Monday, April 29, 2013

Digging up Footnotes

Once upon a time, some weeks ago, I said something to the effect that the mistakes brilliant theologians make are easier to handle because they get so much else right. For the record, I was mistaken. There is nothing simple about any of this. Errors in stupid people and brilliant people alike involve ripping out sections of supporting problems in order to correct. However, sometimes brilliant people weave their mistakes far more tightly together into everything else. It lowers the fault-tolerance of the system, because the fix is no longer a simple modular swap. Sometimes, the only leverage to be gained is to move the earth on which it stands.

Tracking Jenson's sources in "You Wonder Where the Spirit Went" tempted me to discard this 1993 article as not worth the trouble. Surely he's changed his opinion at least somewhat since! Surely I can deal more pleasantly with other pieces, right? But in spite of the hooks back into The Unbaptized God and forward into Jenson's own mature doctrine of God, this piece ultimately isn't about Jenson. It's not what he does. It's a sideline of a sort. But it's still a serious challenge. One must understand the flaws to build something better to replace it. (As an analysis of Barth.)

So, for my own sake in arguing with it as a young Barth scholar, I did up a "study edition" of the original article, in which I took Jenson's source citations from the KD in the footnotes, tracked them down from the German edition into the English, and added proper CD pagination along with expanded textual context, in dual languages where necessary. (For the record, I own no rights to any of these materials; I just did the editorial schlepping necessary to combine them in what I hope is a more useful fashion for discussion of the merits of the article. If someone wants it down, I'll make it disappear.)

Why? Because what else do you do when you're reading a paper, and the author seems to have read a different work than you have under the same name? (Even when you assume, as in this case, that he's read it better than you have…) You dig up the footnotes and check how good they are!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Wittgenstein's Tractatus, part 2a

Too many irons in the fire right now. So, while a massive post on Barthian epistemology (possibly broken up into a series if it keeps going on like this) and a post doing better justice to Jenson are in the works, let's get on with the next installment of Wittgenstein's far-more-interesting-to-translate-than-it-ever-was-to-read Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in which we consider what "what is the case" means.

What it means seems to have everything to do with Sache, and its offspring by copulation with other words. A fun little root, one that means "thing" without such material connotations as Ding, and so has more to do with events, situations, issues, "things" in the manner of conceptual entities. (Brother Ludwig is, after all, doing philosophy.) And, of course, we've already had one such offspring, Tatsachen, "what is actual," which takes after its mother. We're about to get several more.

Now, in part 1 of our series, Wittgenstein helped us to determine what the nature of the world was, and that "what is the case" is not simply the collection of all actual things, but also the logical extent of their possibilities. In other words, "the world" is not merely a synchronic set of things, but the diachronic series of sets of things by extension. And a "thing" is not merely its present existence, but also the logical scope of its possibilities. While that was implied, it's about to get explained.

Monday, April 8, 2013

"You Wonder Where the Spirit Went"

Anyone attempting to tackle Barth's pneumatology has at least one hurdle to cross, and it's one that's been attempted by no less a theologian than Robert Jenson himself. The resulting article, "You Wonder Where the Spirit Went," appeared in Pro Ecclesia in 1993, and it pops up fairly regularly in the literature. For my dissertation, I'm going to have to make a solid attempt to clear this hurdle, and in practice I had as well make a serious attempt at the criticism Jenson leveled in his analysis. (Keeping in mind, of course, that I'm not so much arguing with Jenson himself, as trying to do better than this one concerted attempt of his from 20 years ago! The mistakes of brilliant minds are always easier to fix, because they get so much else right.)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Wittgenstein's Tractatus, part 1

While I'm translating various things in German, I thought I'd turn my attention to Wittgenstein. How better to grasp what he's saying? And, of course, where better to start than the Tractatus? (Seriously, it's crisp, lucid, definitional German. How can you go wrong?)

Frankly, I remember this being more obtuse than it has been so far. Not that I agree with him all the way across, of course, but I do admire it as a cogent and lucid discourse on saying what can be said, well. Which is, of course, the point for which the famous dictum, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent," is the declaration of last resort. In the introduction to this work, this is also the second half of a couplet that, in the German, goes like this: "Was sich überhaupt sagen lässt, lässt sich klar sagen; und wovon man nicht reden kann, darüber muss man schweigen." And in English, albeit my own: "Let what can be said at all, be said clearly; we must [only] be silent on points about which nothing can be said."

Now, when the man says "about which nothing can be said," he means, "about which only nonsense can be uttered." Discovering this point in reality is always a matter of practicing transgression. If we establish a boundary, and what is on the other side can still be expressed sensibly, the boundary belongs somewhere else. If, on the other hand, we find ourselves in a realm where only nonsense can be said, blue banana solar underpants. (It is for this reason that, as a theologian, I accept no premature limitations on theological topics. I will accept that one should "maintain a reverent silence," within the discipline, only in places where the alternative is pure nonsense. Up to that point, it is better by far to strive for understanding, and then for clarity of expression!)

So: onward to the text!