Summer: Phase 2

The transition from the independent Shimer College to the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College entails a switch from semesters to quarters — meaning that my summer break is approximately a month longer than usual. Between my work on Neoliberalism’s Demons (which is nearly complete at this point) and my faculty seminar on “The Verbal Art of Plato” (which will be taking place at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C., next week), I have done about as much as I could realistically expect to do in an average summer. Early August would normally be the time when my thoughts would turn more toward classes, faculty meetings, etc., but this year that stuff won’t be happening until September.

I suppose that I could have expanded my work to fill the time available, but instead I have effectively pulled a Cool Hand Luke and cleared out a space of freedom for myself. I’d like to use this time for something very different from what I’ve been doing recently, to get some rest and work out some different parts of my brain. I’ve thought of various reading projects, but what most appeals to me right now is finally getting a start on learning to read biblical Hebrew. I haven’t done a new language since Italian, and Hebrew is of course very different from the European languages I’ve tackled so far — fulfilling my variety criterion. I bought all the necessary books the summer before I started at Shimer, but never got much further than starting to memorize the alphabet. I could make it through at least a good chunk of the grammar book in August, and since my classes don’t start until noon for the fall term, I could likely spend an hour or so most mornings finishing up the grammar and starting to stumble through Genesis. People recommended that I learn Hebrew as a way to warm up for Arabic, and if I keep at it semi-consistently over the next academic year, maybe I could get a start on classical Arabic next summer. And with whatever time is left over, I could do some undirected reading and/or rewatch Star Trek for the hundredth time.

What do you think? What would you do if you had a block of time like this? What would you consider a change of pace or recharging type of activity?

Should I learn Hebrew or Arabic next?

When I finished my manuscript for The Prince of This World, one thing that occurred to me is that literally ever since my colleagues at Shimer have known me, I have been “working on” that project. Around the same time I started, I also made some initial efforts toward another project: learning biblical Hebrew. I bought a textbook, lexicon, and Hebrew Bible, and I set about learning the alphabet… which I almost achieved before the realities of starting a new, teaching-intensive job intervened.

At that time, learning Hebrew seemed like the next logical step. Not only would it be useful to have access to the original biblical text, but I was also becoming increasingly interested in Judaism. That was another area of inquiry that became derailed, as the demands of teaching a diverse curriculum restricted my reading time. And then last year I got a further curve-ball when I was called upon to teach Islam, which resulted in a survey class on Islamic thought and a subsequent class focusing on the Qur’an. I’ve continued to read up on Islam since then — in fact, right now I’m working my way through a survey of Islamic law, as my “fun” reading.

So here’s my question: assuming I have some time to devote to further language acquisition, should I prioritize Hebrew or Arabic? Would doing Hebrew first prove at all helpful for Arabic (or the reverse, I suppose — learning French before Latin seemed to work fine)?

It should be clear that in both cases I’m more interested in reading classic texts than in, you know, talking to people. And with that in mind, what are some standard resources for learning classical Arabic?

Foreign-Language Teaching Resource: LinguaeLive

Yesterday, one of the participants in the DAAD Summer Seminar I’m a part of, Jennifer Hosek of Queen’s University, shared a valuable foreign-language teaching resource that she’s helped to develop: LinguaeLive. The site is a way of giving students a chance to practice with native speakers by connecting classes around the world with complementary target languages. For example, a German class in Canada and an English class in Germany can register and pair off for practice sections. It works over a variety of voice-over-IP systems and is meant to give the instructors as much control over the process as possible: instructors choose which classes to pair up and agree on the goals for the practice sessions, rather than confronting students with a miscellaneous collection of individual peers. I encourage you to check it out — it seems like a really cool resource, and Prof. Hosek emphasized that it only becomes more useful as more people participate in it.

Easily type diacritics in Windows

One frustration with switching to Scrivener has been that I lost Word’s simple key-combinations for typing diacritical marks. That led me to declare that my next computer would be a Mac simply because they have system-wide support for typing special characters easily. Whatever may turn out to be the case on my computer purchasing choices, I have learned from the intrepid @benladen that you can easily set up Windows to have a similar capability — just set your keyboard to “U.S.-International” and the key-combinations are actually even easier than in Word for typical special characters. More details are available here.

Anger’s Nonidentity / Occasion Against Universality

I recently looked back at Judith Butler’s response to her having been awarded a “prize” for writing in an especially non-commonsensical style. She observes that the recipients—or “targets,” as she aptly redescribes—of such a prize “have been restricted to scholars on the left whose work focuses on topics like sexuality, race, nationalism and the workings of capitalism.” This then raises “a serious question about the relation of language and politics: why are some of the most trenchant social criticisms often expressed through difficult and demanding language?” Continue reading “Anger’s Nonidentity / Occasion Against Universality”

The ontology of Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin characters do not exist in themselves. Their function is to serve as occasions for snappy lines of dialogue. In the last analysis, it does not matter which character delivers which line. All are equally quick-witted, and all speak in two and only two cadences — either sardonic rapid-fire or expansive sermonizing.

Just as lines can land on any character, the cadences can land on any situation. One might think that sardonic rapid-fire is particularly suited for high-stress work situations, but it can work equally well for an elevator ride or a drink after work. Similarly, there is no necessity that expansive sermonizing be reserved for moments that, in our world, would “naturally” lend themselves to leisurely reflection — it can just as easily arrive in the midst of a stressful situation in which every second counts. After all, how will the audience know what’s really at stake in that situation if they are not explicitly told?

The imperative is always: tell, don’t show. Continue reading “The ontology of Aaron Sorkin”