A Space for Thought – Recalling the Caliphate Book Event

Settling in to write this introduction to our new book event, I was led on a memorial YouTube detour through the late 1990s/early 2000s. An LA hip hop group called “Soldiers of Allah” was then popular among young Western Muslims. Their politics are clear from their song titles — 1924, Bring Islam Back, Muslim for Life, Imaginary Walls, Fake Scholars, Political Manipulation, Method of the Prophet. Their lyrics were blunt and their music unexceptional. Looking back at that moment now, the albums I had downloaded over dialup, it is easy to focus on how shortsighted was their faith in a politics militant. (The New York Times mentioned the group in the course of an article on “internet jihad”.) But they captured something else: an appeal to the ethical. Against the ruin wrought by nation and state, race and ideology, against the corruption of the world, of fatal divisions and scholarly misguidance, a claim for the possibility of justice.

Articulated with far more poetic finesse and in a more scholastic register, a similar possibility is the passion of the “Sword of Ibn Nasir,” Muhammad al-Dar’i‘s (d. 1085/1674) “Nasiri supplication” (translations by Aisha Bewley and Hamza Yusuf) to be freed from the aggression of foreigners, that wrongs be righted, that righteousness reign, that the destitute be restored, the adversary be crushed, divine mercy extend and sustain – a poem which so inspired Maghrebi resistance against the French occupation that they banned its recitation in mosques (it also exceeds whatever appropriations of it by Sunni quietism today). This is the echo of the tenderness and admonition in Q 27:62: Is He not Who answers the wronged one when he cries to Him and removes the evil and has made you caliphs (khulafa’) of the earth? Is there any god beside God? Little do you heed! Continue reading “A Space for Thought – Recalling the Caliphate Book Event”

Abusing the Proper — Blood Book Event

Closing out such a productive book event, first I must confess the difficulty of trying to read Blood this summer. In transit for six weeks between cities on opposite sides of this continent, my efforts to read the book were constantly distracted. These were Ramadan nights when my twitter timeline was filled with blood, pictures of blackened faces rubble and the black billowing clouds of hell loosed onto the earth. All (certainly warranted) criticisms of the pornographic consumption of the dead aside, the futility of such witness (perhaps the futility of every such witness, no matter how fervent, never again and the responsibility to protect), this is the evening redness in the west. But Darwish wrote, “we do injustice to Gaza when we turn it into a myth, because we will hate it when we discover that it is no more than a small poor city that resists” (ونظلم غزة حين نحولها إلى أسطورة لأننا سنكرهها حين نكتشف أنها ليست أكثر من مدينة فقيرة صغيرة تقاوم; full excerpt here, trans. Sinan Antoon). And so these lines eventually proved steadying against news of other crimson tides, these lines from the Darwish prose poem titled Hayrat al-‘a’id (“Perplexity of the Returned”) proved a steadying guide (dalalat) to those at a loss in these bloody times (dalalat al-ha’irin), trying to read Blood. Somewhere in that texture there is a pun or at least a tired gesture about Maimonides and Anidjar, namely the power of a line of prosody to exceed itself beyond its context.

Someone (Anthony?) rightly commented earlier that the book resists being disciplined into history or theology or political theory, being utilized and cited to other ends. I can see people working with certain of its close readings (Benjamin, Freud, Melville), folding these moments of the book into their scholarly arguments. Beyond this segmentary approach, I think it’s also possible to respond broadly to its ambition. One example of this kind of work is Kevin O’Neill’s forthcoming Secure the Soul (2015). This decentered ethnography finds Christianity beyond the limits of religion alone, in (indeed making up) the soft security apparatus of postwar Guatemala. Like Christianity, because of Christianity, confounding whatever differences between secular and Christian security, the logics of pious gang prevention show that it is possible to ethnographically demonstrate the idea of an anthropology of Christianity as compulsive — even in the Christian science that is anthropology.

My difficulty of reading Blood this summer abruptly raises the question of reading it among blood, that is, what is the relation between this book and the world, its Christianity and actually existing Christianity. Already Anthony has beautifully answered this question in a way I find entirely persuasive (Blood as index of an archive), and I should note that my question does not have to do with some of the more predictable historical or anthropological lines (what about historical change, what about non-Western Christianities) which I’ve heard raised by audience members at Anidjar’s talks (and which his book itself anticipates and sets aside). It seems clear in any case that while his book intersects with these registers it marks a more immediate claim (a further comment on this below). Rather I am curious first about the figure of this relation. This is a question Anidjar addresses throughout the book, from its opening to its close. My suggestion in short is that the way Anidjar characterizes this relation opens a window onto the formal status of Blood as critique of Christianity. And so although there is a lot more to discuss here, even at the end of this book event, I begin at the very end of the book:

Blood is not quite an object, not a thing either. It is neither old nor new; although it is also that and more. Nor is blood a discourse that would regiment, precisely, the course of blood through the realms of human and inhuman existence … As a ‘metaphor’ that does not relate to a literal term, whose referent is anything but granted, blood is, it should be treated as, catachrestic. (258)

Continue reading “Abusing the Proper — Blood Book Event”

Aviary Notes on Creatural Immanence (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

The book’s first chapters triangulate philosophy, theology, ecology; its later chapters undo this triangulation; they supplement and radicalize. The book self-consciously creates the space for its reading, not between or beyond philosophy, theology, ecology, but already torturously active among them. It is a book that actively resists argument. Instead it is a book to be worked with and through. Thankfully it teaches you how to read it. It has an idiom that is more intimate, closer to you than you first thought. “Ecologists are able to take people into a field and show them the teeming drama of what seemed hidden before. I will do the same now for this theory of nature” (217). Its scope is defined and chimerical: it opens onto itself. And it takes further reading. Continue reading “Aviary Notes on Creatural Immanence (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)”

On the Muslim question

i recently read Anne Norton’s On the Muslim Question (Princeton 2013), and thought i’d post some quick comments. A friend over last night to watch Seven Psychopaths and play a few rounds of dutch blitz noticed the book lying on the table and asked, “so what’s the answer?” What is the answer to the Muslim question? “All of the above,” I replied. “Yes to all of the above forms of life.” And like Colin Farrell in the film, a screenwriter who wants to make a life-affirming movie about carnage and destruction (serial killer serial killers), the book works through scenes of torture and drones and state terror to urge us finally to recognize what is already happening all around us. Not “war is over, if you want it”, because of course there is and will ever be conflict, but “snow removal and garbage collection, if you want it”. Norton argues that the figure of the Muslim today, much like the figure of the Jew earlier, is where a host of Western anxieties converge — anxieties about democracy, secularism, sexuality, equality, freedom. Yet these anxieties have less to do with Muslims per se than with problematics internal to the West and its history. And so Norton in elegant prose lays out just how unexceptional Muslims are. (How terrible that this is itself an achievement.) These are questions of living together, and people every day work out how to do so. She concludes:

Knowing these things, I see the Muslim question as the Jewish question of our time: standing at the site where politics and ethics, philosophy and theology meet. This is the knot where the politics of class, sex, and sexuality, of culture, race, and ethnicity are entangled; the site where structures of hierarchy and subordination are anchored. It is here, on this terrain, that the question of the democratic — its resurgence or further repression — is being fought out. (228)

And in this demonstration, for me as for others, there is a sort of relief. It means that the burden of these questions is not inexorable. It means they can be shared — with you, between us.

Almost the opposite strategy was offered by Martha Nussbaum in last year’s The New Religious Intolerance (Harvard). Continue reading “On the Muslim question”

History, Fictions, and the Politics of Justice

Chicago-area folks may be interested in “History, Fictions, and the Politics of Justice”, an event in two weeks with Saba Mahmood and Mahmood Mamdani.

Mahmood’s lecture is titled “Azazeel and the Politics of Historical Fiction: Sectarian Dramas Ancient and Modern”; Mamdani’s lecture, “Beyond Nuremberg: The Historical Significance of the Post-Apartheid Transition in South Africa”.

October 25, 4pm

International House Home Room

University of Chicago

Further details here.

Miracle and Machine/Islam

Philosophy (and philosophy of religion) no less than other disciplines today remains immune from Islam and the questions of Islam. (Islamic studies mirrors this, for all its contemporary heat and funding, in maintaining its textualist heritage against the vapid enthusiasm for “interdisciplinarity” bursting from the other humanities.) Thus Islam appears in philosophy for the most part either as a cipher for religion-as/and-politics (that is, a cipher for danger) or as a recourse to gain critical distance for one’s argument. We can offer various hypotheses about this limit, but remarkable here is that Derrida follows neither of these courses, trying also to avoid the temptation of taking Islam as “available” to his arguments. Thus Islam is introduced in “Faith and Knowledge” under the question of the name (Islam, or a certain Islam, what passes for Islam today, or what speaks in the name of Islam). Islam is “clearly not just one religion among others in the current debates about the fate or place of religion” (25). Yet when Derrida looked across the conference table at Capri almost two decades ago, he saw (only) European men. “No Muslim is among us, alas, even for this preliminary discussion, just at the moment when it is toward Islam, perhaps, that we ought to begin by turning our attention” (§5). The references to Islam that follow in the rest of the essay through Miracle and Machine – undermining the confidence of translation, figuring the risk of democracy, attacking the right to literature, possessing a global “prerogative” to the question of religion – should be read in the melancholic light of this observation. Continue reading “Miracle and Machine/Islam”