Archive for November, 2009

Talking Points on Homosexuality


So I talked with a relative this weekend about homosexuality and Christianity. I only have five talking points

1) The person mentioned that scriptures absolutely prohibits homosexuality. First off, the number of verses are slim (6) and very obscure. Secondly, anyone who thinks Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexuality clearly doesn’t understand the importance of hospitality in the culture at that time. Hospitality was the most important of virtues especially for nomadic cultures. Pointing out that poverty is mentioned over 4000 times doesn’t even seem important at this point.

2) This idea that until this generation marriage and sexuality has always been heterosexual is wrong. Clearly, the idea of sexual identity is a new construct. This idea that we have this true sexuality behind our behaviors is utterly bizarre. Let me offer an example. I know certain people often speculate about other people’s sexual orientation. Even though this person might solely engage in heterosexual behaviors, others will continue to question whether or not these behaviors only serve to mask the person’s “real” sexual identity. Of course, these same people would never hesitate to declare judgment on someone’s sexuality if that person engaged in homosexual behavior. It’s utterly absurd to imagine these people wondering whether or not the over homosexual behavior is really a disguise for the repressed heterosexual desires.

3) In Greco-Roman times pederasty was a common practice among men. Recall in the Gospel of John the story where Jesus heals the Centurion’s lad. Jesus lauds this man for his great faith, even after the Centurion declares that he’s not worthy to have Jesus enter into his house. Why? Probably, because the Roman assumed that Jesus would be morally opposed to his homosexual practice. Also, I have a hard time imagining that these older men were “really” gay and used their relationship with their wives to create the illusory appearance of heterosexuality. There was just no contradiction between these behaviors because the idea of a stable sexual identity was alien to their thinking.

4) I heard the ridiculous slippery-slope argument: where do we go from here? bestiality? pedophilia? My response was rather simple. There is a qualitative difference between two consenting adults having sex than there is between two partners having sexual contact in which one is either not consenting (animal) or not mature enough to be able to consent (child).

5) The person finally suggested that we should look back to tradition. This is just a passing fad. Of course, if we looked back to the past for ethical guidelines we would still be advocating domestic violence, slavery, and the oppression of women all under the name of religion.

Bonus talking point: While, I do not doubt that there is a relationship between homosexuality and genetics, I often find it naive when people argue for the biology of homosexuality by asking heterosexuals when did they choose to become straight. Ok, I never chose to be straight, but rather it was chosen for me the day I was born into a heteronormative society. This idea that sexuality emerges the day one hits puberty is utterly ridiculous. Freud knew that sexuality did not begin at age 13. Also, to act as if children are not already bombarded with sexuality is crazy. Our desires were already assembled and organized into the heteronormative matrix that runs our society.

Autobiography, Philosophers, and Ethics


Last night I was talking to my sister-in-law’s mother who studies continental philosophy, especially Husserl, Marion, and Levinas. First off, let me just say it is one of the most exciting things in the world when I meet someone in the real world who has actually read Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, and Derrida. It just got my blood rushing to know I’m not alone in the struggling through these great thinkers. Anyway, I told her of my interest in Lacan, and that I’m currently working through some of Deleuze’s works. Her primary work is in phenomenology. We started talking ethics, and she made the comments that Deleuze’s ethical system just doesn’t work. According to her, “anyone who throws himself out of a window renders his contribution to ethics moot”. Of course, this led us to your typical conversation about Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism and how his complicity in Nazism problematizes any direct appropriation of his thought. Then she moved on to discuss Levinasian ethics, and how beautiful of a system it is. This brought to mind other autobiographical details from the lives of philosophers. For instance, Freud was incredibly Puritanical. He told his children that masturbation was inextricably related to the development of neurosis, and after he and his wife stopped trying to reproduce he refused to have sex with her. I’ve never been a fan of Jung, and apparently he broke the cardinal rule of psychotherapy by having an affair with a patient. Let me offer a positive Derridean autobiographical narrative. In his latest work Field Notes from Elsewhere, Mark C. Taylor recalls a touching interaction between Derrida and his daughter before dinner at Taylor’s house. While Taylor was in the kitchen preparing dinner, Taylor’s six-year-old daughter went into her room where she showed Derrida her toys as he listened to her stories. Taylor confesses that this singular gesture was more impressive to him than anything Derrida penned throughout his illustrious career.

The question that comes to my mind is what is the relationship between autobiography and a thinker’s conceptual system? That is, to what extent do these misjudgments arise out of the conceptual system they created? For example, what is it within Heidegger’s phenomenological system that clouded his judgment enough to support National Socialism? Based on the conversation I had I got the impression that a person’s autobiography has the ultimate say in the importance of someone’s ethical system. Basically the ultimate test of an ethical system is contingent on how the ethicist lived out his own life. While I understand the reason for this position, it seems to me rather naïve. People have a strong ability to dissociate cognitively. Generally, most people find it very easy to unconsciously split off action from thought. Also, many post-structuralists are known for their emphasis on “difference” and “pluralism”. Apparently, before the 1950’s every other philosopher was intolerant, hegemonic, and obsessed with silencing differences in opinions. I just really have a hard time believing that people are so strongly driven by conscious, ontological beliefs. I don’t think Hegel’s Absolute Spirit or Nietzsche’s Overman were responsible for the Stalinism or Nazism. This sort of causal relationship between belief → action ultimately undermines the important influence the unconscious has on our ethical decisions.

Deleuze on the Use of Philosophy


“When someone asks “what’s the use of philosophy?” the reply must be aggressive, since the question tries to be ironic and caustic. Philosophy does not serve the State or the Church, who have other concerns. It serves no established power. The use of philosophy is to sadden. A philosophy that saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a philosophy. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. Its only use is the exposure of all forms of baseness of thought. Is there any discipline apart from philosophy that sets out to criticise all mystifications, whatever their source and aim, to expose all the fictions without which reactive forces would not prevail? Exposing as a mystification the mixture of baseness and stupidity that creates the astonishing complicity of both victims and perpetrators. Finally, turning thought into aggressive, active affirmative” (Nietzsche and Philosophy, 106).

Mass Text Messages


Today when I woke I had received two typical mass texts from friends. One said thanks for being my friend and the other just wished me a happy thanksgiving. I really don’t like mass texts. They’re kind of like stupid spam emails. Also the obvious superficial nature bothers me a tad. So, I’ve decided there are a couple of mass texts I want to send next holiday that might be more interesting and awkward.

1) “In my opinion, the Return of Jafaar was a subpar sequel”
2) “I haven’t talked to my grandmother in over six years”
3) “Watermelon is not my favorite fruit”

These would be more interesting and less annoying, in my opinion.

False Humility


About a year ago some friends and I were in a book group reading through Simone Weil’s excellent work Waiting on God. As I often do, I found myself going off on tangents and talking theology. I tried to make a point about postmodernism and its connection to our knowledge of the resurrection. After the large speech, one of the girls in the group complimented me for being smart. Immediately, I found myself pulling one of those, “Oh, I’m not really smart I just have no life and read a lot of books to compensate for the lack of social engagement I have in real life.” Of course, she and others responded assuring me I was really, really smart. I persisted again, saying, “Thanks, but really I’m just passing off other people’s ideas as my own.” Then the conversation ended.

Being the obsessional neurotic that I am, afterward I tried to process what had occurred during the reading group. I must confess that I’m a sucker for verbal affirmation. I know, it’s pathetic. As I began analyzing the interaction, I was initially proud at my deflection of the praise, patting myself on the back for my apparent humility. However, as I began assessing more I became less and less certain of this analysis. Effectively by denying the compliment two things happened. First off, by minimizing the praise, I unconsciously demanded that they up the ante on the compliments. This deferral demanded that they move from saying that I was intelligent to affirming that I was really, really intelligent. Secondly, by refusing to accept the compliment I also increased the time on which everyone thought about the compliment. If I had been a humble person I would’ve thanked her for the nice words and shut my mouth. However, by denying the compliment, everyone had to dwell on the statement and its truth-value for even longer than was necessary. In summary: by appearing I humble I actually demanded not only that everyone think about how intelligent I was for a longer period of time, but that they elevate their appraisals of my intelligence and thus satisfy my narcissistic wishes

Another example of this happened today that got me thinking of this story. Currently, I’m listening to Caputo’s lectures on Derrida and religion off his website. It’s very good. He begins the class by working through Of Grammatology. Anyway, he recounts a story where he met with radical orthodox theologians like Blond and company. They ask him if God is deconstructible. Of course, he responds that the name of God was constructed in some contingent circumstances, so of course the name is deconstructible. But, then he says, “What do I know? Who am I to speak for God?”

I hate this sort of false humility. I’ll tell you who Caputo is to speak for God. He’s a first-rate academic hovering in the borders between philosophy and theology. He’s trained in continental thought along with a solid grounding in negative theology and Aquinas. If anyone can tell us something about man’s understanding of God, it’s him. I know he was meaning to say, “I’m just one man. I have no privileged vantage point to speculate about the knowledge of God”. This sort of humility is worthless. My only thought is this: “If you’re not an expert on God, then why are you lecturing about God?” I wish he would go ahead and list out his credentials and speak without all of this ironic rhetorical humility.

Goodchild and Deleuze


APS over AUFS recommended I read Goodchild’s work on Deleuze entitled Gilles Deleuze and the Question of Philosophy. Let me just say that this is by far the most accessible and comprehensive introduction I’ve yet to run across. My favorite aspect is that it focuses not only on his solo works like Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense (works I’m more interested in), but also shows how these concepts were transformed by Deleuze’s collaboration with Guattari in their coauthored works like A Thousand Plateaus. I think now I should make two plugs for Goodchild’s interesting work. First off, I’d encourage everyone to read his great work Capitalism and Religion. The entire thing is magnificent, and I loved his re-reading of Nietzsche’s death of God as more appropriately understood as the murder of God. Secondly, the guys over at AUFS are starting a book profile of Goodchild’s newest work a Theology of Money starting in December. I plan to read along, and I expect some interesting discussions will ensue.

Two New Resources


Great libraries of texts – both articles and books – of continental thinkers:

A Psychoanalytic Tale, Question, and Story


Tale: Darian Leader describes a rather interesting story about a patient he saw in analysis. This man struggled with insecurities over sexual potency, and he had an upcoming date. On the date as he and his partner were entering the restaurant he asked the hostess for “a bed for two”. Of course this is your typical parapraxis that Freud famously analyzed in his great work The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. The orthodox Freudian interpretation would look something like this: unconsciously he was fantasizing about the potential sexual encounter that might occur later on the night and his wish broke through the censor and disrupted his request for a table. Basically, your typical analytic hermeneutic. However, Leader offered a much more provocative interpretation. He hypothesized that patient intentionally (on an unconscious level) had the slip of the tongue so as to deceive himself that he was more excited about the possible sex than the oral pleasure he would soon be deriving from the meal. This slip not only could convince him of his sexual excitement, but also his date.

Question: Michel Henry criticizes psychoanalysis for never allowing X to stand for X and nothing else. For example, the adolescent who fantasizes about being bitten a snake really imagines being overwhelmed or attacked by the (imaginary) Father’s gigantic penis. I often wonder how an analyst would interpret such a dream. One night, I dreamt that i had a sword fight with my father with the winner being promised my mother’s hand in marriage. After promptly slaying my father, I was able to consummate the relationship with my mother. Does this manifest Oedipal dream have any chain of associations to unravel, or can we merely quit unchaining the links and just admit the obvious Oedipal desires?

Story: I’ve always enjoyed Freud’s reading of Hamlet. I think the aspect of Hamlet that tends to annoy people is the time Hamlet wastes until he can finally avenge his father. Instead, he spends the entire play bitching and moaning. Not until the very end when his mother dies by poison does he finally have the nerve to murder his uncle. So, Freud asks the obvious question: why cant he kill his uncle immediately after receiving the command from his father’s ghost? Freud understood that Hamlet’s ambivalence in slaying his uncle stemmed from the fact that his uncle had, in fact, lived out Hamlet’s unconscious Oedipal dream. The problem was that his uncle had usurped Hamlet’s position in the Oedipal triad. Hamlet’s repressed self fully identified with his uncle’s role, and in turn he experiences serious self-loathing because of the Oedipal guilt. On an unconscious level exacting the revenge against his uncle would be unjust because Hamlet harbored identical wishes to murder his father and take his mother to himself. He can only mount the courage to finally murder his uncle after his mother’s death because he can then justify the murder in and of itself not as some ulterior motive.

Pannenberg on Youtube


Good News


So even though I’m currently being trained from a Freudian perspective in psychotherapy, unfortunately Lacan is all but neglected. However, by the grace of God my graduate adviser is a Klenian and Lacanian. He recommended me to some people in the DC area and beginning in December I’ll be joining a reading group of Lacanian clinicians. It’s going to be spectacular. We’re reading Freud’s case of Dora and Lacan’s interpretations of Dora in Ecrits entitled “Presentation on Transference”. I’m sure there will be many an update on this reading group. Praise God I’ve found some Lacanians! Also, I’m trying to sit in on this class at Georgetown next semester taught by a hybrid philosopher-psychoanalyst who’s teaching a course on Lacan and Philosophy.