“We still don’t know if it is a joke or not”: Final Reflections on A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event

“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.” – James Baldwin, “Faulkner and Desegregation”

At the end of this book event I wanted to offer a final reflection. It isn’t clear to me if such a work is a token of my gratitude or an imposition that people read yet more of my words. But I hope here to express my gratitude for all the care each of the respondents showed in their posts. Anyone who has ever published knows that it is an event laden with anxiety. Will they hate it? Will they mock me? Will they understand me? Will anyone even read it?! So to be read in such a kind way by so many friends was truly humbling and I am thankful to all of them for taking time to pay me this honor. Perhaps more importantly were the challenges that they put forward to me. These remind me again of the perversity of nature as present in our thinking. Nothing is ever finished, nothing is ever done, but neither does nothing need to be finished or done. So I can go about the work of thinking again and again, with the knowledge of a kind of salvation given in the secret that there is nothing to save. Only, instead, is there a World to breakup and in that breakup we may find a kind of fidelity to the earth, a kind of uncovering of the earth that lies beneath the World, and upon that earth we may find each other and the grace that exists there even amidst the violence that will remain.

At the end of this event forgive me the narcissism of quoting the opening passage of A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature:

“There is a very old philosophical story. We no longer have the full tale, but only the ending that goes, ‘Nature loves to hide.’ We don’t know if this is a drama or a tragedy. If you say it with the right inflection it could even be the punch line to a joke. But is the joke philosophical or is it a joke on philosophy?

There is another story, even older, and this time theological. It begins with the beginning (though whether or not it is the very beginning is up for debate) saying, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ The story goes on to say that at that time the earth was formless and would go on being nothing without this God. Now, they say this story has an ending and we see there that the earth returns, ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.’

This story may be epic in scope, but we still don’t know if it is a joke or not. And we don’t know who that joke is on. For nature has become a problem.”

Even if all of this is a joke, it’s not a bad one. The problem of nature may require a dark sense of humor just as much as it requires we learn to laugh at ourselves. And it does so because it is destroying our World. It is a kind of unveiling that may allow us to rethink some of our most fundamental metaphysical concepts and our ethics. What I have tried to do is show how a unified theory of philosophical theology and ecology may assist us in that rethinking, knowing full well that other attempts may look nothing like mine here. But I am thankful for these friendships, these exchanges of matter and energy in the midst of the exile and baseless dwelling we are all subject to.

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3 Responses to ““We still don’t know if it is a joke or not”: Final Reflections on A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event”

  1. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I feel confident declaring this our best book event ever. And we have Anthony’s herculean efforts to respond to each post to thank for it, along with Beatrice’s organizational acumen.

  2. michaeloneillburns Says:

    This was a really fantastic book event, and I know it’s something I plan on going back and reading again. Almost too much intriguing material to keep up with. Great work on this.

  3. Tim Says:

    I thought the event was fantastic and plan to read Anthony’s book this summer. Cheers.


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