Psychoanalysis and Political Theology: Link Post (with some Commentary)

I haven’t had a lot of time to write much on the blog lately or participate in our friends’ blogs, but wanted to highlight some good things that have been happening on Dømmer selv! and at Jeremy Ridenour’s blog.

First, Dave Mesing recently hosted a book event on Eric Santner’s On The Psychotheology of Everyday Life.

Jeremy Ridenour has posted some commentary on the recent issue of Political Theology. He responds to some of John Milbank’s remarks on psychoanalysis and Kenneth Reinhold’s article on Lacan and theology. It’s very difficult to find a copy of the journal though, as they don’t have Athens access. I’ve uploaded the articles for now, though they may ask me to take them down.

I think many of the articles are good, though I was annoyed to see the usual kind of RO arguments being made by Milbank and Bell. Bell’s article in particular seemed to me very bad. His basic argument is (still, after all these years) that the Church (whatever that is, he doesn’t tell us in any concrete language, though some poetic overtures are made to an idealized version) is the true democratic institution as it is always open. Actually, it bears being quoted so people are sure I’m not just making this up:

Coles’s conception of the problematic of democracy provides another way to frame the argument advanced here. The democratic visions of Hardt, Negri and Agamben falter because they embrace the ateleological responsibilities of democracy to the exclusion of the teleological responsibilities. They have replaced the proper tensional relation between the teleological and the ateleological with the antagonistic and mutually exclusive disjunctive: either telos or freedom. As a result, their vision of the coming community is eternally fugitive and random. […] So long as the church is on pilgrimage, it must be open, receptive,  vulnerable, democratic. Insofar as the church seeks to include all in a common life that it is   is intrinsically open, receptive, democratic. So long as Christ continues to appear in the stranger, so long as God is faithful to the Jews, and so long as divine providence continues to scatter wisdom everywhere abroad, the church is open. So long as sin persists in its own life, so long as it is a corpus permixtum, it is open and vulnerable. So long as it is charged with the ministry of reconciliation, of communion, and there remains even one “outsider,” even one who has not been invited or welcomed, so long as there is time, the church will always have room for one more perspective, one more language, one more custom, one more voice, in its chorus of praise and thanksgiving. And even when the church concludes its pilgrimage and arrives at the heavenly banquet, it will remain open, receptive, democratic. For so long as its  articipation in the communion of the divine life is that of the finite with the infinite, its openness, its  receptivity will continue as it delves ever deeper into the love and joy and peace that is without end.

In short, the Church must always win because the Church must always win. If the argument of the paper was simply that certain theorists of democracy (and he includes quite a strange list of folks here) had misread Augustine and that Augustine’s own thought is more democractic than they realize, well, that would be fine. Historically I suppose there would be something of interest there and though I don’t really see Augustine’s connection to the kind of political projects that Hardt & Negri are involved in, sure, why not. But the point is to argue for something called the Church without any recognition of the empirical, historical failures of the various institutions that claim to be the Church. In distinction to Bell, Hardt & Negri have a very nuanced and considered discussion of the failures of communist movements. That sort of humility would be very welcome from these political-ecclesiologists, but I have the impression they’re just trying to convince themselves in a day and age when most of the religious institutions they are fighting for have lost all progressive credibility (or, in other words, if you fight on the side of the poor you get defrocked, but if you rape 200 deaf children you’ll still get a pension out of “the extended grace” of the Church).

3 thoughts on “Psychoanalysis and Political Theology: Link Post (with some Commentary)

  1. It’s really unclear to me that Agamben is a “theorist of democracy.” I suppose you could make the argument — but Radox types aren’t really into making arguments when it comes to their idiosyncratic readings.

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