John Caputo Is Generous and Kind

I haven’t been able to yet pick up a copy of John Caputo’s The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps (and it has already received a lot of attention by other blogs) and honestly not sure when I will have time to read it as I have a huge pile of “need to read” books already glaring at me (or am I glaring at myself in the mirrors that their spines have become for me?). However, I have read some of the essays I think make up the text and I have seen him speak on issues and concepts that are in the book, and while I rarely agree completely what has always struck me is Caputo’s willingness to engage with what younger Continentalists are doing. And Caputo has not done so with the logic of a cop or as an older thinker lamenting the decline of real philosophy amongst the youth who are less interested in Heidegger and Derrida than the last. He engages with a genuine sense of excitement. Not that excitement means acceptance; one must have their principles and Caputo knows what he thinks is important. I have also been very impressed with the way Caputo will support and give attention to younger thinkers even when they are critical of his work, as he did with the volume After the Postsecular and the Postmodern that Daniel Whistler and myself edited together. So, I have to admit I was surprised to see Graham Harman pulling a Graham Harman and writing some disparaging, personal remarks about Caputo on the basis of a disagreement over Latour. Most ironic was Harman writing, “Caputo has made a habit of being very testy about younger people in the field– see his irritable reaction to Martin Hägglund.” Now, the response to Hägglund was a response to a strong, often polemical, critique of Caputo’s work, so of course Caputo is going to come back just as hard (you know, sort of how Harman feels he has to come back hard on Caputo’s remarks regarding Latour and himself). But it is ironic that Caputo, who holds considerable sway in a small section of Continental philosophy, has consistently engaged and brought attention to the upstarts, is accused in this way by a man who has used his considerable influence and platform to denounce a number of graduate students or young, out-of-work PhDs. In the light of so many ridiculous egos in our field, I am thankful that kind and generous people like John Caputo also exist.

13 thoughts on “John Caputo Is Generous and Kind

  1. I think Caputo may “get himself in trouble” (Boy, I hate that phrase.) because of his knowledge and use of metaphor and allusion. Today, because of their lack of background knowledge, people confuse constructive criticism with sarcasm. Once Caputo held my blue book over a trash can, all the time explaining to me where I had gotten the answer wrong. I understood the metaphor immediately (I was much quicker then than I am now.) and listened. He then told me to go into the next room and redo my answer. Those were the days when you actually had to get the answer right, not just what you felt or perceived the right answer to be. One should be permitted to reinterpret but only after one has interpreted correctly.

  2. Jack’s a lovely fellow who is generous with his time and knowledge and unlike many of the Derrida faithful has gone out of his way to embrace the works of fellow Yankees like the late great Richard Rorty, is it too much to hope for that those of us writing after Heidegger try and rise above the gossip-world and stick to working on improving our thinking?
    Sign of our wired times perhaps that the devotion required for close readings is in tragically short supply.

  3. Caputo (“Jack”) has always been kind and generous to me as well. He has been nothing but a class act. In a time when egos prevail as you say, it is good to know that someone with his intelligence and grace is willing to listen to the ideas at play and behave like an all around consummate professional.

  4. About a decade ago I presented a small paper on Lyotard at Villanova during a small conference. After I was done, a diminutive looking man came up to me and starting a conversation about the paper, asked for a copy, made some good remarks and just generally encouraged the line of thought I was pursuing. Not being in the know about who is who, I only learned later that it was Caputo. He didn’t have to do it, of course. But it was very nice that he did. I still think that conference was one of my most memorable conference experiences.

  5. Since Peter Rollins has brought up an old post from 2007 where Adam critisized The Weakness of God I want to just say I repent of those words and repudiate, decry, cast out, and condemn what past, 2007 APS said. Adam’s criticisms are still pertinent and what impressed me and in part changed my opinion was how Caputo responded to them. Hopefully that clears that up and we can get back to life without having to worry about Peter Rollins is saying on twitter.

  6. Thanks for this post, Jack also helped me enormously when at a dead end while undertaking my PhD back in 2006-7 by sharing with me (an absolute nobody) pre-publication drafts of ‘The Weakness of God’. It was very touching, he is indeed a very kind and generous man, and I do like how this stands in such juxtaposition to his more recent dangerous and heretical theo-poetics of “God, perhaps”. Anthony, I would recommend you read The Insistence of God, there are some very incisive critiques of Zizek, Malabou, Brassier, etc. not without without a little humor… Jack is as gentle as a dove, but he’s also as wise as a serpent.

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