world. Sadly, then, the world most certainly does NOT speak French (at least in one sense).

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ten Statements Towards an Understanding of Post-Structuralism

Preparing for the conference next week on Language, Literature, and Religion, I have been spending a good bit of time preparing my presentation on Christian responses to post-structuralism and particuarly deconstruction. It is more complicated for me than my other presentation, which is direct literary analysis. So regarding post-structuralism, here are some guiding ideas I have been articulating for myself, advancing from the simple (and generally accepted) to the more complex (and perhaps more debatable):

1. Post-structuralism is not a critique of structure in itself (i.e., it is not anti-structure). It has its own conceptual structure(s) and one must not conflate structure with structuralism, thus creating a caricature of the latter. Even regarding deconstruction (even Derrida's), it is important to eschew the error of equating it with pure relativism and ultimate meaninglessness.
2. Post-structuralism is a critique of structuralism, which was first and foremost a set of linguistic theories (beginning with Ferdinand de Sassure) and became a literary theory applied to the interpretation of texts. Only after linguistics and literary theory was structuralism applied to a host of other disciplines. From the structural anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss to French structuralist feminism to structuralism in biblical studies, it is a whole mindset that shapes how one thinks about the world. This means that it ultimately will become a sort of philosophy and respond to philosophical questions. The same is, naturally, true of post-structuralism. 
3. Post-structuralism, like structuralism, thus focuses primarily on language and by extension texts (though the definition of text is drastically broadened by most post-structural theorists). Post-structural thought tends to be either of a linguistic or a literary orientation, though again it is taken up in many other disciplines.
4. Post-structuralism is a useful label for an ensemble of overwhelmingly diverse theories and thinkers (a bit like the label of postmodernism, if not quite to the same extent). The extension of the term is so broad that it necessitates great precision when analysing post-structuralist writers and clarification regarding whom and what ideas we are agreeing or disagreeing with.
5. Post-structuralism is not, properly speaking, a philosophical or theological system, as already mentioned. 
6. Post-structuralism does interact significantly with the Western philosophical tradition. The preceding points are not meant to minimize the impact of post-structuralism on philosophy and vice versa, only to remind of the origins of structuralism and post-structuralism and their primary interest (language). Whatever one thinks of Derrida, for example, he was a philosopher by training and much of his own deconstructive analyses were of Western philosophers (Heidegger, Husserl).
7. Post-structuralism does interact significantly with the Western theological tradition.
8. Post-structuralism, because it focuses on language (point 3 above), relates to every academic discipline in some way. Its importance can be overblown in some fields, however, and attempts to wed it with other disciplines can be artificial and even anti-intellectual.
9. Post-structuralism is at times misunderstood and misapplied by Christian theorists. This point should not, however, be overblown. Some Christians (like some Muslims, atheists, pantheists, Buddhists . . . in short, humans) misunderstand different things to different extents.
10. Post-structuralism has significantly shaped the world we live in, and deserves to be fairly understood.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Conference on Language, Literature, and Religion

The Conference on Language, Literature, and Religion of Alfa University in Belgrade will take place next week, May 24-25. And Belgrade being only about two hours from Paris by plane, my wife and I will be attending and also presenting at the conference.

Miriam's presentation, "El sincretismo en la literatura latinoamericana," examines the presence and literary development of religious syncretism in the works authors from Latin America and the Caribbean.

I will be presenting two papers on French literature and theory. The first is titled "Christian (Mis)perceptions of and Responses to Post-structural Linguistics and Deconstructive Literary Theory," and the second is "Dechristianization in French literature: A Case Study of the Christ Image."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Houllebecq on Tourist Destinations, Sightseeing

I completely misplaced/lost/threw away a magazine that had an interview with the French writer Michel Houellebecq. I was going to share a quote, but a paraphrase will have to suffice since I cannot find the magazine anywhere, or the interview online.

The only part of the interview that really interested me was Houellebecq's take on tourist destinations. Because this year in France, more than usual, my family and I have had regular opportunities to visit such places. I am referring (as Houellebecq does in the interview) to the monuments, museums, and buildings that are "must-sees," such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona or the Manneken Pis in Brussels.

The problem, and the reason the interviewer asked Houellebecq what he thought about such places and the phenomenon that is "sightseeing," is that we all tend to have this nagging feeling that we are being extremely shallow to want to visit and take pictures only of the things that everyone else visits and takes pictures of.

Houellebecq, in his characteristic devil-may-care fashion, dismissed this idea altogether. He said, and to my chagrin I now paraphrase, that those destinations are famous for a reason, so it just makes sense to visit those places. There's no interest in visiting other places anyway.

Now Houellebecq was exaggerating a bit, as he did in pretty much all of his responses in the interview. In fact, if my memory serves me, he seemed to be answering the questions with whatever well-turned phrase just happened to fall out of his mind at the moment regardless of how obviously wrong it was or contradictory of something he had already said. A bit Wildesque. And that is certainly the prerogative of an atheist, amoral writer who is financially independent and doesn't have to answer to anyone, such as Houellebecq or Oscar Wilde.

Nonetheless, and to wrap up this winding blog post-like fragment of my thought, Houellebecq's evaluation of tourist destinations and sightseeing sat well with me. To understand a culture and its people, you need to visit places where everyday life is happening (grocery stores, markets, banks, bus stops, bus interiors, schools). But to understand cultural history, and to have memories that you want to share in photographic form, you need the (in)famous tourist traps.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

2013 Personal Update

I feel a little self-conscious with today's post title, not to say narcissistic. But it's as good as I could come up with, and I felt like writing this even if only for myself. So here is the point to which God has currently brought me in life, the year 2013 being an important transition point.

I can tell my life, or at least career, story in terms of four (or five) universities, and thus maybe give my readers (if I have any) an idea of where this blogger is coming from when he blogs (and why he blogs about languages, literature, linguistics, and God):

Bob Jones University I grew up in Japan (the son of a pastor) and returned to the U.S. to do an undergraduate degree in journalism and French at BJU. I never intended to stay in the U.S., but my sophomore year, a French teacher, and one of my best teachers ever whose blog you should check out, asked me to consider doing graduate studies in French to replace him at BJU. This was way out of my life plans, until God brought Miriam into my life. Love changes a whole lot of other emotions, and since she had been asked to stay and teach Spanish at BJU (she wanted to return to Mexico where she's from and her family lives), we figured we could stay at BJU together, teach, and take student groups abroad to the countries we loved. God knows how to change our heart's desires, eh? Thus began family (up to two sons now, but almost ready for more) and graduate studies (two graduate degrees down, two to go).

University of Portsmouth —After a master's degree in Counseling at BJU, I did an online master's in Translation Studies from the University of Portsmouth. This was great not only in preparing me for further graduate work in French, but also in introducing me to online degrees (I still have yet to visit Portsmouth, England) as well as opening the field of translation studies to me. This somewhat non-traditional route (the traditional route on a resume would be B.A., French; M.A., French; Ph.D., French) led me to my next university.

Middlebury College — In a biased and non-scientific way, I can affirm that Middlebury College has the best language program in the whole world. I am currently a candidate in the Doctor of Modern Languages program (unique to Middlebury), majoring in French and minoring in Spanish. That's why I'm in Paris, to finish coursework through Middlebury's exchange program with Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3 (which would be the fifth institution in my academic parcours if counted separately). I take doctoral exams this summer in Vermont and should finish the dissertation in the next couple of years or so. With that, I will be set to teach French at BJU starting in 2015.

University of South Carolina — But since BJU does not need another French teacher until 2015, and I would still like more coursework and research opportunities, I applied and was accepted into the Ph.D. program in Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina - Columbia. I will be a senior teaching assistant as well as a presidential fellow. The STA part means that I will have the great opportunity to start teaching French before I'm on faculty at BJU. The presidential fellow part means I will have the (to me) awesome opportunity to continue focused research but in a reseach institution with professors and colleagues to collaborate with and guide me.

So we are in Paris for just two more months, but will continue living in Greenville from this July on, though I will be commuting to Columbia for the next four academic semesters. I love what I do, and am thankful for all the opportunities I have. I am also excited to start teaching full-time at BJU in just a couple more years. Though teaching in any university would be amazing, I particularly feel called to serve Christian students in their academic and philosophical formation, which obviously a Christian university like BJU is equipped to do best.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Comment lire Stello...ou n'importe quel autre livre

L'ironie de cette citation est qu'elle décrit exactement comment j'ai lu Stello (si vous n'avez jamais entendu de ce roman d'Alfred de Vigny, ce n'est pas grave !):
Si votre livre est écrit dans la solitude, l'étude et le recueillement, je souhaite qu'il soit lu dans le recueillement, l'étude et la solitude ; mais soyez à peu près certain qu'il sera lu à la promenade, au café, en calèche, entre les causeries, les disputes, les verres, les jeux et les éclats de rire, ou pas du tout.