As I said when I tweeted the link to this email conversation with renowned scholars Thomas Laqueur and Virginia Burrus, it’s one of the things I’m proudest of. That’s true even though the substantive points are not my own and I did nothing more than ask questions. The reason is that it was a conversation: between Laqueur and Burrus, ﬁrst, and then between Laqueur and Burrus and the many people whose minds and opinions were activated by the ﬁrst exchange. People whom I would not in a million years have expected to care about Augustine, or about 17th-century notions of human anatomy, were sharing and tweeting the link with their own responses, which ranged from “Whoa!” to “Exactly!” to “Hmmm, I’m not sure I agree” to “I never realized that.”
To put things on the internet is, by design, to expose one’s words to every shouty malcontent possessed of a web browser, a sense of outrage, and a caps lock key. Sometimes one adopts the stylings of the shouty malcontents—either in order to be heard above the din, or just by virtue of constant exposure. That’s the downside. (And it’s pretty cool that two Famous Authors of Important Books opened themselves up to that possibility. Consider that for an academic conference you typically have months to prepare your remarks, and you pretty much know exactly who is going to be responding to you, which is part of why academia has the reputation of being a self-enclosed coterie of navel-gazers.)
And yet the same technology that amplifies the shouting can also, under the right conditions, foster conversations that might not otherwise happen. Which is what happened here, and that is freaking fantastic. To that end, please do be sure and check out the comments thread to the interview, and you may want to check out at least one blog post that I know about. (And if you do, then a good place to look next would be chapter four of Dr. Burrus’ Saving Shame, which addresses some of the points raised by Lincoln Cullen’s post.) And if the interview prompted something for you, please do share it in the comments.
Once again, thank you—to Drs. Burrus and Laqueur, and to everyone else who chimed in in a non-shouty fashion. The notion that people can still get excited by talking about Augustine and/or early modern notions of sexual difference, to say nothing of the evidence that the internet can foster really high-level discussion… well, it did this theology teacher/blogger’s heart good. And possibly in the nick of time. Thanks.