Wonder as immanent transcendence

Mary-Jane Rubenstein has a piece at The Immanent Frame proposing “wonder” as a way past the deadlock of religion and secularism. The piece is perhaps of interest, given the last few days’ discussions of the possibility of differing accounts of transcendence. It also contains one of the most concise and sympathetic summaries of Radical Orthodoxy I’ve seen, along with one of the clearest critiques thereof.

22 thoughts on “Wonder as immanent transcendence

  1. Good piece. Nottingham colleague of Millbank, Karen Kilby, made a similar point viz transcendence and politics with regard to the supposed harmonious order the trinity represents and reality must mirror in RO. Essentially to claim so much about the trinity, just as Mary says, is to strip it of mystery and essentially assume the position of transcendence oneself. Or put differently, for a movement that is supposedly based on partial knowledge and the necessity of mediation for a glimpse of transcendence, they seem might sure what it looks like and what its red Tory politics would be.

  2. “I see no reason to be so dismissive.”

    Could you explain why you would not dismiss so quickly Rubenstein’s account of transcendence as you might other versions?

  3. Less abruptly: the reasons I prefer her account of transcendence to Radical Orthodoxy are the reasons she puts forward in support of her position over again Radical Orthodoxy. I don’t know what I can really add.

  4. I don’t see how its dismissive. I actually like the maxim “the way things are need not be the way things are” (as a principle of contingency). I’m not sure it need only apply to the “ethico-political”, however. Not that Rubenstein has made this distinction absolute, but it seems to be her general intent (perhaps her book expands the argument?).

  5. Ok…following the argument with DWC over at the Barth conference (which, btw, I’m in total sympathy with your frustration about the incommensurability card) I’m wondering if R’s account, aside from its usefulness against RO, is one that you could actually accept as something other than the master signifier/big other fallacy.

  6. Thanks for the link to an exceptional piece. I really need to check The Immanent Frame more often than I do.

    I was all set to ask whether Rubenstein’s account of wonder begins with immanence, and founds its transcendence on it, and then I read the title of your post.

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  8. R frames her piece such that her version of transcendence supplies some lack inherent in secularism. My beef, in short, is that there are secular accounts of history that do indeed say the kinds of things that she claims secularism can’t account for.

    In her final paragraph, the value of wonder is that it “reveals that the way things are need not be the way things are.” I’ve just finished reading a whole bunch of Quentin Skinner’s stuff on historical methodology, and one of his main points seems to be that a good reading of political history makes plain the particular, accidental, and contingent nature of social arrangements such that understanding this frees us from perceiving certain social norms or situations as ‘necessary’ or ‘permanent’, and that indeed things need not be the way they are.

    I’m not suggesting R’s account is a bad way to think about transcendence. But I am saying that since there are versions of secularism that give the same sense of contingency and openness of the future, I’m not sure what this ‘transcendent’ gets you over and above secularism.

  9. I’m with Rob. If David still needs a strong man that isn’t able to accept a kind of transcendence that stands in, some way, even if that way is called “non-hierarchical”, above immanence then he can go with me. I’m interested to hear more about Rubenstein’s notion (maybe I’ll add to the book to the ever-growing, guilt-inducing list of to-read), but I really don’t think most of the great secularlists (like Spinoza and those after him) are such cynical realists (in the political sense).

  10. Just thinking about what you might have meant by your reference to “Spinoza and those after him” APS.

    I’m currently trying to write something about Alberto Toscano’s “Fanaticism”. One of the things that I was thinking about while reading it a few months ago was: how is it possible to have a kind of ‘immanentist’ (anti-transcendence) perspective that isn’t politically destined to a kind of worship of the status quo, i.e. without being “Kissinger-esque” in regards to politics?

    In the background of this thought were some of Zizek’s — possibly unfair — and Badiou’s (ditto) criticisms of Deleuze/Hardt and Negri, where I take it — simplifying grotesquely, but kind of happily — that one of the problems that these guys think “Team Immanence” can’t get around, is that, it’s in danger (in neglecting the thought of the negative, the event, or the Real) into being consigned to something like, just saying “Om” (or worse, yea-ahh!) to what presently exists, to “pure being as pure nothingness”, disguised by the fact that it’s also a worship of the dynamism of OUR existing order (Nothing ‘de-territorialises’ like capital, after all.)

    Now, I mention this because I know that the RO guys, or rather Milbank, has a perverse tendency to spin the Badiou/Zizek line against ‘immanence’, and certain trends in ‘postmodernism’ in his typical “which is why …pre-Scotus Christianity is the indispensable condition of all good things…”) Which would figure, except for…you know…not doing so.

    But, anyway, while reading Fanaticism, I thought that the answer to this question might be that while Spinoza, like Hobbes, believes in metaphysical immanence (deus sive natura, it’s all just bodies colliding, no transcendental/empirical division, no transcendent stuff of any kind, no events, no negative, no indeterminacy within being, no Real erupting through the cracks in the Symbolic)

    his philosophy has much more of a focus on how reason, as a cause amongst others, can be transformative, not because it stands outside the world of causes (as it kinda sorta does in Kant) but because it…makes new connections between bodies possible, new aggregates, or new ‘corporate’ entities (like a mass-movement, or the solidarity of an extended friendship group rather than Halibruton).

    By contrast, Hobbes’s variation on an ‘immanent’ perspective means, paradoxically, that the only thing that will save individual atoms from perpetual war with each other is reason declaring that an understanding of the true causes of things requires everyone to submit to the sovereign who is politically, but not metaphysically transcendent. (Oh, and that, by the way, metaphysical transcendence has always been a metaphor for political transcendence, in a kind of reverse-Carl Schmitt way…)

    So, anyway, on this line: I’m wondering, how you (APS or anyone for that matter) might think we can distinguish a good version of the Enlightenment thought (in keeping with the founding figures of secularism) that leaves room to attack the real on the basis of the idea as opposed to a kind of Chritsopher Hitchens ….parody version…of the Enlightenment, where the defense of reason, secularism, and immanence, ends up by (paradoxically) as a defense of TRADITION, “our way of life” that says that reason, secualrism is ‘what we’ve got’ rather than what we aspire to, such that the point of ‘Enlightenment’ gets preposterously distorted into:

    ..’let’s defend the a priori rational status quo against its a priori irrational ‘enemies’, where these enemies include anyone who still affirms universalist or egalitarian politics which can now get depicted by the ideological reflex du jour as ‘fanaticism’ of particularistic, reactionary ideologies (like religious fundamentalism… Alternatively, how can we get a good solid, secular Enlightenment, that absorbs the kind of thing that theologians are always saying is…politically useful about theology, without giving an inch to ‘post-secular’, Radox style arguments…

    Too much crap for one comment? Sorry.

    I’m also thinking that your answer might be: would you bugger off bloody read “after the post-secular and the post-modern”, you lazy tosser: but, damn it, the Monash library keeps ignoring my requests for the book..:( Hence, I stoop to bad blog etiquette..



    P.S. Thanks for the link, A.K. It’s a great article.

  11. Mal,

    Yes, read After the Postsecular and the Postmodern… but in lieu of that I’ll try to respond to. I’ve been knocked flat on my ass by the flu and jet lag for the past week, so I can’t respond adequately right now, but I will try to write something up soon. One quick thing, Badiou (perhaps Zizek too, but I don’t feel sure about this) is a philosopher of immanence. His disagreement with Deleuze/Hardt&Negri has to do with (what he claims is) a difference in materialisms.

  12. Mal, somewhat too briefly, but nonetheless: it is a big talking point of Hardt and Negri that there is a fundamentally indicative difference between Hobbes and Spinoza on this very issue. I.e. despite their manifest similarities, which you note, in Hobbes the people is always constituted by the relation to the One-Sovereign. Whereas for Spinoza the multitude relates only to itself (at least in essence). Which is to say that the multitude is capable of transforming itself, or re-expressing itself, simply because of its nature — it is not in _need_ of a relation to something that would politically transcend it. Reason here thus amounts to an auto-constitution, not in need of a knowledge of something else. Perhaps the limit of Enlightenment-as-achieved tradition is to turn that act of knowing into a knowing of something else (thus the point of commonality between Hitchens and Hobbes).

  13. APS: Thanks for the reply.

    Looking forward to what you say when you get the time: In the meantime, I’ll do what I can to chase up the book.

    I agree that there’s a lot of evidence that B. is a thinker of immanence: his rendering banal of the infinite, his total rejection of the ‘pathos of finitude’, and accompanying ideas of the ineffable. At the same time, I can’t help thinking that a lot of B’s talk the ‘event’ doesn’t just sound like past talk of transcendence but that some of his ways of describing the event breaking the set theory axiom of ‘belonging to itself’ is at least a reference to a kind of relative transcendence, like the Real breaking through the Symbolic.


    Thank you very much for this. I was groping towards something like what you’ve said, but I’ve never actually read Hardt and Negri (although I’ve read some Deleuze): your formulation is very elegant and, better, illuminating.



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