Archive for December, 2009

Reading Goals for 2010

12/29/2009

Here’s my ten goals. They decrease in order of importance. However, if goal one is met, I’ll probably be satisfied.

Read Barth’s Church Dogmatics
Finish studying Deleuze including Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense
Study the Atonement through Church Fathers, Pauline literature, liberation theologians
Work my way through Lacan’s Seminars especially III, XI, XVII, and XX
Read Hardt and Negri’s Trilogy
Finish Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Psychopathology of Everyday Life
Read Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology
Familiarize myself with Marxist thinkers like Jameson, Althusser, and Benjamin
Read Jungel’s God as Mystery of the World
Study Spinoza especially Theological-Political Treatise

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Lacan’s Four Discourses

12/28/2009

This is the general schematic for the four discourses outlined by Lacan:
agent/truth → other/(product or loss)

In the upper left-hand corner is the agent, generally a master signifier (analogous to Derrida’s conception of the transcendental signifier). However, the truth of the discourse is located below in the lower left-hand corner. The agent in the given structure of the discourse must mask this truth, and this truth is excluded and in some sense motivates the discourse. The master addresses the other and in the course of the discourse something in the lower right-hand corner is produced (a or objet a, that is the object-cause of desire). Notice how if one starts with the Master’s Discourse, one only needs to make a single rotation counterclockwise to generate the next discourse.

Master’s Discourse:
S1/$ → S2/a

This is the master’s discourse. Imagine a totalitarian leader like Kim Jong Il who is deified in his home country of North Korea as represented by S1. He has to hide the fact that he also is a split subject ($) that has been castrated and alienated in language. The fact that the master is likewise castrated is the truth of the situation. The master subjugates the slave (S2) and puts him to work. The slave produces a surplus-value (a), which the master appropriates from the slave.

University’s Discourse:
S2/S1 → a/$

In the university discourse objective knowledge occupies the place of domination or agent (S2). Everyone in the university prioritizes knowledge as if it is the end all be all. However, Lacan argued that the military-industrial complex or power occupies the position S1, which suggests that knowledge has to hide the fact that it is in service of the government (occupying the place of truth). Knowledge extracts the surplus value (a) from the barred subject ($). The barred subject is produced by the university discourse because knowledge demands that unknowing subject to be alienated in language.

Analyst’s Discourse:
a/S2 → $/S1

In the analytic situation, the enigmatic desire of the analyst (a) occupies the position of agent and motivates the analytic discourse. The desire of the analyst interrogates the analysand as a divided subject ($). The point of analysis is to enable the analysand ($) to reveal the non-sensical master signifiers (S1) that are disrupting the unconscious chain of associations. Ideally, analysis helps dialectize these master signifiers into the analysand’s discourse and put them into relation with other signifiers. Sometimes, the presenting symptom can occupy the position of S1, and it may be quite arbitrary (such as a stutter or a tic). The truth that is hidden by the desire of the analyst is the truth of the unconscious (S2). The analyst must be prudent and interrupt the discourse of the analysand to show the breaks and interruptions that break up the smooth speech of the analysand. The analyst helps unravel this unconscious truth (S2) and present it to the analysand. Ideally, the analysand comes to subjectify this knowledge or as Lacan says, “where the id (knowledge) was there the ego (subject) shall be”.

Hysteric’s Discourse:
$/a → S1/S2

During the analysis, it is likely that the analysand becomes hystericized. The barred subject ($), or analysand, occupies the position of agent. The analysand ($) is motivated by the unknown desire of the analyst (a). The hysteric interrogates the master signifier (S1) in hopes of exposing the incomplete knowledge of the master-analyst. Knowledge (S2) is produced in hysteric’s discourse. The hysteric tends to sexualize knowledge to such an extent that they derive pleasure from the knowledge they gain by the demands they make of the analyst. Recall all of Freud’s hysteric patients like Dora who continued to contradict Freud’s theories constantly attempting to undermine him in analysis.

More on Liberation Theology and Methodology

12/27/2009

Here’s an earlier quote, ““[T]hey do not challenge the content of theology but rather its methodology and its relationship to politics.”

I suppose that my comment you highlighted is perhaps a tad hyperbolic. I do believe liberation theologians challenge the content of theology because they emphasize the importance the least of these should have on our understanding of theology. I think they do not add or subtract from the content of theology, but rather they emphasize specific strands already there in the prophets and the synoptic gospels. Liberal theology generally subtracts from the contents of the creeds (e.g. incarnation, physical resurrection) whereas conservative theology tends to add aspects to the creeds (e.g. beliefs in Bible and penal atonement theory). Liberation theology intends to re-imagine different creedal beliefs from within the specific context in which they are working. Hence, black liberation theology endeavors to connect the Christian gospel with the black experience. Bonhoeffer’s question of “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” rings especially true for liberation theology. As Guiterrez so famously emphasized, theologians must first reflect on their praxis. Theologians must be engaged in emancipatory political practices before they can critically engage the gospel. While I understand we can never practice without first theological presuppositions, I think the important aspect is Gutierrez’s focus on how theologians must enact their theological beliefs in concrete practices.

With regards to the liberation theology and methodology, Petrella analyzed the theological method that Boff advocated: A) Participate in struggle → B) Analyze causes of oppression via social sciences → C) Final a parallel in Biblical text read through a liberation hermeneutical lens → D) Implement plan and act to fight oppression. Sung questioned why liberation theology’s methodology even bothers with step C. He argued that step A already assumes that the participant has a theological commitment. Sung argued that the step C is a mere formality that retrospectively justifies the praxis in which the participant is already engaged. Instead of re-reading the tradition within a liberation theological paradigm, Sung argued that the true task of liberation theology is to unmask the idols that lead to death. I prefer Sung’s model. What I think the most important aspect for the future of liberation theology is to get specific when they speak of liberation. It’s easy to rail against the evils of global capitalism, but the more difficult task is to come up with creative, plausible alternatives. Goodchild’s Theology of Money is such a book that offers a possible alternative. With no possible alternatives, it seems that money will continue to inhabit the space that God previously occupied before he died. Capitalism reigns sovereign as ‘the least worst economic system’ available.

Jennings on the Death of God

12/27/2009

Kotsko over at AUFS has posted a transcript of Ted Jennings’ speech that was never delivered at AAR concerning the death of God. I’ve really enjoyed reading Jennings’ work in the past, whether it be homoerotic readings of the Bible or the similarities between Paul and Derrida. Either way, this speech focuses on his mentor, Altizer, and the importance of the death of God being absolutely realized. Otherwise, we remain susceptible to worshiping idols of the dead God that Blake understood as Satan. Here’s the link: http://tinyurl.com/yj7uxju

Liberation Theology and Conservatives

12/26/2009

So tonight I’ve been watching some interviews with liberation theologians like Sobrino and Jeremiah Wright. I watched an interview with Wright as he discussed the tradition of black liberation theology stemming from James Cone’s work. I really enjoyed his interview, and I found him to be an eloquent defender of the prophetic tradition. Unfortunately, I just clicked on a video of Sean Hannity profiling liberation theology, and now I am royally pissed. I’ve never liked Hannity, and I try and resist watching Fox News because it’s an endless source of frustration. Here’s what annoyed the hell out of me. According to Hannity, liberation theology is based entirely on 1 verse of the Bible in Isaiah 61:1. I realized this was Jesus’s reading of the prophet of Isaiah in Luke 4:18-19. First off, the verse Jesus reads covers 2 verses, both Isaiah 61:1-2, so Hannity simply lied about that. Secondly, for Hannity to act as if Jesus’ (or God’s) advocacy for the poor and oppressed is found in only one verse of the Bible is beyond absurd. I believe there are over 3000 verses in the Bible that address the issue of poverty, here’s a small compilation of them: http://www.zompist.com/meetthepoor.html. I would offer more evidence to rebut this claim, but I suspect anyone who reads this blog would recognize the patent ridiculousness of Hannity’s statement.

I mean I’m not really surprised Hannity lied considering he’s not a good person. But, as if it wasn’t enough to pretend that liberation theology is un-orthodox and un-Biblical, he topped it off by saying that liberation theology encourages violence and derives its theoretical support from Marx. Let me first back track to address the claim of liberation theology’s radical nature. Generally, liberation theologians have been very orthodox in their theology. Although, they do offer a different paradigm that is already found in the text, I’ve never heard of a liberation theologian not supporting the creeds. In fact, I find their theology to be very Biblically driven. Altizer went so far to claim that liberation theology is theologically conservative, which I believe is partially true insofar as they do not challenge the content of theology but rather its methodology and its relationship to politics. Then again, almost all theologies in comparison to Altizer’s kenotic death-of-God theology look very conservative. With regards to violence, while I don’t know enough about the history of liberation theology to answer the question of the support violence, I highly doubt that these theologians would respond to injustice by reaching for the sword. Of course, I don’t think Hannity would even begin to acknowledge the fact that the oppressed are constantly violated and subjected to systemic and physical violence all the time. Secondly, liberation theology’s relationship to Marx is a tad more nuanced than Hannity presented it. In Guiterrez’s work A Theology of Liberation he argues that an appropriation of Marxist theory can be helpful to understanding the political and economic issues that are keeping those oppressed subjugated. However (and this is more obvious in the newer liberation theologians), liberation theology has never depended on Marx for their theological and political positions. Rather, Marxist analysis can aid in diagnosing the violence of capital, but they would hesitate in ever hinging their theology on the correctness of Marx’s interpretations of global capitalism.

I think the quote I posted a couple of weeks ago applies quite well to Hannity’s unjust presentation of liberation theology.

‘You’re not a Christian. You’re just an asshole. We get that a lot.”

Tillich, Barth, and the Relationship Between Philosophy and Theology

12/20/2009

Dave and I over at Dommerselv! have been having a discussion about Kierkegaard, Barth, and Tillich. The question concerning the relationship between the God of philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has been on my mind for quite some time. Many Christians today argue for the rejection of Hellenic Christianity, as if Neo-Platonism is a perversion of a Jewish spirituality and theology (I think here especially of process theology). On the other side, radical orthodox theologians defend Neo-Platonic metaphysics to the death, as if this is the only ontology that could possibly support a true Christian philosophy. Here was my comment:

I think I’m sympathetic with Barth as well especially with his radical Christo-centrism. I guess I’ll be finding out soon enough (with my Church Dogmatic reading project). Whether or not one agrees with him, one has to respect the rigorous application of his methodology.

I think the distance between Tillich and Barth is best contrasted by Tillich’s belief that the God of the philosophers is the same God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Barth would obviously disagree. We only know God through God’s self-revelation in the Word of God (along with God’s covenant with Israel). I think it’s interesting to think about Tillich’s equation. How does the God of the Greek and Hebrew Bible differ from Greek’s metaphysical God? Is God impassible, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent? I think it’s fairly obvious that one can find stories in the Bible where God does not exhibit these characteristics. Now, given that one can always just merely write away stories (like the one where God has to go check the reports in Sodom to see how many righteous people there are, as if he doesn’t already know) as being remnants of primitive thinking, which I’m sure Tillich would be inclined to do. This is a temptation though. We tend to have this illusory view that people get smarter over time. I’m more skeptical that we 21st century thinkers are far more advanced in our understanding of God than Hebrews five centuries before Christ. In certain areas we’re obviously more advanced (science), but theology reflects on a subject matter that has a complicated relationship with time (that’s for another day). Barth’s relationship with the Bible is much more complicated than Tillich’s liberal critical-historical perspective. He doesn’t believe that the Bible is verbally inspired by God, but rather a recording of God’s self-revelation to man.

Mark C Taylor’s book After God also stresses the different extremes of thinking between Kierkegaard and Hegel. He looks at theologies such as neo-orthodoxy (transcendent, wholly Other God, Kierkegaardian) and the change to the death-of-God theology (immanent, kenotic God, Hegelian). He argues for an a/theology that is transcendent within immanence. Although, it’s clear he doesn’t believe in any sort of God (in the common sense of the term) but rather some sort of organic sense of the sacred.

I’m curious what other people think about the relationship between philosophy and theology. Do you agree with Tillich or Barth? What about the relationship between Christian theology and Muslim theology? Are these different Gods? I’m not sure where I stand on the Tillich/Barth debate. I think it’s too easy to say, Athens bad, Jerusalem good. Although, I don’t think a close Biblical reading can uphold that God is impassible, the other three I’m not so sure about. This obviously gets much more complicated when we talk about divine characteristics in Jesus. I think it’s incorrect to start with a notion of the divine and then see how this matches up with Jesus of Nazareth’s life. That’s the wrong direction. When it comes to the incarnation, I’ll let Bonhoeffer have the last word:

“If Jesus Christ is to be described as God, then we may not speak of this divine essence, of his omnipotence and his omniscience, but we must speak of this weak man among sinners, of his cradle and cross. When we consider the Godhead of Jesus, then above all we must speak of his weakness. In christology one looks at the whole historical man Jesus and says of him, ‘He is God.’ One does not look at a human nature, and then beyond it to a divine nature; one meets the one man Jesus Christ, who is fully god.” (Christ the Center, 108)

Quotes from Cone

12/19/2009

I posted this lecture a couple of months ago, but just tonight I was able to listen to it:

http://tinyurl.com/kjvzmf

Here are some quotes:

“The classic Christian view of the cross claims to know too much about how salvation is accomplished and thus removes the element of mystery in our understanding of salvation. The cross therefore needs to be rescued, that is liberated from the superficial piety of Christians because their transformed cross blinds them from seeing the true meaning of the one who was crucified on Calvary’s hill. Unless the cross and the lynching tree are seen together there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in American and no healing of the racial divide in churches and seminaries as well in the society as a whole. I know that the cross and the lynching tree are not comfortable subjects to talk about together. Who wants to think about lynched black bodies in church worship or when doing a theological reflection of Bonheoffer’s question of who is Jesus Christ for us today. This is exactly what I contend what the gospel requires Christians to do, especially preachers and theologians. I claim that no American Christian, white, black, or any other color, can understand correctly the full theological meaning of the American Christ without identifying his image with the re-crucified black body hanging from the lynching tree.”

“The gospel is not derived from this world because it is not a human word, not a pious feeling, or sophisticated idea that comes from the intellect.”

“The gospel is God’s message of liberation to an unredeemed and tortured world. The word of God is also offensive. It is not a word we want to hear even thought we say we do, God’s word is not a popular word, not a successful word, not an entertaining word, the gospels is the word of the cross, a lynched word hanging from a tree.”

“When one considers how corrupt and misguided Christian preachers and theologians have used the cross of Jesus to oppress marginal people, especially women and children, urging them to be passive and accept their suffering in the home, church, and society. When I hear all that, who can blame womanist and feminist theologians for saying no more crosses for me?”

“God’s cross is the most loving symbol of God’s solidarity with the least of these.”

“Christ is black because he is made black through God’s loving solidarity with lynched black bodies, and divine judgment against the demonic forces of white supremacy. Like a naked black body swinging on a lynching tree, the cross of Christ was an utterly offensive affair, obscene in the original sense, subjecting the victim to an utmost indignity and torture. A crucified Jesus and lynched black bodies were not pretty objects to look out, that’s why Christians transformed the cross into a sacred fashion symbol and seldom show images of lynching, but the trauma of lynching lives on in the blood and bones of black people.”

“Jesus did not want to die on the cross, and blacks did not want to be lynched and hung on a tree, but the evil forces of the Roman state and white supremacy in America willed it. Yet God took the evil of the cross and the lynching tree upon the divine self and transformed both into the triumphant beauty of the divine. If American has the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy with repentance and reparations then there is hope beyond the tragedy, hope for whites and blacks and all human kind, and hope beyond the lynching tree.”

Lacan on the Unconscious and the Desire of the Other

12/18/2009

I’ve been reading Lacan and listening to Augustine’s Confessions over the last couple of days, so that explains the lame illustration.

In the public, I believe there is a mistaken notion of the psychoanalytic subject. Lacan distinguished between two types of discourse in an individual: the ego discourse and the unconscious discourse. One can conceive of the ego discourse as the way someone describes one’s self as having characteristic A1, A2, and A3. That is if asked who you are, you might respond with ‘I’m a male, 22-year-old graduate student’. That is the way we consciously, objectively view ourselves. Psychoanalysis posits that another unconscious type of discourse exists as well. This type of discourse is evidenced by slips of the tongues, garbled speech, and other abnormalities that occur in everyday language. Freud noted that if a person is asked whether or not these events are meaningful, the patient will always respond with a negative. These linguistic intrusions are generally ignored or laughed off by the speaker. Now, the problem with this understanding occurs when one assumes that these evanescent glimpses into the unconscious are on some level more genuine or truer revelations of the individual’s desire than those things that are revealed in everyday ‘ego’ talk. Let me offer two examples. Everyone’s familiar with the story of the unwise wife who while making love to her husband blurts out the name of a past lover. The sex is over. Undoubtedly, the husband has his feelings hurt and begins to question the relationship. He might begin to wonder how serious his wife views the marriage. Does she often imagine that she is making love to a past-ex? On some level, we understand that this unconscious irruption was the wife’s true desire.

However, the problem with this global hermeneutic is that it fails to understand how the unconscious is not merely a repository for the individual’s desires. The individual’s unconscious is also a collection of other people’s desires. Fink offers a helpful example in his work The Lacanian Subject (by the far the best introduction to Lacan’s work). An analysand tells his analyst, “I know that in my relationship with my father there was a lot of tension, and I think it came from the fact that he was working too hard at a schnob he couldn’t stand and took it out on me” (The Lacanian Subject, 3). If we applied the previous hermeneutic we might assume that, “the analysand who blurts out schnob instead of job is revealing his or her true colors: a gripe against a father who paid too much attention to an older sibling and not enough to the analysand, and a wish that it would have been otherwise” (The Lacanian Subject, 9). This is your typical “gotcha” moment in psychoanalysis. Let’s imagine St. Augustine in psychoanalysis. The analyst says, “See Augustine, you always act as if you are wholly devoted to your mother, but noticed how you just substituted ‘smother’ for ‘mother’”. You said about your friend, “He was always one of my great friends, but not as good as my smother”. The analyst continues, “I think it’s obvious that this parapraxis reveals that alongside the love you constantly profess for your mother there was also a lurking frustration with her overprotective nature.”

While these types of unconscious disruptions might be truer than some trite ego desire like, “I really just want to help out as many people as possible”, we fail to appreciate that these desires often have a source that is foreign to the individual. Fink offers another reading of this parapraxis that comes from the Other’s desire. Perhaps, the disgruntled mother constantly confided into her son (the analysand) how neglectful his father was, and in turn this prevented the analysand from loving his father and began disliking him to appease his mother. As the analysis progresses, the analysand might come to realize that he didn’t really dislike his father or experience him as distant, but rather his mother forced these beliefs onto the analysand. Here, we get a glimpse into the fact the analysand’s unconscious is not merely composed of his own desires, but is also replete with the Other’s alien desires. That is to say, the analysand had internalized his mother’s desire, and he later regurgitated these beliefs in conversation with his analyst. Although, it’s easy to assume that what emerged in the slip of the tongue has its source in the analysand’s unconscious hatred of his father, it is perhaps unwise to jump to such a conclusion without first considering how an individual often assimilates the Other’s desires into his unconscious.

On Politeness

12/17/2009

Quick observation: if person X performs an action Y for person Z that if not performed would make person X an ass, then person Z does not owe person X a thank you. Examples would include watching someone’s laptop at a library or opening a door for someone walking two steps behind you.

The Holy Trinity Remixed: Chuck Norris, Obama, and the Virgin Mary

12/16/2009

One of the best pieces of satire I’ve read in a long time: http://tinyurl.com/ycf8loy

“Obama Wants Mary to Abort Jesus”, here are some quotes:

Chuck Norris, “Will Obamacare morph into Herodcare for the unborn?”

“He’s taking a casual dump on the Mother of Our Savior. What bothers me is that Chuck Norris is a board member of The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools and he understands the Bible like a turtle humping a shoe.”

“If you want to put the Bible in schools but you think Mary might have aborted Jesus, if she didn’t have to pay for it, you don’t get to talk anymore. You are disinvited from an opinion on theology. You don’t get to put toilet paper in the boys’ room.

You’re not a Christian. You’re just an asshole. We get that a lot.”