Miraculous & Extremely Fragile: A Theology of Failure Book Event response

In my book, I argue that for Žižek there is a difference between love according to desire, which is ‘to believe in a false vision of purity and perfection’, suppressing and disavowing the inconsistencies and imperfections of the one beloved; and love according to drive which confronts ‘imperfection and incompleteness in all of their grotesque materiality’ (139). I am so grateful for the close attention that the respondents to my book have paid to what I have written; for the probing questions which push at the incompleteness and inconsistencies what I have written. But, as I also write, ‘real love may resemble cruelty’; reading these responses has opened new questions for me and reopened questions I thought I had settled; has had me teetering on the edge of exhilaration and despair; has me sat, now, trying to do justice to the careful attention which has been given to me.

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Never Enough; the Unanswerable Demand of the Heretic, the Whore, the Witch, and the Slave: A Theology of Failure Book Event

A Theology of Failure could be described as a book about taking responsibility. Not the responsibility invoked by conservatives and reactionaries whose demand is always put to those they cast as irresponsible: the poor, single mothers, the entire Black community, or whatever oppressed grouping of subject-positions is at the moment convenient to cast as disrupting society’s wholeness. Marika’s is a call to a form of responsibility that is normally disavowed by casting responsibility as adherence to the symbolic law. Grow up, get a job, settle down,  buy a house, have kids. Actions that are, in terms of their reality, impossible to achieve within the symbolic and ultimately life-denying and death-dealing when one tries too hard to achieve them. The responsibility that is denied by cleaving to these symbolic demands and falling into their snares is much harder to respond to.  It is the demand carried in the  ethical maxim (mis)attributed to Lacan: “do not give up on your desire.”[1]

This ethical axiom arguably misreads Lacan’s original claims, but has been developed by Žižek and Zupančič as a way to speak about the subtle shift from the logic of desire to drive.[2] For in not giving up on your desire one is caught up into the constant return to the question “what is my desire?” and finds that it is nameless and demands to not be turned away from in the making of a fetish as some object or name whose capture is impossible and so anxiety producing. This maxim speaks to the central importance of the concepts of desire and drive and their distinction in A Theology of Failure. Continue reading “Never Enough; the Unanswerable Demand of the Heretic, the Whore, the Witch, and the Slave: A Theology of Failure Book Event”

On Contaminating Drive with Desire and (not quite) Ending the World: A Theology of Failure Book Event

“Everybody knows that theology has failed,” Rose begins, before going on to do it better than anyone has in a long time. I’m sure that her version of this joke is funnier, too. How can we take failure seriously when its spokesperson can’t even bother to fail in her own book on the subject. Gotcha, hypocrite!

I’ll get serious. Rose’s book provides a necessary opportunity to think about different ways to fail. And one of the thoughts that returned over and over while reading the book was the question of how to differentiate between kinds of failure without beginning again to carve out a space for innocence.

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Tarrying with Christ: A Theology of Failure Book Event

This is a guest post from Rajbir Singh Judge.

While reading Marika Rose’s brilliant book A Theology of Failure: Žižek against Christian Innocence, that nettlesome question surfaces: “What is Christianity?” And, from there, one is led to ask a different question: what was Christianity? Even though it is and has been a religion—which, we must recall, is “a term of its own making”—the answer is not so easily answered.[1] Asking about the past itself is double-edged in our age of historical recuperation. The past can signal the recovery of lost hope that has potential to liberate or it can refuse the premise of a contraction and reveal Christian genealogies that continue to suffocate. The latter question demands we consider the difference a Christian past introduced with respect to today. But, then, the question turns again, to the former possibility. Is there a different subaltern Christian repository for our ailing present? What difference does today introduce with respect to yesterday?[2]

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Reproduction Interrupted and the Legacies of Systematic Thought: A Theology of Failure Book Event

This is a guest post by Ben Fulford.

Marika Rose’s A Theology of Failure speaks powerfully to a problem that has come increasingly to concern me as someone working in Christian theology, teaching systematic theology no less, and immersed in institutional structures like the Society for the Study of Theology that we’ve both been attending for several years now. That problem is what I take to be the central problem of the book: the challenge of faithfully betraying the intellectual and spiritual tradition in which one has been formed, as one comes to learn – and I am still learning – of the extent and depths of its complicities with manifold forms of violence, structural and directly corporeal, going back in different ways over many centuries, and still live today, and always linked intimately with various formations of Christian identity.
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Good, Evil, and Drive: A Theology of Failure Book Event

What does it mean to be a failure? How can we be adequate to a reality that demands that we cede all hope of success?  These are questions that came to mind as I was reading Marika’s A Theology of Failure. In thinking through these questions, I would like to focus my remarks on some themes that I found particularly striking throughout the book: the relationship between freedom, ethics, and the dialectical identity of good and evil.

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On Dionysius, Mystic Discourse, and Catastrophe: A Theology of Failure Book Event

Post by Alex Dubilet

            It is always fascinating to see a book finally appear, the first elements of which one encountered in much earlier forms. I remember hearing Marika Rose present her initial work on Dionysius the Areopagite years ago at conference in Liverpool (the occasion also of our first meeting, if I remember correctly). No less than Žižek, who appears in the subtitle of the book, it is Dionysius who structures the parameters of the theological problematics in A Theology of Failure. I will return below to ask after the stakes of commencing our theological reflections with Dionysius, but I want to begin with the book’s ending, because it is there, at least to my mind, that we find one of its most unexpected and original theoretical explorations. In the last chapter, Marika argues for a convergence between the logic of Dionysius’s Mystical Theology and Lacan’s theory of the four discourses. She convincingly demonstrates a parallel between the Dionysian stages of “naming, proliferation, denials, and then the collapse of denial itself” (154) and Lacan’s four discourses: the master’s discourse, the university discourse, the hysteric’s discourse, and the analyst’s discourse. The detailed parallels that she presents are illuminating and contribute to the tradition of thought that resists seeing psychoanalysis as a resolutely secular science, seeing it instead as articulating ways of speaking (but also ways of thinking) that harbor unexpected intimacies with the history of theology. This strand of thought – I am thinking of such works as Amy Hollywood’s Sensible Ecstasies: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History and Stefania Pandolfo’s Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam – has produced some of the most interesting writing and reflection on psychoanalysis and on mysticism in recent years.
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Theology and The Failure of Order: A Theology of Failure Book Event

While I don’t typically anticipate theology books anymore, Marika Rose’s A Theology of Failure, was one I was waiting on from the moment I heard about it. I’ve often said that Marika is the only person who could get me interested in Zizek’s work, and this book not only proves that, but forwards a genuinely compelling set of questions regarding the nature and task of theology and the possibility of practicing this mode of inquiry in a way that is unconcerned with the reproduction of confessional Christian norms of speech, creatively re-uses Christian theological material, and aims to actually attend to and become accountable for the devastation Christian theology has wrought in the Western world. In all, Marika presents a book which I’m very excited to be in conversation about, and I simply want to extend a set of reflections that followed me throughout the book.
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Theology of Failure Book Event: Introduction

I am excited to announce that we are starting a book event on Marika Rose’s new book, A Theology of Failure: Žižek Against Christian Innocence, recently published by Fordham University Press. This remarkable study takes Žižek’s intervention into theology more seriously than any previous work — indeed, perhaps more seriously than Žižek himself takes it — by situating it in terms of a theologian who has been an important source for contemporary theological discourse and many other thinkers of the “religious turn,” though not for Žižek himself: Dionysius the Areopagite. This juxtaposition allows Rose to demonstrate the ways that Žižek’s thought, including those aspects that are not explicitly theological, responds to the inherent deadlocks of apophatic theology.

At the same time, the choice of Žižek as interlocutor allows her to escape the trap, common among those working at the intersection of philosophy and theology, of presenting the philosopher as some kind of moral authority who passes judgment on the failings of conventional theology. No one can mistake Žižek for a spiritual guru, and his problematic interventions on issues related to gender, immigration, and other political issues make him an unlikely candidate for a progressive exemplar, or perhaps even as a progressive ally. Rose is clear-eyed about Žižek’s failings, which make him an especially fruitful interlocutor for a tradition that has failed again and again to deliver the benefits — love, liberation, authentic community — that it claims sole proprietorship of. The result is a thorough-going critique of theology as a discipline that goes beyond the quest for a “good version” of Christianity, yet without giving up on the task of theology altogether.

Our tentative schedule is as follows. (After each author posts their contribution, a link will be added here to provide a handy reference.)

Wednesday, September 18: Amaryah Armstrong
Friday, September 20: Alex Dubilet

Monday, September 23: Ben Fulford
Wednesday, September 25: Tapji Garba
Friday, September 27: Rajbir Singh Judge

Monday, September 30: Eric Daryl Meyer
Wednesday, October 2: Anthony Paul Smith
Friday, October 4: Marika Rose (response)