This one comes from my conversation with Anna Kornbluh at the Seminary Co-op in Chicago.
I have been regularly posting professional updates on my personal site, but a comparison of traffic stats indicates that perhaps not many people are seeing those. Hence I am reupping my link to a lecture, with lengthy Q&A, that I did a couple weeks ago with the Open University of the Left in Chicago. Also of interest is this radio interview I did with Doug Henwood for Left Business Observer, and another I did for This is Hell on WNUR 89.3FM in Chicago.
To me, this felt like a slower year, as I held back from diving into major new projects in the wake of completing Neoliberalism’s Demons last year — not only to stave off burn-out, but to keep the project fresh in my mind for when the time came to begin promoting and discussing it after publication. But there were some definite milestones. I participated in my first national conference session on my work, an “author meets critics” panel on The Prince of This World at the Western Political Science Association conference in San Francisco in March, and I had a similar event on Neoliberalism’s Demons at the University of Copenhagen in December. I travelled more than in any previous year of my life, including my first trip outside the Western world. All told, I gave talks in Milwaukee, San Francisco, Munich, New York, Copenhagen, and Karachi (Pakistan), as well as Chicago and Naperville.
I published a handful of shorter pieces this year as well. Ones that I’m particularly proud of are my two pieces for n+1, “The Prequel Boom” and “The Political Theology of Trump.” Blogging remained slow, but people also seemed to like my political theology reading list.
On the translation front, my translation of Agamben’s Karman: A Brief Treatise on Action, Guilt, and Gesture was published (publisher link) and I completed production work on a forthcoming translation of his Creation and Anarchy: The Work of Art and the Religion of Capitalism (preorder link). I also engaged in a major project where I am attempting to read (and take detailed notes on) Agamben’s complete works in as close to chronological order as I can discern — as of today, I have made it up to 2011 and hope to catch up to the present day within the next couple months. It is likely that a book will emerge from this work eventually. In other language-related news, I continued to keep up with biblical Hebrew, making my way through Genesis, most of Exodus (save the two repeated passages on the construction of the tabernacle), and the bulk of Judges (only two chapters left as of today).
In terms of teaching, the merger with North Central opened up opportunities to teach in different formats. Over the last couple terms, I developed a successful first-year seminar course centered on the Faust legend, and my proposal to teach a course on the Qur’an in the honors program next academic year was accepted. Within the Shimer program, I am proud to have taught the senior capstone course for the first class to graduate from North Central. I also helped to coordinate a curricular reorganization and revision that will take effect next fall, which will hopefully make our curriculum more interdisciplinary and diverse while preserving our existing strengths.
So even after a “slow year,” I feel pretty tired.
[Editor’s Note: The following is the second part of a guest post by David Kishik, whose The Book of Shem: On Genesis Before Abraham was recently released by Stanford University Press. Part 1 is available here.]
It is unknown when exactly Genesis was written, but we can say with sufficient certainty that it was, in the eyes of whoever wrote it, a fourth-millennium composition. Put differently, it is a product of the middle of history, or a Wednesday around noon, so to speak. From this perspective, the axis around which history revolves may coincide with the very introduction of the text under consideration, along with the singular God at its center. This three-thousand-year-old midpoint is like the apex of a rainbow: the moment when thinking about the generative beginning of the world gives way to meditations about its idle ending. At this zenith, which is older than Socrates, the world begins its slow decline.
[Editor’s Note: The following is the first part of a guest post by David Kishik, whose The Book of Shem: On Genesis Before Abraham was recently released by Stanford University Press.]
The God of Genesis declares his seventh day of creation holy, not because on that day something magnificent was made, but because nothing was. Hence the Hebrew word for seven (sheva) can also mean satiation or saturation (sova), while the word for Saturday (shabat) can also mean cessation or going on strike (shavat). God’s supreme act is not the creation of humanity, but his own recreation.
It is only in Exodus, after Moses received the Ten Commandments, that the Sabbath was instituted as a temporal temple to stop the linear flow of everyday life. But this weekly commemoration of the coda to the cosmogenic story is never mentioned in Genesis. To simply assume that the seven days of creation reflect the seven days of the week is to ignore another canonical interpretation, one that has been well established by the highest authorities of the Judeo-Christian tradition since early medieval times: millennialism.
According to this theory, one godly day represents a thousand earthly years. Hence all of human history is already encapsulated in the first chapter of Genesis. Everything is already written. Each day of creation is a prefiguration of a distinct millennial epoch. The true Sabbath is therefore not the last weekday but the seventh millennium. What the year 6000 will mark is not exactly the end of the world but the rest of the world, after which some say that it will begin anew.
[Note: This text represents the introduction to a lecture I gave at the University of Copenhagen earlier this month. The remainder of the lecture investigates The Kingdom and the Glory at greater length. I felt that this section can stand alone and may be of broader interest.]
Giorgio Agamben is surely the most theologically erudite living philosopher. While theology has formed an increasingly important site of reflection for contemporary European philosophy—as seen in the so-called “religious turn” in phenomenology and the more recent studies of the apostle Paul from a materialist perspective—there is no other single figure who has displayed such an imposing command of the full range of the Christian intellectual heritage, from the New Testament to the great theological debates of the 20th century, from doctrinal treatises to liturgical texts, from the stakes of the doctrine of the Trinity down to the smallest details of a monk’s habit. As a scholar of theology, I often find irritating errors in the works of other philosophers, but never Agamben. There is always room to nitpick—to lament that a certain scholar has not been cited, a certain theme left unexplored—but the quality of his work on Christian theology is unquestionable.
It is not only the depth and breadth of his engagement with Christian themes that sets Agamben apart from his contemporaries. If we compare him with another theologically astute philosopher such as Jean-Luc Marion, we see a clear difference in purpose. Whereas Marion, always a conservative Catholic thinker, has increasingly advanced a confessional theological agenda in his work, Agamben’s purpose has been unrelentingly critical and genealogical. Although he does have normative commitments that lead him to privilege certain figures in the history of Christianity—notably Paul and the early Franciscans—and view later developments as a kind of betrayal, he never advances a doctrine that takes those privileged sources as an authoritative canon. Instead, their successes and failures serve as materials for thinking through our own contemporary dilemmas.
Another way of putting this is that he draws no firm distinction between theological and philosophical materials. Continue reading “Agamben on philosophy and theology”
[Note: Ted Jennings shared this text with a circle of friends who are mourning the recent death of Thomas J.J. Altizer. It is published here with his permission.]
When I first came to Candler School of Theology at Emory in 1964 I heard stories of Tom Altizer and his motorcycle, subsequently sabotaged I believe. I became aware that many of my favorite professors were part of what was then known as the Altizer circle (Boers, Hoffmann, Mallard, Runyon, and a couple of others) who exchanged papers they dared not publish on radical theology. After 1965 (when I had become president of the student body) I organized a debate between the philosophical (but very conservative) theologian on the Candler faculty and Tom. It filled the largest venue then available at Emory, complete with press. In the course of setting that up I had my first conversations with Tom, whose energy was matched only by his unfailing kindness and generosity.