Everybody Plays the Fool

collaborate

When [Walter] Kirn was just starting his novel-writing career, he met a man who was a bold financier, an art collector, a fussy eccentric, a dog lover and a Rockefeller. They became friends.

But over the years Kirn began to learn that the man who called himself Clark Rockefeller was none of that — not even a dog lover. He was a psychopath and a killer.

How did Kirn fall for the fraud? Was Christian Karl Gerhartsriter — aka “Clark Rockefeller” — extraordinarily compelling? Or was the novelist, like a lot of other people drawn to the imposter, duped by his own desire to have an attachment to a famous name?

So opens a radio story on the curious case of Clark Rockefeller — or, might we say instead, the curious case of people, such as Kirn himself, who believed his friend to be the man he claimed to be. The difference between how we approach this story — is it about Rockefeller (pictured above) or Kirn? — tells us much about the social theory used to tell the tale. Continue reading “Everybody Plays the Fool”

Using Four-Lettered Words: Part One

Edgedavinci

“What Justice Kennedy has undertaken in this initial statement of fact, or more properly, of data, that is to say, facts accepted for purposes of the argument…”

–  Jonathan Z. Smith, “God Save This Honourable Court” (Relating Religion, p. 382)

While she was on our campus a few weeks ago, I noticed Monica Miller using the word “data” to refer to the things that she studied — things such as African American religion, scholars of African American religion, rap lyrics, and rap artists — and so I asked her a question or two about what she thought was entailed in that word and why she seemingly opted for it rather purposefully in both her public lecture, the evening before, and then during an informal lunchtime discussion with our students the next day. And then, just the other day, Leslie Smith posted on this site, using this four-lettered word in her post’s title — a use that did not go unnoticed by some on Facebook who soon were debating what was termed the dehumanizing effects of such objectifying terminology. Continue reading “Using Four-Lettered Words: Part One”

On the Spot with Leslie Dorrough Smith

“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.

leslieQ: Leslie, you have a book out soon that is on the way a certain rhetoric of chaos vs. order is used by some groups in the U.S. to organize themselves, by distinguishing their members from others, their preferences from others, and their values from others. Is that a fair (if general) description of your project? Could you tell us more?

A: Yes – this is a fairly unorthodox approach to a very mainstream subject.  The book, which is about the rhetoric of one Christian Right group, is entitled Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America (Oxford, 2014). Continue reading “On the Spot with Leslie Dorrough Smith”

On the Spot with Vaia Touna

“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.

V

Q: Vaia, you focused some of your scholarship on ancient Greek texts both before and after beginning to read social theory – could you give us an example of how the theorists you’ve read have affected the way that you now approach these ancient materials?

A: My Masters was on Euripides’ tragedy Hippolytus and the notion of Meden Agan (i.e., moderation) and how it was understood in the 5th century BCE Athens. In order to write my thesis back then, of course, I read a lot of secondary literature and commentaries on the play, heavily descriptive works on the “religion” of the ancient world, and of course how ancients might have thought/felt and the universality of their meanings that (we today presume) stay unalterable in their texts—meanings that modern scholars, with the right tools, will be able to retrieve just like the archaeologists dig up and unearth the past. I did all that in my effort to better understand and recreate that ancient world. This approach to the ancient material has changed once I started reading theorists like Russell McCutcheon, Jonathan Z. Smith, Bruce Lincoln, Michel Foucault, and others; now my data are not just these ancient texts (whether literature, or statues, vases, etc.) but also the commentaries that previously served as my “way into” the ancient world, for I came to realize that the world I was entering was the world and time period of those scholars. Continue reading “On the Spot with Vaia Touna”

In Our Heart of Hearts

crystal ball

10. Understanding the system of ideology that operates in one’s own society is made difficult by two factors: (i) one’s consciousness is itself a product of that system, and (ii) the system’s very success renders its operations invisible, since one is so consistently immersed in and bombarded by its products that one comes to mistake them (and the apparatus through which they are produced and disseminated) for nothing other than “nature.” – Bruce Lincoln, “Theses on MethodContinue reading “In Our Heart of Hearts”