A preview of coming attractions

We have two further book events planned for this summer. The first, which will likely begin toward the end of June or beginning of July, will be over J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account. We have been talking about the possibility of doing Jay’s book for at least a year and several readers have expressed a strong interest, so hopefully it’ll be a good discussion.

The second, which will likely be in August, will be over Ted Jennings’ Plato or Paul?: The Origins of Western Christian Homophobia. I was very involved with the production of this book — the seminar on which it was based was one of my first seminary courses and I also served as a research assistant, copy-editor, and indexer — and the thesis Jennings advances here has completely and irrevocably changed my view of the relationship between homosexuality and Christianity. However, since the book wasn’t available before recently, I probably always sounded like a crazy person, so it’s nice to be able to discuss it finally.

As preparation for the Jennings event, we will also be having two guest bloggers in late July reviewing his books on homoeroticism in Scripture, The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives in the New Testament and Jacob’s Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel.

I strongly encourage anyone interested in participating in comments to track down copies and try to read ahead of time — the more people we have involved in comments who have actually read the book, the more the discussion will benefit us all. (This is of course not to say that those who haven’t read should refrain from asking questions, etc.)

Book event?

Dearest colleagues, it has been a while since we did a book event. Is now or soon a propitious time? Does anyone have any suggestions for an appropriate book to center our interpretive and evaluative efforts on? We tend to focus on contemporary works that deserve greater attention, but some have previously suggested that discussing a “classic” work might be a good route as well. Personally, I am totally open at this point.

AUFS’s failure of branding

In the comments to Mikhail’s send-up of SpecReal/OOP/OOO, I came across this very compelling post by Kvond that characterizes SpecReal/OOP/OOO as a kind of philosophical “speculative bubble.” Not being very conversant with Graham Harman’s work or the details of Levi Bryant’s “onticology,” I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Kvond’s analysis — but it does seem like his description of “philosophy as Ponzi scheme” is something that could actually happen:

These packaging movements [of OOO] meet squarely it seems with Harman’s own Great Idea concept of philosophical significance, the thinking that all the Great Philosophers were really exaggerators that some how fooled the public long enough to get their ideas off the ground. Once enough people “buy into” the intial debt of explanation it is passed off onto the whole group, the bad mortgage is cut into tiny Madoff pieces and distributed everywhere. Philosophy as Ponzi scheme.

This brings me to the point of this post: how can AUFS brand itself so as to reap the benefits of such dynamics? So far, we don’t have the workings of a coherent brand: we’re ecologically-minded quasi-internal critics of the Christian tradition who also read novels? Half the time we don’t even approve of our own ideas, much less advocate others join in the fun!

Obviously we need to streamline here, so what’s our Big Idea? (And no, “being rude to commenters” isn’t enough.) We can collaborate on the explanation later — right now, we just need something that can really reach out to MA students and the underemployed, because they’re at the forefront of blogging. Then we can work on how we divide out the labor of “declaiming from on high” and “responding to everyone who writes about [insert brand] ideas in 1000-plus-word blog posts.” I’d like to think I would get the former job, but my relatively hyper-active blogging would likely saddle me with the latter — Brad would probably thrive best in the declaiming department. Seriously, though, we can hash that out later. We just need a Big Idea, fast.

Blog updates

This week, we have expanded our offerings across the top to include archives of book events and reading notes as well as contributors’ books. In the near future, we hope to fight against the oblivion in which old blog posts tend to languish by adding a “Greatest Hits” page as well, broken down into subcategories (such as Anthony’s ecology posts, Brad’s conference reports, or my tirades about ecclesiology). If you have a favorite post or potential category you’d like to recommend, please let us know in comments.

A big number

Today we reached a huge milestone in blog traffic: 500,000 visits. When I started this blog with Anthony and Brad in January of 2007, we made a conscious decision to try to be as indifferent to traffic as we could and let it find its own audience. Things were slow for the first year, but our traffic grew significantly in 2008 and then doubled in 2009 — due in part to the fact that our cross-posting of Zizek’s article on the Iranian election protests happened to get a lot of links, but also due to our decision to start doing reading groups on new books in theology and philosophy. Comparing the same months in 2009 and 2010, we’re on pace to double our traffic this year again, and our subscriber numbers in Google Reader and Bloglines are generally on par with leading theology blogs.

I’ll confess that this blog has not been without its gimmickry — as I satirically pointed out last month, anything related to Radical Orthodoxy is apparently like the theology blogger’s crack — but for the most part I believe we have built our reputation on providing genuine value: book events, reading notes over untranslated texts by major philosophers, reports on conferences we attend, discussions of translation questions, draft syllabi, and our own original work in the form of conference papers and “straight-to-blog-post” releases. In this latter category, I’d like to single out Anthony’s creative work on ecology and his public working-through of Laruelle’s project.

Thanks to all — contributors, commenters, linkers, and lurkers — who have brought us to this exalted moment. Moving forward, I think we face two challenges. First, will we let this big number go to our head and compromise our integrity? Second, is there any possible way we can make some money off of this?

New look

This afternoon, Brad and I decided it might be appropriate to revamp the look of An und für sich. One of our primary goals was to find a three-column template that would enable us both to provide links to our shared items from Google Reader, hopefully enhancing the usefulness of the site. Given that WordPress does not allow users to tinker with certain features of the templates without paying a fee, and given that many of the templates inexplicably do not display the author’s name for each post, our options were limited, and the current template seems like the least bad. The loss of our motto is of course grievous, but it will be preserved on the comment page.

In the spirit of benevolent oligarchy, we invite your feedback on this decision, with the caveat that we are unlikely to take any suggestions.

Fair and balanced

I am on record as finding Ross Douthat’s columns to be “completely valueless” as a rule, so it seems only fair to say that I find his most recent one to be moderately okay. (Though it is certain to be incredibly low in absolute terms, only time will tell if his overall “moderately okay” to “completely valueless” ratio will turn out to be higher than David Brooks’.)

I do remain mystified, however, by the New York Times‘s decision to elevate someone who amounts to a moderately articulate apologist for Roman Catholicism to the august rank of columnist, especially at such a tender age. The truly bold choice if they wanted a new religious voice would have been, for example, Susan Thistlethwaite, which would have promoted my pet cause of reminding people that–against all odds–liberal Christians do exist.

New Policy

When a woman comments on this blog, it is not permissible to make little jokes implying that there is some kind of sexual undercurrent at work in the resulting conversation. A comment matching that description was posted last night, and I was inappropriately merciful in allowing it to stand. In the future, I will delete any comments that are belittling to women commenters qua women.

With this, I will return to my previous habit of never meta-blogging on AUFS.