Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Karla Adolphe - Live at The Space EP

I first encountered Karla Adolphe, a singer-songwriter from High River, Alberta, when she played for a chapel service at Providence University College in Otterburne, Manitoba, a few years ago. I was immediately taken by this compelling and emotive performer. In concert, with only her voice and her guitar, she seemed to express a kind of victory despite loss, or an acceptance despite loneliness: her Christian faith was clearly present in that it allowed her to overcome the various difficulties that she experienced.

This was particularly evident during her last visit to Providence a couple of years ago, during which she expressed the difficulties she faced in the flooding of her house, and her community, in the floods of June 2013. She expressed how difficult the rebuilding process was for her, and as she presented her stories, I became part of her story: my own troubles (certainly not as difficult as her--and her family'--experiences) came to mind and I realized that our journeys in life, though unique to each of us, were more similar than different. And if she could overcome despite, then, perhaps, so could I.

When I found out that Karla Adolphe was putting out a live EP, I was excited. The five-song EP was recorded live at The Space, "a sound stage, post-production house and a recording studio" located in Red Deer, Alberta. The tracks feature Adolphe and her guitar, as well as a sparse band and complementary background vocals. Other than that, the production is light, and so the performance remains intimate and very easy to listen to.

The first track, "Trouble Won't Go," is a rousing number, evocative of a spiritual, a song that seems to bring to the forefront life's difficulties: "Ain't no refuge but you, my God." With all of the talk of levees breaking and earth eroding away, it is easy to make a connection (at least thematically) with Adolphe's own experiences in the 2013 floods. But her decision is to hold still in the arms of God. Her proclamation is loud and definitive. She will do this despite.

"Magnolia," a preview of the title track on her upcoming full-length release, begins with a couple of guitars and fingersnaps for percussion, and then Adolphe's blues-infused delivery. This song is a bit of a "soft" scorcher, that is until the chorus begins with the declaration of "I will rise up!" Again, the theme of victory in the face of looming defeat is strong. To say that the song is an encouragement is too strong: the song is a call of desperation, and a call to join together with her to yell at defeat and to tell it to go away.

Her rendition of "Ice Road," originally released on Honeycomb Tombs from 2012, is imbued with a positive energy not present on the studio recording. Though equally beautiful, the original is sad and sparse, evoking the loneliness of an ice road journey itself. This version seems to anticipate the arrival to a destination. Adolphe has now "gotten through," her desire throughout the song.

"No Grounds For Love" is soft and gentle, and reminds this listener of Feist's work, though with Adolphe's vocal power. It is a beautiful song which really demonstrates how talented a performer Karla Adolphe really is. She is able to disarm the listener: through her vulnerability, she makes the listener vulnerable. We are affected by her emotions. In the sonic spaces of the song, beneath and through the voice we hear, we breath, realizing that we are all on a similar journey through life.

Once I got to the last song, "Child of the King," I was saddened. It wasn't because of the triumphant sorts of declarations that Adolphe proclaims here; she continues to express this sort of victory despite. Rather, I know that the EP is over. Karla, we need a full-length, live, one-take, one-guitar, one-voice album. We need more of that spoken and sung victory despite so that we can continue to realize that we are not alone.

Until then, I suppose this will do.

You can pre-order/purchase both Digital Downloads and Physical CDs at

Look forward to Magnolia, a full-length album from Karla Adolphe, coming in March 2016. For more information on wonderful Karla Adolphe, see her website at

Friday, October 09, 2015

Affective Images

Smith explores the power of narrative in media (as well as narrative in advertising, in ”iconic” representations at a mall) as ”affective images,” which, in turn, affect our telos, the direction of our desire. (58) Further, habits are trained by ritual, precognitive actions of the body. He states:
Over time, rituals and practices--often in tandem with aesthetic phenomena like pictures and stories--mold and shape our precognitive disposition by training our desires. (59)
Interestingly, Smith suggests that, thinking back to Christian education, if the religious academy is concerned with "worldview," it might also want to be concerned with the "unconscious" (residing close to the sites of desire), which informs it. (61)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Precognitive Engine

How does our desire get pointed in the right direction--the right version--of human flourishing? Smith concludes:
a desire for and orientation to a particular vision of the good life (the kingdom) becomes operative in us (motivating actions, decisions, etc.) by becoming an integral part of the fabric of our dispositions--our precognitive tendencies to act in certain ways and toward certain ends. Philosophers like Aristotle, Aquinas, and MacIntyre describe such dispositions as "habits." (55)
They can be so intrinsic to our existence that we might think that they are natural (not unlike ideologies or Barthes' myths). It is this "precognitive engine," as Smith calls it, that directs us to do either the right thing or the wrong thing (perhaps simplified a little too much here). (56) But this "precognitive engine" is made, not necessarily given to us. But this doesn't yet answer the question: where does the "precognitive engine" get made? How is it modified?

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Human Flourishing

Each of us have a picture in our minds of what it means to flourish, what Smith calls a “social vision.” (53) The vision includes almost inherently elements of intersubjectivity; this picture then informs how we act. He states:
It’s not so much that intellectually convinced and then muster the willpower to pursue what we ought; rather, at a precognitive level, we are attracted to a visionof the good life that has been painted for us in stories and myths, images and icons. (54)
So, for Smith, the ultimate question is what shapes that vision of the good life, and how can that be modified? He calls this site of human flourishing “the kingdom.” (54-55) This “kingdom,” or picture of what it means to flourish, is constantly contested. How do we point our telos to good things?

Monday, October 05, 2015

Being Involved in the World

Smith suggests that we, as humans, don't spend the day simply thinking about and perceiving actions, but rather, we act. That is, we are involved in the world. He states, "We are primordially and essentially agents of love, whihch takes the structure of desire or longing." (50) And, furthermore, what we love defines who we are, that which "ultimately governs our vision of the good life, what shapes and molds our being-in-the-world." (51) This last bit has the same sort of urgency that is in Virilio's work, where he wants to know "Where is being-in-the-world in the era where speed it at the limit?" (Virilio 56) Being-in-the-world is an active state, a way that one negotiates with the world around them. Things matter in ways that we cannot always articulate (what an interesting concept that Smith brings up). (51) So, this desiring--the active state of being-in-the-world--is directed at a certain target, which, in turn, defines who we are. This is fascinating stuff.

Note that the Paul Virilio quote is from The Administration of Fear, Ames Hodges, trans. (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012).

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Loving Animals

I didn't realize that today is the Feast of Saint Francis. With that in mind, the title of this blog entry is appropriate. But I'm actually referring to humanity as "animals that love." This is supposed to continue the tradition of "[whatever] animals" as titles, after Smith. Just so you know. Happy Feast of Saint Francis, nonetheless.

Smith decides, then, that humans are loving animals, rather than simply thinking or believing:
This Augustinian model of human persons resists the rationalism and quasi-rationalism of the earlier models by shifting the center of gravity of human identity, as it were, down from the heady regions of mind closer to the central regions of our bodies, in particular, our kardia--our gut or heart. (47)
Fundamentally, we are desiring creatures, a particularly compelling model (for me, at least). Further, Smith suggests that a model of intentionality is more appropriate to the human journey: human identity is formed over time (he calls this "unfolding and developing" in a "process of formation"). (47) The intentionality, or aim, of our selves is through the process of desire toward a target. He deftly states, "I can never just 'think'; I will necessarily be thinking of ... something." (48) This intentionality then takes on different modes: thinking; perceiving; remembering; having hope for; being afraid of; and having love for, to name only a few. Perception is not the fundamental mode, but rather, according to Heidegger, care. (49)

I seem not to care so much (about things I don't care about; what I mean is that my fundamental mode is selfishness, a sort of intentionality for myself), but I look forward to more of Smith's musing.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Believing Animals

Smith suggests that the Reformed tradition has formulated an alternative anthropology that pounts to humans as “believing” first, since all thought is based on some set of values, or, in my own words, based on ideology. Thus, humanity is made up if believing animals, nit just thinking ones. (43) But he goes on to reject this view (not completely, though) as just the same as "human-as-thinker," though somewhat more subtle. But it is a step in the right direction: Smith acknowledges that belief exists before and informs thought. But even before belief comes love. (46)

Friday, October 02, 2015

Cognitive Centricity

Smith goes first to Descartes (and Modernity) for the idea that a human is a thinking thing rather than a being "of the heart." When Descartes famously decides that "I think, therefore I am," the next question should be (according to Smith), "What am I?" But Smith suggests that Descartes has already concluded that this is all, as the physical senses can deceive. Thus, "what nourishes the 'I' is a steady diet of ideas, fed somewhat intravenously into the mind through the lines of propositions and information." (42) And, much to our chagrin, this model was accepted readily by Protestant Christianity (thus the stress on messages one might receive from the world around them, and a latent anti-intellectualism). (42)

These are scathing views of the cognitive centricity of the Protestant Church. He goes on right at the start of the next section to suggest that the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity has contested this view as reductionist. If they've got it right, that's good.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Liturgical Animals

James K. A. Smith begins his book in earnest with the following axiom: “We are what we love, and our love is shaped, primed, and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of our gut and aim our heart to certain ends.” (40) And for Smith, we need to understand this philosophical anthropology before we can consider what the purpose of a Christian education, and how it might be informed by liturgical practices. Furthermore, he wishes to ponder the link between the Church and the Christian educational institution: it has been conceived as a link of ideas, a site of the conflation of world views, between the secular and the sacred: this leads to multiple (and seemingly endless) discussions of the “integration of faith and learning.” But, again, Smith returns to the premise that humans are not primarily thinkers, but, rather, they’re lovers. (41)

I think this is a useful idea; I continue to be interested in this very idea, and I appreciate the sort of phenomenological approach that I think Smith is (at least in part) taking. We desire, and what of this desire, or these desires? How have they come about and how do we change them? And what does this mean for curricula in the Christian academy?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Christian Cultural Theory

Smith begins this next section by suggesting that the Christian educational institution has accepted the notion of the informative over the formative in the last few decades:
Many Christian schools, colleges, and universities--particularly in the protestant tradition--have taken on board a picture of the human person that owes more to modernity and the Enlightenment than it does to the holistic, biblical vision of human persons. In particular, Christian education has absorbed a philosophical anthropology that sees human persons as primarily thinking things. (31)
Through the integration of faith and learning (a phrase that I have heard countless times at my own institution as well as at other "ideologically specific" institutions), students will learn a "Christian worldview," since they are being taught their disciplines from a Christian perspective. The ideas then inform how we behave.

I'm not sure that Smith is suggesting this is necessarily wrong, but he claims that we are more than just our ideas: "Weren't we created as embodied creatures?" (32) It is through the material practices of Christianity that our thoughts change: it's regrettable that Smith uses such language as "heart" for where these impulses reside, but perhaps there is little vocabulary to describe the source of desire in the human person.

Smith's project is a grand one: he wishes to formulate a new sort of Christian cultural theory.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The End of Christian Education

Education has been a subject of the mind, and has not (traditionally) concerned itself with what Smith calls "material practices." (28) It is through these rituals or practices that we get to understand the world. I happen to like the idea of a "social imaginary," a term that is not Smith's but one I've used in the past (much to the chagrin of those listening to me use the term). This "social imaginary" can be thought of as the ways that we perceive things around us (Smith calls them "habits of perception"), and we often don't question it. (28n12) For Smith, education is trapped in such an imaginary, that it is a work of the mind rather than something that is enacted upon by liturgies, ways of acting and being formed. Smith uses an example from George Orwell who, in The Road to Wigan Pier, describes class difference in England as being formed not by intellectual teaching, but by olfactory understanding: "The lower classes smell." (30; Smith is quoting Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (London: Penguin, 2001), 119). He ends this section with a compelling question:
Could we offer a Christian education that is loaded with all sorts of Christian ideas and information--and yet be offering a formation that runs counter to that vision? (31)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pedagogies of Desire

I like this quote from Smith:
The description [of the mall as a religious site] is meant to shift our attention and perspective in order for us to be recognize the charged, religious nature of cultural institutions that we all tend to inhabit as if they were neutral sites. . . . we can at once appreciate that the mall is a religious institution because it is a liturgical institution, and that it is a pedagogical institution because it is a formative institution. (23)
His point is that the mall deals not with ideas, but rather, through practice, with notions of the heart: ways of living. This is due to what he calls "quasi-liturgical practices" (he calls "formative practices" "liturgies" here) which take place at the mall. (24) What he ultimately wants, it seems, if for Christian education (or the Christian academy) to be a counter-formation to the mall, to provide a liturgy as formative practice (formative of our imagination) that works against what the mall is doing: "What would be the shape of an alternate pedagogy of desire?" (25)

By the way, I want a Lego Wall-E.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Shopping Mall: A Religious Site

Today, my family and I attended mass at a local Roman Catholic parish. Afterwards, we "attended" two shopping malls, not to mention a grocery store and a gas station. And I would have bought a Lego version of the beloved Disney/Pixar character Wall-E had it been in stock at the local Lego Store. I should also mention that I took my photo at the Apple Store, at which I mentioned to my family that "we should all be happy. It's like Walt Disney World."

Smith seems to take a page from Jon Pahl in referring to the shopping mall as a site of religious ritual (I like that he talks about the mall parking lot as a kind of moat, as there is no real way to get to the mall a pedestrian. This is ironic as the mall acts as a kind of sanctuary for walking in the wintertime). I appreciate Smith's discussions of the visual semiotics of the mall, the architectural codes that he calls "catholic" (that is, universal), those things that indicate that this building is, in fact, a shopping mall. Smith calls the various shopping seasons a sort of religious calendar, while he calls the stores "shrines." This is closer to truth for me: I've done pilgrimages to various Apple Stores in my lifetime (Polo Park, Rideau, Eaton Centre, Sainte-Catherine, Mall of America, Square One, Soho and Carrefour Laval, off the top of my head). He writes,
While other religions are promising salvation through the thin, dry media of books and messages, this new global religion is offering embodied pictures of the redeemed that invite us to imagine ourselves in their shoes--to imagine ourselves otherwise, and thus to willingly submit to the disciplines that produce the saints evoked in the icons. (21)
Smith's description of the mall as religious site, along with acolytes (greeters) and priests (cashiers), is compelling. And very familiar.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Smith: Formation vs. Information

“[This book] is an invitation to re-vision Christian education as a formative rather than just an informative project.” (18) In particular, Smith suggests that Christian scholars should be considering how education informs what Smith calls the hearts, passions and desires of students. But his footnote contains an important point: “I’m not arguing that we love, and therefore we need not know; rather, we love in order to know.” (3n2) For that matter, Smith’s project includes raising the stakes of Christian education. It is becoming increasingly clear that Smith’s book is important for the Christian academic community to consider, even at my early stage of reading. I am also compelled by his idea of a “philosophical anthropology,” with a nod to phenomenology: the importance of desire and desire’s targets. This intersects with my own work and my own life, too (as one of my colleagues recently quoted me as saying: “But I want that iPad!”).

Friday, September 25, 2015

Reading James K. A. Smith

Because of the encouragement of a colleague, I decided to delve into a book that has been sitting on my shelf for quite a while. The book is Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, by my favourite author (of those authors that I've ready hardly anything at all), James K. A. Smith. He begins his introduction with quite a loaded question, which I suppose is good considering he is about to embark on a book-length study of the idea: "What is education for? And more specifically, what is at stake in a distinctively Christian education?" (17) He suggests that a Christian education is (traditionally conceived as) for instilling a Christian worldview, a way of thinking. Obviously, he feels that this is a limited view.

I'm going to try my best to work through his ideas, and this blog will help me to both process what he writes, as well as help me to continue to read the book (one little thing among so many other things that are on my plate this term). If you want to follow along, please do.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


It is no secret that I have been listening to Apple's new worldwide radio station, Beats1, almost every morning. Generally, I tune in to listen to former BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe; he was the opening DJ on Beats1, and, through his on-air enthusiasm, seems to foster an "imagined community." Every listening moment is an event.

Toward the beginning of his show, Lowe asks for people to report in (generally through Twitter), and he then does a sort of selective "roll call": he will mention names of those who are "locked in on their devices" and so on. I tweeted Lowe and Beats1 in July, hoping to get a mention, and I think I did in that he mentioned a "Nicholas." But, as it was on a Friday (when the shows are not repeated later in the day) and I was at school (and thus couldn't record it), I didn't capture the shout out.

This past Friday, the 18th, I decided to send a tweet in that was a bit more substantial: I wrote,

And I got a mention about 4 minutes later. Zane Lowe, on Beats1, transmitting to over 100 countries on Apple Music, said (something like) "Nicholas Greco, locked in from Providence University College in Manitoba, Canada!"

On a Friday (when the shows are not repeated later in the day) and I was at school (and thus couldn't record it). Yet again, I didn't capture the shout out.

Monday, March 09, 2015

RIP Waterman fountain pen

You might know the story from here, but if you don't, here's a quick summary. A little over 10 years ago, my wife bought be a nice Waterman fountain pen. It wasn't the most expensive pen, nor was it the cheapest. It was the first "real" fountain pen I bought; prior to this, my father had purchased me a Sheaffer pen from Staples (or equivalent). The funny part of all of this was that the pen happened to be a woman's pen, that is, marketed and created especially for a female market.

While I was marking some papers on Saturday, my pen ran out of ink. As I unscrewed the barrel from the nib section, I saw that the threads in the nib section were "messed up." I must have overtightened it at some point, but I wasn't sure when. Looking more closely, I noticed that the threads section had cracked almost all the way around the pen. I removed the bladder (where the ink is held if one does not want to use a cartridge) and noticed the damage. I screwed the nib section back into the barrel without the bladder, and the whole pen seemed to bend, as the two sections were basically held by a small piece of yet-to-be-cracked plastic. Needless to say, I was not impressed. There is no way to fix such a thing, I don't think. And in case some might think otherwise, Waterman pens come with a 3-year warranty, so that passed around 7 years ago.

Thankfully, I still have my father's Sheaffer, a Parker pen from the late 1950s that I bought as my 5-year gift at Providence (my go-to pen, except that its nib is a bit bigger than I would like), and an old Sheaffer I found at a local crafts store for free. I would love to buy a TWSBI, a Chinese pen that has been lauded by most.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Today is the first day of the rest of your life ...

But, of course, tomorrow is also the first day of the rest of your life. And the day after that, too. Basically, until the day you die, this is the case.

Still, I haven't blogged here for months and months. I was on Sabbatical last fall with big plans to blog and read, but I spent most of my time writing (and going to Walt Disney World). The Bowie book has been sent off to the publishers and it should be published soon-ish (perhaps in the fall, at the latest).

I started reading Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, a Barthes book that I had not yet read. I made it two-thirds of the way through, and then this new semester started. I will get back into it, I promise.

I was looking at the books on my shelf and saw a curious volume called On Racine, by Barthes, that I have never read (I don't even remember ever looking inside of it, but of course, I must have). That should be the next book I read.

As I mentioned, today is the first day of the rest of my life, so I will get on with it.