The last stage of writing is decathecting.

Going over my Agamben manuscript yesterday, I found myself unaccountably depressed. More than most of my other books, this was purely a labor of love. I don’t think I need to establish my expertise in Agamben at this point, nor do I especially urgently need to add another item to my CV. I wrote it because I had done the chronological read-through project, because I had the opportunity to meet him, because it just felt like time. And as I was going through the text, there were so many layers of good memories — of the first time I read the texts, the reading groups I had done, the chronological read-through itself, the events in Toronto and Prague where I tested my ideas, my conversation with Agamben, the vacation to Venice it made possible, and the writing process itself. The latter was sometimes a struggle, as I was pushing myself to complete the manuscript over the course of an abbreviated summer vacation, but it was also a joy, as I continued to find new creative connections.

All those good memories and associations, though, only served to highlight how much of a slog the editing process was and how little connection I felt to the intellectual energy and excitement that had gone into it. And it strikes me that something similar happens every time I put a book out — getting it out the door means losing that connection to it as a living process. An intellectual adventure runs aground in trying to make sense of formatting requirements and filling out forms. The production process only redoubles the alienation, as copy-editing, proof-correction, and (above all) indexing reduce the manuscript to gibberish in our own minds, a pile of potential errors and clarifications and oh my God why did I use this stupid concept so often.

In the cold light of day, I recognize that this process of decathecting is necessary — even a mercy. It helps us to let go of the project and hand it over to the reading public, who will make of it what they may. And it gives us permission to be done, at long last, as we realize that, even if this book could in principle be improved, we are not in any condition to make those improvements. We only really know we’re finished when we can no longer bear to look at the thing.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —

Out walking the dog this morning, I thought about the church across the street from our building and reflected on how totally absent church has become from my life — even as an absence. For a long time, probably longer than I like to admit, not going to church felt like a positive act, and Sunday morning still felt “different” somehow. I would often do something to mark it negatively, such as listening to a Requieum mass (God being the deceased). Now our Sunday routine is different from other days — we get the print NYT, My Esteemed Partner does cooking for the week, we normally have homemade pizza for dinner, and there are certain TV shows that feel more like Sunday shows for whatever reason — but it doesn’t seem like a replacement for church.

This process went faster with prayer before each meal. For a long time it felt weird not to do it — I had to pause somehow before eating, even after I’d forgotten why. Now it feels very strange if someone wants to do it, even if they don’t draw attention to it and silently pause before they start to eat. Obviously the fact that I eat multiple meals a day made it easier to get used to the absence.

In the most formalistic terms, neither of these things — regular community time with people who share our values or taking a moment of thoughtful gratitude before eating — is necessarily bad or harmful. In fact, both sound pretty good! Am I still letting my upbringing spoil both? Is the next step in the process that I figure out a way to reaffirm both in my own terms? Or — more likely — does it just not matter?

Theology and Continental Philosophy at the AAR

As co-chair of the Theology and Continental Philosophy programming unit, I’m pleased to announce the sessions that we are running this year. A summary of the titles, days, and times follows, with full information “below the fold.”

“Bataille, Blackness, and the Tumultuous Sacred,” Saturday, 1:00 PM–3:00 PM
“The Devil and the Demons: Neoliberal Theology in the Work of Adam Kotsko,” Saturday, 5:30 PM–7:00 PM
“The Jew, the Christian, and the Ends of the World,” Monday, 3:30 PM–5:00 PM
“Mormon Theology and Continental Thought,” Monday, 5:30 PM–7:00 PM
“New Frontiers in Phenomenology of Religion,” Tuesday, 8:30 AM–10:00 AM

Continue reading “Theology and Continental Philosophy at the AAR”

Tarrying with Christ: A Theology of Failure Book Event

This is a guest post from Rajbir Singh Judge.

While reading Marika Rose’s brilliant book A Theology of Failure: Žižek against Christian Innocence, that nettlesome question surfaces: “What is Christianity?” And, from there, one is led to ask a different question: what was Christianity? Even though it is and has been a religion—which, we must recall, is “a term of its own making”—the answer is not so easily answered.[1] Asking about the past itself is double-edged in our age of historical recuperation. The past can signal the recovery of lost hope that has potential to liberate or it can refuse the premise of a contraction and reveal Christian genealogies that continue to suffocate. The latter question demands we consider the difference a Christian past introduced with respect to today. But, then, the question turns again, to the former possibility. Is there a different subaltern Christian repository for our ailing present? What difference does today introduce with respect to yesterday?[2]

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Reproduction Interrupted and the Legacies of Systematic Thought: A Theology of Failure Book Event

This is a guest post by Ben Fulford.

Marika Rose’s A Theology of Failure speaks powerfully to a problem that has come increasingly to concern me as someone working in Christian theology, teaching systematic theology no less, and immersed in institutional structures like the Society for the Study of Theology that we’ve both been attending for several years now. That problem is what I take to be the central problem of the book: the challenge of faithfully betraying the intellectual and spiritual tradition in which one has been formed, as one comes to learn – and I am still learning – of the extent and depths of its complicities with manifold forms of violence, structural and directly corporeal, going back in different ways over many centuries, and still live today, and always linked intimately with various formations of Christian identity.
Continue reading “Reproduction Interrupted and the Legacies of Systematic Thought: A Theology of Failure Book Event”

Theology of Failure Book Event: Introduction

I am excited to announce that we are starting a book event on Marika Rose’s new book, A Theology of Failure: Žižek Against Christian Innocence, recently published by Fordham University Press. This remarkable study takes Žižek’s intervention into theology more seriously than any previous work — indeed, perhaps more seriously than Žižek himself takes it — by situating it in terms of a theologian who has been an important source for contemporary theological discourse and many other thinkers of the “religious turn,” though not for Žižek himself: Dionysius the Areopagite. This juxtaposition allows Rose to demonstrate the ways that Žižek’s thought, including those aspects that are not explicitly theological, responds to the inherent deadlocks of apophatic theology.

At the same time, the choice of Žižek as interlocutor allows her to escape the trap, common among those working at the intersection of philosophy and theology, of presenting the philosopher as some kind of moral authority who passes judgment on the failings of conventional theology. No one can mistake Žižek for a spiritual guru, and his problematic interventions on issues related to gender, immigration, and other political issues make him an unlikely candidate for a progressive exemplar, or perhaps even as a progressive ally. Rose is clear-eyed about Žižek’s failings, which make him an especially fruitful interlocutor for a tradition that has failed again and again to deliver the benefits — love, liberation, authentic community — that it claims sole proprietorship of. The result is a thorough-going critique of theology as a discipline that goes beyond the quest for a “good version” of Christianity, yet without giving up on the task of theology altogether.

Our tentative schedule is as follows. (After each author posts their contribution, a link will be added here to provide a handy reference.)

Wednesday, September 18: Amaryah Armstrong
Friday, September 20: Alex Dubilet

Monday, September 23: Ben Fulford
Wednesday, September 25: Tapji Garba
Friday, September 27: Rajbir Singh Judge

Monday, September 30: Eric Daryl Meyer
Wednesday, October 2: Anthony Paul Smith
Friday, October 4: Marika Rose (response)

The fantasy of high school

So many cultural tropes around high school are attempts to make our actions and experiences at that time make sense, when in reality we were all just flailing at random and mostly hated each other and ourselves most of the time. There is something humiliating about remembering — truly remembering — that we were once high schoolers. That’s why teenage dramas cast 20-something supermodels who move effortlessly within a clearly legible social hierarchy, to allow us to forget.

There’s a deep, but probably unfixable cruelty to the fact that our “choices” — if we can call them that — in high school shape our lives so profoundly. And there’s something in us that is so seduced by the fantasy of retrieving that moment and doing it right this time.

That’s the innovation of neoliberalism — it provides a clearly legible benchmark for what it means to do high school right. And parents are so eager to feed their children to that machine, because they wish so dearly that they had had that kind of clarity and purpose. The result is a generation who wasted their childhood — precisely by not “wasting” it, by treating childhood as a job. And maybe that means that they will be the first generation to grow up, to know for a fact that they did all they could in high school and it didn’t matter.