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Summation and Anticipation

Summation and Anticipation

Mar 11, 2024

The first version of this post did not contain a photo of Angus, and I was almost immediately reprimanded for this omission. I have rectified my error and I pledge to do better in the future.

Mid-Lenten greetings to you all, and may I just say once again how grateful I am for the support I’ve received from many of you. Bless y’all for that.

Here’s how I think about the writing I’ve done in this century:

  1. My chief emphasis in the first decade was to develop elements of a theological anthropology: a theology of culture centered on the arts and especially on literature. See for instance this book.

  2. My chief emphasis in the second decade was to to develop an anatomy of attention: a critical analysis of the forces (the Powers) that strive to command our attention for their own mostly nefarious purposes. See for instance these theses. Note that this is also an exercise in theological anthropology: an attempt to describe what Technopoly is doing to our humanity.

  3. My chief interest since I completed (as best I could) my anatomy of attention has been to redirect the attention of my readers: simply to demonstrate that we can and should attend to ideas and works of art that those reigning Powers don’t want us to attend to. We can break bread with the dead; we can find among the living powerful works of art that the algorithms disdain. I am trying to model and thus advocate an anarchic refusal to be algorithmically controlled by the attention merchants. I am thus trying in my very small way to aid in the restoration of our compromised humanity — a very different kind of exercise in theological anthropology.

I expect to be pursuing this redirection and restoration for however many years remain to me, and to do so on several fronts. For examples, see these links to tags:

Another way to put all this is that I spent the first twenty years of this century in diagnostic mode: trying to reveal to my readers the structural forces that shape our experience. I don’t regret spending time that way, but I think I have said all I have to say along those lines, and, as my friend Francis Spufford so helpfully reminded me recently, that work hasn’t gone away: it’s still there to be found by those with ears to hear.

Moreover, it seems to me that we have a number of writers already active in this diagnostic mode, some of them very good indeed: Ted GioiaMatt CrawfordMary HarringtonMike Sacasas. (All of them on Substack, as it happens.) I don’t think I can add much to that endeavor.

But I do think I can provide what I want to call redirect notices: Hey, take a look at this thing you may not know about. It’s cool even though some may call it irrelevant — indeed, maybe it’s cool because it’s irrelevant. And of course I am always interested in writers and artists who illuminate and deepen the Christian account of the world; more people need to know about the best of them. which leads me to….

I always like to have two major projects going on at any given time, so that when I hit a wall with one of them I can turn to the other. I am now in the relatively early stages of writing two books.

The first is an account of the career of Terrence Malick. Malick, I think, is one of the greatest, and certainly one of the most distinctive, filmmakers alive or dead. He is also one of the most profound Christian artists of the past century. I do not think his work is widely understood or appreciated — anyway, it’s not nearly as widely understood and appreciated as it should be — and I want to write a beautiful book that rightly celebrates a beautiful artist.

And: I have agreed to write a biography of Dorothy L. Sayers for this series. (I am pleased to say that OUP, recognizing that this book could sell a few copies, has agreed to price it considerably lower than the other books in the series.) Sayers has no shortage of fans, of course, but — as I have learned in my long experience writing about C. S. Lewis — fandom can turn into an Inner Ring and end up excluding the curious and unconvinced. I think Sayers is a fascinating writer and perhaps an even more fascinating person, and more people ought to know about her.

I’ll say more about both these projects on my blog when I return after Easter. Of course, publishers aren’t too happy with the writer who blogs significant chunks of his books — but here’s the cool thing: in researching these books, I am learning about filmmaking, working inside and outside of Hollywood, the history of cinema, the rise of detective stories and True Crime, the history of advertising, the history of Christian apologetics, religion and the BBC, radio dramas, and literary translation — and I want to write about all those things! The blog is the perfect place to do so.

Neither of these books will make much money: the Malick book may not get published at all, and even at a reasonable price point, the Sayers book will receive no marketing or publicity. (I decided to write for the OUP series rather than sell the Sayers book to a trade house because I thought the former option gave me a better chance of writing the book I really want to write.) And while I am working on them I won’t often get the chance to write for periodicals — that kind of writing is what the blog will (largely if not wholly) replace. So the support I receive here helps financially — but, even more, it lifts my spirits; it helps me to feel that these projects of mine are not wholly quixotic.

A blessed second-half-of-Lent to you all!

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