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...