A Conversation with Lauren Winner, Part 2

By Mary Kenagy Mitchell
Continued from yesterday.

This post originally appeared as a web-exclusive feature accompanying Image issue 84.

Each chapter of Lauren F. Winner’s book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God (HarperOne), explores a single biblical image of God through a mix of exegesis, cultural history, and personal essay. I asked Winner about her new book, her love of history, her punctuation, and the politics of writing about the Bible.

Mary Kenagy Mitchell for Image: Could you talk about what you think makes a good history book, the kind you like to read?

Lauren Winner: I’m interested in histories of daily life, of ordinary people, and less in the history of ideas. Though even as I say that, I see a false dichotomy.

I have just read an amazing study of women in nineteenth-century southern households, Thavolia Glymph’s Out of the House of Bondage. There, the history of daily life is absolutely inseparable from politics, from ideas about (as well as practices of) slavery, freedom, and power. As Glymph puts it, to talk about freedom in the postbellum south is to talk about wages and political participation, but it is also to talk about:

Virginia Newman’s idea of freedom: “a blue guinea with yaler spots.” This was Newman’s first “bought dress,” and it represented, for her, control over her “whole life” and, concomitantly, the diminished control white people had over it.

There you have it: state power, consumerism, ideas, and what I’ve unhelpfully glossed “daily life” all rolled into one—and rolled into one in such a way as to diagnose the political work that my own depoliticizing language of “daily life” actually does. I am interested in books that draw, or expose, connections between the daily and the political, the kitchen and the state, the object and the idea. [Read more…]

When Ethics Conflict with the Law

26682691294_385a8a19c4_zAmong the courses that I teach is Professional Responsibility—Legal Ethics—which is a subject covered on every state bar exam in the country. The professional code of ethics—the Model Rules of Professional Conduct—sets out in statutory form a log of rules that cover such varied topics as candor to the tribunal and third parties, conflicts of interest between former, current, and prospective clients, the safekeeping of client property, and a list of deeds that amount to lawyerly misconduct. Falling afoul of these rules puts the attorney in danger of a range of penalties, from private reprimand all the way up to disbarment. [Read more…]

The Vegan at Our Chicken Slaughter

16658905467_1f9132c3f0_zA few years ago, we invited the newest neighbor in our rural intentional Christian community to help us slaughter the chickens we had raised for meat.

Our neighbor told us about his guest up the hill; he was visiting from the city and he was a strict ethical vegan. Our neighbor warned his vegan friend, whom I will call Tim, what would be happening down the hill that afternoon. So early that morning, Tim visited the doomed fowl and blessed them before death.

I appreciated such a blessing on our chickens. Blessings over animals before slaughter have been part of animal killing in many traditional societies. Some Native American tribes would ask for forgiveness for taking the life of the animal and then offer thanks for the provision of its life for sustenance.

When he was in West Africa serving in the Peace Corps, my husband participated in the killing of an animal during a festival. In keeping with Beninese tradition, he offered the animal a sip of water before he took its life, as a sign of respect. [Read more…]

Poetry as a Weapon of Jihad

open qu'ran“Strap on a suicide vest? Join a global mission whose leaders preach hatred and acts of violence against civilians? Spurn the traditions of one’s own community in favor of radicalization? Jihadis face a hard sell. By definition, poetry is a way to say what cannot be said in ordinary terms.”

I sat stunned after reading this online last week. The writer knows whereof he speaks; he is Professor Flagg Miller, author of a book on the Bin Laden tapes. Here, he’s affirming the thesis of a chapter in Oxford Professor Elisabeth Kendall’s forthcoming book, Twenty-first Century Jihad. In this chapter, called “Yemen’s al-Qaida and Poetry as a Weapon of Jihad,”Kendall writes:

The power of poetry to move Arab listeners and readers emotionally, to infiltrate the psyche and to create an aura of tradition, authenticity and legitimacy around the ideologies it enshrines make it a perfect weapon for militant jihadist causes. [Read more…]

Thou Shalt Not Kill Time: The Ethics of Storytelling

9109573902_47916587a7_zBy Daniel Taylor

Is The Great Gatsby a crime novel? (There’s a murder.) Crime and Punishment? (It’s in the title.) Moby Dick? (Oh the whales!) People like to make distinctions between mystery, crime, and detective fiction. But what’s the essence of a good mystery? What are the boundaries of what constitutes a crime? How narrowly professional or intentional does a character have to be to be considered a detective? And how do any of the novels in this loose genre relate to literary fiction?

I ask these questions because I have published a novel this year (Death Comes for the Deconstructionist, Slant) that finds itself located in a genre that I do not myself read or know much about. It makes me a bit uneasy.

I spent much of my life reading and teaching literary fiction. My most significant exposure to genre fiction was traipsing around small English bookshops with John Wilson (Books and Culture) many years ago looking for used copies of Georges Simenon novels.

Have I written a mystery/crime/detective novel? Can it make any claims to being literary? Does it matter? [Read more…]