‘And so I tell myself to myself’: A Dissertation!!

This [PDF warning], as it turns out, is an unpublishable book. Oh, I suppose I could keep shopping it around until something just short of a vanity press accepts it and churns out fifty hardcover editions to “sell” (in theory) at an ungodly price. Or, I could just keep sending it to more-or-less legitimate publishers, and probably drive myself batty in the process. I think most of us can agree that the end result of neither alternative is particularly attractive. Thankfully, there are are other options. (Thanks, Scribd!)

Who is the book for? With a title like The Characteristic Theology of Herman Melville: Aesthetics, Politics, Duplicity it is probably safe to respond to this question with a resigned shrug of the shoulders and the sighed acceptance, “Not too many, I realize.” Hence it being, in essence, unpublishable. Now, before you think this is a pity party, I should point out that it is in fact a decent enough work of scholarship. I stand by a significant portion of it. Yes, I was perhaps a bit self-indulgent in parts; derivative in others. Maybe it wears its influences a little too proudly throughout. (Such is the nature of a dissertation, by the way, that if you write it over the course of three or more years, and you find yourself channeling the voices of your influences, you either have to go ahead and indulge or constantly fight against a kind of multiple personality disorder taking over your presentation. In my case, I think I went the morally problematic route of attempting a little bit of both, indulging as much as resisting: every No masking a coy Yes; every Yes really but a frigid No. Such is the bother sometimes of being a dialectician.) In other words, it is a doctoral dissertation — but a dissertation that got away with declaring “Oh do it, do it, you motherfuckers, do it do it. . . .” See, consolations abound in life!

I’m linking to it now for a few reasons. (1) While I’m kind of done shopping it around for publishers, there’s no reason others those who are so inclined can’t access & read it; (2) I do rather like it, faults and all — e.g., I confess that its presentation of “traditional theology” is a little unfair — and my ego’s insatiable desire for eyeballs cannot be denied (note: I’ve also turned the comments off on this post, since the ego, while not in search for praise or pats on the back, is also exceedingly frail at this point, and does not wish to suffer your abuse); (3) the Dickensian possibility that a benefactor publisher happens across it and says to all who might listen, in effect, “I will publish the shit out of that work of interdisciplinary genius!”; and (4) some very modest measure of closure on the whole matter, with the hope that said closure might compel me to start/finish other writing projects. All but one of these are reasonable — can you guess which isn’t? (hint: it’s #4)

Still not convinced if that you should download the thing? Wavering on your initial decision to do so, and want to reassess? Or maybe you downloaded immediately and want to know if you can safely delete without reading? To help you decide I’ll close with a summary statement:

The foundation of my argument throughout this volume is that in the quintessential sailor cum novelist, Herman Melville, we can identify an aesthetic conception of theology at its most politically relevant. In his life and fiction we find embodied a radical aesthetic engagement with the theological bases of subjectivity and sovereignty. By reading the evolution of Melville’s conception of duplicity and identity through the transcendental self-reflectivity of early German Romanticism, the dialectical materialism of Friedrich Schelling, and the political philosophy of Jacques Rancière, we identify a new frame for an aesthetically conceived materialistic theology. In so doing, we locate a creative intensity at the heart of subjectivity, that is, in the ‘duplicitous’ poetics of subjective self-characterization.

We thus introduce an alternative, aesthetic conception of theology, as an ethos of thought whose truth and potency reside not in its correspondence to ‘the True’ or ‘the Good,’ but in its capacity to draw attention and give voice to the self-creative capacity of life. Drawing on Melville and German Idealism, we identify the dialectical history of self-becoming, and note the implications of theology (characterized here as a subject) speaking-itself, versus simply being spoken or spoken about. As we will see, theology speaking-itself is both its original voice and its original sin—for indeed, theology (like the subject, humanity or God) is ultimately unable to live up to all that it demands for itself. Nevertheless, I will argue that theology’s lasting significance and vitality resides precisely in its being this failure, and thus in its finitude and contingency. For it is thus that theology, in the midst of its Melvillean masquerade of transcendent, sovereign ambitions, embodies the religious promise of ‘a new creation,’ one that is always and only ever in the course of being created.