My 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
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” →
Francis Fukuyama was right: we were at the end of history, the ‘happy 90s’ a brief millennarian period before the arrival of judgment day: the global financial crisis. We live now in
a secularized version of the medieval world structure. At the foundation is hell, where bare life is produced and reproduced, while the pinnacle is the global elect, that small minority on whose behalf all the glory is extracted from the damned. In between, there is the aspirational zone of purgatory, where by dint of hard work and sacrifice, we can all make it to heaven assuming we have all of eternity to work off their debt.
The Prince of This World, 202
We have entered, that is, what Will Davies calls the age of ‘punitive neoliberalism’, distinguished by ‘the sense that the moment of judgement has already passed, and questions of value and guilt are no longer open to deliberation’ (‘The New Neoliberalism’). The better angels of political liberalism have fled, leaving us with nothing but the cold heart of the social contract: the insistence that we are free and the intensifying desire to punish us for the uses we have made of that freedom. The world has already ended; can’t you hear the weeping and gnashing of teeth? Continue reading “After the Eschaton: The Prince of This World Book Event” →
Let’s start at the end. The end of Adam Kotsko’s timely and compelling book and the end of my general exams. In fact, we might start at the beginning of the end of my exams when I finished a review of Kotsko’s book for the Anglican Theological Review the weekend before starting my exams. This could have been a tedious trainwreck of bad planning (and there was some extra stress due to my terribly bad planning), but I mostly found it helpful for thinking about some key questions that have emerged in my own graduate study—questions that shaped my examination papers and which I keep returning to as the shell of world continues to slowly collapse in on itself. These questions primarily center on the conclusions and the constructive push that Kotsko offers. In many ways it is a constructive turn that feel at odds with the very convincing story of the Devil’s rise and fall. This tension is not, I think, because the constructive piece is a bad one but because I wonder whether there is a more radical conclusion that would take more seriously. Having read Jared’s response to the book, I was even more struck by the notion that thinking seriously about race and coloniality in the Devil’s story may lead us to push further than the Devil’s redemption and think more about God’s responsibility for evil.
Continue reading “Freedom, Responsibility, and Redemption: The Prince of This World book event” →
This response in our book event on Adam’s The Prince of This World is by Jared Rodríguez, Doctoral Candidate in African American Studies, Northwestern University.
MIRANDA: But who is that? He doesn’t look very benevolent! If I weren’t afraid of blaspheming, I’d say he was a devil rather than a god.
ESHU: (Laughing) You are not mistaken, fair lady. God to my friends, the Devil to my enemies! And lots of laughs for all!
–Aimé Césaire, A Tempest
I met the devil on a Saturday morning cartoon. Crimson, horned, and fully Technicolor with pitchfork in tow, the devil rode the shoulder of a cartoon cat named Tom. After the devil’s first attempt at convincing Tom to murder his cat compatriot and keep their mouse bounty for himself he began slapping the cartoon cat while exhorting “Now listen here, you’re a citizen ain’t ya? Ya got rights. That mouse was yours first. You had priorities on it. Okay then. Plant that axe in his toupee and you’ll have that cheese-napper all to yourself. Go on, swing it.” In true Tom and Jerry fashion, the axe blade slides off of the handle as he brings it down on his buddy’s head and all Tom gets for his
troubles are the bumps and bruises of a lesson unlearned when the mouse escapes in the course of the tussle he greedily initiated. Tom clearly couldn’t hear me shouting at the tv, “don’t do it,Tom!” “That’s Eleggua, It’s a trap!” Tom and Jerry introduced me to the Western figure of the the devil, one I could only understand in the shadow of the Orisha syncretized with the Christian Devil, Eshu. Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of This World stands in the fine company of Tom and Jerry in continuing my education in the strange and mysterious folk-ways of Christianity’s Devil.
Continue reading “In the Shadow of Eleggua: 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.
Adam 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” →
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. The 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” →
In a week we will be starting a book event on Adam’s latest, The Prince of This World. If you don’t yet have a copy, Stanford University Press has posted the introduction here. Digital and physical copies are available wherever fine books are sold.