Abstract: Rather than delve into the potential theo-logic of a Butlerian “constructivist” account of gender, this blog post proposes that we pause, and instead question the discursive operations undergirding the very idea of “the future of systematic theology.” The effort to secure the existence of systematic theology, I suggest, is idolatrous—rather, systematic theology needs to lose its own life in order to potentially save it, and can begin to move in that direction by attending to the concrete, historic, material, discursive realities of people’s lives, especially those on the underside. This “losing” is both practical and apophatic, in that it acknowledges that the task demands constant attention to the material realities of people’s lives and the discursive regimes that produce those realities, and that we cannot seek to grasp or claim or secure a telos or overarching discourse. I end, then, by turning briefly to the potentialities within a constructivist frame, and offering some suggestions for possibilities for Christian feminist theologies.
Part Two: Bodies Matter (as do the ways they are configured in and through power relations)
Baker argues that theological studies need not be a “masculine form” and that one of the ways it can instead function within/as “the redeemed form of Mary,” is through a focus on “receptivity”—which he identifies, at least in part, as close readings of texts and engagement with Biblical, historical, and literary material—as opposed to “mostly creative construction in the realms of logic and metaphysics.”
While I have a number of theoretical and theological concerns with the association between receptivity and femininity, which I’ll address in the next, and final, post on this topic, on some level, I can get behind, or at least understand, this. Different strands and iterations of feminist theory and politics have named masculine modes and forms of discourse as problematic and have called for the embodiment of alternate, feminine forms—most notably, the “French feminists:” Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous, Clement… One might also look to some of the U.S. “second-wave” feminists: Carol Gilligan, Catherine Mackinnon, Andrea Dworkin…
What Baker’s analysis lacks in this regard, however, is an attention to the discursive and material realities that engender these dynamics—something that is central to the work of the aforementioned “sexual difference” and “second wave” feminists. Baker calls for a greater focus on “receptivity” without contending with, or even acknowledging, the ways in which bodies and/in power function. Continue reading “Part Two: Bodies Matter (A Response to Tony Baker’s “Gender and the Studio”)”
Part One: The Pink Penis on my Desk (A Lengthy Introduction)
In addition to the random smattering of papers, books, and other odd objects that are strewn across my desk at various points, there are a few items that are consistent adornments—there are the practical things: the external hard-drive , the file folder, the stapler; and the sentimental things—a stained glass cross I was given upon graduating from div school, a wine cork that reminds me of a particularly happy time in my life, and a bedazzled pink penis.
Often, people don’t comment on the pink penis, probably because they’re embarrassed, or think I’ll be embarrassed. But occasionally, the bold ones will ask,
“Why do you have a pink dildo on your desk?”
I explain to them that, actually, it is not a dildo, but rather, a water gun. When this answer proves unsatisfactory or incomplete, as is often the case, I tell them a version of this story….
Plato or Paul? is an impressive text, by virtue of its detail alone. Rather then expend the time noting its achievements, I want to focus on one contribution of this text that I found particularly valuable, and the subsequent concerns and questions that arise for me in light of that contribution. Jennings explains:
Homophobia, far from being a natural concomitant of Christian perspectives, actually takes a very long time to be engrafted onto the body of Christianity. It is in this sense a ‘foreign element’ that can therefore be removed without in any way affecting what is important about early or patristic Christianity (14).
In this chapter, Carter continues his “investigation about an emerging Afro-Christian sensibility struggling with and against modernity” by looking at the 1845 Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass (286). Douglass, for Carter, provides further theological insights in that, whereas “Easter delivers Hammon back into captivity, Douglass’ 1845 Narrative struggles to undo this moment so that Easter will yield freedom rather than recapitulate him into bondage.” (286). Carter here is particularly focusing on Douglass’ religious critique of how America defined who he was, which proves instructive for two reasons. First, it points to the contradictions that become embroiled in emancipatory politics of identity—how “such a politics often repeats the form of the self that needs overcoming,”—and second, those contradictions illuminate how theological discourse is bound up in this, and how it contributes to the problem (287).
In chapter 2, Carter furthers his claim that “the story of the modern invention of race could not be adequately told apart from the story of how Christianity came to be mythologized, reimagined as the paradigmatic modern “religion”…[which] could not be adequately told apart from the story of the politics of that transformation” (80). This politics is one that marks the identity of “the people” over and against the people that it is not, and here Carter examines how this plays out over an “anxiety over Jewish existence” in modernity, using the work of Immanuel Kant as a paradigmatic example.
The Rassenfrage and the Judenfrage converge in Kant’s work, in “the hoped for modern cosmopolis, the perfect world order in which the ideal of the unity of the human species actualizes itself in the perfection of a race type, the white race” (81). In this chapter, Carter shows how this vision of the perfected white race is “based on a new conception of homo religiosus as it is articulated within his vision of modernity as a great drama of religion” (81). Carter articulates this claim through three sections.
In the first chapter of Race, Carter begins the work of excavating what is theological—to be slightly more specific, what is theopolitical—about the problem of race, making “a case for how matters of race, religion, and the modern state as the organizing form of civil society and public culture are far from unrelated” (39). To begin, Carter outlines two contemporary accounts of race, noting how they lay a sort of groundwork for his own analysis but ultimately are inadequate, thus opening up the space for his own contribution to this area of scholarship.