This is a guest post from Ry Siggelkow, a PhD student in Theology and Ethics and Princeton Theological Seminary. He blogs at Rain and the Rhinoceros. – APS
It is true, On Diaspora, as Dan Barber puts it in his introduction, is not “easily placed.” For those of us who have been in conversation with Dan over the past few years this is, of course, unsurprising. To say, in agreement with Dan, that this book is not “easily placed” is just another way of saying that this book is something of a success. That is to say, Dan has, I think, successfully executed a very difficult enterprise; not only does this work amount to a massive overhaul in the ways we think of Christianity, religion, and secularity, it really is an invitation to completely reconceptualize—in one fell swoop—the basic assumptions and methods of a number of theoretical discourses. Dan should be applauded, then, for his originality and creativity and for the remarkable sophistication with which he treats the matters at hand. Indeed, we might even say that, the book itself stands, as a provocative expression of the kind of diasporic account of existence that Dan seeks to develop throughout.
I have been asked to briefly comment on the second chapter, “Diaspora.” I assume I have been asked to comment on this particular chapter, at least in part, because of its critical engagement with Nathan Kerr’s book, Christ, History, and Apocalyptic. I will not, however, seek to defend Kerr here—for Kerr is capable of speaking for himself. This is not to say I cannot speak for Kerr—as a matter of fact, I am quite comfortable speaking for him—but this is simply not what I want to do here and now. I will, instead, seek to highlight what I take to be the two most interesting arguments made in this chapter: (1) the critique of Christianity’s critique of itself; (2) the rejection of the motif of (transcendent) irruption in favor of (immanent) discontinuity in thinking about apocalyptic. This is not meant to be a summary of the chapter, and I am certainly leaving out much of the details that constitute Barber’s arguments here.
What I want to suggest is that while this project is impressive in its conceptual originality, I must say, it is difficult for me to see how it finally departs from the account of Christianity which has been developing over the past thirty or so years under the moniker “postliberalism.” So, while at first glance, this book is certainly not what one has come to expect out of Duke graduates, I do not think it is improper to name it as a species of the so-called “Duke school.” And so it should not come as a surprise, for example, to find Stanley Hauerwas’s blurb on the book’s back cover. I could be quite wrong about this, but I actually think that no one is more aware of this book’s indebtedness to Hauerwas than Dan himself. Nowhere is this perhaps more clear than in Dan’s (selective) enlistment of John Howard Yoder for his own diasporic account of Christianity. For it is here that we get—unmistakably—a very Hauerwasian Yoder. While it is no doubt true that Dan’s book is not “easily placed,” I do wonder if we couldn’t perhaps name it, even if “improperly”—to borrow one of Dan’s technical terms—as a kind of radical deployment of Hauerwas. Or, better, perhaps it could be described as something like Hauerwas, run through theory.
The critique of the Chrisitanity’s critique of itself
Barber opens up his second chapter, “Diaspora,” with the following claim: “Central to Christianity is its gospel, which is better understood in its more literal translation as ‘good news’ (euangelion)” (30). Barber then goes on to explicate what he takes to be the “content,” at least “minimally” conceived, of this euangelion. Christianity is inseparable from “the declaration of a novel configuration of reality” (30). A particular configuration of reality, moreover, the truth of which is not to be accepted abstractly, but rather “enacted.” According to Barber the enactment of this euangelion (whatever else it may be) involves basically what John Howard Yoder says it involves: love of enemies, imitation of divine perfection, forgiveness of debts, liberation from socio-economic and political powers that oppress. Christian “declaration” also seems to include the possibility of its enactment—the construction of new social bonds that are in opposition to modes of domination—insofar as “the messianic kingdom has arrived” (31).
Surprisingly, however, Barber claims that what interests him in this chapter is not the “content” of this “declaration” as such but the conditions of possibility which enables theological discourse to counterpose the content of its declaration with Christianity’s own historical (mis)performance of it. The thesis Barber advances is that this counterposition is made possible by Christianity’s “lack of a concept of diaspora” (32). Barber insists that it is a “lack” not a “refusal,” for a refusal would imply a “cumbersome essentialism,” viz., that “the initial essence of Christianity was diasporic” (33). Barber thus rejects the attempt to retrieve or recover some essence of the gospel declaration as a means by which to save it from the perverse forms it has taken in Christianity’s historical performance of it. This is to be avoided because it seems to provide Christianity with an alibi—for in the very act of admitting to its own failure, Christianity inevitably props itself up beyond critique. Thus the persuasiveness of Barber’s own account of diaspora cannot be secured by appealing to some posited essential content intrinsic to Christianity’s declaration. He is, instead, bound to say that “even as I hope to render compelling a vision of Christianity as diasporic, I am not claiming that this vision agrees with the ‘true version of Christianity.”
Such a critique stems quite naturally I think from Barber’s account of immanence and his construal of Christianity as a “possibility of existence” and a “construction of the world.” The reason why Christianity’s declaration of “the gospel” is not permitted any critical purchase on Christianity’s historical performance is because the gospel itself is a construction of the world, for Barber. To say otherwise—that is, to say that the gospel is independent of and maintains a priority in relation to our performance of it—is to cede to the very logic of transcendence and the essentialism that it entails. In short, what is not permitted, in Barber’s account, is the basic question that often prompts theological reflection in the first place, “Is this particular action or performance faithful to the gospel?” For, again, to ask such a question is to presume that the gospel is somehow a transcendent reality that is independent of Christianity’s performance of it. Instead, we ought to think about the relation between “declaration” and “performance” (what we might call more commonly, “gospel” and “tradition”) strictly along the lines of immanence, wherein the effect (“performance”) is not so easily prised from the cause (“declaration”), but is in fact constitutive of it (see chapter one).
While Barber wants to think this relation in terms of a radical differentiality—that is, in terms of a kind of Christian diasporic plurality without reserve—on the surface at least, we do not seem to be so far away from the basic territory of postliberalism. It was George Lindbeck, after all, who sought to overcome the problems of what we might call Christian “essentialism,” as manifested in liberal “experiential-expressivism” and conservative “propositionalism,” in favor of a cultural-linguistic paradigm that would better account for the doctrinal and praxic continuity/discontinuity which attend living religious communities. While Barber’s own proposal of a diasporic account of Christianity certainly allows for more differentiality and plurality of Christian expression, he has in common with Lindbeck, it seems to me, this fundamental concern to overcome the “cumbersome essentialism” of modern theology by rethinking the relation of gospel and tradition in terms of a relation of immanence. For it is transcendence itself that “promotes the separation of declaration from historical performance” (35). The effect of this is quite clear: the gospel loses its priority in relation to tradition such that tradition becomes self-grounding and self-legitimating. Of course, “tradition” would not be the word Barber would use—for it is not Christianity that is finally to be “preserved”—but one does wonder if, in this framework, the question whether this or that act is faithful to the gospel could even ever be raised.
Apocalyptic: transcendent irruption or immanent discontinuity?
With Hauerwas we encounter (a less dialectical) radicalization of Lindbeck in his statement, “the teller and the tale are one” (Hauerwas, Christian Existence Today, 54). By this Hauerwas means that Christian performance is constitutive of Christian declaration; there is an intended indistinction made here between “gospel” and “tradition,” such that Christian declaration loses its critical purchase—its transcendent relation we might say—to Christian performance. Here we have an immanent relation of the kind Barber seems to be advocating. So, how then, does this relate to the question of apocalyptic? What I want to suggest here is that Barber’s critique of the motif of “irruption,” a motif that one finds for instance in Martyn and Kerr, and his alternative proposal for an immanent conception of apocalyptic as discontinuity, aligns quite well with Hauerwas’s own variation of apocalypticism.
Barber’s critique of the motif of “irruption” and “invasion” that one sees in the work of J. Louis Martyn and Nathan Kerr, for instance, follows naturally from his account of immanence. The problem with the characterization of apocalyptic as “irruptive” is that it “tends to preclude formal antagonism, placing it instead at the level of being—antagonism is ontologized, it is determined as that between the being of a rupturing transcendence and the being of a ruptured, because self-enclosed, domain” (42). Against this understanding Barber contends that we should think of the antagonism of Christian declaration as taking place at the level form—“between differential and identitarian forms.” The antagonism of Christian apocalyptic must be situated, according to Barber, as opposition to the world as it is presently composed such that the positivity that Christian declaration names be seen as a “differential recomposition” of forms. The form of this world is not passing away in the in-breaking of a world from beyond as those who use the language of “irruption” would have it, it is rather re-formed or re-composed because it is “a possibilitity of existence.”
At the same time, the emergence of apocalyptic is not to be understood as standing in continuity with “what is already given, nor should it be understood as developing something implicit yet unpursued by what is already given”: instead, “to be apocalyptic is to be different from, or fundamentally other than, the course that has been or is being set forth” (43). Apocalyptic is discontinuous with the logic of continuity that attends “history”—whether this be understood in terms of a “sovereign exteriority” or “historical interiority.” The “futural” aspect of this understanding apocalyptic—the difference that it makes—is in its insistence that apocalyptic “breaks open, or breaks down, historical continuity” and “declares a future unthought by such history, a future that is to be constructed” (43). The language of “constructed” is significant, for such an understanding of apocalyptic rejects the notion that history is being broken open or broken down by a “power that comes from outside the world” (42).
Barber thinks that to think otherwise (that is, in terms of transcendence) is to lose the political character of Christian declaration altogether and the “immeasurability” of apocalyptic—for the emergence of apocalyptic is “subsumed by the signification of the transcendent” (46). The benefit of a apocalyptic understood in terms of an immanent discontinuity is that it “allows us to affirm Christian declaration’s basically political character—its antagonism with the world as it is already established” (47).
It is precisely this politically antagonistic character of Christian declaration and Christian performance that Hauerwas wants to affirm in his insistence that the church is to be thought in terms of its empirical “visibility” which is set over against “the world.” And it is precisely here where Hauerwas thinks he shares much in common with Yoder. Christianity (or “the church”) is only politically antagonistic insofar as it is placed within the same domain (but as a different form) as other political configurations, and other possible forms of existence. This, it seems to me, is at the heart of Hauerwas’s critique of Barth’s account of the church (see With the Grain of the Universe) in which he accuses Barth of lacking a pneumatology that would take seriously the extent to which the empirical visibility of the church is necessary for the salvation (and liberation) of the world. So, while Barber’s concerns may be quite at odds with Hauerwas in the final analysis, it seems to me that this is precisely the kind of apocalyptic that Hauerwas wants to maintain, viz., an immanently construed apocalyptic that understands Christian declaration as inseparable from its enactment as an “alternative construction of the world” (48).
The key difference between Hauerwas and Barber lies at the level of “form.” That is, at the level of what this Christian performance (or “the church”) might look like conceived diasporically. For Barber, what this looks like is far different from the stability of the Christian tradition that is implicit in Hauerwas’s account of “the church.” Instead, there is a certain “nonidentity” to what emerges (and here we see the influence of Adorno)—a radical differentiality and instability. But one wonders how this differentiality can be maintained while at the same time affirming the political content of Christian declaration. Indeed, one wonders how Barber can even claim to speak of a “content” of Christian declaration (as he does at some length); for does this not inevitably separate content from performance and implicitly accept a kind of transcendental vantage point? This is not meant to suggest that a transcendental vantage is somehow a necessity, but simply to point out the inconsistency of the claim, on the one hand, to reject a “cumbersome essentialism” while at the same time speaking about Christian logic as “essentially apocalyptic” (47) and “irreducibly committed to discontinuity” (42).
This is already twice the length of what I had been asked to write here. There is much more to be said and I might add that much of the intricacies of Barber’s argument have been, regretably, left out. I hope that I have not been unfair to Barber in what is, admittedly, an idiosyncratic reading of this book. What I have tried to do here is not to “place” a book that is not “easily placed,” but to situate it within a broader—specifically theological—conversation. What I have said here is not meant to function as a “critique” of Barber (for I have done little to criticize his position), but to point to the ways in which his argument—from the vantage of contemporary theological discourse—seems to follow a distinctively postliberal and even Hauerwasian trajectory. My own sympathies and my general theological perspective I have assumed are fairly clear (at least I think they are to Barber and many readers of this blog).
75 thoughts on “On Diaspora Book Event: Chapter 2 “Diaspora””
You ask whether it can even be asked whether an act is faithful to the gospel in an immanent framework. I don’t understand how the situation would be improved in a transcendent framework, though — in that case, I guess you could ask it, but the answer would always, by definition, be no.
Anthony, thanks for your summary and review. I’m most intrigued by your suggestion regarding this common line between Lindbeck-Hauerwas-Barber, and the rather huge implications of this line. What you say here is both interesting and important. I do want to ask you for a point of clarification (and it really is a question, not one of those academic posturing “points of clarification” meant to assert more than inquire i.e. I really want to know what you think here, as this question is of significance to me, and others who not only want to know where to place the book, but more basically what to do with it). It seems to me that Dan sees folks like Lindbeck (the Duke school before there was a Duke school) as those modes of theological particularism that fail to consider questions of ontology (or what he calls “horizon”). Lindbeck’s anti-essentialism tries to show how theology doesn’t require such questions. But for someone like Dan, this seems like a head fake, since at the end of the day the Barth/Wittgenstein folks still presume something of a participatory ontology (i.e. the problem with rupture is that SOMETHING is being ruptured, and that rupture comes from ELSEWHERE–the SOMETHING and the ELSEWHERE presume identity and transcendence respectively), they just don’t think it is necessary to invoke it, or argue it, for the kinds of arguments they want to make (which you nicely summarize regarding Hauerwas’ Yoder politics). Participation bespeaks analogy, and whether it’s Thomas (more like Przywara’s Thomas) or Barth, it boils down to: “Participation thus spatializes the world according to an inside/outside binary that cannot avoid valorizing gathering over dispersal” (51). So are you saying that there is a way to imagine Hauerwas without this participatory ontology? I am currently working on this question, not about Hauerwas, but Christian theology generally, of whether a non-participatory ontology is possible. I think the best I can figure is to situate our modes of knowing irrespective to questions of ontology (that analogical predication doesn’t work like that, or require it, that there is a distinction between, as some have said, orders of knowing and being), which offers a certain account of creaturely life with God and others. But within all this, I can’t help but agree with a claim that David Hart made recently, that the analogy of being (or something like it) is “perfectly biblical, thoroughly unthreatening, and rather drably obviously Christian.” Accordingly, is Dan’s take on Christianity simply a threatening, and less obvious, Christianity, or is it something altogether different? This question is for Anthony, and for any others who can help answer it. Thanks.
Clarification: Anthony posted this, but it was written by Ry.
oh, okay. The question’s to Ry and others then. thanks for the clarification.
As I tell my students, you have to read the instructions at the top…
I always forget to put instructions at the top (or anywhere)
I just wanted to drop in and express my gratitude for the attention being given to Dan’s book. The event is off to a great start, and I look forward to more to come. Thanks to the contributors, but especially to AUFS for hosting the event. For those who don’t yet have the book, here’s as good a place as any to get it: https://wipfandstock.com/store/On_Diaspora_Christianity_Religion_and_Secularity
Speaking of Charlie and Cascade, I just recently finished my colleague Paul Martens’ THE HETERODOX YODER, also by Cascade. In passing, he makes the argument that Kerr’s use of Yoder demonstrates exactly what is wrong with Yoder (according to Martens). It is telling then that sandwiching Kerr is Martens calling Yoder back to orthodoxy (HY, 63) and Dan showing how he properly moves from it (OD, 59-60). From this vantage, Kerr (whose book I haven’t read, but I think I catch the drift) seems to want it both ways and Martens and Dan show how he can’t have it both ways.
Dan, I am trying to develop my thinking on this but perhaps before I head out too far in the wrong direction on it I was wondering if you could further comment on your understanding of ‘gathering’. I am thinking of your rejection of its ‘valorized’ form in this chapter. Does gathering though relate to the practices of recomposition or improper (but inevitable) signification? Are you simply using ‘gathering’ in a highly technical form to address participatory ontology and nothing else? It seems as though it has more of a role than what you give to it other than perhaps in your later development of ‘bearing with’ in relation to Keller’s work.
I understand the need to decompose the sedimented forms of power and discourses but what of those who are decomposed by those discourses is there not a gathering, even if not under a transcendent banner? Or is it rather that these marginal forms are not actually decomposed but simply bound?
Again I am striking out in a particular direction that may not apply to how you use the term.
I’ve not gotten to the section on participation so I won’t comment on Jonathan’s earlier remark. But it is worth noting, re the ‘faithfulness’ question Ry ends section one with, that Dan does speak of a sort of faith in the context of apocalyptic. He writes: “What apocalyptic affirms, above all, is the necessity of maintaining fidelity to the immeasurable, not as something positively named but as something that is there, that is real, such that its contravention by signification renders such signification inadequate (46).” It seems to me that this sentence indicates that Ry’s remark begs the question of what the gospel is. Yet I should say that I don’t think this lessens (rather heightens) the import of Ry’s question of how one ‘maintains’ differentiality while affirming (what Dan denotes as) the content of the Christian declaration. I, for one, would love to hear more on this question.
The focus and attempt to think through this split between decleration and the failure of the tradition struck me as pointing less to Hauerwas, and instead pointing to the influence of Adorno. Though I suppose Hauerwas is a kind of tragi-comic poet who lacks the desire to fully disengage from the tradition and instead clowns in the midst of the ruins of it. I don’t mean this to be offensive at all, I think there is something to it, and Dan really gets to the heart of what I find really appealing about Hauerwas, while what I don’t really understand is how some people take it seriously and “radically open” themselves to the “Church”. I mean, clowning is a creative act in the midst of the wrong state of things and so pleaes don’t confuse your own hatred of clowns for what I’m saying – to a certain extent, I like clowns Still, without saying that Dan “doesn’t really need Yoder”, this chapter enacts a kind of tracing of the negative dialectics of Christianity. Christianity’s split between its ideal and the material reality, the transcendental and the empirical, which leads to its really expressing the wrong state of things.
If that’s the case I don’t really see how participation would save Christianity. I mean, if his analysis is correct, what happens except a kind of wrong participation since participation is dependent on the wrong state of things (this being the aporia of the analogy of being, it lacks an organon of selection in its interplay between nature and grace)? This is why Hauerwas, even as a tragi-comic theological clown, is preferred and valorized to a certain extent. There is a recognition of the wrong state of things. And this even explains to a certain extent why, if one refuses the namelessness of immanence and instead remains within that wrong state of things, they might need to ontologize antagonism as the new apocalyptists do (I hope they’ll forgive this naming… ). At least there is something like a gnostic refusal of this world there, even if it is always mediated through a certain “staying with the tradition”.
What I would suggest is that both Martens and Barber end up, notwithstanding their very different approaches and conclusions, with a very Hauerwasian Yoder–which is to say a basically immanentist Yoder. Or, at least that is what I would argue. Which is also to answer your first question: yes, I think you can read Hauerwas without a participatory ontology because I think Hauerwas, effectively, rejects God’s transcendence.
it seems that introducing the import of the imagination in relation to apocalyptic might be crucial at this point. i have in mind specifically the distinction that sartre makes between the ‘living future’ and the ‘imagined future’. the former is that future that unfolds dialectically as the next moment of history’s movement. it is therefore never ‘radically’ novel, but only ‘relatively’ novel. it is an augmentation of previous ‘situations’. the ‘imagined future’ on the other hand is that which comes from nowhere and posits (literally) ‘nothing’. it is the no-where/now-here. it is that image that is posited (sometimes at least) in order to rouse the affects. thus, the positing of the image is done so that it might redouble back upon those that declare it, driving them forward to praxis. it’s important here to note that, for sartre, the imagined future is not merely that which is not yet, but it is also nothing. part of the reason for the latter is that an image for sartre is a construction of imaginative consciousness. as such, it gives nothing, teaches nothing. it is an act that posits an absence as though it were present. thus, the image of the imagined future is a nothing that is constructed for the purpose of giving impetus to praxis. it is this relation of imaging and praxis that seems to fit well with what was outlined above regarding ‘declaration’ and ‘performance’. although sartre did use the language of transcendence, it seems that (particularly in his ‘critique of dialectical reason’) his insight into humans as ‘signifying beings’ (through ‘praxis’) fits well with what dan has been developing with reference to fabulation and the continual process of naming – or as i referred to it in my ma dissertation, ‘productive mythologizing’.
Love the comment about clowns and not importing one’s own clown-hatred onto Anthony’s comments. Anthony, can you say more about this: “this being the aporia of the analogy of being, it lacks an organon of selection in its interplay between nature and grace”. I agree that participation does nothing to save xty from Dan’s argument, since his argument is xty without participation, but I’m interested in your critique of analogy/participation. And Ry, can you say what you mean by “I think you can read Hauerwas without a participatory ontology because I think Hauerwas, effectively, rejects God’s transcendence”; what is the force of “effectively”?
Oh and Anthony, can you also elaborate on this (no need to worry about offending, at least in my case): “I don’t mean this to be offensive at all, I think there is something to it, and Dan really gets to the heart of what I find really appealing about Hauerwas, while what I don’t really understand is how some people take it seriously and “radically open” themselves to the “Church”.
Well, I’m thinking of the Protestant discourses on family planning. A kind of weird use of Foucault that ends up with the person socially supporting Conservative social forms.
As for the critique of analogy I’m suggesting… well, that’s more complicated and doesn’t bear directly on the book itself so I don’t want to go down a blind alley in that regard. Essentially it comes down to the epistemological issues with Thomas’ para-natural theology. So, nature and grace is always intertwined, but the relationship is always unilateral in so far as from the perspective of grace its all grace. That’s all interesting, but when we then move from there to actually speaking about God (in Thomas) we don’t then have (what I in my tortured writing call) an organon of selection. So no meta-reason why we choose unity over complexity, since both exist in nature, why we choose this rather than that. In my PhD I put Aquinas into dialogue with Spinoza, who I agree does something similar except that he selects the whole of nature, rather than parts.
So, Ry’s reading of the chapter seems to be predicated on bringing the book within the orbit of what we might call standard theological discourse, without necessarily making the claim this is the only place it can be. I think the book is undeniably in part about theology, but what does this translation of a non-, or even anti-, Christian theology into terms more acceptable to Christian theologians do? How does Dan understand his relationship to Christian theology in this regard?
My copy of the book is in the mail, but I’m interested in responses to Anthony’s question as well. As someone formed at one point by post liberal theology (and post-postliberal theology), the Hauerwasian resonances are apparent in my limited reading of Dan’s work, but not in an immediate or direct way. The part about true fiction screams Hauerwas, though, and Hauerwas at his best, I might add.
I really appreciate Ry’s post, which was a quite careful reading, as well as the comments, which are very interesting, and I think the readings in general of what I’m doing are on the mark (insofar as i am allowed to define what it is i’m doing). I thought Jonathan’s first comment (9.02am) put the coordinates of the debate really accurately. And i think the question that concludes that comment is echoed by Anthony’s most recent comment (10.45am). I am not sure i know exactly how to define what i’m doing vis-a-vis standard theology, i.e. how to put it in terms of for or against, etc. I suppose that one thing i tried to do, and i feel like it’s coming through, is show how the position of theologian, the subjectivity of theology (as we normally understand it) is derivative, or is the effect of a whole range of forces — forces that rarely (at best) emerge in the discourse of theology. (And, sadly, sometimes when those forces do emerge, and stay, they are subordinated to the discourse of theology, i.e. the very discourse which is derivative presents itself as original.) Though I don’t think that saying that makes me against theology, more it makes me against the position inhabited by theology.
That, in any case, would be my two cents about my relationship to Christian theology. I would be intrigued to hear how others would address the viability of this relationship, or maybe more precisely the viability of the theological subject-position that I’m trying to show as derivative.
David, I am not sure that I completely understand your question, but I think i get the impetus behind it, and i think it’s a really important concern. w/r/t “gathering,” i would say that gathering, when it is understood via analogical participation, is just a terrible, terrible idea. So, in my mind, no to that. But i wouldn’t want to invert that either, like, no, don’t gather, don’t do anything that might bring modes of commonality. I don’t think i’m arguing for that. What I am arguing for (and i think this is what you’re reading as well) is a different kind of “gathering,” i.e. recomposition. And yes, this has everything to do with signification and its necessity — i think the same necessity is the necessity of composition. We have to compose, we have to signify. I think you are right to suggest that this idea of don’t compose, stay always deterritorialized, stay pure, etc., is sort of a privledge. If one wanted to be provocative, one might say the desire for purity of deterritorialziation is the desire for white supremacy. (the face that cannot be seen is the white face, no?) i.e. i think that D&G are wrong on the face, or wrong at least insofar as they are read as saying deterr. is bettter than reterr., or that reterr. is a tragic necessity. Part of the motivation for this book was my sense that D&G, in this regard, are implicated in the Christian-secular dead end of progressivism / purity.
So, just to be clear, I am definitely advocating composition, and recomposition. I would just want to make that recomposition require the affirmation of differentiality. This is a difficult thing to do, no doubt. But it is precisely the thing to do. Darren is this the difficulty you are asking about, if I understand you right? The difficulty of affirming immeasurability while also maintaing some kind of tradition?
Just to return, in a rather blunt manner, to the questions that i think Jonathan and Anthony are framing, here are some things i think i’ve established, w/r/t to the position of standard theological discourse (i was going to turn that into an acronym, but, um…)
1. the new apocalyptics are ultimately unable to separate themselves from analogical participation; this is especially the case if they take seriously the relations between their discourse and other discourses
2. the new apoc’s, in fact, tend not to take seriously these relations, and so they (again, in fact) deny kinship with analogy, leaving them in a position that is (in my mind) ultimately nonsensical — their discourse is sheer invasion, it is related immediately to this invasion, and not to any of the other discourses (which, i take it, are to be invaded); new apoc’s will say that they too allow their discourse to be invaded, but note that even when their discourse is invaded it is still the true discourse, or at least the closest echo to a true discourse; in other words, however you shake it out, it all comes down to their own discourse (I beleive that readers of The last psychiatrist would be able to attach a name to this sort of behavior)
3. the very logic of Christian declaration (CD) undermines the subject position of standard theo discourse, for standard t.d., as analogical gathering (or as obesession with the truth of one’s own discourse), cannot constructively affirm differentiality
4. chapter 4 wil show the political nastiness that results from standard t.d.
5. indeed, if chapter 2 shows how the _logic_ of CD undermines the position of standard t.d., chapter 4 (i hope) shows how history and politics undermine this position
so, is there any other version of standard t.d., besides analogy and new apocs? possibly liberal theology, but chapter 3 (I hope) shows the problem with liberalism’s universalism. Also, someone i think on chapter 1 comments asked about Tillich. I actually see Tillich and milbank (TO) as the same, more or less. Formally at least, as both want an ultimate convergence of discourse on being and theological discourse.
Zing! on the TLP reference.
Dan, my concern is not so much with maintaining some kind of tradition; rather any tradition I would be interested in would be one open to the continuous discontinuities of decomposition and recomposition that you are articulating. In fact, my only interest in tradition (specifically the Xn one) is using it, jostling it, reworking it toward liberatory ends. And I think that you are on a similar page, with the affirmation of a distinct Xn tradition (if we are to even have one) being its ability to affirm difference. Thus, tradition is only important insofar as it affirms difference (and I might add, serves as a testing ground, or practical site, of creating the new). Rather, my concern/question is with what, if anything, remains the same in the minimal content of Christian declaration–enemy-love, forgiveness of debts, liberation in all its forms. I should stress, however, that I don’t ask this question in any concern for maintaining the Xn declaration. Instead, my question is just as applicable to how we conceive liberation, or love of the other, generally. How do we conceive what remains the same in liberation? Or tying into the fidelity language: to what does fidelity adhere?
You write that what is communicated in the signification of Xn declaration changes–and not just accidentally–in the process of deterritorializing communication (59). My question is trying to get at what maintains liberation as liberation through this process? Surely it’s not a transcendent regulative Idea? If not that, then what prevents liberation from becoming so deformed in the deterritorializing process of communication that we would no longer consider it liberation? To use an absurd example: what if in the process of communication is encountered a ‘liberation’ that inscribes the concept solely in terms of liberation from taxes or economic regulations? (Actually, that’s not that absurd of an example–they are called libertarians.)
Dan, very helpful restatements regarding analogy.
Darren, I’m in agreement with what you’re saying in your first paragraph. I suppose i’m working with the idea that the same, or the repetition, would not be identical, as Deleuze develops in Difference and Repetition. In other words the idea would be that even as liberation is repeated, each repetition (due to the novel relations it encounters / enacts) would differ enough from the previous one that it would not be possible, in a strict sense, to identify the constant.
It’s definitely not a regulative idea, and here i’m going to borrow Dan W’s characterization, which i hadn’t had in mind previously, of a constructivist pragmatism. I think that liberation, insofar as it cannot be separated from recomposition of relations and so on, would not be identifiable with libertarianism, which i take as a purely negative notion of liberty. So the emphasis on the composition of new relations, as an ethical task, would be very important for me.
But i do accept that there’s no guarantee a priori that liberation would not be deformed. It’s just that wihout the risk of deformation there can’t be any liberation at all.
I’ll keep thinking on this. Feel free to push me some more on it, as i’m just sort of thinking out loud right now.
Dan and Anthony, just for the sake of clarity (for me and for other readers of this conversation) could you specify precisely who you have in mind when you refer to the “new apocalyptics?”
Yeah, that’s probably not a precise term. I have in mind Nate, and I would want to limit what I’m claiming to him. Obviously there are others who are allied with Nate, but the degree of agreement of those others with Nate can’t really be determined without that degree being volunteered or there being more written work … So, Nate. If i speak of a movement it’s just because of my sense of his work being seen as a new development that’s drawing interest.
Let’s all just be open and honest with one another here: you mean to include me and Halden as well. Let’s not act as if nothing has been written and no conversations have happened since the publication of Nate’s book. If you want to address Nate in particular, then just use his name and deal with actual texts. If you want to speak to the larger conversation that is taking place around Nate’s book, that is, if you’re referring to the conversations that have actually taken place over the past couple of years and especially after the Kingdom-World-Church theses, then just be up front about that. Because here’s the thing: as far as I can tell Nate only has two clear and vocal allies, me and Halden. I haven’t seen anyone else join the ranks. So, just because the work doesn’t shown up in the gate-keeping journals, doesn’t mean conversations haven’t taken place, conversations at this very blog, for instance. Seriously, I cannot imagine who else you’d have in mind when you say “they” and speak about the “new apocalyptics.” I say all of this not to reprimand, but just so that we can actually have an open and honest conversation around these issues.
Ok, well I’ll include you (and Halden) then! No problem. My thought was just that since I was, in that comment, summarizing what I felt i had accomplished in the chapter, and since in the chapter i referred solely to Nate, i figured it would be more honest actually to make just Nate into the representative of new apocalyptics. Also, since in your post you seemed concerned to distinguish yourself from Nate, I thought it would be more respectful to maintain that distinction. But i’ll apply the label to you and Halden as well, that’s fine. Apologies for any miscommunication.
With all this being established, feel free — if you want — to chime in on the question(s) raised by Jonathan and Anthony, and that I’ve tried to articulate a bit.
No worries. I really am just interested in having an open and honest dialogue about these issues. So, let’s have at it.
As to the question of a participatory ontology in our work: the difficulty in responding to this charge, it seems to me, is that the terms have already been set in advance. That is to say, it seems to me that any account of transcendence, for you, inevitably trades on some sort of participatory ontology. If that’s the case, it is difficult to resist the charge, indeed. While you are right to say we want to distance ourselves from analogical accounts of participation and participatory ontology as such, we have never claimed, as far as I can tell, to be doing something radically new. In other words, I am quite happy to cede your basic point: that when we speak of the apocalypse of Jesus Christ we are speaking of an event that comes to us from beyond. While we are not particularly fond of speaking of “participation” in this event in ontological or metaphysical terms, this does not mean we cannot speak of participation at all. In other words, I am not convinced by your charge (which you make in the book) that the antagonism of “irruptive” apocalyptic somehow automatically ends up in a pernicious ontologizing of a relation between two terms. Perhaps you could clarify this point for me? My question is this: is there any account of transcendence (apocalyptic or analogical), in your view, that could possibly avoid the mistakes you raise?
I (of strange uses of Foucault :) believe that what Ry just intimated–“While we are not particularly fond of speaking of “participation” in this event in ontological or metaphysical terms, this does not mean we cannot speak of participation at all. In other words, I am not convinced by your charge (which you make in the book) that the antagonism of “irruptive” apocalyptic somehow automatically ends up in a pernicious ontologizing of a relation between two terms”–is what I have been asking about. What is this participation you speak of? (Again, I’m really asking.) What would be a not-pernicious ontologizing that can speak of rupture in a way that is not (as someone said) nonsensical? (Also, might there be an element of transcendence in Dan’s immanence, just one that refuses to be placed “outside” immanence–one might speak of transcendence as a feature of namelessness, of what is produced?). Apologies if this has all been explained in other posts on this blog; as a rookie here, I just don’t know what you refer to.
Dan, thanks. First, I am on board with the notion of the same/repetition not being identical. And the notion of risk or lack of a priori guarantees is one with which I agree (and seems to tie back to the influence of Yoder–I’m thinking of what someone (Huebner? You?) speaks of as his pacifist method-epistemology). Yet I am wondering about this constructivist pragmatism. To me, pragmatism connotes that one has some sense of where he or she wishes to go. And it would also seem to imply some kind of loose ‘principles’ or ‘guideposts’. Now in the case of liberation, some kind of markers (again emphasizing their looseness and that unlike regulative Ideas they are capable of shifting) would seem to be necessary so that liberation is not characterized, like the Supreme Court with pornography, as ‘we know it when we see it.’ And this is important because a pragmatism, especially one that seeks to construct something politically/ontologically, requires action, even in a diasporic mode, and this action, while not necessitating a definitive telos (or any telos), needs to be able to realize itself as liberatory.
Perhaps this is me looking for a guarantee beforehand, but the mention of pragmatism is making me try to think practically about diaspora. (Coming back to the Yoder influence, one could note that perhaps his ability to abjure guarantees in the practice of peacemaking was due to a belief in an ultimate Telos so that no matter how much risk one endures here on earth one does still have that guarantee of the Lamb’s victory at the end of the day.)
Dan, I finally got my own copy of the book, and so went back and read over certain sections, and I wanted to ask you (in the stream of some of the questions I’ve already raised) about your use of “hegemonic” on page 50. I think I understand your argument regarding participation resulting in centripetal valuation, where “gathering” names a privileged point of access to the transcendent. However I don’t quite see how the problem here is extended (seemingly necessarily in your argument) to that of hegemony. Here is what I mean: one can grant “the formal character of participation” (which you say in footnote 23 is your concern) and these concomitant centripetal valuations but figure that participation in a way that is not hegemonic. For instance, we might imagine participation as an issue of being but not knowing, a distinction that would delimit claims tending toward hegemony. How? By imagining creaturely being as only formal in character, that the privilege of said gathered access is not a privilege of knowing, only being, in which case one could not claim such access without also acknowledging the terms of those claims, making such claims less than hegemonic (this is “acknowledgment” in Barth and Cavell)–this may relate to what Darren means by Yoder’s epistemological nonviolence and what you talk about on 61. (In a converse way–or maybe inverse; I always forget the difference–one might say, as I understand Judith Butler saying, that hegemony could be fine, and even beneficial, within an immanent frame, as contestation over dissembled/wrecked universalities–what you seem to be getting at in terms of names). To be clear, I’m not denying that participation cannot be made to work for your account of diaspora, but rather whether participation for those who cannot deny it needs to be hegemonic.
I’ve noticed a pattern where theologians will “get out of” dealing with Dan’s critiques simply by pointing out that Dan is rejecting transcendence in an a priori way so of course the theologian will turn out to be wrong, etc. And okay: fair enough, I guess.
In this particular case, however, I don’t think Dan’s critique is located quite at the level of rejecting transcendence — as far as I can tell, the problem with the New Apocalyptic stance (and TP in general) is their refusal of ontological questions. There is a lot of huffing and puffing about how ontology and ontologizing are somehow “bad,” yet there’s no real argument as to how one actually can avoid such questions or, granting that this avoidance is possible, what connection the discourse then has to reality. All we get are hand-wavy gestures like Ry’s: maybe we can talk about participation, but only if it’s a participation that’s not “ontological” in some unspecified way. (Or one might think of a similar move where Barth rejects the analogia entis in favor of the analogia fidei — what’s changed is that we’re no longer using the pernicious word “being.”)
What Dan is saying is that the New Apocalyptic or TP stance always de facto relies on the paradigm of analogical participation — or else it’s pure nonsense with literally no relation to the world as it exists. I don’t think that the response of “no fair, you reject transcendence out of hand” gets at the level this critique is operating at.
“What Dan is saying is that the New Apocalyptic or TP stance always de facto relies on the paradigm of analogical participation — or else it’s pure nonsense with literally no relation to the world as it exists.”
So, in other words, there is no account of transcendence that can possibly avoid an analogical participatory ontology.
Adam, I am not sure if you understand Dan’s account of immanence. He says quite explicitly that it is not predicated upon a *rejection* of transcendence. I take this to be absolutely central to what he is trying to articulate. I also assume that this is why such little time is spent on a substantive criticism of transcendence. It seems to me that Dan’s central critique of transcendence is that it cannot do the kind of work immanence can do–that is provide a thoroughly politicized the gospel. There really isn’t much more to his critique of transcendence in the book, as far as I can tell. The specter of ontologizing an antagonism always lurks of course, but Dan’s whole point is precisely not to reject transcendence (for this would cede to the logic of transcendence, such that immanence would be a mere “lopping off” of a beyond) but to offer an alternative, a different way of conceptualizing religious discourse. So, all of this is to say that your own “hand-wavy gestures” really strike me as not only disingenuous but they also miss the point entirely.
It’s true, going back to Ry’s question to me, i don’t think there is an account of transcendence that could avoid the mistakes I noted. I do find the version of apocalyptic advanced by Ry, Nate, and Halden to be compelling in certain respects. The desire to articulate a genuine break with the state of affairs, to think from a radical alterity — these are real goods. My sense, though, is that these goods have to be immanently related to the individuals that enact them. If this immanent relation is lacking, then that is when one finds oneself in the strict opposition between God and world, or irruptor and irrupted.
In a way, I actually appreciate analogy on this point, just because it realizes that even amidst the supposed difference between God and world, there _has_ to be a relation. There must be some kind of sameness between them, there must even be some kind of interaction between them, for that’s also part of a relation. And this is provided, in analogy, in terms of participation, ontology, etc — so while ontological participation is not great, it does at least address these questions of interaction, relationality, etc.
The apocalypticists don’t have an account of such interaction / relationality, nor do they have an account of how the break is constituted, apart from God’s action. So in this way one gets a rather strict opposition of actor and acted upon.
Adding to that a little bit … what I am saying is that the lack of an account of such relationality (in the new apocalypticists) cannot really be maintained, and that if it were supplied, it would look a lot like analogy.
Jonathan, regarding your question about whether there’s a non-hegemonic account of participation … perhaps. But again I would like to broaden the question back to my central argument, which is not just that there are flaws in analogy, but moreso that the position of standard theology is unsustainable. Part of this is, in fact, due to the notion of participation — why would need to participate in something? Is our problem really that we are separate from the divine? Or is our problem, instead, that our arrangement of our world, our relations in this world, produce this separation? I would go with the latter. Participation always goes with the former.
One of the problems, i think, with the kind of passivity that emerges in the new apocalyptics is that it encourages a kind of fantasy, or failure to take responsibility for the inescapable relations (discursive and embodied, always political) in which always already find ourselves. And this holds, as well, in the refusal of ontological questions, i.e. of questions of interactivity, relationality, etc.
I’m lurking here as I, shamefully, haven’t had a chance to read Dan’s book. I did, however, want to jump in to see if we could move the discussion further along and back to the criticisms that Dan made. I think, from what’s been said in these comments, that Dan is saying the “new apocalyptic” folks have a dilemma. Either they reject accounts of participation and analogy, and thus sever the possibility of accounting for creation and differentiality; or, they accept the necessity of offering such an account and inherit the problematic political performances that in many ways motivated their move towards language of apocalypse, invasion, etc. If I’m reading this correctly, another way to say it would be: this new apocalyptism undermines the problematic performances of Christendom/imperialism but only by making its own creaturely particularity unintelligible (unrelated to and unable to account for other discourses), and since we eventually have to give such an account, the new apocalyptism will end up sneaking these rejected discourses back into its account (Christianity as the true religion or closest echo). That seems to be a substantial and interesting challenge.
Tim, yes, that’s a really lucid way of summarizing one of the key themse of the chapter. And i’d that there’s probably something of an appeal here: new apocalypticists, you can avoid this dilemma — you can have material particularity and differentiality simultaneous with the invocation of the new — if you would turn to immanent, discontinuous, diaspora!
Okay Dan, I see what you mean (or am trying to). I think the issue for me is trying to imagine these questions in continuity with certain predecessor formations. Much of that may not be sustainable, and that’s what I’m trying to figure out. (BTW, my claim that there is a kind of transcendence at work in your stuff is not to try to rescue transcendence ala traditional participatory ontology, but simply to say that there is an account of difference in terms of relation that doesn’t have to be spatialized in terms of outsideness; but this is neither here nor there.) So then if we are to turn to what you are trying to get at constructively, say more what you mean by “absolute value” as that seems to operate as a kind of counterweight to the the centripetal valuation you don’t like. What is that, “absolute value”?
Well, can you provide an account of transcendence that doesn’t fall into this paradigm? Or has one been provided? The notion that it is a priori a rejection ignores the amount of time Dan has looked at accounts of transcendence (perhaps that isn’t reflected in this text, but that’s in part because it relies on a literature where those critiques are already made, though I suspect theologians ignore them usually). I will just say when I say the New Apocalyptics I am generally referring to the people who hang out at your AAR sessions. So someone like Craig Keen, whom I learned a lot from, would seem to fit here too, no?
I once jokingly made up a typology that I still think has some truth to it, and offer it here with a grain of salt. Groups like RO are ultimately anti-apocalyptic because they think that the shape of this world is just deformed from a past glory and so it’s not apocalyptic but also just about some kind of grand restoration (rather than resurrection, revolution, insurrection, etc). So in this way RO always works for the World or for the oppressor against the oppressed. I thought of the group I ran it to be focused on a kind of apocalyptic, coming out of Goodchild, was always about this split in experience, one where the oppressed can become the oppressor, etc, and so the task was always a kind of insurrectionist apocalyticism that used the World against the World, but without any kind of strong sense of what must arise out of it. Then how I characterized the New Apocalyptics, who at the time was really just Nate, what I took to be Craig, and some scattered conversations on the net (so before you three co-wrote anything), was it radically rejected the World’s terms of the problem and so the in-breaking of God simply destroys oppressor and oppressed alike. Now I’m not sure how much any of the figures invoked here would like what I said, but it gets to the kind of similarity (with major, important differences!) between what I take RO to be doing and what NA appears to be doing. Namely, in the name of God’s transcendence, I don’t see where human power fits in. And I don’t mean power in the sense of governmentality or the power of the policeman’s baton, but productive power, constitutive power, potentiality, all that stuff. What bothers me is that I can never see an account of transcendence that isn’t predicated on the disempowering of creatures in the name of the creator. With RO I think it is a ruse, because, like the Pope in his Thomism, they always disempower creatures and then stand in as the representative of the creator’s power. With NA I don’t think it is a ruse, but it runs into problems like, ok, what then do you do? I was struck thinking this at the panel where Nate and Peter co-wrote that article… the conceit of it being that they didn’t write it, but some other people did. Namely Anti-Academicus. Now… none of us are anti-academicus in practice, so when it comes to speaking, that is to exercising human power, about God, as they did, do they do so in bad faith? With a guilty conscience? As a clown (remembering what I’ve already said about clowns)? And furthermore, why do I have to ask this question? What is the internal understanding of this performativity?
I don’t quite understand how we could separate epistemology from ontology. This still elides the radical immanence of Christianity, which is at the heart of Dan’s analysis I think. And so you can’t separate out Christianity from its political aspect as well and when you make it a question not of epistemology you still have the problem concerning about who “gets to know”.
I don’t get where you find evidence of such a basic misunderstanding of Dan’s argument in my comments. In fact, your claim verges on being uncharitable and even downright rude. As for the rest of what I said, it seems to me that Dan has basically made the same point at greater length.
In terms of your question, and to connect this discussion with my post today: yes, there is a form of transcendence without analogical participation. It’s called Gnosticism.
Thanks for your question Anthony. You may be right ultimately that my suggestion doesn’t change anything about what Dan is getting at. Still, the idea is that knowing (epist) doesn’t link into being (ont) and so knowing isn’t ontologically grounded (i.e. claims of knowing agree in identity–what WE say–rather than essence–what a thing IS.– folks that have made this argument in recent years span from Wilfred Sellars to Victor Preller to Stan Cavell). This is what I mean when saying that participation can be granted in principle without legitimating political action (e.g. hegemony). In some ways the argument that knowing (epist) DOES link into being (ont) (that claims somehow hook into the world, as the analytic philos say) is much harder to make than the argument that it doesn’t, so the idea I am pushing is controversial only from a certain point of view. Hence, folks like Preller show that Thomas’ analogical predication has nothing to do with ontology or participation, but only linkages within language. For reasons already stated, this doesn’t do anything for Dan but is important for me as I try to work things out.
I am familar with the framework you’re invoking, I just have never understood why people like it. Of course ways of knowing hook into the world! And this particular reading of Aquinas just doesn’t do it for me either. That said, I wouldn’t want to argue about what “Aquinas really meant”, since Aquinas, like Hegel, scholarship is quasi-Talmudic at this point. So I accept it as a legitimate reading of that work, just don’t get much use out of it (perhaps I’m too phenomenological and pragmatic in that way).
Adam, no, it is uncharitable and rude to suggest that I have been trying to “get out of” Dan’s critique by “hand wavy gestures.” Now, as far as your understanding of Dan’s argument goes I can only go off of what you’ve said obviously. And all I meant to say is that Dan’s account of immanence is supposedly not predicated on his rejection of transcendence. I do take this to be one of Dan’s key arguments; yet, whether immanence can be thought without this negative determination, as setting itself over against transcendence remains a question of pretty fundamental importance it seems to me.
Can we just agree that we’re all uncharitable and rude and move on to the topic at hand?
Ry, I think your wording here is interesting (“immanence without this negative determination”), because it can put us in a double bind. On the one hand if we reject transcendence outright (apocalyptically deny its reality) we can’t communicate with another community (so to speak). Yet, if we do accept transcendence in some measure we seemingly end up without any other option than antagonism of the kind you suggest.
But I think what Dan does can get around that. Namely, he doesn’t reject transcendence, but both just rejects the radical character of it. Transcendence (and Dan can tell me if I’m reading too much of my Laruelle into him) is relative and a certain kind of immanence is as well, but transcendnece is always produced. And that production is itself also relatively transcendent, and so on and so on ad diasporaeum.
Anthony, i see
I just googled you and see that you wrote a book on Foucault and graduated from duke! My comments were not directed at you. I avoided naming names in part because I just didn’t want to go there. But I am referring to anti- contraceptive arguments that I’ve seen try to use Foucault. Sorry, that probably came across way more dickish than intended!
I think Adam and I still have some baggage to work through, Anthony. But I am cool with moving on, if he is.
What I found interesting about Dan’s typologies in the first chapter, and this gets to his account of immanence, is that while he seemed to place himself in the PE type (“philosophical excess”) with Badiou, Agamben, et. al., he also seemed intent on problematizing it. And this gets to your point about how rejection of transcendence outright means that communication because difficult or even impossible with “another community,” as you put it. What I find helpful, and why I think a conversation is at least worth having or trying to have between all of us, is the way in which Dan tries to hold even PE accountable to its own tendency to slip back into a form of PD (“philosophical delimitation”). Insofar as PE does this–and I take you, Dan, and Adam to fall somewhere in this type–your discourse becomes cut off from “invasion,” as Dan put it about us. I take Dan’s charge that we are not open to “invasion” very seriously, and my efforts to engage the issues here should be seen as an attempt to open up, as it were, to a kind of “invasion.” I suppose what I am trying to say is that a conversation is only made possible if we all remain open at some level to one another–and this is why I reacted to Adam’s comment the way I did: for a *rejection* of transcendence outright really means the end of a conversation with theology and it also means a collapsing of the duality of Spinoza’s “God or nature” that Dan wants to uphold. Because here’s the thing: as a theologian (and perhaps even a “standard” one), it is difficult to speak to these questions and issues insofar as they are framed in terms of theory. To even speak of transcendence and immanence is already something of a foreign language to me and to Halden and Nate. So, while I am doing my best to keep within this language, this way of framing matters, for the sake of conversation, this is not the way I would typically want to speak about theological matters. We don’t typically think of our work as an attempt to work out some alternative theory of transcendence, in other words. We don’t typically think of our work as about alterity, for instance; or, apocalyptic as just another word for “discontinuity,” or something like this. Now, that’s not to say our work cannot be read from the perspective of theory, as you guys do. And, by the same token, I think we can read your work from the perspective theological discourse (hence my reading of Dan as a Hauerwasian). To be clear: I am not trying to say that you guys aren’t “doing theology” or something like this; I am really just saying we’re speaking from radically different perspectives and approaches to the task of theology itself.
No worries Anthony. I wasn’t sure, and part of me was thinking, “Someone read my book?!?” I do expect that some folks will not like Foucault read the way I read him, and I actually have written an essay on Foucault in which I make an argument regarding children (though probably not in line with conservatives). And yes, went to Duke, and spent my seminary years having this smart guy named Daniel Barber keeping us Dukies honest. It’s funny that even back then, amidst all those heady Duke days, it was pretty obvious that Dan was pretty unique/special, and so it’s wonderful to see his arguments come to fruition in this amazing book. I do appreciate your last post; I’m obviously new to this blog (to blogging) and am mainly trying to learn as I try to work out a few things in my head/work.
Well what do you think of it as? Why not speak in your own tongue? Though, I mean, I don’t really get why you would say this, since at least in my conversations with Nate, he was using this langauge pretty fluently and natively. I mean you could pull out Keenist language but… it’s not the word of God, it’s translatable. As for the question of “invasion”, I’m not sure you have read the intro to After the Postsecular or my essay in that volume, but I refer to this as contamination and mutation and it’s at the heart of what I do. It’s come to the point where I really don’t know what to call my work. I mean we have people like Nate calling us theological abortions (and I’m sure that’s where he would lump my stuff) and then we have a kind of assumption from philosophers that we’re nefarious third column for conservative ideology (guys you may not be interested in, but Levi Bryant for example).
Hi. Well, since I find my name being used in vain not a little above, I thought I’d drop by and ask, “Any questions?”
In vain? Your name was used to refer to your language (which I realize now looking over I didn’t complete my thought, but basically I think you write poetically, but what you say can still be translated into more technical, even ontological, language) and to your influence on a group of thinkers whose ideas are being taken really seriously in the book under discussion. That’s in vain? Or like, you’re so vain you probably think this post is about you?
Here I go walking into a party like I’m walking onto a yacht. Sorry.
I do not doubt that the language I throw about can be translated into other language, e.g., into ontological language. I am aware, at least sometimes, of those other languages and, at least sometimes, poke at those other languages, say, as I run raids into their territory. It may be that from time to time ontologists will grab me on my way through and will hold me in their jails. It is my hope, however, that I will always break out and elude the long arm of that law.
Eh, before we get too much into relaying this through Craig Keen, with whom I am unfamiliar, let me take a shot at rephrasing what I think is at stake. Namely, the relationship between theological discourse and philosophical discourse.
In Chapter 1, i try to show how the relations between these discourses are various (i give 4 of them, and I think Nate, Ry, etc., would fall under TP), but they are all inadequate. One upshot of all this, now that i think about it, would be that the question should no longer be about theological discourse vs. philsoophical discourse. It ought to be about both of them as they relate to their outside. Since we are now, in this comment thread, talking about theology, let’s say the point is not to pose theological vs. philosophical discourse, but to pose theological discourse vs. its outside.
What I’m trying to show, then, is not that theological discourse ought to be translated into philosophical terms, or ontological terms, or whatever. What I’m trying to show is the failure of theological discourse to address that which lies outside of it. This outside can be seen in various modalities: the discourse of other traditions (religious, cultural, whatever), but also the historical-genealogical context out of which the very discourse of theology emerges. What I am trying to say, then, is that theological discourse (and in this case that belonging to new apocalyptics) fails to take into account the conditions of its emergence, as well as the challenge posed by discourses outside of theological discourse. And, that to take seriously these conditions would undermine the legitimacy of the position of theology / theological discourse as it is now practiced. (If one wants to somewhat imprecise but familiar language, what i’m saying is that theological discourse rests on a massive repression / denial of the conditions out of which it emerges, and of differing discourses.)
My question, then, to theologians, is whether I am right about this in what i have argued in chapter 2 (and this point is extended in chapter 3 and 4)? If not, then why, specifically? And if so, how would you see your theological position responding?
(And note: while I understand that not all theologians should be expected to grasp fully all other forms of discourse, it remains the case that to say something like, “hey, i’m just doing theology,” is precisely to repeat the problem i am pointing out, i.e. that theologians double down on the security of their own position without taking seriously its conditions, its outside.)
Edit – having worked through my thought there, the second sentence of my comment should read:
*Namely, the relationship between theological discourse and what is outside of theological discourse*
Why don’t you read along with us? It’s a good book.
Anthony, I’d really like to, actually. I am liking much of what I’m reading here. I can’t, though, not now. There just isn’t room for it right now. But I may be able to eventually. Thanks for opening to door for me to come into this conversation, by the way.
Dan, I’m afraid I don’t know your work either, but I would like to respond just a little to what you’ve been saying here, if that’s okay. I’m sure that I’ll miss some nuances that I’d catch if I’d read your book (or maybe even remembered more of what I’d read above), but I’d like to give it a try. I do think that you’re right that lots of theologians don’t seem to care where their theological work comes from, where it’s rooted, what history feeds into their terms, what rhythms they move to, what social/economic classes they belong to–and that is especially true of the connections between theological discourse and philosophical discourse. However, were a theologian to care about those things, look into them, and come to some degree of understanding of them, that doesn’t seem to me to require a theologian to take up residency there, or, if she realizes that she’s a resident there already, to stay at home there. So, if I (a theologian) find myself using the word “is” in certain significantly theological ways, I might become conscious of that usage, consider ways “is” comes to consciousness especially among those who work hard to clarify what’s going on in that word (and its relatives), i.e., ontologists, but I may not come to rest in that work or engage in that clarification process. I may in fact unsettle that discourse by working to open it to another discourse, or rather in another discourse to another that will not yield to ontological discourse. That doesn’t mean that this “another” is irrelevant to ontological discourse, but rather that its relevance is such that ontological discourse is secondary to this “another.” I am reminded of a phrase in Eugene Rogers’s *After the Spirit*: “Nature [and I think we could say ‘being’ here] is what Spirit does with it.”
Craig, if I understand you right, you’re admitting that theological discourse doesn’t tend to pay attention to its conditions …
[“I do think that you’re right that lots of theologians don’t seem to care where their theological work comes from, where it’s rooted, what history feeds into their terms, what rhythms they move to, what social/economic classes they belong to”]
… but that if it were to do so …
[“However, were a theologian to care about those things, look into them, and come to some degree of understanding of them, that doesn’t seem to me to require a theologian to take up residency there”]
… it wouldn’t really make a difference?
The fact that you could set out and / or be comfortable with this point is symptomatic of what I’m talking in this chapter.
The first quotation contains the key phrase “lots of.” The second one indicates that this need not be the case, but that caring is not the same thing as submitting. If this is symptomatic of a disorder (and maybe it is, but, of course, maybe not), then it may be the disorder of refusing to settle, refusing to be appropriated, refusing to comply.
Dan, can I ask why you read non-residency as non-difference? I try to travel into this world (not an easy road) and then figure out what that means as I travel into hospital rooms, pulpits, denominational conferences etc. where I am reflexively influenced in theological/spiritual/poetic/liturgical/etc. forms that all get a little mingled and blurred; forms and discourses that I try not to unduly control or bind ahead of time but can continue to have influence on me (on which I want to influence). Perhaps I am missing something of the intention of your comment but it doesn’t make sense to me.
Dan, yes, I think I have understood your point. Perhaps I should clarify. What I was trying to articulate in my last comment is the need to apply this criticism of the failure of theology to recognize an “outside” to philosophical discourse as well. For, it seems to me that your account equally undercuts the claim of a universal horizon tacitly assumed in what you call “Philosophical Delimitation” (or, what we may call standard philosophical discourse).
My point is that you cannot ignore the particular conditions that give rise to your own theoretical discourse–to the ontological discourse that frames the very question of the relation of “transcendence” and “immanence” itself–and which produces its own barricade to any “outside.” Does that make sense? So, when I say I am seeking to open my own discourse to “invasion”–a discourse which of course is “conditioned” in all sorts of ways–I do not mean to suggest that I am “just doing theology” and you’re doing “philosophy” or something like this. What I want to highlight is my sense of the fundamental inadequacy of the theoretical discourse of ontology as such for helping us to say the kinds of things we think need to be said. And I would add that what we might call standard theological discourse I also find to be often severely lacking and inadequate to reflection on the gospel. That to which we seek to witness and that which we seek to truthfully proclaim–the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus–always seems to evade and resist conceptuality. I’ve got no explanation as to why this is the case; it’s just the way it is in my experience.
So, I say all of this by way of clarification of my earlier comment. If we’re going to insist on uncovering the conditions of theological discourse and its emergence and the way in which it is positioned so as to cut itself off from any “outside” and any “invasion,” then we’re going to need to also insist on uncovering the conditions of ontological discourse itself, including Deleuzian accounts of immanence, and the way in which it is positioned so as to cut itself off from any “outside” and any “invasion.”
Ry, thanks for your comment. Yes, i am also trying to undercut Philosophical Determination. My hope, of course, is that what i’m advancing in this book, “diaspora,” is not a discourse of ontology as such, that what i’m advancing is not something alternative / analogous to theological discourse. (So that I wouldn’t be advancing, say, Deleuze’s philosophy, which would be a kind of Philosophical Determination.)
What i’m hoping is that diaspora would appear not as another discourse, but rather as an account of the conditions of discourse. In this sense diaspora would not be analogous to theological discourse, not in the sense that philosphical discourse is analogous to theological discourse. What i’m hoping, in other words, is that diaspora gets back behind the very division between theology and philosophy, behind their opposition, and in doing so would evacuate both positions.
David, i definitely think there can be a differential residence. (if i understand your terminology rightly.) I think you had used the language of responsibility previously, and going with that i’d say that there can be a responsible residence. I was just noting how Craig seemed to be trying to avoid that responsibility.
I’m not trying to avoid that responsibility. I am rebuking it, as a vagrant.
You are rebuking responsibility for the relationship between your own discourse and that of other discourses? That seems just terrible.
First, I’m not at all sure that there is a discourse that is mine. There are discourses in which I find myself involved, quite a lot of them, actually. I am involved in them pretty deliberately as a theologian only because from time to time I find myself worshiping and doing so in such a way that all the discourses I am involved in are entailed. I would in fact speak of that entailment as a “gathering” (a word I’ve used for years for this, mostly because of reading Heidegger, but also because of attending to the logic of eucharist), not for the sake of gathering, but for the sake of offering what is gathered. This worship and this offering are a speaking, but I’m not so sure that it is a language among languages (even if there is another residual language, one of the languages among languages, that may from a certain point of view be called “theology”), and that because it is finally abandoned in an act of (apophatic) silence, a silence that is nonetheless a certain discourse. What I rebuke (and thank you for not taking that as an insult) is the demand that this speaking toward silence must conform to the conditions of discourse. I do admit that I have a special dislike for confined space (probably because I am a vagrant), but when I hear of a proposal that the conditions of discourse (or anything else, really) are about to be articulated, I get claustrophobic, terribly so. (See how much I screw up! What I most want to say is “Jesus” and in saying that to say “God” and I have said neither here!)
Craig, to “deliberately” be a theologian is to be in a discourse. This is getting a little out of hand. If you want to read the book and respond to the actual argument, then great, otherwise I’m not going to continue along this line with you.
Though I have been silent throughout the conversation thus far, I wanted at least to comment and to say that I am thankful for this conversation. Dan, I honestly have not had an opportunity to read your book yet, and that is due above all and most simply to the fact that I have not had the time to give it the attention it deserves. I have been following all of the posts in this book event thus far, and have found the conversations to be not only interesting but incredibly challenging. So this note is just meant to thank Ry for his post, as well as Anthony, Adam, Jonathan and others whose names appear above for their responses and the questions that they have put to Ry and myself and others along the way. Most of all, I want to thank Dan for his book, and for taking the time to articulate his position and exposit further his challenge to the logic he finds my (and others) account of apocalyptic to be caught within. This is clearly a work that I am to read and to engage. Please know that I will do so, and that I will do all I can to listen to its author’s voice, to attend to it, and to let it open me and whatever I might have to say to something that I could not nor would not have said otherwise. So thank you, Dan. I am grateful.
This thread seems to be coming to close so I just wanted to add that I have needed to approach this book as a ‘practitioner’ and professional of Christianity as opposed to as a theorist or theologian given my simply inadequate formation in these areas. That being said I find Dan’s book to be tremendously helpful in developing an orientation to my work. While I still may not understand what ‘residency’ looks like in Dan’s terms his work has nonetheless posed an insightful critique to what has been called ‘auto-referential’ theologies. I think it is completely correct to say that theology must take responsibility for the discourses that inform it (and in which it engages) and so what I think many theologians react against is the notion that their ‘faith’ is being somehow also being colonized by this project. But this, it seems to me, is simply not the case and is beside the point. Of course we will continue to encounter different modes of influence, understanding, and formation that are not directly mapped onto this framework. Trust, pre-verbal human encounters, experiences, and intuitions for example seem incredibly important in how we develop intellectually, relationally, and spiritually (if that term has any traction here). But when we translate these things into particular discourses we must simply take responsibility for that as such. And in this way I have found Dan’s work (and many other expressions here) far more helpful than earlier expressions of RO and contemporary expressions of barthianism for my theological (and professional) formation. Anyway, thanks again.
Again, reading from the thread and not the book, it seems like you are saying that theology cannot account for an outside without rendering that outside as somehow a prefigurement of / departure from itself (in other words, the outside is always explained through its orientation towards, or analogical participation in, the theological inside). So, even when theologians say they are open to an “invasion” from an outside, this outside is accepted b/c it is already, in fact, inside.
Fun fact: Dan’s book is only around 150 pages long!
Less than 20 pages a day if you take a week to read it!
David, I’m very happy that you’ve found the book useful. And Nate, thanks for your comment. Tim, yes, what you’re saying is part of what i’m doing — openness to invasion functioning in fact as a kind of prophylactic against the outside. Though, again, this is one argument amongst many, and needs to be situated in this larger context — which a fuller reading of the book would hopefully provide. In any case, Chapter 4 broadens this context, much of which I think you’d be interested in, and which Bruce’s upcoming post will be responding to.
Ry, looking at this again, I’m interested in your reading of me as Hauerwasian, whereas Alain (in the most recent comment on the “Broader Questions” post) sees me as more Yoderian than Hauerwasian. I think it’s true that I’m Hauerwasian in the sense that I don’t think words exist without bodies, i don’t think words can exist simply *prior* to some kind of writing, speech, embodiment, practice, i.e. i don’t think that the gospel can exist apart from its speech by bodies.
Would you claim that words can exist prior to these? Aren’t you claiming that this is the case in your defense of the “gospel”?
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