Inner Animalities: Theology and the End of the Human

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My book, Inner Animalities: Theology and the End of the Human, was released by Fordham University Press today (here it is at amazon). The excerpt that follows is from the introduction and describes the central theme of the book: the problem of human animality. The first half of the book holds critical readings of the problem of human animality in the texts of two fourth-century authors (Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus) and a host of contemporary theologians. The second half of the book holds constructive reworking of human animality in major theological themes such as the image of God, sin and redemption, and eschatological transformation.  

The Problem of Human Animality

The mainstream of the Christian theological tradition has been committed to some version of a categorical distinction between human beings and all other animals. When that categorical distinction collides with two other thoughts—the undeniable commonality of human and nonhuman animal life, and the Christian commitment to the fundamental unity of the human being—this long-standing commitment to anthropological exceptionalism generates what I call the “problem of human animality.” Holding these three convictions together in the Christian theological tradition has produced a wide range of strategies to control and contain human animality, competing solutions to a common problem. The manifest commonality of human life with the lives of other animals in embodiment, nutrition, mortality, and reproduction is obvious enough, but a few more comments may elucidate the dogmatic Christian commitment to the fundamental unity and integrity of the human being as a creature. Continue reading “Inner Animalities: Theology and the End of the Human”

In the wake of Gaza

The unspoken corollary whenever anyone demands that you concede Israel’s “right to exist” is that the Palestinians do not have a right to exist. Firing on them for expressing their understandable — and fully predictable — anger is an expression of that attitude. Israel wants the Palestinians to shut up and go die in their corner, and to be happy that they at least have a corner. That is not how you think about a fellow human being. Resistance is human. Anger is human. Political demands are human. And when the IDF sees Palestinians being human, it sees a threat and opens fire.

As for the conspiracy theory where the Palestinians need the nefarious Hamas to tell them that they should be pissed off about their state — it’s not just factually absurd, it’s dehumanizing. No one needs to be told that it sucks to live in an open-air prison. No one needs to be told to be upset about the embassy move, the sole rationale of which is to upset them. No one shows up to a protest when they know for a fact that they might die because Hamas told them to or slipped them some paltry funds. The fantasy underlying this ridiculous theory is that the Palestinians could be passive drones, purely instrumentalized, ready to destroy themselves in the service of a greater cause — it’s just that the hated, strangely omnipotent Hamas has taken over their programming, deranging them from their function of serving Israel’s dream of becoming just like the other nations.

The Christianity of Jay-Z’s Typological Anti-Blackness

Preface: This is NOT A THINK PIECE, this is NOT AN ADJUDICATION, this is a move to feel the possibilities that are made available in entanglement.
-Jared

My skin is black
My arms are long
My hair is woolly
My back is strong
Strong enough to take the pain
inflicted again and again
What do they call me
My name is AUNT SARAH
My name is Aunt Sarah
My skin is yellow
My hair is long
Between two worlds
I do belong
My father was rich and white
He forced my mother late one night
What do they call me
My name is SAFFRONIA
My name is Saffronia
My skin is tan
My hair is fine
My hips invite you
my mouth like wine
Whose little girl am I?
Anyone who has money to buy
What do they call me
My name is SWEET THING
My name is Sweet Thing
My skin is brown
my manner is tough
I’ll kill the first mother I see
my life has been too rough
I’m awfully bitter these days
because my parents were slaves
What do they call me
My name is PEACHES
–Nina Simone, Four Women

Jay-Z’s recently released track, “The Story of O.J.,” has generated accusations of Anti-Semitism. The line in question, “You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America?,” is uttered in service of a prescriptive solution to the condition of Black America. Castigating those “throwing away money at a strip club” for not prioritizing credit, he spits, “Fuck living rich and dying broke.” The song is structured around a “nigga” typology inspired by the Nina Simone song, Four Women, whose chorus the song samples. While Simone’s song elaborates the multivalent expressions of Blackness lived in the wake of Anti-Blackness, Hov marshalls an indictment of “house nigga,” O.J. Simpson’s empty claim, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” to sell the “only hope” for Black America,  “financial freedom.” We’re told to take the “drug money and buy the neighborhood, that’s how you rinse it,” instead of dying “over the neighborhood that your mama renting.” Buy, for to rent is to die. Offering himself as a cautionary tale, he speaks of feeling “dumbo” for not buying a property in DUMBO, wishing he “could take it back to the beginning” when he “could’ve bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo for like 2 million. That same building today is worth 25 million.” Business savvy born of hindsight will allow us to do as he did and buy “some artwork for 1 million, 2 years later, that shit worth 2 million. Few years later, that shit worth 8 million.” Demonstrating a sense of the possibility he might be treating over the line of his own, quite Christian typology of Black authenticity he exclaims, “Y’all think it’s bougie, I’m like, it’s fine,” and  underscores the generosity of his “trying to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99.”

Continue reading “The Christianity of Jay-Z’s Typological Anti-Blackness”

Freedom isn’t free

A tip: whenever someone is using the word “freedom” in a way that seems hypocritical, try substituting in “traditional privileges” (and for “free,” “traditionally privileged”). Often, the real meaning will snap into place.

A great example is the debate over “free speech,” where people are shocked to learn that conservatives use the term opportunistically in their own favor while not caring about the free speech rights of pro-Palestinian activists, communists, etc. Just pull the old switcheroo, designate it as “traditionally privileged speech,” and voilà — everything becomes clear!

Contemporary French Philosophy Seminar (Philly Event)

Glenn Wallis is hosting an Incite Seminar on April 14th similar to the one that I led on the work of François Laruelle in the Fall. This seminar will be facilitated by Villanova University’s Gabriel Rockhill. This intensive seminar will serve as a crash course in contemporary French theory in order to provide students with a rigorous overview of its key movements, figures and concepts. Beginning with the immediate postwar rise of Existentialism, while tracing out its important connections to Marxism, we will then look at the emerging critiques formulated by the “structuralists” and their gradual turn away from Marxism. Finally, we will compare and contrast two rival movements that emerged on the heels of structuralism and continue today: the “post-structuralists,” who sought to radicalize the structuralist turn, and a disparate group of thinkers—from Castoriadis to Badiou—who saw in both structuralism and post-structuralism an intensified embrace of postwar ideology and advocated for a resuscitation of anti-capitalist philosophy. Interested parties are invited to visit the Incite Seminar website for more information.

New essay at n+1: “The Prequel Boom”

I have a web piece up at n+1: The Prequel Boom. I have had the topic of prequels in the back of my mind for a long time now — the narrative potentials and limitations, the possibility of reading more ancient texts as prequels in some sense, and the question of why fans seem to hate prequel material so uniquely — and this article was a good way for me to cut a coherent slice through all that thinking.

I haven’t gotten the idea entirely out of my system with this — I am now pondering a study of Genesis as prequel, following up on my posts about the Joseph and Jacob stories as prequels.

Help me plan a module on Christianity, Race and Colonialism

This September I’ll be teaching my first ever completely self-designed module, and I’m pretty excited about it. The module will focus on Christianity, race and colonialism, and possibly for the first time ever when teaching I feel like the learning outcomes I have committed myself to actually reflect what I want the module to do:

By the conclusion of this module, a student will be expected to be able to :

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of the historical development of racism and colonialism
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of key conceptual frameworks for understanding the development of racism and colonialism
  • Critically evaluate theological texts in light of historical and theoretical accounts of race and colonialism

I have a bunch of ideas, and am trying to figure out how to balance these three central elements – history, theory and theology – in assigned readings and classes, but would love to know: what do you think are the canonical texts, events, ideas etc for this kind of a module? Any and all suggestions gratefully received; I’m especially keen to find resources for engaging with the histories of slavery and colonialism outside of North America, and especially with the histories of slavery and colonialism in relation to the British Empire.