Thursday, October 20, 2011

Barth in Context, the Other and looking at Weimar

I have been finishing up my paper that I will be reading at the Conference of Faith/History on Barth, Badiou and the event with a response to Mark Lilla's critique of both figures. I will be posting my paper shortly on the topic. To some extent, I argue, along with Jeffrey Stout, that Barth offers a "tentative" line between the secular and the sacred that is somewhat negotiated in the public space. I don't know whether to call it post-secular or not, but I do think it looks ahead to the mid-1980s when post-secularism begins.

With comps on the horizon I have started to look into the historical background of Barth's work. One of the first books I will be reading is Peter Gay's Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider (which studies the 1920s of German expressionism at its peak before the Nazis take power). Barth as a Swiss citizen teaching in Weimar Germany was definitely an outsider in the academic world. Romans II with its language of Krisis definitely embodies the tone of German expressionism.

Another book that has been sitting on my bookshelf for awhile but I will finally delve into is Samuel Moyn's Origins of the Other (where he makes the claim that Levinas' phenomenology of the Other has its roots in the theology of encounter from Kierkegaard and Barth). One of my goals is to articulate this theory a little further for a conference at Biola next year on Justice and Narrative by looking at Jewish/Muslim contemporaries and how they either agree or differ with Barth on this subject (may even bring Zizek/Badiou's critique of the language of the Other as a starting point).

In short, there is something about the social/cultural trends that either a thinker takes on or reacts to. It seems, whether consciously or not, Barth took on the language of German expressionism, German-Jewish phenomenology and French existentialism (a number of books make this point). However, he took these trends and read them through the theology of encounter with the Christian God of revelation. I know my reading of Barth has really grown now that I have taken historical context more seriously.