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