Posted by: Dan | October 31, 2006

October Books

A fairly quiet month. I’m diving into a paper on the topic of “Badges of Membership” in the Pauline Epistles and so the vast majority of my reading time has been dedicated to paper research. Anyway, here are October’s books:

1. Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics by Stephen Westerholm.

This book is an exceptional and quite comprehensive introduction to the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” — one of the hot button issues in contemporary biblical studies. Westerholm begins by surveying the more traditional interpreters of Paul who have largely paved the way for what has come to be known as the “Lutheran” school (these formative exegetes are Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and J. Wesley. He concisely surveys a vast number of Pauline scholars (Wrede, Schweitzer, Montefiore, Schoeps, Sanders, Kummel, Stendahl, Bultmann, Wilckens, Sanders (again), Drane, Hubner, Raisanen, Wright, Dunn, Donaldson, Cranfield, Schriener, Das, Thielman, Seifrid, Laato, Thuren, Aletti, Martyn, and Becker) before providing his own perspective on Paul and the key themes that dominate this discussion: righteousness, law, justification by faith, grace, and questions of ethnicity. I don’t always agree with Westerholm’s conclusions (I find Dunn and Wright to be more convincing and comprehensive) but I can’t think of a book that would better orient a person to this discussion.

2. Barth by John Webster (Outstanding Christian Thinkers Series).

When it comes to introductory secondary literature about Karl Barth this book seems to get mentioned more than any other work. After reading it, I can understand why. Webster obviously knows Barth’s material well (he is, arguably, the best Barth scholar living today within the English world) and he is able to succinctly cover vast amounts of Barth’s material without creating a disjointed, cut-and-paste type of summary. This book is very readable and has made reading Barth seem more exciting than ever — which, I suppose, is precisely Webster’s purpose in writing this book.

3. Notebooks 1914-1916 by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein had this nasty habit of destroying his unpublished notebooks, and various collections of thoughts. However, after his death the notebooks and journals that survived Wittgenstein were collected and, as these have become increasingly available to the contemporary reader, they have become indispensable aids in deciphering what the hell Wittgenstein is talking about in his best known works. These notebooks, written between 1914 and 1916, are a precursor to the Tractatus and are especially helpful in orienting the reader to the picture-theory of language developed therein. However, what I found especially interesting about this work is the way in which it seems to pave the way for Wittgenstein’s later work on language-games. I am increasingly convinced that the split between the “later Wittgenstein” and the “earlier Wittgenstein” is more imagined than actual (just as the split between the “later Barth” and the “earlier Barth” seems to be over-exaggerated — a point Webster makes in his book). This book also has some interesting, albeit brief, reflections on the relation of God and suicide to meaning.

4. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault.

I didn’t mean to read this book this month but then I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. There is an incredible amount of stimulating, provocative, and subversive material to be found here. Using the history of the prison as his prime example, Foucault argues that the transformation in society’s way of punishing criminals is not actually part of a process of increasing humanisation; rather, it is a part of a process by which the powers gain a greater amount of control over an increasingly self-disciplining general population. I really think this should be a required text for anybody interested in pursuing restorative justice. In fact, I hope to blog through this book in more detail with one of my brother’s who has done a Masters in Restorative Justice (with Howard Zehr) and so I will leave any further reflections for later.

5. The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade by Victor Malarek.

Right off the bat Malarek lets us know that next to the sale of drugs and arms, the sale of women and children is the leading international money-maker. Over $12 billion (that’s $12,000,000,000+) is made annually from this global sex trade that sees 800,000-900,000 women trafficked across international borders and an additional 1,100,000-1,700,000 women trafficked within their own countries. All of these women are survivors of violence and rape. The stats, like the stories, are staggering, and both are gathered here in Malarek’s book (although Malarek, as a journalist, favours stories). Not for the faint of heart, I had to put this book down a few times. It made me feel sick and angry, but mostly it made me feel broken-hearted. This is especially so because Malarek does a fine job of showing how our countries are either too apathetic or completely complicit in this trade. Everybody is involved, from the U.S. soldiers, to Canadian peacemakers, from the G8 governments, to the UN, and everybody knows it, but nothing is really getting done about it. At the end of the day, money speaks louder than the cries of millions of women on the “breaking grounds.”

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the Church in general falls into the category of “too apathetic/complicit.” I know this because I work with some of these women and children, and although some Christians tend to think that this is admirable, they sure as hell aren’t about to do anything themselves. Although I have been told that when I “grow up” I won’t care as much either so you can pardon this rant.

6. Narziss and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse.

Well, sometimes it’s nice to just escape into fiction. I really quite enjoyed this tale about two friends: one a monk and an ascetic scholar, and the other a lover and a Dionysian. Hesse does a good job of painting a picture of life on the road and life in the monastery and it certainly gave me the travel itch. I think I’ll go to Australia.

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