A New Language

In 1985-86, I had a chance to study Jacques Ellul (hereinafter JE) with a group of other people (for the first time since puberty!), in David W. Gill's graduate seminar, "Jacques Ellul & The Age of Technology," at New College Berkeley. Words can't describe how fun this was.
David was then New College's president and remains one of JE's leading U.S. interpreters, athletically embracing the challenges, contradictions, and outright paradoxes of JE's work. For example, David took us through JE's analysis of the problems posed by "vacation photogrophy" in Humiliation of the Word...and then showed us slides he had taken in Bordeaux on his most recent visit to JE. I still laugh when I think of this, but it seems you had to be there.
Most of the students had previously wrestled with Ellul and longed to dig in further. While I was pursuing the word/incarnation themese, another student had lived in a primitive Arctic culture and encountered first hand the problems that occur when two cultures collide and, as Ellul would say, one is a clay pot and the other is a brass pot...to give only one example of the problems that we worked on for our individual papers.
My paper from this seminar is now horribly dated, but it's still a stompin' collection of annotated quotations from JE, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Simone Weil, and many more...I'll put at least part of it up here as soon as I get a chance. Until then, here are the quotations that launch each of the five sections of my paper "A New Language." Ellul's English translators (bibliography coming soon!) are not to blame for the female pronouns.


From Presence of the Kingdom:
The intellectual who wants to do her work properly must today go back to the starting point: the woman whom she knows, and first of all to herself. It is at that level, and at no other, that she ought to begin to think about the world situation.

From Propaganda:
Thinking has become a superfluous exercise...purely internal, without compelling force, more or less a game. It is literature's domain; and I am not referring solely to "intellectual" thought, but to all thought, whether it concerns work or politics or family life. In sum, thought and reflection have been rendered thoroughly pointless by the circumstances in which modern men and women live and act.

From Presence of the Kingdom:
The characteristic work of the Christian intellectual today is to discover a new language, a language which helps men and women to understand one another, in spire of publicity, a language which permits them to abandon their despairing solitude... The Holy Spirit alone can do this, the Holy Spirit alone can establish this link with one's neighbor.

From Humiliation of the Word:
All human language draws its nature and value from the fact that it both comes from the Word of God and is chosen by God to manifest himself. But this relationship is secret and incomprehensible, beyond the bounds of reason and analysis.

From Humiliation of the Word:
For the word is dialectical in itself and at the same time is integrated into the whole of existence. By this I mean that the word is intended to be lived.

[On the next page I wrote:]
What do you think of those quotations? There is is! There's my paper!
What do you mean, the quotations are full of contradictions? This is a class on Ellul, isn't it? What do you mean, you don't understand what I'm getting at? What do you mean, I should write thirty pages?
[and later]
As David Gill describes Ellul's writing style, he writes very quickly, without revising. Well, I'm revising, because I have a word processor, but I'm using very informal structure to simulate Ellul's "hot off the bring' analyses. I was also going to try to imitate some of the elements of Ellul's style, the same ones he picked up from Kierkegaard: "irony, sarcasm, accusation, petulance, overkill and whining." But after trying I think overkill is the only one I can promise...


original material copyright 2000 by Julianne Chatelain
last updated 19 June 2000