Archive for September, 2010

Freud on Repetition Compulsion and Erotic Transference


I wanted to make a couple of comments on some papers I read tonight by Freud on transference. In class, my professor assigned us to read his groundbreaking paper Recollection, Repetition and Working Through (1914) along with Observations on Transference-Love (1915).

The first paper is simply brilliant. Freud argues that patients often compulsively repeat patterns that get enacted in the transference. As opposed to simply dismissing the transference as a re-enactment from childhood, the analyst is encouraged to help the patient work through the repetition. For Freud the key is to help the patient recollect and articulate the repressed elements that are leading to the repetitions which are being played out in the transference. Otherwise the patient is condemned to continue to repeat and act out without putting into words (i.e. recollect) what is driving these patterns of behavior. Those familiar with Deleuze will remember that he attempts to reverse this relationship in Difference and Repetition by arguing that repetition is original and repression secondary. Hence, for Deleuze we repress because we repeat, whereas for Freud we are doomed to compulsively repeat until the repression can be brought in consciousness (by analyzing the transference) to help the patient break the pattern.

The second paper is Freud’s exploration of the challenge many analysts had to confront when treating hysterical patients: erotic transference. Freud argues against two options: 1) to dismiss the erotic transference as infantile and perverse (of course for Freud all love is infantile in origin) and 2) to act out on the erotic transference. Rather Freud recognizes that the key is to work through the erotic transference to help the hysteric become aware of this pattern and the origins of these wishes. I found this particular quote by Freud fascinating, “[i]t has come to my knowledge that certain physicians who practise analysis frequently prepare their patients for the advent of a love-transference or even instruct them to ‘go ahead and fall in love with the analyst so that the treatment may make progress.’ I can hardly imagine a more nonsensical proceeding. It robs the phenomenon itself of the element of spontaneity which is so convincing and it lays up obstacles ahead of which are extremely difficult to overcome” (Ellman, Freud’s Technique Papers, 68).

I cannot believe male analysts had the hubris to command their female patients to go ahead and develop to the erotic transferential feelings so they could get over that and begin the real work. Of course, this in all actuality is a defense and an avoidance of the real work of analysis, since the understanding of transference is key for psychoanalysis.

Finally, I wanted to reflect on the posture of the psychoanalyst in analysis. The holy trinity of qualities the analyst ascribes to is neutrality, abstinence, and anonymity. This of course leads to the stereotypes of the cold, aloof analyst who evinces no feelings of compassion or tenderness for his patients but functions as a withholding robot. The problem with this caricature is that fails to understand the limitations of these three qualities to the transference alone. For instance, some think Freud did not practice what he preached, when in one session, he offered the Rat-man a herring because the patient let Freud know that he was starving. The fact is that this does not violate the analytic stance because Freud is responding to the Rat-man’s needs like a real person. This food has nothing to do with transference but rather with the real relationship between patient and analyst. Relational analysts frequently critique the classical analyst as being inauthentic or unaware of the inherent structure of analysis, namely that two people are in the room both with unique subjectivities. However, I think I’m in agreement with Freud that the relationship between the analyst and patient is not wholly defined by transference, and hence the analyst can respond in empathic ways outside of the transference-countertransference matrix.


Barth Blog Conference 2010


I wanted to direct everyone’s attention to the 2010 Karl Barth Blog Conference 2010 over at DET. This looks to be an exciting three-week event, and it will put Barth into conversation with a variety of thinkers, and I’m hoping to participate through comments and questions.

Hopefully some time soon I’ll be posting some reflections on CD IV/1, and I’m beginning CD IV/2 this week.

Pannenberg Podcast


Check out this fun interview with Phillip Clayton on Panneberg and process theology over at HC. Clayton studied with Pannenberg for awhile in Germany, and he recalled having a meeting with Pannenberg while he was in the process of writing his magisterial Anthropology in Theological Perspective. Panneberg admitted to being exhausted because he was reading over 1000 pages/day in preparation! I’m just finishing this podcast, and Clayton also believes that the two greatest influences on 20th century theology have been Barth and process thought. Not sure I buy that.

Church Dogmatics and Scripture


As I’m trying to finish up CD IV/I this week, something crossed my mind. I’m wondering what verse of Scripture Barth quotes most frequently throughout his Dogmatics. I’d try and do some research myself, but I’ve been checking out the Dogmatics from my local university. I’d wager that he either quotes 2 Cor 5:19 (God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself) or Mk 15:34 (my God, my God why hast thou Forsaken me?). The latter verse is referenced over 10 times alone in CD IV/I. Anyway, it’s just a hypothesis but I’ve noticed Barth seems especially fond of both of those verses.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to post some thoughts on CD IV/I at the end of the week. Section §59 entitled the Obedience of the Son of God has to be one of the greatest portions of the Dogmatics.

Patristic Audio Resource


There’s a nice short introduction to many of the church fathers here.

Two Books Reviews of Queer Theology


Stuart’s Gay and Lesbian Theologies does a nice of job of mapping out the field of gay, lesbian, and queer theology. Using the schematization of Rieger she breaks up 20th century theology into four separate movements: liberal theology, neo-orthodoxy, liberation theology, and postmodern theology. While the layout is somewhat helpful, I can’t help but thinking that grouping post-liberal theology, radical orthodoxy, and deconstructive theology (e.g. Mark C Taylor’s a/theology) all under the rubric of postmodern theology is a tad forced and clumsy. Those three separate theological movements hardly share anything in common. Stuart argues that gay and lesbian theologies have either relied on the methodology of liberal theology or liberation theology. She critiques certain gay theologians who have relied on liberal theology for failing to embrace the critiques of gender essentialism and identity by Foucault and Butler. Halfway through the book she declares that gay and lesbian theologies have failed because they did not have the adequate theological means to respond the question of theodicy, a question raised in those communities by the AIDS crisis. In turn, she offers reflections on recent works of queer theology including the indecent theology of Althaus-Reid along with the queer theology of Goss. Ultimately, I’d recommend Stuart’s work for clearly laying out the history of queer theology, although I didn’t find her proposals (e.g. emphasizing the importance of baptism for queer identity) to be all that compelling.

This leads me the offer some reflections on Goss’s seminal work Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto. First off, the book is written in a sprit of prophetic anger. Goss opens up his book using Foucault’s work in the History of Sexuality Vol I to discuss the emergency of the category of the ‘homosexual’ in public discourse along with the medicalization of homosexuality in psychiatry. Next he discusses the history of gay and lesbian rights along with the homophobia of American politics and churches. Goss focuses especially on the AIDS crisis and the willful neglect of the government to adequately address the pandemic. Religiously he takes aim at the Religious Right and the Catholic Church for the vitriol and lies they have propagated about homosexuals. In chapter 3 Goss explores the possibility of the queer Christ as liberator. He critiques typical Christology for de-politicizing Jesus’ ministry along with Christian theology for importing Hellenic metaphysics into Christian theology. The active God of justice and love in the Bible was soon distorted into the apathetic and unchanging God of Greek metaphysics according to Goss. Perhaps my favorite part of this book was his discussion of Jesus’ basileia practice. He does a superb job of situating Jesus’ ministry as one wholly focused on the liberation of the oppressed in accordance with God’s imminent reign. At the end of the chapter he re-thinks the possibility of seeing Christ as queer-bashed.

“The cross has terrorized gay men and lesbians. It has become a symbol of lethal sexual oppression, but Jesus’ death shapes the cross into a symbol of struggle for queer liberation” (Goss, Jesus Acted Up, 83).

“Jesus the Christ is “queer-based”…Jesus the queer Christ is crucified repeatedly by homophobic violence. The aim of God’s practice of solidarity and justice-doing and our own queer Christian practice is to bring and end to the crucifixions in this world” (85).

The next two chapters discuss hermeneutics and the queer base communities and its relation to ecclesiology. In the last major chapter on sexual justice Goss makes use of Jesus’ clearing of the Temple as a model for queer Christians to emulate in their political actions towards American churches. Here the reader experiences the urgency and sincerity of Goss’s call for a liberating queer political praxis. Goss calls for gays and lesbians to rid American churches of the homophobia that have poisoned and corrupted the gospel. One of the major strengths of this work is Goss’s critique of gay and lesbian communities. He criticizes the misogyny of many gay men and the separatism of lesbians. He also implores gays and lesbians to become more aware of the other struggles for racial equality, economic distribution, and ecological issues. While some critique liberation theologians for failing to acknowledge the sin of the oppressed, Goss takes dead aim at the problems inherent to the gay and lesbian community.

There are two major weaknesses of this work. First, I felt that his unilateral rejection of the tradition for being too enslaved to Greek philosophy is a bit simplistic. Certainly there are queer elements to be found there along with a reading of the atonement theory that might in fact be of political use to Goss’s queer theology. Secondly, his section on queer hermeneutics was weak. He challenges the supposed ‘texts of terror’ that supposedly condemn homosexuality. He bulldozes over these facile interpretations, but then he fails to search for homoerotic affirming material in the Bible.

Reflecting back on Goss’s Jesus Acted Up (which I’d strongly recommend), I began thinking about how it differed from Althaus-Reid’s indecent theology. Whereas Goss’s queer theology primarily criticizes the American church and homophobic theology at large, Althaus-Reid explicitly critiques the heterosexist theology of liberation theology. Goss remains confident that Jesus’ basileia practice is an inspiring political paradigm, but Althaus-Reid is more suspect. Goss was content to contexualize the queer Christ whereas Althaus-Reid wanted to genderfuck the Godhead.

Finally, after reading Goss’s book I can’t help but wondering how people sympathetic to liberation theology are often reticent to discuss the importance of incorporating gays and lesbians in the fight against oppression. They somehow find comfort talking about Jesus’ siding with the oppressed and prostitutes but God forbid that include gays or lesbians.

With regards to queer theology I wish there was more coming out (no pun intended) these days. Althaus-Reid’s untimely, premature death was certainly a tragedy for the field. I think there’s a lot of interesting work being done in queer Biblical studies. Next year I’m going to be doing some readings in Christology including one book by Bohache called Christology from the Margins, which is supposed to be a solid work on queer Christology. Anyway now I return to Barth’s Dogmatics which I’ve been neglecting for quite some time.

Qur’an Burning and the Incompetent Media


Check it out

Here’s some highlights:

“All of this finally culminated with yesterday’s press conference, where Terry Jones lied and said that the Park51 community center was going to move, thanks to him. You see where this is headed now, don’t you? Now the people behind Park51 are on the hook for stopping this Quran burning, and all of the negative external impact it may have. Now, all of the refined hate-merchants from early in the story can say that if the “Ground Zero mosque” isn’t moved, immediately, American troops could die!”

“There were many, many moments where someone could have simply said, “No, we should really not be doing this. These Islamophobes are objectively wrong, objectively stupid, objectively contradictory, objectively harmful, and by God, as someone with a functioning brain and a devotion to the pursuit of reason above all else, I am going to stand here and say no to all of this.” But as it turns out, it wasn’t until yesterday afternoon that someone finally had the guts to say maybe we cannot really believe a word this man is saying.”

“Well, they should have thought of that before they decided to point a bunch of teevee cameras at him, I guess.”

It’s the Transference, Stupid


Tonight I’ve been reading Stuart’s Gay and Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions with Critical Differences. It provides a nice anthology of gay, lesbian, and queer theology. I’ll post a review later on this week. One thing that particular struck me was her review of Heyward’s (the most influential lesbian theologian) experience in psychotherapy. In fact, many of the earlier theologies focused heavily on the healing produced in psychotherapy. Anyway, apparently Heyward experienced the healing of the erotic power during her psychotherapy. However, Heyward felt betrayed that her “therapist refused to consider becoming friends with Heyward after the therapy ended on the grounds that to do so would be to violate professional boundaries. Heyward refused to accept this because her experience of erotic power was so real and she experienced her therapist’s rejection of the possibility of friendship as abusive” (Stuart, Gay and Lesbian Theologies, 54). This was a focus of Heyward’s book When Boundaries Betray Us. Apparently Heyward never understood the importance of transference in therapeutic relationship. Of course her lesbian therapist was completely correct to refuse this dual-relationship, as it is professionally irresponsible. This reminds me of the old analytic joke of the lonely analyst who experiences an erotic countertransference to his female patient. She was relaying to him her fantasy of getting married to him, and he jumped at the opportunity saying ‘let’s go the courthouse after the session and get married at once’. The female patient looked at him quite baffled and said ‘it’s the transference, stupid’. Some people think that analysts are quite self-absorbed by always interpreting the patient’s actions as somehow related to the therapeutic relationship. However, the key point is that is that the analyst is simply an empty container, an anonymous object (in the psychoanalytic sense) on which the patient projects all of his/her fantasies, wishes, and desires. Hence, Heyward should have recognized that while the intimacy she experienced might have felt real it was in reality illusory because the therapist she related to was simply a self-object and not an actual person.

Jungel’s God’s Being is in Becoming


Last night I had a chance to read this solid work by Jungel. It does a great job of laying out Barth’s theological ontology. I wanted to highlight three quotes that really stood out to me. I’m excited about finally reading his God as Mystery of the World next year.

“The understanding of double predestination is the ground for the unity of Christology and soteriology, and of the doctrines of justification and sanctification in Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation. For our context is it important that Barth thinks immediately of double predestination in concrete terms, as ‘act of divine life in the Spirit.’ The fact that Jesus Christ is this double predestination means that God’s self-giving is ‘a gift…made to man’ on the basis of a divine self-renunciation, which is ‘God’s hazarding of His Godhead and power and status’. Praedstinatio gemina [double predestination] is praedestinatio dialectica [dialectical predestination]. In Jesus Christ God ordained life for man, but death in himself. The dialectic, however, is not sealed up as a paradox but broke up teleologically: ‘God wills to lose in order that man may gain.’” (God’s Being is in Becoming, 92-3).

“But he categorically rejects that we must draw from this the consequence of contradiction through which God come into conflict with himself. For Barth this consequence is blasphemy. However, his rejection of this consequence does not lead to any toning down of is discussion of God’s suffering, but, conversely, to a critique of the traditional metaphysical concept of God, according to which God cannot suffer without falling into conflict with his being. In this critique, Barth’s opposition to every kind of natural theology received its most pointed statement. No concept of God arrived at independent of this reality of Jesus Christ may decide what is possible and impossible for God. Rather, we are to say from what God as man in Jesus Christ is, does and suffers: God can do this” (God’s Being is in Becoming, 99).

“In this obedience God suffers, in that in Jesus Christ he exists as man. And in this obedience God abandons himself to death. Passion and death are not a metaphysical piece of misfortune which overtook the Son of God who became man. God chose this ‘fate’…And so God as God has declared himself identical with the crucified Jesus. Therefore one must not exclude from this suffering the Father who gave his Son over to suffer death. ‘It is not at all the case that God has no part in the suffering of Jesus Christ even in His mode of being as the Father’ [quote from Barth CD IV/2, 357]” (God’s Being is in Becoming, 101-2).

Kenosis in Althaus-Reid’s Queer God


“It is worth thinking that the act of kenosis of God in Jesus (that self-emptiness of God’s power, amongst other divine attributes, in order to become human) needs to go beyond the God-Father in Jesus in order to become a vulnerable, unpowerful God figure. The feminist discourse on the positive theology which may surge from the vulnerability of God in Jesus needs not to be denied but transgressed…Let us consider that somehow in Jesus God loses Godself, and perhaps some elements of patriarchy go into a process of abasement giving space to a different, out-of-this (patriarchal)-order new God/man…In Liberation Theologies, it has been accepted that little can be known of God, except in what is perceived as the revelation of God in history. However, the point that has been missed is that such revelations of God in history is also a revelation made through the history of human relationships, and intimate relations” (37-8).

One of the primary moves of Queer theology is that of transgression (unsurprisingly Bataille exerts a great influence in this work). From her queering of God qua kenosis to the queer hermeneutics employed through the latter part of the book, Althaus-Reid remains resolute in her challenging the foundations of a heterosexual T-Theology (as she refers to orthodox theology throughout the book). There’s a strong focus to think an absolute transfiguration of the patriarchal Godhead into a Queer Godhead. This queer assault on the Godhead should remind my readers of Altizer’s apocalyptic theology that traces the absolute transformation of the Godhead from a No-saying Alien God to a fully incarnate, immanent Yes-saying God (recall Joyce’s Here Comes Everybody). At the end of this passage we begin to understand a major emphasis of this book, namely that knowledge of God’s revelation also arises through the queerness and messiness of human bodily interactions.

“Some gender-based theologies fall especially into that trap: they end reconciling themselves with androcentrism by getting reabsorbed into the system via heterosexual ideas of equality…It is not enough to open, for instance, a theological reflection on masturbation, using masturbation as the motive of an ecclesiastical or eschatological concern (are masturbators going to be amongst the elect?), but rather to think that Christian eschatology from an epistemology derived from masturbation. That would be part of the project of reflecting on the production of God, not just God’s edibility as in the case of a theology done only for consumption purposes” (51).

Again one can see Althaus-Reid’s emphasis on transgression in this passage. A queer theology is not simply a call for recognition ‘there is no gay or straight in Christ Jesus’ but rather an attempt to question the very method through which traditional theology is done. Another example of this method is evident in her queering of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Many liberal theologians like to point out that the sin of the Sodomites was the lack of hospitality they extended to Lot’s angelic visitors. Althaus-Reid doesn’t believe this goes far enough for a proper queering of the text. Althaus-Reid accuses the messengers of God of being inhospitable for policing sexuality of the Other and accuses Lot’s God of being inhospitable and intolerant of the Other’s sexual ethic.

“What is as the stake here is not just God devolving itself in Christ but in the Trinity, and in the Trinity understood as an orgy, that is, a festival of the encounter of the intemperate in two key elements. The first is the theological presupposition of God as an immoderate, polyamorous God, whose self is composed in relation to multiple embraces and sexual indefinitions beyond oneness, and beyond dual models of loving relationships. The second is the commitment of an omnisexual kenosis to destabilise sexual constructions of heterosexual readings of heterosexuality itself, bisexuality, gay and lesbian sexual identities and transvestite identities. The kenosis of omnisexuality in god is a truly genderfucking process worth of being explored” (57).

The kenosis and queering of God are necessary from Althaus-Reid’s perspective if theology is to escape the narrow confines of a sexist theology. God thought outside of the restrictions of a mono-loving economy can truly open up a Godhead that can open itself to a good old-fashioned genderfucking process.

“That is to say, the Trinitarian formula expresses the material reality of the intimate reunion where God is not expected to coincide with Godself. In a time when theology has become preoccupied with issues of diversity and plurality in its discourse, as opposed to the more essentialist assumptions about the so called ‘nature’ of humanity…One can briefly mention here the Feminist theological project in its original enquiry into Christ’s masculinity, the quest for the Black Christ, the Gay Christ and more recently the reflections done by theologians seeking the face of a post-colonial Christ. However, although the theological subject has been and still is queried and rightly destabilised from a prefixed Christian horizon, there have been few if any theological attempts to destabilise God, that is the other partner of the theological dialogical process” (54).

I think this quote captures the boldness of Althaus-Reid’s theological project. While other liberation theologies have contented themselves with contextualizing Christ, none have had the courage to try and rethink the queering of God the Father. Unfortunately, I believe this text suffers from some particular problems. First off, the arguments themselves are often obscure and difficult to follow. She’ll mention Deleuze or Bataille in passing without properly explaining her appropriation of their thought. Even though I’ve studied a good amount of Deleuze I still found myself lost in this dense book. Secondly, unlike her earlier book Indecent Theology which was full of life and humor, this text seemed strangely divorced from life and at times clumsy. The theological vision of this book is to be commended, but the execution was at some points poor.