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The Naked Offense of the Cross

celtic cross

I. Introduction

I want to put forth the argument here that the Christian cross, understood radically, constitutes a strange and unusual offense. This offense is not merely an offense to a particular culture or subculture of humanity. The offense is offensive to culture as such, reflected in the image of a naked body on a naked cross on Golgotha (or ‘place of the skull’), a place symbolically naked of all cultural identities, marking the radical apriority of the nakedness of being anterior to the entire socio-cultural technology of human existence. That naked cross and naked crucifixion as an abyss of human meaning and fullness of darkness paradoxically signifies the nonbeing that haunts the being of God—a nonbeing that is the difference always-already within the life of God, and a Life whose structure is the trinitarian ground of being. Thus the trinitarian God appears in the cross as the primordial One (1) whose Life is always-already a Multiplicity (2) in Excess (3) of itself (to use Badiou’s terminology). Hence the structuring of God as a One whose eternal self-emptying is a multiplicity always in excess of itself constitutes a more deeply abstract and ontological elucidation of the trinitarian technology of divine spirit. I will return to this trinitarian structuring shortly, but first I want to elaborate this offense of the cross where it appears 2,000 years ago as well as where it appears now.

II. The Gospel of Christ-Crucified

Saint Paul sought to preach ‘nothing but Christ crucified’—strange terminology for what he called his ‘gospel’ or ‘good news.’ What is so good about God’s divine and messianic representative being crucified? Yet for Paul, the crucifixion of Christ is absolutely imperative for any positive meaning to resurrection (but not in the sense of dialectical necessity, for conversely, it images the very anti-dialectical foundation of what is called ‘grace’). For Paul, as noted above, the cross was the place where every former identity perishes—the entire self and ego. A new identity is born ‘in Christ,’ where one is now self-identified as a member of the ‘body of Christ,’ which is the incarnate body of God that appears as an abyss to every contingent meaning. One (as both oneself and Primordial One) is self-realized in the incarnate body of God when the divisive illusions of culture are thrown off, which is how Paul images Christ as the naked divine hanging from a cross—a cross which the Gospel traditions place on Golgotha, bordering the valley of Hinnom (translated by modern Bibles as ‘hell’) where—in Jewish consciousness—human identity is placed under a Curse and forgotten. For Paul, Christ enters this darkness of forgotten-ness, abandonment, oppression, and erasure in order to open up a new subjectivity indistinguishable from the naked spirit of God itself manifest in humanity. Thus Paul’s offense is the naked immediacy of God in its unconditional access to all beings (and, in Paul’s radical terminology, nonbeings!), an immediacy constituted by the radical self-abandonment and self-emptying (kenosis) of God in the absolute self-outpouring of divine spirit into the world.

III. A Stumbling Block and Broken Word

This offense offended both Jews and Greeks, which in Paul’s cultural consciousness are symbols for the religious and the philosophers. The religious are offended because they look for signs and wonders—magic and power—traumatically encountering in the cruciform image of God an impotent and defeated God unable to intervene to rescue us from existential vicissitude. The philosophers are offended because they seek wisdom, and a wisdom that can center all existence in an unbroken (and thus un-crucified) Absolute whose Oneness remains intact and whose static Logos maintains harmony and balance in the world. But Paul’s God is the crucified One whose divine elements are scattered and emptied throughout existence, a divine multiplicity always-already in excess of itself, always-already exceeding every identity and rule with novelty and evolution. New things are perpetually conceived and born from the divine Womb, which is why Paul loves baptism. For Paul, this image of new birth is what the cross is actually about, where Resurrection—as a surprising, unconditional, and graceful appearing—is the novel creation that arises from the floodwaters of catastrophic history and spaces of nonbeing, opening new worlds through the naked divine itself that trickles through open cracks and continually forms new essences.

IV. The Trinitarian Ground of Being

Here I return to the trinitarian ground of being as the orthodox symbol that harbors a secret heterodoxy against the omnipotent One who reigns atop the hierarchy of Orthodoxy. The radically trinitarian God—understood as the Primordial Being who is simultaneously Multiple and One—is structurally the same as Paul’s crucified God. That is, Paul’s crucified God is the crucified One whose kenosis splits it into 2, then 3, ad infinitum. In the trinitarian hermeneutic, Father [or Mother] is Primordial Being. The second element, Son [or Daughter], signifies the doubling of the divine One through incarnation (spirit<–(-/+)–>flesh/matter). The third element, Holy Spirit, is the Multiple that dynamically exceeds all static identities by always exceeding what was via ongoing evolutive novelty.

V. The Naked Offense
Unfortunately, today’s most deeply conservative philosophical theologians—entrenched in a Calvinism that continues to dominate a large portion of American religion—still define the offense of the cross according to the cross’s mediation of the disapproval and condemnation of sin by a ‘Big Other,’ which in psychoanalytic terminology means the authoritarian phantom of cultural ideology that remains in the aftermath of childhood parenting (and more specifically, distorted family systems). Such theologians claim that the cross is the place where a controlling Father (dwelling in a separate abode of existence) murders His innocent Son so as to both testify and satisfy his Wrath against us, boldly proclaiming that the logical and ethical paradoxes inherent in this image constitute the true scandal and offense of the cross. Is it possible that the offense is on them—a nonjudgmental offense that simply unveils their inability or unwillingness to accept the cross in its absolute nakedness, darkness, and trauma? Or more specifically, is their authoritarian monotheism offended by an unpolished cross where the transcendent One of judgment and imperial legitimation unexpectedly transfigures into a broken Absolute, and a broken One whose divine elements are incarnately spilled and disseminated in the birthing of new Life? Such an evolutive portrait of reality, structured by a trinitarian and kenotic ground, cannot legitimate a static view of existence or life. Rather the dynamic paradigm of trinitarian and evolutive divinity suggests that any good posture toward Life is one of openness and self-transformation. The good news—as seen in the cross and its evolutive outpouring of Life—is that the naked event of new birth remains a possibility within our grasp yesterday, today, and tomorrow, constitutive of an Unconditioned Real that cannot be cornered, owned, or defeated, always luring things forward into creative self-transcendence without end. Consequently, the naked offense neither caters to the image of Christ as merely an apocalyptic prophet nor a traditional mystic/sage. Rather this Christ proclaims an immediate and eternal apocalypse that perpetually contaminates all Presence, destabilizing and exceeding every order that it births through its own chaordic ground of eternal flux and creativity.

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Hegel Contra Biblical Literalism

“For the theologians say that we ought to hold exclusively to the Bible. […] Theologians, however, they are not; such an attitude has nothing of a scientific, theological character. But just as soon as religion is no longer simply the reading and repetition of passages, as soon as what is called explanation or interpretation begins, as soon as an attempt is made by inference and exegesis to find out the meaning of the words in the Bible, then we embark upon the process of reasoning, reflection, thinking; and the question then becomes how we should exercise this process of thinking, and whether our thinking is correct or not. It helps not at all to say that one’s thoughts are based on the Bible.”

-Hegel, The 1827 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion

Top Ten Reads from 2014

Spending the semester teaching my first class, and focusing a bit more on articles than book-length texts, this year’s reading list was a little light. Nonetheless, there were some real gems this year, here are the top 10.

10.) Jose Miranda: Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression
Given its title, it is surprising how much more Miranda’s Marx and the Bible is of “the Bible” than “Marx.” In fact, at its core, this text is essentially a large-scale commentary on the whole of the Christian scriptures. Emphasizing the key liberative portions of the bible (the exodus, the prophets, the gospels, and the epistles), Miranda suggests that the consistent stream that runs through the center of the all Christian scripture is a fundamental call to justice for the oppressed (the widow, stranger, and orphan). This call, Miranda will ultimately suggest, is not inconsistent with the liberatory call of marxist socialism. Rather, he will argue, within the Latin American context, the two must be held together.

9.) Alain Badiou: Paul: The Foundation of Universalism
In this short text, Badiou summarizes his philosophy of the event through a reading of Paul’s epistles. For Badiou, a staunch atheist, Paul’s subjective appropriation of the event (the resurrection of Christ) can be abstracted from its mythical ground (the resurrection as a literal event) and recognized as a clear exemplar of the proper form by which the subject responds to the revolutionary event. The text has a few obvious faults vis-avis Pauline scholarship, e.g. demphasis upon the communal character of Paul’s thought. Nonetheless, it is an insightful reading of Paul and likely the clearest presentation of Badiou’s philosophy.

8.) Slavoj Zizek: The Fragile Absolute
Zizek here presents — in his typically idiosyncratic and schizophrenic way — a fascinating defence of Christianity, particularly the protestant notion of “love” (caritas) as distinct from law. Christianity, in Zizek’s mind, is uniquely situated to offer a space to think beyond the strictures of the ruling capitalist ideology.

7.) Thomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century
A bit of a sensation throughout the summer, Piketty’s Capital is intricately researched, and strongly argued. Central to his text is the argument that the average growth of capitalist economies is generally less than the standard rate of profit (his infamous r>g inequality). Thus, overtime, unrestricted capitalist economies always tend toward radical inequality. For a more intricate look into the argument, be sure to check out my (slowly moving) chapter-by-chapter analysis here.

6.) Gustavo Gutierrez: A Theology of Liberation
The foundation of liberation theology, now a classic of theology, is unexpectedly fresh even after all of these years. A truly remarkable text, Gutierrez succeeds in rethinking Catholic theology through engagements — not only with Marxist thought as generally noted — but also phenomenology, critical theory, and contemporary theology.

5.) John D. Caputo: The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps
The functional sequel to The Weakness of God, Caputo’s most recent publication situates his theological vision of a “weak theology” within the context of a number of key philosophical and theological trends including: the radical theology of Slavoj Zizek, the radical orthodoxy of John Milbank, and the speculative realists.

4.) Thomas J.J. Alitizer: The New Gospel of Christian Atheism
Rethinking his unique vision, years after the publication of the first “Gospel of Christian Atheism,” Altizer presents a startling vision of an apocalyptic Christianity. A religion of the “absolute Novum” turned against any vision of a primordial return, Altizer’s Christianity pursues a radically Hegelian vision of an inbreaking of the authentically new.

3.) H.P. Lovecraft: Waking Up ScreamingThe Watchers Out of Time
Technically two books, I have recently reentered the world of fiction through H.P. Lovecrafts exquisitely written short stories. Absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in the history of science fiction or horror; Lovecraft has also been entering the philosophical domain, having been appropriated by the new materialists. Great fun, though there are certain problematic racist undertones, particularly in his early work, that most be recognized as Lovecraft’s unfortunate inability to think beyond the bounds of the racist early 20th century New England society in which he was raised.

2.) Karl Marx: Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I
Given its infamy, history, and declaration as “the bible of the proletariat,” it seems absurd to offer a meager praise of Marx’s Capital. That being said, the coherence and rigor of Marx’s magnum opus, is remarkable. Avoiding hasty generalizations, it both draws upon and critiques the preceding bourgeois economic tradition (particularly Smith and Ricardo), offering helpful correctives and laying out a profoundly nuanced labor-theory of value, theory of surplus value, and explanation of exploitation. Notoriously varied in rhetorical style, Marx seamlessly transitions between rigid economic prose, literary flourish (vampires and werewolves abound), and journalistic investigation.

1.) Hadewijch: Complete Works
A brilliant combination of love poetry, mystical theology, and theosophical reflections; the work of Hadewijch has been (rightfully) seeing a resurgence among medievalists and theologians alike. Its deeply embodied and sexually intricate theological vision is enlightening and inspiring. Truly Profound.

Check out the Pittsburgh Continental Philosophy Network Videos

Unfortunately, the comps process does not lend itself to very consistent updating of a long-form blog. So I apologize for the increasing irregularity of my posts. That being said, I have been anything but un-busy for the past few months. To see one of the projects that has been taking up some of my non-blogging thought and effort, check out the videos from a few of the public lectures that my organization — The Pittsburgh Continental Philosophy Network — has released. Topics include: the phenomenology of poverty, the post-anthropocene, and passion. Be sure to stay tuned for two other videos in-process (to be released asap): one on the failure of phenomenological realism, and one on the non-phenomenological side of Merleau-Ponty.

Caputo Lectures on the “New Materialism”

Here are John D. Caputo’s two lectures from the Philadelphia Summer School in Continental Philosophy (thanks again for a great day Leon Niemoczynski!) on the “New Materialism”/”Speculative Realism”

1.) Meillasoux + Malabou

LINK

2.) Meillasoux + Malabou (wrap up),  and Latour + Brassier

LINK

Nietzsche: Not the Cynic, But the Severely Disappointed

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The Table of Contents of Ecce Homo. Filed under “why I’m so helpful for providing visual aids”

For most people who have read any of Nietzsche’s work, it seems that they interpret him as a quintessential cynic or misanthrope. And this is a completely understandable interpretation, especially if one reads anything regarding the “Will to Power” or his thoughts on politics. Nietzsche seems to think that people are only concerned with themselves and the weak are meant to be trampled on. Or we can just look at the chapter titles of Ecce Homo for quite a profound example of his own engagement with cynicism.

In all honesty, I’m not confident in my understanding of parts of Nietzsche’s (non-)philosophy, so I won’t speak at length on them, but I think there is something to be said about the intersection between his and bell hooks’ thoughts. The notable connection is in the following two quotes:

To talk much about oneself may also be a means of concealing oneself. [1]

and

Ultimately, cynicism is the great mask of the disappointed and betrayed heart. [2]

In both quotes there is the element of hiding something. I’m not sure if Nietzsche would identify with the label “cynic” but even if not, the specter of cynicism maybe still be there for a reason. If we are following bell hooks, Nietzsche’s cynical attitude is really an attempt to distract the reader (and probably himself) from his own pain and disappointment in life.

Might there be a part of Nietzsche which he tries to suppress? Which is a simmering hope and faith in humanity that is crushed by utter indifference? Indeed, he writes:

You desire to live ‘according to Nature?’ Oh , you noble Stoics, what fraud of words! Imagine to yourselves a being like Nature, boundlessly extravagant, boundlessly indifferent, without purpose or consideration, without pity or justice, at once fruitful and barren and uncertain: imagine to yourselves indifference as a power– how could you live in accordance with such indifference? To live–is not that just endeavoring to be otherwise than this Nature? Is not living valuing, preferring, being unjust, being limited, endeavoring to be different? [3]

At this, one might say we don’t and can’t know the real Nietzsche (probably because there is none). Regardless, I think it is reasonable to contend, whether loosely or confidently, that Nietzsche’s cynicism serves to mask his own insecurities and pains.


[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 169.

[2] bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, xviii

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 9.

Deleuze Reading Group Update

If you are interested in the Deleuze Online Reading Group in June, but have not sent me your email address to be added to the group list, please email one to me at (pittsburghphilosophy@gmail.com). Thanks!

Deleuze Reading Group

Having recieved some interest, the Deleuze Online Reading Group looks like it will be happening this June (starting on June 1st, 10:00pm). We will be reading one chapter of Nietzsche and Philosophy per week for five weeks, only about 35 pages a week (Yay, short!). I will be posting link a google+ link here the day of.

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Deleuze Online Reading Group Redux

Anyone interested in an online reading group of Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy in June? It’s near the top of my “to read” list, and being fairly short, might not have the attrition rate that Difference and Repetition onfortunately had.

Send me an email or a message (or comment below) if you are interested.

It will most likely be Sunday nights at 10:00pm (EST) again, but that may be negotiable.

Call for Papers: Philadelphia Summer School in Continental Philosophy – Topic: Continental Philosophy of Religion and the New Metaphysics

Reblogged from After Nature

Call for Papers: Philadelphia Summer School in Continental Philosophy

Topic: “Continental Philosophy of Religion and the New Metaphysics” (featuring seminars on the work of Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Bruno Latour, and Catherine Malabou)

Seminar Leader: John Caputo

When and where:

Saturday, August 9th, 2014; 9am-4:30pm

Campus of Immaculata University

Malvern, Pennsylvania

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Topic: Continental Philosophy of Religion and the New Metaphysics

John Caputo will be leading two one hour seminars with catered lunch in between: one seminar on Quentin Meillassoux and Ray Brassier; one seminar on Bruno Latour and Catherine Malabou.  Select attendees will present their research during the morning and afternoon flanking the Caputo seminars.

Attendees are encouraged to purchase The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion(Indiana University Press, 2014) and The Insistence of God (Indiana University Press, 2014).   A reading list featuring works by Meillassoux, Brassier, Latour, and Malabou will be provided.

Location: Immaculata University, Malvern, Pennsylvania

Organizers: Leon Niemoczynski (Immaculata University) & Stephanie Theodorou (Immaculata University)

Cost: $70.00 faculty; $45.00 student or other (seating is limited, pre-registration required.  Cost includes catered lunch)

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Immaculata University is pleased to announce the”Philadelphia Summer School in Continental Philosophy,” a one day seminar style “summer school” and workshop that, this year – its first – features John Caputo as its seminar leader.  The event will be organized with two new books as a backdrop: The Insistence of God and The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion (both Indiana University Press, 2014), although a formal reading list including works by Meillassoux, Brassier, Latour, and Malabou (for the seminars) will be provided.  John Caputo will lead two one hour seminars/classes flanked by morning and afternoon mini-research presentations where researchers present 2000 word abstracts/summaries of their work and engage other participants in query designed to further research goals and enhance the nature of research projects through mutual dialogue.

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The theme of this year’s summer school will explore the relationship between the future of Continental philosophy of religion and new schools of thought emerging in contemporary Continental metaphysics, identifying possible routes of exploration as well as areas of influence, cross-over, or challenge.

Topics such as materialist approaches to theology and religion, speculative materialism and non-theology, environmental aesthetics and theology, political theology and ecology, the speculative theologies of German idealism, process-relational philosophy and theology, phenomenology and contemporary French theory and theology/religion, as well as questions of atheism’s relationship to contemporary Continental philosophy of religion will be of central importance for the school. The “new metaphysics” in its most contemporary forms will be a major point of discussion as it bleeds into its Continental philosophical antecedents, especially vis-a-vis thinking about religion, theology, and the Absolute.

Philosophical naturalism (Ray Brassier), the divine inexistence (Quentin Meillassoux), non-philosophy and theology (Francois Laruelle), the Absolute (Iain Hamilton Grant), plasticity (Malabou), or the factish gods (Bruno Latour) are some possible starting points, but one could also see discussion of historical figures as well: whether Bergson, Deleuze, Schelling, Hegel, Kant, Whitehead, Heidegger, or Derrida for example, as participants explore those figures’ importance for the future of Continental philosophy of religion and corresponding areas of realism, materialism, and metaphysics.  Those who have an interest in contemporary French philosophy (Badiou, Meillassoux, Kacem, Laruelle, Malabou) should certainly apply.

 

How to Apply: Those interested should send a summary of a current research project (no more than 2000 words, fit for a 15 minute presentation) to: lniemocz@mail.immaculata.edu by May 30th, 2014.

Those accepted into the summer school will be notified by June 10th, 2014.

Please attach research statements/summaries as .rtf or MS Word .doc files.