SPEP has released the program for this years conference. Check out page 31 for me (presenting under the SPHS, which meets in conjunction with SPEP) My paper is entitled “The Eckhartian Genesis of Michel Henry’s Philosophy of Praxis” (or, if you are SPEP, “… Michael…” since, of course, a conference program once again spelled Michel Henry’s name wrong…) and continues my ongoing investigation of Michel Henry’s reliance upon the German mystic Meister Eckhart.
Monthly Archives: July 2013
I was recently thumbing around the internet, when I fell upon this little gem. Taken from his 1772 report to the Boston Town Meeting “The Rights of the Colonists,” this short passage argues for the necessity of religious freedom as a human right, unless you’re Catholic.
In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practised, and, both by precept and example, inculcated on mankind. And it is now generally agreed among Christians that this spirit of toleration, in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society, is the chief characteristical mark of the Church. Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society. The only sects which he thinks ought to be, and which by all wise laws are excluded from such toleration, are those who teach doctrines subversive of the civil government under which they live. The Roman Catholics or Papists are excluded by reason of such doctrines as these, that princes excommunicated may be deposed, and those that they call heretics may be destroyed without mercy; besides their recognizing the Pope in so absolute a manner, in subversion of government, by introducing, as far as possible into the states under whose protection they enjoy life, liberty, and property, that solecism in politics, imperium in imperio, leading directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil discord, war, and bloodshed.
I couldn’t help but marvel, particularly given the American Catholic hierarchies recent love affair with the most reactionary elements of conservative politics, at the association of Catholicism with “the worst anarchy and confusion.” I have no great commentary on this passage, simply, enjoy.
The contemporary “return to religion” has resulted in some seriously fecund food for thought, particularly among the philosophically-inclined theologians (of which I would count myself). Of central importance to this turn, at least in the deconstruction camp, has been the work of Jacques Derrida (on one side of the aisle) and John Caputo (on the other). Yet, I nonetheless hold considerable reservations regarding some of their postmodern variation of the themes of religion, most notably their “religion without religion.”
This structure–of the “X without X”– is a particularly common Derridean formulation . We find (in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism), for instance, a reinterpretation of Marion’s “Dieu sans l’etre” as “being God without being God.” Elsewhere, Derrida proposes a designation of Justice as a “messianicity without messianism.” This latter formulation is particularly helpful in unraveling the intention underlying Derrida’s playful disruption of the law of identity. There, Derrida wishes to maintain the forward-facing posture of messianism–understood in the modalities of hope, openness, and responsibility for the incoming other. Yet, at the same time, Derrida wishes to distance himself from the concrete messianisms of the various world religions. As Gschwandtner writes, “he refers to the messianic as a ‘general structure of experience’ concerned with the coming of the other and justice, which does not refer to any particular religion or ‘determinate revelation’.”
What we find, therefore, is a return to the pseudo-transcendentals of Heidegger. Just as the essence of truth is found in a-lethia, the uncovering or manifestation of Being, and the essence of modern technology in technicity, the reduction of all beings to “standing reserve,” Derrida here reduces the essence of messianism to the incoming of “the other and justice.” But (and I have chosen the language of “reduces” intentionally), it must be asked, what is reduced in this reduction, what is lost in the transition from the concrete messianism to the transcendental messianism? Or, returning to my initial concern, what is lost in the reduction of concrete religion to the transcendental “religion without religion.”
The answer, I might suggest, is concrete historicity. The reduction of religion to “religion without religion” seems to be an underhanded attempt to exempt oneself from the historical contingency of one’s religious traditions. For Derrida, the problem with such a move is attenuated by his own pseudo-atheism, as he writes, “I rightly pass for an atheist.” But the same can certainly not be said for Caputo, whose works are unambiguously situated in the Christian tradition. It is true that this move is situated within the context of “radical theology” and its abandonment of ontotheology, and it should certainly be applauded for that. But, by publicly distancing himself from the concrete historicity of the tradition, by advocating a “religion without religion,” Caputo is not merely abandoning a literalist or ontotheological interpretation of that tradition, but rather, seeking to whitewash his own theology, to extract his own thought from the turbulent and violent history of the tradition, while also seeking to maintain access to its riches and insights. Can we really have it both ways? Can we get the good without the bad (have our cake and eat it too)? Is it even possible to extract the good from the bad, the transcendental from the concrete, or is Caputo merely falling into the old Husserlian trap of the pure eidos?
In the end, I wonder if the deconstructed “religion without religion” might merely be the academic version of “I am spiritual, but not religious.” An academic incarnation of a Neoliberal cafeteria-style religiosity, with all of its faux-decontextualized and colonialist baggage.
Planning meeting for the Deleuze online reading group July 21st, 10pm EST.
California prisoners need our support. If you haven’t heard, there is a massive hunger strike in the California prison system in protest to the abusive policies of the states DOC. It is currently on its 12th day, and the California DOC is becoming increasingly hostile in its efforts to suppress the protests, including moving the prisoners to alternate prisons, blasting the AC in their cells to “freeze them out” (unbelievably dangerous for people who haven’t eaten in 12 days), and blocking legal access. Talk is beginning to turn to force feeding, as in Guantanamo. If you don’t understand the full consequences of what that entails, watch this (viewer discretion advised). Their demands are simple, common sense, and backed by a 2006 US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons investigation:
- End group punishment and administrative abuse.
- Abolish the debriefing policy and modify gang status criteria.
- Comply with established recommendations concerning the use of solitary confinement.
- Provide adequate and nutritious food.
- Expand or provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.
Please forward this, it really needs some publicity.
Here is the most recent Ecumenicals discussion, including some exceedingly disorganized thoughts on gender by me.
The events surrounding Texas’ “Senate Bill 5” and Sen. Davis’ filibuster raise incredibly complex questions concerning the interrelationship between politics and the voice–viz. the question of the silencing of the voice.
In many respects, the entire narrative of the night’s events pivoted around this notion of silencing. From a broader political standpoint, the very nature of “Senate Bill 5” seems to emerge from a conflict of the voice, the silencing of the politically dis-empowered (women) by the politically empowered (men). Comprising a mere 21% of the Texas senate, those whose bodies were directly targeted by the bill remain essentially voiceless in response to its powers. In resistance to this inequity of power, Sen. Davis brought to bear the subversive power of the filibuster, precisely the power of the voice. Having been politically dis-empowered, Sen. Davis’ filibuster reasserted the lost voice, called out from the silence. Yet, the resistance to the voice emerged once again, redoubled through the rigorous application of the parliamentary rules (the letter over the spirit), and eventually, as desperation set in, through the bending of these rules (the abandonment of the letter and the spirit). The final postponement of the vote succeeded only when, following the final silencing of Davis’ voice, the law itself was subverted by the emergence of a new voice, the rising of a no-longer-silent minority, who overtook the chamber, drowning out the voices of the powerful.
The structure of this event clarifies an essential relationship between politics and the voice. Simply, political power is none other than the power of the voice. To be politically powerful is to be one who can drown out the voice of opposition–political power is the power to silence. Through numbers, intimidation, social engineering, financing: the essential danger of democracy is neither the power of the majority over the minority (e.g. as race theory or feminism might suggest), nor the minority over the majority (e.g. as many critics of the politics of capitalism suggest), but more fundamentally, the domination of the voiceless by the voiced. The principal tools of socio-political change, from civil rights marches to union strikes, from grassroots petitions to the filibuster, are essentially structured around the voice, they are structures which allow an unheard voice to re-emerge into public discourse.
The question then becomes, what voice is to be heard? At what point does the repression of the voice legitimate the overturning of the political? For, the events of “Senate bill 5” are not without their own ambiguities. Certainly, the GOP used parliamentary legalism to disrupt Davis’ filibuster (first two “strikes”), but the Dems similarly used this legalism to overturn the 12:01 vote. Yes, the GOP “bent” the law in their third “strike,” and again in their push for a late vote, but did the erupting balcony not similarly subvert the law? Neither side stood simply with or against the law, both used the law as a tool when expedient, and sacrificed it when necessary.
Yet, this ambiguity vis-à-vis the law does not mandate an ethical relativism, a basic valuation might still be permitted. Against the overly simplistic readings of the night by many liberal commentators, the beauty and character of the night is not found in the “overturning of GOP trickery” as some have suggested, or the “correct application of the law” as others have implied, but in the true arrival of the ethical. The lesson of June 25th is not that true justice finally emerged from politics, but the recognition that politics are secondary to the ethical, that sometimes the political, the law, must be suspended to make room for the inbreaking of justice–as Derrida writes, “Law (Droit) is not justice. Law is the element of calculation, and it is just that there be law, but justice is incalculable, it requires us to calculate the incalculable; and aporetic experiences are the experiences, as improbable as they are necessary, of justice, that is to say of moments in which the decision between just and unjust is never insured by a rule.” And what is the phenomenological form of the inbreaking of justice? Perhaps nothing other than the inbreaking of the repressed voice. Levinas’ Totality and Infinity, it should be remembered, reminds of us this intimate link between the voice and justice: “Language,” it states “institutes a relation irreducible to the subject-object relation: the revelation of the other. … Their commerce [i.e. discourse], as we shall show shortly, is ethical.” What we learn from the Texas senate is that politics and the law are a mere means toward the essentially foreign end of justice, an end which can only be glimpsed, ever so slightly, in the voice of the oppressed, the voice of the needy, the voice of the minority.
Yet, there is something explicitly anti-democratic in this emergence of the oppressed voice of the minority. If the Texas vote was easily to be passed (as both sides admit), and backed by a majority of Texans, shouldn’t the “democratic approach” be the institution of the law, not the subversion of the vote? When is it permitted for the minority to overcome the majority? The very structure of the protest movement, regardless of its democrat and “power to the people” rhetoric, appears to be an essentially anti-democratic structure, the supplanting of the majority by the minority. We see an analogous structure developing in the recent turmoil in Egypt. The ostensibly democratically elected president Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been forcibly ousted by the Egyptian military in conjunction with a massive protest movement of an unprecedented scale (the BBC estimates 33,000,000, the largest recorded protest in history). Is this protest, as well as that in Texas, an injustice?
Perhaps. Or maybe it is time to recognize that democracy is not an end unto itself. Perhaps it is simply another reiteration of politics, law, droit. Could democracy be thought as an abstraction, always secondary to the concrete oppressed other? Could we not affirm that democracy, properly thought, is always in service to something greater, something positively undeconstructible, justice-itself–and the visible image of this invisible justice, the voice of the oppressed?