“Things and Stuff,” now available.

“Things and Stuff,” now available. September 7, 2011

So much for not advertising!

In all seriousness, I’ve been working on this book since December and I’m eager, excited, and relieved to have finally finished it. I am especially happy to share the news with you here, at Vox Nova, where all of the work was initially drafted. If you would like to buy the book, I would ask that you purchase it from Createspace, if you don’t mind. It will also be available on Amazon very soon and will be stocked at the Wabash College bookstore.

For Vox Nova readers, I have posted the entire preface below.

As many of you surely know, marketing a book is an uphill battle: any help you can offer will be deeply appreciated. I have reserved a few copies for those interested in reviewing the book for a website, blog, or magazine/journal, feel free to contact me about that.

God’s peace,

Sam

____________________________________________________________

Preface

In the academy, I am expected to have a precise, comprehensive statement declaring what my interests are. What I end up saying usually has more to do with who is asking, with the “intended audience.” If I were to be honest, I would probably say that I am interested in things and stuff and leave it at that. Things and stuff: nothing more, nothing less.

For better or worse, classifications like “things and stuff” are not acceptable in academia. Nor elsewhere: the academy isn’t the only place where presumptuous precisions and artificial descriptions rule the day. I am also familiar with the non-academic frustration of not knowing exactly how to describe other kinds of things (like one’s music, it’s genre, where and in what category to put your album on iTunes).

As comforting as it may be to think that there is an easy escape out of this, I also know that what I’m describing here is something general and ubiquitous: it could be said to be a part of the human condition, especially the modern one. Using overspecialized, incomplete categories to describe who we are is normal nowadays and I cannot think of a time or place when things were entirely different. (How does one describe who one is?)

All the same, it’s still nice—and important—to pretend. Life without Peter Pan is deadly and disenchanting. It is invigorating to imagine myself writing sin patria: without allegiance to any particular land, nation, or institution; lacking predictable preconditions and tediously low expectations. More often than not, this is what motivates my informal writing, especially my writing at Vox-Nova, a Catholic weblog on “culture, society, and politics.”

There are surely other things motivating me to write at Vox-Nova that led me to write elsewhere too. I have been doing the sorts of things one might call “self-expression” for about as long as I can remember as a writer, speaker, and musician—an overall outspoken guy. Plus: this was not my first time blogging. I wrote at other blogs and similar places for several years before I joined Vox-Nova. Many of these earlier writings, combined with a personal connection to Vox-Nova’s founder (Mike Deem), got me added there in April of 2009.

But writing at Vox-Nova was also new and different: it was, and still is, a Catholic weblog with a catholic readership. It gently forced me to take both my formal, ecclesial Catholicism seriously and, at the same time, to consider things in an explicit and unapologetically catholic spirit.

Katholikos, the Greek root of the word ‘catholic,’ literally means “across the world.” Universal. The catholic spirit and the Catholic Church, at their root, are whole not parts, total not partial, complete not fragmented, general not particular. It is this holistic catholic spirit that motivates me to write at all, to write in the first and last place—especially to and with (and sometimes against) the Catholic Church—and further explains the title for this book and the other titles that, si Dios quiere, will follow in years to come.

I must admit: this project began as a rather uninspired, archival project, the utilitarian task of gathering some of my online writings into print for safekeeping. As time has passed and I have edited, re-edited, and re-re-edited, my sense of this work has changed. I am not entirely sure what it all amounts to exactly, but I do know that there is something about this unsystematic patchwork of writings that shows what I find nearly impossible to say. It most certainly is not that indulgent nonsense some might call “my philosophy.” To put it another way: while I am uncertain as to what this book means, I am quite sure that it has turned out to be something. It is. How plain and exciting!

More and more, I am concerned that meaning has supplanted being. Things and stuff don’t count for much until they mean something, until someone has interpreted them into their own image. I offer this book as a gesture towards recovering an appreciation and appetite for being: for the meaningless things and stuff that sustain us, beyond the grasp of meaning. Therefore: expect no answer key; there is no big secret at the end; I have no moral to impress; no magical solutions will be prescribed; I don’t have a clue as to what it all might mean, and I am doubtful that it should mean anything at all. At the moment, being is enough. Things and stuff suffice.

Things and Stuff, then, is first and foremost a form of radical fidelity: fidelity to roots (radis, in Latin); faithfulness to the way the world is and might be; loyalty to the sufficiency of things and stuff: the pleasure of the plain, the bounty of the beautiful.

Things and stuff interest me because they interest everyone, and they do so in superabundance. Things and stuff fascinate and tickle my imagination because, in their bare and plain reality, they overflow with mystery. Their presence points to my own absence and their absence makes them present. When you take a close, careful, and loving look, things and stuff shoot dark rays of light and sing in strangely familiar tongues and tense, melodic voices. God is everywhere, in everything. Things and stuff are a testament to that, a witness to the naked reality that the world is divinely enchanted.

It is strange—strangely appropriate even—that the recent accident of becoming an academic has created the desire and need to do this kind of work elsewhere: outside the academy, at an open access weblog and a self-published collection of edited blog posts. This is also not entirely true. Much, if not all, of my so-called “formal” work began in other, improvisational writings and experiences. And vice-versa.

In a world of tenure tracks and publishing mills, in a symphony of contrived harmonies and silly, interpretive noisemaking, improvisation cannot be lost. Not that it could be lost; the point is that we are lost without it. At least I am.

At the end of the day, all pious reasons notwithstanding, this is what Things and Stuff is really, truly about: jazz.

Catholic jazz?

Yes!

July 2011—

Crawfordsville, IN

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  • Mark Gordon

    I have ordered the book, and I encourage everyone else to do so!