Vocab: Armamentarium

by Dr Davis on July 1, 2015

Even English professors keep learning new vocabulary.

Saw this on Twitter:
armamentarium vocab

Here’s the definition:
armamentarium from google



by Dr Davis on June 30, 2015

Metaphors are not just for literature anymore.

The Guardian has an article on the Glasgow University research work on 13 centuries of metaphors. The map is cool, though the description is limited.

However, you can read the @MappingMetaphor blog and find details. The newest post on fear is interesting.

Indonesian Metaphorical Conceptualizations of Anger: Does Anger Taste Delicious or Disgusting? By Tessa Yuditha

Indonesian also has its own metaphorical expressions. Some of conventional Indonesian metaphors include Dia menjadi kambing hitam dalam kasus itu ‘He became the scapegoat in that case’, Jatuhnya harga saham membuat dia bangkrut ‘The fall in stock price made him bankrupt’ and Kata-katanya membuat aku meledak ‘His words made me blow up’.

The Guardian has an article on educational metaphors. I used this in a class recently and would like to discuss it again more thoroughly. Something that was particularly interesting to me:

“My teacher is an old cow.” What does this mean? How would you respond, as a teacher, if this were said about you?

The New York Times article This is Your Brain on Metaphors is also interesting. It says that your brain sometimes/often interprets metaphorical things literally.

In a remarkable study, Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto and Katie Liljenquist of Northwestern University demonstrated how the brain has trouble distinguishing between being a dirty scoundrel and being in need of a bath. Volunteers were asked to recall either a moral or immoral act in their past.


Judging Poetry and Prose

by Dr Davis on June 19, 2015

This year I’ve been a judge in four different contests for both poetry and prose. The experiences have given me a new appreciation for the work that judges do.

Every year Sigma Tau Delta, the English International Honor Society, chapter here has done a poetry or short story contest. I’ve asked members of the local Writer’s Guild to judge it, as well as creative writing professors at my university.

I didn’t realize how much I was asking those guild folks to do with the first poetry contest. I think they had to read 60 poems each. I have revised how I will do that next year. I’ll divide them up and ask them to pick the top 5. Then I’ll have everyone read all the top 5. Or I’ll have a second layer of judges.

I’ve been in the middle of judging a short prose and short poetry contest. It’s hard to decide how to award prizes.

First_Place_Blue_Ribbon by Oldbeeg WC CC3If a poem is structurally perfect, but doesn’t speak to me, should it win?
If a poem has some odd choices in physical placement, but is a sensory delight as well as resonating, should it win?

If a prose piece is over the limit, can it still win? (This one I decided the answer was no.)
When all the works have minor problems, how do you decide which minor problems are least problematic?

I don’t have any answers. I just realize there are a lot more questions than I know the answers to.

Note: I wonder if Sigma Tau Delta could have our members judge one of the Writer’s Guild’s contests? That might give the students a different view of the experience. However, not everyone who submits is from the chapter and we don’t really want it to be limited to them. …Despite this, I think it might be a very good thing to volunteer the club–or the club officers at least–to judge a WG competition.


Reflections on My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman

by Dr Davis on June 4, 2015

Note: The book My Bright Abyss is by Christian Wiman. This was a session with a host, four speakers, and Christian Wiman as the respondent.

Matt Byers teaches creative writing at Lubbock Christian University
Nancy Durham is a senior VP at Lipscomb University and a psych prof.
Susan Pigham teaches at Hardin-Simmons University in the theology school
Jeremy Elliott teaches at Abilene Christian University
Darryl Tippens (host) is administration and the Distinguished Scholar of Faith and Learning at Abilene Christian University

my bright abyssPreliminary reflections:
Christian Wiman said of art that “if you talk about it too much, it gets leeched of its meaning.”

MB: challenging book from a variety of angles
shotgun blast on paper
a book that wants to discomfit us; make us aware of our prejudices, biases
We need to be aware of the universal spiritual condition that the book deals with
I am interested in knowing about the audience for this text.
p. 76 “Trust no theory … in which the author’s personal faith is not at risk.”

ND: created for me a holy space–wanted to be quiet and let it sink in
slow but persistent weaving together of starkly antagonistic states
p. 151 “most mature vision … death and life together” can’t see one without the other
p. 96 “annihilating silence within every sound”
The anticipation of death is easier than living with suffering.
I think that is worth writing again. The anticipation of death is easier than living with suffering.
p. 166 “blurs the emotion and clouds the mind”
Have always been fascinated by Julian of Norwich, who prayed for suffering.
p. 121 “Christ, though, is a shard of glass in your gut.”
p. 134 “meaning of the cross” = God in the midst of human suffering
As a psychologist, studied/studying social psych in the 80s, which came up with terror management. This is that our fear of death drives our actions. We accept culture and cultural expectations in order to create a semblance of control.
That we attempt to manage our terror shows that there are problems.

SP: part memoir, part poem, all mixed as belief in unknowing
Certainty about God undergirds theology since the Renaissance.
“We need to be shocked out of our propositional language about God.”
As a biblical scholar, God resists definition. God whispered to Elijah and blasted Job with a whirlwind.
God desires to be known but refuses to be tamed.
The moment we think we have grasped who he is, God dissipates.
We like certainty, but God and faith do not fit into tidy propositions.
Seek God in the midst of the ordinariness of life, when he seems most absent.
innocence = purest form of faith
Don’t revel in doubt, but faith in God requires risk.
Doubt without faith leads to skepticism.
“Art is better at theology than theology is.” –Christian Wiman
All language about God is metaphorical, but sometimes we forget that.
Poetry enables the language of paradox
Language about God can be transformative. We need new metaphors.
This is a book for those who wrestle with God in the dark of life.

JE: striking thing is that it does best “Good art makes the familiar strange.”
talks well about insufficiencies of approaches
teaching Jonah one time, student asked if I thought literal. I said the text didn’t say that. She left. She was like a single piece of spaghetti before it is cooked; it is stiff and fragile.
The idea that there can be no doubt is also stiff.
Can know nothing without innocence.
Agnosticism of modern academia is vacant.
try to find the thing that is, that shows faith
Art as revelation, seeking modes of transcendence.
Art is the moment of connection.

DT: something that resonates with others?

ND: p. 153 “If this consciousness … is gendered, clearly feminine… interior/ulterior kind of consciousness… In neglecting the voices of women… who feel that eruption in their very bodies, theology has silenced a powerful … side of God.”

CW: When I wrote that, my experience of God was through my mother and my grandmother.
My mother is a smart, educated woman.
My grandmother is not the same. She is innocent and theological.
I could see/feel her religious beliefs translated into her daily life.
To see them silenced would be tragic.
Accidental Theology, read as literature and theology…
the entire syllabus had women authors, most contemporary
Women’s voice is not being silenced any more in certain places.
Things have to be restated.

DT: paradox in presentation
NPR says about the work “author’s movements too swift… leaves the reader stumbling in pursuit”

MB: liked that you would write and correct yourself instantaneously, letting us follow growth process… many have fear of looking mistaken, but we can see your process.
Poets like to see where things go.

DT: When we write, we have lots of muddled thoughts. We are looking for distillation. Perhaps you are sharing the experience of working through the muddle.

CW: The audience, until late in the game, I was simply writing to stay alive. It never occurred to me that people would read it.
Late in the game, my sense of audience was the people I was meeting around the country who want to believe but can’t.
Early on, though, it was just for myself.

DT: to read lyric poetry, read it slowly, out loud… This book, too. Read in section. Don’t have to get it all to get gems.

ND: searingly truthful–getting at something I might cover over

SP: after reading 3x, still didn’t understand
but book about not being certain, so that was okay
not linear
more like a library of meditations

CW: first written first, last written last–everything else was mixed up

DT: epigraph or review for this book would be Jude 22 “Be merciful to those who doubt.”

CW: The difficulty is how to experience God in daily life without translating the experience of life as the experience of God.

DT: value of this book… mini-essay pages 6 and 7 on leaving behind childhood faith

boy surrounded by question marksQuestions:

Did you read the book linearly?
SP: after reading first time, read backwards to find themes
MB: smaller sections in the larger sections, each could be a daily meditation, I reviewed the troubling sections out of order.
JE: like the Bible. Read through to get the feel and then open and read randomly.
CW: Read nearly every book from the middle or the end. Books of poems I only start in the middle.
The first and last chapters don’t have themes.

When did you write the preface?
About a year after finished. It was already in production.

You see yourself as a poet, but are famous for your prose. Is that difficult?
Can’t complain, but it is weird.
Prose has always been important.
For a writer, one book hits and that is the book everyone knows. My Bright Abyss is that book for me. It is the one everyone knows. With this book I was trying to help myself and I was able to help others.
To make a work of art (I saw the whole book as a poem) and have it make a difference –wonderful!
Writers may feel a different work than the one everyone knows epitomizes their work.
I teach MDiv candidates how to use poetry in pastoral care.

Later he said that Every Riven Thing would probably be the book he thinks epitomizes his writing.

What are you working on now?
An anthology, mostly poetry, but with prose woven through it.

CW: I disagree with Bloom’s idea of every writer reacting against earlier writers.

Is there a place for this book in a college classroom?
MB: Yes. Use another book because it is on writing survival.
DT: great for a course on Job
SP: upper level class only, seminary would fit well
DT: We have students questioning at every level. Good book for that is Dan Taylor’s The Myth of Certainty. This is another one.

If you found yourself with the you who wrote the book, what would you say?
Maybe nothing. If I knew it would be read, I might look at it and write it differently.
To open up and read your own work is profoundly unpleasant. It has something to do with making art. Your most intense feelings are calcified there.


Plenary Address: Christian Wiman

by Dr Davis on June 4, 2015

teaches at Yale Divinity School–has taught at Stamford and Northwestern

poetry streamBegan his speech with a poem by A. R. Ammons, “The City Limits.”

Encouraged everyone to memorize poems.

will discuss art and faith
Herschel said faith = faithfulness to when we experienced faith

Most poets and artists do not distinguish between human and divine inspiration.
Kafka said that writing is a “sweet and wonderful reward… for serving the devil.”

Great paradox of art for the artist is that the most experiential art can require the most detachment from the artist.
You have to choose life OR the work of an artist.

Gerard Hopkins, a Catholic priest, renounced poetry for seven years, because his creative endeavors were more intense than his religious endeavors.
In a prayer he said, “My own heart let me more have pity on.”

George Herbert, became a priest, got married, found out he had TB
All his poetry was religious, but he felt that the creative work was secular.

Poem “Bitter-sweet” talks about the contradiction in that both God and people uplift and destroy.
WH Auden said that poetry is a “clear expression of mixed feelings.”
These mixed feelings, contradictions, and paradoxes are the heart of poetry.
Because of that:
Translations of the Bible that remove the poetry for the sake of clarity are problematic.

Eric Liddle (from Chariots of Fire fame) said, “I believe that God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”

God expects us to use his gifts. He leaves it up to us how to use them.

Wiman lived in Prague the year after the Velvet Revolution.
One day he was sitting in the kitchen of his 7th floor apartment studying Czech while his girlfriend took a bath. A kestrel landed on the sill. 10 years later he wrote Postolka (which means falcon in Czech).
“When I was learning words/ and you were in the bath”
“I could almost speak/ the love I almost felt”
“I wished and wished and wished/ the moment would not end./ And just like that it vanished.”
An unconscious attempt at a devotional poem, with no mention of God.

Grew up religious. Church 3x a week, VBS, preaching, camps. That was his life.
He didn’t meet an atheist until he went away to college. “My faith fell away under the pressure of the books I read.”

energy was despairing, so my poems were despairing
Happiness writes light.

fiercely devoted to a faith that had no focus
serious events to shatter my expectations
eye of life is not the same as the eye of art
Style and form are lies. They render the truth differently from how it was experienced in life.
Life is chaotic. Art is not.

I did not write a word of poetry for 3 years.
fell in love, had a terrible diagnosis that required changes

“NOT converted because of illness” even though some claim he was.

I have the sense that these experiences over the years were a single experience and that experience was a call from God.

“From a Window” poem
“incurable and unbelieving/ in any truth but the truth of grieving”
“fitful, fluent spirit … strange cohesion”
“a man’s mind might endow”
“that life is not the life of men./ And that is where the joy came in.”

–While the mixture of rhyming was well done and interesting, I was particularly fascinated with the alliteration.

Did not have a realization and sat down to write the poem.
I was grieving and sat down to write. The poem itself exploded into joy.

“For D” poem
“half-cracked and caught in the crook of another”
“Writhes above the water like visible light”

When oblivion whispers in our ears, that is God.
Both these poems were watersheds.
I was puzzled by the poems that came after.

One interviewer asked if I considered myself an atheist Christian.

“Hammer is the Prayer” poem
“There is no consolation in the thought of god”
“… hammer is the prayer of the poor and the dying.”
“peace dame to the hinterlands of our mind/ too remote to know, but peace nonetheless.”
Is this an anti-devotional devotional poem?
It is a prayer and a weapon aimed at God.

If faith (or despair or emptiness) calls you to mute inspiration, it is not faith.

Joy of void, joy of being released from making meaning
Sometimes God calls us to unbelief to create a new faith.
“My thoughts were all a case of knives” George Herbert
Was sick unto death, both physical and spiritual
There are “no atheists in foxholes” because when confronted by death, all the background chatter ceases and you can hear. What some of us hear is that still small voice of God.

“My Stop is Grand”
This is a poem about Christ, though Christ is absent in the poem.
TCE’s favorite lines “a grace of sparks… / a lone unlearned loveliness / struck from an iron pain”
TCE thinks best metaphor “pecked so clean/ by raptor night”

boy surrounded by question marks
What about rhyme?
There are a paucity of rhyme words in English, so many gave them up because they believed there were no new rhymes to be made.
Don’t use in all poetry or even throughout a poem.
If there is no surprise in a poem for the writer, there is no surprise for the reader.
Rhyme is one of the best ways to make unconscious work. If you concentrate on the form of the poem, the meaning of the poem will show up and surprise you.

Is there a place for fairy tales and myth in the Christian life?
Of course there is.

Question about Billy Collins.
Answer involved:
My experience of art is stronger than other experiences.
My faith is strengthened by works that are not about Christian belief.

Is it desirable/possible to have Christian art?
I don’t think so. “Christian art” is ghettoized.
It either lowers the bar OR causes people to not treat it as real.

Later (in another session) someone asked about this.
The Bible is full of poetry, yet usually explicitly Christian poetry is not very good. Why not?
There is something in art that won’t be codified.
As a Christian artist won’t or don’t want to make art that creates doubt.
What is doctrine for?
Church has been afraid of art because imagination violates doctrine.
Doctrine is (or should be) sufficiently tensile, fluid to take in imagination’s ideas.

If an artist is a Christian, that’s different.
I wish that more Christians who are artists let folks know they are Christian. I think it would help others.
But that is two issues. Difference between Christian and Christian art.

A follow-up question in that same session.
Why could the Hebrews create poetic theology?
They were making art. They did not have an idea about doctrine.
The lava hadn’t set.
BUT (as one of the speakers pointed out) the religious elite hated the prophets of old as well.


Christian Scholars’ Conference

by Dr Davis on June 4, 2015

Christian Scholars’ Conference is in Abilene, TX at Abilene Christian University this year. Today was the second day. I attended a plenary speech and an afternoon session.


9 Chickweed Lane: I’m only 15 years late to the party.

by Dr Davis on May 31, 2015

9 Chickweed Lane
During a lecture

While grading

During a grade beg


PCA Questions on Superheros

by Dr Davis on April 15, 2015

Questions on superheroes

Q not evil but revenge or justice?

A some situations in game can be said this. But using Ardt’s ideas, elves are treated animal-like. Making these others not even have human characteristics.

Q Video game trend… completely justified uprising
Leader of uprising wants to oppress those who oppressed her.
Is this sort of narrative (oppressed becomes oppressor) problematic in real world?

A agree with what you are saying. It’s why I chose 3 different games. Different options.
Possible that there are other options.
Sometimes you are forced to choose a side.

Q doctor isn’t getting help. Picking up companions. “His way to interact normally” to keep him being functional…

A wanted to address. Separate paper, though.
Entire field of study within PTSD about companion support. Not just friends, but the right friends and the right people around.
Clara is an abusive companion.
Donna is an ideal companion.

Q seems like 10 displayed almost all the things you describe and chose to die, wasn’t allowed to die. Each reincarnation has to relive.

A regeneration as another manifestation of avoidance
Abandons everything associated with it.
Like starting an entirely new life.
Changed patterns of behavior—even changing which shoe on first
Attempt to start new but stuff comes back. Repressed memories. “Family of Blood” old traumas were leaking through.

Q avoidance overarching theme. Can see the singularity. Doesn’t want to go where he dies. Self-sacrifice ever used is being erased. Whatever happens?

A they don’t say what happens.
Everybody knows the doctor lies. He lies to himself.
All kinds of places that he avoids that aren’t canonically necessary to avoid, but he avoids anyway.
Doesn’t go back places he’s been before. The doctor’s daughter planet.
Easier for show runners, but is very consistent with PTSD.

Q model… Thinking consistently about superhero movies so different because they are informed by another media, comics. So much genre where self-aware characters, some have become pomo (?). Fan culture.
Maybe reason 4-stage model doesn’t work is because there is so much informing it from comics and fan culture.
New 52 when first started coming out from DC. First Aquaman… first pages comes in and orders fish. Can’t you not eat fish? Addressing how everyone hates Aquaman.

Q earlier stuff… in the 60s on television, Batman was seen as camp. Making fun of comic book character. Next season CBS and NBC did Mr. Terrific and Captain Nice. Camp parodies. Late 70s Greatest American Hero. So when Superman and Batman come out at late 70s get almost a neoclassical.
Like what you’ve done with neoclassical, inter-genre fertilizing.

A genre has moved from print to television to film.
That’s where the 4-stage theory works. Spiral. Goes in a circle, but moving forward. Goes through parody, but moves into new medium and starts over at primitive.

Basis is steeped in ridiculous and absurd.

That’s what is so interesting about parody existing concurrently. Still very popular.

Q Wouldn’t argue you might need a new genre description?

A revisionist and parody feed back to influence classical models
Guardians of the Galaxy structure, arcs, classical

Maybe we’ve birthed a new genre, new genres.
Conspiracy theory superhero film
Superhero science fiction

Q Shield shows non-super people views.
Liked Avengers classical and revisionist. Villain is not classical. Think that’s a characteristic of neoclassical wave?

A Don’t watch Shield.
Shield does present human perspective. I can’t speak from experience, can surmise from earlier paper, yes about normal people. Black Widow and Hawkeye in Avengers are Shield Agents. Little bit reacting to enormous things that are way out of their league.
Shield still non-powered humans, but still so intrinsically connected to world of superheroes. Not normal… What about the guy who sees Ironman fly by and that makes his week?

Reporter who lived through 40s and 60s during superhero revelations… aspect of superhero genre that hasn’t been explored as much. Could be an aspect of revisionist stage.

Loki as atypical big bad.
Joker Big Bad but comes off quite differently. Much harder than when campy.
Loki by Thor 2 becomes almost an antihero.

Q regarding name Doctor, play on that he needs a doctor?

A No. Because 1963 PTSD was shell shock. Back then was just something to make the character more interesting and ambiguous.
Interesting people tend to have suffered some trauma as well.
New Who has become more character driven. Old Who was static character.

Q One of ideas for where going to go, oversaturation falling into disrepair. Maybe more like Westerns. Space operas now. Probably where it will go.

A One part of 4-stage theory is otherly proposed 5th stage of nostalgia. Long period of silence and then a remake, reminiscing about Golden Era.

Also as far as Western goes. Transmuted Western idea is a good one. How many Westerns do we see a year? One or two a year. Especially about The Lone Ranger.

Q part of whole superhero thing is reboots and comic books. Told this story in one way. Need to do something different. Also dumping huge amounts of marketing. We as pop culture scholars changes in genre, large multinational corps get people into movie theaters.

A interesting to watch how it goes into different media.

Q Grey Wardens, gray allude to opportunity to choose to be neutral.

A In dragon age series, not always about keeping peace. Killing the blight. Fight off the dark spawn.

Q Joseph Campbell… because of what has happened to them, they are not pure good guys or evil.
Arbitration, too. Neutral line. Experienced both.

Q talking about flexing muscles of making decisions about evil
In this context, do you think trying to keep YA away from this kind of game a problem or innocence too long?

A talking about sex. Deny it doesn’t work. Makes issue worse. Still recommend Witcher series not be played by kids because there are a lot of mature content.
Q help them develop a moral compass

A not morality, helps them decide what is evil
Evil is different than morality.
Many decisions were moral but those decisions of absolute evil.


PCA Video Games Evil versus Morality

by Dr Davis on April 15, 2015

Grey Wardens and the White Wolf
Caleb Metott

When 2 years old Dad played video games with me on computer. Have always loved video games.
How can we learn from them?

Role playing games:
Witcher video game series
Dragon Age: Origins

Hannah Ardent’s view of evil and morality
George Kateb’s interp
Richard Ryder speciesism

Trailer for the Witcher…
“evil is evil, lesser, greater, makes no difference”
What are you doing? Killing the monsters
“The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt-Killing Monsters Cinematic Trailer” YouTube.

Hannah Ardent was a Jew who escaped horrors of Holocaust.
Morals and evil are different.
Immoral = lying, adultery, murder
Totalitarian evil = absolute evil, strips victims of humanity
Made people think of them as less than human.
Banality of evil (coined phrase) = something everyday people do

George Katebs argued the existence of these values.

People find it easier to do evil when think of victim as not human.
Speciesism is discrimination based on species, 1970.

Common occurrence in Star Trek. Comic books.


PCA Superhero Film Genre

by Dr Davis on April 15, 2015

Evaluating the Superhero Film Genre: Up, Up, and Away
Ryan Lagerstrom, Tyler D. Welch
Independent scholars

Where superhero movie came from, where we are today, future guessing

What is the genre?
“distinguished by a characteristic set of conventions in style, subject matter, and values” Louis Giannetti, Understanding Movies

blueprint –formula, patterns
structure—indiv framework
contract—audience expectations
Rick Altman Film/Genre

Giannetti’s model of genre life:
Primitive stage
Classical stage
Revisionist stage
Parody stage
Cultural death

How does this model relate to superhero genre?

primitive = tropes
classical = canonized
revisionist = questioned
neoclassical = classical and revisionist tropes like
Spiderman, The Dark Knight, Avengers
Spiderman is very bright and colorful. Undoubtedly good hero. Classical.
The Dark Knight much more revisionist movie. Questions hero’s ethics.
Avengers equal blend of two. Classical superhero good v evil and good guys win. But at same time, characters much more flawed. Ironman alcoholic, sleeps around. Hulk desperately trying to restrain his power. 2 have no power.

Revisionist films happen concurrently with the neoclassical stage. Critique is fed immediately into the new films being made.

Parody has jumped mediums. Almost entirely located on internet. Mocked, laughed at, but unlike in 4-stages, it acts as a wink and a nod—We all love this anyway.

Then revisionist 2.0 or mainstream decline or ???

We will not be bereft of superhero films any time soon.
After the neoclassical stage, what will happen?
Revisionist 2.0 more serious, normal human point of view is lost, so maybe adaptation of normal human POV
Mainstream decline May burst the bubble because we’ve seen so many.

Giannetti’s 4-stages of genre theory “does not allow for the theory’s growth beyond the parody stage”