Archive for the ‘Foucault’ Category

Two Books Reviews of Queer Theology

09/12/2010

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.

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The Process of the Subject in Foucault

05/10/2010

Here is a great lecture by Agamben

Foucault’s Misunderstanding of Repression

10/29/2009

So, I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago on why I was studying psychoanalysis and attempted to elucidate some concepts that are often poorly understood. I tried to counter Foucault’s understanding of the repressive hypothesis that he believed was false because his analysis unearthed a plethora of discourses of sexuality that had proliferated during Freud’s era.

Zizek drives this home in First as Tragedy then as Farce,

“This is why Lacan claimed that Marx had already invented the (Freudian) notion of a symptom: for both Marx and Freud, the way to the truth of a system (of society, of the psyche) leads through what necessarily appears as a “pathological” marginal and accidental distortion of this system: slips of tongue, dreams, symptoms, economic crises. The Freudian Unconscious is thus “invisible” in an exactly homologous way, which is why there is no place for it in Foucault’s edifice. This is why Foucault’s rejection of what he calls the Freudian “repression hypothesis” – his notion of regulatory power discourses which generate sexuality in the very act of describing and regulating it-misses the (Freudian) point. Freud and Lacan were well aware that there is no repression without the return of the repressed; they were well aware that the repressive discourse generates what it represses. However, what this discourse represses is not what it appears to repress, not what it itself takes to be the threatening X it seeks to control. The figures of “sexuality” it portrays as the threat to be controlled-such as the figure of the Woman, whose uncontrolled sexuality is a threat to the masculine order-are themselves fantasmatic mystifications. Rather, what this discourse “represses” is (among other things) its own contami­nation by what it tries to control-say, the way the sacrifice of sexuality sexualizes sacrifice itself, or the manner in which the effort to control sexuality sexualizes this controlling activity itself. Sexuality is thus, of course, not “invisible” – it is controlled and regulated. What is “invisible” is the sexualization of this very work of control: not the elusive object we try to control, but the mode of our own participation within it.” (101-102)

On Becoming a Psychoanalytic Psychologist Part I

10/11/2009

I wanted to possibly stretch over the next three of four post reasons why I chose to study at a graduate program that emphasized a psychoanalytic perspective on psychotherapy. Whenever I talked to people about my choice most people react with curiosity or bafflement as to why someone in this day and age would still be wanting to study Freud and all of those who have followed in his massive footsteps.

Given all of the caricatures out there regarding Freud and psychoanalysis, I thought it might be helpful to defend some of his insights and their importance for modern life.

Let me start this first post with something of a refutation of Foucault’s popular thesis in History of Sex that psychoanalysis is a secularization of the Catholic confession. I believe this is a commonly held perception that analysis is a place someone comes to confess all of his perverse thoughts and desires without feeling judged. For one, Bollas makes a strong case in the Freudian moment that Freud’s true breakthrough rested not with his theory of infant sexuality (while important) but with his importance of following the links of associations that the unconscious strings together. Bollas does not believe that the technique of psychoanalysis is getting someone to confess his Oedipal unconscious desires for his mother. Rather, all analysis requires is that someone talk about his day and both analyst and analysand trust the unconscious to make the appropriate associations. While Oedipal material might manifest itself in these linkages by no means is this the hallmark of psychoanalysis. It was called the talking cure for a reason, that is to say because it created a space where someone could speak honestly and openly trusting that true dynamics would shine forth in everyday conversation. I don’t mean to present the patient-therapist dyad as buddies talking at Starbucks, but I am attempting to attack this notion that one lies back on a couch and divulges all of his perverse longings. Certainly Foucault’s critique does carry some weight, but I believe appropriate analysis guards against this rather moralizing approach to therapy.

Why the obsession with sex and aggression? For one, I think part of the blame rests on Freud. I believe that he partially used sex as a catch-all term for intimacy and love to make his technique all the more scandalous. Unfortunately, this trickles down in undergraduate psychology class as a four-year-old wanting to fuck his mom, which is a pathetic attempt to denigrate psychoanalysis (I don’t mean to sound paranoid here. But, America’s aversion to psychoanalysis is hysterical at best, dishonest at worst). Another reason Freud believed in the importance of sex and aggression was his attempt to stay true to his Darwinian convictions. Evolution rests on the importance of preserving one’s genes through one’s offspring. Hence, Freud felt it was entirely appropriate to stress the pervasive influence of sex. Let me offer a clarification of Freudian sexual development to offer a more ‘object-relations’ interpretation.

To properly explore the connections, it’s imperative that I briefly outline Freud’s psychosexual development and supplement his stage model with Erikson’s view of the developmental tasks that the child must accomplish to progress healthfully. Freud conceived of the infant as maturing through five different stages of psychosexual growth. Initially, the infant explores the world primarily with his mouth, which usually focuses on excitation derived from the mother’s breast. Erikson believed that if the parents consistently supplied the infant with the appropriate amount of attention and affection then ideally the child would develop a sense of trust in his caretakers. The importance is that the child internalize healthy objects that can be trusted, which will built upon for later relationships. However, if the infant experiences an unpredictable environment then the infant might mistrust the people and world around him. Next, the child enters the anal stage where he encounters his first struggle with rules and authority handed down from his parents. Suddenly, the child is forced to follow specific injunctions with regards to how to properly dispose of waste. Hopefully, the child will develop a sense of autonomy and independence with respect to his agency. But, if the parents are unrealistic with their expectations of the child’s abilities then the child might develop shame or doubt in his faculties.

The phallic stage is undoubtedly Freud’s most controversial stage in his model of psychosexual development. Freud theorized that a boy, during this stage, would have unconscious sexual attraction towards his mother. By sexual attraction, it’s important to clarify that this has much more to do with issues of closeness and intimacy than some sort of genital contact, which a child at this age has no way of comprehending. The child wants to be the important person in his caregiver’s life, but his beloved love-object has been unfaithful. The boy simultaneously recognizes that his father also has a claim on his mother. Because of this impediment to the child’s love object, the young boy will harbor murderous thoughts towards his father and lustful thoughts about having his mother all to himself. The boy will realize that these desires are prohibited and thus fear his father’s retaliation. This could lead to castration anxiety in the young boy. If the child renounces these wishes, then the child will healthfully resolve his Oedipal complex and being identifying with his father. Erikson believed that the child would achieve a sense of identity or potentially a sense of guilt. After this stage, the child experiences a latency period from roughly age six to pre-puberty, which is characterized by an absence of sexual development. Finally, the child will begin puberty and hopefully develop a sense of true sexual identity. This also marks the beginning of the end of sexual development, and after puberty, according to Freud, psychosexual development is complete.

I’ll talk more about object relations, the unconscious, defenses, the structural model, and the importance of psychodynamic therapy compared to the current hot trend in American psychology: cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Death of God Part V

08/04/2009

So, I decided to save reflections on Moltmann for a later time. Today, I want to consider Mark C Taylor’s books Erring. This book, although not the first, has been definitive for radical theology. Raschke, who first introduced deconstruction to theology, once quipped that, ‘Deconstruction is the death of God put in to writing’. In Erring, Taylor synthesized his work on Kierkegaard and Hegel with Derrida. I respect Taylor’s work because he’s a virtual renaissance man. He’s published books on theology, philosophy, art, architecture, complexity theory, and economics. His most recent book After God is somewhat of an summary of his entire work. Taylor’s theological contributions stems from his relationship with Altizer. He has remained faithful while simultaneously betraying aspects of the death of God theology.

He famously coined that deconstruction is the ‘hermeneutics of the death of God’. Now, what does that mean? In Of Grammatology, Derrida works through how our perceptions of language would change if we started considering language as a form of writing as opposed to speech. Derrida notes that in the history of Western philosophy we have continually though that Logos (reason/thought) has a more intimate relationship with speech while writing is a derivative form. Because speech is so closely tied to presence of our conversation partner we fail to recognize the amount of interpretation that requires our comprehension of language. For instance, when we hold a conversation we rarely remember that the words we speak are not self-evident in and of themselves, basically when language is conceived from the perspective of speech language is effaced. What if we began understanding language from the perspective of writing? Would anything change? For one, the author is dead/absent. There is no possibility of asking for clarification from an author who’s absent. The words are on the page, and we are stuck with onerous task of interpretation. Derrida encourages us to think of language as writing because when we read we are struck with the fact that language is a collection of signifiers whose meaning is not given. These signifiers are wrapped in a complex web of other signifiers. His term differance helps us think through this relationship. Differance plays off the double meanings in French which means to both defer and differ. For structuralist linguistics, signifiers are only distinguished by how they differ from other words with similar sounds and meanings. Likewise, whenever we look up a word’s meaning in the dictionary we recognize that we never arrive at the actual meaning; rather we are sent on an infinite quest for a meaning that is always deferred. Now, when we reconsider language from the perspective of writing, we are struck with the fact that language always requires an act of interpretation. The illusion that meaning is ever secured is tied to a naïve perspective of language that results when we think of language as speech. Now, we must recognize that language itself is never secured but always open and foundationless.

So, for Taylor deconstruction is the hermeneutics of the death of God because deconstruction enables us to realize that all of our foundations are themselves insecure. Hence, God or Logos or Being or Meaning have all become destabilized. I also imagine that Taylor would view the death of God as being a historical event beginning from the Reformation through Kant and prophesied by Nietzsche. Here, people tend to confuse deconstruction as nihilism, but as Derrida’s later work indicates he had certain commitments that were ‘undeconstructible’. Now, if God is dead, what happens to man? We all know in Genesis 1 that man was made in the image of God. Taylor recognizes that the first Western autobiography was coined by St Augustine whose heart was ‘restless until we rest in you’. So if the man’s identity is in a reciprocal relationship with God, certainly the self also becomes de-centered because of its contingency on God. Here, I’m reminded of Foucault’s ruminations on the ‘death of man’ or the eclipse of humanism. Foucault states, ‘It [man] was the effect of a change in the fundamental arrangements of knowledge. As the archaeology of our thought easily show, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end’.

Lyotard’s famous definition that postmodernism is an ‘incredulity of metanarratives’ motivates Taylor’s next thesis. So, if history is the recording of the self and God’s interaction then we know that history has now come to an end. The end of history complements Lyotard’s understanding of postmodernism, which tends to be skeptical of any sort of narrative that can explain the totality of history. Whether that be Freud’s psychoanalysis, Marx’s dialectical materialism, or Hegel’s absolute spirit all of them lose their credibility to explain all facets of life. The atrocities of the 20th century have rendered any sort of teleological outlook of the world unthinkable. Finally, if the book documents history, we’re struck with the closure of the book as well. This is likewise mirrored in Barthes’ ‘death of the author’. There is no book that could properly document the progress of history; we’re always already in the flux. Nothing can elevate us out of particularity to have a ‘God’s eve view’ of the world.

This is Taylor’s a/theology. One trying to err along the way.

Note: I’d especially encourage everyone to read this who has only been introduced to Derrida via Caputo. Caputo’s defense of Derrida focuses more on his ethical/political work of the 80’s and 90’s and less on his more philosophical books of the 60’s and 70’s. Also, Caputo’s strident defense against nihlism sometimes diminishes the radicalism of Derrida’s work.