Review of Adam Kotsko’s The Politics of Redemption

The Politics of Redemption: The Social Logic of Salvation is a very provocative book, and its brevity and clarity do not prevent it from also being an ambitious, complex and important undertaking.  The book is very well-structured, and builds to a concise but compelling final chapter where Kotsko constructs his own atonement theory. I like the way he combines theological and philosophical, and contemporary and traditional figures, even if the emphasis is more on the theological and the traditional here. In fact, this is a most impressive example of what Ricoeur calls the “hermeneutics of retrieval.” That is not something that I personally do with my own theological work, which is more critical and contemporary, but I admire Kotsko’s achievement here and he is one of the best people currently engaged in it. Read the rest of this entry »

Radical Political Theology–Cover Image

I just got a file of the cover design for Radical Political Theology, which I thought I would share with you all. It’s a bit minimalist, but I think it’s pretty good. I’m getting the proof pages at the end of the week, and the book is scheduled to come out in January. I don’t have the schedule yet for the Hegel edited book, but we just finished copyediting queries and I think it’s a couple months later.

Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing–Malabou Thanks

Catherine wanted me to pass along her sincere thanks to everyone who participated in the book event. She said that she is unable to offer a detailed response, but she is extremely pleased with it, and with the engagement with her work. Here is her comment:

How can I thank you for this wonderful blog, so diverse in its analysis, so rich and so gratifying for me ? The problem is that I can’t respond, I would like to keep the posts as they are, open and antwortlos as Germans say. Could you post some words of thanks for all the participants for me ?

Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing—Introduction

So I was riding in a taxi with Slavoj Zizek and Creston Davis in Philadelphia at the 2005 AAR when Zizek told me I should read Catherine Malabou’s book on Hegel, The Future of Hegel. I’d heard of Malabou before, since she wrote Counter-Path with Derrida, but it’s just not possible to read every book Derrida has published, and I had not read it. By the way, this meeting in Philadelphia was also the seed that became the Insurrections book series with Columbia University Press, particularly when Jeff Robbins contacted Wendy Lochner at Columbia about the project, since Columbia was reviewing the book he edited with Caputo and Vattimo, After the Death of God, which became the first book in the series.

When I returned to Arkansas I got a copy of The Future of Hegel through interlibrary loan and read it and it was truly amazing. I was blown away, both by the reading of Hegel that made Derrida take back much of his criticisms, and more specifically by the notion of plasticity, which was Malabou’s signature idea even though she took the concept from the Phenomenology of Spirit where it is a characteristic of subjective spirit.  Fast forward to summer 2006, and Creston had talked me into co-editing a book of essays on Hegel for Insurrections, that would include chapters by Zizek, Negri, Mark Taylor, Caputo, William Desmond, Edith Wyschogrod (she was truly a saint and I’m still mourning her death) and others, and I thought Malabou would be the best person in the world to contribute to it. So I emailed her out of the blue and asked her, which I thought was incredibly presumptuous, and in English too! But she agreed to contribute an essay to the book, and also suggested we translate one of her books. Fordham was already working on What Should we do with our Brain?, so I read La plasticité au soir de l’écriture and again, was blown away by the clarity and forcefulness of her thought, as well as its manifesto-like quality.

What I came to appreciate was how her profound and complex reading of form in terms of plasticity challenged Derridean and Levinasian notions of the trace, and this affects the discussion surrounding the return of the religious and what Jean-Luc Nancy calls the “deconstruction of Christianity.” I have been and still am influenced and impressed by the weak messianic force that Derrida draws from Walter Benjamin and deploys in ethical and political contexts. It was with considerable fear and trembling that I developed a critique, relying upon Malabou’s philosophy. And I don’t simply reject or dismiss this idea of a weak messianic force, but I do understand it differently.  In any case, as Malabou herself writes about deconstruction, it’s not a question of rejecting or surpassing deconstruction, but seeing how writing expands into a sort of generative plasticity. I was able to see how plasticity is a much more subtle and supple question of form, especially considering its three aspects: the ability to give form; the capacity to receive form; and finally, and most intriguingly, the power to annihilate form, which is an auto-destructive force. So plasticity helps me see force as immanent to form, which also seems close to Deleuze, as opposed to transcendent to it, as some of the religious and theological appropriations of Derrida and Levinas appeared to be doing, although again this question of transcendence is very slippery and it’s easy to overstate or caricature. There are a lot of critiques of Derrida out there that are very stupid, although I don’t think Malabou’s is one of them.

So then I went back and read Que faire de notre Cerveau?, and saw how Malabou deals with neuroplasticity, and then read her book on Freud, Les nouveaux blessés: De Freud à la neurologie, penser les traumatismes contemporains, which engages critically with Freud from the perspective of the neurosciences. The one book I have not read is Le change Heidegger, which focuses on the idea of metamorphosis in Heidegger. What I like about Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing is how it reflects back upon her relationship with Hegel, Heidegger and Derrida, interspersed with insights into structuralism, neurosciences, and her critique of Levinas. Subsequent to Les nouveaux blessés, Malabou has published Ontologie de l’accident, Changer de différence: Le féminine et la question philosophique, and a book co-authored with Judith Butler, Sois mon corps, has just been published, which consists of a reading of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic.

What I tried to do with the Foreword was to first give a kind of overview and context within which to understand Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing specifically in terms of her work in general, after which I developed some of my own application/interpretation of Malabou’s thought by applying it to Nancy’s idea of the deconstruction of Christianity in Dis-Enclosure. On the one hand, Malabou’s work makes the idea of the deconstruction of Christianity problematic, insofar as it sees deconstruction as the end of Christianity, and there are philosophical and political reasons to want to distance oneself from Nancy’s claim that the heart of the West is a Christian heart.  On the other hand, Nancy’s brief explication of the term déclosion (translated as dis-enclosure) has resonances with Malabou’s idea of plasticity. I develop this reading more fully in the last chapter of my book on Radical Political Theology, forthcoming from Columbia University Press.

I think that Malabou’s ideas have many resonances and are important for many areas of thought. In terms of Continental philosophy of religion and radical theology, I think that her sharp rejection of messianism is provocative and important for thinking about the relationship between deconstruction and religion. I do not reject it quite so sharply, but I see how plasticity offers important resources to reconfigure some of these discussions and debates more in terms of form and less in terms of a pure force devoid of form, although ultimately I do not see form and force as opposition or dualistic, which again plasticity allows us to see. We have to be careful not to view things as a simple progression or supercession from writing to plasticity, but plasticity opens up a space to seriously think about the brain. Finally, although Malabou is a student of Derrida, her work is studded with insights of Deleuze, and plasticity helps draw out some of the implications of Deleuze’s discussions of the brain, most powerfully in Cinema 2. So for me at least plasticity is this incredibly rich notion with which to think, and Malabou has given us these incisive and brilliant readings of important philosophical thinkers, and I think she deserves to be considered one of the major contemporary philosophers in the world today.

Theology of Money – 3. Ecology of Money

Capital

Goodchild begins by defining capital as “the means of production that has itself been produced.” Money represents capital, but only one form of capital, whereas an ecology of money looks at the relationship between money and other forms of capital. Capital is a form of wealth, and it is not simply human production but also natural production. Here Goodchild goes beyond most philosophers and theologians by refusing to constrain his analysis solely to symbolic and ideal levels. Goodchild demonstrates the fundamental incompatibility between ecology, where the production of capital is tied to finite natural resources and energy flows, and economy, which posits unlimited growth by measuring capital solely in terms of rates of profit. Modern economic activity only measures rates of profit, which defines capitalism, rather than all of the various inputs, natural and human, that produce wealth. Ecology and economy are mathematically incompatible. Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond Monotheism — 12. …In a World of Difference.

In many ways this chapter culminates Schneider’s theology of multiplicity, building on the previous three chapters, and then opening onto her final section on ethics. She argues here that the distinct characteristics of divine multiplicity, fluidity, porosity and interconnection, enter into the world in particular places and times as a body. This embodiment or enfleshment is what she means by incarnation. What bodies and divinity both possess are heterogeneity—positive concrete differences. Anything that exists is intrinsically singular, distinct, unique, and it is unique as body. Divinity incarnates itself in and as heterogeneous body: “incarnation is a revelation of divinity-in-flux” (166).

Every body is absolutely different and irreplaceable, in ontological as well as in ethical terms. “Bodies become difference and so create the world” (167), and these bodies cannot be exchanged for each other according to any common standard of evaluation. Jesus represents an incarnation of divinity in a singular body, and his silence before Pilate is understood by Schneider as a refusal to submit his body to the standards of legal categorization, interrogation and justification. Ontology and ethics are encapsulated in stories, and stories are stories of bodies and their relationalities, which is an a-centered relationality (building upon but slightly distinct from Barbara Holmes’s notion of omnicentrality). Schneider draws from Deleuze a good deal in this chapter, including her petition of a logic of rhizomality for thinking about modes of relationality. Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond Monotheism — 6. Monotheism, Western Science, and the Theory of Everything

[I want to thank Adam for arranging this project, and for inviting me to participate.]

Chapter 6 completes the narrative of the “logic of the One,” showing how it culminates with Western science and its modern and contemporary desire to unify everything in a single, overarching order. Schneider does not spend much time discussing medieval Christianity, but she posits a continuity between traditional European monotheism and modern science: “although the empires of Christendom stumbled and frayed, the logic that had grounded their orthodoxies took on a life of its own, eventually erupting in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the ‘scientific revolution’” (75). Here Thomas Aquinas and the Protestant Reformers both contribute to this fantastic idea of uncovering “a single, unchanging divine order” (77) that underlies the scientific quest for universal laws.

Read the rest of this entry »

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