End of Year Boredom: TV Open Thread

Hello fellow legacy media users, I’m at home procrastinating on finishing my syllabus for Intro to Religion for the Spring, so let’s chat TV. I won’t pretend to be a critic or anything and list out 10 shows, but here are my favorites from 2017 in no particular order:

  • The Young Pope – I seem to remember it was a hard sell to get Katie to watch this with me, but once we started we were both totally hooked. If the Cherry Coke Zero scene doesn’t immediately reel you in, it’s probably not for you. The last two episodes, especially, are beautiful and surprising. Also, maybe my favorite title sequence ever?
  • The Leftovers – Adam and I have had some chats about this show. We agreed that it captures something about what it means to be a fundamentalist that is never portrayed in TV or film–empathy towards religious fanatics while neither succumbing to liberal condescension nor romanticization. Truly great character studies.
  • Insecure – Issa Rae makes me laugh. This is another show that bursts through the typical Hollywood stereotypes. Also, along with Master of None’s portrayal of New York, I love the way that LA is a character in the show. Insecure’s camera work, both of people and places, is excellent.
  • Master of None – Probably doesn’t belong amongst these other shows, but I really liked this season. At times it seemed like Aziz could have pushed the characters a little further and gotten to a really interesting place, but the whole thing is worth it for the Thanksgiving episode.

Dear readers, what did you watch this year?

The Prince of This World event wrap-up

pid_23793My thanks to everyone who participated in the book event. This has been a fun and varied conversation about Adam’s excellent book. In case you missed it, Adam has responded to each post in the comments sections. The Anselm discussion below Linn Tonstad’s post was a particular highlight. If you’re coming to these posts after the fact, you might start with Dotan Leshem’s reflection which provides a nice summary of the text.

Some Seasonal Thoughts on the Passion of Torture by Bruce Rosenstock

Thinking, Willing, Blaming by Linn Tonstad

In the Shadow of Eleggua by Jared Rodríguez

Freedom, Responsibility, and Redemption by Amaryah Armstrong

After the Eschaton by Marika Rose

All Too Humans by Dotan Leshem

 

All Too Humans: The Prince of This World book event

This response in our book event on Adam’s The Prince of This World is by Dotan Leshem, senior lecturer in the School of Political Science at the University of Haifa.

The Prince of the World is a very ambitious and most welcome book. It offers an important contribution to the re-emerging literature that seeks to criticize the modern West by conducting a genealogy that traces its constitutive concepts in (Judeo)Christianity and in doing so forces the reader to rethink the present. Adam Kotsko does so by narrating a history of a (surprisingly) neglected figure in the abovementioned literature–Satan. In the first part of the book, Kotsko samples what he identifies as exemplary texts that capture the essence of seven different “paradigms.” Each comprises the pre-modern history of the devil, beginning with the deuteronomistic paradigm and ending with the medieval, of which the first six are the summarized in two tables (P. 44, 95). This historical narrative that follows the twists and turns of the role assigned to the devil in Judaic and Christian theology allows Kotsko to turn in the second part to a more elaborate discussion. This discussion deals, in most parts, with the problem of evil and free will of which the devil himself occupies a relatively small role in medieval Latinized Christianity with excursions into modernity. In his conclusion, Kotsko focuses on demonstrating how secularized modernity is very much trapped in a world molded in the middle ages, which for Kotsko, if one may use this term in a naïve way, is the source of all contemporary evil. Admirably, Kotsko goes one step forward from where most critical accounts in general–the genealogical ones in particular–stop and sketches some notes towards a new paradigm. Continue reading “All Too Humans: The Prince of This World book event”

Thinking, Willing, Blaming: The Prince of This World book event

This response in our book event on Adam’s The Prince of This World is by Linn Tonstad, Yale Divinity School. 

pid_23793Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of This World traces the subterranean logic by which the devil developed first as God’s opponent, then as God’s hench-fallen-angel/chief torturer in the bone-chilling settings in which the joy of the blessed in heaven is enhanced by their contemplation of the eternal torments of those who, unlike them, were not so fortunate as to have been the objects of God’s predestining, grace-filled will. Kotsko treats a wide range of figures in the book, offering creative reinterpretations not only of explicit treatments of the devil’s making and undoing, but of implicit ways in which a place for the devil came to be in Jewish and Christian imaginaries.

Kotsko is an admirably clear writer, organizing a stunning amount of material in accessible, yet never uncomplicated ways. I found the final chapter and the conclusion particularly interesting. Kotsko’s suggestion that one way to break the cycle of demonization in which we are trapped may be to allow even the devil to be redeemed strikes me as a promising option for reconfiguring the relationship between Christianity and hell-driven modernity, bent on the production of carcereal spaces and disposable persons. The interruption of various forms of production of the less-than-human is an urgent, indeed essential project, not only but certainly also in the current political climate in the United States. Continue reading “Thinking, Willing, Blaming: The Prince of This World book event”

Some Seasonal Thoughts on the Passion of Torture: A Response to Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of This World

The first response in our book event on Adam’s The Prince of This World is by Bruce Rosenstock, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

I’m beginning to write my response to Adam Kotsko’s wonderful new book, The Prince of This World, in the midst of my preparations for Passover, Pesach in Hebrew. It’s one of the strange coincidences of our so-called Judeo-Christian heritage that the Septuagint transliterates Pesach as Pascha, creating a proper name with the accidental appearance of having a root in Greek, found in the verb paschein and the noun pathos, meaning “suffer” (Latin patior -> passio). Although Pesach in Hebrew is derived from the verb pasach, to skip or limp, and has nothing to do with suffering, there is nonetheless a clear thematic connection between the festival of Passover and suffering: the “cry” of the Israelites under the lash of the Egyptian taskmasters reaches God and prompts his redemptive response. pid_23793The Book of Exodus does not represent the suffering of the slaves as a punishment, nor does it seem intended to have an educative purpose. To be sure, the Book of Deuteronomy does enjoin Israel to remember their historic suffering in Egypt when, every Sabbath, Israel releases slaves and animals from their painful burden of forced labor. Prompted by his “knowledge of the soul [nefesh] of the slave,” the Israelite householder was supposed to imitate the redemptive action of God. He was supposed to lift rather than assume the burden of pain. Suffering, in other words, was not thought to be in itself redemptive. Action, not passion, redeems. That, arguably, is the message of Passover. The rabbis mentioned in the Haggadah as spending the whole night recounting the Exodus were, in fact, plotting an action against the Romans, one whose end was to lead to the martyrdom of the most famous member of the that group, Rabbi Akiba. His skin was flayed by iron combs (pectines). This is a point that Adam makes: action and passion reverse redemptive valences when the human body is unmade through the machinery of torture. This is the theme that I want to develop in my comments.

Continue reading “Some Seasonal Thoughts on the Passion of Torture: A Response to Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of This World”

Engels and Evolution

It is no great insight to point towards Engel’s admiration of Darwin and his desire to place his and Marx’s theory in the vein of scientific advance: “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history.” However, I am curious about how this analogy functions for good ol’ Friedrich. In Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels outlines how his scientific aspirations (“To make a science of socialism, it had to first be placed upon a real basis”) run up against dialectical materialism’s philosophical precursor: Hegelianism. After recognizing the “great merit” of Hegel and his revival of dialectics, Engels argues that Hegelianism is Darwinian, and vice versa. “Nature works dialectically and not metaphysically.” Nevertheless and as we all know–Hegel’s fatal flaw–he’s an idealist. “To him the thoughts within the brain were not the more or less abstract pictures of actual things and processes, but, conversely, things and their evolution were only the realised pictures of the “Idea,” existing somewhere from eternity before the world was.” But we, dialectical materialists, know that all past history is the history of class struggles. Bring on the real!

With Marx, we are told, “idealism was driven from its last refuge, the philosophy of history.” He goes on, “Socialism was no longer an accidental discovery of this or that ingenious brain, but the necessary outcome of the struggle between two historically developed classes–the proletariat and the bourgeoisie” (emphasis mine). History is and always has been driven by class struggle, but Marx showed us that the scientific outcome of this history, the evolutionary leap upon which we (in 1880) are surely upon the precipice, is communism. At this point, with all the talk of inevitability, I’m starting to wonder why I’m spending so much time studying this stuff. Continue reading “Engels and Evolution”