Part Two: Bodies Matter (A Response to Tony Baker’s “Gender and the Studio”)

Part Two: Bodies Matter (as do the ways they are configured in and through power relations)

 Baker argues that theological studies need not be a “masculine form” and that one of the ways it can instead function within/as “the redeemed form of Mary,” is through a focus on “receptivity”—which he identifies, at least in part, as close readings of texts and engagement with Biblical, historical, and literary material—as opposed to “mostly creative construction in the realms of logic and metaphysics.”

While I have a number of theoretical and theological concerns with the association between receptivity and femininity, which I’ll address in the next, and final, post on this topic, on some level, I can get behind, or at least understand, this. Different strands and iterations of feminist theory and politics have named masculine modes and forms of discourse as problematic and have called for the embodiment of alternate, feminine forms—most notably, the “French feminists:” Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous, Clement… One might also look to some of the U.S. “second-wave” feminists: Carol Gilligan, Catherine Mackinnon, Andrea Dworkin

What Baker’s analysis lacks in this regard, however, is an attention to the discursive and material realities that engender these dynamics—something that is central to the work of the aforementioned “sexual difference” and “second wave” feminists. Baker calls for a greater focus on “receptivity” without contending with, or even acknowledging, the ways in which bodies and/in power function. Read the rest of this entry »

A modest plea for Green Stalinism

I think that one weakness in much environmental thought and activism is an over-emphasis on grass roots efforts and consumer choice. Instead, I think we need to look more seriously at ways to force people to do things. For instance, let’s take a simple example: unhealthy food is effectively subsidized, while organic food is expensive. Instead of convincing bourgeois city-dwellers to make the sacrifice and buy organic food, why not reverse the subsidies? Suddenly, you have to sacrifice if you want to enjoy a Big Mac, while the poor are forced by economic necessity to eat food that isn’t actively poisoning them.

The same goes for large-scale industrial farming: why not just outlaw it? Why not limit the size of farms or the number of farming concerns any one person or company can own? Or if neoliberal export-driven farming is the issue: why not outlaw the export of food? If regional self-sufficiency is the goal, mandate it — Congress can regulate interstate commerce, so regulate it in that way.

Maybe it’d be too much of a shock to everyone’s system to do it all at once: okay, come up with a gradual mechanism. Put together a workable program and start agitating. Put together demonstrations: Food justice now! Start up letter-writing campaigns. Flood your congressman with calls. Figure out a way to get this stuff on the Democratic Party platform.

Figure out a way to force people to do the right thing rather than just hoping they do. If our food system is totally fucked and needs to be replaced, then come up with a way to do it other than relying on the consumer choices of concerned liberal middle-class people who, in a few years, will probably get over the organic food fad and be worried about some other cause — just like they got over the issue of sweatshop labor from the Third World, and lo and behold, there are still sweatshop workers in the Third World making our clothes and shoes.

Christian Social Teaching and the Politics of Money: Attempt at Liveblogging II

Second day of the conference, fewer people in the chairs today. Find it interesting how small this conference is compared to the Idea of Communism conference. I won’t speculate on why, but just note it. Anyhow, today is almost entirely devoted to distributism. That would suggest it is the predominant form of Christian social teaching, though a friend humorously suggested that Mugabe is the truest distributist in history. Polemical! More below.

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Soviet piety

One occasionally comes across statements that attempt to say, in one way or another, that properly speaking we do not interpret the Bible — rather, the Bible interprets us.

Surely this is a deeply pious sentiment, one I am in no position to critique even if I have no idea what it is supposed to mean. What I would like to point out, however, is how easily this trope of pious discourse can be plugged into the format of one of my favorite jokes: “In Soviet Russia, Bible interprets YOU!!!”

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Why Theology?: Reflections on an Existential-Academic Crisis

Friends of mine who have been subjected to a deluge of my depressive emoting will already be familiar with my current existential-academic crisis: I no longer know why my current research project gives any credence to theology as such. It is important that my point is clear here, for I do not mean that I know how the position, as some philosophers do, that theology is pointless in and of itself or that we must finally free ourselves of theological presuppositions in order to create a truly adequate and emancipatory mode of thought. That said, I never began my research with the intention of doing theology, meaning my work is not a matter of dogmatic, systematic, historical, or any other kind of theology. Obviously my MA is in philosophical theology, but it has never been clear to me what that would actually mean in the context of the program I’m in. For some members of staff it means something akin to apologetics or working out the philosophical kinks to make way for theological dogmatics. I tried to approach it as akin to something like a transcendental empiricism of the phenomena of theology, but then ended up writing an MA thesis on the metaphysics and ethics of environmental restoration through the philosophies of Bergson and Deleuze/Guattari! Certainly not a recognizable form of philosophical theology. (I’m digressing already. Try to focus.)

My current project began with the intuition that what could be called “ecological reason” (used in considering questions of relationality, the being of nature, environmental ethics, etc.) has its roots in both philosophical and theological debates concerning matters of religion (what is the status of creation in relation to the Creator) and nature (what is the status of the being of nature? what constitutes nature? is it self-causing?). Thus I undertook the task of a series of perverse readings of related figures (Aquinas/Spinoza, Bulgakov/Schelling, Bergson/de Chardin, Whitehead/Bergson, etc.) where I’d treat my own work as an ecosystem of thought where I’d introduce these divergent thinkers as organisms forced to interact with one another. My job was to facilitate these artificial ecosystems (which is not to call them unnatural) in an attempt to curtail the invasiveness of one species over the other, while, of course, recognizing that my own facilitating was another aspect of the ecosystem as a whole. The end goal would be something like a critique of ecological reason using a (always towards) meta-ecosophia.

All of this requires a great deal of investment in theological debates far removed from my own immediate topic. It seems that is the only way to be truly fair to the theological sources and can I really understand Aquinas without understanding the debates surrounding his dogmatics? Yet, as I went to a theology department seeking asylum to complete such a strange project, I’ve found that I’ve been sucked into a whole world of theology that is not only interesting to me, but seemingly insane! A rather uncomfortable position for someone like myself to be in, as giving quarter to the positions of one Dick Dawkins is quite distasteful to me. The problem seems to be, whereas I began with the idea of giving theology an inch it then demanded of me not just a mile, but a pound of flesh.

Whenever one is faced with such a demand they are surely to ask themselves what the fuck they got themselves into. Theology is one of those weird academic disciplines where you constantly have to prove that you’re not just an academic. Theologians are supposed to do theology for the the Church despite the fact that, as near as I can tell anyway, “the Church” doesn’t really give a fuck what theology does. When philosophers get so uppity as to think their work has any actual social or political relevance they are generally derided in the public sphere. My own work is quite consciously not for “the Church” or, perhaps, any determinate group of people other than those who are thinking and considering similar problems. Of course I have strong political commitments and live them out as best as I can and my own work is directed to a large degree by those commitments. I would hope it may even be helpful for people when they consider how to live a more gracious life upon this earth, but obviously less technical and more emotive groups will have greater efficacy in saving the planet than another book. But, yeah, back to theology. Frankly, or so it seems, I’m not really all that interested in my supposed Christianity. In some ways I’m a Christian by default, in so far as I am religious, rather than by ascent, meaning there is little interest in re-Christianizing Europe (My God!) or defending the faith. If the whole became Sweden maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, perhaps it would even be good.

So, I suppose this is a fine place to conclude, in so far as I have developed a real aversion to theology as such, why should I consider it? Seriously, that’s a question.

What is Piety?: Notes on Plato’s Euthyphro I

The problem of piety has a long history in Western philosophy and is first addressed by Plato in the dialogue Euthyphro. This dialogue is one in the drama making up the trial and death of Socrates and takes place just as Socrates arrives at the porch of King Archon, the sovereign who shall preside over his trial. Here he meets and exchanges greetings with Euthyphro, a theologian who prises himself on his “exact knowledge” of what the gods consider to be pious, who is bringing a murder suit against his father. His father, we are told, is responsible for the death of one of their servants who himself had murdered another servant in cold blood. The father, seeking some form of justice, bound the murderous servant and threw him in a ditch, sending yet another servant to a “diviner” to seek the will of the gods in the matter. The time it took to reach the diviner was longer than the time it took for the elements to take the murderous servant. Socrates appears ready to dismiss this because the man killed by Euthyphro’s father was akin to a stranger and not a relative. Euthyphro admonishes Socrates for making such a distinction when it comes to murder and goes on to say that he considers it his duty to bring charge against his father, otherwise risk pollution and impiety, while the rest of his family ‘say that he did not kill him, and that if he did, dead man was but a murderer, and I ought not to take any notice, for that a son is impious who prosecutes a father.’ Euthyphro quickly dismisses this charge with the words, ‘Which shows, Socrates, how little they know what the gods think about piety and impiety.’ Thus the confrontation leads to the question of what piety is – Euthyphro claiming to know, his family claiming to know it to be something different, and Socrates, as usual, feigning confusion and ignorance.

There are at least five matters of interest in this confrontation. There is the matter of the servants – the problem of piety is at work amidst questions of work, the relation of a master to his servants and the value of a servant’s life. There is the matter of family – the problem of piety takes place amidst the society of Oedipus – and the matter of duty and the gods – piety is concerned with what counts as sovereignty. There is also the matter of the earth itself – the ditch in which the servant was thrown, the lack of food and water to nourish him, the cold, and the chains which bound him to the earth outside of the Athenian city walls.

Euthyphro’s first definition of piety addresses the tension over locating sovereignty in the earthly father or in a heavenly Father: ‘Piety is doing as I am doing; that is to say, prosecuting any one who is guilty of murder, sacrilege, or of any similar crime-whether he be your father or mother, or whoever he may be-that makes no difference; and not to prosecute them is impiety.’ In many ways anticipating the Kantian practical philosophy of duty before the moral law, Euthyphro creates a direct analogy between his prosecution of his father with the prosecution Zeus undertook against his father Cronos for “wickedly devoured his sons”, and Cronos himself had committed a similar action against his father, Uranus, for another similar impious action. Socrates, expressing his own piety, questions whether the gods could possibly really be so utterly human, but in so doing misses the point entirely. The point being that piety is a doing.

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