Friday, December 3, 2010

Rancière: Wikipedia as a levelling force

As an adjunct lecturer of history (and a history major during my undergrad years) I often tell my students that if they really want to begin to grasp an event or a person to first check out Wikipedia. The response to this suggestion is usually one of surprise. Why?

Most history teachers or historians do not like Wikipedia for at least two reasons. One, because it is not scholarly enough (even though most posts have scholarly references at the bottom of the page); and second, because the author of the post is anonymous and posts can thus be updated or written by an anonymous other. Perhaps this other is not a qualified historian!

The philosopher Jacques Rancière (who I have just started reading with great delight) in a recent interview discusses reasons why there is a certain distrust of things on the internet. One of the reasons is that there is an accessibility there. It also allows the bypass of the teacher. In short, anyone from any station of life has access to literature on the net. So, when people decry the use of websites like Wikipedia there may be an underlying distrust of the student to understand what is real historical knowledge. Wikipedia may in fact be a real democratic way of learning that truly levels out the "enlightened" teacher with the "ignorant" student.

So back to the question. Yes, I always tell my students to check Wikipedia first because it is frankly trustworthy in most occasions and universally accessible; it is the method I use. However, I always follow that up with reading the actual books and articles that deal with the subject as well, if the Wikipedia essay has led to my interest in the topic.

NOTE: love the picture because Rancière looks lost on the side of the road or something.

For more information see Nina Power's interview with Rancière:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cowboy Morality

The anti-hero has always been a compelling figure for me whether it has come from the Westerns that I have watched (John Wayne/Clint Eastwood and a slew of others) or from Comic heroes (my favorites of course are Batman and Wolverine).

The typical scenario for these figures is to do the dirty work because the "good people" of the town or city are incapable of it. It was not until reading Kotsko's short review of Milbank's and Zizek's debate in their recent book that the "light-bulb" turned on. Zizek's ethics I would argue are anti-hero ethics. The anti-hero is different from two other types: the Fascist type of heroes become totalitarian whereas Liberal types only put band-aids on the problem while giving some kind of "we work within the boundaries of the laws" speech.

One of the best examples of this is when, for example, Captain America objects to Wolverine's additon to the Avengers because he is a killer. Iron Man (the flawed capitalist-pragmatist) responds that Wolverine will go were none of us are able. You never know, in other words, when you need someone to take the step in actually killing the enemy. Does that make Wolverine more unethical? Actually, as fleshed out in most good stories and movies, Wolverine and Batman are the ethical compass of the Comic world because they constantly stand in the gap between the Good and the Monstrous...They are often self-questioning in what they have become.

Where does Zizek come in? His whole point about his ethic is that it has to respond to the situation in its total cruelty. Zizek writes at the last section of the book of MC: "This is where I stand – how I would love to be: an ethical monster without empathy, doing what is to be done in a weird coincidence of blind spontaneity and reflexive distance, helping others while avoiding their disgusting proximity. With more people like this, the world would be a pleasant place in which sentimentality would be replaced by a cold and cruel passion." Here I see images of the Cowboy drifter who goes into a town to fix the problems of the town (usually by terrorizing the villains) simply because he sees injustice there and the people's cry for help (a kind of Shane/Paladin/Man With No Name who doesn't get paid). Is not typical morality suspended in this situation? Are we as the audience okay with that? However, the true anti-hero always leaves when the job is done. To stay would make him a tyrant; the people will hopefully adopt his stance in his absence.

A good example of this is the movie Warlock starring Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn and Richard Widmark. Here Widmark, a former villain, becomes the towns protector and has to inevitably kill Fonda because of the tendency of the hero to become a Fascist tyrant. Fonda has brought some order to the town, but has become in a sense consumed with power. Therefore, it seems the dirfter or anti-hero does the ethical action because something in his gut tells him to even thought his mind insists this is not his problem...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Deleuze Again?

It seems that I can not escape the works of the French thinker Gilles Deleuze. Even back when a number of my fellow Fuller seminary students took it upon ourselves to read a little Deleuze (we started with his book on Foucault; I even took my French language qualifiers by translating Foucault's preface to Anti-Oedipus), I came to the conclusion that something special is here.
It appears that his popularity is growing and a renewed interest is here especially as it relates to the realm of the political and the spiritual (thanks to Hallward I believe).
My project from the start is to take Karl Barth's works and have him in conversation (not debate) with so-called postmodern thinkers. This has led me to read and enjoy the works of Derrida, Badiou, Foucault and especially Zizek. When it came to Deleuze I decided to take a Directed Reading with Dr. Carl Raschke on Deleuze because he seemed to be enamored with him (he seems to advocate a rhizomatic theology in his GloboChrist). He recommended that we read the man himself. So I read his book on Nietzsche, Logic of Sense, Thousand Plateaus and What is Philosophy with the help of Negotiations and Dialogues as guides not to mention the commentaries by Badiou, Zizek and Hallward. It was tough reading and quite frankly I keep going back over a number of those texts not simply to glean info but to be moved a bit by his style of thinking.
Where did that study go? Into a look at Deleuze on humor. Deleuze is clear that thinking should be a more dynamic, fluid thing that is not controlled by opinion or certain static ways of thought. I found that Deleuze was open to thought-forms that were not reactionary and resentful (see the influence of Nietzsche). Humor itself can be rather reactionary, so it takes a special type of humor to get away from the "I-told-you-so" ironic versions of it.
This now leads me to try to use Deleuze and Barth to open up a creative way to look at post-modernity in all the various ways it appears to us. Is Barth the right thinker to do this with? We shall see. For starters, one of my goals is to see how they view modernity in an accepting way and at the same time to see the opening up of movements of thought whether or not they have a spiritual bearing. For starters, I have been consuming the Substance article on Deleuze and the spiritual/political. Lets see how the weekend goes in fleshing this out...

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Tale of Two Zizeks

I recently finished Matthew Sharpe's new study of Zizek's Politics. The first thing to note is just how clear the analysis was on Zizek's corpus. Job well done! I have read a lot of Zizek introductions and I have to say that next to Kotsko's (which I frequently return to) this is a good place to start if you are interested in this particular theorist.

The crux of the book is the idea that there are two theorists in Zizek: 1) Zizek as the Radical Democrat (which could also be called the early Zizek up into his works on Schelling; here Zizek is more concerned with the Symbolic) and 2) Zizek as the Revolutionary/Vanguard (which is post Schelling and his so-called Christian works; here Zizek leaps into the Real). The current Zizek is the Zizek2 even though Zizek1 has not entirely gone away. Sharpe beleives that there is a turn with Shelling into a much more pessimistic turn to Zizek's overall work. Sharpe ultimately criticizes Zizek2 for basically becoming a closet admirer of Hobbes/Schmitt.

I have been wrestling with this thesis for the last couple of weeks especially as I have been reading some Derrida lately. I wonder, as my brother pointed out, that this pessimism that offends people is the deferment of easy solutions, or real concrete acts of justice, or of the real ugliness that is out there in the world... I really do think that the "theology" that theorists like Zizek have been dealing with lately (as opposed to the "impossible god") is worth something that can perhaps awaken believers from their dogmatic slumbers. So reading Barth (like always) and Derrida with Zizek in the background continues to open up new dimensions for me; at the most part, it is a comfortable unsettling that he brings.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Barth's Dialectic: 1 of the hinges

I absolutely loved Terry Cross's book on Barth's dialectic in the Doctrine of God where he makes a good case, following Bruce McCormack, that Barth never simply abandoned his dialectical thinking after the Anselm book.

Cross notes that Barth has a number of uses for the dialectic, but what I thought was most helpful was the way he used the idea of the door and hinge to explain Barth's thinking. The door is the Word of God. The hinges are analogy of faith (correspondence) and the dialectic. In fact, the dialectic keeps the use of the analogy of faith humble and human. So even though Barth moves more toward the fact that the God-Man, in the historical movement of Christ, fixes the gap between humans and God, the human side of that fact is still veiled. Because God has spoken humans can now speak of God, yet in a dialectical way; thus, I would say we are commanded to be heralds and witnesses to the Event of revelation, yet we are in essence limited witnesses.

Barth seems to have never abandoned the idea of the veiling/unveiling of God's self-revelation. In other words, God reveals and is hidden in revelation. Even in the person/work of Christ this is a fact. For example, the primary mover of revelation in the life of Christ is the resurrection where the "It is finished" of the cross is revealed to Christ's followers. Without the resurrection, we would be in the dark that God had reconciled the world on the cross. Now Badiou, for instance, sees the resurrection on its own merit without a need of dialectic; the Event of the resurrection fashions a new subject like Paul in light of its revelatory action. Zizek rightly criticizes Badiou's optimistic thought for being too much of a theology of glory without the dialectic of the cross. I think Barth, because of the dialectic, is not in need of such chastening.

So Barth's theological theme that grace is revealed through Jesus Christ is a consistent message throughout his corpus. The dialectic serves as a way that limits the teleological movement found in the Christian narrative. There is definitely some end and goal to the work of Christ, yet we are merely witnesses to it and our job is to be open and faithful to that witness and not to try to bring into fruition by our own merits.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Milbank takes a shot at Ramadan

Wow! Well blogs that I often take a look at have been doing there best at taking shots at "Radical" Orthodoxy's head honcho John Milbank for his piece on Islam, the Enlightenment and Christianity.

What I find most interesting is how again Tariq Ramadan is framed as a poor academic; everybody seems to be attacking this guy. I haven't seen this kind of academic and frankly pseudo-academic attack since writers attacked the French Algerian philosopher Jacques Derrida. Milbank thinks "the scholarly inaccurate "Religious Studies" view of Islamic history put forward by figures like Tariq Ramadan" is what clouds the judgment of Christian leaders like Rowan Williams. Again, Ramadan is critiqued for 1)sugarcoating the dark elements of Islam and 2) being a closet supporter of the freedom denying aspects of Islam. I still wonder if anyone (like Milbank) has read his books?

Of course Milbank thinks the best Islam is a mystical form; if he thinks this of Christianity as well then he has bigger problems than Islam.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Little Orientalism going on..

There are some wacky news stories that abound right now especially with regards toward Islam, but nothing seems to be as disconcerting as the way President Obama is seen in poll after poll as either a "closet" Muslim or at the very least a Muslim sympathizer. Again, this is ideology at its purest. Obama can firmly state time after time that he is a Christian, yet this is just another proof in the insanity that is in some perceptions of people who just frankly dislike him that he is a closet Muslim.

I noticed the same trend in those Muslim reformist (like Ramadan) working in the West who openly criticize radical, fundamentalist Islam. They are still often criticized by their foes in the West for being covert or closet radicals just waiting to push Sharia law upon their unsuspecting victims! How does anyone win when no matter what you say you are painted as a radical!?

Again, I refer to Edward Said and his work on Orientalism. There are plenty of generalizations that Said forces in his book that one can disagree with, yet I think Said is correct that we see the Orientalist view in the way certain Muslims are perceived by the West especially in the media. The above example works best. The argument goes that Arabs/Muslims are duplicitous and sneaky, so they may say you are their friend but they are just waiting for the opportunity to stab you in the back! Following this line of reasoning then how can you have an open debate or discourse with Muslims, Palestinians, or any other group seen as "Eastern"? Now the proper response is to sarcastically note that of course those in the West are always people of their word. A long history of broken treaties and useless wars beg to differ. This is ironic because one point that Ramadan makes in his works is that a good Muslim always honors contracts.

The main point again that Said is correct on is to actually get away from binary thought (there is really no such entity as an East or a West, or a Christianity or an Islam). We need to use the best of public reason to see the multiplicities that make up certain identities and join up with those that are good and attack those that are in fact bad. This can only happen when the best tools that modernity gave us is used in a critical way on all traditions whether they are political, social or religious...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ramadan & Barth: Orthodox & Modern?

I am finishing up Gregory Baum's book on The Theology of Tariq Ramadan and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I really like the conversational style of the book and the openness the author has toward Ramadan while having his theology relate to specifically the Catholic theology of Vatican II.

It seems one of the problems that people have with Ramadan is that he seems to be (like Bruce McCormack labeled Karl Barth) both Orthodox and Modern. In other words, both Barth and and now Ramadan work within the breakthrough of modernity (they use context, history, critical thought) while at the same time being faithful to their tradition and its founding scriptures. In other words, they are part of the Reformist tradition. The point is not to destroy the faith of the fathers but continue to be faithful to it by always reforming.

Liberals, Fundamentalists and Radicals really despise this position because it is not "faithful" enough to their own perspective. For a fundamentalist, they are too "liberal" in buying into the modern framework. For Liberals, they are too conservative for being to faithful to the past traditions and interpretations and their religious communities (better to have a vague spirituality). For Radicals, they are too conservative because they haven't deconstructed the whole religious paradigm and embraced pure secularism or atheism.

Instead a reformist is always looking to reform the current faith to be both faithful to their sources and the community of believers while at the same time open to the voice of God for changes that should be made today especially when the tradition is either silent or not clear on a matter. For example, Barth wrote particularly to the Church because they are the witnesses of God while Ramadan targets Western Muslims; there is a clear particularity in their target audience yet not denying their general readership as well. The point is that they want to be faithful to the real communities of faith that ascribe to their faith. Thus, when it comes to modernity, it is a mixed bag of blessings and problems; it is up to the reformist to see where the faith can value modern ideas while at the same time be critical as well. It is to say, yes, some of modernity is good because of its liberating dimensions, yet modernity and secularism is not our God; there is only one God and God is one. This is what I see both theologians doing...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Secularism: Not a Friend

At the current moment the idea of the public/private split that we "enjoy" in the West is something I have been musing about especially as I get ready to teach World Civ. courses at Biola this Fall. The Enlightenment is a period I focus on for a number of reasons, but especially because I want my Christian students to really wrestle with what this period has meant for world history in general.

What I often find is a mixture of appreciation and distrust in the Enlightenment project from evangelical Christians. This period ushered in a form of naturalism that led intellectual society to distrust supernatural explanations and the idea of a personal God. However, the freedom of choice and worship is also something that supposedly came form this time as well. In a nutshell, the idea of choice is good but the idea of the secular is bad.

Moving away from the academy and to the world in general, people are still and always have been very religious. This goes for Southern hemisphere, but also Muslim countries as well (just the idea of a "Muslim" country betrays that idea). I am also suspicious that the freedom of worship and choice popped up all around the world at different times in countries with a religious basis before and after the Enlightenment.

What I also suspect is that when secularists denounce the wearing of head scarves because of freedom for women or things like a public display of crosses it is because it is infringing on the public sphere. In addition, I also suspect that if secularists really had the monopoly of things like they think they had, they would also try to enforce public law in the so-called private sphere as well. More on this later....

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Bible and Empires

As I have been reading a book on the theology of Jon Sobrino, it was pointed out that the Bible shows that God is on the side of the poor, the slaves and the outcast. Fair enough, but what is really interesting is that two of the central stories in the Bible occur during the reign of two of the greatest empires in human history: the Egyptian and the Roman.

One can get lost in the grandeur of these ancient civilizations, but the Bible could care less about them. Instead, it focuses on God's people Israel and the way Moses delivers them out of Egypt and on God's Son Jesus as he ministers in Palestine ultimately to be murdered by the Romans. God's judgment in fact is against these systems of power that have abused God's people; in both cases, someone is sent to be a deliverer (Moses/Christ).

The Exodus story is probably the most referenced story in the Bible and some would argue that Jesus is a type of Moses in the Gospel of Matthew. Moreover, when one reads the judgment in the book of Revelation, the judgments mirror the 10 plagues of Egypt and those who are unrepentant tend to respond like Pharaoh did to Moses. That being said, one should note that if God is consistently on the side of the oppressed and ultimately humbles human empires then where will God enact deliverance and deliver judgment today...?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dream Weaver

I am a huge fan of Nolan's movies, so seeing Inception Saturday night was a real treat. The greatness of the story is the way the film has me questioning what was reality and what was not in the movie. In fact, this leads to the big question Zizek poses in light of the movie The Matrix. Zizek's point is not that there is the real reality and a fictional reality out there; we are all living in a world that we see through fictions (in other words, the 3rd pill). Symbolic fantasy is what makes us work and live in the symbolic universe.

How does Inception deal with this argument? For starters, the critics are right that this movie is one that needs to be viewed multiple times in order to get it. In light of that, what I immediately pulled out of the movie is the way Leo's main character may be simply seeking wish fulfillment throughout the entire movie; family and guilt are at the center of his world and by the end of the movie he has moved from his wife to his kids as the object of desire that he has attained. Or has he? The whole picture and all the characters throughout the movie may be one elaborate dream sequence he sets up in his mind (or at least is subconsciously put there) in order to get his "dream" children again. One of the funny things about his character is when someone probes too much into his memory of the real reality (non-dream world), he begins to freak out and his defenses go up. The ending was very neat and tidy, which makes myself (and my fellow audience at the AMC) give a collective "Oh....ahhh" at the last scene of the film.

Besides this not so very deep reading of the movie, the special effects were out of this world. I especially loved Joseph Gordon-Levitt's fight scenes (awesome actor) in dream layer number 2. It was just an awesome scene.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Said: Seeing from Engaged Eyes

It took me a while to finally finish Edward Said's classic Orientalism. His claim is that Western philologist's/historian's writings depict the people of the Middle East in a way that makes them a mythical Other. In other words, the Orient becomes an enchanted place to the Western viewer. A good example is the Aladdin story of genies and magic carpets.

Anyway, as I have begun to read current strands of philosophy and theology of the engaged follower of the Event, I am left wondering, with Said, that perhaps there is a time to suspend engagement and to try to open oneself to a universal, rational public world where the East/West views will no longer become clouded by engaged eyes. This view is obviously a little naive in light of the postmodern turn in the academic world or the multicultural turn to the celebration of a plurality of narratives. However, perhaps we should double the attempts to temper our engagement with a little indifference. Blind engagement for the sake of a cause is the ultimate betrayal of justice to a good cause.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Look Down! Look Down! Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables And How Christians Can Deal with Immigration Reform.

In recent months, a controversy has erupted over the new immigration law passed in Arizona. The law has raised suspicion due to the fact that it “greatly expands the powers of the police in dealing with illegal immigration, including for the first time giving them the right to stop anyone on ‘reasonable suspicion’ they may be an illegal immigrant and arrest them if they are not carrying identity papers.” Furthermore, it leads some to believe that “the new bill will lead to racial profiling, with its powers used to harass anyone who looks or sounds Latino.” Therefore, the law brings to the attention the question concerning the foreigner. However, an even greater question emerges as to how Evangelical Christians will respond to this situation. In order to assess the possibilities for Christians, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables may give insight as to how Christians can deal properly with this event. Why Les Misérables? It is an immensely popular story, yet few there are who really understand the socio-political implications behind the novel. Therefore, this paper will argue that Les Misérables offers the perfect space to deconstruct the recent immigration policy in the United States and the ideology behind it. First, we will examine the novel in light of hospitality toward the Other. Second, we will analyze the way the novel depicts the issues of law and justice. Third, we shall discuss the novel and the idea of history and memory. All of these issues are to be examined in the hopes of finding an application to the current crisis.

The Open Door: Les Misérables and hospitality:
It has been called “‘the world’s most popular musical’”. It has been read by millions and adapted for film, animated feature and radio drama. Les Misérables is a phenomenon. Even from its first publication in 1862, it has been incredibly popular. Yet despite such achievements, many would be shocked to learn that the story was “banned in France”. Furthermore, Hugo referenced his critics responses stating, “‘The newspapers which support the old world say, “It’s hideous, infamous, odious, execrable, abominable, grotesque, repulsive, shapeless, monstrous, horrendous, etc.””” And that is the key to the whole situation. Les Misérables is a book about worlds. In fact, the novel presents the reader with a pure form of hospitality, which exposes the old system (political, social and legal) of its prejudices. Therefore, let us examine the text to see how this also applies to our current situation.
At the beginning of the novel, Jean Valjean is released from the quarries of Toulon for theft. When he enters the town of Digne, he is refused employment and lodgings because of his yellow passport. Without shelter, Valjean decides to spend the night on a public bench. However, an elderly lady explains to Valjean that he can find lodgings at Bishop Myriel’s home. There, he finds sustenance and lodgings without payment. However, knowing his certain future, Valjean again resorts to thievery. Nevertheless, he is caught and is brought back to the bishop’s residence.
When Valjean is brought back to the Myriel’s house, the bishop tells him, “‘Do not forget, do not ever forget, that you promised me to us this money to make yourself an honest man…Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from blank thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.’” The system (legal and economic) left Valjean a bitter and vengeful man. Yet, the bishop’s hospitality offers the convict a new path. Thus an investigation into the meaning of hospitality is in order.
To begin, we need to define the word hospitality in order to assess what is accomplished by the bishop’s actions. Jacques Derrida offers us a useful definition, when he wrote:
[Absolute] hospitality requires that I open up my home and that I give not only to the foreigner …but to the absolute, unknown anonymous other, and that I give place to them, that I let them come, that I let them arrive, and take place in the place I offer them, without asking of them reciprocity (entering into a pact) or even their names.

For Derrida, hospitality is a call. As James K. A. Smith explains, “The call that resounds in this relation, what the Other calls us to, is hospitality – making room for the Other, receiving the Other as wholly Other.” This interpretation of Otherness and hospitality owes a lot to Emmanuel Levinas. As Bruce Ellis Benson remarks, “Levinas sees the desire to systematize as an attempt to control that which is other to me by making it mine. In other words, I wish to recast the other in my own image.” Thus, hospitality is unconditional. As Smith declares, “Derrida suggests that hospitality…requires unconditional welcome and orders ‘that the borders be open to each and every one, to every other, to all who might come, without question or without their having to identify who they are or whence they came.” This is exactly the way the bishop operates. When Hugo recounts the bishop’s manner, he states, “No door in the house could be locked.” The reason for this principle stems in the bishop’s words, “This is the distinction: The doctor’s door must never be shut; the priest’s door must always be open.” Even when Valjean wakes up to steal the bishop’s silver, he finds that that the door “was not barred.” Moreover, as Valjean sneaks into Myriel’s bedroom, he “found the door ajar. The bishop had not closed it.” It is no wonder that the text refers to Myriel as “a man who is hospitable by nature.” This is why the people of Digne “elected to call him by the name which for them had the most meaning, Monsigneur Bienvenu…Bienvenu – or ‘welcome’.” However, this hospitality is not some naïve romanticism. On the contrary, it is most dangerous.
When Valjean goes to steal the silverware, he carries a spike that serves as a pry bar. As he stands in the bishop’s room, Valjean approaches the bishop as he sleeps and stands “seemingly between the two extremes of death on the one hand and salvation on the other – ready to shatter that skull or to kiss that hand.” In the Bille August film from 1998, the scene is recreated; however, the bishop awakens and catches Valjean in the act of stealing. Valjean proceeds to render the bishop unconscious with a blow to the face. Therefore, this hospitality is not without its dangers. There is a certain vulnerability involved in it. The person becomes exposed to the Other. John D. Caputo is more bold when he declares, “[Love] means to ‘surrender to the impossible,’ se rendre, to render oneself back to the impossible.” The impossible then represents the Other. As Caputo further delineates, “The other person is not one of our possibilities but one of our impossibilities…We can never be sure of what is going on in the heart of the other but we affirm that distance rather than being demoralized or defeated by it. The relation to the other is bracing but risky business.” In the novel, Valjean asks the bishop why he does not fear that Valjean could murder him in his sleep. The bishop kindly retorts, “‘That’s God’s affair.’” In the 1998 film, the same situation presents itself except the bishop says, “‘How do you know I’m not going to murder you...We’ll just have to trust each other.’” Therefore the story posits an element of trust between the two parties if hospitality is to be carried out. Since both are finite beings (one can not know the mind of the other), a mutuality of trust must be established. As Christ understood it, our love for our neighbor needed to be the same as the love we have for ourselves. After all, is that not the point behind the “Golden Rule”? As Jesus explains, “‘In everything do unto others as you would have them do unto you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12 NRSV ). Thus, Christ states that the heart of the law is the law of hospitality; or that the law is hospitality. Therefore, it is imperative that Christians promote inclusivity as much as possible. This has been the problem with a Christianity in the United States. As Caputo writes:
The Christian Right is all for the force of law, for rigorous enforcing laws against illegal immigrants, for keeping order in the streets, and they applaud wooden formulas like ‘three strikes and you’re out while slandering jurists who value discernment and adjudication as merely pandering to criminals.

As most of us are aware, Valjean receives a sentence of five years for stealing bread to save his sister’s family. Because of his numerous escape attempts, Valjean’s time in Toulon reaches nineteen years. Thus, Hugo lays the blame on the system for being so callous and overbearing on the less fortunate. As Hugo exclaims, “Was it not monstrous that society should treat in this fashion precisely those least favored in the distribution of wealth, which is a matter of chance, and therefore those most needing indulgence?” In other words, Valjean becomes a victim of what Slavoj Žižek terms “systemic violence”. Žižek defines it as the “violence inherent in a system: not only physical violence, but also the more subtle forms of coercion that sustains relations of domination and exploitation, including the threat of violence.” What is most disturbing about our present state of affairs for Christians in the United States comes from the fact that many Christians go along with these prejudices. This is why Caputo is so incensed when he declares:
It [the Christian Right] turns a deaf ear to the poverty of the inner-city life that makes a life of crime an inviting alternative to working for below-subsistence wages and no health care. They campaign vigorously for right-wing politicians who grant tax breaks to the wealthy but refuse to raise minimum wage – in the name of Jesus!

This attitude does not manifest the law of Christ, which is hospitality. Instead of being like Monsigneur Bienvenu, some Christians in America have become Inspector Javert.

Monday, May 17, 2010

On Immigrants: The Right Questions

The issues around the recent Arizona law and other concerns dealing with ethnic studies have brought out the best and worst from people. I claim that this is simply an issue that cannot be ignored, but has to be dealt with in a truly political way.

I think Alain Badiou, who has worked for immigrant rights in France, has written in his Ethics some important things that need to be considered in dealing with Arizona and the signs of anti-immigrant feelings. He notes that we are still living in the reality of nation-states and borders; that reality does not look like it is going to change anytime soon. Considering this reality, the questions we need to ask are whether or not the State is dealing in an egalitarian/civil manner.

There are 3 questions that need to be asked.
1. How do we concretely treat the people who are here?
2. How do we deal with those who would like to be here?
3. What is it about the situation in the original countries that makes them want to leave?

These 3 questions get at the heart of the matter. These questions, in this particular order, are a better way of formulating the problem than cries for "open borders" (which don't mean anything, honestly) or the blatant racist/nationalist opinions of various gasbags. This is a serious political issue that cannot be ignored...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Where is my John Wayne? Badiou on heroism...

In an interview, Badiou said: "My philosophy desires affirmation. I want to fight for; I want to know what I have for the Good and to put it to work. I refuse to be content with the "least evil." It is very fashionable right now to be modest, not to think big. Grandeur is considered a metaphysical evil. Me, I am for grandeur, I am for heroism. I am for the affirmation of the thought and the deed."

This is coming from a guy who likes heroes from the Westerns, which is a genre I grew up watching as well. There is something admirable about knowing what is the good within a given situation. A hero is a hero for affirming the good in a way that does go against popular opinion or because he or she sees something disgusting in evil. Like Barth and Augustine, Badiou does not want to give a name to a metaphysical/radical Evil first and then talk about the Good. No, the Good comes first only then followed by the parasitic evil. When evil rears its ugly head it needs to be smashed...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Barth and Badiou: The Risk of the Event

I'm literally killing 2 birds with 1 stone. First, I'm working through Church Dogmatics I:1 & I:2 in a doctoral Directed Reading with Dr. John Franke. So far, the reading and the conversations have been stimulating. I will also be reading the so-called Postmodern Barth books (Ward, Johnson, Andrews) as well. In light of these readings, I want to then have Barth dialogue with thinkers like Jean-Luc Nancy, Giorgio Agamben, or Alain Badiou (I just had Barth dialogue with Zizek in a paper on theology/psychology).

I think that we might be past the postmodern or "religious turn" readings often associated with Levinas and Derrida. This is why I plan to put Barth in conversation with the other figures because they are often thinking past Derrida and Levinas (as well as Heidegger).

Second, I need to get ready for my posting for the Karl Barth Blog coming up in July. I will be putting Barth in conversation with Badiou. I wrote a paper for a Theological Method's seminar led by Nancey Murphy on Barth and Badiou on the Event. There are some nice connections but also some clear differences. My goal is to look for the actual connecting points. There have been a number of books recently published that are starting to consider Badiou's Paul book. But more about that later... The idea for my current seminar is to look at Badiou's critique of the turn to language and otherness and see if Barth would connect with him. We shall see if this is successful.

By the way, notice how grandfatherly Badiou and Barth both look in the pictutres. I hope I look that hugable!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Scrooge Part 2: Scrooge and Time.

Shadows of Time: Scrooge and the Misappropriation of Time
With all the modern conveniences of today’s world, one would think that we would have more time. However, this is not the case. For Jensen, the root of the problem resides in the commercialization of time. He writes, “The introduction of clock time in Europe with the consequent increase in efficiency eventually reduced the amount of leisure time people enjoyed, which previously had been plentiful.” With the clock, we have clear delineations of time. Time can now be measured, and our awareness of time more poignant. However, the use of time became linked to production. As Jenses explains, “Surprisingly, time saved is used for yet more work under the pressures of modernity.” Furthermore, he states, “Time came to be defined economically, as Ben Franklin ostensibly said, ‘Time is money.’” Time, then, became utilized for profit. The more hours one pits in for work, the less time there is for leisure time. Actually, leisure time is looked upon as wasting time. Thus, we turn once again to Ebenezer Scrooge. It is a mistake to see Scrooge simply as a caricature of some wealthy people or our bosses. Rather, Scrooge represents the capitalization of time.
When Scrooge is approached by some men taking a collection for the poor, he tells them, “‘I can’t afford to make idle people merry’.” Thus, Scrooge appeals to the old stereotype that those who are without money are so because they are lazy. When Bob Cratchit asks for Christmas Eve off, Scrooge retorts, “‘And yet…you don’t think me ill used, when I pay a days wages for no work’.” Time is simply for profit. Any other use of time is a waste of time or idleness. However, is time really the enemy? Is it this particular view of time the problem? What needs to happen is that we need to learn to manage our time in a healthy and Biblical fashion.
In one sense, we cannot pretend that we do not live in the modern world. Therefore, we must learn to be responsible with the time we are given. The Scriptures are constantly telling us of our limited existence. As Paul declares to us that “the night is far gone, the day is near” (Romans 11:11). Paul states this in reference to loving our neighbor. Therefore, time is meant to spent helping and loving others and not accumulating wealth. Thus, when Fred visits Scrooge, he tells his uncle, “‘There are many things from which I might derive good, by which I have not profited, I dare say’.” Thus, for Fred, ding good is not a matter of profit. Rather, doing good brings its own reward. Also, when Marley visits Scrooge, he laments, “‘Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness’.” This is very close to Paul’s dictum, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Thus, Marley sends Scrooge the three Spirits. What one notices, however, are the times that they come. Marley explains, “‘You will be haunted by Three Spirits…Expect the first to-morrow, when the bell tolls one…Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate’.” However, when one comes to the end of the story, Scrooge notices, “‘The Spirits have done it all in one night’.” The Spirits, then, represent a bending of time. In fact, they represent the life span of a human being (past, present and future). Moreover, time, which is so important to Scrooge, becomes the means for his redemption. By the end of the story, Scrooge will not even be aware of time. He exclaims, “‘I don’t know what day of the month it is…I don’t know how long I’ve been among the Spirits. I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby’.” Only when Scrooge realizes it is Christmas day that he worries about time. It is not that he is slipping back into his former ways. Rather, it is because he wants to begin his new life. With that in mind, let us look at the repentance of Scrooge.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Zizek is not James Cameron's greatest fan

See link for Zizek's take on Avatar:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Christmas Carol: Part One

This is a paper I wrote for a Spiritual Discipline course. It attempts to show that behind Scrooge's solitude and work ethic lies an attitude of anxiety and addiction.

Keep Your Distance: Privacy versus Solitude
One of the significant signs of an addiction is solitude. True, solitude can be a sufficient therapeutic device, which we shall examine below. Nevertheless, as L. Paul Jensen notes, “Addicts and codependents are incapable of open and truly caring relationships.” Therefore, solitude can be a negative result of harmful addictions. Of course, the addiction we will be examining is being a “workaholic.” Thus, there is such a thing as negative solitude. Henri Nouwen writes, “We say to each other that we need some solitude in our lives. What we really are thinking of, however, is a time and a place for ourselves in which we are not bothered by other people.” Therefore, some people have a selfish motivation to be alone in order to be unburdened with the plights of others. Nouwen calls this privacy. He writes, “For us, solitude most often means privacy.” Moreover, in the case of Ebenezer Scrooge solitude is a means of sheltering oneself away from others and their needs. Indeed, his work serves the purpose of securing himself from society.
Take for example Scrooge’s relationship with Belle that comes to a halt because of his fear of commitment and his new found desire for wealth. She tells Scrooge, “‘Another idol has displaced me…a golden one.’” Dickens portrays Scrooge as someone who is “solitary as an oyster.” When Dickens describes Ebenezer’s living quarters, he states, “It was old enough now, and dreary enough, for nobody lived in it but Scrooge.” Concerning the lack of friends and friendly salutations, Dickens declares, “But what did Scrooge care? It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance.” Now, one must ask why Scrooge chooses to cut himself off from his fellow creatures. Dickens explains that it is out of fear and anxiety that he shuts himself away in his counting house.
When Belle decides to release Scrooge from their engagement, she tells Ebenezer, “You fear the world too much…All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach.” Therefore, the addiction to work and gain stems from his personal fears and anxieties. Jensen states that addictions are often attempts to escape one’s fears. Quoting James Houston, he explains, “‘Busyness acts to repress our inner fears and personal anxieties…The inability to stop keeps workaholics running from the feelings and thoughts of their hearts.’” Furthermore, Jensen writes, “The addictive system is a form of insanity, fueled by a sense of invincibility and the lie that behaviors lack consequences.” Of course, for Ebenezer Scrooge, the consequences are personal, spiritual and corporate. They are personal because they transform him into a cruel, frightened miser. They are spiritual because they threaten his eternal destiny, as we shall see below, and they are corporate because they affect those who occupy the space around him. Thus, Scrooge is going to need as intervention of some kind to reveal to him his own addiction and his own personal fears and anxieties, which support his addiction. This intervention comes from his late partner Jacob Marley.
The novel itself begins with the death and funeral of Jacob Marley. Of course, Scrooge found an ideal partner in Jacob. Both of these men are addicts to work and gain. In this way, their relationship forms one of codependence. We mentioned codependence briefly above. Nevertheless, codependence is based on ties that further support our addictions. As Jensen explains, “Close friends and relatives often feed the addiction by giving emotional or material support in ways that enable addiction. This behavior on the part of the family or friends is called codependence.” Thus, family and friends can contribute to one’s addictive behavior, even unwittingly. However, in Ebenezer’s case, he creates a relationship of assent. They both uphold their own addictive lifestyle. However, when Marley dies, Scrooge no longer has the support of necessary to fuel his addiction. It must be stated, though, that Scrooge is set in his ways. It then becomes ironic that the relationship that encouraged the addiction becomes the means of intervention.
When Marley dies, we find that he dies alone. Dickens tells us, “Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend and sole mourner.” Of course, Dickens adds, “Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event.” Furthermore, Scrooge manages to capitalize on his friends expiration by living in the house “which had once belonged to his deceased partner.” Since the funeral, the only time Scrooge reflected on his partner was seven years later. This pathetic display demonstrates from the beginning of the novel the dangers of surrendering to a system, which places work and gain over all else. For Dickens, true business is endeavoring to help the poor and needy. When Scrooge attempts to justify his and Marley’s business, the ghost of Marley replies, “‘Business…Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’” Thus, Marley tells Scrooge of the fate that awaits him if he does not turn from his ways. When Marley’s ghost leaves him, Scrooge observes a host of ghosts. These are departed rich men, who still have their wealth; however, they can no longer use it to aid the sick and hurting. Therefore, Dickens demonstrates the futility of riches and shows where true wealth lies – in helping others. This is hell for Dickens: Having the means to help others, but never being able to participate. Nevertheless, before Marley rejoins the doomed spirits, he tells Ebenezer that he will be visited by three ghosts. These ghosts are a further extension of Marley’s intervention on Scrooges behalf, and they act as a means of preventing Scrooge from meeting Marley’s punishment.
In order to save Scrooge, the three ghosts come to Scrooge and show him his past, present and future self. However, even though Scrooge can see and hear people, he cannot interact with them. After calling out to his former peers, the Ghost of Christmas Past exclaims, “‘These are but shadows of the things that have been…They have no consciousness of us.’” Of course, the same can be said about the second ghost, who with Scrooge “went on, invisible.” What is the point of this device? Here, we have solitude. Granted, Scrooge is accompanied by the Spirits; however, that act more as spiritual guides, which reveal to Scrooge his innermost fears. Furthermore, this shows his duty to others. This again is the difference between privacy and solitude. Privacy is a selfish act of shutting people out. On the other hand, solitude is an act of personal reflection, which prepares us to help others. As Nouwen declares, “Compassion is the fruit of solitude and the basis of all ministry. The purification and transformation that take place in solitude manifest themselves in compassion.” For Nouwen, then, “Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.” Also, in regard to the monastic tradition, Richard F. Lovelace states, “The monastery represented a sort of sanctification machine for the postulant longing to become free from the fallen nature, and it could also be a school in which to learn to love God and one’s neighbor with one’s whole heart.” Thus, the solitude found at the monastery helped reinforce a love for God and humanity. It is in solitude that we can take time away from our busy schedules to reflect on our own lives and the needs of others. Furthermore, solitude helps break the bonds of out cultural system. Our cultures and societies attempt to mold into their own cast. As Nouwen explains, “Thus greed and anger are brother and sister of a false self fabricated by the social compulsions of an unredeemed world.” As believers, we are called to be set apart from the world. As John puts it, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world” (I John 2:15). Scrooge’s anger then comes from his seclusion and the judgment placed upon him by a harsh and hypocritical world. As he explains to Belle, “‘This is the even handed dealing of the world…There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!’” Nevertheless, Ebenezer begins to understand his past errors and his present duty. When Tiny Tim dies, he hears Bob Cratchit state about his nephew Fred, “‘I shouldn’t be at all surprised…if he got Peter a better situation.’” Thus, Scrooge sees that his purpose will fall into the hands of Fred, his nephew, while Scrooge will die like Marley “plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for.” Thus he will have wasted his time and his life. Now, we can turn our attention to Scrooge and time.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why I ENJOY Zizek!

If you know anything about the Jimenez personality, we oftentimes get absorbed into texts, movies and personalities. For example, if you know my brother within ten seconds you will know his undying love for everything Phantom of the Opera.

However, ever since my brother referenced Zizek to me from a critical theory class he took at Biola, I simply can not get enough of this guy. What is the appeal? A lot of people just don't get him or think he is a passing fad. Well, I think there are a number of things appealing about him (so much so that I am trying to fit him into my doctoral dissertation with Barth; I'll keep you posted on how that is going).

First, part of the appeal is Zizek's enjoyment of pop culture which matches my own. I am a pop culture junkie. The second appeal is his use of humor in his talks and books. He oftentimes has to start a sentence with "No, no...I'm deadly serious." He has to say this because the audience or the reader is too busy laughing at his funny but true criticism.

Third, he takes theology seriously. Since I consider myself a card carrying Barthian, I love Zizek's turn to theology and what he calls the monstrosity of Christ. Christocentrism!!! Of course, the real Barth would probably blush at reading Zizek's take on Christ, but perhaps not (is it too Hegelian?-which I don't mind too much). Still, the fact that he is trying to read the Christian tradition in a radical way may be the first step in waking Christians up from either being too seeker friendly/postmodern or too conservative.

Fourth, his comments on ideology. His psychoanalytic/philosophical work is top notch. In fact, it is probably stronger than his theological musings. I think he is notoriously honest about out "post-ideological/postmodern" situation. There is much food for thought about his idea that everything has to be interpreted. That is, in one sense, the freedom we gained after the Reformation.

Finally, the way he can get away with giving lectures in a sloppy t-shirt that exposes his chest hair. I hope I can boast of the day that hundreds of graduate students will pack a lecture hall to hear me ramble on about Barth, Dostoevsky and Zizek all the while my own chest hair flows from the opening of my shirt.

Michael Jimenez

Thursday, February 18, 2010