A Becoming Transformation through Apocalypse

This is a guest post by Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, PhD . Robyn is Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethics at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and Public Theologian in Residence at Faith Matters Network, Nashville, TN.  Their work has a primary interest in the ontology of becoming and the ethics of interrelatedness stemming from the intersections of continental philosophy, Gloria Anzaldúa, anti-normative queer theories and New Materialisms.  Robyn’s work exists in the in between spaces of  ontology, epistemology, and ethics.  Their interests, while wildly philosophical, are also at the intersection of addressing pressing social concerns of race, class, gender, and sexuality.  Using imagination in queer ways, Robyn’s scholarly work starts at the point of departure of ‘what is reality?’ to address existing disparities and pays careful attention to element of desire, imagination, possibility, potentiality, difference, and becoming to help an affirmative and non-teleological reality emerge.

One of the enduring orthodoxies for Christian Theology is that of the doctrine of the Trinity. I have been trained to be sympathetic to the Social Trinity and theologies that critique the androcentricity and patriarchal ideology of the Economic Trinity. At the end of the day, I think they both fail, and I value this failure with a particular gratitude in that the very norms that have structured Christian Theology have the potential for failure, which enlivens a new apocalyptic hope for me.

While centuries of debates and reformulations have ensued, the queer anti-normative turn seen in Tonstad’s text has the most promise. Yet, I am not certain that all differences are simply differences; I think there is a complexity to Tonstad’s work that has yet to be mined. I think important to Tonstad’s work is the constructive turn of ‘apocalyptic transformation’ over against ‘eschatological fulfillment.’ In an effort to disrupt and outright eschew the utopianism of queer theology that is rooted in LGBT studies, identity politics, and a culture of assimilation, Tonstad argues for a queer temporality that is rooted in the presence of multiplicity and the never-receding horizon of differences.

I come to this work as a Trans Queer Latinx who is devoted to a particular reading of Gilles Deleuze with regard to difference. The philosophical concept of difference, according to Deleuze, is that which is without a norm that materializes through the never-repeating repetition of difference. We cannot talk about the corporeality of difference, insofar as difference is not necessarily embodied, though the world for Deleuze is a body that is becoming, and all things are a worlding. This complicates the thinking about the God-world relation, though might provide some helpful context when thinking about this particularity relative to the doctrine of the Trinity. With regard to difference relative to Triune God and in conversation with Tonstad’s book, the hetero-patriarchal dyad illustrates the eternal submission of the heterosexual dyadic in the Father-Son pair, also eclipses the apparent misogyny of the bottom figure that is the Holy Spirit. While Tonstad’s suspicious and outright critique of kenosis is necessary for a liberative and queer move seen in the temporality of apocalypse, I wonder about the presence of kenosis as the agentic force of the margins and the place of that particularity as difference that begins as the margins of the margins. I do not argue for an emptying seen in the traditional kenotic discourse but in an affirmative kenosis that privileges the agency of the ‘bottom.’ How might begging from the bottom, or the margins of the margins (in Althaus-Reid’s language), subvert the differences that exist in the hetero-patriarchal dyadic relationship of Father-Son? How might affirmative kenotic agency initiate a new contour in thinking about difference reshape our Trinitarian thinking? Does this get us any closer to an apocalyptic transformation, or is it a different iteration of eschatological fulfillment from the bottom up? Is that particular linearity even helpful? I think not! I think that thinking about this thru the lens of affirmative kenosis might generate a new agentic possibility for the margins of the margins that might be in line with a cataphatic approach to thinking apophatically with the margins of the margins.

The binary of top and bottom or presence/absence or margin and center complicates our thinking about difference, but difference is that with no norm, and each of these binaries enflesh an opposition of one over and against the other. Yet, because of power, imperialism, colonialism, and structures that perpetuate such binaries, we must think through the lenses of radical queer politics to reframe our thinking about the Trinity.

While the inscribed heteronormativity in normative theologies of the Trinity has perpetuated theologies and social practices, best illustrated by Tonstad’s recap of the marriage equality movement and the welcoming church movement, along with Believe Out Loud’s ad on inclusion, we must take both heteronormativity and Jasbir Puar’s rightly informed critique of homonationalism to task. Neither of these options allow for differences to take shape; they are both rooted in the politics of assimilation that is supported by the politics of representationalism. The Trinity, thus, conforms to these politics and therefore shapes our theological imagination of belonging. This normative theological imagination does not create an opening for difference to materialize and eclipse any notions of becoming. So, to think about God and difference, we must think thru a queer lens that does not enflesh a standard teleological approach nor advocate for assimilationalist politics. This is where I think Tonstad’s brilliant move against eschatological fulfillment, often seen in utopian frameworks, such as the ‘reign of God’ or the ‘kingdom of God,’ and toward apocalyptic transformation seems not only plausible, but quite possible in a world where the logic of dominance has shaped our theologies in unproductive ways and produced a neoliberal market imagination that is rooted in the logic of reproduction that is best seen in marriage equality and other market-driven logic-realities. We need to rethink transformation thru the framework of apocalypse to better be able to hold the complexities of difference (and becoming), though in non-teleological ways. In order to think about difference and becoming in non-teleological ways, we must dismantle the logic of dominance that is seen in the logic of faith.

Using the eucharist as an example, as Tonstad does, we can begin to re-imagine transformation at the place of difference and becoming, but we must unhinge from the politics of representationalism that is expressed through submission of the priest or pastor that shapes our eucharistic theologies. Unhinging from the logic of reproduction that is central to the eucharist, in reproducing the presence of the absence of Christ’s body, helps further untangle assimilationist politics that point toward an eschatological horizon of fulfillment, opposed to an apocalyptic transformation. In order to do this, we need Deleuze’s politics of becoming in addition to a theology of difference.

When we unhinge from the politics of representationalism (state-sponsored marriage is one of those politics), we can begin to re-imagine transformation on the basis of non-teleological belonging and non-reproductive communities (family, church, etc). Dismounting from the theologies and politics of representationalism helps further unhinge from an ecclesiology of reproduction that perpetuates logics of faith that are rooted in the (hetero-homo)norm.

The apocalyptic transformation materializes when material bodies engage with the anti-social and compulsory intelligibility that, for example, the LGBT movement demands. When one is able to hold the memory of time with the complexity of the unintelligibly of the non-reproductive future, we might begin to reshape our social practices into an ethics not of intelligibility and hope for recognition but an anti-social ethics that refuses reproductive and representational politics. Herein lies the politics of radical difference where becoming is the centralizing force in holding the complexity of difference. Using the metaphor of the bridge, as Gloria Anzaldúa did, we can see that ‘bridging with difference’ is not the same as ‘bridging across difference.’ ‘Across’ assumes some sort of assimilation and recognition, wheres bridging ‘with’ difference demands attention to the unrecognizability of becoming and the materiality of politics that are rooted in difference. In order for an apocalyptic transformation to materialize, I argue Tonstad needs the politics of a non-teleological becoming that further materializes the ability to unhinge from the politics of representationalism and identiarian politics that reinforce assimilationist ideologies.

3 Responses to “A Becoming Transformation through Apocalypse”

  1. Introduction: God and Difference Book Event | An und für sich Says:

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  2. landzek Says:

    Totally love it. There was a post a while ago by Ray Brassier that talked about academic abstracts for papers and the procedure that academics are involved with and making proposals. In short he was saying there is an inherent contradiction in some types of papers that is the meanings of those papers when put in the context of an academic Abstract.

    Innoway, we can apply that to this little entry this post. I say this because people love nowadays to use the non-. And I can’t help but wonder what the hell that means. Because what it means is the contradiction that Ray is pointing out of the academic Abstract. It means that we’re going to hold on to a certain polemic and make a polemic with that polemic while saying the first polemic is incorrect or wrong. It is saying that my polemic is now correct. Get the non- in many instances is both deny that polemical situations indeed account for the instance in a correct manner; this is the meaning of difference. The problem with many of these ideas is that while the intention is there we have already found or we do find that intentionality is already problematic. What I’m saying here is that the assumption is that there is a one common and unitive reality in which we all exist.

    So to say non-teleological is also to say sort of a different teleology then what is being critiqued, but my question is always how is it possible that I am not involved in that same exact teleology by my critique?

    The answer is ultimately faith in traditional philosophical routes. In this instance philosophy Western philosophy post modern Western philosophy has made it a sort of given that all I need to do is form closet structures bracket them and suddenly reality changes. All this without giving thought to the fact that in order for me to bracket such discourse the discourse already exists and contains the potential that I am trying to reveal in my critique. I’m sure that Deluz and Lyotard and Derrida, if you look closely, already telling us this. And so my question remains why is it that we’re still ignoring what they’re telling us?

    Hence for me to say non- really is just ending statement of what is already occurring; it is a reification of a teleological standard, The standard that will remain for the purposes of creating another alterity that can be recouped in difference and call it self another non-, but in this potential case we will probably come up with another prefix to situate this. That is until we develop a true Catholic philosophical situation (unitary). Until that time, i think, we will always have to wonder what these alterity’s and different forms of the common human being might really be saying. And indeed if there really positing any difference at all beyond that of another way to make a living.

    In short I would say it is not a non-teleology; I would say that it is a non-ontology, as well a different teleology altogether, One that cannot be reconciled to be given teleology of the critique. Unless were trying to form a common human religion a Unitarian maximum of conformity into which all human beings are accounted for, then we have to look more closely at what we’re trying to do with all the initials behind our names and all these nons. Is brown grass non-green grass? Or is a tree non-grass? No. is a human being a non-dog? An animal or non-plant?

    It seems to me that sometimes all the work and strife that goes into getting a legitimate see for a bunch of letters and dots after persons name sometimes avoids the pure ability that goes into that work. Perhaps in some cases we might see that what the work is is really a movement of conformity and not a work of difference; A work of being excepted into the teleological plan.

    At some point this will be addressed and for sure all the small steps are required but at some point there is a chasm that cannot be crossed and on one side you have a particular ontological set in teleological maxims and on the other side you have an entirely different order of being.

    I’m just tired of all the non-s. Say what you mean, not just adding on to what other people saying and then putting a non to it. Say something exceptional something significant say something that’s actually trans instead of trans parentheses compromise end parentheses. Feminism and feminist critique , nowadays reallydid not arrive because of some sort of masculinism. They didn’t say ‘ we are non-men’ .

  3. landzek Says:

    …but the meaning of this essay i like; its just the nons appear to me to detract from its meaning.

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