The Postmodern Condition

*tapping the microphone* Testing … test … check … check.

Is this thing on?

Some of you know me, others do not. I speak to both. I am a relative newcomer to Theology Kung-fu; but, then again, it doesn’t appear to have existed very long either. So, there you are. Many thanks to the sensei for giving me posting and commenting privileges. Between this and a few other blogging responsibilities, I may never again attend to my own. The five people who read it will be crushed.

When I’m not finding other ways to avoid work, I have this week been writing a more substantive post, per the suggestion of our fair host. But right now, I want to toss out an idea. Something that I am not willing to defend to the hilt, because it is simply something that struck me today during a conversation. Indeed, because it seems so utterly obvious, I am convinced it is in no way original.

Namely, might we propose a direct link between the proliferation of evangelical forms of Christianity and postmodernity? By evangelical, I am going against the very core of my being, as Brannon and Michael may attest, and am not saying it with a sneer. Rather, I am simply using it as a sort of short-hand for what I regard as the contemporary manifestation of Pietism, whose most marked characteristics are that of individual faith, personal salvation, and the economic spirituality of I-and-thou. With its emphasis on ‘the heart’, as we have seen in other posts here, is not this brand of individualism another element in what Fredric Jameson referred to as postmodernism, qua the cultural logic of late-capitalism? In short, Jameson argues, postmodernity is best understood as being predicated on the structural necessity of plurality; that is to say, the plurality of genders, of identities, and indeed of individual manifestations of faith, of the myriad independent churches that fill the landscape of America’s suburbs. The cultural logic of late-capitalism, in other words, is about — consciously / intentionally or not — the production and consumption of all manner of socio-political commodities, whose consumption ultimately creates the need for its production and thus causes all manner of problems with regard to resource depletion and such . . . or, for Jameson, the heightened banality of culture, and thus its heightened susceptibility to particularly insidious forms of ideology.

This would explain, for me anyway, why so many postmodern theologians are perfectly happy to either give themselves over to either the evangelical or global capitalistic worlds. Is this, though, problematic? To what extent is it problematic, if it is at all, that Mark C. Taylor (for instance), former high priest of postmodernity, now celebrates the ‘complex’ indeterminacy of the free market, the vim and vigor of the so-called risk society? (He would, I realize, quibble with my characterization, but the substance of his resistance does not seem appropriate to what he actually says about the market itself.) Similarly, to what extent should John Caputo’s appropriation by the Emergent Church movement give us a second of pause — esp. in light of the fact that such a movement is linked very explicitly to new models of global finance?

Obviously, I am not assuming that everyone here is a political Leftist; nor am I suggesting that all of you go out and burn down a local Starbucks. However, one aspect of a contemporary Christian’s responsibility is to be attuned to culture, and thus, too, to economy and politics — that in which we participate and/or rage against. If that is the case, surely the complicity I’m suggesting would deserve more analysis than it has received. I, for one, find it interesting that where a new pope now rages against the straw man threat of relativism, popular evangelicalism has embraced the postmodernity that they rejected for so long as the quintessential form of relativism? I find it interesting, and I find it suggestive of evangelicalism’s latent political economy. (Cf., Gordon Bigelow’s article “Let there be Markets: The Evangelical Roots of Economics,” in the May 2005 edition of Harpers.)

29 Comments

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  1. thanks for the post… glad yer here… unfortunately, i have NO idea about this.

    BUT, never to be one to sit idly by, I am going to go burn down a Starbuck’s and draw a picture about spiritualtiy and economics.

  2. Brad – welcome to the dojo…

    A couple of questions arise after a first read-through in regard your posting (to be fair, I am sitting here with a Starbucks Americano in hand…) that I want some further teasing out:

    1. I certainly concure with you in regard to your drawing the intentional linking between evangelical ‘forms’of Christianity(yes… I will come back to ‘form’ in a moment’) and postmodernity qua postmodernity (whatever the H-E-double hockey sticks THAT is…!) I also concure that Pietism is certainly a distinctive aspect of current evangelical trends in certain camps, but I do think your definition of Peitism should be expanded and the boundaries softened – i.e. I doubt Lutherans such as MWD would align their understanding of pietism as being that overtly egocentric – “whose most marked characteristics are that of individual faith, personal salvation, and the economic spirituality of I-and-thou.”

    2. I certainly agree with your calling in Fredric Jameson (nice to see the name actually, didnt know folks were still reading him…) and qualifying postmodernity as “being predicated on the structural necessity of plurality”. My question here though is this: does that operational definition pretty much define ALL of western philosophical thought in regard to the fact that the move from dualism to plurality isnt that dramatic of a shift – just means someone can count higher than 2 I suppose… In this regard, the so-called shift to plurality (multi-valent understandings of epistemology, polyphonic voices (and polyphonic sprees for that matter…), and non-essentialist ontology continues to have some form of referential locus of both question and assertion – there is still subject(s) and object(s)issues to either embrace or overcome. In sum, does this great embrace of plurality really move anything forward, or merely mean that I can have the big questions of meaning and purpose tuned out now that I spend my time attending to any and all voices in the room and at the margins?

    3. This leap to captialism is as old as Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and perhaps goes back to Augustine selling/licencing the Church as a ‘brand’ to the state in the latter half of “City of God.” Sure, aspects of postmodernity feeds a commodity culture and forms of christian faith align itself with “the production and consumption of all manner of socio-political commodities, whose consumption ultimately creates the need for its production and thus causes all manner of problems with regard to resource depletion.” But lets get a real here – Marxism is deeply hypocritical, particularly in the hands of those who (dare I say it?) make a profit being marxist ‘prophets’ (i.e. I would love to know the amount of money given by Terry Eagleton to the proletrait suffering under the hands of academic heirarchy… especially given the amount he would require for speaking engagements on ‘marxist literary theory.’) Ideology has yet to solve the needs of the proletarit – just produced more hypocritical high preists of theory without the humility to live out their so-called convictions. I actually applaud MCT for his shift to the ‘risk society’.

    All this to say… here is my base line question:

    4. While I concure with the ‘form’ issue surrounding some strains evangelical expression and postmodernity… that still doesnt help me with the ‘why’ question. Sure, sure… folks find the ‘prayers and tears’ of John Caputo and draft him to their respective camps like any theologian or philosopher and we can and should critique (rightly so) the consumer trends in any and all philosophical/theological traditions – be they the high end Derrida.com industry of Blackwells and CUP or the Y/S emergent church ‘brand’ at Zonderven.

    But what is the ‘why’ behind faith in the first place? When you say “this would explain, for me anyway, why so many postmodern theologians are perfectly happy to either give themselves over to either the evangelical or global capitalistic worlds. Is this, though, problematic?”

    I am hearing a question of ‘form’ rather than a question of ‘meaning’ – what is driving the need to shape meaning within a particular tradition – be that ‘evangelicalism’ as a ‘form’ of Christianity or ‘postmodernity’ as a philosophical humanist paradigm?

    I find the ‘form’ questions red herrings actually – ways to fill time for academics like myself and create a home for jargon.

    I am glad your microphone is on, Brad… keep tappin’ away…

  3. My time at the internet cafe is drawing to a close, so I’ll respond to the first three right now:

    (1) You’re probably right. It was a very reductionistic, unabashedly so.

    (2) “In sum, does this great embrace of plurality really move anything forward, or merely mean that I can have the big questions of meaning and purpose tuned out now that I spend my time attending to any and all voices in the room and at the margins?” No — that is Jameson’s point. And, Yes — and that is a bad thing.

    (3) I would never defend Marxists to the hilt. I, too, am appreciative of frankness. But, not every heroic moment of saying what one means needs to be heeded. The same is as true of, say, Lenin, as it is Christ, or Taylor, or whomever.

    I don’t quite (4), at least not in my very brief reading. I’ll attend to it tomorrow.

  4. Okay … I just hijacked Brannon’s computer.

    Back to (1): When I refer to ‘postmodernity’ here, I am referring exclusively to Jameson’s definition. And for his part, he is not speaking exclusively of Derrida & co., and thus not simply of postmodern philosophy as such, but to the modern zeitgest of non-foundationalism in general.

    As for the reference to Pietism. I do not intend to conflate Piety and evangelicalism. Rather, I am speaking very generally about evangelicalism’s appropriation of Pietistic notions of individuality, and have often gone in radically different directions.

    Back to (3): I want to reiterate something. I am not proposing Marxism as the viable political / economic alternative. That is Jameson’s argument, but not mine. In fact, I ought to point out, I was actually keeping my own political polemic to a minimum.

    If I were to be polemical (correct form, Brannon?), I would say that that the status quo you seem to applaud here, that of the risk society, is going to happen with or without our celebration; and, as such, is merely descriptive. For my money, the heart of religion / theology is rarely, if ever, strictly descriptive.

    Rather, what I find provocative in religion, and what I regard as the religious nature of resistance to the economic status quo, is the attendent notion of a ‘miraculous’ (qua the impossible that happens, not the impossible that never is) prescription for (a) freedom to be actualized and (b) suffering to be attended to. By that I simply mean such a prescription for something truly different is always in excess of its necessarily ‘hypocritical’ instantiations. I.e., there is no pure miracle or difference as such … only, in your words, hypocritical, and thus ostensibly inadequate, ones. (The Other, in other words, is not nearly as Other as Derrida and Levinas might wish.) Such is, in my mind, all we have, and is all we really need. This is the true risk society … and not that of the status quo of the ‘Erring’ marketplace.

    (4) I think I see where you’re going w/ this point. But, really, I’m not sure its legitimate to differentiate the two as much as you seem to want. I certainly was not intending to privilege one or the other. ‘Meaning’ comes by way of one’s participation in the ‘form’ that meaning requires to be what it is in the first place. No form … no meaning. Moreover, it makes no sense to have form without meaning. (Sorry if I offend, but I trade in my Aristotle for Kant here.)

    Nevertheless, your criticism is duly noted. YES, we can spend far too much time wanking about form; to the point that doing so puts us in a debilitating state of ethical indecision. The sort of self-reflection on forms (and thus, too, of meaning) I advocate here is one of active engagement with / formation of those forms (and thus, too, in the engagement with / formation of meaning).

  5. OK… I agree… but a couple additives to the mix. (I am juggling two kids at the moment, so I will be brief and jumbled):

    If your ‘why’ (or as you say “what I find provocative” – tres Zizek ala Lacan) is that “in religion, and what I regard as the religious nature of resistance to the economic status quo, is the attendent notion of a ‘miraculous'” – I am left…well…stumped.

    Is this really your raison d’etre? The notion that ‘religion’ provides a means of resisting ‘the economic status quo’ through the wild card option of ‘a’ miraculous (I duly note your employment of the indefinite article – ‘a’ – as opposed to the definitive article ‘the’ – I assume this was your intension) I am just intrigued by this as a solace for you. A reason to resist economic trends seems an ethical move – but for ethics to be ‘ethics’, they need a source that is ‘beyond ethics’ (i.e. Levinas and Nietzsche to name check a couple supporters here)

    I realise that the ‘fad’ is the neo-materialist bent and the ‘turn’ to the economic/political critique as benedictus(albeit idealised so JD can fly 1st class from Paris and rail against the bouisguois academy without conflict)but I want something more…material… in the benedictus after all the theory and all the name checking – in short, give me a realised vision for the world that is redemptive and I am somehow part of the pharmacon as both the problem and cure… “what then shall we do?”

    so maybe work this out for me in the 24/7 of our lives a bit… particularly the day-to-day ‘inadequacy’ that is somehow adequate for you (i.e. “there is no pure miracle or difference as such … only, in your words, hypocritical, and thus ostensibly inadequate, ones. (The Other, in other words, is not nearly as Other as Derrida and Levinas might wish.) Such is, in my mind, all we have, and is all we really need.”)

    Granted, the ‘purity’ of the miraculous (definite article intended) is deeply intermeshed in the carnality of this life and I will go so far to agree that the alterity/Other is not so ‘other’ as we assume (although I don’t think Levinas would appreciate being conflated with Derrida vis a vis ‘Levinas and Derrida’ on this score)… and this actually gives me hope in this life.

    So why is ‘inadequacy’ so ‘adequate’ and how does this play out in your understanding of ‘meaning’?

  6. will brad please clarify his notion of “a miraculous” and jeff clarify how/why he is distinguishing his notion of “the miraculous” from this? i want to hop in here, albeit a bit late, but you guys are losing me…fo’ reezy.

  7. as you know Brannon, I am big on the definate article – when I wrote my thesis and subsequent monograph, the biggest issue was the first word – “a” poetics of jesus or “the” poetics of Jesus – the latter making a fairly grand, and frankly undefendable, statement.

    When Brad employs “a” miraculous – I am hearing a localised, imminent, particular reference that is subjective – i.e. I can’t participate fully in this ‘miraculous’ event because it is particular to him… which strikes me as both anti-pomo (lacks Jameson’s plurality) and is deeply pomo (Zizek having his way with Freud’s couch on the back of the Puppet and the Dwarf – btw, someone kicked back on pairing Zizek with current pomo trends and fads in scholarship – go read him again and drop the denial). I certainly agree, with John Wesley and his bastard child Brain McLaren, that our subject experience of “the miraculous” is vital to faith formation, but to delimit and sever OUR experience from THE miraculous is – oh so – unwilling to admit that there is a metanarrative going on (yes…my theory and theology is stuck in the ’80s with Dale Martin) in the world and deeply relient on a modernist/enlightment based view the subject as isolated and separate from other. That is my reaction to “a” miraculous – if he states his point to have article agreement in the sentence – (i.e. the attendent notion of *the* ‘miraculous’ (qua the impossible that happens, not the impossible that never is) then I am closer to ‘selah’.

    However… I still think (to paraphrase Bob Dylan) we are ‘tangled up in theory’ and need to cut the Gordian knot and get to (yes…Graham Greene) ‘the Heart of the Matter.’

    To say that we are ‘attendent’ to the miraculous demands more of us than mere reflection and theorical instrumentation – it demands action born in intimacy (we draw into a deep sense of communion with and through “the miraculous” – which I am using as a cipher of God – Brad maybe not have meant this, but I am trying to make a bridge here)and that intimacy changes/transforms us (theory junkies like theory because it is always ‘tranactional’ rather than ‘transformational’ – doesnt cost me anything other than time and some gray cells) and implicates as being part of the problem and hope for the world around us and, yes, the world to come. In short, we move from blathering on about Death of God and do something about the folks dying in tower blocks 4 miles away in Sighthill through sectarian and racial violence and we seek ways of humbling ourselves before and with each other. Then again, I am sure this is a central topic of the Robertson lectures as they always are…

  8. Well … actually, I had no intention of making a big deal out of the indefinite article. ‘The’ miraculous … ‘a’ miraculous: I don’t think the distinction is as central to what I’m saying, and am open to the corrective — although, surely, our respective definitiveness when using ‘the’ may be ultimately different.

    Moreover, I would say that I am not merely theorising. As someone not from the twentieth-century once wrote: there’s no choice between system and no system … one must have both. You can poo poo me all you want if I’m willing to say an academic rock star cannot be entirely dismissed (though not entirely accepted); to the same degree, I suppose, I can (but haven’t) poo poo’d your apparent disdain for anything resembling theory — which, ahem, is equally all the rage these days. If you like, though, we can play that game all day.

    By ‘miraculous’, forgive me for speaking so theoretically, I am referring to that which is unconditioned within experience. Because experience is ephemeral in the realm of the status quo, as many a good phenomenologist will tell you (though, to avoid the sensei from ridiculing my citing of someone still living, I’ll throw out the name of Henri Bergson), attending to it, which I think is the stuff of religion, is miraculous. This is the sense in which we can call a / THE miracle impossible: that it happens only in and (by virtue of) the productive excess of its self-realization (i.e., in myriad forms of spirituality / religion).

    (I’ll cite as an example here, but not as a means to namedrop because I doubt anyone knows him so citing him isn’t giving me any points, what Philip Goodchild does w/ the linkage of experience and suffering in his Capitalism and Religion. The song of the first Noble Truth.)

    It is in this sense that I can say in all sincerity and practicality that I’m not denying the potency of spirituality / religion. I would simply say that the potency of religious experience, and thus its meaning, is miraculous BECAUSE of its inadequacy. Which is to say, inadequacy is not the agency of the miraculous, but its condition for being. I think Zizek articulates this point well — though it is not original with him (not even close!) — but is ultimatly too Sophistic when dealing with it. Methinks this is what the sensei is sensitive about when he sees comments like mine, and is playing interrogator for precisely this reason, to see if I can articulate this stuff without resorting to rhetorical circularity. My problem, however, is that the solution is too-easy cynicism. (Pot kettle black, I know.)

  9. Also … some of the most theoretical oriented people I know are also the most politically active.

    (You do realize, don’t you, that your critique of theory, too, is identical that of Zizek’s and Hegel’s when they speak with disdain of the liberal ‘Beautiful Soul’ syndrome — i.e., grand visions, no action? Keep your enemies close, indeed.)

  10. With regard to your comment “I can (but haven’t) poo poo’d your apparent disdain for anything resembling theory — which, ahem, is equally all the rage these days. If you like, though, we can play that game all day.”… I think you just DID ‘poo poo’ me, albeit offhanded.

    If I am seen as critiquing ‘theory’, I need to underscore that I assert (and my CV shows this forth for the past 15 years) that I do read and publish re: critical theory and find it helpful and that critique and intellectual rigour are a vital part of the academy. I certainly see ‘critical theory’ as one tool in the tool box – but just one tool. My critical turn regarding ‘theory’ is primarily a cautionary one to the so-called ‘followers’. As Freud aptly stated: if your only tool is a hammer, you see the world as a nail. I just think we need more tools and want to here what else you have in your toolbox.

    My caution – to myself first and foremost – to all Theory junkies that apply their latest ‘hammer’ to everything (see Nietzsche’s ‘Twilight of the Idols’ for a classic example) is to remember that the world is NOT one big freakin’ nail that needs pounding. When I sit in some academic seminars and chair panels, sometimes I just want to say “my friend… didnt your Dad play ball with you? Didn’t your Mom come to your play? Did you get turned down for the Prom? Where is all this venom coming from?!” Funny, but this is certainly what Freud would probably say as well and is somehow lost on many of his supposed followers… many name checked on this rather long string.

    I certainly dont see you as a pure Theory junkie and dont want you to like that I am painting you in this way. In the same vein, I think you can give me a little credit as one who appreciates and is duly challenged by much of what is formed in the crucible of ‘theory’. In short, my questions are only asking the “now what?” question – ie. Eagleton’s “After Theory” was only theory and not much ‘after’ for example.

    A couple more things – (1) not sure what “the song of the first Noble Truth” is supposed to refer to in relation to your citation… a quip nod to Buddhism is a bit too playful, particularly given a lack of most westerners willingness to enter into Buddhism truthfully, and seems dismissive; (2) “Because experience is ephemeral in the realm of the status quo, as many a good phenomenologist will tell you” – you will need to cite sources to back you up here in that my readings of phenomenologists (i.e. Husserl, Heidegger, esp. Jan Patocka’s “Introduction to Husserl’s Phenomenology” and his “Plato and Europe”) would find this comment a misunderstanding of phenomenology; (3) “some of the most theoretical oriented people I know are also the most politically active” – do you have examples?

    Lastly – should we take comfort or caution by the fact that we are the only ones dragging this comment string on and on?

    What can we learn from the empty room here?

  11. As Jeff mentioned at the end of the last comment, I sense this has long become more of a conversation / disagreement cum pissing contest between the two of us, and thus possibly counterproductive to the spirit of this blog, so I’ll keep my response as brief as possible. (I say this not because disagreement, even when it is simply between two people, is unhelpful, and thus a sign that all that Jeff and I are talking about here is meaningless. Disagreement is important, if only to know where one stands; but perhaps not as significant in the realm of this particular post and blog.)

    (1) Yes … I agree w/ you re: ‘What next?’ The sole reason I’ve engaged in this argument in this first place is precisely because we share a common theoretical lexicon; so, believe me, I am giving you credit.

    (2) I am not dismissing Buddhism. My MA was in inter-religious dialogue, esp. Christian-Buddhist dialogue; while I may not know as much about it as you or your wife, I do know enough that it remains more appealing to me than Christianity as such. All I meant was that Goodchild’s book, in ways he does not really explore, has much to say that is in harmony with the first Noble Truth re: impermanence / existing & suffering. It was (what I thought) a breezy way to recommend a book to you, intended to break the contentious tone of our conversation. I may be presenting myself really badly, and I realize this is all very likely, but the consistent assumption on your part that I am either being dismissive of something or putting myself at the top of the intellectual heap is troubling. (‘Troubling’ either, as I say, for me and how I comport myself in print; or for you and your understanding of what I’m on about; or, both.)

    (3) Conceded. You are right re: my phenomenological statement. It is a playful caricature gone wrong, badly worded and conceptualized — esp. w/ regard to the use of the term ‘experience’ and its link to ‘ephemeral’. What I meant to focus on was its bracketing of phenomena (I’m thinking of Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations here, as well as Hugh Rayment-Pickard’s nice summation of the concept w/r/t Husserl, Heidegger, and Derrida in his Impossible God) — which is of a fundamentally different order than what I actually said in the comment. So, that’s what I meant to say. What I should have said, however, was nothing at all about phenomenology, because it opens a can of worms that are simply unnecessary for our purposes here.

    (4) Contemporary theoreticians who are politically active (not everyone here is illustrative of my own politics): (a) Mark C. Taylor is surprisingly active in ecological circles, and participates in his son’s engagement w/ environmental law; (b) Alain Badiou spends as much time on picket lines than he does his teaching (then again, who doesn’t in France?) — the fact remains, however, that he was considered one of the most troublesome French academics in 1968 because he was so determined for something radically new in the political arena, rather than the simple concession of a new college or two; (c) Michel Foucault did not simpy theorise about prison reform, but visited them and their inmates, and wrote popular-level pamphlets intended to change minds about the system of incarceration; (d) love him or hate him, there is Tariq Ramadan’s brand of politically-charged philosophical vision of Islam; (e) in some sense, I think we can include Arundhati Roy; she is just as in-tune w/ theory as many of those mentioned already, but is on the front line against the fight against globalism and the struggles in Kashmir. Okay … that’s just five, though I suspect one could very easily find theoreticans of the Christian religion w/ a political bend, too: Rowan Williams comes to mind, in a way that John Milbank does not.

    The point, of course, is not to say that all theory is necessarily wed to practical, and very real, actualizations in particular struggles to attend to suffering. Because, clearly, it does not. And, yes, one might even be able to make the point that action comes first, and thought later. So long as the two are wed, though, (to be explicit, YES I THINK YOU, amongst others, DO THIS) we have the potential for a meditative / self-conscious (RELIGIOUS, even) dim awareness of the suffering that requires our attention.

    Lastly … I’m not convinced we should make much of the relative silence of others re: this commenting thread.

  12. I would not ordinarily do this, but I overlooked one of the most obvious politically-engaged theoreticians in recent memory: Antonio Negri. Again, like or dislike him or the means he goes about his fight, one cannot accuse him of locking himself away in the ivory tower. If anything, he’d be more inclined to want to lock the ivory tower, and burn down the joint w/ its inhabitants inside!

  13. i agree that you guys shouldn’t make too much of the lack of comments from other’s – keep this going as long as it’s interesting or productive to you, and for what it’s worth, i’m enjoying following it as a reader. also, i’m encouraged by the self-awareness that each of you exhibit regarding your tendency to mis-read the other and mis-represent yourselves. no need for pissing contests, at least at the dojo.

    that said, i’d just like to toss out a thought – a rather banal one perhaps, but the one that keeps coming to mind as i read your unfolding discussion – that is, all of these thinkers and their respective theories are only as “useful” (and therefore significant) inasmuch as they help us navigate the issues and concerns posed to us by the world we live in. i think brad is right to be so “politically-minded”, and i think jeff is right to be so “practically-minded” (which, as i see it, includes but is not limited to the political).

    but i’ll say, as i have before, that perhaps aside from the dot on a chronology representing their historical relevance, i don’t give a damn about any theorist/philosopher/theologian apart from how they/their work equips me with the tools i need to make sense of the world around me, or, better yet, to work constructively and redemptively within my world. Taylor, Zizek, Freud, Lacan, Milbank, Hauerwas – i don’t care whose name we’re checking, if they don’t give me something practical that helps me think about and ultimately live my life, then it’s all for naught, as far as i’m concerned. i don’t think either of you is into theory-for-theory’s-sake, and i truly believe that each of you has concerns for the world around us, for suffering, for politics, consumerism, ideology, and so on. what i identify as a difference between you two is that one of you is more concerned with the interior/personal/spiritual aspects of our material practices than the other (i’m sure you can work out who is who). i’m not making a value judgment, i just think this is shaping the way each of you thinks about these things. but what do you think?

  14. Brannon,

    Just a thought: is it not possible to read theory with the same level of enjoyment one might have when reading literature? If so … how does that effect the head/heart dichotomy that has become something of a refrain here?

    BTW, I do not bring this up in order to suggest it is the only, or best, way to read theory; but, simply because the possibility of doing so, reading theory as literature (and thus not simply w/ utilitarian aims) would seem in line with your aesthetical theology.

    As to your last comment: what i identify as a difference between you two is that one of you is more concerned with the interior/personal/spiritual aspects of our material practices than the other (i’m sure you can work out who is who).

    I suspect that what you say may have some functional truth to it. But, ultimately, I think our host and I are far too devil-horned in our respective rhetoric to actually and fully concede that to be the case. >:)

  15. Brad: yeah, I’ll give ya that one. I think that reading theory can be enjoyable, and that many do read it as they would literature, just because it brings them pleasure – the play of language, the play of ideas, etc. I think this is especially the case with certain theorists and philosophers whose writings are just beautiful (Foucault, Nietzsche), or so complexly interesting (Derrida, Heidegger). This of course has much to do with preference – some (er, most, probably) wouldn’t EVER touch such books for pleasure. But, of course, you and most others who are concerned with theory engage with it in creative ways so as to think critically and constructively, and so employ the writings/thoughts of these writers/thinkers to make your case – this is a good way to make use of theory, but, I suppose, not the only way. anyway, all that to say, you’re right, I agree. I say, read theory all ya want, get as much pleasure from it as you can – just, if you’re going to employ it to make an argument, be ready to make the claim for it’s usefulness, revelevance, etc. and i certainly don’t think you have a problem with that…

    re: your second point – OK. I didn’t say it was the only issue at hand, just one that I wished to point out. not even that it necessarily matters to the discussion, but I think it might hint at your distinctive presuppositions and priorities, and why you may end up in slightly (or significantly) different places.

  16. theory as art…sigh…

    I stand by my earlier comments to Jimmy regarding a definition of art as “faith incarnate” – art is risk, abandon, kenosis, totou pioete, etc, etc – which is an act of faith and ‘prophesy’ – ie. truth-telling. Critical writing can show forth these aspects, but doesnt do the same thing for me – a subjective response I know, but there you are.

    As for the functional/political categories… I guess I thought we are striving to go beyond these? At least I am… devil-horned though I may be…

  17. FYI … I am suspicious (though not completely dismissive) of theory as art. It really all depends on how one approaches it. Picasso’s first cubist painting may have been art; but whether it still is today for the art historian and theorists who have made a living off talking about his work, that’s harder to say. But … I wouldn’t want to deny them their pleasure, I guess. This analogy is much more difficult to do in the reverse: e.g., reading Hegel’s Phenomenology as an epic poem. Even if you could, that would simply beg the question of why you’d want to.

  18. Good point Brad – it is the question of reverse engineering: critical theory is the act of reverse engineering a piece of art… taking it apart to see where the seams are and then create a mapping for further construction. But is reverse engineering an act of creation in the same way that art is?

    Another thought – theory needs art… but does art need theory?

  19. 1) No. That’s why Leica (camera) knock-offs reverse engineered and then “created” in the USSR are worth about 1/100th as much as a real Leica. Or maybe that doesn’t apply, I don’t know.

    And 2) no. Art doesn’t need theory, I don’t think.

    What I wonder is: can theory be a threat or even a detriment to art? or is art tough enough to survive theory?

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