Altizer: “America and the Death of God”

Thomas Altizer asked that I pass this along on here.

“America and the Death of God”

by Thomas J. J. Altizer

Our most revolutionary prophet, William Blake, in his first prophetic poem, America (1793), enacted the American Revolution as the initial realization of the death of God, the deity here named as Urizon, the preincarnate and alien God, whose death initiates apocalypse. This is the God whom Hegel named as Abstract Spirit and the “Bad Infinite,” a God not realized until the advent of the modern world, and who is the consequence of an absolute self-negation or self-emptying of the Godhead. Both Blake and Hegel enact the death of God, indeed Hegel and Blake are the first enactors of the death of God, a death that for each is an absolute self-negation or self-emptying, a self-negation that is the absolute source of all and everything. Hence the death of God is both genesis and apocalypse, or absolute beginning and absolute ending, the absolute beginning of all and everything, and the absolute consummation of everything. That consummation itself proceeds out of an original self-negation or self-emptying, one negating or emptying an original absolutely undifferentiated Godhead, and only this self-negation makes possible either apocalypse or the world itself.  Hegel is our most profoundly apocalyptic thinker, while Blake is our most totally apocalyptic visionary, each recover and renew a long lost apocalyptic ground, a ground that is the original ground of Christianity, one that is wholly transformed in the great body of Christianity, and only recovered in revolutionary movements, which are the most revolutionary movements in our history.

Both Blake and Hegel are profoundly Christian, but they are radical Christians, even atheistic Christians, who absolutely negate the given God, or who deeply and comprehensively realize that this God has absolutely negated itself, a self-negation that inaugurates the modern world. Each could know the French Revolution as the historical realization of the death of God, but Blake, at least in America, could know the American Revolution not only as the initial realization of the death of God, but as the inaugurator of absolute revolution. This is the deepest calling of America, one known to every deeply American seer, and actualized in that America which is the first secular nation, the first not only to separate Church and State, but to create a public realm that is a truly secular realm. This inspired an assault upon America by many European Christians, but Europeans have never been able to understand America, and the question can be genuinely asked if America has ever understood itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Laodicea, Conclusion: “Don’t just stand there, naked ones, cover yourself!”

Ramsey regarded her letters as though they were treasures not to be cherished, their value neither monetary nor sentimental. These were not love notes whose excesses one might later come to regret. He once suggested to Miriam that he thought they told a story so slowly as to be imperceptible to him. This made her laugh. —If they tell a story, it is one I’d never want to read.

The shuffling of a dozen church bulletins and the sudden firefly glow of phones displaying the time told Ramsey he needed to find his ending. How to get to repentance, this was always the question. Forgiveness, that’s the easy part, softly and gently Jesus is always calling, he could sing this until his face was blue. If he’s done the job, if he’s laid out the sin and he’s described the shame, getting too specific about how to avoid either was a bit redundant. Everything else about the religion was built on the solidest foundation of assumption, from the a priori beginning to the predestined end, but not this? Though it frustrated him that the church allowed no leeway or shortcuts when it came to navigating the narrow path of their salvation, he nevertheless tried to make it as difficult for them as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

This fall

This week, I’ve been settling back into my Chicago apartment and mostly letting my brain rest after the brutal monastic discipline of this summer. I’ve also had a couple meetings at Shimer, which has got my mind starting to churn on my teaching. I think it should be an interesting semester. At Shimer, I’m teaching two sections of Humanities 1: Art and Music (something like “intro to fine arts”) and an elective course on Islamic thought, and I’m also doing a graduate seminar at Chicago Theological Seminary based on my devil research. It strikes me as a good balance — I get a chance to solidify a course I taught for the first time last year (Hum 1), do a new course in a new area, and rethink an old course in a new setting.

On Hum 1, I’m teaching in parallel with my colleague Aron Dunlap, and we both agreed that we needed to make the class more rigorous. Students have sometimes not taken it seriously, in large part due to their skepticism that fine arts are a “real” academic topic, but also in part because we sent the wrong message with the workload. So we’ve beefed up the reading and (more crucially) the writing requirements. We’re hoping that the need to write a paper on the materials will help to add an element of urgency and focus to the discussion. To compensate, we’ve cut the previous element of requiring students to do brief “conversation-starter” papers, an assignment that is often very helpful in other classes but never seemed to work as intended in Hum 1. Another element I’m excited about is that all the sections are scheduled during the Art Institute’s hours of operation, so that we’ll have multiple class sessions that will meet directly at the museum.

While I’m going to be doing more teaching than I’m used to, I’m hoping the CTS devil course will feed directly into my writing due to the ability to incorporate a lecture element into the course (an option unavailable to me with the Shimer version I taught last spring). Being in Hyde Park every week should also be helpful as I work on the complex bibliographical elements involved with my Agamben translation. Another nice element is that my Shimer classes are all bunched together in the morning, so that I should be able to keep working steadily on the translation in the afternoons.

In addition to my teaching, I’m going also to be presenting at a conference on core curricula at religious and secular schools hosted by the Association of Core Text Colleges and giving a talk and a seminar session on Zizek and religion at Portland State University.

Overall, it should be pretty busy — so much so that I can’t really “see” beyond the end of the semester, if that makes sense. So if anyone has recommendations for TV shows to binge-watch starting around December 15, let me know.

Laodicea, Part 5: “that one should represent his past, the other his present, and neither his future.”

Of course, the handwritten letters, too, were her idea. Email was, in her opinion, utilitarian to a fault, and she was convinced that no one reads any that are longer than two paragraphs. Modern information technology, she continued, is well and good for when you simply need to convey something you do not want to trust to memory, like workaday names, places, dates, and times. Quite the opposite, though, for those things which the additions and the failures of memory are not only inevitable but required if the message is to be properly received at all. Not to mention, —Your Baptists, they want life to be like it was in the 1950s, don’t they? With all those women stirring their stews as the men return from work, the boys rough-housing in the front yard with good-nature’d, correctable grace as the girls set the table with the forks and knives in proper array, all those dirty aprons, dusty hats, scuffed knees and pig-tails. Ramsey, who are we to upset this picture of slowed-down, southern-drawled bliss? No, email won’t do at all in that world of yours.

Miriam loved to play the role of city sophisticate, but the fact that she lived in a place as mid-sized and amorphously suburban as Lexington was not lost on her. She had returned after college to care for her mother, who as it happened cared little for Ramsey. Neither cancer in her stomach nor congestion in her lungs diminished Miranda Porter’s thoughts about “the boy turned Baptist.” Read the rest of this entry »

Abusing the Proper — Blood Book Event

Closing out such a productive book event, first I must confess the difficulty of trying to read Blood this summer. In transit for six weeks between cities on opposite sides of this continent, my efforts to read the book were constantly distracted. These were Ramadan nights when my twitter timeline was filled with blood, pictures of blackened faces rubble and the black billowing clouds of hell loosed onto the earth. All (certainly warranted) criticisms of the pornographic consumption of the dead aside, the futility of such witness (perhaps the futility of every such witness, no matter how fervent, never again and the responsibility to protect), this is the evening redness in the west. But Darwish wrote, “we do injustice to Gaza when we turn it into a myth, because we will hate it when we discover that it is no more than a small poor city that resists” (ونظلم غزة حين نحولها إلى أسطورة لأننا سنكرهها حين نكتشف أنها ليست أكثر من مدينة فقيرة صغيرة تقاوم; full excerpt here, trans. Sinan Antoon). And so these lines eventually proved steadying against news of other crimson tides, these lines from the Darwish prose poem titled Hayrat al-‘a’id (“Perplexity of the Returned”) proved a steadying guide (dalalat) to those at a loss in these bloody times (dalalat al-ha’irin), trying to read Blood. Somewhere in that texture there is a pun or at least a tired gesture about Maimonides and Anidjar, namely the power of a line of prosody to exceed itself beyond its context.

Someone (Anthony?) rightly commented earlier that the book resists being disciplined into history or theology or political theory, being utilized and cited to other ends. I can see people working with certain of its close readings (Benjamin, Freud, Melville), folding these moments of the book into their scholarly arguments. Beyond this segmentary approach, I think it’s also possible to respond broadly to its ambition. One example of this kind of work is Kevin O’Neill’s forthcoming Secure the Soul (2015). This decentered ethnography finds Christianity beyond the limits of religion alone, in (indeed making up) the soft security apparatus of postwar Guatemala. Like Christianity, because of Christianity, confounding whatever differences between secular and Christian security, the logics of pious gang prevention show that it is possible to ethnographically demonstrate the idea of an anthropology of Christianity as compulsive — even in the Christian science that is anthropology.

My difficulty of reading Blood this summer abruptly raises the question of reading it among blood, that is, what is the relation between this book and the world, its Christianity and actually existing Christianity. Already Anthony has beautifully answered this question in a way I find entirely persuasive (Blood as index of an archive), and I should note that my question does not have to do with some of the more predictable historical or anthropological lines (what about historical change, what about non-Western Christianities) which I’ve heard raised by audience members at Anidjar’s talks (and which his book itself anticipates and sets aside). It seems clear in any case that while his book intersects with these registers it marks a more immediate claim (a further comment on this below). Rather I am curious first about the figure of this relation. This is a question Anidjar addresses throughout the book, from its opening to its close. My suggestion in short is that the way Anidjar characterizes this relation opens a window onto the formal status of Blood as critique of Christianity. And so although there is a lot more to discuss here, even at the end of this book event, I begin at the very end of the book:

Blood is not quite an object, not a thing either. It is neither old nor new; although it is also that and more. Nor is blood a discourse that would regiment, precisely, the course of blood through the realms of human and inhuman existence … As a ‘metaphor’ that does not relate to a literal term, whose referent is anything but granted, blood is, it should be treated as, catachrestic. (258)

Read the rest of this entry »

Altizer on Leahy: “Apocalypticism and Modern Thinking”

Thomas Altizer asked me to pass along a few things in honor of D. G. Leahy.  The first is an article, “Apocalypticism and Modern Thinking,” originally published in the Journal for Christian Theological Research 2.2 (1992), par. 1-27.

“Apocalypticism and Modern Thinking”

Thomas J. J. Altizer

1. While the power of apocalypticism in our history is now acknowledged, we have little sense of its power or even meaning in thinking itself, and this despite the fact that so many of our primal modern thinkers, such as Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, have manifestly been apocalyptic thinkers. Indeed, the very advent of modernity can be understood to be an apocalyptic event, an advent ushering in a wholly new world as the consequence of the ending of an old world. Nowhere was such a new world more fully present than in thinking itself, a truly new thinking not only embodied in a new science and a new philosophy, but in a new reflexivity or introspection in the interiority of self-consciousness. This is the new interiority which is so fully embodied in the uniquely Shakespearean soliloquy, but it is likewise embodied in that uniquely Cartesian internal and radical doubt which inaugurates modern philosophy. Cartesian philosophy could establish itself only by ending scholastic philosophy, and with that ending a new philosophy was truly born, and one implicitly if not explicitly claiming for itself a radically new world. That world can be understood as a new apocalyptic world, one which becomes manifestly apocalyptic in the French Revolution and German Idealism, and then one realizing truly universal expressions in Marxism and in that uniquely modern or postmodern nihilism which was so decisively inaugurated by Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of God.

2. Yet a truly modern subject or “I” is a doubled or self-alienated center of consciousness, and is so in a uniquely Cartesian internal and radical doubt, one never decisively present in previous cognitive or philosophical thinking, although its ground had been established by Augustine’s philosophical discovery of the subject of consciousness. Even as Augustinian thinking had been deeply reborn in the late Middle Ages, thence becoming a deep ground not only of the Reformation but also of Cartesian thinking, this new modern subject which is now established and real is an interiorly divided subject, and so much so that its internal ground is a truly dichotomous ground. Nothing else is so deeply Augustinian in modern thinking and in the modern consciousness itself, and if Augustine discovered the subject of consciousness by way of his renewal of Paul, it was Paul who discovered the profoundly internal divisions and dichotomies of consciousness and self-consciousness. This is the Paul who is so deeply renewed in the dawning of modernity, but also the Paul who was the creator of Christian theology, a theology which if only in Paul is a purely and consistently apocalyptic theology, and Paul’s realization of the ultimate polarity or dichotomy of consciousness is an apocalyptic realization, one reflecting an apocalyptic dichotomy between old aeon and new aeon, or flesh (sarx) and Spirit (pneuma). Read the rest of this entry »

Laodicea, Part 4: “time’s got a way of sedimenting”

—Young, handsome man like yourself, you have to have a young lady on your arm, right?

—I suppose you’d say . . . it’s complicated.

—Oh, it always is, son, somebody said, to mostly faked laughs of agreement.

—Sure. Yeah, I know. I guess the short answer is, No, I’m not married.

—Don’t stop there on account of us. We got time for the long answer, too.

—Oh, yeah, sure. It’s just that . . . we grew up together. And, I suppose you’d say . . . time’s got a way of sedimenting . . . Read the rest of this entry »


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