Faculty Writing: Digital Islam, the Urban “Unbuilder,” and Plots of Paradise

In the Revealer, Suzanne Schneider writes about “Digital Islam” and the phenomenon of the “YouTube Sheik”—in particular, Dawah Man, an online evangelist whose very lack of formal religious training gives him grounds to pontificate from “simple, straightforward” religious text. At first glance a kind of democratization of religious knowledge, the YouTube pulpit in fact enables “new forms of control by leaders bent on usurping the power of traditional elites, and indeed, reconstituting that power on an increasingly authoritarian basis.”

In Gotham, Jeffrey Escoffier and co-author Jeffrey Patrick Colgan recall the work of artist and urban “un-builder” Gordon Matta-Clark. Working amidst the urban ruins of 1970s NYC, Matta-Clark “rejected a clean image of historical continuity in favor of the radical discontinuity of times of disaster. He accepted the city as it was, presently, for him—dirty, contested, and struggling—and devised strategies for reclaiming dignity amidst a ruinous landscape.”

In Dilletante Army, Rebecca Ariel Porte meditates on the plots, physical and narrative, of Paradise. “One possible, useful reduction of paradise-as-walled-garden is to think of it, merely, as a special case of a plot of land, albeit one that has accumulated a staggering amount of metaphorical ore. … Ingrained in the history of that word “plot” is the sense of “specified purpose,” whether the plot in question is a quantity of ground, a map or scheme, a kind of differentiating stain (sense now obsolete), a related series of events (as in the plot of a narrative or the of history) or “[a] plan made in secret by a group of people, esp. to achieve an unlawful end; a conspiracy.” In other words, plots and plotting share, at least, an orientation towards delimited shape or significance and, at most, a phototropism towards a telos. A plot can be a geography marked out for use (walls are a way of accomplishing this) or else a sequence that amounts to relational meaning and/or an account of causality.”