Liam Heneghan: “What sort of ecologist is Anthony Paul Smith?” (A Non-Philosophcal Theory of Nature Book Event)

The author of this post is Liam Heneghan

In the spirit of Schumann who when asked to comment on the meaning of a composition he had just played, simply played it again, it is tempting to suggest to those who want to know what’s going on in Anthony Paul Smith’s book: A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature: Ecologies of Thought that they simply read it. Cover to cover.

This answer is not a satisfactory one however. There is, after all, something very different about books compared to music. Books are what get left behind as an author moves through thought. And like all books Smith’s comes dead on arrival. In his inscription on my copy of his volume Anthony scribbled: “Here it is in the flesh of a tree.” Dead words on a dead tree. In fact “death” exceeds “life” in Anthony’s book, if the index serves as guide, by seven unique mentions (death has 11, some covering several pages; life tallies a mere 4). Indeed, explicitly within the framework of “immanental ecology” — Anthony’s term, drawn from François Laruelle’s non-philosophy, for an amalgam of ecology, philosophy and theology — he comments how it is the reader who must animate an “energy flow” between her living thought and “those that die on the page of philosophical treatises.” (p114). Words on the page are dead, thought decomposes: the author has sloughed them off. So it is up to us, if we care to, to bring life to Anthony’s book, not simply by playing it over like a concerto, but by transforming it into the flesh of our own thought. Heterotrophs that we are, we are invited into Anthony’s ecosystem; we shall dine upon him.  Continue reading “Liam Heneghan: “What sort of ecologist is Anthony Paul Smith?” (A Non-Philosophcal Theory of Nature Book Event)”

Upcoming Book Event: A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature


Later this month, we’ll be hosting a new book event here at AUFS on Anthony Paul Smith’s A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature: Ecologies of Thought (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). I’m guessing that most readers of the blog already have some cursory familiarity with Anthony’s work. For those who don’t, I’d remind them that there’s a handy link to his c.v. above. If you’d like to snag a copy of the book before the event begins, it’s available at Amazon. For those who will still be saving up funds even after the event begins, there is a short preview available via Google Books. You may also want to read through the book preview that Anthony published last summer, at the Political Theology blog. We have an exciting list of contributors who’ll be commenting on the book: some who’ve already posted here at AUFS, some who have not, some who’ll likely be focusing more on Anthony’s ecological criticism, some who’ll be more interested in his use of Laurelle. We’re looking forward to a rich conversation. I’m posting the calendar below. We’ll basically be publishing a new piece every couple of days from late March until mid-April. Anthony, himself, will respond as much as time permits:

March 25th: I will do an introductory post

March 27th: Liam Heneghan

March 29th: Katerina Kolozova

March 31st: Marika Rose

April 2nd: James Stanescu

April 5th: Dan Barber

April 8th: Basit Iqbal

April 10th: Alex Dubilet

April 12th: Adam Kotsko

April 14th: Joshua Ramey

In the meantime, perhaps readers will want to leave comments and let us know about questions you might have for Anthony before the event begins, elements you’re hoping we’ll address, etc…

Is J.M. Coetzee’s Jesus a Postsecular Christ?

I don’t need to say this, to readers of this blog. But I’ll say it anyhow: the figure of Jesus is a charged and loaded figure. To throw Jesus into conversation, or into the title of a book, is to throw a stone into waters that are stagnant with a field of passionate associations, ranging from the affirmative to the disgusted. The fact that J.M. Coetzee’s new novel The Childhood of Jesus has, ostensibly, nothing at all to do with Jesus has been raising eyebrows among reviewers. But, certainly, a clever man like Coetzee wouldn’t throw Jesus into a book title without making some kind of commentary.

I’ve long been interested in Coetzee’s strange and subtle deployment of religious symbols and discourses. There are those, of course, who want to label Coetzee as a postsecular. But this seems, to me, a little too easy. Even if there is something postsecular about Coetzee’s Jesus, this doesn’t really clear up what sort of a Jesus this would even be, or how this Jesus would function in narrative context. Would this be a Jesus that only a Milbank could love? Or would it be a Jesus that only a Caputo could love? You get my drift.

The Jesus in Coetzee’s title (who is conspicuously absent from the narrative) seems to call forth a range of associations: a meaty, sexy, carnal sort of incarnation (one entangled with bloodletting and sacrifice), a salvational logic that bodies can rise from the dead, a distaste for the regulated pace of law and mathematics, a resistance to the community as it’s given (and hunger for another one). The world of a novel is a world where none of these things are very much at home. The absence, in this world, of whatever might be associated with this uncontained, figurative Jesus is ultimately ambivalent. Things are lost, things are gained. Continue reading “Is J.M. Coetzee’s Jesus a Postsecular Christ?”

This Infinitely Malleable Thing Called Christianity

Yesterday, on Twitter, I posted Jeff Sharlet’s new piece at Killing the Buddha, “Ditto Boys”. Adam (who, I think it’s fair to say, was shaken by it) suggested that I also post it here, for all of you. I won’t summarize it. I’ll just tell you that it’s about Jesus, and American spiritual elitism. So go and read it. And read it all the way to the end. It’s a narrative piece, and it won’t really come together until you’ve read the whole thing.

If you don’t know Jeff Sharlet’s work, he’s written about the Family (which comes up in “Ditto Boys”) for Harper’s. You can access the piece, if you’re a subscriber. Or through ProQuest. He’s also written a book about it (which he talked about on Rachel Maddow.) He knows a lot about the secretive inner core of elite Christian (or Christianish?) organizations in the U.S..

His reporting makes it clear, I think, why these organizations are scary, politically. This isn’t hard to see. But what’s most chilling about “Ditto Boys”, in my view, is how he also illuminates the fact that – distant and removed as these secret organizations may be from the “rest of us” – they’re still a spiritually relevant problem. Playing with the relics of this infinitely malleable thing called Christianity, Continue reading “This Infinitely Malleable Thing Called Christianity”

Barbie’cue: The Prettiest Little Martyr

When I was a kid, I had a couple of Barbies. Not more than two or three. And I didn’t have any of the blonde ones. The only one I really remember was my Tropical Miko doll. I used to bring her to my best friend’s house and we would play. We never had a lot of fashions for our Barbies, so we mostly just devised these really elaborate soap opera narratives and would then spend a few minutes having our Barbies act them out. I’m not particularly proud of this aspect of my childhood. But, there it is. I was one of the Barbie girls. I’ve been amused by the recent Femen protest—where topless protestors burned Barbie on a crucifix in front of her new Berlin dreamhouse. The Barbie industrial complex is totally damaging in a gross way, so I respect the critique. I think it’s important. But it’s also making me think that Femen would do well to learn more about this facet of social life we call religion. I think it would be good for their feminist politics. Continue reading “Barbie’cue: The Prettiest Little Martyr”

Strangers & Hermits

The life of a hermit is not the life of a recluse or a shut-in—someone who remains indoors, to avoid strangers. Rather, geographical remove puts the hermit at a distance from the polis, and this remove is precisely the source of the hermit’s strange power. The hermit elects to make all of human life a stranger. I’ve been thinking about hermits since I started following the story of the “capture” of the so-called “North Pond Hermit”, in western Maine. As this story goes, a man named Christopher Knight was recently “captured” after having lived alone, in the Maine backwoods, for twenty-seven years. He must have left for this sojourn before he was of legal drinking age. He was only “discovered” because he had, apparently, been stealing food from camp kitchens to stock his larder. He was, in other words, considered a criminal and is currently being charged with more than 1000 burglaries. I was initially a little shocked to learn that police had to employ the aid of game wardens, in order to make this “capture.” Game wardens, of course, are trained in wildlife management. It’s almost as if the police were trying to trap and detain a mountain lion, or a bear. Apparently, he surrendered his goods and fell to the ground as soon as he saw the officers. But even after this, the police officers continued to narrate their investigation as though Knight were something other than human. They seemed to find his entire way of life unimaginable. They could not fathom the twenty-seven Maine winters he spent in a nylon tent. It was unthinkable, to one of the police officers, that Knight (who is clean-shaven) had not seen himself in a mirror for more than twenty years and had only glimpsed his own reflection briefly in pools of water.  There is, it would seem, something “mythic” about Knight’s tale. Occupying some exceptional state, outside of human civilization, The North Pond Hermit begins to assume the status of myth. These news narratives seem to relegate him to a kind of inhuman space—both “too much” (too incredible, too mythic) and “too little” (misanthropic, antisocial) for a human life. Incidentally, the courts have set his bail high, hoping to keep him in jail where he might be protected against media queries, and other forms of human exploitation. Continue reading “Strangers & Hermits”

The Ubiquity of Contempt

I’m about to talk about feelings. So, if you don’t like to talk about feelings, read something else.

OK. So, I really don’t have anything to say about Spring Breakers. I haven’t seen it. I’ve even tried to avoid thinking about it. But today, I let myself follow a link in an email from the Daily Beast to this piece, which includes a short debate, between Marlow Stern and Ramin Setoodeh, about the relative merits and demerits of the film. Their debate didn’t actually make me more interested in the film. Instead, what interested me was how Stern characterized Harmony Korine’s approach to filmmaking as contemptuous. He betrays a kind of contempt for the viewer. Setoodeh confessed that this contempt—which apparently oozes through the medium of the film and into the emotional world of the viewer—is precisely what he hated about the film. He seemed to be meeting Korine’s contempt, and matching it. Stern, on the other hand, seemed unperturbed by it. The overall aesthetic effect of the film was pleasing enough that he didn’t mind being treated contemptuously. I have to admit, I admire Stern’s cool remove and sense of blase. I find contempt the most difficult of all affects to deal with and I felt an immediate emotional solidarity with Setoodeh. Continue reading “The Ubiquity of Contempt”