Well, I have hit that moment where I really need to honestly think about what I am going to write about for my dissertation. For the preliminary stage it has centered on Karl Barth in conversation with_____________. Now the time for experimental or themed writings is over and now I have to really center on a subject and theme.
The easy part is that the paper in some shape or form is centered around Barth. What exactly can I bring that is new to Barth scholarship? Well, the plethora of themes that I have looked at in Barth are the following: history, humor, secularism, modernity, postmodernity, dialectic, the event, the other, ethics and politics (issues of violence and power are themes I still want to explore). The main conversation partner has been Zizek even though I have also tried my hand at Badiou, Deleuze, Derrida, Rose, Hegel and Ranciere.
So why have him in conversation with non-theologians? I believe that this type of conversation will take seriously the idea of Barth as a major public thinker of the twentieth century. I mean, nobody would blink if I thought of placing Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard or Heidegger in conversation with the above thinkers, yet it seems that no one really does that with Barth.
Two figures I really have not had the time to explore are Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben. Considering that my project is moving toward a more theological-historical method I may enlist one of these figures as the main interlocutor for Barth.
I really enjoy Zizek and since he has had his hand at theology for some time he might be a worthy subject. Badiou and his math make him a hard person for me to really grasp and since it was Zizek's reading in the first place that got me interested then I am putting him to the side for now. I have got a clear message from good people within the Deleuze field that a project putting Deleuze with Barth is near impossible, so he joins Badiou off to the side.
I think Ranciere has potential but again I am way too new to his thought to dedicate another two to three years in exploring his corpus. Derrida has promise just because it has been done so there is precedent but my whole initial idea was to do a similar postmodern reading of Barth but instead of Derrida pick some other thinker.
So I have the rest of the year to figure this out along with preparing for comps and Fall teaching classes. I guess I should plan out my Barth readings along with some Zizek and perhaps a little Agamben.
Well, the fact I'm finishing up Latin and German, moving, have a 6 month old baby, preparing my Fall lectures and comps this Fall does not discourage me from trying to submit a paper for the Faith/History conference this Fall at Pepperdine .
Still, with my time so taxed I am probably going to edit down one of my past seminar papers to submit. Past papers I presented at the Faith/History conferences were one on Barth and Derrida on the immigrant/neighbor, Said and Barth on being a historian and then one on Zizek on history (which by the way was the only one not accepted). I actually got the most feedback from audience questions on the Said paper probably because of his corpus revolving around the issues about the middle east.
So possible paper topics include:
1. Zizek on Haiti after the earthquake ( again, a paper not accepted for a journal entry but one I do not want to give up on but may instead elaborate); my plan is to see how he claims that Enlightenment modernity was fulfilled in movements like the Haitian Revolution but to challenge this Eurocentrism as if it is necessary or not...may bring in Fanon, Dabashi or some other thinker to discuss this point
2. Either just introducing Badiou as a reader of St. Paul as a model of the event, maybe comparing this reading with Barth or even comparing Barth and Badiou on the idea of the event in history or comparing them on their understanding of political movements...(again, I have done much seminar work on this stuff and maybe a paper presentation would be a good way to work my thought out further especially as I want to get my thesis presented in Winter 2012...
In Dabashi's book, he targets a number of intellectuals and public figures for continuing the binary thought process of the West (Western Europe and the US) vs the Rest (basically the so-called Third World). One of the figures he targets is Oxford scholar Tariq Ramadan. He thinks that Ramadan (and Soroush) are fighting a lost battle by basically appealing for an audience from the modern West that is not listening now and for all intents and purposes does not exist. Ramadan's appeal to reform "Islam" in order to dialogue with the West is doomed for failure.
Instead Dabashi claims globalization has illustrated that the binary thinking of the West vs Rest is over. There is no real monolithic West as there is no monolithic Islam (in essence there never existed such things in the social-historical reality). Modern thought (as seen in Kant and others) brought forth Orientalism and thus colonialism. The response to colonialism is the Islamic nationalism of figures like Khomeini and Qutb. According to Dabashi, these narratives are ultimately oppressive.
Furthermore, a good point Dabashi makes is that for him Shiite thought is a powerful movement of critique against the powers as seen in the thought of Ali Shariati but when in power has the capacity to be as oppressive as other powers as seen especially with the Iranian Revolution (I think Christian theology has the same capacity as seen in history).
Where does Dabashi think we can move from this binary way of thinking? He believes that what is needed are more people movements (kind of like the multitudes of Negri/Hardt) to mobilize resistance against abusive powers. I think one of the key chapters which he closes the book with is when he compares the late global thought of a Malcolm X with other nationalist movements like Qutb. For Dabashi, Malcolm X went through many changes in thought until finally he became a more global thinker due to his pilgrimage surrounded by various peoples of color. Moreover, religion is a force that can provoke a way to a call for justice (see his references to Gustavo Gutierrez, for example), but can never be the transcendent power that tries to collapse the real, social-historical differences of the multitudes.
So, for a book I bought on a whim, it was really helpful to read a current thinker, arguing against various voices inside (like Ramadan) and outside (like Agamben) the Muslim world. I will still be working out his arguments about modernity and the secular for a while but it will probably start a trend in my reading to see the viewpoints of voices outside of the canon of the so-called West.
Inspired by the folks at AUFS, I have started to read along with that blog J. Kameron Carter's book Race: A Theological Account this summer. It has been an interesting read so far (on the Kant chapter this moment) especially as I am also finishing up Dabashi's book, a book on Spinoza and Leibniz and plan to read a ton of Agamben as well.
One of the main issues below the surface of my summer reading is just how influential has the European presence and its use of Christian theology as a basis has been for both the beginning of modernity and now in the age of globalization? For my overall doctoral project, I have been paying more and more attention on how this connection shaped Barth both negatively and positively. Carter gets to this point somewhat a little later in the book when he looks at Cone's doctoral work on Barth.
I am about half way done with Dabashi's book (which I will post on shortly). However, I also stumbled on his careful, critique of an abstract essay Zizek wrote about the Iranian uprising. I believe Dabshi is right in his critique of the way figures like Badiou and Zizek and many other Western thinkers will create abstract ideas divorced from the historical situation. The creative tension between solid historical/contextual work along with good philosophical/theological reasoning is a necessary must; err on one side too much and you become so contextual you have no standing to speak to a large audience and become too abstract and you speak in speculative generalities. Here is a great quote from his essay:
The problem with the European Left is that they care a little bit about just about everything, and yet there is nothing in particular about which they care deeply. This is very similar my old teacher Philip Rieff used to call “the Monroe Doctrine”—not the famous President James Monroe doctrine of warning Europeans to keep their hands off the Americas, but the little known Marilyn Monroe doctrine, named after the famous actress for having once said, “I believe in everything,”and then pausing for a moment before saucily adding, “a little bit.” The difference between European and colonial intellectuals is summed up in the difference between Sartre and Fanon, or between Foucault and Said. Sartre and Foucault cared widely about the entirety of the colonial and colonizing world, while Fanon and Said cared deeply about Algeria and Palestine, and from these two sites of contestation they extrapolated their politics and ethics of responsibility towards the rest of the world.
Just finished reading (my 1st Father's Day gift) Gillian Rose's autobiography Love's Work, which she wrote knowing that she would die from cancer. One of the benefits of reading this small book was just how frank and open Rose was about the frail ( and often physically sick) people she introduces us to in her narrative (many of the stories are based around tragedies of love).
Her philosophy which is centered in the middle place of the tensions within the world and its social place is where we see her situate herself in her own life. This is one of the reasons that she writes against ideas of transcendence that try to escape or explain the messiness of social relations from the outside (see Lloyd's book on Law and Transcendence where he uses her thought to critique such figures as Marion, Stout, Butler and Milbank among others). Her inspiration for her thought is Hegel who grounds thought in the "we" of thinking with all its failures and promises.
For the art of autobiography, Rose book is a testament to the fighting human spirit. It lays out the will to live and for a will to think (and to love). I love this autobiography because Rose seemed so willing to lay out the tensions in her closest relationships; it is to love through all the failures and betrayals. I think that by reading this more personal work, I will have better insight into the actual philosophy of Rose (which I here is a little tough reading).
So I highly recommend this book!!! By the way, I still hope before the end of summer to read her book on Hegel...