About me

I’m a retired professor of English literature and literary theory. My BA and MA  were from the University of Washington in history and English; my PhD was from Harvard University in 1975. I taught at Washington State University and then for 25 years at Seattle Pacific University; during the last five of those years I directed the undergraduate honors program and the senior honors seminar in Science and Faith (which was preceded by a rigorous course in physics, in which the humanities majors had to learn and use the formulas like everyone else – I am very proud of that and of them).

I retired at 55, following (as I thought) a call to spend as much time reading, thinking, writing, and contemplating as it took to find my voice and bring my thinking to a place from which I could offer something to the public conversation and to the larger on-going life of the human mind and spirit. (For my former students, yes I do have a grown son named Caleb, who is doing well, and some of you will recognize me by another last name from my early days of teaching, when I was Janet Knedlik.)

My academic fields were first, Renaissance and Seventeenth Century literature, and as a result, Greek and Latin language and Greek and medieval literature and philosophy. But my greatest love is philosophy – especially literary theory – and pondering the progression of cultural thought-worlds that constitute the history of the West. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the fulcrum of Western history, dividing it into the pre-modern and the modern West. I am also fascinated by the epistemological deconstruction of “modernity” in the twentieth century and by the potential for integrative thought that has given us in our own postmodern moment.

Finally, I was raised by thoughtful academic parents in an impressive university community – I had all the advantages liberalism and agnosticism could give to a child (which were considerable) – but I deeply disappointed my mother by converting to Christianity. (I hold the earlier West, by the way, entirely responsible for this aberration.) I never stopped being a political progressive, however, and I have found plenty of company among many, many thoughtful individual Christians and denominations worldwide. But I have always felt frustrated in offering my own philosophical integrations to a wider audience, because my being a theist enters into them, and speaking from an academic discipline and as a theist raises problems.

Yet I am very uncomfortable with simply making narrow, specialized addresses to small but expert academic readerships, when those are not the most important arguments to attempt. I have always thought that theists could press certain issues in contemporary theory very effectively and fruitfully, if theists as such were allowed to enter the conversation and could be heard.

Perhaps I was wrong to be so hesitant, but it seems to me that bringing ourselves as persons in our core identities into our presentations as thinkers is highly problematic for us in North America today. Academia has corralled the life of the mind and sent it racing down the various chutes provided for all of us (different kinds of critters that we are), in our various specialized disciplines. We do become more and more proficient and even profound as knowers within those disciplines – no doubt of that. But philosophers are pesky, like poets and prophets are, in always wanting to return again to the very beginnings and start all over again. And in always wanting to talk to everyone, and to do it on an existential level.

I still don’t know how to accomplish this, speaking as a theist and in my discipline of literary theory at the same time in the public sphere, even after five years in retirement pondering it and trying to write it different ways. I am highly aware of the risks and difficulties, speaking integratively on so many levels at once and to so many different audiences at once. But here goes, anyway.

36 thoughts on “About me

  1. Welcome to the blogosphere! As a former student whose thinking was profoundloy influenced by your classes, I look forward to reading your writings on these topics.

    Ironically, my inner journey is the mirror image of yours, i.e., in reverse. I was raised by a deeply Conservative religious family and disappointed them by becoming an agnostic. But like you, I find the ongoing antagonism between science and religion, which is now reaching a fever pitch, both puzzling and saddening. Disagreement is fine; rancor and anger and a desire to utterly stamp out the opposing view is not. One should have the freedom to explore any belief system one chooses, without having to compartmentalize — although it must be said, reconciling science with a literal interpretation of the Bible is highly problematic.

    Anyway, I’m thrilled the site is up and running and will be visiting regularly!

  2. breid

    Janet, I just inter-library borrowed an article titled “Chronos, Kairos and Chaos” because I thought with a title like that it had to be fascinating. As I read it, I kept thinking “Janet should write an article with this exact title.” So here’s your public challenge. Bethany

  3. LiftThineEyes

    I have come to check out more on your site; I have appreciated your comments on Davis’s blog Audactious Deviant. You recommended I read Petrarch’s letter about mountaintop experiences – at this point, I barely have time to read my own mail, but Petrarch will go on the list!

    I also appreciate your “about me” – especially the last 3 paragraphs. As an undergraduate – in the Jurassic era, far away from the US West Coast – I studied philosphy in rooms that led off a hallway in which a giant photo of Bertrand Russell watched us from the far wall. So I turned to the profession of accounting, raised children, and tried to ignore the things that nagged at me.

    I’m hoping I’ll be able to read more of your thoughts in the future, and even understand some of them……

  4. Thanks for writing, Liftthineeyes,

    I can just see that hallway! I finished a bio of “Bertie” this week and it was pretty appalling, and a lot of my work is going to use his desire for a universe of isolated “facts” and logical “relations” between them that did not in any way affect the simplicity of the facts or change them internally and that could be worked out with absolute certitude, mechanistically — this is quite a desire! And he lived that way, too.

    I’m fascinated by that desire, in and of itself. Some Dante scholars say that the Divine Comedy is about how God’s Love grants to each person what they most deeply desire to have…. I think Bertie’s universe is my idea of hell.

    I don’t know if you’ve followed the Beatific Vision conversation over at The Land of Unlikeness, but that might be more relevant for you than my own posts here on Plato. If you do start the Ion posts, though, be sure to ask questions as you work your way through them, okay? I need more questions to work off of!

    The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces had Petrarch’s letter in it the last time I looked. You’d find this volume in the library (Vol. I of II). I’m told you’re quite a hiker. What do YOU take to the top to read? Petrarch’s experience with Augustine’s Confessions is really very wry and humorous! All the best, Janet

  5. Greetings. Over at the Cocktail Party Physics blog, you wrote:

    “Wow, Jennifer. You really hit a nerve, it seems. This is a fascinating spectacle for us, the REST of your readers, who appreciate you deeply for your fabulous, upbeat, entertaining, informed, and VERY good-natured blog.”

    Attached below is one of the messages Jennifer will not allow on her blog. She deleted it as soon as I posted it. Do you find this message disputatious, or too extreme?

    I doubt that any educated person would disagree what I wrote except in the context of cold fusion, which transforms educated people into closed-minded bigots. Perhaps you should reconsider your opinion that Jennifer is “good natured.”

    – Jed

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    You wrote:

    “Seeing as how the point of the post was the media coverage of the issue, the focus on media sources was perfectly appropriate.”

    Well, okay. That’s a valuable service. But don’t you think it would be a good idea to fact-check the media claims? Since you are a science writer, it seems to me you should compare the media claims with the actual science, and tell your readers which accounts are accurate, and which are not.

    Whether cold fusion is right or wrong, a reporter should not invent nonsensical claims that someone “amassed . . . a statistically significant sampling of instances.” That never happened. No one would do that with calorimetry.

    Some reporter dreamed up the notion that cold fusion researchers have their own journal. (Perhaps he or she thought that “Infinite Energy” magazine is a journal, but it is not, since it never publishes original research.) You can fact-check this easily at a university library or at LENR-CANR. I do not think it is “evenhanded” or “unbiased” for you to treat all newspapers as equally credible when some publish blatant errors while others report facts.

    Most of these errors are without malice, by the way. Many newspaper reporters have difficulty understanding the experiments, and they have not read the papers. Some media errors make cold fusion look better than it is.

    – Jed Rothwell
    Librarian, LENR-CANR.org

  6. I think that your response seems measured, but I think that she deleted it simply because, as she noted, she didn’t want her blog space turned into a lengthy debate on this subject, and certainly others of the “disputants” were not at all measured in their comments. So my advice would be: don’t take it personally. It was obvious that 100s of posting were going to come in, repeating much of the same territory. I have to make these judgment calls, too, as do all bloggers, right? (It does seem that there needs to be a cold fusion site out there.)

  7. You wrote:

    “(It does seem that there needs to be a cold fusion site out there.)”

    Yes, but alas most researchers do not use the internet.
    Most are elderly professors, who are retired or dead. They communicate only via scientific papers. That’s why I established the LENR-CANR.org library of papers. These papers are boring and difficult. The lurid newspaper accounts of cold fusion are more fun to read.

    I never take these things personally, but I still think you might want to reconsider what you consider Jennifer’s “good nature.” Look at from the point of view of the 3,000 professional scientists she calls “crackpots” Or from my point of view. When I suggested that she might want to look at peer-reviewed original source scientific information instead of only newspapers, she ridiculed me as a “zealot.” This is not how a scholar or a scientist is supposed to act.

    – Jed Rothwell
    Librarian, LENR-CANR.org

  8. actually, i was just thinking of you. am one of your former students. do you remember my poetry? 1990-1995?

    been through some transitions. got married. was widowed.

    i am thinking of writing again. interested in discussing process. i thought i would write some historical fiction, because that’s my favorite, but suddenly i got this idea for a farce. trying to figure this writing thing out.

    if you wanna write back. shamlet76@comcast.
    would love to hear from you.

  9. Kellie Holzer

    Hi Janet, it’s me, Kellie Holzer, former student (1991-1995) who remembers very clearly, and not without some horror, the Physics portion of the Honors courses.
    Happily, following a brilliant talk by Hazard Adams this afternoon, during which I was feeling nostalgia for your Literary Theory course, I learned of this blog of yours from another former SPU student at the University of Washington. I just thought I’d say hello. I finished my doctorate in June 2007 and now am looking for a job as an English professor :)
    I’ll browse your blog and add to the conversations where inspired. My email is: kholzer@u.washington.edu
    all the best,

  10. Kellie! How nice to hear from you. And I had to smile to see that you came back to English — last I knew you were going Anthropology!
    I’ll write you soon off line. The best and most read stuff here are the Kevin Hart review, the Plato’s Ion discussions, and the sections of Session One from my lit theory course. I’d love to hear from you here in future!

  11. And Suzanne Hamlet, yes, I DO remember you and I was very sorry to hear that you were widowed.

    And I want to wish you the best of luck with your writing. (I do suffer from a health condition that limits what I can do from time to time, and that’s why I failed to respond earlier. Sorry!) And all the best, Janet

    1. suzanne hamlet shatto

      i am so sorry to hear about your health. i looked for you because you were a favorite person of mine. but then i thought this must not be you because i didn’t see a reply.

      my daughter became a teacher and recently got her library credential, so we are trying to read a lot of books in her middle school library so that she knows what she can recommend to children who ask. we’ve been madly reading stuff for a year.

  12. Ed Nelson

    Dear Dr. Blumberg,

    Thank you!

    Thank you for your career as a professor. Thanks for your sense of humor and gentleness. Thanks for making your lectures available for free.

    I have gotten so much pleasure from your lectures on iTunes University. Your lectures have deepened my understanding of the LOTR. In fact I am going to buy the collection of essays on Amazon “LOTR as a defense of Western Civilization” in order to get the written version of your essay

    Your lectures have helped strengthen my Christian faith.

    I envy your former students who had the chance to learn from you in person!


    Ed Nelson

  13. Thanks so much, Ed.

    (I didn’t even know the lectures were posted there…. But you’re right; they are. Even that Sherman Alexie chapel talk. Will wonders never cease.)

  14. Greg Parsons

    Dr. Blumberg,

    I’m excited to have found your blog! It brings back memories of many great discussions at SPU.

    Not sure if you remember me–as a source of your frustration between 1994 and 1998? I was one of the few in “scholars” that understood the physics but was completely useless when it came to the philosophy discussions (at least early on) :).

    Nevertheless, I remain incredibly grateful for your patience over those four great years. The program continues to affect my life decisions…. Can I contact you via email? I believe my email address will show when I post. If not I will promptly send it in another blog comment.

    Greg Parsons
    spu 94-98

  15. Yes, I remember you, Greg! So glad to hear from you. Yes, I’ll email you, but my computer is down for a week or so (we have a big storm coming in — you may recall I don’t drive in the snow, even to get a computer fixed.)

    Take a look at the discussion of QM over in my Pages “Section Four” of the Introductory Lecture, and see if you have anything to say (whenor if you have time…). I’ve thouoght about thosde debates for more than a year now and am about ready to make my own pronouncements on the entire subject of scientific knowing in the context of all the ways of knowing, Galileo and Newton, lit theory, and so on….

    You’ll be hearing from me in a week or two (I’m at the public library right now, outrunning the snow storm…). Best, Janet

  16. Jim Motter

    I am trying to find Janet Leslie Blumberg. Is that you?

    I have enjoyed listening to your lecture posted on iTunes through SPU on “Plato and Augustine in the Writings of CS Lewis.” Unfortunately, the file they provide is truncated, and lops off whatever you were saying after about 45 minutes.

    By any chance, do you have complete recording of this talk you gave to the CSL Institute, or can you point me to some source that would have it?

    Thanks for considering my request.

    Jim Motter
    Johns Creek, GA

  17. So many years ago a Math major with a love for politics and theological inquiry was influenced by the adviser to the student newspaper to take a literary theory course.

    I will NEVER forget my quarter taking that course from you at the same time I was taking Abstract Algebra.

    Talk about Cold Fusion… Something happened in my brain. All sort of synapses connected, coalesced and learning exploded for me! It’s in the integration that real learning happens.

    Prof, your summer Lewis/Tolkien seminar and the literary criticism class classes at SPU were the highpoint of my academic career.

    I’m thrilled to hear of your work in the area of faith and science. These are the places I still mull over in my mind. The places where I try to communicate to my kids, awash in a quasi-scientific blather of humanistic thought, that there is another view.

    Slowly my kids are starting to see that there IS a legitimate view where science and faith embrace one another and dance. And that only at that place are these two truly free to be what they were meant to be.

    Dave Nichols — SPU ’76 – ’79

  18. Dave,

    I am so very glad to hear from you! And as I’m working on the science and faith/literary theory book (sic!) I’m hoping to get the cold fusion going. I love your words and I’m trying to make an incisive contribution as a peace offering between the warring camps, instead of that “quasi-scientific blather of humanist thought” you so aptly identify.

    I’ll write you off-line too before long. Thanks so much for the encouragement. I’ll be sharing parts of the book here from time to time, I think. And I may have some questions for you on abstract algebra, to boot.

    Best, Janet

  19. Oh yes, and in response to Jim Motter,

    Sorry for the delay in responding. I’ve solved my computer problems at last.

    Yes, I do remember giving that talk so many years ago on Plato and Augustine, but no, I do not have a copy of it after all these years. I do have a paper that I could post on this website dealing with Derrida and Augustine, though, that covers the main lines of influence and difference, as I see them, between Platonism and Augustinianism.

    Also, if you happened to have any specific questions, from listening to the SPU iTunes lecture or wondering where I was headed in it, you could certainly ask me those questions here. I’d enjoy responding; it’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time, after all.

    You might perhaps enjoy looking at the Plato or Augustine posts over at http://www.percaritatem.com. Per Caritatum’s name comes from Augustine’s beautiful dictum, “there is no entrance into truth save through love….” (There’s a link in my blogroll.)

    Thanks, Janet

  20. Sofia

    Hi Janet,

    I’m not sure if you’ll remember me, Caleb and I dated for a bit in high school. Sorry for the completely random post, but I was hoping to find a way to get in touch with you. If you get a chance, please shoot me an e-mail.

    Hope this finds you well,

  21. Janet,

    It has been said by others, but it needs to be said again: this is a truly magnificent blog.

    I confess to having found this place because of the (wonderful) interview with Kevin Hart, a great poet, and a great thinker, who I can’t help elevating (on the basis of the briefest of meetings) to the status of my intellectual super-ego.

    But you are doing an extraordinary job here. It really is incomprabel to anything that I’ve encountered on the blogosphere.

    In fact, having just decided a few weeks ago to make my own blog more modish and demagogic than it already it is, you’ve made me have a change of heart.

    Keep it up.


  22. Jean

    I recently listened to a lecture by you in which it was mentioned that you were working on a “textbook on the classics of christian literature.” I would love to read any such work you have done, as the lecture was fascinating. Did you complete this?

  23. Sarah

    Hi Janet,

    I don’t know if you remember me but Caleb and I were friends while we went to school together when we were very young. I think about you both now and then wanted to get in touch. I hope you both have been doing well.


    Sarah Gaul

  24. Emily Thynes

    Dear Janet,

    Looking around at all these letters from your former students, I see that I’m far from the only one who was impacted by your teaching. I can probably boast of being the farthest removed, though, since what I have I inherited from my mother, Dana, who was a student of yours back in the ‘70s–‘80s. She once told me that you were responsible for our family’s intellectual life, and I believe she’s right. My parents’ minds were awakened by what you taught in your classes (my mother would bring it home to my dad at the end of the day), and my sisters and I grew up thinking about the connectedness of all ideas, and believing that somewhere in the hills, if you looked hard enough, you might find a hobbit tottering about in the wilderness.
    I remember playing with Caleb when I was a little girl (he and my older sister, Elizabeth, would be the robbers, and I was the cop. Cops and Robbers was not my cup of tea), and being at your house.
    I hope you remember us, and I hope you are well. Please write if you want!


    Emily Thynes

  25. Janet

    We have met; alas over 40 years ago in Cambridge MA at Cornerstone. I feel a kinship with your Odyssey, but from the other side. My analytical talents were recognized; I attended college but interrupted for military service after 5 years, then a PhD candidate, resigning my fellowship and trusting God. My experimental Plasma Physics research at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories in Bedford, MA was my Thesis for the PhD. Then I went to MIT (you might know it as “Tech”) for Biomedical Engineering/ Premed cross registered at the HST program and then Med school and Orthopaedic residency at U Penn.

    In college, I spent more time preparing for my college career Sunday school class than any course I ever took and was able to continue with a class in Cambridge, which you might recall. Math and Physics were fun and satisfying, but I studied commentaries as Bible preparation widely and was struck by the mind of one author which expanded mine. Though I hesitate to say due to widespread misinformation, negative connotations, and frankly prejudice, it was John Calvin, among others; enjoyed some of his thoughts already this morning.

    The first in all of my family to attend college, I later wondered what was an educated man, and whether or not I was, despite degrees.
    Officially by act of the President, I was an officer in the US military and therefore, a gentleman; later as a physician, upper class as a guardian of private information entrusted to me by patients. My conclusion is that I was largely self educated (avoiding those difficult literary courses) by contemplating scripture privately with those who had gone before and bequeathed me some of their thoughts.

    I thank the Lord for your commitment to open, honest inquiry; wish I had the resources to contribute.



  26. Joel

    Janet, I hope that despite the lack of activity on this blog, you do still plan to publish something related to what you’ve done here. It’s an incredibly important conversation.

    All the best from another former student.

  27. First in reply to Mark. I remember you well and thank you so much for updating me on your story. I resonate with much that you say in it! And I am sure you have much to contribute to many conversations including this one, although at this point it has moved pretty much off this blog-site. (See below.)

    And next to Joel. Yes, I so agree that this conversation is important and I am planning to publishing something related to it. Right now I am finishing up a sequence of essays primarily addressed to other lit theorists in my own field, but they always keep the natural scientists and mathematicians well in view, with many examples from Galileo and Newton and others. If those essays help to initiate the conversation we hope for, then I will go back to my book that is addressed to a more general audience, and especially to physicists and theists and anyone else who cares about the liberal arts and the life of the mind, and who is appalled and saddened by the distrust and misunderstanding between “science” and “religion,” as well as between cultural theorists and academics who are more scientifically oriented, including analytic philosophers like Searle and Dawson.

    I have been working on this particular task for more than nine years now. (If I’d known how hard it was going to be, maybe I wouldn’t have started!) But at this point (at last), I have the arc and sweep of what I want to say worked out. It has all crystalized, so to speak, and I am happy with the essays I plan to start sending out for publication this fall. Perhaps they will help to initiate the wider conversation we are hoping for.

    Thank you so much for checking in with me and for asking about my project, Joel.

    P. S. The back and forth here in this website a few years ago has proved to be a real springboard for me: it continues to give me constant insight into the problems I am treating from the point of view of the physicists and biologists. I would be making so many missteps unawares, without their honest expressions of dismay and impatience with this “innumerate humanist” (even when I thought I was being the most clear, tactful, and forbearing). The physicists — and one biologist — who conversed with me here taught me what he hot buttons are and how not to push them and I suspect that has improved my ability to communicate with the scientific segment of my audience quite significantly.

    So I really did have great conversation partners here from the natural sciences, mostly send over by Jennifer Ouelette from Cocktail Party Physics, or else engaged with originally on Sean Carroll’s Cosmic Variance website. (Three Quarks Daily and its editors were also helpful.) I am really grateful to all of them, especially to the ones who participated so faithfully in the “Wily Socrates” discussions and in that one very long conversation (it was a real workout) that evolved on Part I of the Lit Theory lecture over in Pages.

    All the best to you, Joel. Thanks again for asking!

  28. Mark Terry

    Janet, I was a student of yours in Classics of British Christian Literature back in the fall of 1978. Although I wasn’t a very good student (I think I ended up with a D), I loved your class because it introduced me to Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings and even though I had read some of C.S. Lewis’ works, I had never read any of the Chronicles of Narnia, so thank you for all of that. I was trying to find you because I came across an old book that was signed by a “Helena Sophia Kndlick” in 1864 and I thought it might be a relative of yours. But after reading the Seattle Times article about the abuse you took from your ex-husband, I could understand if you have no interest about it. When I told my wife, Kim (maiden name Roberts), who also took your class about what was happening to you while we were students of yours, she said she sensed a sadness about you at that time. I just wanted you to know that you had a positive effect on my life and I’m sure you did for thousands of other students as well… God bless you!

    1. Thank you so much for writing me. I think the name of the woman who signed that book is fascinating. Sophia is a favorite name of mine. It is very healing to hear from you and (indirectly) your wife. Thanks again.

  29. Rev. Greg Lund

    Just today came across my notes from British Christian Lit. at SPY. The insights on seeing literature as a way to perceive our own era are as relevant now as then. So good to hear your voice again. Still drawing on that class.

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