Politics as Weather

Wake up, check the weather, and dress appropriately. People do it everyday. Sure, some climates, like that in the UK, are unpredictable and change throughout the day. That 20% of rain means it’ll probably rain at some point and that’s what the expandable umbrella tucked in the bottom of a bag is for. There is no way the weather will pass without affecting those who live under its regime, so the rain will soak some, the sun will burn others, pollen will enflame the nasal passages, and so on. There is not much one can do, in the end, to escape the weather.

For some time this is how I have related to politics. It’s probably a bit too pastoral an image for some and it certainly is not heroic. But it does capture something of the reality.  I get online in the mornings, no longer muttering fuck after months of intense therapy to confront and accept my anxiety, and I read the posts of those who know. Everyone appears to know what’s probably going to happen, or why it happened, or what we should to stop it. It would be interesting if it wasn’t so pathetic. Knowing is important; knowing is power. I think of this scene in that (admittedly rather poor) documentary about Negri where he looks at a picture of his younger self behind bars in some Italian dock (as if placing defendants in a cage isn’t prejudicial). He says that, speaking of his merit, he never lost the intelligence (a word he settles on after rejecting the word “hope”) to understand everything that was happening to him, despite the contradictions. That intelligence is not on display on social media chatter about the state of politics. My own understanding is perhaps idiosyncratic, but I have no less faith in my intelligence for knowledge than any of the intelligent people I follow. The energy to speculate may be lacking. Frankly it feels like it might make me ever stupider if I expended it.

So, I treat it like the weather. My anger hasn’t gone away, but it’s anger at the storm blowing out of paradise. And how do you fight a storm? You weather it, learn to escape it, to find places of refuge, to shelter others from its violence with your own body. But the time to affect the climate for good, to change the weather, is long past.

 

Our Hope Is Nothing

Content Notice: I use some sexually explicit language and sometimes use vulgar slang below. If you would prefer not to see such language then please skip this post. – APS

It is always awkward to give the (nearly) last word to one who rightly passes for a CIS-gender, straight man. It is perhaps even more awkward for the man who accepts the ontological shame of being such a man, rightly or wrongly. But it is a man’s world, as the song goes, even if all us such men know—and fear—that it would be nothing without a woman. James Brown’s lyric isn’t quite right. The truth is that we fear that we, our very selves, would be nothing without a woman. We would no longer be a he, but an unrecognized it. Without a woman defined in relation to a man this big, hard phallus that we fuck1 with is just a bit of insignificant and embarrassingly useless flesh.2 So as I have been given the truly terrible honor of providing the last of our responses to Linn Marie Tonstad’s provocative, challenging, clear-headed, and often beautiful God and Difference: The Trinity, Sexuality, and the Transformation of Finitude, I’m struck with the embarrassment of being caught with my dick out. I’m reminded of my own nothingness, the own abyss of my personhood, the lie I’ve been brought up believing regarding my own identity. Even though I am thankful for being invited to read and respond at all. Such things truly are a grace for me. 

That said, despite the confessional performances that often accompany those, like myself, who rightly pass as CIS-gender, straight men (and—my God—I’m white too!), such a nothingness bothers me very little. Though I speak with forked-tongue—or is it just pierced?—there is a freedom that comes from recognizing such a core of nothingness, a freedom that comes from giving up hope of finding anyway out of the phallic bind of being born this way (or rather, raised to believe I was born this way). When I read Tonstad exhort us to practice theology in a way that moves “from dick-sucking to clit-licking in touching God’s transcendence” I found myself thinking of the lyrics to Danny Brown’s “I Will”, a celebratory and graphic ode to clit-licking by someone whose body can’t be anything but queer in the world even as he too passes as a CIS-gender, straight man. There is a part of me that wants to read these lyrics as providing a kind of queering of theological practice for those born into these bodies and raised into these desires, but it is job season and I fear that already the honesty and impropriety required to speak of our sexuality and one’s hope or not in the Christian trinitarian God has me wanting to talk about this only behind closed doors, hidden deep in a valley, with one (or—hell—two or three or wherever the spirit leads) who share what can’t be shared with others. Continue reading “Our Hope Is Nothing”

Honesty and Privilege

On a Pages file stored in the cloud there is a list of the books I have read going back eleven years. Since coming to Philadelphia and being confronted with an ignorance as deep as America itself, a concerted effort was made to increase the number of women and non-white men read. If this was something written concerning achievement then the numbers would be given, but this isn’t one of those bits of self-aggrandizement. Instead, any success that was made brought something else to the fore. When a white male author appeared it was the most white male author possible. Thousands of pages of Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle series, mostly as a way to think through the possibility of a fatherhood that is not desired personally, but one is also an other. Read in secret, in a secret house, in a city by the sea. Where no one, save one, could see. The whiteness of pure white given voice in the pink flesh of those who lack melanin. Continue reading “Honesty and Privilege”

Sleepless

I can no longer make it through the nights. This is different from insomnia. I’ve had that, though mine always seemed to be about a certain kind of missing out. As if the fact of sleep meant I wasn’t out drinking or dancing or wasn’t up reading or writing. Staying up all night then kept me up the next night or I would sleep during the day when I should be out writing and reading. The worst of this was during my doctoral work. Something about the demands of a job, the demands of a certain shared sociality of employment, pretty much ended my insomnia. Now, no matter how late I go to sleep, I wake up too early. If I have a particularly bad dream then it might be 3am. If not, then it’s usually no later than 6. I wake up tired. Deeply unhappy. My pillow contorted into a lump that I have aggressively dug my head into. Nothing like the images of sleeping people on TV. Their head and shoulders comfortably lying on the soft down or synthetic petroleum-based something or other. They look so good at sleeping. They look so good. Continue reading “Sleepless”

Hopelessness; Or, the world is a prison for the believer

You can feel the anger in the voice. But the voice gives shape to the anger and you can see that this is anger of hatred. Not the anger of hope, not the anger that leaders can tap into to turn revolts or riots into revolutions, but the anger of disdain, of contempt. And what is more worthy of contempt than this world.

I often think in terms of biography. Biography can easily turn into sentimentality and avoiding that is certainly difficult. But I think in terms of biography because one cannot understand the world without that understanding being lived. Continue reading “Hopelessness; Or, the world is a prison for the believer”

CFP: A Postsecular Age? New Narratives of Religion, Science, and Society, 2016 IRC Conference, Oxford, 27-30 July

Donovan Schaefer has passed on this CFP that may be of interest to AUFS readers. Further details may be found on this flyer (PDF).

The past 20 years have seen the development of the interdisciplinary subfield of ‘secularism studies’ or ‘critical secularism studies.’ Previous theories of secularisation typically presupposed the steady march of human civilisations toward non-religion—in part under the influence of scientific advance. By contrast, these new approaches view secularism and narratives of secularisation as ideological artefacts corresponding to specific times and places and in need of critical framing. Are we then living in what some have called a ‘postsecular’ age? Why have atheism and secularism become so fascinating for scholars—and in popular culture—for the past two decades? Has the secularisation narrative gone away (or changed shape?), putting religion back on the agenda of scholarship, global politics, law-making, and commerce? Are developments in science contributing to these trends? What effect have the New Atheism and new deployments of scientific authority had on secularisation theory? Why do secularisms look different in different times and places? What is the role of globalisation in the emergence and transformation of secularisms?

Short papers are invited on topics relevant to the conference themes, to be delivered in parallel sessions of 30 minutes duration (20-minute paper, 10 minutes discussion). Those wishing to contribute a paper should submit a title, a 300-word abstract that situates the paper against its scholarly backdrop, and institutional affiliation by email to irc.admin@theology.ox.ac.uk with the subject line:

“A Postsecular Age Conference Abstract”

Closing date for abstract submissions: Friday, 15 April 2016

Notification of acceptance: Friday, 6 May 2016

For questions on paper submissions, please contact donovan.schaefer@theology.ox.ac.uk.

Request for Stats Related to Religion/Religious Studies/Theology Programs

As some of you may know my institution is going through a process of “program prioritization”. As part of that process we have been asked to provide information I have not been able to track down related to trends in the country related to student choice. I was hoping our readers might be able to point me to places they are aware of where such studies take place or, even more helpful, particular studies they know of.

The specific prompts is: Explain how local, regional or national demand and/or situational and/or external factors will impact your program’s future enrollment trends over the next 5 years? Cite the source for projections. 

Is there anything out there on changes in attitudes about the study of religion, or studies tracking changes in numbers of students declaring religion majors/minors?  Anything in relationship to particular demographics (race, gender, class, etc.)? 

My Critical Introduction and Guide to Principles of Non-Philosophy

My second monograph, François Laruelle’s Principles of Non-Philosophy: A Critical Introduction and Guide [UK link], was recently published by Edinburgh University Press. (As an aside, I have had really lovely experiences working with Carol Macdonald at Edinburgh and would highly recommend her if you’re looking for a publishing partner.) EUP recently asked me to write a short blog about the book and that’s now up on their website.

The book is organized so that each chapter addresses the same chapter in Principles. So, Chapter 1 examines the history of Laruelle’s non-philosophy with special attention to the relationship between science and philosophy alongside of glosses on the important concepts of “the One” and “radical immanence”. Chapter 2 looks at Laruelle’s conception of a “unified theory of philosophy and science” in dialogue with the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and the metamathematics of Kurt Gödel. Chapter 3 provides the historical background for Laruelle’s conception of the “force-(of)-thought”. While Chapter 4 does the same for “determination-in-the-last-instance” but also sketches a schematism of his conception of the One in dialogue with Fichte’s Science of Knowing. Chapter 5 turns to the method of dualysis and explores the way it functions. This is carried out by surveying three instances of dualysis: 1) Being and Alterity or Otherness (with reference to the Greek and Jewish shape of contemporary European philosophy); 2) reason and mythology (with reference to the notion of universality in philosophy); and 3) life and death (with reference to the concept of the “lived” in non-philosophy). Finally Chapter 6 presents a reading of non-philosophy’s place on the contemporary philosophical landscape. While I accept that the distinction between analytic and Continental philosophy is largely artificial and intellectually untenable, the two terms are operative within academic philosophy and establish boundaries, however fuzzy, for certain concerns and concepts. Here we see how Laruelle takes up these concerns and concepts in a post-Continental form, before turning to look at some specific post-Kantian themes that are mutated and recast by non-philosophy.

This text was written alongside another introductory work on Laruelle to be published in June of this year by Polity entitled Laruelle: A Stranger Thought [UK link]. The two works are distinct from one another. The critical introduction and guide being more concerned with the philosophical register of his thought as given in Principles of Non-Philosophy and more focused upon the specific concepts Laruelle develops there and that endure throughout his work. While in A Stranger Thought I turn away from a particular text to examine what Laruelle’s non-philosophy has to say about the traditional domains of politics, science, ethics, religion, and aesthetics in dialogue with figures outside of the academic domain of philosophy. The two texts are written to work as stand alone books, but also to complement one another should a reader find that helpful in their own attempts to make use of Laruelle’s non-philosophy.

White guilt? No thanks! But please pass the white shame.

I appreciated the way George Yancy talked about guilt in his recent New York Times piece. I have been trying to think through what it means to attempt an ethics in a world where ideal ethical living is basically impossible. Without going all the way with someone like Dworkin, I know that the relationship those of us with partners have as a couple or even those in polyamorous relationships, however loving and supportive and equal we all try to make it, is still structured by patriarchal norms, capitalism, and heteronormativity. I use that example because it is something most of us live everyday and can reflect on easily. In our homes all the problems of nature and culture meet, all the problems of politics and ethics coalesce, and we navigate them the best we can, but we are bound to failure. The failure of our society and our culture. This is true of myself too but I don’t feel guilt about that. Feeling guilt would imply I was doing some individual action that sullied something that was working before. But I do feel uneasy, I do feel a certain sense of shame because of the subject position as male I am recognized as and inhabit in the social world. 

This is often how I talk to my students about issues of race as well. I tend to work with this distinction between guilt and shame as derived first from the anthropologist Victor Turner and then reworked by the environmental scientist and theorist William Jordan III (though I suspect there are others more attuned to race that I simply have not yet encountered, this being part of the shame of finitude). Continue reading “White guilt? No thanks! But please pass the white shame.”

“That was a nice touch”: The Hateful Eight and the Inescapable Violence of Being American

Back in 2009 I wrote a post after watching Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. In that post I reveled in the joy of that film. After all, we get to be party to the killing of Hitler, to the refusal of forgiveness. At the same time, at the end of the film, Tarantino does something that he often does in his consistent refusal to allow some viewers-arguably the majority of them-any comfort. For, though we get to enjoy the fact that, this time, the angel of history wasn’t so powerless, we find out at the end of the film that we are in fact the Nazi. For the film ends from the perspective of Hans Landa after he’s had a swastika carved into his forehead. From the perspective of the camera it is in fact we, the consumers of this violence, who are now marked with the shame of our own enjoyment. (This is, I am sure, not my original idea, but I cannot remember for the life of me who wrote something along these lines. If you do let me know in the comments.) Something similar happens in The Hateful Eight, except without really any of the enjoyment of a clear moral division as there was between the Jewish guerillas and the Nazis.

It should be assumed that from this point forward there are spoilersContinue reading ““That was a nice touch”: The Hateful Eight and the Inescapable Violence of Being American”