There must be a great sort of dissonance when you are convinced of some inner reality when others believe the exact opposite of you. Imagine being Jesus: maybe he was born with the knowledge of or experience of his own divinity (as coupled with his humanity), maybe he grew to discover it. But I suppose that neither of those axioms would really matter to you, oh Jesus.
You grow up, proclaiming things like “The Father and I are One” and insinuating that you–yes you!–are the divine one. You are the transcendent one. You–who was born of a woman, healed on the Sabbath, forgave sins, touched the unclean, cast out demons, and was crucified–are the one that the prophets spoke of???? And yet the tradition contradicts all these things! How dare you forgive someone’s sins! Touching the unclean? Go perform a cleansing ritual!! Atone for your sin of violating the Sabbath! Even the Muslims know that the Messiah of Israel cannot be crucified!! You blasphemer! Repent of your sin immediately! How dare you claim to transcend our clearly demarcated boundaries!!!!
Now imagine you are a trans woman. Maybe you were born having known or experienced your gender differently than people treated you; maybe you grew to discover it–5 years into life…14 years….21 years….50 years….80 years…. But, again, I suppose that these axioms might not matter all too much to you, oh Queer One.
You grow up and begin proclaiming things like “I am not a boy!!!” or insinuating that you–yes you!–are among those who cannot concede the gender everyone else imposes on them. You are the transcendent one. You–who was born with a specific set of genitalia, played sports, dressed in typical boyish garb, responding to your male name and male pronouns–are the one the tradition warns about. “God created them male and female!” they press. “A woman must not wear men’s clothing,” they insist, “nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.” So you figure, “hey, maybe I’ll start wearing women’s clothes then!” Your wit does not woo the nay-sayers of life. Do not repent. You need not cleanse yourself. Christ has not atoned for you, for you have not sinned in gender. What nonsense!
Suppose that we were once wrong about Christ–we denied him. Suppose we were wrong about trans people–we denied them as well. And look what happened.
Thank you for transcending boundaries with me.
“You refer to the pair transcendental-dialectical. If we take, for example, that which makes a dialectical process possible—namely, an element foreign to the system that transcends a group of categories (the transcendental as that which transcendit omne genus), an element more or less than a table or series of categories—this foreign element, more originary than the dialectic, is precisely that which the dialectic is to dialectize, taking it into and including it in itself. This is why the most dialectical formulations of the dialectic, those which in general are to be found in Hegel, are always both dialectical and non-dialectical: identity of non-identity and identity. The non-dialectical does not oppose the dialectical, and is a figure that recurs continually. I have constantly attempted to single out that element which would not allow itself to be integrated in a series or a group, in order to show that there is a non-oppositional difference that transcends the dialectic, which is itself always oppositional. There is a supplement, or a pharmakon—I could give many more examples—that does not let itself be dialectized. Precisely that which, not being dialectical, makes dialectic impossible, is necessarily retaken by the dialectic that it relaunches. At this point, we have to remark that the dialectic consists precisely in dialectizing the non-dialectizable. What we have, then, is a concept of dialectic that is no longer the conventional one of synthesis, conciliation, reconciliation, totalization, identification with itself; now, on the contrary, we have a negative or an infinite dialectic that is the movement of synthesizing without synthesis. It is, for example, what I call ex-appropriation, which is in principle an anti-dialectical concept; but it can always be interpreted as the nec plus ultra of the dialectical, as in La problème de la genèse.
And this is why, after that highly dialectizing first book of mine, whenever I insisted on a non-dialectizable difference, I remarked with discretion, but markedly, that it was not a question of opposing a dialectic. I have never opposed the dialectic. Be it opposition to the dialectic or war against the dialectic, it’s a losing battle. What it really comes down to is thinking a dialecticity of dialectics that is itself fundamentally not dialectical.
What I’ve said here about the dialectic is also true of dialegesthai,dialogue, intelligibility, justice, etc.; but, basically, we are dealing with two concepts or two figures of the dialectic—the conventional one, of totalization, reconciliation and reappropriation through the work of the negative etc.; and then a non-conventional figure, which I have just indicated. Clearly, between the two figures themselves there will have to be a dialectic—in this case, between the non-dialectizable and the dialectizable. And the non of the non-dialectizable itself splits in two: it may be thought as a non of opposition or as a non of irreducibility, of heterogeneity. Thus the non-dialectizable may be apprehended as dialectical or non-dialectical, as oppositional or heterogeneous.
What has always worried me is the heterogeneous, namely, that which does not even oppose: it may be called either the greatest force of opposition or the greatest weakness. I have often felt that the image of weakness offers less purchase to dialectic. It is the weak, not the strong, that defies dialectic. Right is dialectical, justice is not dialectical, justice is weak. Nietzsche in particular saw and understood better than others the process of conversion by which the greatest weakness becomes the greatest strength. Is it a dialectical proposition that the greatest weakness—philosophy, Christianity—prevailed over the greatest strength, and that this perversion is morality, the origin of debt and guilt, etc.? Is it a dialectical proposition or not, when Nietzsche says that dialectic is the victory of the weak, but is at the same time a manifestation of strength? I do not know whether this movement can be called ‘dialectical.’ Nietzsche, of course, would deny it—but wasn’t he himself being dialectical when he said it?
Is the given dialectizable? If that was the gist of your question, I think that, in a Hegelian sense, yes, the dialectic begins here: for something to be determined in intuition, the first determination of the this and the here-and-now is the absolutely incompressible, unarrestable beginning of the autonomous movement of the dialectic. The given is dialectical. But, clearly, one can think the gift [don] of the given [donné] as that which simultaneously precedes the dialectic and interrupts it. That is what I try to say about the gift in Given Time: the gift is precisely what must not present itself. In this sense it is never given, it must not be given as something, nor by someone. Whatever there is of gift in the given [de don dans le donné], it is not a given. Understood in this sense, or thought, or promised, the given is truly the non-dialectizable: it is what resists economy, circulation—it is what resists the circle. It can always be demonstrated that as soon as one attempts to say what one means by ‘gift,’ to determine or speak of it, one is in the dialectic. But here it is a question of thinking a thing that is not a thing, and that under the name of ‘gift’ can be neither known nor made phenomenal. The phenomenalization of the gift annuls the gift, and thus there is no phenomenality here, no phenomenology, no ontology (the gift is not a ‘present’—i.e. a present being). In defying ontology and phenomenology, the gift defies the dialectic. It is a gift that ought to have nothing to do with what is called the ‘given’ in philosophy—with what is present, what is here, and that temporal or spatial intuition can receive as a content or phenomenon.”
-Jacques Derrida, “I have a taste for the secret”
Speaking in terms which seem to betray a strong Hegelian (i.e. dialectical) influence, Lacan writes:
“In the symbolic order nothing exists except upon an assumed foundation of absence. Nothing exists except insofar as it does not exist.”
“My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea,” he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea.” With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.”
-Karl Marx, Fragment from Afterword to the Second German Edition of Capital Vol 1
Micro-Reviews #4: Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank’s “The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?”
Overall Rating: 8/10
I must begin this review by noting that The Monstrosity of Christ is not for the faint-of-heart. This dense tome expects considerable prior experience across the spectrum of both philosophy and theology, specifically: German Idealism (Kant, Schelling, and Hegel), Lacanian psychoanalysis, Christian mysticism (Eckhart and Cusa), Catholic orthodoxy (Chesterton), neo-realism (Badiou and Deleuze), and deconstruction (Caputo); not to mention comfort with a wide variety of cultural references derived from literature, film, and theater. Nonetheless, for those who traverse this difficult way, the rewards are valuable.
This book is formatted as a philosophically/theologically literate counter to “the popularized atheist/theist point/counterpoint of books by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others” (from book jacket). Here Žižek, proposing a dialectical-materialist/radically-protestant/Hegelian/Atheist reading of Christianity, contends with Milbank, representing Catholic orthodoxy. Yet, these simple designations pale in comparison to the rich conceptions of Christianity which emerge from these two thinkers. Unfortunately, the density of this text, partnered with both Žižek and Milbank’s tendency toward the tangential, makes a systematic analysis exceptionally difficult. Instead, I will merely attempt to discuss the fundamental disagreement at the core of this dialogue, the nature of contradiction: dialectic or paradox.
Žižek, through his proposal of a Hegelian reading of Christianity, attempts to overcome its internal tensions (God/Christ, God/world, infinite/finite, concrete/universal) through the use of the Hegelian dialectic. In the Hegelian perspective, the question of Christ is posited in the terms of negation and overcoming; God (universal) is overcome by Christ (concrete), who himself is overcome on the cross and succeeded by the Spirit (Synthesis). In this sense, the tensions of Christianity may be understood simply as temporal/perspectival tensions. In true Hegelian fashion, this dialectical model of Christianity can be seen as operative on multiple levels of existence, not simply the theological, but also the historical. Here, Žižek attempts to model a dialectical motion, analogous to the prior, within Christian ecclesiological structures, specifically: Orthodoxy-Catholicism-Protestantism. This model is highly problematic, as Milbank is sure to point out, for the simple reason that it does not accurately fit the historical stage: simply put, both orthodoxy and Catholicism are still alive and kicking. Instead, this pro-protestant bias (i.e. the positing of protestantism as the end/goal of both orthodoxy and Catholicism) simply reveals Žižek’s own protestant influences, which, to his credit, he does not deny.
In response to Žižek’s perspective, Milbank offers a resolution of Christianity’s tensions through the concept of paradox. Drawing heavily upon Nicholas of Cusa’s “coincidence of opposites” or “coincidence of contradictories,” Milbank argues that the Christological/trinitarian difficulties of Christianity cannot be overcome by dialectical negation, but instead that these contradictory realities must be held in tension, in paradox. Driving towards a notion of “Christian love” which unites contradictions without destroying or negating either, Milbank writes, “the authentic love between two is never an exclusive love, but an encountering or generating ecstasy beyond duality and beyond what is dialectically at play between two poles,” or more directly, “I am trying to suggest how Christian Trinitarian logic has a mediating structure which is not dialectical” (p.145). Furthermore, Milbank argues that this paradoxical union of contradictory material is not relegated to the spiritual or supernatural, but instead, that paradox frames even the most banal of human experiences. In this sense, Milbank reformulates the “spiritualized” Catholic world-view within the language of paradox, placing himself in start distinction to the modern positivistic conceptions of reality.
For those who are seeking a transparent analysis, a clearly demarcated field, or well-defined conclusions, this work may appear as a schizophrenic nightmare. But for those who are interested in an interdisciplinary engagement with the principal questions of Christianity, theism, and atheism, this work provides an opportunity to view two masters of continental philosophy/theology debate the issues respectfully, but with no punches withheld.