Is James Cone a postmodern theologian?

As I worked through God of the Oppressed with my students this week, a disturbing thought occurred to me: I began to detect a homology between Cone’s project (at least as represented in this particular text) and that of Radical Orthodoxy. Part of this may have stemmed from my somewhat questionable placement of Cone in the “postmodern” segment of the humanities capstone course — a choice that I made in part because I thought Cone was a challenging variant on something like “perspectivalism,” and that came to seem further justified by Cone’s implicit emphasis on social construction.

For Cone, it seems, social construction works. Oppression would be thoroughly determinative for the experience and identity of the oppressed if not for the transcendent reality of Christ. He says this over and over: the enslaved Africans never could have known they were human if Christ hadn’t been with them. They never could have survived and resisted slavery and oppression if Christ hadn’t been with them. Furthermore, he is aware of the danger that this transcendence could be viewed as a mere subjective fantasy of the oppressed, an imagined compensation — and so it must be objectively, historically attested in the life of Jesus.

The black experience is thus validated by its reference to a reality that is at once historical and transcendent. And if there wasn’t this transcendent, historically attested point of reference, then violence and death would have the final say — the earthly masters, with their power over life and death, really would be the ultimate masters. Here I can’t help but see strong parallels with the Radical Orthodox project of taking “postmodern” thought at its word — yes, everything is socially constructed, yes, we’re consigned to an endless power struggle with no ultimate meaning or goal — and then proposing that divine transcendence is the only answer.

The difference — and it is a hugely important difference — is that Cone grants authority to the church of the oppressed where Radical Orthodoxy places its hopes in the church of the oppressor. Nonetheless, I find the parallels alarming and I’m not sure what to do with them.

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40 Responses to “Is James Cone a postmodern theologian?”

  1. Robert Saler Says:

    This is well articulated. But doesn’t this same concern also disturb any sort of appeal to a reified “church of the oppressed” as a stable category?

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’m not sure I understand your question. Can you rephrase?

  3. danbarber Says:

    I think what you are getting at is the Barthian structure operative. Question, though, is about reading practices that would deactivate that sort of Barthian structure. See for instance Amaryah’s posts, especially this — http://womenintheology.org/2014/02/16/refusing-to-reconcile-part-2/

    but also this — http://womenintheology.org/2014/01/19/refusing-to-reconcile-against-racial-reconciliation/

    Also, a resonant difficulty in reading Cone was something i addressed here — http://itself.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/a-note-on-cone-on-malcolm-x/

  4. Robert Saler Says:

    I’m just wondering if “church of the oppressed” is as “transcendent” a source of reference, in its own way, as is Christ (in Cone’s scheme), and if “objective, historical” attestation of that kind of – what? Institution? Category? Ideal? Thin red line throughout history? – is as equally problematic.

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    That makes sense, yes — particularly since he admits that the community of the oppressed is divided and in part even takes up the oppressor’s point of view.

  6. seanchristophercapener Says:

    I think Dan’s really right that it’s an underlying Barthianism. When I was first assigned this text to read in undergrad, it was at the same time I was reading *The Epistle to the Romans* for another class, and I remember feeling like God of the Oppressed was making pretty much all of the same formal moves, but altering it by explicit association with the ‘church of the oppressed.’ I’ve only skimmed *The Cross and the Lynching Tree* but I remember having the sense that it had backed off from this structure somewhat.

  7. Richard Beck Says:

    “That makes sense, yes — particularly since he admits that the community of the oppressed is divided and in part even takes up the oppressor’s point of view.” “The community of the oppressed” must ‘”take the oppressor’s point of view” in order to empower itself.

  8. Tim McGee (@timlmcgee) Says:

    There seems to be a difference, to me at least, between offering a theological account of something and arguing that *only* a theological perspective can account for something. I take Cone to be doing the former and RO the latter. For RO, the world can be world only as it participates in the orthodox ecclesia (and through the church, Christ); for Cone, the church can be church only as it participates in Christ’s work among all who are oppressed. Liberation *is* Christocentric for Cone (that’s foundational for him in GotO) but it certainly isn’t dependent on the confession of Christ (and he is nuanced in how he handles these differences, e.g., in his reading of the Spirituals and the Blues).

    Also, I think the differences between Cone and Barth and Milbank are substantial, and Adam’s post is a helpful way maybe of clarifying differences. But I feel a bit nervous in that it seems that the post and comments seem to open up towards its own kind of ROishness. Can we be careful with the quickness in which we account for a non-white-Euro-American figure by pointing out reliance on / repetition of a white-Euro-American figure? And can we make sure we aren’t lumping all sorts of divergent positions together as simply manifesting the same problematic metaphysics? I’m not saying that it’s what’s going on (no claim of reverse-ROism or anything!) but just noting what seems to be a potential trajectory I know we all want to avoid.

  9. danbarber Says:

    ‘Can we be careful with the quickness in which we account for a non-white-Euro-American figure by pointing out reliance on / repetition of a white-Euro-American figure?’

    my point was simply that the sort of transcendence Adam was noticing is something that has to do with Cone being a reader of Barth. And i pointed it out because i think it is true. I wasn’t trying to make Cone reliant ON Barth, but rather to point out how the transcendence is something inscribed in the language of Barth — thus to see what Cone is doing depends on seeing how he’s disrupting that language, but that likewise depends on observing the relevance or use of that language. So i’m not sure this is a careless reduction of Cone to Barth.

  10. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Tim, Your notes of caution are all good reminders, but I don’t think we’ve actually run afoul of any of the problems you point to. Dan has consistently pointed out a Barthian “element” and pointed to ways that Cone thinks beyond that, hence it’s not reducing Cone to Barth. I clearly don’t want to dismiss Cone just because of this apparent parallel with RO — hence why the parallel would be alarming and why I wouldn’t be sure how to respond to it.

    As for your first paragraph, surely you can concede that one could come away from God of the Oppressed thinking, with some justification, that Cone thinks that only a theological account of black people’s drive for liberation (regardless of whether individual black people or particular black cultural elements explicitly appeal to Christ) can do justice to the facts — given that he literally says such things over and over.

  11. Tim McGee (@timlmcgee) Says:

    Thanks y’all. I still think it’s important to think through how Barth helped Cone articulate things w/o making transcendence something he got from Barth (again, Spirituals and Blues is central for Cone as he notes in GotO) or operate in equivalent terms (it seems to me that it quite clearly doesn’t in that Barth wouldn’t want to make claims about the contemporaneity of Christ entailing such close links to particular groups, e.g., that Christ is black).

    Adam, “justice to the facts” means something different if those “facts” are set within or outside of a theological framework. He doesn’t argue from some set of neutral empirical facts *to* the conclusion that Christ is the only possible explanation for it but starts from Jesus Christ as the defining moment of all liberation and then interprets the history of the black experience, particular black Christian religious experience, from it. Not sure if that gets at what you see is the problem so let me know.

  12. Adam Kotsko Says:

    You seem to be articulating precisely what I find problematic in Cone, but presenting it as though it should answer my objection.

  13. Tim McGee (@timlmcgee) Says:

    It’s more of trying to get at what your objection is. I still think it is quite different to say that one, as a theologian, may provide a theological account of X and to say that only a theologian can provide an intelligible account of X. But it seems like your objection is that both are problematic insofar as they touch upon some kind of transcendence (even if how transcendence is interpreted, mobilized, positioned, etc. is quite different and divergent). Is that right? And if so, isn’t that just moving towards the RO argument, just from the other side? Again, I get that you aren’t trying to offer a critique of Cone but find the similarity disturbing, but the *similarity* seems like the *similarity* RO folks find b/n all those professing “immanence.”

  14. Adam Kotsko Says:

    So Cone’s repeated, explicit claims that only a theological account can make sense of black survival and resistence are to be read as rhetorical flourishes, or….? You seem to be simultaneously downplaying what Cone is saying and exaggerating my critique to the obviously untenable position of disallowing any and all theological accounts of anything.

  15. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Honestly, your defense of Cone reminds me of the Barth two-step, whereby Barth’s theology, despite resemblances to traditional theological arguments, is subtly different in a way that renders him immune to all critiques of non-Barth theology.

  16. amaryahshaye Says:

    I’ve always taken Cone’s claims about theology making sense of black survival and resistance to be aimed at white theology not at other black traditions. That is, only a BLACK theology can make sense of black survival and resistance. Indeed, Cone, explicitly states in the afterword of the twentieth-anniversary edition of Black Theology of Liberation that if black women discern they need to leave the church to get liberation, then they should do that and he supports that move. Concurrently, in Risks of Faith (maybe…?) I think he talks about his experience hanging out at conferences on black power and wanting to offer a theological account of black experience because it seemed like a blatant oversight. But he doesn’t seem to suggest that ONLY a theological account can make sense of black survival and resistance for other black people, rather that a theological account is important to the task.

    But I’ve never really liked God of the Oppressed as much as his first a Black Theology of Liberation and Black Theology and Black Power, anyways, and I keep wondering why that seems to be the one most white folks are reading if they read any Cone…?

  17. Katie Grimes Says:

    Hmm. I’m not sure (and I mean this sincerely) Cone intends to make this sort of point… Not that that necessarily invalidates your point. Perhaps it could be helpful to read Cone’s book on Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to get more insight on this. I have only read parts of this but I assume that he would address Malcolm’s Muslim faith.

  18. Katie Grimes Says:

    You might also want to check if Cone has explicitly engaged with Anthony Pinn’s work.

  19. Matt Burdette Says:

    I don’t know if I can allay your concern about the structural parallels with Radical Orthodoxy. That thought never occurred to me. But I will say this: there’s a trajectory in Cone’s work that goes from an emphasis on the presence of the risen Christ to the identification of the black community with the crucified Jesus, and I think this shift is a pretty big deal in his work. I think Cone himself understates just how much of a Barthian he was early in his career, because few of his early theological claims work without the specific assumptions he makes about God’s self-disclosure. God of the Oppressed is still that Barth phase, in my opinion (if only the end of the phase). So I want to say, well, yes, of course he’d say this stuff. He’s since moved away from the particularity of Jesus, and with that the need for oppressed people generally to overcome their oppression by his specific presence. I don’t fully get what to do with these later claims, in terms of how they operate.

    But to get to the original question, if he’s postmodern or not. I think, yes. I think any theology that maintains an oppressor/oppressed binary has no choice but to be. However, I think it’s clear that transcendence isn’t construed in Cone’s theology the way that it is construed in RO. Though, I may well be wrong.

  20. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Okay, so if you’re doing theology, only a black theology can do the job? That seems much more reasonable.

    I’m not sure why God of the Oppressed is my go-to other than the vagaries of Chicago Theological Seminary’s 20 Century Theology Exam reading list. I’d imagine that it’s appealing as a statement of Cone’s “mature thought” insofar as he’s responded to critics who thought he used too much white European theology in earlier books and has some extended engagement with distinctively black sources under his belt by that point. (But I’m starting to think — as an instructor at a “Great Books” college that wants to introduce people to Important Figures through primary texts and hence uses a lot of self-introductions — that any book that is a go-to “introductory” work for an author is for that very reason inescapably misleading.)

  21. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Katie, he really doesn’t address Malcolm’s Islam. It is either a glaring oversight or indicative of his theology of religions.

  22. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Thanks to Matt and Katie for the responses as well. I haven’t ventured much further into Cone’s work, so I will need to read some of his later stuff — it sounds like he takes things in a more interesting (and potentially strange) direction.

    And it looks like Tim’s comments were more on point than I gave him credit for initially. Sorry about that, Tim.

  23. Katie Grimes Says:

    Thanks, Anthony. Well I think that is definitely a strong piece of circumstantial evidence for Adam’s hypothesis although I still cringe to place them in the same category.

    I wonder if this says more about the limits of theological discourse (since I think Amaryah is absolutely right that he is responding to white theology and therefore prone to repeat some of its flaws even as he corrects others in a Homi Bhabha type of way) than it does ab Cone himself.

    Although his failure to address Malcolm’s Muslim faith is indeed quite glaring.

  24. David Kline Says:

    Katie, I am unaware of any engagement with Anthony Pinn in any of Cone’s writing, but I know that he has read Pinn. They are actually good friends and I’ve heard Cone talk in person favorably of his work and its importance.

  25. amaryahshaye Says:

    I think Vincent Lloyd as an interesting essay that gets at many of the questions Adam raises: http://vwlloyd.mysite.syr.edu/Paradox-Tradition.pdf

  26. Tim McGee (@timlmcgee) Says:

    Besides the critique of white theology, it’s important to keep Cone squarely positioned in Black Power and also the Black Art Movement (and his goal is first and foremost this positive affirmation of black life). That is, as Amaryah mentions, he’s working to mobilize a Christian, theological arm of the Black Power movement (and in doing so, already downplaying the importance of European and white American thinkers and suggesting black Christians and seminaries engage all black writers who are demanding liberation and revolution, including Malcolm X).

    Here’s a fun quote: “Black Theology must say: ‘If the doctrine is compatible with or enhances the drive for black freedom, then it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If the doctrine is against or indifferent to the essence of blackness as expressed in Black Power, then it is the work of the Antichrist.” This is 1969 (Black Theology and Black Power) and seems quite far from anything that is structured by Barth or US Barthianism. Cone does pull Barth into his own trajectory in really interesting ways, such that the statement quoted above is itself connected to the resurrection and contemporaneity of Christ–themes in the spirituals as well as in Bonhoeffer and Barth. The contemporaneity of Christ means, however, that Christ is Black Power and Black Power is the reality of Christ, that is, *if* one is interpreting these matters from a Christian theological perspective.

    Which is just to say that you, Adam, might find the earlier stuff interesting too, and, for me, that I want to look at GotO again on its own and not only as it functions within a broader trajectory, one which does move from the resurrection towards the cross, as Matt suggested.

  27. Kait Dugan Says:

    Some questions for you Adam (and Dan):

    1. Are we completely conflating “Barthianism” and Radical Orthodoxy simply because of the very loose continuity they share in some common degree of commitment to transcendence? I ask because RO would probably reject being in the Barthian camp because of Barth’s consistent dialectical theology while RO would want to shift substantially to analogy and abandon dialectics. Whether or not you think Barth ever fails to get away from analogy (analogia fidei), don’t you think there’s still a serious difference between dialectical theology in Barth (especially Romans) and the analogia entis that is up and running in RO circles?

    2. What do you mean when you employ the word “Barthian structure”? I’m not asking this in a snarky way, but with the landscape of Barth scholarship in view, there’s genuinely not a consensus on what that would mean. And I’m not talking about minor/meaningless disagreements about this point in this random work here, but overall differing positions concerning how Barth can even be read, engaged, or constructively appropriated. Without making any value statements about their work, there’s a radical difference between say how Jacob Taubes or Hent de Vries sees and uses Barth’s “structure” compared to John Webster, D. Stephen Long, or even James Cone himself.

    Given my current position, I didn’t want to comment for concern about how this might appear or what this might unintentionally communicate. I’m not the Barth police and fear that asking for answers to these questions might come across in a certain negative way. However, I genuinely ask these questions out of curiosity given my own research interests and theological commitments all without snark or assuming your answer in advance.

  28. Adam Kotsko Says:

    For me, the more salient aspect of the RO connection, and one that I don’t think this discussion has addressed in much detail, is actually the implicit approval of a “postmodern” (social-constructivist, perspectivalist) reading of social reality, coupled with a theological “solution.” Yes, transcendence is a common element, though obviously neither Barth nor Cone has the ontological hierarchy, etc., that we associate with RO. I wouldn’t want to collapse Barth, Cone, or RO — either all together or any two paired off….

  29. danbarber Says:

    Kait, no doubt, there are big differences between RO and Barth — analogy v. dialectic, thomism v. german idealism, and so on. For me, the commonality is simply that they both affirm the transcendent, specifically in a kind of exceptionalist way: there IS the transcendent, as Christ, and ONLY if we affirm this transcendent will we be able to do X, Y, Z, etc.

    This gives me a chance to perhaps clarify my initial comment, which was simply that what Adam was sensing was not Cone’s argument but rather the language of Barth. And, then, that to see this was to see that while Adam’s proposed interpretation might apply to Barth, it does not apply to Cone. Which is to say that Cone was using Barth (or using the material named under “Barth”) for very different purposes. I’m not sure that was as clear as i hoped.

    And i think that if Cone found it useful to take up Barthian material, this was because he could deploy its transcendence for very different means. That is, the positively transcendent exceptionalism of Barth’s Christ could be inverted (for lack of a better word) in order articulate that on which this positive transcendence depends, namely antiblackness … i.e. the transcendence of Christ is achieved via defining itself through (what Lewis Gordon calls the “bad faith” of) antiblackness.

    So in this sense i was trying to say that Cone is using Barth in order to undermine Barth; Adam’s proposed interpreation was one that noted the presence of Barthian language, but didn’t attend to how Cone was undermining it.

  30. Robert Saler Says:

    Daniel, do you think that Cone’s defense (against, for instance, Gordon Kaufmann) of God’s wrath is a part of that strategy of subversion? That’s been one of the areas where I’ve found Cone continually helpful as a reading for students.

  31. danbarber Says:

    I’m probably a bit out of my depths in responding to that question / i imagine others would be better qualified to say, but my hunch (extrapolating here) is that the defense of God’s wrath would be part of that subversion. My reasoning for this would be that to conceive God primarily as merciful just doesn’t accord with black experience. To put it mildly. So then either God (as merciful) would have to be killed, or God would have to be conceived as wrathful, namely as wrathful towards that which is anti-black. In other words, divine wrath is thought according to the insurrectionary force of black power.

  32. Michael Jimenez Says:

    I really appreciated Kait’s question and the overall discussion of this topic (I also believe Daniel’s critique of Barth’s theology of religion is spot on). I think Adam’s hunch about the RO approval of the use of “postmodern” is correct especially with the literature around the late 1990s-early 2000s of the postmodern Barth (which tried to purposely connect Barth to RO). As you all noted most of RO did not seem impressed with it and neither did, for that matter, a number of Barth scholars. In this lit there was a not so subtle message of we live in postmodern times, it stinks, but it does open up the dialogue for the reintroduction of transcendence once more. I think if this literature was more genuine they would of used the opportunity to dialogue with Fanon, Cone or Cornel West and less with Derrida and Levinas (good example of this is that Barth conferences seem to be intentional in only being in conversation with European theologians/philosophers).

    I might be going out on a limb, but the appeal of Barth (and Tillich) to Cone and others seems to be their message of existential awareness of the idolatry notion of God. This is frustrating because there are points when Barth seems to be very radical and other times where he is absolutely dreadful (maybe what I mean is that Barth appears to say something radical only to re-articulate a standard Christian belief). In other words, there is something about Tillich, Barth and Bonhoeffer that shows that they get “it”, which is why there is at least an appeal by Cone but they are not absolutely necessary for Cone to do theology. To be honest, I am still trying to work out the kinks of just how much of Barth’s system is helpful overall.

    By the way, a book that might be a helpful reference to this topic is Karl Barth in South Africa (c.1980s). I believe the Cone/Barth relationship is dealt with off and on in this edited book.

  33. Jeff Robbins Says:

    I really appreciate the discussion here. And I commend J. Kameron Carter’s sympathetic critique of Cone (and Charles Long) in his “Race: A Theological Account”, on this question of the Barthian structure, and more specifically, the appeal to transcendence. Carter is especially helpful noting how Cone shifts from Barth to Tillich. I’d also add that Cone has shifted a great deal in his more recent work as a result of his sustained engagement with the Black Womanist (read: Delores Williams) critique of him on the question of the notion of redemptive suffering.

  34. hoodie_R (Rod) Says:

    Besides co-signing to Amaryah’s, Katie’s, Kait’s, and Tim’s comments above, I would like to add that I find the label of Cone’s Black theological project as “postmodern” to be unfortunate. If I may wax Cornel West and other black thinkers, Black people have been post-modern since 1619. If one understand post-modernity as “perspectival” circular logic that points to transcendence and most notably a Christian triumphalism on par with Radical Orthodoxy of John Milbank, I would say that’s not a very good reading of Cone. Oppressed bodies of color were chained, whipped, lynched and murdered with the rise of modernity. To sever these political realities from the rise of modern thought (think Thomas Jefferson and the influence of “Enlightened” thinkers like David Hume), is to do a great injustice. In short, modernity is marked by imperial violence and anti-blackness, and James Cone’s project, just as Frederick Douglass and Julia J.A. Foote before him, is a protest of modernity. Meanwhile, RO is a celebration of Christianity’s role in colonialism and the establishment of White Supremacist norms. I do recall a particular facebook conversation in Theology Studio, was it, where Milbank showed he was quite oblivious to post-colonial criticism.

    RE: on James Cone and other religions, to use Anthony Pinn’s humanism for example, what makes Christianity unique for Cone is the event of the Cross and what it represents as God’s suffering with us. Cone doesn’t bother with abstract Death of God theologies or arguments for divine transcendence because what’s most important for Cone and other black theologians is how God relates to the Oppressed in their concrete experiences.Make of that what you will, problematic yes can be, but definitely not RadOx.

    For the life of me, I can never understand when White people read James Cone, they always make these leaps and want to make him the embodiment of all of the worst elements of who they despise. Whether its conservative evangelicals who accuse Cone of being a “reverse racist” or progressive theologians who call Cone a fundamentalist because he uses strong language and is angry. How about we try to read what he’s actually trying to and and his own context for a change?

  35. Tim McGee (@timlmcgee) Says:

    Dan: I think you are rightfully characterizing RO’s transcendence but not Barth’s (for Barth, it is not our affirmation that makes X possible, but Christ doing X makes it possible and then we affirm–as witnesses–what Christ has done). You might still object to this rendition, but it is worth noting that if this is the case, the objection would seem to be moving against any kind of analysis that would begin from Christological beliefs (or from anything that would imply some kind of transcendence, no matter how it is construed or mobilized). Is that right? And thus, for you, one can engage Cone but only insofar as he is read as eschewing any kind of theological transcendence (he inhabits that structure but only deconstructively, as it were)? Or do you see in Cone the possibility of refusing / bypassing this dilemma? In short, Cone draws heavily on Christ’s bodily resurrection (and through it the incarnation) in his theological praxis (both for blackness and against whiteness). Is that theological move (thinking from the resurrection, from the contemporaneity of Christ), in itself, a problem for you, no matter how it is performed/practiced?

    Adam: I think the “social constructivism” problem is also connected to the question of transcendence: Cone will say that without the resurrection death has the final say, but that is connected to his belief that without this God there wouldn’t be anything at all. Cone’s argument seems to be that anyone who professes faith in Christ must join the black power movement, not that the black power movement is possible only if its members profess faith in Christ. It seems like you need this latter claim to show a similarity to RO.

  36. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Tim: I never understood Cone to be claiming that black people had to explicitly confess Christ for Christ to be empowering them. He’s very clear that Christ was with them in the slave ships before Christianity was ever preached to them.

    Rod: I hope you don’t think I was trying to associate Cone with RO in order to dismiss or disqualify him. I wrote this post hoping to be corrected, and I have been.

  37. Tim McGee (@timlmcgee) Says:

    Adam,
    Thanks. I think we might still be might be missing each other (and I didn’t clarify it well in my last post). It seems to me that RO tries to make an immanent critique, showing that “secular” beliefs cannot sustain any claims beyond violence. Thus, theology saves us from social constructivism and without theological discourse, all you get is violence and death. I’m trying to say that Cone isn’t making that argument at all (using Black Power as an example), and so you needn’t worry about any similarities between Cone and RO re. postmodernism or social constructivism. Sorry for not making this clearer in my last post and hope this helps.

  38. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I believe we have reached the fabled “same page.”

  39. danbarber Says:

    Tim, my apologies for being so slow in responding. In any case, just to clarify, yes I agree with the distinction between transcendence of RO and that of Barth. What they have in common, though, is the capacity to conceptualize / think from a positively positioned transcendence. This creates a discursive exceptionality, such that all antagonisms can be read from a position that is (positively) outside of these antagonisms. Whether this reading occurs by way of RO’s poiesis or Barth’s witnessing does not make much of a difference for me — in fact, i would want to be able to make use of both poetics and the sort of passivity implied (at best) by witnessing … in other words, the poetics / passivity distinction is less important to me than is the transcendence / immanence distinction.

    Along these last lines, yes, for me there needs to be an objection to any kind of analysis that proceeds via the transcendent. This is a sort of a priori for me. I’ll treat Christology in a more a posteriori manner. By this i mean that if it is possible to have an immanent Christology, then i’m up for that. Certainly standard / orthodox Christology IS transcendent. And that’s a huge objection for me. But the objection is to the transcendence, and then derivatively to the Christological adherence to the transcendence.

    As for Cone, you are right that i’m suggesting he be read as a kind of deconstructive inhabitance / performance of transcendence.

    I should add, though, that i do not see an emphasis on the body as such (or bodily resurrection), or on the incarnation as such, to be a rejection of transcendence. After all, it is quite possible to emphasize the body while maintaining a dualistic and transcendent (or dualistically transcendent vs. immanent) framework. Furthermore, the very notion of incarnation seems almost inevitably transcendent, as it implies that a transcendent register of reality takes on flesh. Thus the value of incarnation depends on a prior division between the transcendent and the flesh. Furthermore, this division is reproduced at the level of bodies, since incarnation happens to this body, and not to that body.

    As an aside on this last point, note how Christology, even one that emphasizes “Jesus’ Jewish flesh,” is still definitionally divisive and supercessionist. It means, to be very blunt, that the transcendent divine belongs to Jesus’s flesh in a way that it does not belong to all flesh. Flesh, in order to be divine flesh, must achieve Jesus. Such achievement is the logical basis of Christianity’s supercessionism w/r/t Jews and others, as well as of modernity’s supercessionism w/r/t bodies marked as black. If one wants to undercut both supercessionisms, then it seems to be that one has to undercut transcendence. In other words, one has to take as object of antagonism the processes that make certain bodies transcendent to others. This phrase, “processes that make certain bodies transcendent to other,” can be said of both orthodox Christology and of whiteness.

    Immanence would be the refusal of this division in the first place. And along these lines, when Cone insists on an identity of Christ and blackness, i take the key subversion — putting this in an inadequately brief manner — to be the refusal of orthodox Christology and whiteness at the same damn time. In other words, the logic of whiteness, by which some bodies make themselves into something by transcending other bodies, is refused by a blackness that refuses this demand to become White … and this refusal is radicalized by identifying this blackness-without-need with Christ, i.e. with the very thing used by Christianity (and whiteness/modernity) to tell others they are in need. In other words, not only does blackness not need whiteness, it already “is” or “has” the very thing that Christianity, or post-Christian whiteness, uses to impose need on others.

    P.S. The key point about immanence, then, is that it does not need, because it does not divide in the first place. Transcendence, because it divides, always sets up a logic of need (the subordinate term is in need of the transcendent term). Immanence may be double, i.e. X –> Y is simultaneously Y –> X. However, this doubling, while cracked, while interstitial, is not in need of something. Immanence is immanent to itself, which is also to say that it is immanent to nothing. Both of these, taken together, mean: immanence is at once nothing and capable of exceeding (through doubling).

  40. danbarber Says:

    p.s. i should add that Amaryah’s discussion of blackness as being about the beside [noted in my first comment on this thread] has been really central for getting me to see how Cone can be read in this way. Not presuming that she’d agree with everything i’m saying here, just want to cite it’s influence on my thinking about Cone here.


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