Surprisingly disappointed: thoughts on the UK election

Yesterday was my first opportunity to vote as a UK citizen. As someone coming from the United States, I am well versed in electoral disappointment. Yet, just as the election of Trump felt different than previous political events, so too does the ascension of Boris Johnson seem to indicate something more significant that the triumph of one political party over the others.

There are many reasons for this sense of political frustration: the absurd behavior of a politician hiding in a fridge or snatching a reporter’s phone; the obvious and well tracked effort of political parties to lie to or mislead the public; the vacuity of debates in which many sounds are made but very little said; and the failure of long-standing media institutions to comment on this state of affairs from a variety of critical perspectives. Nothing new, of course, just a little salt in wound that never quite heals.

Fortunately, I long ago abandoned hope that any political party in either my country of birth or my adopted home has the capacity to enact meaningful political change. I am a pessimist. I (like most people who read this blog) don’t think the major problems confronting the UK or the rest of the world—staggering inequality, climate change and the inability for people to peacefully coexist despite a wide range of differences—are a matter of who is in power. The problem is the systems of power themselves. That doesn’t mean there is no difference between the parties. I’d much rather live in a country that is strengthening the social safety net rather than severing its last remaining strands. I just don’t think anyone is bringing answers or solutions.

So, I find my remnants of hope surprising. Last night, I waited for the exit poll results with a small, but nonetheless existent hope that somehow Labour would do ok. I went to bed shortly after the exit polls were announced, still hoping that they would be wrong. I don’t know where this hope comes from, but it is an unwelcome guest. It is a reminder that my effort to disinvest from the world (as Taubes might say) is incomplete.

I think that this hope is not really a hope that one party will win over the other, but a hope in other people (maybe the most dangerous). A hope that confronted with the images of children on hospital floors, a lifetime of racist statements and Donald fucking Trump’s endorsement, people might be persuaded to think twice. It’s a hope that a nation of people who have suffered through years of austerity, watching as public institutions crumble under increased pressure, might look at the blustering embodiment of every form of privilege and be repulsed. That they are not means I must confront the fact that there may be nothing I can do to persuade these people that a more equal, kind and caring society is better than what we have now.

Already people are calling for unity. We must respect each other as British citizens and be careful not to let hate slip in along with the disappointment. Rage is unproductive. I’m not so sure (not that productivity has to be the criteria for judging our feelings). These pleas for the nation to come together are rooted in a conviction that we Britons are all (or mostly), deep down, decent people. We may differ about who should lead the country, tax policy or membership in the EU, but at the end of the day we can all have a pint together down at the local pub. The desire to reunite post-election continues to invest in the hope that if we look at the facts carefully and discuss them politely, we’ll eventually arrive at a better society.

I see little historical evidence that this is a rational hope. The ability to overlook differences in views about immigration or inequality is an indication of how important those issues are to you in the first place. If leaving the EU is enough of a reason to vote for someone whose racism has been on full display for decades, that is another way of saying that racism doesn’t matter that much to you. If you find that you can’t overlook those issues, either in voting or in conversation, then you are beginning to acknowledge a deeper form of division. There are some people I have no interest in meeting down at the pub.

I’ve spent much of the last year reflecting on Schmitt’s theory of the enemy. I don’t think Schmitt gives us a sufficient understanding of enmity, but he’s a natural enough place to start for someone working on political theology. What Schmitt helps us start to think is that there are real differences that matter. There are lines that must be drawn. There is no deep-down common humanity that unites us as a nation or a species. As long as we continue to invest in that cruel hope, we will be distracted from the real political work of refusing to accept injustice in the name of unity.

Updated Introduction to Political Philosophy Syllabus

I’m making some tweaks to my Introduction to Political Philosophy syllabus this year, so thought I’d post an updated handbook here. The two key changes are that I’m dropping Robert Nozick (who’s basically just Mill on steroids anyway) and replacing him with Carl Schmitt, whose discussion of politics as fundamentally concerned with the distinction between friends and enemies offers a more meaningful contrast with mainstream liberalism; and I’m getting rid of the free choice week I used to have in week 12 in order to introduce some anarchism via Errico Malatesta. I kept finding that I wanted to articulate something like the anarchist emphasis on our mutual dependency and the centrality of mutual aid to human survival as a contrast with the more individualist and sovereign visions of the human person that we were reading in Locke and Mill, and Malatesta’s Anarchy does a good job of articulating that in terms that make sense in the context of the tradition as I’ve constructed it here. So I’m hoping these switches will make for a slightly more rounded sense of the different alternatives at play within modern Western political philosophy. As ever, if you’d like to see any of my teaching materials, I’m very happy to share them – drop me a line on marika.rose@gmail.com

You can see from the weekly overview the way I’ve structured the module. The class has one two-hour teaching session per week, so I use the second half of one class to introduce a key concept and the thinker whose discussion of the concept we’re going to be reading; then the students go away and do the reading; then the first half of the next class we spend discussing the set text via a mixture of general questions and detailed analysis of extracts from the text. The module as a whole is still pretty indebted to Robin James’ Social and Political Philosophy syllabus.

The full module handbook is as follows:

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Theology and Continental Philosophy at the AAR

As co-chair of the Theology and Continental Philosophy programming unit, I’m pleased to announce the sessions that we are running this year. A summary of the titles, days, and times follows, with full information “below the fold.”

“Bataille, Blackness, and the Tumultuous Sacred,” Saturday, 1:00 PM–3:00 PM
“The Devil and the Demons: Neoliberal Theology in the Work of Adam Kotsko,” Saturday, 5:30 PM–7:00 PM
“The Jew, the Christian, and the Ends of the World,” Monday, 3:30 PM–5:00 PM
“Mormon Theology and Continental Thought,” Monday, 5:30 PM–7:00 PM
“New Frontiers in Phenomenology of Religion,” Tuesday, 8:30 AM–10:00 AM

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Miraculous & Extremely Fragile: A Theology of Failure Book Event response

In my book, I argue that for Žižek there is a difference between love according to desire, which is ‘to believe in a false vision of purity and perfection’, suppressing and disavowing the inconsistencies and imperfections of the one beloved; and love according to drive which confronts ‘imperfection and incompleteness in all of their grotesque materiality’ (139). I am so grateful for the close attention that the respondents to my book have paid to what I have written; for the probing questions which push at the incompleteness and inconsistencies what I have written. But, as I also write, ‘real love may resemble cruelty’; reading these responses has opened new questions for me and reopened questions I thought I had settled; has had me teetering on the edge of exhilaration and despair; has me sat, now, trying to do justice to the careful attention which has been given to me.

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Never Enough; the Unanswerable Demand of the Heretic, the Whore, the Witch, and the Slave: A Theology of Failure Book Event

A Theology of Failure could be described as a book about taking responsibility. Not the responsibility invoked by conservatives and reactionaries whose demand is always put to those they cast as irresponsible: the poor, single mothers, the entire Black community, or whatever oppressed grouping of subject-positions is at the moment convenient to cast as disrupting society’s wholeness. Marika’s is a call to a form of responsibility that is normally disavowed by casting responsibility as adherence to the symbolic law. Grow up, get a job, settle down,  buy a house, have kids. Actions that are, in terms of their reality, impossible to achieve within the symbolic and ultimately life-denying and death-dealing when one tries too hard to achieve them. The responsibility that is denied by cleaving to these symbolic demands and falling into their snares is much harder to respond to.  It is the demand carried in the  ethical maxim (mis)attributed to Lacan: “do not give up on your desire.”[1]

This ethical axiom arguably misreads Lacan’s original claims, but has been developed by Žižek and Zupančič as a way to speak about the subtle shift from the logic of desire to drive.[2] For in not giving up on your desire one is caught up into the constant return to the question “what is my desire?” and finds that it is nameless and demands to not be turned away from in the making of a fetish as some object or name whose capture is impossible and so anxiety producing. This maxim speaks to the central importance of the concepts of desire and drive and their distinction in A Theology of Failure. Continue reading “Never Enough; the Unanswerable Demand of the Heretic, the Whore, the Witch, and the Slave: A Theology of Failure Book Event”

On Contaminating Drive with Desire and (not quite) Ending the World: A Theology of Failure Book Event

“Everybody knows that theology has failed,” Rose begins, before going on to do it better than anyone has in a long time. I’m sure that her version of this joke is funnier, too. How can we take failure seriously when its spokesperson can’t even bother to fail in her own book on the subject. Gotcha, hypocrite!

I’ll get serious. Rose’s book provides a necessary opportunity to think about different ways to fail. And one of the thoughts that returned over and over while reading the book was the question of how to differentiate between kinds of failure without beginning again to carve out a space for innocence.

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Tarrying with Christ: A Theology of Failure Book Event

This is a guest post from Rajbir Singh Judge.

While reading Marika Rose’s brilliant book A Theology of Failure: Žižek against Christian Innocence, that nettlesome question surfaces: “What is Christianity?” And, from there, one is led to ask a different question: what was Christianity? Even though it is and has been a religion—which, we must recall, is “a term of its own making”—the answer is not so easily answered.[1] Asking about the past itself is double-edged in our age of historical recuperation. The past can signal the recovery of lost hope that has potential to liberate or it can refuse the premise of a contraction and reveal Christian genealogies that continue to suffocate. The latter question demands we consider the difference a Christian past introduced with respect to today. But, then, the question turns again, to the former possibility. Is there a different subaltern Christian repository for our ailing present? What difference does today introduce with respect to yesterday?[2]

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