Book Giveaways and a Future Christ Review.

In the end we ended up with a good number of people submitting to the After the Postsecular and the Postmodern book give away. I wrote all the names on slips of paper and had our departmental administrator draw a name from out of a bag. Happy to say that Drew Jaegle was the winner. In related news there is going to be an AAR panel focused on the volume as well.

Also, as I’m preparing for my trip to New York that was graciously funded by the readers here, I wanted to let you know that I did the same thing with those who donated money for the travel costs. Quite a few of you gave, but Jeremy’s name was drawn from the bag and so he’ll be receiving the copy of the Future Christ signed by Laruelle. The book, along with Philosophies of Difference, was given a short review in the Times Literary Supplement. I can’t provide a link, because the review isn’t online, but look for the print copy.

Review: Democracy in What State?

Columbia University Press kindly sent me a review copy of Democracy in What State?, a work that I eagerly devoured, both because of its all-star contributors — Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Daniel Bensaid, Wendy Brown, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Ranciere, Kristin Ross, and Slavoj Žižek — and because of its accessible style (even Nancy writes relatively clearly here!).

This collection originated in the French publisher’s desire to imitate one of the organs of the surrealist movement, which asked major thinkers to answer a seemingly obvious or banal question — and in our present age, the seemingly unquestioned assent everyone gives to democracy makes it a fitting target. The answers are various, drawing on the etymology of the word itself, the history of democratic movements and particularly of the French revolution and its aftermath, contemporary French debates around the concept (with Ranciere and Badiou figuring especially prominently in the others’ responses), and the relationship between democracy and communism.

As the Amazon page contains summaries of everyone’s contributions, I won’t duplicate that here, instead focusing on points that particularly grabbed my interest. Continue reading “Review: Democracy in What State?

Two books I recently put down without finishing

Book reviewing has a bias in favor of books we’ve actually read, but sometimes it may also be revealing which books we start but don’t finish. Two that I’ve put aside this year:

  1. Rage and Time by Sloterdijk — it struck me that this was the same basic argument as Fukayama’s The End of History and the Last Man and that his analysis of resentment was not very likely to add significantly to Nietzsche.
  2. Benjamin’s -abilities by Sam Weber — I got about a third of the way through this one before I got really sick of being re-convinced of the importance of words ending in -ability for understanding Benjamin’s work. Undeniably a detailed and rigorous reading of Benjamin, this book winds up feeling plodding and repetitious, something that is perhaps understandable given that it is assembled out of forty years worth of Weber’s writings on Benjamin. I will likely return to it for insight on particular writings and themes in Benjamin, but reading it cover to cover was less than ideal.

What about you? Have you set any book aside recently?

A suicide-inducing review

While browsing through Amazon looking for books relevant to my Global Christianity course, I came across Thomas Oden’s How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, whose page includes one of the most horrifyingly negative reviews I’ve ever seen:

Where is the cradle of Christianity—Europe or Africa? After teaching historical and systematic theology, Oden is surprisingly just discovering what other scholars have argued for some time: that the earliest contours of Christianity can be easily traced to Africa. After all, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Plotinus and Augustine—to name only a few early Christian thinkers—were Africans. In this tiresome and repetitious book, Oden belabors the already well-established notion that Christianity’s roots can be found in Africa. He does draw helpfully on his work on the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series to demonstrate that the intellectual contours of Christianity—academics, exegesis, dogmatics, ecumenics, monasticism, philosophy, and dialectics—developed in Africa. However, Peter Brown (Augustine of Hippo) and other writers have clearly recognized this contribution, and Oden’s naïve and hyperbolic book is more embarrassing than enlightening. Oden’s study is most suited to those who are entirely new to the debate and who will benefit from resources such as a time line of early African Christianity and a reading list for further investigation of the subject.

Note the reversal of the traditional “a couple token negative points in a basically positive review” — and how extremely faint the praise is even in that context (a timeline and a list of other books!). Brown’s Augustine of Hippo is a particularly artful choice of an example of a previous work that makes the same point, since it’s one of the most widely read scholarly works in theological studies — and more broadly, nearly every word is carefully calculated to belittle.

Also note that this is not some crank Amazon reviewer, but Publisher’s Weekly.

I’m usually inclined to be skeptical of over-the-top positive reviews, but this is definitely a time when I feel like Oden’s book can’t possibly be that bad and this reviewer must have it out for him for some reason.

UPDATE: I believe this clip my have served as something of a template for the reviewer:

Theology of Food, Monstrous Christ Again

Friend of the blog and the Nottingham colleague of Anthony and myself since the distant MA days Orion Edgar has a review of Angel F. Montoya’s excellent The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist in last months Modern Theology. The Theology of Food is perhaps the only academic book of all time to open with a recipe. Orion’s project concerns the theology and philosophy of food and the culinary as a window to wider issues of embodiment, politics and ecology, and hopes to fill some of the gaps he identifies in Montoya’s project.

This edition also contains a review by Cyril O’Regan on Žižek and Milbank’s The Monstrosity of Christ, which concurs with Adam’s interpretation that “it could be argued that Altizer’s theology represents the prototype for Žižek’s synthesis of genealogy and kenotic Christology”. For O’Regan, one of the central cruxes of the argument is the orthodoxy, or lack of, with regard to Meister Eckhart, something that other reviewers have noted in passing, but failed to highlight as particularly interesting. If Eckhart, as Milbank contends, is permitted to stand as a representative of medieval Catholic Christianity then Žižek’s ‘protestant’ narrative that follows from him, to Hegel, to the death of God, is undermined. Yet Milbank does so at the risk of admitting too much of Žižek’s narrative, and O’Regan thinks that although in general accounts tend to suggest Milbank is right on the historical reading of Eckhart, Žižek is more compelling rhetorically on this point, which opens the old cans of worms regarding an accurate versus an interesting reading of a figure that is commonly brought up with regard to both authors. Seasoned watchers of this blog and this debate will be interested that O’Regan suggests that the difference between Žižek and Milbank is something to do with the apocalyptic, which, as O’Regan notes, is a theme for Atizer. O’Regan states, rightly, that this might offer an intriguing platform of further discussion, which seems all the more to be the case given that Žižek’s lastest is called Living in the End Times.

What is the end of philosophy of religion?: Review of Nick Trakakis’ The End of Philosophy of Religion

My gratitude to the Philosophy division at Continuum for providing a review copy of Nick Trakakis’ The End of Philosophy of Religion [Amazon UK]. Consider requesting a copy for your library. Readers who are interested in more of Trakakis’ work may find his website helpful.

Never having been an analytic philosopher I may not be the target audience of this book, as Trakakis writes with a kind of evangelical fervor, moving between the usual rational arguments one finds in the literature to a kind of poetry and commentary on the text of Kazantzaks’ The Poor Man of God. He is attempting to convert philosophers of religion from their analytic way of thinking to a kind of “prophetic” voice that he finds in Continental philosophy of religion, specifically in the work of John Caputo. It isn’t clear to me if Trakakis himself had a kind of conversion experience from analytic philosophy of religion to its continental form, though this is possible seeing as he notes that aspects of the book were written during his time at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame, but it is clear that he thinks there needs to be a mass altar call, in the form of a metaphilosophy, to the analytic philosophers who, he claims, cannot deal with the transcendent. Yet, though the book is interesting in a number of ways and the argument is passionately made, it isn’t clear that this has been a successful call and it raises a number of questions about the practice of Continental philosophy of religion that are not touched on in the slender volume. Continue reading “What is the end of philosophy of religion?: Review of Nick Trakakis’ The End of Philosophy of Religion