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This issue's letters to the editor.


I was pleased to see the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben published in The Lamp’s Corpus Christi 2021 issue. Although I have serious objections to his take on the COVID-19 pandemic, I do not write to raise those, but rather to comment on Agamben more generally. I believe Catholics ought to be more familiar with his thought, though I also believe that we should be cautious about adopting it wholesale.

Agamben’s lifelong project has been to demonstrate that political power as realized in the form called “sovereignty” depends upon the creation of classes of people who are deeply affected by the law but excluded from its protection. (Usually this takes the form of mass murder.) He does this, as a friend (and fellow Lamp subscriber) puts it, by “smashing together Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault.” Readers familiar with Before Church and State by Andrew Willard Jones will note that this idea is similar to the critique of sovereignty articulated in that book.

This has obvious applications to a wide range of questions of interest to Catholics. I’ve already mentioned Before Church and State. I would also direct readers to the feminist philosopher Melinda Cooper’s article “The Silent Scream—Agamben, Deleuze, and the Politics of the Unborn,” which criticizes Agamben on the grounds that his work ends up quietly retracing Catholic teaching on abortion.

But I would also caution against too easy an embrace of Agamben’s ideas. Much of his criticism is directed at the Church, which, like most secular Italians, he has a very uneasy relationship with. That in itself does not bother me—like Herbert McCabe, I would say that the Church is of course very corrupt (but that’s no reason to leave!) But not all criticisms are created equal. One passage in Agamben’s book The Use of Bodies is instructive. Agamben argues there that our perverse relationship with technology today is derived not from the scientific revolution but from the Catholic understanding of the sacraments, specifically the doctrine of ex opere operato. The sacraments, in Agamben’s view, are just technology applied to the distribution of grace: just as the factory machine removes intention from the worker and uses his labor only as a kind of tool in production, the sacrament removes intention from the priest and uses his celebration of it only as a kind of tool in the distribution of grace. If this is a valid criticism of technology, it is hard to explain why it should not be a valid criticism of sacramental theology, but if we concede that, well, we’re a long way from Catholic orthodoxy.

One final note: Agamben’s primary target through nearly all his work is the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, for whom there has been a recent surge of enthusiasm among many Catholics. Now, there may be respectable arguments for Catholics to embrace Carl Schmitt (though, cards on the table, I’ve never seen one), but whatever they are, they cannot exist alongside an embrace of Agamben. One may be an Agambenian, or a Schmittian, or neither, but one absolutely cannot be both.

John-Paul Teti

Rockville, Maryland

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I was delighted to see The Lamp’s recent solicitation for ghost stories. I was dismayed, however, to read the requirement that they be submitted in Times New Roman. Given the state of the world, men of goodwill must come together; in the realm of typography, they should do so by rejecting Times New Roman.

Several reasons counsel the course. Times New Roman is not a good typeface. It features narrow, spindly, poorly spaced characters. It thus—as anyone who has never needed to manage a page limit knows—maximizes characters per line. This mattered to its creators, newspapermen working in the day when there were enough literate writers to fill a newspaper with words. It matters far less to us today, and not at all when working on machines. But whether it matters or no, the typeface itself creates fatigue, and its horizontally and vertically cramped presentation impairs comprehension. These faults justify the widespread deprecation it garners from professional readers and writers. The Supreme Court of the United States prohibits submissions set in Times New Roman; Century makes a poor prophylactic against erroneous judgements, but it at least reduces eye strain.

If further authority were required, it lies at hand: The Lamp itself employs Garalda, a pleasant, less-goofy derivative of Garamond.

There is also the philosophical angle: Times New Roman enjoys the prominence it does through mere inertia. Long apparently the default typeface in Word, unthinking superiors instructed us in its use to stave off submissions in Comic Sans. The Lamp does admirable work in the service of cultural renewal. If we want people to join in such a renewal, we must make it as easy as possible to read the message. That means rejecting Times New Roman.

Paul Krog

Nashville, Tennessee

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The editor replies:

As I sat at my desk preparing Mr. Krog’s submission—in sixteen point Times New Roman, of course!—two things occurred to me. The first was that just as I once employed British spellings as a matter of course, having encountered them in my childhood reading, and was forced to abandon them by cruel teachers, so too did I exile the blithe spirit of Courier, that favorite—sorry, favourite—of would-be teeenaged typewriter enthusiasts everywhere with the utmost reluctance. Would Mr. Krog believe that I was accused of using the font in question in the hope of padding out a three-page essay (on Milton, if I recall correctly, about whom I could write at almost any length)? All of which is to say that man is born free to employ winsome spellings and archaic fonts, but everywhere he is in chains cruelly deployed by vicious persons who spell “yoghurt” without an H.

That brings me to my second point, which is that if Mr. Krog can write letters this amusing, he should feel free to submit them in any font he chooses, including Wingdings.

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