Novak (novak) wrote,

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Personal/Theological Notebook: Crafting Courses; Lots of Social Reporting; Meeting Greg Rucka

Life rolled on in its interesting way this week. I had to stop and go back to the drawing board with my Introduction to Theology course on the two lessons I was scheduled to give this week, selections from Anselm of Canterbury's Cur Deus Homo? or Why Did God Become Human?, which I discussed in an earlier entry, and a lesson from Thomas Aquinas: the first question from his Summa Theologiae on whether Theology is necessary as a science. Both of these are more difficult and far more subtle texts than they appear on the surface, and my original lessons were okay, but just weren't getting as much across to the students as I had hoped. So in both cases I slowed down quite a bit, walking with them through the form and argument, letting the students argue out each point at length and thus achieving some kind of "ownership" of the thought before moving onto the next point. Meta-questions about the meaning of the whole then were left until the very end, with only maybe one key idea that I tried to draw out of the students, but one which they were now much more able to articulate and understand the significance of. It felt much better than the last time I taught the material. Wednesday and Thursday, in preparation for Thursday's class, I re-read G.K. Chesterton's masterful study (somewhere between "charming" and "thrilling") Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox, with leaps over to James Weisheipl's more academic text Friar Thomas d'Aquino: His Life, Thought, and Work for more detailed treatment of various points.

Having dinner at Dan and Amy's this week was fun for the new added thrill of Dan and I getting ready to both teach sections of Theology Through the Centuries next semester, and to discuss possible texts and lessons together. He just fairly recently got the job, and as I noted a few entries ago, I've already ordered my texts, but he was looking at what I ordered and why, checking out the less-known edition of Julian of Norwich that I so favour, and reading Benedict XVI's book Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures. It is interesting to have the opportunity to hear someone else's thoughts on sculpting such a course, like while I had thought to move purely chronologically, and to use the Pope's book as a way of treating and understanding the challenge of the Enlightenment for us today, Dan had countered with the suggestion to open with it, to set up an example of the careful examination – and use of such an examination – of history, so as to model for the students what they would be doing in reading these other historical classics together. I never thought of that! But modeling the skill of appropriation in a text, instead of just trying to engage that skill as we read together, struck me as a great idea. So I'm considering the pluses and minuses of that one.

I was disappointed to find out from Faith that she really didn't feel the kind of connection where she would want to pursue dating, which seemed a shame from my first impression, as I thought her the best conversationalist on a first date of anyone I'd gone out with since the start of summer. So that was too bad: it's been a while since I'd dated an artist, and as stupid as it is to look at dating in such ways, if we had found some chemistry then I thought dating an artist and scholar sounded great fun.

Thursday I had the great pleasure of going out to dinner with Mike and Michelle Dougherty, two of my three closest friends from my first two years at Marquette, but who had since moved on after graduating, and now being down in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio Dominican University. I had not actually laid eyes on them for at least two years, and so this was pure refreshment. Now they were a trio, having produced a son, Thomas, a year ago, and who Mike thought must be thrilled to be dining with theologians (we were also joined at dinner by another of that old circle, Chris Dorn) because he was so quiet. I don't know that there were great revelations to be posted from the dinner: it was just good, honest conversation of the catching-up sort, with them digging for details on my dissertation (Mike's doctorate is in Philosophy, (particularly Medieval/Renaissance; Michelle's in Literature, 18th century). Mike's book was finally finished, it was good to hear, and brought out by Cambridge University Press, Pico della Mirandola: New Essays, and it was also news to hear that Chris had revised his dissertation from last year and gotten it accepted by a publisher, as well as become an editor of Reformed Review. I felt slovenly by still being a mere doctoral candidate!

We walked back to the Hilton, where the Catholic Philosophers of America or some such group was having their annual conference (thus bringing Mike and Michelle back to Milwaukee, and Chris and Mike talked for a bit while Michelle and I walked and talked a bit ahead of them, with Thomas in his stroller. I had an odd moment when all of a sudden a man with a sledgehammer half-swung the thing at my head, murmuring, "You better BELIEVE I might hit you!" before walking on with his companion as though nothing untoward had occurred. Michelle and I kind of looked at one another in delayed alarm or disbelief (I'm not sure Mike and Chris even noticed, it was so quick and relatively quiet), before just kind of writing it off as the kind of craziness you sometimes run into in downtown Milwaukee. Still, a few days after two police were shot by a 15 year-old, you kind of wonder.... Chris took off and I stuck around the hotel, talking with them in their room for another hour while Thomas ran down his extra energy, and just hearing more about life at ODU, parenthood and the like. Mike says his combined Philosophy/Theology Department is putting in for two new Theology hires for later this year, and that I should be prepared to throw my hat in. Mike's best friend from the Philosophy program here already has gotten hired there in their expansion drive, so Mike might want to continue his run of stocking the program with scholars he can vouch for. I won't deny that it would be pleasant to go someplace where I already know some of the crew, and maybe by a late spring addition, I'd feel better about where I was in my dissertation so as to be willing to apply....

daysprings posted the following gem on her journal, which I thought one of the funniest things I'd read in a long time, and deserving of being remembered:
…Our birth instructor spent part of her early stage labor sculpting clay? Really? The woman brought clay to the hospital, because she wanted to make some “birth art” to help her “remember the experience”? – I cannot even imagine the kind of “art” I would create during labor. Probably the sort that would scare little children.
And tonight, Friday, I was pleased to spend in the company of Diane, who had been plotting with me over the last month to head down for the signing event that was going on at Collector's Edge South with writers Greg Rucka, Gregg Hurwitz, and Brian Azzarello. (I didn't know anything by Hurwitz, and didn't really remember who Azzarello was until later, which I regretted, because there was one writing question I might have profitably asked him.) She and I are both huge fans of Rucka's work, she especially for his espionage thillers like Queen and Country, and me for his stuff in the DC Universe, which had a huge role in bringing me back to reading comics a few years ago, when, intending to only pick up some old runs that were favourites when I was a kid, a guy at South talked me into picking up Countdown to Infinite Crisis, and I got sucked into Rucka's incredible The OMAC Project, which slightly outshone the epic Infinite Crisis it introduced. (That epic was a sort of sequel to the unprecidented story Crisis on Infinite Earths, which capped my childhood comics reading, which I then gave up so that I could afford college.) Diane and I laughed a bit from the back of the modest crowd, about how we so weren't the fans that went to conventions, got really excited about getting things signed, dressed up in costumes, etc., but we were enjoying listening to the conversations going on with Rucka.

But we did go forward, eventually, buying something to have signed so as to get an excuse to talk. Diane asked about his research, which she very much admired, working as a technical writer herself, and laughing with him about her own time working as a clerk at Collector's Edge, and the real minority women still are in the comics readership. I got to talking with him, first with a tongue-in-cheek complaint about his writing drawing me back into the readership over the last two-and-a-half years. When I said, "So the way I see it, I'm out a few grand because of you!" he rolled backward in his chair laughing. More seriously, once I realized all these favourite contemporary stories of mine seemed to be written by the one guy, I realized that the one thing that I like in his work above all is that he takes a most fantastical genre like superhero fantasy/sci fi, and he tries to imagine what would be the impact of such people living in "the real world." What's the political consequences of someone with Superman's abilities? What do good and bad cops in the ruinously corrupt urban jungle of Gotham City do with a nut in a costume crawling through the night waging his own very successful war on crime? That was the drama in Rucka's work, whether that last basic scenario in Gotham Central; the political consequences of Superman's sudden appearance in someplace very like Iraq when his wife Lois, an embedded reporter in a U.S. military unit, is shot; the political fallout Diana of Themyscira (Wonder Woman) as a U.N. ambassador for her people, who is seen on worldwide television breaking the neck of a man only she knows is a terrorist who apparently cannot be stopped any other way; a U.N. program to monitor and respond to people with special abilities; the hijacking of a U.S. military protocol to exterminate all "metahumans," these individuals with such concentrated power.

Rucka (hey! what do you know? he's one of us! ruckawriter) nodded when I described this as a consistent device in his work, and he said that he really thought that that was a central possibility in this kind of literature: not so much the fantastic or extraordinary as such, but the point of contact where the extraordinary meets the ordinary. That rung a bell with me, as I've long thought that that was why the Superman stories had Clark Kent surrounded by such a relentlessly human supporting cast. Rucka started excitedly talking about Renee Montoya in this regard, a minor character who had actually appeared in the 1990s Batman comics after having been created for Batman: The Animated Series, and who then migrated into the comics. It was in Rucka's hands that she began to dramatically fill out as a complex, and very flawed character. By the end of the Gotham Central series, she's virtually destroyed: outed as a lesbian to the public by a criminal fixated upon her, her relationship ruined, her partner on the force murdered, and, well on her way toward alcoholism, her resignation from the police force. The weekly, one-year series 52 further puts her through the wringer, but toward a constructive end, rebuilding her into a character with a place in the DC Universe that puts her on that border between the extraordinary and ordinary, neither "superhero" nor "civilian," but definitely a character to watch. When I asked about the limits of realism that he can bring to a medium like this, his response tended not to be so much focused on inherent limits of the fantasy aspects of the DC characters and universe, but rather the limits of drama itself: you don't write a TV drama about what cops actually do every day because most of it doesn't keep your attention as a story. Most never shoot their gun outside of training, and most never get into a car chase, yet these are conventions of the "cop show." That's what stood out to him as the border of writing realism in even the fantasy of the DC Universe: the mundane. I understood his response, but was certainly not the type of answer I was expecting. I now had a few more things I wanted to ask him about, particularly in getting so involved with a character like Montoya, which he doesn't own (I was curious if DC gives him a certain level of "dibs" on the character, to work with her long-term, as a trusted writer, and not letting other writers turn her in other directions and thus foiling all his intentions), but there were plenty of other people around, a few waiting for signatures, and I felt geeky enough by this point.

Diane and I wandered off, after she'd made the rounds of old co-workers, getting a gyro for her and a fish-fry for me at the Knick, and then heading over to the Metro for dessert (where I was happy to hear Over The Rhine's "Trouble" on the sound system), which we hadn't done in a good long while. Being a Friday, the latter was packed with clubbers, but we talked a long time over apple pie, cinnamon ice cream, and tawny ports, mostly about her and Tim's growing relationship, all of which made me increasingly excited for her, as I really got a good vibe from the guy last week. That, and relationship/love theory in general was enough to keep us going until 11:30. With that, and with my evening with the Doughertys the night before, I really feel like I got in my "weekend" already, and I'm looking very forward to just settling in and working for the next few days.
Tags: anselm, benedict xvi, books, class-intro to theology, class-theology through the centuries, dc universe, food, friends-marquette era, personal, quotations, theological notebook, thomas aquinas, writing

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