Interstices of the Sublime – Introduction


This book review will mostly be focused on summarizing arguments. I think the text is powerful enough to speak for itself. I may offer more of my opinions in the comments. For someone wondering what texts might serve as a useful background, I’ll offer some suggestions. Other than the useful background in psychoanalysis, the most useful theological texts to understand this book are Crockett’s work Theology of the Sublime and Winquist’s book The Epiphanies of Darkness.

The Primal Scene of Christianity

Crockett begins his work discussing the trauma located at the heart of Christianity: the crucifixion. He uses this along with other primal scenes such as the Wolf Man’s witnessing of his parents having sex, the murder of Moses, and finally the original primal scene of the primal horde. Crockett, following Masuzawa, discusses how Freud’s conception of trauma disrupts our notion of linear history. In trauma (regardless of the historicity of the event) the symptoms and effects that inevitably follow do not have a direct linear relationship. The meaning given to the traumatic event is always understood retrospectively. Take Jesus’ crucifixion. At the actual event, everyone abandoned Jesus, and the only witnesses were some pathetic criminals and indifferent soldiers. However, this historical event was only given supreme meaning at a much later time.

Against Orthodoxy

Crockett understands his project as being part of the trajectory of radical theology stemming back from radical Death of God theologians in the 1960’s. Radical theology distinguishes itself from Barth’s theology of Biblical revelation, and radical orthodoxy’s post-secular theology. He intends to put theology in dialogue with psychoanalysis and allow psychoanalysis to critique our understanding of religious belief. Contra Phillip Blond who claims that “psychoanalysis ‘is an essentially atheistic discourse’ that cannot ‘reconcile a theological conceptuality’” (7), Crockett realizes that this psychoanalytically influenced theology will necessarily be unorthodox. He also mentions continental philosophy of religion, which has primarily relied on thinkers such as Derrida and Levinas for inspiration. Although he appreciates these deconstructive insights, he recognizes that continental philosophy of religion’s aversion to both psychoanalysis (especially Caputo) and theology makes it impotent to contest the postmodern theology of radical orthodoxy. This radical theology will pose a threat to a simplistic view in belief itself, and ultimately it must confront the challenge the Freudian view of sublimation poses to  contemporary theology.

The Sublime from Kant to Freud and Beyond

The sublime is at the forefront of this work. Although, his previous work, Theology of the Sublime, focused on a postmodern reading of the Kantian sublime, in this work he hopes to understand the psychoanalytic rendering of the sublime. For Kant, the sublime is located in the subject, and it can be defined as the process in which the subject’s tries to conceive of something that resists representation. This leads to a feeling of disorientation. Ultimately, for Kant, the understanding restrains this wild imagination, and reason is restored. Crockett defines the Freudian sublime as “two distinct tendencies in Freud’s though: the notion of sublimation on the one hand, and trauma – or the death drive – on the other” (11). The traumatic event opens up gaps in the real that, according to Lacan, are stitched together (like quilting points) by the process of sublimation and re-inscribed into the symbolic. The psychoanalytic sublime is “an uncanny and disorienting feeling of discord at the base of conscious reflection” (11). This reading of the sublime will lead to an unsettling of theoretical reflection upon religion.

Psychotheology After the Death of God

There are ultimately two ways to understand radical theology’s rendition of the death of God: the ontological and the linguistic. The metaphysical reading was championed by Altizer’s Hegelian theology that understood kenosis as God’s emptying himself of transcendence to become absolutely immanent in the world. Thinkers such as Taylor, Raschke, and Winquist have explored the linguistic reading of the death of God. For these theologians God’s being is dissolved into language. Consequently, the relationship between desire and language becomes all the more urgent for radical theology. Finally, Crockett writes that “the complex interrelationships of sublimation, creation, and the sublime in this book unfortunately does not reassure us that God loves and cares for us, but It does open a space for serious theological reflection” (17).


5 Responses to “Interstices of the Sublime – Introduction”

  1. Book Summaries: Link Post « An und für sich Says:

    […] Radical Theology, starting off with two posts Clayton Crockett’s Interstices of the Sublime (1 and 2). And Dave Mesing examined Richard Kearney’s Anatheism in three posts (1, 2, and 3) […]

  2. A.J. Smith Says:

    Great first post.

    A question: Why does psychoanalytically influenced theology necessarily have to be unorthodox?

  3. Jeremy Says:

    Basically, Crockett agrees with Blond to an extent that psychoanalysis cannot be reconciled with Radical Orthodoxy (or any theological orthodoxy for that matter), which leads him to conclude that the only theology that can integrate psychoanalysis will be a radical theology. As opposed to merely dismissing psychoanalysis completely for theology, he wants to open up a space in which honest theological questions can be raised in the context of psychoanalytic inquiry.

  4. Jeremy Says:

    For me psychoanalysis is necessarily atheistic because it is ultimately ethical. That is to say psychoanalysis must divest the patient of any thing to fall back on in times of crisis (God, destiny, etc.) The patient must accept a radical freedom to take responsibility for his/her problems. Not to mention Freud was ridiculously critical of religion calling it an illusion, and in the end a mass-scale delusion. I didn’t mention this, but Crockett mentions a book by DiCenso called the Other Freud, which reads Freud’s more cultural/religious works from a non-reductionistic perspective.

  5. Surf Rock Says:

    Good write-up dude

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