Monday, April 4, 2011

Where have all the Barth-Derrida Comparisons Gone?

I have recently read through a number of the "postmodern" Barth interpretations (Lowe, Johnson, Ward, Andrews) because I believe that the Barth renaissance is due to the "end of modernity". In each work, the postmodern thinker that was compared with Barth was the French philosopher (in-famous for deconstruction) Jacques Derrida. It was actually exclusively Derrida that was used.

Then, all of a sudden, no one seems to be following up this comparison. Why? I mean, even when the latest Karl Barth blog event happened, Derrida, of all people, was not invited. I list a few reasons why this might be the case:

1. The Barth guild basically poo-pooed any so-called link in the work of Barth and Derrida. This can be found primarily in the work of Webster and McCormack. Their essays show that it is a twisting of the "real" Barth to have him in dialogue with Derrida (or any other "postmodern" thinker). So perspective essays on this link have been sort of chased away.

2. The turn to the Other that Derrida finds inspiration from Levinas has been under attack as of late by Badiou and Zizek. The new turn to ontology dismisses Derrida's warnings. Notice that Smith wrote a book comparing the Other in Levinas and Barth as well. Thus, theologians seem to be jumping on board with Badiou and Zizek because of their Paul work and thus to dismiss Derrida's suspicions as well. In short, the ontology of violence is a facade.

3. Because of the turn to materialism and immanence via Badiou and Zizek, both Barth and Derrida have been ignored or critiqued. Barth's dismissal of analogy of being might be a good connecting point to post-structuralists who are also dismissive of starting with a God saturated "nature" that links to an above realm but his analogy of faith is seen as too fideistic (that seems to be Milbank's and company's contention). It is a fideism that is content to just play language games.

So where do we go from here? I for one think the dismissal of Barth or Derrida is premature (even though I think the current work by Zizek and others are necessary). Here are some ideas for moving forward:

1. The Barth and Derrida comparisons mostly worked with the so-called "early" Barth and the "early" Derrida. The criticism by both Webster and McCormack was that the "postmodern" Barth writers mostly used Romans II and his other early writings and avoided his later stuff int the CD. Maybe it is time to read just Barth and just Derrida anew. In short, there seems to be no Derrida of hospitality, the gift, etc. in relation to the Barth of the "lordless powers" of the late CD. Maybe it is time to read The Gift of Death with the late CD.

2. It might be good to have both Barth and Derrida remind us of the latest "isms" that are on the horizon. The idea that we can tip our hat to Stalin or we need a totalitarian leader/example again is an option seems downright silly (but it is out there). Both Derrida and Barth criticized the excess of capitalism and communism without following an "ism".

3. Maybe a little immanence via Negri and Deleuze can be used to chasten the current Barthian transcendence. Why? Popular Christian theology is mostly about transcendence (just ask your common Christian) and God's move toward us; even your common Barthian is there. In short, if you want to challenge the status quo of theology you got to start here. Therefore, maybe we can find a way to bring Barth down to the immanent realm in a way that is not reliant on Hegel or on language games.

So my current suspicions is that Badiou/Zizek go too far, Derrida/Levinas not far enough and perhaps the Deleuze/Foucault/Negri (maybe Agamben) is in between. So, if Barth is to be in conversation here in the way religion/politics/philosophy mingle I think it has to be in a post-humanistic way that wants to take seriously the various movements of life that also respects the movement of divine life. I'll continue on Barth's ethics in a couple of days...

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