The Antinomies of Gender and Sexuality in Skyrim

I still enjoy playing vanilla Skyrim. Actually, I’ve never even played the DLC, and have only used Steam intermittently so that I’ve missed any chances of getting it on the cheap (I can’t seem to find it at all any more, and I think you can only buy the Legendary Edition, which already includes the DLC but which I haven’t bought). So if you can still tolerate me, allow me to share some thoughts on gender and sexuality in Skyrim, based on my having played only this side of the game, and also not having played any other games in the Elder Scrolls series. This also means that readers more knowledgeable in Elder Scrolls lore will be able to correct me where correction is due.

Skyrim as High Fantasy

What requirements does the world of Skyrim have to meet for it to be considered genuine? Firstly, in terms of genre, Skyrim is a fantasy game, specifically high fantasy (compare). That is, it is not our world (real life–RL) with some minor modifications (that would be low fantasy) but takes place in quite a different world, though it is related in many respects. On the one hand, the world of Skyrim takes much from RL, with much of its animals, forests, mountains, rivers, climates, foods, weaponry, towns and villages, social structures, calendar, etc. closely resembling that of medieval Europe, and pre-Christian Norway (compare). On the other hand, Skyrim also departs from RL in many ways, though much of this is taken from RL religion and mythology: so draugr, dragons, Sovengarde, the Aedra and the Daedra, magic, shouts, alchemy, Dwemer technology, the different humanoid races, the land of Skyrim as a part of Tamriel and that as a part of Nirn–an entirely different planet to that of Earth.

Where Skyrim does depart from RL it is in its being a world where the creatures and gods of myth are real, and can be experienced as such by the player. The world the player inhabits is an enchanted one at almost every turn. But there are also other differences between Skyrim and RL that are not satisfactorily accounted for by its high fantasy genre. Indeed, they have more to do with accepted (to some extent) conventions in fantasy gaming and the medium of gaming itself. In this post I want to argue that the fantasy world of Skyrim sacrifices internal consistency for the sake of player experience.

The Medium of Gaming and the Departure from RL

There are a number of ways in which Skyrim asks for the player’s suspension of disbelief, for the sake of gameplay. A number of these have been illustrated by “Skyrim logic” memes:

Skyrim-Torch-Meme

Skyrim-Cheese-Meme
Food can be used to heal the player, and can be digested while the game is paused
Skyrim-Bandit-MEme
Hostile NPCs rarely retreat, even when they have just seen the player defeat a dragon

Other features, there to enhance the player’s gameplay, might include the absurdly huge carrying capacity available to the player or the battle mechanics. As one commenter on Quora puts it:

I haven’t seen a medieval-based video game which would be practically accurate. Realistic fighting is not about long, exhausting battles where you gradually bring down your opponent’s health. It’s about killing or seriously hurting your opponent with one successful hit within the first 3 seconds of the duel and watching him bleed out or take the opportunity to make sure he doesn’t survive.

And don’t get me started on the food. Skyrim includes tomatoes and potatoes, both of which in RL only came to Europe from the Americas in the sixteenth century. Tolkien himself was guilty of this crime. Basically, these features in particular are either included to enhance gameplay, such as the battle interface, or have not been thought through, the food possibly being an example of this. They have little, if anything, to do with the high fantasy genre and much more to do with its medium–here gaming.

The unrealistic features that are not accounted for by the high fantasy genre but the medium of gaming most of the time inhabit relatively neutral territory, though it should be noted that many players have sought a more–keyword–“immersive” experience, that (often) is, a more realistic experience that bypasses these suspensions of disbelief. Various mods have helped them achieve this. But we step into not-so neutral territory when we begin to address gender and sexuality in Skyrim. This is because the representations of gender and sexuality in Skyrim, for better or worse, correspond to or depart from the structures of gender and sexuality in RL. (Contrast Skyrim’s treatment of race, which, while I’m sure there is still much room for improvement, is a lot less superficial than its approach to gender and sexuality: see Nord discrimination of different Elvish races, Argonians, and the Khajitt; the plight of the Forsworn/Reachmen; the mild exclusivism of the Orsimer; Dwemer enslavement of Snow Elves; etc.).

Boob Armour and Modesty Conventions

To take one example that has received much attention, consider the infamous “boob armour.” Early on in the game, the player might encounter Uthgerd the Unbroken:

Uthgerd_the_Unbroken
Image from The Elder Scrolls Wiki

There are many treatments of the relationship between boob armour and RL history available on the internet (here Skyrim specific, sometimes heated). But I have found the following video particularly helpful:

Quick sum: 1. We aren’t aware of any historical precedents for boob armour (at least that which might be used in combat–see comments here). 2. If boob armour were actually employed in combat historically, rather than protecting the wearer it would instead make them more vulnerable to injury and death.

This might mean, then, if we interpret this as sympathetically as we can, that the women of Skyrim have an entirely different body-type to those in RL, so that boob armour actually does do its job and somehow affords them the same armour-rating as men who wear that armour. But this sympathetic interpretation is highly speculative and does not rest on evidence that the world itself provides. The simplest explanation is that Skyrim’s designers were either following convention or–whether consciously or not–attending to their own tastes and those of their hetero male playership.

In relation to this, Skyrim modesty conventions dictate that male humanoids can be topless but females must at least have their nipples covered. One exception is the goddess of beauty and love, Dibella, who is bare-breasted in a some depictions, with even the vulva–or place where the vulva might be–being semi-visible:

Dibella_(statue)
Image taken from The Elder Scrolls Wiki. See also here and here, as well the related but more “modest” depiction of Nocturnal.

Apart from this, female humanoids universally wear what looks like a cloth bra (I’m unaware of any exceptions):

rrcleaner2
Taken from here. In most cases, NPCs do not run around in their underwear. In this case, the player had maxed out their Pickpocket skill which allows a perk for pickpocketting equipped items, including clothing. Underwear is not an item in Skyrim and can never be “removed” without a mod.

Interestingly, male NPCs also have different bottom-half undies:

eyesopen
Taken from the same place.

Finally, before offering critical comment, note that there is virtually no variation in body size in Skyrim. All humanoids appear to be sleek and muscular, apart from children.

Skyrim’s modesty conventions, then, seem strangely in line with North American mainstream consumer culture, though not so strange if you consider the playership. The sexualisation of breasts requires both that they be accentuated in boob armour and that they be covered up. Cf. here the cognitive dissonance of Facebook’s policy on nipples. This is further exacerbated by the universal, exclusively ideal body-type that Skyrim offers, suggesting that upholding North American attractiveness conventions is more important than variety or realism (also this video if you haven’t seen it yet). Just how contemporary the beauty conventions of Skyrim actually are, moreover, can be seen in the fact surprising lack of variation for female headdresses (also here), apart from say circlets, which are worn by males too anyway. Even the depictions of Dibella, though following in the tradition of artistic depictions of the female form, are potentially problematic when considered in this context (see also).

Marriage and Sexual Orientation

Another odd interplay between realism or internal coherence, on the one hand, and player sensibilities on the other, can be seen in player marriage in Skyrim. Here Skyrim gives the impression that its world was formed to reflect an intentionally idealised version of RL. Thus, where the non-heterosexual, non-male player might still run into obstacles on the basis of their sexuality and gender in RL, virtually none of these are to be found in Skyrim. For example, players playing as male characters can marry other male NPCs and female characters female NPCs (no NPC will object on the basis of gender). If we are thinking about this in terms of the world itself and not just a fancy open to the player, then every marriable NPC is thus already bisexual, or, their sexual orientation is determined to match the player’s gender from the outset of the game. This is further complicated by a perk available in the Speech skill which affords “10% better prices with the opposite sex” when buying or selling wares. Every merchant is then already hetero- or bisexual. This may all be relatively acceptable, but the problem finally becomes clear when the player realises that there are no other, non-hetero, romantic relationships in the world of Skyrim, besides that available to the player and one in the DLC (lengthy video treatment that I have not watched, here).

The only other non-hetero relationship in Skyrim is not even a part of the original game and clearly an afterthought. Does this not mean that the world of Skyrim is basically heteronormative? If so, oddly, no hostility is shown the player for their apparently unconventional choice of marital partner. This all leads very quickly to the conclusion that Skyrim includes the option to provide a more inclusive or expansive (or both) player experience, without really having thought through the implications this might have for the internal consistency of its world. Obviously there would be considerable problems with creating a world that emulates the discrimination its non-hetero players would face in RL. Of course, literature, film, and other art forms from the LGBT community have already done this. To do so in gaming, then, is no more problematic, though, that being said, the unique nature of the medium needs to be taken into account. Nor can I offer any suggestions of what this might look like, being myself a cis hetero male. It should be noted, nonetheless, that here Skyrim seems to be tending towards inclusivity rather than allying itself with existing stations of power, as in its use of boob armour. There is a catch, though. Rather than make a unique contribution to the conversation or challenge its more socially conservative playership, such as in an alternative world with a much more liberal and diverse approach to gender, sexual orientation, and sexuality, Skyrim only includes a hushed, token acknowledgement of non-hetero orientations by offering the player the opportunity to marry someone of the same gender, an act that is an absolute anomaly in the context of its wider world.

Gender Roles

Societies in Skyrim appear to be largely egalitarian. You have male and female royalty, jarls, and warriors, and, as far as I can tell, women almost always not being excluded from any role or type of work on the basis of their gender. There are a few exceptions, though. All hold guards are male, for example, apart from Stormcloak guards. Orsimer society is structured around a stronghold supporting a single tribe and run by a male chieftain, the latter being the only member of the tribe permitted to marry (see for example). Finally, the Forsworn Briarhearts, likely playing an important and prestigious role in Forsworn society, are all male (conversely, Hagravens are only ever female), though one anonymous contributor to the wiki speculates: “There are no female Briarhearts. This may be an oversight or maybe due to censorship, as the hole with the briarheart flower inside is always on the chest, and if the briarheart was a female, then the breasts would be exposed. Hence, no female Briarhearts.”

Forsworn
A Forsworn Briarheart. Image from The Elder Scrolls Wiki.

Other clues as to gender roles in Skyrim can be found in NPC dialogue. The famous line, “What’s the matter? You can’t stand the sight of a strong Nord woman?” uttered by various female Nord NPCs (and now the title of a Bachelors thesis on Nord culture in Skyrim, albeit in Swedish) seems to suggest that woman’s physical strength is something of an anomaly in Skyrim, though an anomaly that particular Nord woman demonstrate exceptions to. Ahlam’s dialogue is more to the point: “Men are all alike, from Skyrim to Hammerfell. They care only for war and politics, and treat their women like cattle.” But this may have more to do with her unhappy marriage to Nazeem than it does provide an accurate depiction of gender relations across Skyrim. Again, it seems as if Skyrim attempts a kind of token embrace of egalitarian gender roles (with a few exceptions), in order to be more inclusive, though without providing an internal rationale for doing so. I’d be interested if anyone has any differing intepretations.

One particularly interesting aspect of gender roles in Skyrim is to be found in the cult of Dibella, the goddess of love and beauty. As far as I know, the cult typically only admits female adherents. This is one case in which dialogue to the player differs depending on the player’s gender. In midst of the quest, The Heart of Dibella (see also), the priestess Hamal can inform the player:

“You, my dear, can earn the Blessing of Dibella. You’ll find men to be more pliable in the future… or more vulnerable.”

OR, if the player’s character is male: “Have you heard of the Blessing of Dibella? It can help you with the wooing of women, if that’s your aim. Or give you strength if you happen to offend one. Typically we avoid bestowing it upon men, but for the Sybil’s escort, we could make an exception.”

On completing The Heart of Dibella, the player gains the Agent of Dibella ability, which allows them to do 10% more damage to the opposite sex (again assuming a universal hetero- or bisexuality), something less than is implied in the priestess Hamal’s dialogue. What is hinted at in the depictions of Dibella, though, and in the dialogue with Hamal, becomes explicit in the quest, Caught Red Handed. Haelga, who runs a “bunkhouse” for workers, is also a follower of Dibella. This entails a particular kind of devotion. Check out this note from one of her lovers:

Until_next_time_01
Allow me to bring the trout. Image from The Elder Scrolls.

And Haelga’s conversation with her niece, Svana:

Svana: “Aunt Haelga, why do you…demean yourself with these people you barely know? They show no real love for you.”
Haelga: “Its only a bit of fun. You’re a lovely young thing, you should try it sometime.”
Svana: “No! I’m saving myself for someone special. Someone who loves me dearly.”

Finally, one contributor to the wiki has the following to note:

Her reputation is further justified with contextual evidence from her bedroom: a bed with shackles, a shelf full of stamina potions, a horker tusk and leather strips underneath her bed, a jar of honey and more leather strips on the dresser, The Lusty Argonian Maid Vol 1 and Vol 2, a bottle of Falmer Blood Elixir (which Brynjolf says will allow one to “make love like a sabre cat”)…

Apart from the player joining Svana to slut-shame her aunt, Haelga’s exploits and those of the cult of Dibella suggest a potentially sex-positive side of Skyrim. This is especially the case if Skyrim society is largely egalitarian and the encounters are consensual. But I’m not yet convinced that Skyrim has thought deeply enough about gender relations to make this claim. As argued above, it is instead simply an attempt at a tokenistic inclusivity. And in the context of boob armour, etc., the potential sex positivity of the cult of Dibella quickly becomes just another way of appealing to the hetero male playership.

Afterword

This post grew from a paragraph or two introducing a post that was intially intended to address religion in Skyrim, the latter which, at the time of writing this, has not yet been written. I have worked from my own experience of playing Skyrim and have not taken the time to read other treatments of gender and sexuality in Skyrim. If you are aware of any quality ones, please let me know in the comments. I have read Sophie Prell’s piece, which focusses on different features of the gameplay as well as problematic aspects outside of the game in its marketing and playership.

 

Declension of “Dieser”

I haven’t been able to find a good table on Google images for the declension of dieser so I thought I’d make one. Here is both a copiable text one and an image with colour coding. The declension is the same whether dieser is used as a pronoun or a determiner.

  Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative dieser diese dieses diese
Accusative diesen diese dieses diese
Genitive dieses dieser dieses dieser
Dative diesem dieser diesem diesen

dieser

Eating Fish in a Resurrected Body: A Problem for Christian Vegetarianism?

Jan_Brueghel_(I)_-_Earth_(The_Earthly_Paradise)_-_WGA3552
Jan Brueghel’s Earth, 1621, Wikimedia Commons

When I was studying for my undergraduate in theology, one of my lecturers suggested that the story of the resurrected Jesus eating fish with the disciples was a problem for Christian arguments for vegetarianism/veganism. The basic logic is that Jesus’ body is a new creation and one on which ours will be based when we are made new (a theme throughout the NT, but for some snippets, see Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49; Phil 3:21; 1 Jn 3:2). But if Jesus as a new creation participates in eating fish, then the claim of some theologians, that eating meat* is part of the old creation and will be done away with in the new, runs into a significant problem. (*I am using meat here in the broad sense of sentience, so it includes fish):

He said to them, “Why are you startled? Why are doubts arising in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. Because they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish. Taking it, he ate it in front of them. (Luke 24:38-43 CEB).

In the following I will assume Luke’s account to be accurate. A quick Google search suggests that whether or not Jesus actually ate the fish, whether on the basis of the non-historicity of the the post-resurrection accounts or on the potentially symbolic meaning of this account, is a point of contention for some people. For me, whether or not Luke gets all the details right, and whether or not the resurrected Jesus actually ate fish, is moot, as I have no problem accepting either as possibilities.

There are, however, a number of things to be taken into consideration. The first is that Jesus in his earthly body eating fish should pose no problem for those who advocate vegetarianism or veganism on the basis of Scripture. Without having eaten meat in its history, it is unlikely that humanity would be here today. Good, some will say, which is fine, but then you have the problem of other dominant species eating meat in the history of evolution. All such killings can be lamented, I think, but they cannot be straightforwardly understood in terms of right and wrong, especially terms that have developed relatively recently in human history. Jesus, then, in becoming human, participates in the real history of human beings, such as the fisherman with whom he spent considerable during his ministry. Some might claim that there are plenty aspects of Jesus’ historical context that he opposed and was in conflict with. “We don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin” (Heb 4:15). Indeed, texts such as Gen 9:1-3, which implies that Edenic humanity was vegetarian or vegan, and Isaiah 11:6-8, which looks to an Edenic future in which the animals no longer eat each other either, both suggest that vegetarianism/veganism, if not a concrete reality, could at least be imagined by some ancient Israelites. Nonetheless, our best testimonies are the gospels and, as far as I can tell, they suggest that the historical Jesus had no problems at least with eating fish (e.g., Mark 6:41; 8:7; Matt 7:10; 13:47-48; 17:27; Luke 5:1-10; John 21:1-13).

If the earthly Jesus had no problems eating fish, why would the resurrected Jesus have problems? It might be claimed that Jesus, in rising from the dead, also gained a new perspective on the world. Indeed, the earthly Jesus “matured in wisdom and years” (Luke 2:52), he didn’t know who touched his robe (Mark 5:30), and he didn’t know the time or hour of his coming in glory (Mark 13:32; though, on these, contrast the christology of the Fourth Gospel). On top of this, there is the theological consideration that God’s complete knowledge cannot exist in any real, let alone safe (!), way within an earthly human being if that human being really is to be a human being. One possibility is that whatever limitations of knowledge that Jesus experienced in his earthly body were overcome in his resurrection (limitations only insofar as the divine Son voluntarily became human and submitted himself to them; these were certainly sometimes circumvented by special knowledge through the Holy Spirit, and as already mentioned a completely different perspective is given by John). All of this is to say, however, that if any kind of changes in knowledge took place for Jesus in his resurrection, there is no reason to think that these related also to a sudden knowledge that eating fish was suddenly evil. If that were the case then Jesus had sinned in his earthly body. But the resurrected Jesus can still take part in eating meat because the whole of creation has not yet become new. He has become new but he still also participates in creation that is still in need of redemption. Moreover, not all things that belong to the old creation are bad. Marriage, for example, is good (1 Cor 7:28; 1 Tim 4:3-4), yet “when people rise from the dead, they won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like God’s angels” (Mark 12:25). We can perhaps say the same for eating meat. It is a non-sinful feature of the old creation that will be completely done away with in the new.

I have not here provided a basis for Christian vegetarianism or veganism. My goal has only been to show how the resurrected Jesus eating meat might be compatible with the claim that we will not do so in the new creation. What does this mean for our practice in the present? It means neither a legalism that condemns those who eat meat or animal products, nor an indifference that sees vegetarianism as a merely eschatological reality with no connection to present practice. As it is becoming increasingly possible to live on a healthy, affordable, and enjoyable vegetarian or vegan diet, as well as being something that the world needs to consider in light of climate change, it is certainly something that churches and individual Christians might consider participating in and having open, honest discussions about. Of course, meat and animal products can be culturally significant, and people might lack education for cooking, finances for buying, or just, in general, access to viable alternatives, among many other things. And this is why we are also reminded that Jesus, too, participated in this history of eating meat.

Some Thoughts on Being Colourblind

1200px-Ishihara_9
A dotted circle, apparently with numbers (Wikipedia)

This afternoon I went downstairs for an afternoon break and was perusing the posters on the poster board. Sometimes people are doing research and they get funding so it’s good to see if you qualify so that you can get a little extra dosh. Sometimes people can’t offer any incentive but the good that is you being apart of their research. I don’t usually take time to participate in the second type, though I try to convince myself sometimes if it looks like particularly important stuff. Today I found a dotted circle, the kind that I instantly recognised from the time we all got taken out of class in primary school, one-by-one, to get a free eye test. I was excited to tell my parents that I was colourblind. Not because that was good in itself, but that I felt validated that someone finally knew something of me that I always knew but did not yet have the framework within which to express it. I felt again that same excitement today, eagerly texting the student to demonstrate my interest in participating in her research on the experiences of colourblind people.

I thought, also, that it would be good to write a wee post to share with the world and gather my thoughts before turning up for a research interview and realising I have little to say. If I were more diligent, I would get around to reading what other people have said about their experiences, and dig into some popular science around it. Alas, I am not diligent, so I present here my experiences as I know them, minimally unsullied by extra conceptual frameworks. Unfortunately, I could not tell you what type I am. I can only give you vague assertions around what colours I have difficulty seeing. (This could probably be easily remedied by doing a free online test but I can’t be bothered right now, lol).

I have a faint recollection of one of my first frustrations with colourblindness, though I’m not sure if I actually recall it or if I have created a memory from what I’ve been told. But the feelings of frustration remain, so I must have remembered something of it. When I was at my Nana’s house, I either could not tell Nana (or Mum?) what colour the numbers were on the microwave, or I couldn’t see them at all. I would have been anywhere between four and seven. Anyway, neither Nana nor Mum believed me–whatever it was that I said–and it was only after I got the word from the specialist lady at school (warm fuzzy times!) that they could retrospectively regain my trust in matters microwavial.

Post-diagnosis, other frustrations continued. There was bullying. My younger brother took advantage of my disability and called me stupid when I couldn’t tell what colour something was, for example, if I were to refer to a purple car as blue. Even though it hurt at the time and I hated him for it, I can understand it now because I was such an arse to him and he was younger than me. We both capitalised on anything socially undesirable, however minor, of the other’s. In high school, when I started making some friends outside of our typical friend group, a couple of guys would say, “Go hang out with your other friends, colourblind!” That sounds really weird, and it was. They certainly weren’t being serious. I think they thought it’d be a funny and random thing to say. It did hurt though. Finally, I remember the oddest time when one of my friends said that I wasn’t even colourblind because he knew someone who was dyslexic and colourblind together. They’d get the bright green bus mixed up with the bright red one. I never had that trouble so I had nothing to complain about. That really sucks for that guy, but I reserve the right to politely reject my friend’s claim, keeping in mind that this friend was not himself colourblind, nor dyslexic.

There were other frustrations too. When people found out I was colourblind (usually from me accidentally misnaming an object), they would be fascinated and want to test me. “What colour’s this? What colour’s that?” I’d disappoint them when I often got all of their questions correct, usually with some good guesswork! In high school this sometimes elicited the response, “Oh, you’re not really colourblind.” Sometimes this had led me to secretly ask someone in the know what colour something was before talking about it aloud. But the problem with people who know you’re colourblind is that they’ll unwittingly take advantage of your colourblindness to affirm something that even people with typical vision would debate, for example, whether you call a particular sunset orange (me and some people) or red (some other people) or yellow (other people yet again). All might be true, as it is a matter of linguistics and not sight, but it automatically becomes a matter of sight. You’re wrong because you’re colourblind, even though you hadn’t asked whether you were right or wrong. And both people are actually right anyway. Another time I remember we were looking at different stars and people would talk about red ones and white ones and blue ones. It seems little, and it was, but I can’t shake the feeling of having missed out then. They all look the same colour to me, and they’re so small that I can’t quite know what colour that might be!

milky-way-923738_1920
(Pixabay)

One particularly interesting frustration is the use of the word colourblind to denote a particular form of racism. For many, those who say that blacks and whites have equal opportunities in the States (and elsewhere, for example), are colourblind. That is, they “don’t see colour.” They don’t see that which is otherwise obvious to an oppressed people group, which is that the odds are clearly stacked against them. I have no problem with this analysis. Indeed, it’s more important than what I’m writing about here. But I don’t think the wording is helpful at all. It makes use of a person’s disability (and there are much more major forms of colourblindness than mine, as my high school friend graciously reminded me) to characterise something undesirable. Unfortunately, as far as I know, regardless of the term’s origin, it is most at home on the left, people who might otherwise know better. If they didn’t know, that’s fine with me, someone who once made a habit of calling everything “lame.” But now is the time to find a replacement term.

A more comical frustration for me, perhaps because it doesn’t really happen in a social context, is the difficulty I’ve had gaming sometimes. For example, when playing Age of Empires II, which I played a lot as a kid, I always found it difficult to distinguish yellow and green players on the mini-map, as well as both of these from gold mining spots. This problem was the worst on a campaign(s?) where you had to play as a yellow or green player, and you’d be attacked by or attacking the other colour and not be able to distinguish your own guys from the enemy’s. Recently, when Pokemon Go came out, I couldn’t tell if I’d swiped a PokeStop or not, which changed from blue to purple when swiped, because the colour change was too subtle for me. Another funny one is the men’s toilets outside my office. There are two cubicles with red or green to indicate whether engaged or vacant, except they don’t have the writing, just the colour. Because I do better with colours close-up, I have to walk right up to the closed cubicle door (which is always closed, vacant or no) and inspect the lock.

The thing that I’ve only just realised in the last couple years is that my colourblindness is located in a world beyond the literal workings of my vision. It’s never my eyes alone that tell me the colour (wrong or right) of an object. This is the same with people who have typical vision. That is, I cannot tell you how my eyes see the sky because my brain has already told me, from myriad stories and interactions, etc, that the sky is blue. I don’t know if I see it or ever saw it as purple. Healthy grass is green and not brown. But I can’t tell you if that’s my eyes or my brain. And unless I see objects in new contexts or objects I have never seen before, I cannot say where my eye starts and my brain finishes.

As you can see, my experiences with colourblindness haven’t been the end of my world. They have led me to mild frustration and sadness sometimes, and I think it is right to acknowledge them. They are little compared with the experiences of those with more major impairments, not least those with more major vision impairments. Indeed, they have allowed me a greater understanding of myself and others. I hope you learned something, and feel free to ask questions and share your experiences (colourblind or otherwise) in the comments.

Moltmann on Ernst Käsemann

I enjoy reading biographies as the figures whose theology I have read or read is put in a new light. This is certainly the case with Moltmann’s remarks on Ernst Käsemann in his autobiography:

Käsemann and his* wife became close friends. Their daughter Elisabeth went to Argentina in order to put into practice what her father had talked about and, after having been cruelly tortured, was shot by the military junta in 1977. Astonishingly enough, her body was released. I had to take the funeral, and Käsemann had impressed on me, “The sermon: no more than 10 sentences!” In his lectures and seminars Käsemann continued the struggle of the Confessing Church, which he had carried on in Gelsenkirchen with a congregation of miners. Unfortunately, during the war he had acquired a sergeant-major’s voice, which was not to the liking of every student. The maxim of his life was the old pirate saying: “the friend of God and the enemy of the whole world”. For truth’s sake, he broke off old friendships, first with Bultmann, then with Fuchs, then with Ebeling, finally, alas, with me, too, because he did not like my dialogue with Judaism. But our ways already began to drift apart a little when I replace his “new obedience” in faith by “liberty in the breadth of the Holy Spirit”. His interpretations of the Epistle to the Hebrews (written in prison) and of the Epistle to the Romans–his great work–were always theological. As a result he roused the criticism of historical scholars in the English-speaking world, who sought for an answer to “the new question about Paul”. As a Christian, Käsemann felt himself to be a “partisan” in a country occupied by foreign forces. He had a powerful theology of the cross, but he had problems with Christ’s resurrection. He was buried with the text of Isaiah 26.13: ‘O LORD our God, other lords besides thee have ruled over us, but thy name alone we acknowledge.” And that characterizes his theology of resistance in the Babylonian captivity of Christianity in this world, its alienation from God.

A Broad Place, 149-50.

*It is unclear whether Moltmann is referring to Käsemann’s wife or the wife of Otto Michel from the previous paragraph. Please comment if you have anything to add.

Theses and Dissertations Updated

Thanks to Prof. Dr. Klaus Dietz, from the University of Tübingen, I have added some 20 new items to the list of theses and dissertations. Klaus Dietz is a friend and neighbour of Moltmann’s and provided him with the updated list of theses and dissertations. He informs me that Moltmann knew of around 200, having been notified throughout the years by the authors of the respective dissertations, but had no idea that the list was so large!

New Zealand English 3

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This is the third post in a series on Hay, Maclagan, and Gordon’s New Zealand English.

In the third chapter, the authors introduce the reader to NZE’s morphosyntax. Morphology concerns how different parts of a word work together to create meaning. After something is done it can be undone. The un here signals the reversing of the action, though it signals other things in other words. Syntax concerns how words are put together with other words to form meaning, like word order, for example.

One interesting aspect of NZE morphosyntax is the use of the past participle for the simple past tense. Take, for example, the English word write. Its past form is wrote, and its past participle is have written. Researchers have found that some speakers of NZE will say such as “I seen a bottle” instead of either “I saw a bottle” or “I have seen a bottle.” Other examples include done for didcome for came, and rung for rang. On the other end, some speakers of NZE make use of what has been called the “intrusive have.” “If I had have known, I wouldn’t have told her” might be heard in place of “If I had known…”

Next the authors address modal verbs, verbs like could, wouldcanwill, which help us understand how to read other verbs in the sentence. A feature of NZE here is a lack of the modal verb shall, in comparison with General American and even with Australian English. Speakers of NZE will also more frequently talk about the future with the modal verb be going to than other Englishes. “I will go to the movies tonight” might be said, “I am going to go to the movies tonight.”

Some modal verbs require the verb have in certain cases. “I should have done it already.” In both written and spoken NZE the have is sometimes replaced with an of (a phenomenon that is not restricted to NZE and is often viewed as a mistake). Another interesting aspect of these have-constructions is how they are negated in NZE. Because should’ve (or should of) is understood to be a single unit, instead of “should not have,” some speakers of NZE will say things like “should of not” or “could’ve not.”

Other distinctive features of NZE morphosyntax are the use of the singular there is or there was for there are or there were; a relatively high rate compared with other Englishes of the singular they, and even occurrences of “themself”; yous or you guys as a plural for you; and variations in comparatives: more cleanermore clean, and most cleanest, for example, instead of cleaner or cleanest.