Thursday, December 30, 2010

Barfing into the Void

Noah and I discuss the possibility of ineffable transcendent anythingness, based on his article about a philosophy book about film that argues against philosophy about film:

Albert Stabler

From your account, that book sounds like one big steaming pile of dissected cow hearts. Are you sure it's not supposed to be some big joke on his name (heap of mullarkey)? The caveman Tarantino line and the Zizek's nostril line are priceless.

But then again, I'm looking at a review in a journal ( that contains a lot more detail about his actual philosophical orientation (Bergsonian, it would appear). That sort of dynamist vitalist evolutionary becomingness that C.S. Lewis makes fun of and Alfred North Whitehead propounds (as does Deleuze). So really, this guy has a philosophy he's imposing on film-- even if it's yet another in an endless series of examples of what Badiou in that Paul book calls "antiphilosophy."

I don't think you're someone who denies himself a cheap shot or ten, and I support you heartily. But, along with not fleshing out his probably banal point, you don't make much of an argument for your (thoroughly defensible) "nothing is new" view. For example, complaining about Sofia Coppolla's incredibly stupid interview on Fresh Air, where she and Terri talk about the bliss of watching some actor smoke a cigarette with no edits-- a reiteration of the "time-image" motif that has become an avant-garde cliche.

Noah Berlatsky

Oh...he's definitely Bergsonian. I thought about talking about that more, but it didn't really seem all that worthwhile; he ends up just saying that film is ever becoming new, film is a Heraclitan fire, etc. etc. The main point for me was the claim that film is uncontainable in thought, but that philosophy is containable, therefore philosophy contains film and not the other way around. I don't think it was unfair to make fun of him for that without necessarily making fun of him for anything else. He really makes his own philosophy secondary to claiming that philosophy doesn't get film; the second is his main point, the first gets much less attention.

I guess I felt that the fact that there's nothing particularly new under the sun seemed like a fairly obvious point....

Albert Stabler

Yeah, good-- it's basically all about narratives (which definitely distances you from Bergson and Mullarkey, as well as Kristeva and others). I appreciate your examples. I'm a sucker for hard content. Like a Tootsie Pop.

Well, far be it from me to tell you what you think. It's just that you haven't offered your own theory of how film can be theorized, other than as mere illustration of philosophical points, which is apparently what Mullarkey is saying it has been thus far. Like, how is Zizek's viviosn of narrative different than it would have been without cinema as an example?

Maybe one thing I find curious about your approach to philosophy (which is not unlike your approach to theology) is that you are consistently reverent toward historical precedent without positioning yourself as in any way participating in any tradition(s). It's sort of your own kind of pragmatism (Dewey and James et al, a recent American strain of antiphilosophy that, frankly, I imagine you would have mixed feelings about being lumped into), this commonsensical anti-scholasticism that kind of overlaps a bit with the intuitive poetics of Bergson, frankly.

I get the sense that you still think most any philosopher is basically full of horseshit when talking about film-- which, ironically, may be sort of what Mullarkey is saying. It's just that you believe in being more polite and unpretentious about saying so. In your version, film is still just film, philosophy is still just philosophy, but, you know, they represent each other sometimes, and it's all good. Which I'd certaily rather read than some Marshall McLuhan blather about hot and cool running media formats.

Noah Berlatsky

My ideas about the gay utopia are totally built on reading films. If you look through that essay, you can see me saying, "well, kristeva says this, but if you look at this film, it actually seems to say that things work more like this." Or that line about the opposite of love being paranoia; that's a philosophical point (more poetic than rigorous, but still) which comes directly from watching a movie. As does the idea that a big part of the attraction of homosexual panic is that it's pleasurable.

I just think it's an accumulation of particular ideas and details rather than through some all-encompassing traumatic mechanism. Philosophy and film just aren't that different. They're both products of human thought. It just seems bizarre to me to posit this huge rift between them which you have to overcome in order to have them communicate.

Also...not to be too grating...but the whole point of the fecund horror piece was based not so much on the narratives I picked as on the fact that the emotional identification of the narratives were intentionally binary; they read both as themselves and against themselves. So the philosophical point I was making wasn't based on the narrative example, but rather on the the an aesthetics of identification, which is based partly on narrative but also very much on image (and sexual desire, which is pretty important, is also a function of image as much as of narrative — and a lot of the way that the films read against themselves is by contrasting image and narrative, so we're told diagetically that our protagonist doesn't want sex, but the film keeps showing us semi-naked women in fetishized ways, or throwing poop/phalluses at us.)

I think one of the big methodological problems with Mullarkey's book is that in order to claim that philosophers separate out narrative to use it as examples, he forced to himself separate out narrative to use it as an example, implying that one can talk bout narrative without having other things bleed in. He also, as I said, abstracts out philosophy itself, turning it into a series of propositions or a chain of thought and thereby hiding the extent to which aesthetics is important to philosophy too, and the way that metaphor and syntax can't be abstracted from philosophical argument. Those things are what make philosophy like film in the first place, and why there isn't as much of a different between them as all that. Or so I'd argue anyway.

It's something of a traditionalist argument...except that I think many philosophers are a little chary of owning the extent to which metaphor and aesthetics is important to what they're doing. Or perhaps I'm wrong about that, I'm not sure....

I don't actually think philosophers are full of shit when talking about film. I mean, no more than anyone else. I think Zizek is often funny and insightful. Cavell sounds pretty interesting. Mullarkey had some interesting readings, even. It would really be case by case as to whether I thought they were worthwhile or not. I think it's silly to state categorically that film hasn't influenced philosophy because examples don't count as influence, though. I think there's a conversation which can be dumb or can be interesting, but dumb or interesting, it exists.

I think seeing film as unique among the arts is hard for me to sign onto. But philosophy as an art and art as philosophy seems like it's an idea that's been around for a long time, and one with a fair bit of validity.

T'aint all about narrative. The exhilaration/enjoyment of homosexual panic is mostly expressed through special effects. And I talk about the acting and the images and so forth. Narrative is pretty important in narrative film, but I think you can respond to other aspects as well.

Albert Stabler

Of course, ironic subtext is not merely the domain of cinema. Which doesn't invalidate you observing that philosophy has style. It's so content-centric, there's no wonder it keeps ending up barfing into the void. It could do a lot more with itself if it was overall less formalistic, although it then has the problem, as you mentioned, of being recognized as philosophy. But Paul still pulled it off. As did numerous film directors.

Special effects and acting and images are tools of narrative in film, as metaphors and imagery and characterization are tools of narrative in literature. I'm not saying you're saying it's all about plot or dialogue, and I'm certainly not saying your points are anything but sensitive and worthwhile-- but I am saying you might be subsuming everything to the Symbolic (storytelling) element of the experience, rather than the stuff that interrupts the experience. This email, like philosophy in general, can make gestures at describing horror, laughter, and ambiguity, but it arguably can't necessarily convey it in the same way as a virtual reading or viewing experience can.

But then again, the idealist romantic tradition, since Schlegel and Schelling and what not, have maintained that poetry is the highest of all human pursuits, for much the same reason.

Noah Berlatsky

Yeah, that's not entirely unlike what Mullarkey says. He's very interested for example in the way that people desire the iceberg to miss the titanic in way which involves them actually experiencing involuntary bodily motions. And he's fascinated by what's experienced as real or unreal. And in everyday time. And in nervous systems.

I'd say I don't have any problem with people talking about the non-symbolic aspects of film if that's what they want to do. An important aspect of the Lord of the Rings is that the films are so damn long that the need to urinate is a vital part of the experience. Or, less diuretically, the Bible is not just what happens in it or how it is organized but the fact that it's a living religious system, and people believe the word of God is there. Or lego instructions are about building something and it doesn't work and that sucks. All reasonable insights. Your world exists while you are in the world of the film (or in some ways it doesn't, which is worth thinking about as well.)

But. Two points. First, the symbolic immersive aspect of film, just because it is shared by other narratives and is not alone particular to film — that does not mean that it is not part of film. Wrting about that symbolic aspect and philosophizing about it, that's still engaging with the movie. It's not denying its particularity or filmness; it's not reducing film to a philosophical example. The symbolic is part of art; engaging with that part of art is engaging with the art. It's not missing the forest for the trees; it's just looking at these trees rather than some other trees which are no doubt interesting as well.

Second. The specificity of film as an experience separate from its narrative is specific only in the way that different symbolic content is different. That is, the symbolic content of the Bible is different than the symbolic content of lego instructions. Similarly, the specificity of the experience of the Bible is different from the specificity of the experience of the lego instructions. But specificity of experience is itself not specific to film; any aesthetic experience (very broadly defined) is going to have that content which is outside the symbolic.

Mullarkey wants film (not specific films, but film itself) to have something special to teach philosophy. He rejects symbolic content because that ends up just being illustrative. So then he goes to the time experience of film itself; the idea that film's essence is no essence or motion. But there's no reason I can see why any of those concepts is central to film in particular. You could say the same thing about lego instructions, really (I mean, I wish you wouldn't say them because the whole conversation is kind of banal and tedious — it's all like, motion, man. But the point is you could say it if you wanted to.)

So the point is: I think philosophy can (and often does) enter into conversations in which it engages with the symbolic/interpretive content of particular films. I think philosophy can (and does somewhat less often) engage with the way people engage with or experience film in an-extra-symbolic or extra-aesthetic way. I think philosophy can think about the particular formal elements of film in general and what that means and doesn't mean. All of those seem to me to be legitimate ways in which philosophy is influenced by, or is in conversation, with film. (And it can go the other way too, of course— film often picks up ideas and things other than ideas too, perhaps, from philosophy.) But I don't see why any of this has to be particularly fraught, or why one needs to pretend that philosophy is some sort of imperialist conqueror of film when it does the first but is authentically learning from film when it does the second. I'm willing to admit that having to pee while watching LOTR is as much about film as the homoerotic tension between Frodo and Sam, but I don't see why having to pee is *more* about film than the homoerotic tension.

I don't think it's true that philosophy or non-fiction prose can't convey those experiences. I really think we're just talking about different genres. I find Feyerabend more inspiring, funnier, more exciting, more ambiguous, than Gilbert Hernandez. I find much of zizek more moving than many of the films he describes. I don't think that's an especially aberrant or even unusual state of affairs.

If everything I've been discussing is the symbolic, what are you saying are the things that interrupt the experience?

Albert Stabler

Actually, I'm at least somewhat off. Maybe it's more accurate to say that the symbolic aspect of culture, which applies to all narratives equally, does more than just organize and structure reality (the realm of plot and superego), thus reinforcing or revising the order of life. It also shapes the imaginary (the flying poop and phalluses you mention, as well as the character identifications and the ineffable sense of meaning and belonging that go along with it), and generates the death drive, which is sort of the meta-symbolic level of repetition that denies orderly progress and change-- instead manufacturing more desire and lack.

But all this synthesizing and virtuality, which happens inside the experience, is (perhaps) different from the things that take you out of the experience, not necessarily by being unconvincing, but by happening to you in the everyday time of your world rather than the world of the book or movie. So, things that are uncanny, shocking, incorrect, funny, illogical, sublime. Which is tough to describe, but it matters that something separates the Bible and a sitcom and a personal letter and instructions to assemble a propane grill, other than subject matter and/or genre. They all point to things outside the text but in our nervous systems. which then refer back to the texts. Time passes in various ways all at once, and memories and meanings create feedback.

There are some very good reasons not to make film special and unique-- it's a modernist wet dream of ever-becoming. Like-- if it's all about sounds and lights and drives, why not TV or video games?

Of course the reason is that the film director has supreme auteur status to control your experience, more than perhaps any other creator before or since. I think semiotic stuff is important. Things that don't break down hermeneutically are important. But there's something masochistic, as I think you imply, about wanting Hitchcock or whoever to reach out of the screen and spank you as some kind of apotheosis of truth-excess.

Yeah, like I said, the concept of antiphilosophy makes sense to me, but film being super special is lame. So that settles that.

Noah Berlatsky

Television is a big question. Mullarkey discusses some television (a Star Trek episode) but doesn't really deal with the fact that it's got at least some decent claims to being a distinct medium. And video games don't come up.

Auteur theory is auteur theory; it's a philosophical container. Which isn't bad, but is a problematic way to claim film's special status as distinct from philosophy.

Also...I'm a little skeptical about antiphilosophy, because I think philosophy tends to include lots of antiphilosophical elements which aren't really acknowledged as such. In order to create an opposite for philosophy, you have to have a fairly reductive notion of philosophy, which assumes that philosophy has a well-defined purpose/program that doesn't include aesthetics (among other things.)

Albert Stabler

I absolutely don't think antiphilosophy is in any way separable from philosophy, It's kind of central to the project, but just comes out explicitly in some writers more than others.. That was pretty central to my spiel at the MCA-- I talked about Paul, Meister Eckhart, Jacobi, and Whitehead as a tradition of philosophers speaking against philosophy on behalf of transcendence. I personally like thinkers that deal with ineffability as something separate and supremely important, like Paul and Kristeva, rather than something that can be reinscribed into the immanence of reality, like Derrida or James. Thus my sympathy for Mullarkey.

Of course aesthetics exists as a branch of philosophy-- some obscure freaks like Aristotle and Kant wrote quite a bit about it. I think you should decide if you really want to be saying that style is really the part of reality/experience that can't be captured by systematic description. Christopher Hitchens might agree with you, but Terry Eagleton probably wouldn't.

Noah Berlatsky

I don't think I'm saying that style can't be captured by systematic description. I'm just saying that systematic description is not description alone. It has style. I'm saying they can't be separated, not that they can.

I'm not so sure that Mullarkey is claiming that ineffability is transcendent. If anything he's claiming that immanence is ineffable. He's not unDerridean (Derrida being kind of the ultimate antiphilosopher in a lot of ways.)

Albert Stabler

Okay, see, that's the thing. I know we're throwing around the "antiphilosophy" term, but I'm sticking to Badiou's use of it to describe Paul, which is pretty different, for me, than what Derrida is doing. Derrida, despite his latter-day becoming-humanist, was a nihilist. Paul was not. The sophistry Paul (according to Badiou) dismissed under the term "Greek" is precisely where Derrida discovered his Zen insights.

Again, exalting film as the Word of God is distasteful, and I haven't read the book. But if you're seeing style as the great unifier of discourse, that's an idealist move I'm not really willing to commit to. Style is different from semiotics.

Maybe we should talk about music to clarify this thing. Music cannot help but have a style, and largely be defined by it, but style doesn't capture the experience of listening to music.

Noah Berlatsky

I don't know that I think style is the great unifier; I'm not saying it's the essence of discourse. But I don't see how you have a discussion that doesn't have style. (All discussions have content too, I'd say.) Style doesn't capture the experience of listening to music, but so what? Experiences are particular; you can't transfer them from one medium to another anyway, though you can transfer bits of them.

I'm pretty sure Mullarkey is just using antiphilosophy to mean "things that are not philosophy." Especially things that are experiential rather than looking for transcendent insight. From that perspective Derrida fits and Paul probably doesn't. Which just goes to show that the main thing that unifies philosophers is that they don't want to be called philosophers.

Albert Stabler

I keep coming back to the Hegel thing about the perfect State is no State. All philosophy wants to kill philosophy. But that's different from saying that all experiences are ineffable-- like you said, it's just the actual parts of experiences (that basically everyone has) that, arguably, cannot be represented, but merely reproduced. THis has been a big frontier for antiphilosophical philosophy, since before Nietzsche. I bet that's what Mullarkey thinks he's talking about.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Black Beacon in a Blinding Storm, or, Annihilation Irrationalized

I actually finally saw the original rape-revenge cinema classic I Spit On Your Grave tonight. Not only is the cinematography lovely (not unaware of echoing the gaze of the predator, slasher movie style), but the portrait of the viciously tyrannical but ironically (and literally) castrated “primal father” after the death of patriarchy is an entirely appropriate response to the whole Othering of the primeval countryside. Here’s a statement I made on black metal that sort of applies:

“I think you could go so far as to say provincialism itself has acquired a certain globalized character-- it's the voice of negativity. Isolationism universal! And that sort of worldview has to be strictly negative. The struggle to resist the imperialist is (in a general abstract way at least) pure, but the land and invented history being defended are never pure.”

Anyhow, this whole conversation with my pal Noah was prompted by his article that is now readable here, in which he refers to the new and old versions of I Spit On Your Grave, as well as the old and new versions of Michael Haneke’s movie Funny Games.

My misgivings about I Spit are probably still relevant (for me anyway) and are enumerated below; I would add that I find dubious Noah’s claims about it being a “subtle and thoughtful” treatment of “how class works, how gender works, how that provokes violence, how that affects us and our morality.” But it’s a provocative movie that anyone who cares about radical feminism and/or likes violent movies should see.

We refer obliquely to some nice things Noah wrote on evil and pacifism, in these pieces on Spiderman, Superman, and Terry Eagleton.

And we begin…

Noah Berlatsky

I discovered that Andi Ziesler, one of the editors at Bitch magazine, apparently hates I Spit on Your Grave on the grounds that...well, you can probably figure it out. I found this more irritating than I expected, which is stupid of me. If you're going to get irritated because not all feminists like I Spit on Your Grave, you're going to be getting irritated a lot....

Albert Stabler

Feminists are probably touchy about long rape scenes and rape-revenge being yet another dom/mommy castrator fantasy thing. Which is sort of why I like absolute violence more than justified violence, in movies anyway. But I still want to see Spit.

Noah Berlatsky

I don't think you get around domination or castration fantasies with absolute violence, actually. But that's maybe just me....

I wish Andi Ziesler were smart enough to see it as castration fantasies on the part of men. As far as I can tell, she just sees it as sadism and exploiting women. Just the long rape scenes in other words. (She doesn't like the fact that Jennifer seduces the men afterwards either, which might be a dislike of castration fantasies, I suppose.)

I've probably made this clear enough...but I don't know that male masochistic investment in feminism is a bad thing. Men have an erotic investment in patriarchy — as indeed do women. It seems like if you're going to present an alternate model, you need an alternate erotics as well. I know the alternate model is supposed to be egalitarian sharing with everyone treating each other with respect, etc, but if other things work perhaps that's not so bad either. William Marston thought so, and he was a kook...but Gloria Steinem agreed with him....

Anyway, I think I Spit on My Grave has problems from a feminist perspective, and there are lots of reasons to dislike it. But it's so clearly engaged with feminism, and so clearly trying to talk about issues of patriarchy and violence...I don't know. Dismissing it out of hand just seems really wrong-headed.

Albert Stabler

So you're thinking that her critique would be that the movie is sadistic rather than masochistic, and you disagree-- and so then either you or she would be saying that masochism has more moral value than sadism. Which is pretty fair, for obvious reasons, but is interesting to just come out and say.

I was actually thinking of Funny Games being more about absolute violence, and Spit (and Rambo and every war movie ever) as being about justified violence. And, I gotta say, justified violence sounds a lot more masochistic and absolute sounds more sadistic.

Noah Berlatsky

I think Funny Games is pretty masochistic, though perhaps less so than I Spit. Haven't seen Rambo, believe it or not!

Albert Stabler
I mean, there's catharsis and empathy in every horror movie. But when that's bracketed the way it is in Funny Games, it feels more sadistic. There's more about evil in that. Power without the excuse of trauma.

Albert Stabler

The "absolute violence" thing is an idea I'm appreciating. The Old Testament (Job is a pretty profound example) locates the origins of violence in the arrogance of man and the mysterious machinations of the Divine. And then the New Testament rejects any justification of vengeance. As masochistic as "turn the other cheek" sounds, it's not a seduction strategy, it's a denial of all force.

Noah Berlatsky

Yes, the vision of justice and violence in Job is definitely congruent with that in Funny Games.

The problem with Funny Games, I'd argue, is that it puts the director in the place of God — and implicitly argues that man-made violence should be treated like divine violence. That's both blasphemous and, I would argue, unjust.

The existence of violence qua violence is a mystery. The existence of specific acts of violence by human beings is not transcendent; it's imminent and explicable. Funny Games is in a way even more of an incitement to revenge and violence than I Spit; it suggests that there is really nothing that can be done with folks like Peter and Paul except to kill them, right? Whereas I Spit offers an analysis of violence which at least suggests the possibility of interventions before you get to everybody killing one another.

I like Niebuhr's idea that mercy is the refutation and the fulfillment of justice. As a result, justice for him is not the fulfillment of divinity, but is still part of God's work.

As I sort of said in the essay, there's a way to read I Spit that suggests that Jennifer's revenge is a failure, not a triumph; acquiescence in destroying herself, which is the result of all violence. In Funny Games on the other hand, if she had shot the guy with the rifle...there's no implicit critique of violence there that I can see. When your enemies are inexplicable all-powerful demons, there's no moral stain to killing them.

Albert Stabler

Here's where I would invoke Simone Weil's reading of the Iliad. Brutality just projects itself, it's always spilling over. Which absolutely doesn't excuse anyone-- rather, it convicts everyone. It can only be tricked, as it's a function of desire.

How does Funny Games convict the killers? They're not convicted or justified, they're evil. They are sharing our pleasure. Whereas, the rapists in I Spit are justified in some small way by the trauma of their poverty and ignorance, which actually feeds into the logic of the victim's revenge.

Noah Berlatsky

Trauma doesn't justify evil. Evil is evil, whether there's trauma involved or not. But explanations allow us to intervene in evil, for prevention or justice. Human understanding is flawed, but it's also a presumably god-given tool. Job's faith is the correct response to the divine, but faith in human evil is an error.

I would argue that only God can perform evil without reason (which in that case is not evil.) Restricting evil to a definition which involves no reason is what Eagleton does in his book. It's a bad move because it simultaneously causes you to demonize your enemies (resulting in violence) or to sink into despair (which is a sin.)

I Spit doesn't make a whole lot of the rapists' ignorance, I don't think. They're definitely poor, but that doesn't justify the rape. If anything, it convicts the poverty. That is, the movie implicates us not only because of our potential as rapists, but because of our participation in a class system which generates violence.

Albert Stabler

See how it goes-- trauma doesn't justify rape in I Spit, but then you blame the poverty, aka the trauma. Your whole point about evil happening for actual reasons, versus Terry Eagleton, and focusing on the act itself, indicts the murders by the rape victim. The cycle of retribution leaves her and the blonde boys in Funny Games in basically the same place, except there's the illusion of contracts being fulfilled in I Spit.

But yes, we can intervene in evil. But the trick is in deflecting the desire to punish. That's the irony of modern therapeutic justice, is that the deflection ends up abstracting the act of evil-- essentially, the straightforward vengeance in I Spit is a relief from modern suspension of moral distinctions, just like Dirty Harry. But then the ones playing God aren't the pleasure-seeking murderers of Funny Games, but the avenging angel of I Spit.

Noah Berlatsky

I don't blame the poverty. Rape is wrong, no matter where you are or what's happened to you. Explanation isn't excuse. Or are you on to the republican talking points about how we talking about conditions in the middle east is mollycoddling terrorists?

There isn't an illusion of a contract in I Spit. There's the actuality. Violence between people doesn't come out of the sky like a hurricane; it's part of human interactions and conditions — or karma, if that's your poison.

It is hard to hate the sin and love the sinner, of course. And of course I Spit doesn't solve the problem. But I don't think incarnating the sin in human beings as in Funny Games is an especially useful fix either.

Albert Stabler

Aw heck no! So you're on the bipartisan talking point that since someone in a cave in Afghanistan told someone else to blow up our building, we should invade Afghanistan? With feminist pretensions at that?
I think Funny Games provokes worthwhile thoughts, unlike I Spit, which is basically just scratching an itch.

From: Noah Berlatsky

I really don't think we should have invaded Afghanistan. But not because we can't understand justice.

Watching Funny Games the first version again...I don't know Bert. It seems really shallow and glib to me. Very well done, but with really little to say except the usual stupid serial killer moral. "There are bad people." Oh yeah, and also "Feel guilty for watching TV."

I Spit, on the other hand, actually is interested in how people relate to each other; how class works, how gender works, how that provokes violence, how that affects us and our morality. It's really subtle and thoughtful. I don't know; maybe you'll feel differently about it if you ever see it....

Albert Stabler

But basically, I have some avant-garde-oid investment in a pedagogical approach to morality. I mean, what moral authority do these blonde young nihilism-Nazis have? None! They're not even tough-- but they're not gay either. They're ideal-- they're supermen.

Everyone loves being blamed for their privilege, EXCEPT when it's by someone who shares (and exceeds)that privilege. Basically, the beauty of Funny Games is that of a vulture feeding in the desert, not a cockfight. It's not a guilty pleasure that excuses itself with self-awareness-- it's bloodthirsty pornography that reminds you that actors in pornography have actual lives.

From: Noah Berlatsky

They're pretty tough. They're inhumanly competent, and have the keys to the universe too.

How does it remind you that the people in pornography have lives?

Albert Stabler

That's okay-- we can argue until the 8th. Hey, you should REALLY download the Stargazer/Invocation split from Cosmic Hearse.

The blond predators are clever enough, but they sucker-punch all the way through. And, as good as that keys line is, they don't control the universe- someone gave them a remote, like someone gave them everything else they have. Because it's a fable, a parable, an allegory. It doesn't have characters (even caricatures) like realist/fantasy cinema.

And this is what makes the movie a way to think about the traumatic Real, the contained impenetrable actuality of the people involved. It's a distanced Brechty thing, but with a different kind of materialism-- the figures' physical/cognitive autonomy (or lack thereof) is only elliptically relatable to anything having to do with socioeconomic circumstances. Everyone is wealthy and guilty, but not everyone is a torturer.

Noah Berlatsky

I don't know, Bert. The stuff about the media and violence is really heavy-handed. It's winking and ironic. Brecht is Brecht because he has an ideology; he believes in a Real, which is why there's a distance and something to be distanced from. If it's an allegory, it's an allegory of finger-wagging.

It's well done, and the first time I watched it I was disturbed. But the second time through the glibness got to me. Again, there's a connection to the Eagleton book; I don't actually think the idea of evil as without motivation is either true or helpful. The universe is without motivation that we can parse, and there's certainly a ineffable core of human beings as well. But evil isn't some transcendent projection. It's involved with us. It leaves prints. Their gloves are too white.

Albert Stabler

What stuff about the media? Looking at the camera and using the remote control? No one after Samuel Beckett (or John Hughes?) is allowed to mess with the fourth wall?

I think the truth of evil is sort of banal, as they (all those Hannah Arendts) say-- thus the rather odd dramatic flaccidity of trying to isolate it as a positive force. It's an attitude toward desires and prohibitions, though, more thana cause-and-effect narrative. Those narratives are the stuff of ideologies (laws) that simultaneously proscribe and encourage violence.

People don't really need a motivation to kill, just need permission and an opportunity. It's like sex. And, on that level, that base unspeakable level of evil, white-gloved unending expanding brutality is more interesting than the tired cyclical economy, the historical morass of triggers and targets that feeds on resentment and retribution. But on the level of drama, the cyclical economy is where it's at. The fingerprints are what stoke the promiscuous furnace of endless punishment.

Noah Berlatsky

There's lots of stuff about television and entertainment in that movie, Bert. The first thing Anna does after her son is killed and she gets to her feet is turn off the tv. Haneke's said it's about media violence in interviews too, I think.

I'm really not sure that it's true that people don't need a motivation to kill. There's always a motivation for sex; there's a fairly clear biological imperative. And, you know, even with wars and all, people have sex a lot more often than they kill each other.

Evil is a negation, not a cause and effect; I agree with that. Male bonding doesn't make those men rape. But I Spit acknowledges that; it specifically makes them individually responsible for their actions, even as it shows the way that that individual responsibility is expressed and takes on shape through a social world. Funny Games just abstracts evil — which to me makes it a lot less interesting — especially when the abstraction ends up being recursively about media-images self-generating their own violence and guilt.

I get what you're saying about law being the cause of crime and crime being the cause of law in an endless circle. Obviously, that's part of what rape/revenge is about. At the same time, I don't think justice or the desire for it is evil. Justice and mercy aren't opposites.

Albert Stabler

Justice and mercy are totally connected. But it's not like commenting on abstract evil is some kind of tired trope, in the way rape vengeance is (lynching?).

I mean, FG is a meta movie-- that's its genre. I can imagine he said it's about "media violence." But, like the Iliad, it's also just about violence. Do you think any media isn't "about" other media? The family having NASCAR on while they're being tortured is a pretty fantastic mise-en-scene (if I'm using that right), but the rape-revenge conceit is absolutely about other narratives, even if it's not trying to provide a "meta" perspective (which it ends up doing anyway, I think you'd agree).
You think people have sex (or kill) for primarily (or even vaguely) rational reasons? Come now.

Noah Berlatsky

Sure, I Spit is about other narratives. It doesn't explicitly suggest that violence is caused by viewing media, or that the primary way we're implicated in violence is through watching TV. Funny Games comes awfully close to suggesting both those things.

Biological imperatives aren't rational in the way such things are usually understood, are they?

Albert Stabler

I think it's worth bringing in Quentin Tarantino here. His movies are full of consciously aesthicized brutality that comments on aestheticized brutality, and he takes a lot of flak for it. But his end result is humor, not horror. Not that I object, quite the opposite. But he uses humor, as well as the righteous vengeance fantasy, so that probably makes him more palatable.

Biological imperatives are seperate from vengeance. It takes a complex (if not always human) mind to come up with vengeance. Killing and fornicating are pretty universal to life. It's worth thinking about what a motive actually adds to that equasion, especially in a voyeuristic situation.

Noah Berlatsky

Tarantino is very interested in reasons, though, and in individuals. His characters are never just supercompetent avatars of evil; on the contrary, his evil characters tend to be doofuses and fuck-ups. He has a sense of karma, too; not just vengeance — that is, one's actions tend to have an effect. You get what you do.

I'd say that Funny Games obviously owes something to Tarantino's films — Funny Games is definitely very ironic, and not entirely unfunny. I find it a lot thinner, though — precisely because the iconic treatment of evil seems to add little to the insight that killing is something some (bad) people do.

Albert Stabler

Quentin Tarantino makes his women wild and mean-- but his movies are a lot more fun than Funny Games. I agree. They're partially comedies-- action comedies, basically, with romance and a lesson at the end. The plot lines and elements are strictly humanist realist-- so you get dipwads blowing off someone's head when the car hits a bump. Funny and not funny. You feel bad for laughing, but you laugh.

Whereas the Funny Games comedy, such as it is, is Osama bin Laden (or Dick Cheney, pick your cave-dwelling mass murderer) doing standup. So when you feel bad, it's not because you laughed, or because you actually wanted the family to be humiliated and tortured and murdered, or even because you can't help them, but because it's just straightforwardly pleasurable to witness cruelty-- and easy to not really care about perfectly normal, non-quirky, sympathetic characters.

And, when you root for the underdog, or seek justice, or pray for karma to punish the wealthy, at bottom it's the same drive. We are people who took picnics to watch Civil War battles, and now we get the same pleasure from watching the news. And it's not the excusable swaggering pulpiness of Tarantino, or Natural Born Killers, but a long static silence as a woman who could be your co-worker weeps quietly over the corpse of her only child. Lots of people get angry at the director, but that just seems like one way to cope with the complicated experience of watching that undeniably beautiful scene.

Noah Berlatsky

But a lot of people just find the film irritating or unpleasant...or a little boring my second time through. I don't think it is straightforwardly pleasurable to witness cruelty at all. I mean, it might be masochistically pleasurable — but that's almost by definition not straightforward.

I think the movie may posit that it's straightforwardly pleasurable to witness these acts; that's the implicating the viewer part. But just because it wants it to be true doesn't make it so.

Albert Stabler

Well, that's the sublime for you. People aren't accustomed to thinking of a hurricane or a volcano or a wildfire as beautiful, but that was once the fashion. It's kind of the way tragedy was translated into Romanticism, and then tragedy became horror.

It's not entertaining, it's beautiful. There's a difference. Slow-motion kung fu is a lot different than a landslide.

I don't think the viewer is really implicated, for the record. I think the viewer is included, but the space of the movie is an extraordinary space of bloodletting. There's just nobody who wants to stand around and watch a hanging anymore. Which would be fine, if we didn't pretend we were past it, while consuming the agony of the Other in various sublimated forms in everything from rap music to National Geographic.

Noah Berlatsky

But a hanging is about vengeance and just deserts. It's not random cruelty. And, conversely, I think people are quite used to thinking of a hurricane or a storm or a volcano as beautiful, actually. We're not that far form the romantics.

Funny Games doesn't fit either of these analogies. It's deliberately unreal villains given the power of a force of nature. It undermines genre tropes and narrative closure in the interest, not of the sublime, but of an ironized accusation of cynicism. My dislike of it isn't because I refuse to embrace the suppressed sublime death instinct, but because I'm tired of embracing the not at all suppressed political exhaustion and wise-guy pragmatic nihilism which has been a staple of our political life for decades.

Albert Stabler

Eh. Attending a public hanging (if you're not connected to the victim of the crime or the victim of the hanging) is about having a permission to watch a person twitch on the end of a rope.

This is why I brought up Tarantino. Everyone says, "Oh, he's so ironic and postmodern and glib." And yet he is saying "interracial relationships and loyalty and mercy are good." And Haneke is saying "Rich alienated white people are alienated even vicious to each other." Where are the air-quotes? You think people aren't supposed to feel anything when they see the slaughter? The smug Hitler guy is the hero?

In the like three times the killer looks at the camera? How does that make him our buddy?

Is the movie telling us to vote for Sarah Palin? What's the issue?

Noah Berlatsky

The reason that they feel they have permission, though, is because there's the claim that justice is being done.

The smug guy isn't the hero or our buddy, necessarily. But he's definitely right, in some sense; the filmmaker is on his side, his vision of the world is the correct one (literally — he knows he's in a movie.) And that vision is one which specifically mocks the desire for justice as impotent and naive. The media violence which is denigrated is just violence — and I think the film makes little effort to separate the justice out from the violence.

I'd agree that the film makes some effort to show that rich people torture each other and are miserable. I don't actually find that argument all that persuasive — I don't think rich people are especially more likely to torture each other than poor people, nor that they are more sadistic, nor certainly that they're less happy. It seems like a sop, really, to replace the idea of justice which is so roundly sneered at.

I mean, I don't hate the movie or anything. It's well acted, well directed, and well constructed, and the masochistic tension is really well done. I even like the idea of subverting the rape-revenge narrative, since, you know, I'm kind of a knee-jerk pacifist and I think revenge narratives are really problematic. But, again, I have a real problem with abstracting evil in the way this movie does it.

Noah Berlatsky

You know, it's not entirely different from Baldwin's critique of the Exorcist, now that I think about it. The portrayal of evil as separate from motivations and cause/effect (literally linked to transcendence in both Exorcist and Funny Games) ends up seeming evasive. I think both the Exorcist and Funny Games point in some interesting directions with their evasions — reveal tensions and issues around those evasions — but ultimately they both still feel duplicitous, at least to me.

Albert Stabler

Just for that, I went back and read the Baldwin essay. I see your point-- the evil is banal and unmotivated in Funny Games, just like in the Exorcist, and I think we both appreciate the Exorcist more than Baldwin did. But Baldwin talks about the evil in the eyes of the white sheriff, the housewife, etc., and frankly, I think the white privileged environment is les of a sop than you claim. It's not an excuse for evil-- it's precisely the absence of an excuse for evil. And there's nothing sci-fi about it (except for the remote control thing, which is just an acknowledgement of movie-ness)-- there's no question that the active pleasure-seeking of elites (the torturers) and the insular passivity of elites (the family) has caused a great deal of the world's misery.

So, again, making something a parable does not, to me, make it abstract.

But one point on which I'm sort of with you is that there's a pretty defensible argument that the lead torturer is (if self-consciously so, post- Natural Born Killers) something of an antihero-- "This is the real world, jackass! Eat lead!" I feel like the evil in his eyes is the same blue-eyed evil of the hate-mongering one-man black metal band, though, that stands for something awful and profound even if he's just whaling on a guitar and a drum machine and spewing noxious pablam.

Noah Berlatsky

Yeah, I like the Exorcist more than Baldwin does.

The problem is that the active pleasure seeking and the insular passivity doesn't, I don't think, primarily make the elites miserable. Cutting out the rest of the world makes it hard to see what's at stake. It doesn't excuse evil (which I don't think the exorcist does either) but it doesn't really grapple with what evil is in the world. It's not demons possessing your child or sociopaths taking your golf clubs, you know?

I'd argue that the best black metal actually isn't stupid or banal. Pyha has content, damn it. (Pacifist content at that.)

Albert Stabler

I guess that's sort of the difference between morality and ethics. If you chop down a tree in the forest and nobody sees you, are you still despoiling the environment? Or if you kill a man in the forest and nobody cares, are you still a murderer?

What kind of horror movie would Baldwin like? Night of the Living Dead?

I wonder how he would feel about Rosemary's Baby, or Stepford Wives. Or Turn of the Screw. Insular and claustrophobic is actually really important in horror. That's the nature of the Law. It's moral.

He actually mentions Wuthering Heights disparagingly in the Exorcist review-- there's this idea that the only responsible movie is an edifying portrait of existing social relations, sobering yet inspiring meaningful change. .I'm sorry, that's not horror. It can be drama or comedy, or some kind of cleverly compromised quasi-horror fantasy, but it's not truly dark if it has a clear ethical beacon.

Noah Berlatsky

The opposite of transcendent evil doesn't have to be a story of moral purity, or a story in which there's a clear moral beacon. And I don't think claustrophobic has to mean insular.

The version of the Exorcist that Baldwin would like is Angel Heart. Which is a fantastic movie.

And yeah, I bet he'd find something to like in Night of the Living Dead too.

Albert Stabler

Angel Heart is a really good movie, as I remember it, and as psychological thrillers go. And it has many plot parallels with the Exorcist-- there's possession of secondary characters reflected in a main character.

And yet, I really think of Funny Games and the Exorcist (and probably I Spit) as being (if arguably) not really the same kind of movie. All of these movies are closer to horror than thriller, I think, because of the lack of ethical direction in the plot. Horror, like metal, is at its purest when it's emphasizing a highly symvolic internal experience-- a nightmare-- that the viewer (listener) is supposed to be experiencing as well.

Romero zombie movies and Angel Heart are completely great-- they're just completely transparent. Order is in some way restored at the end, and was never truly absent. I Spit is on the fence, because I imagine the bloody revenge can be, despite its satisfying qualities, experienced as a step further into the abyss, rather than out of it.

Noah Berlatsky

I need to see Angel Heart again. I think it's as much horror as psychological thriller, though. Certainly, order isn't restored in any sense more than it is in the exorcist. In the Exorcist, the demon is expelled; though the main character is killed. In Angel Heart, the devil is revealed to be the main character — only after he's killed just about every other main character, and fucked and killed his own daughter. It's a pretty bleak vision.

Order is ritually restored at the end of slasher films as well. Or in Alien, or Terminator, all of which are arguably horror films. Not so much in The Thing...but again evil there is very much in relationships and anxiety about relationships, not
it isn't postulated as transcendent.

I think there's a way in which Funny Games is actually *less* horror than all those examples. Carol Clover argues that masochistic identification is central to horror. Funny Games is definitely ambivalent
about whether it wants to be sadistic or masochistic. You see that not only in its looks to the camera, but in its careful construction — the focus on time, the playful, icy control with which it puts all the
violence off screen. Even the repetition suggested by the precise remake; there's a rage for order there, an insistent control, that's different from the anxiously abject spewing of horror films.
Funny Games comes off as auteurish in a Hitchcock way.

Albert Stabler

Yeah, Hitchcock has some pretty harsh control, as does Haneke, and Haneke's protagonist antihero. And plenty of people die in thrillers/slashers (Psycho, Blue Velvet, I Spit, Angel Heart), or sci-fi-noir (like Alien and Terminator), but the nature of a movie where everything is revealed to be a torrential void of power lust and total chaos, which may borrow nearly every trope, has an important distinction in terms of content and thus the overall level of despair. Which, yes, is sadistic, I think. Also in The Thing-- there is awe before the monster, and Kurt Russell conquers it like Moby Dick, or a colonized population in Kipling.

Masochism is always about wrapping up loose narrative ends-- wearing costumes, delaying gratification, and looking forward to relieving the anguish. It recalls the distinction you once made between metal and other rock music that metal (like sadism, I would say) absolutely denies erotics-- libido is directed toward destruction. Sadism is ultra-male, always about a sensation of pitiless mastery. It's perhaps the most despicable side-effect of desire, but once you see it, it does (as in the Funny Games antihero) carry a sense of thunderous truth. Tree of Knowledge-- freedom and self-awareness are always about shame and perversion, dissonance and strife, as well as sublimated access to a silent place outside conscious everyday reality.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Queering the Eschaton

I'm reading Oscar Cullman's Christ and Time, about how "Primitive Christianity" regarded the Crucifixion as the midpoint of the history of Creation, and the action if Christ's redemption in the world as part of a human time frame that was drawing to a close. And I'm also skimming online the book No Future, by Lee Edelman, about how the queer death drive, the jouissance of the Real, ironically interrupts the future-narrative of endless social reproduction, the foundation of all politics always.

Following a Lacan quote Edelman says: "Truth, like queerness, is irreducibly linked to the aberrant or atypical, to what chafes against normalization, finds its value not in a good susceptible to normalization, but only in the stubborn particularity that voids every notion of a general good."

Also "queerness can never define an identity; it can only disturb one."

I'm kind of interested in the extent to which one can go around switching the word "Christ" and "Queerness." "Jesus" is a specific person, which seems a little awkward. But saying that Christ is essentially not an identity, but the disturbance of identity, that makes sense. Having a really skinny "Christ Pride" parade in between the gay pride people and the gay hate people makes sense.

Not that hate is out of the love equasion. Luke 14:26: "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." Which vibes pretty well with the skepticism of the family expressed not only by Edelman, and Andrea Dworkin, and Shulamith Firestone, but St. Paul as well. "Let those with wives be as if they had none."

Another example, with "queerness" replaced... he's talking about queerness as the indigestible supplement that allows the Symbolic to function:

"Christ as name may well reinforce the the Symbolic order of naming, but it names what resists, as signifier, absorption into the Imaginary identity of that name. Empty, excessive, and irreducible, it designates the letter, the formal element, the lifeless machinery responsible for animating the 'spirit' of futurity. And, as such, as a name for the death drive that always informs the Symbolic order, it also names the jouissance forbidden by, but always permeating the Symbolic order itself."

He then goes on to say that, despite queers (Christians) disidentifying with queerness (Christ) in order to enter politics: "the structured portion of queerness (Christ), and the need to fill it, remains."

And his answer to the radical vision of a gay utopia (and any earthly paradise): "In the beyond of demystification, in that neutral, democratic literality that marks the futurism of the left, one could only encounter a queer dismantling of futurism itself as fantasy and a derealization of the order that futurism reproduces."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

the black scab over our birth wound

More Kant-roversial Kant-versation between Noah and Bert about the feasibility of faith. It gets acrimonious, I promise!


Here's the thing I've realized I can't resolve satisfactorily, which may please you. Law, difference, multiplicity, all emerge as secondary, albeit essential, phenomena-- because essence is meaning, and meaning is symbolic. This would include the subject, the conscience, moral knowledge, all those things. That which is primary but arises contingently is what cannot be seen or quantified-- the semiotic stew of feelings arising in the womb, when we are indistinguishable from our mother, which is synonymous with our embodiment, our meat nature, which precedes any ideas about law, which subsequently rebuilds us in its image. This could also include Darwin-- evolution is, in some way, based on everything changing imperceptibly but miraculously, beings not arising in an instant but over time, the visible product of a process of ravenous expansion.

The problem is that I end up with reason embodied in matter on one side and spirit embodied in matter on the other. So there's that. To your point, Kant is pretty much okay with the former, the symbolic realm being essential (and encased) in its absoluteness. I think he more or less expects our consciences to function as transmitters of a absolute natural force of moral truth, known as "duty."

I don't contend that this is bad or evil. I just see it as an extension of the Protestant automaton problem. Respect is a poor substitute for humility, tolerance is a poor substitute for love, just like revolution is a poor substitute for detachment.

I've been looking at Kant on contingency and necessity (in Critique of Pure Reason). His contingency realm is the empirical realm. endless deferral (why doesn't anyone ever accuse him of being pomo?). The necessary, the ground for being, if it existed (it's phrased sort of hypothetically), would be transcendent, separate from worldly experience-- exiled in the mind. That's language. It's inside of us.

However... in discussing hand-washing with the Pharisees, Jesus says that what is unclean is what comes out of us. Our hearts are unclean (just as the sin in Eden was not nakedness but shame). What we take in is from God. Goodness is in the world, but only in its presence, not in its symptomatic inevitability, which is indistinguishable from our understanding of its symptomatic inevitability. Same difference between obeying and judging. Conversely, I think there's not really a Spirit in Kant. "Spirit" is more like "principle," like as opposed to "practice." Moral truth exists transcendently, in your mind, but so do space and time and math.

What I was talking about with materialism was, to use Zizek's example of quantum physics, empiricism has reached a limit of comprehension, like a lo-res image blown up to a blur and then flat pixels, which are the absolute atom of the image. The perceptual apparatus is caught up in the phenomena being perceived such that you can say our brains are meat and electricity, you can say the universe is virtual reality, but either way your comprehension has allowed you to dispense with the world outside of your apprehension. Ergo, materialism is idealism.

Pragmatism, on the other hand, dispenses with comprehension, merely apprehending-- specifically apprehending possibilities, specifically those with the most authority. This isn't any less related to self-worship. If authority is mystically asserted (like people speaking in tongues in Paul), or politically asserted (like Caesar levying taxes in the Gospels), that's well and good, but hardly as important as our own responsibility to obey and love-- acts of will.


I'm not sure what you mean by saying reason is embodied in matter on one side and spirit is embodied in matter on the other. It seems to me like reason is embodied in language — which can certainly be seen as material if you want, though is also evolutionarily so bizarre and contingent that you can fairly easily point somewhere else and say "god did it" without falling into any obvious logical fallacy that I can see. In any case, I don't really see at all why spirit has to be embodied in matter. I don't really see why the body/language split has to do with spirit at all, actually. In fact, it seems like spirit is a fairly logical other; a way out of a binary maybe?

I guess the point is that Kant is making spirit language rather than something else? Which is possible I guess...though, on the other hand — I think to me the point is maybe that if spirit is a third term, if you don't really have a binary, then everything doesn't have to be this or that, one or the other. The moral law (or language) can be connected to spirit in some cases, and not in others, I'd think. That's where contingency comes in; god intervenes in ways which aren't predictable or quantifiable. If they were, they wouldn't be contingent. When you see spirit, it's always in terms of matter — which is why we see through a glass darkly. Sometimes you can hear it in your heart, perhaps — which is what Kant is saying — though he does sometimes make it seem more rote or certain than maybe makes sense.

Sort of the anti-Einstein position; god to be god doesn't do anything except play dice with the universe.


Saying "how you look at it" is a meaningful qualifier there. Because if "chance" is really crazy random entropy (although entropy itself isn't really random), "chance" resulting in amazing new levels of complexity and beauty maybe shouldn't be slandered with such a pathetic label as "chance."

Yeah, you could call it a Freud thing. Language and law are absolutely related. Language wires us. It is the black scab over our birth wound on which all of our reality can cohere and rest.

Morality is not optional. The difference between morality and ethics is extremely important to me, and I think one part of it is the sovereign guarantee of morality, and the fact that ethics (as in Kant) does not address free subjects, but is an primal authoritarian prop which (as in capitalism) allows no end of loopholes, loopholes so large that the rules might as well, except for their fig-leaf function, completely disappear.

Eckhart claims that justice (at least for "the just man") is more important than God. To me that means that justice is always our reponsibility, whereas we are God's responsibility.

I don't think that means that God is inside or outside the law, precisely, but it is attached to Him. But God is not the Law. The Law was the Word of God. But then the Word became Flesh.

The emperor was a motif for Paul, Jesus, etc., not Kant-- Kant is too modern for that. My Kant issue has more to do with what I would call personal responsibility. If morality is just some sort of base for logic, like exploitation is the basis for capitalism, it is a kind of Real, but an abject one that allows people to get away with what is not explicitly denied.

I am certainly not saying that language is not material. And materialists believe in the void more ardently than anyone, Zizek says that explicitly, which is also my issue with Kant, since idealists and materialists are indistinguishable in my argument. I'm just saying that there's a contradiction in the very fact of using language to push reality (the referent) further and further away from solid matter, untill even space and time start to disintegrate. The mall is now the internet. And the future of everything is heat death.

Once one has arrived at the void, why does anyone want to stay there? What are they hiding from?


Darwin calls chance "natural selection". Probably not the different label you wanted quite, though.....

I'm not sure I get your morality/ethics distinction. I'm not sure either why you feel that ethics for Kant isn't about free subjects. As I said, Kant definitely thinks that choosing morality is about choosing freedom (or that the only way you can be free is to choose morality.) Maybe I'm wrong, but I don’t think he set out a list of ethical codes which you were supposed to follow. Morality is about conscience for him, which is also God, or God speaking in us. It's not clear to me why that involves loopholes; I know Kant is supposed to be super-legalistic, but he just doesn't seem that way to me especially.

Your arguments about morality just don't sound unKantian to me, which makes it weird that you keep disavowing him. Probably I should go back and read Kant again, is what should happen. In theory.

Why are idealists and materialists indistinguishable? And how are they pushing language further away from solid matter? I'm totally not following that.

Again, I think with Kant God is inside and outside; he's transcendent (outside the universe) but reaches inside (especially inside us). It's both/and I think, not either/or — and you need both/and if god is going to have some material affect, since if he's entirely outside he can't move anything, which is deism.

I still don't know that I'm getting the materialism=idealism thing. I guess you're saying that they're the same in that they both assume a human vision of the world is sufficient or fully explanatory (whether physical or mental)?

I'm also not sure I follow your emphasis on will precisely. Are you saying god exists through a human act of will? Or (more likely) that the important part of religion is not understanding god but deciding to follow him (which sounds somewhat like what that essayist you sort of half didn't like was saying....)


Okay, let's deal with one thing at a time. Marxist materialism, which is really what we're talking about nowadays, says that history reflects a shifting set of relationships that boil down to who controls material resources. What keeps this from being just a pure power analysis is that there is a progressive teleology, an emphasis on economic production as the engine of that teleology, and a strong emphasis in production on the human source of value, known as labor. Marx inverted teleological Hegelian idealism, interestingly enough, rather than borrowing from Hobbes or Bacon or Epicurus or something. Hegel the idealist basically boiled the universe down to irony, and Marx the materialist made it tragic irony.

Materialists now cling to the notion of relations (social relations in the case of Marxists) because of (note the root) relativity, which sort of equates, or at least problematizes distinctions between, matter and energy. What makes it materialism is really its hard core-- phenomena are evidence of causes, and these causes wind up with some Ultimate Cause-- whether it's technological appropriation of resources for Marx, or the monad for Spinoza. Or, for idealists, it's the void of multiples (Hegel), or the a priori (Kant). So, to continue to cling to either mind or substance as the only truth (after relativity and neuroscience and quantum physics), you end up with mind and/or substance dissolving before your very eyes.

There is no inside God and outside God. Those are all arbitrary designations (inside, outside, and God). There is only the Absolute, and then there's the phenomenal smokescreen that obscures our clear perception of the Absolute. Language has some connection (often through math) to the fabric of reality. So relations are real, relativity is real, but not relativism. That's where pragmatism comes in, and the whole embracing (rather than denigration) of arbitrary terms, but I'll stop there for now.

Do you see where I'm coming from?


Well, I see where you're coming from more or less. I don't know that I'm coming from quite the same place.

"There is no inside God and outside God. Those are all arbitrary designations (inside, outside, and God). There is only the Absolute, and then there's the phenomenal smokescreen that obscures our clear perception of the Absolute."

I mean, sure, the distinctions are arbitrary. They're metaphors, which is language, which is what we have to talk about the world. When you say "Absolute" and "phenomenal smokescreen", you're not getting anywhere outside of metaphor, though. You're just using a gnostic metaphor rather than a Kantian metaphor. I actually think Kant, who doesn't break things down into perception and absolute, but rather places absolute in a (confusing, metaphorical, but nonetheless) relationship with the world we've got is more subtle than the idea that the world simply obscures our idea of the absolute. The absolute is in the world too, though not the same thing as the world. We see through a glass darkly...but maybe not always, and we do see something.

Perhaps you're saying that as well, I'm not sure....


How Wittgenstein. Just throw up your hands-- "it's all metaphors, you say God, I say potato salad."

In Kant, God is a limiting principle of possibility. Space, time, morality, it's all projected by the subject, that's what makes it transcendent. God is what a "thing in itself" would be.

I don't dismiss C.S. Lewis' Christianity, so I don't dismiss Kant's. But Kant ABSOLUTELY breaks things down into two categories: phenomenal and noumenal. There is only contingent and necessary, conditional and unconditional. It's entirely a logic founded on an empty center.


It is all metaphors...but that doesn't make me throw up my hands. God is in metaphors too...very much so in Christianity, which is based on a book. You're the one who seems to think that metaphors, or the physical world, is somehow keeping us from apprehending God.

You're really demanding I read Kant and refute you (or else cave, as the case may be.) Unfortunately, I'm reading more Niebuhr now, so it'll take me a while to get to some other theology....


Noah my friend, I don't need you to go back and read Kant, but you want to focus on him as a problem in my (thoroughly seat of my half-assed pants) attempt at a divine ontology. Which is totally reasonable of you, and I'm sorry if I was snide, but I am trying in my own bumbling way to respond.

And, speaking of ontology, it may be what philosophers mean when they say metaphysics, since Kant was trying to dispense with both of those things centuries before Nietzsche and William James and Heidegger. Milbank rather sympathetically reads Zizek trying to use Hegel as a way to have a metaphysics after metaphysics (via nihilism, quoth Milbank). Similarly, I think "God is dead" is not a meaningless soundbite, and there's some plane in which resurrection needs to be re-enacted, although, as with metaphysics, I think it actually probably has to happen all the time, every century or generation or decade.

Not to be a jerk, but Kant really does open up Chapter III of Pure Reason talking, with very self-conscious metaphors, about truth and illusion. "We have now... traversed the region of the pure understanding...But this land is an island, and inclosed by nature herself within unchangeable limits. It is the land of truth (an attractive word), surrounded by a wide and stormy ocean, the sea of illusion..." He then goes on with the topical metaphor of colonial exploration, sort of as a rather futile exercise in adventurism and blind alleys, which is a great way to use that metaphor. However, all of this truth about the transcendent schemata of knowledge are inherently without content, which is where the phenomenal world comes in. It may be futile to leave the island, but it is utterly barren, so there's sort of no choice. It's like Plato, but more tragicomic and less heroic.

I'm still figuring out what I think. But your third option is definitely where Milbank is. Hegel submitted that the Divine was in Being rather than Essence, the void of multiplicity, which is Deleuze's thing as well. My thing is definitely to go with Jesus on the point that nothing pure issues from us, and the mind is definitely the seat of Essence. There is something dangerous in idealizing the Stoics, which Paul was very cautious about, but, liike Kant, he was not trying to abandon language and knowledge and reason. Unlike Kant, I thnik he was much more willing to turn them back against themselves.

A God that pursues us, that moves in and out of us, is not an abstract principle of wisdom, nor a form of primal electromagnetism, but something else that contains elements of both of those things. Our wanting and changing and experiencing and relating are the things that are most relevant to God and to faith. I'm not totally satisfied with the way Kant addresses this, but he certainly tries, and for faith after the death of God, that's an important start.


I need to lend you this Niebuhr book, maybe. He's really smart — he has fun things to say about the stoics for example, where he argues that obviously they're wrong in many ways, but that Christians can learn from their refusal to believe that God has given them a special dispensation.

He's also way more concrete than Kant/Zizek/etc.; more concerned with Christians relationship to God and to the world in a somewhat straightforward way than with the questions about ontology and language and reason — which I think may be helpful.


I would, as a perhaps petty parting shot, mention that bracketing off those murky abstruse topics (from something as relevant as theology), is a pragmatist take, which Kant can certainly underwrite, even if it's not exactly what he's doing.


I guess it is pragmatist. I wonder there a theological imperative of some sort to talk in a way so that some non-negligible group of Christians can actually understand what you're talking about? This is actually a real problem for Kant and later Hegel — they were both thoroughly elitist, and not at all interested in having anyone except university professors understand what they were talking about. C.S. Lewis is obviously very different from Kant in that way, if not in others.

Niebuhr is very concerned with politics, and many of his essays in the book I'm reading are sermons, so there's definitely some effort to talk to other people. And Zizek obviously doesn't necessarily care whether anyone understands him or not, really.

I guess I feel like you seem to be in a position where you're pushing God away from the world in a way that looks somewhat like gnosticism, and then you're coming down hard on the idea that you can approach god through metaphor. That seems to be cutting God off from everybody, especially from everybody who doesn't have some fairly extreme interests/training in philosophy. How does that fit into an idea of a Christian community, is the thing I guess I'm wondering about.

Or, to put it maybe another way...

human beings pretty much have to be pragmatist in a lot of ways. Being a pragmatist is another way of saying you're in the world, or subjected to the world. I don't really see how you get out of that, or find an intellectual position that doesn't rely on pragmatism to some degree, without an appeal to grace.


Okay, now you're ragging on Kant. I'm definitely having fun now.

I don't know that, if we're speaking pragmatically about my religious ideas, that my words are the place to look. My practice is that I attend a church every week, I participate in church activities, I'm working on a project with my church, and my job, whatever its gaping flaws, is vaguely philanthropic, if it has any redeeming quality whatsoever. I also write about contemporary art, a somewhat obscure topic to many people, in a pretty populist idiom. Hardly a crusader for the underclass, but not an ivory-tower pundit wank either.

My words reflect something other than practice. They relfect inner experiences, and an attempt to put them into words. And I beg to differ with that highly pragmatist last assertion of yours, which attempts to assume that strange tautological authority, "Everyone is doing pragmatism even if they think they aren't." How humanist can you get? "You're a human, so you must be humanist. Your profoundly demystified self-awareness told me so." I don't want to just accept that. I have other things on my mind.

Religion is where everyday people go to process deep issues of the cosmos. Certainly there are some lower- to medium-educated people, whether or not they read William James, who have no time for issues like death and existence and morality and truth. But I find it far more elitist to presume that a "community" of people don't care about the nature of love.

And I'm inquiring about these things on my own behalf. I am perfectly willing to try to explain my philosophy or my beliefs to my custodian, if he cares, but he really isn't that kind of guy. I probably wouldn't use the word "ontological." I would use metaphors.

Which brings me to that point-- I would care about my metaphors. I wouldn't say, "oh, they're just metaphors." If they were inadequate, then I would try to find better ones. Such os language. My probelm is with calling the whole thing a big game (or mall) and just throwing the whole thing back on some sort of question of "efficacy." I'll worry about my own efficacy-- but ideas are important in a different way.

God is in the world, all the time. He is in me and outside of me. But he's not in what I perceive. He is in the impossibility of my perceptions being somehow "true," and in the impossibility of communicating my perception to anyone else. He is in me wanting to perceive true things and share those perceptions. He is very, very hard to describe. He is just, but he is not utilitarian.


I don't disagree with most of that. I will point out that when you were sneering at my metaphors, you were sneering at them as far as I could tell because they were metaphors, not because they were inadequate metaphors.

I didn't say everyone was doing pragmatism. I said that pragmatism — a basic interest in how things work, in how we feed ourselves, in how we find a place to go to the bathroom — is pretty universal; it's what the philosophical movement glommed onto, rather than the other way round. I think I reject the argument, which you seem to be inching towards, that pragmatic concerns can't have anything to do with god, or are by their nature less true, or more corrupt, than other kinds of concerns or ideas. I think there's maybe an effort to get away from Marxism there which I'm not entirely on board with. People do worry about the nature of love, but they worry about other things too. I don't need to privilege the second, but I'm leery of privileging the first all the time at the expense of the second too.

I do like Niebuhr a lot on this sort of thing. Basically, he adopts relativism through universalism. He sees god as an ideal, and human actions and ideas and points of view can participate, or really look towards that ideal, though they're always partial and corrupt.

Niebuhr talks a bit about a utilitarian perception of God (I will pray and God will help me.) He points out that it's a pretty natural take on religion, though not a Christian one. But he also talks about self-preservation and really capitalism and democracy as having a place and a kind of justice, though never as much of divine justice as its proponents like to tell themselves it does.

"God is in the world, all the time. He is in me and outside of me. But he's not in what I perceive. He is in the impossibility of my perceptions being somehow "true," and in the impossibility of communicating my perception to anyone else. He is in me wanting to perceive true things and share those perceptions. He is very, very hard to describe. He is just, but he is not utilitarian."

Why isn't he in what you perceive? Who made your eyes? Who made the light? Who made the computer screen you're staring at? How can the created world be good if you have no access to it?

You can't see all of what's true, because you're not god, but that doesn't mean you're isolated in some sort of blank bottle with your eyes taped shut. I feel like in your eagerness to reject materialism in its various forms (utilitarianism, pragmatism, etc.) you're drawing some sort of impassable border around your brain. It's like in trying to outfox the enlightenment you've decided to be more cartesian than descartes. Is that really where you want to end up?

Also, I don't mean at all to say that you're somehow not sufficiently involved in your community — I mean, obviously you do way better than that than I do. But it seems like you're really bracketing that kind of experience when you talk about this stuff in a way that seems limiting to me.

It could be that I'm just not understanding you, though.


Au contraire, good sir. Allow me to point out who was sneering at whose metaphors:

"I mean, sure, the distinctions are arbitrary. They're metaphors, which is language, which is what we have to talk about the world. When you say "Absolute" and "phenomenal smokescreen", you're not getting anywhere outside of metaphor, though. You're just using a gnostic metaphor rather than a Kantian metaphor."

I merely sneered back. And I certainly didn't cal you anything on the scale of "gnostic." That's a low blow. And "elitist?" "Cartesian?" I just compared you to Wittgenstein, who is widely respected. And potato salad, a perennial picnic favorite.

Now you can call me a martyr.

Remember that Ambrose Bierce quote about reality as it really truly is, seen through the eyes of a toad? Pragmatism is (in a way) like that, or like Paul Fussell's "Class X"-- the modest observer seems transcendently immanently value-neutral, until you really think about it. Making acknowledgement of the divine something special is very important to lots of people. They use special words, they go to a special place, they do special things.

But, back to the profane, I brought up going to the bathroom before you did. The whole thing about how Jesus says everything that comes out of us is unclean. Doodoo!

When Chesterton has that thing in "The Man Who Was Thursday" about the anarchist exulting the tree over the streetlamp, and the protagonist points out that right now you're looking at the tree by the light of the streetlamp, or the miracle of good digestion, I think one legitimate way to see that is that everyday reality is more meaningful than fantasies about magical primeval nature. True enough also for your point about my eyes or the computer screen. But it's also the case that Chesterton, as with the sun rising every day in "Orthodoxy," emphasizes the way in which everyday things are viewed, and the fact that they exist, quite in opposition to their mundanity.

Gratitude, obedience, and responsibility are essential. Those all have to do with the everyday. I'm not denigrating the world, but rather our way of knowing it.

I'm a Zizek fan. Of course I don't hate Marxism. Marx, Freud, and Jesus are my modern Jewish troika of anti-humanism. But I don't see the death of God (or the Big Other) as a trivial issue or a desirable state of affairs.

If you want to talk about economics, let's talk about economics. But that's at least somewhat changing the subject. There is basically no attempt to deal with religion progressively other than as a model for economic or legal liberation (civil rights, liberation theology), and when God becomes a stand-in for Human Rights, I think it's a problem for many people. Not that pursuing justice has to be a religiously inspired pursuit, or that justice cannot subsume all other aspects of God for the just person (after Eckhart). But justice is not my only interest in religion. It connects to lots of internal questions, and I don't think that makes me elitist.

Simply put, I reject an instrumentalist God. Or an anstract God. They don't appeal to me. And that may form some political opinions, but it doesn't make me reject the world.


You sneered first!

Besides, I said sneering at particular metaphors made sense. The point was that you appeared to be sneering at the use of metaphors at all, which I think is really problematic.

"Simply put, I reject an instrumentalist God. Or an anstract God. They don't appeal to me. And that may form some political opinions, but it doesn't make me reject the world. "

I presume that's abstract God?

You say that rejecting an instrumentalist God doesn't make you reject the world...but I'm not sure that quite lines up with claiming that you're unable to perceive anything. Denigrating "our way of knowing" the world — whose way is that? Where did it come from? How is our way of knowing the world not part of the world, and how is rejecting the big part of the world we call "knowing the world" practically (there's that word) different from rejecting the world?

I don't think religion has to be only about justice...but I do feel like it should probably be about people (at least insofar as it involves people.) And if it's going to be about people, it really has to exist in language, because that's where people are. I don't know; maybe you agree with that. But it seems in part like you want to get out of language, or put god outside language, or make language equivalent to the law which christ unravels (back to eden.) Which is mysticism, basically, which certainly has a long pedigree and, as they say, a witness. At the same time...I think you maybe get it right when you say "it doesn't appeal to me." I think there are maybe other witnesses you could have too, and I don't think they're necessarily more corrupt.

I guess I just don't see calling language corrupt, or duty corrupt, or the law corrupt in an absolute "this is not what god is about" way. In part because it seems like there's a suggestion there that outside duty and the law (and perhaps language (in the womb?)) there's a place which isn't corrupt, which I would say isn't true.

I guess the point is, you can certainly reject an instrumental god on the basis that that isn't the god you want...but it's not clear to me that everyone should reject that god, or that liberation theologists are really substantially on the road to hell more than most people. I think it's definitely worth pointing out the downsides — self-righteousness probably being the big one. But I think there can be problems with entirely rejecting an instrumental god too (which I think does maybe involve losing touch with or rejecting the world.)

And it is limiting, because everybody's limited, because that's the thing about not being god. Certainly I remain extremely limited by, in this instance, still not being entirely sure I know what you're talking about. And the whole not being a Christian thing, making much of my dialogue here more than a little absurd....


I can see how you took my Kant critique as a sneer at you, since you are a quasi-autistic philosopher who never left Konigsberg and has been dead for centuries.

For the record, I do not think that liberation theology is the road to hell. And I do not hate the law. Quite the contrary. I'm just trying to say that progressive people who can handle Christianity when it means overthrowing oppression but not when it means identifying with a charisma that recognizes and nurtures people-- maybe can't handle Christianity.

God exists in language, but not owing to any lack of people trying to purge him for hundreds of years. I'm using language right now to try and understand things. But, as they say, "it ain't all good."

Do I really need to justify that for me, as for lots of people, the internal part of trying to understand God relates to my external activities in the world?


You're welcome to sneer at poor Kant. I promise not to take it personally. I'm not sure who it is who you think can handle Christianity exactly, though. I'll agree progressives have their troubles...but I understand from reliable sources that it is in general a narrow road.

I think I said it wasn't all good. I said it a bunch even.

You certainly don't have to justify anything to me. But in general throughout this conversation, I've had a lot of difficulty figuring out what was at stake for you. I don't doubt that there's something at stake, and that it relates to how you deal with the world, but either because of a problem of language or simply a failure of understanding on my part, I'm really not getting it. You can try to explain again...or you can drop it and maybe try again later. But it's pretty clear that I'm not following you.

All right; I have trouble letting something go when it finished so unsatisfyingly.

So the thing is; I understand that what's at stake broadly is your understanding of god. I don't understand why the particular issues you're circling around are so compelling for you, perhaps because I don't really understand what they are.

Might it be helpful to talk about a concrete example? I'm reading about pacifism currently, which it seems like falls in an in-between place in at least some of your categories. That is, it is, or can be seen as instrumental on one hand (the best way to deal with resolving conflicts) while on the other hand it can be seen as about obedience/faith/love regardless of instrumental consequences. Is there a way to think about your concerns about materialism and idealism in relation to arguments about pacifism? Or am I totally on the wrong track?

Here is some shithead explaining that we need to update our ideas of

peace because now we have evolution:

"This evolutionary vision has already begun to impact the work of a

number of pioneering philosophers, mystics, and theologians, who see

in this conception of nature not a pacifist God, but a creative,

self-transcending divine impulse seeking ever higher expressions of

itself in this world. And as this vision begins to work its way

through our culture, many believe we will see paradigm-changing

effects on the way we think about a host of issues, not the least of

which are war, peace, and conflict resolution. As Thomas Berry points

out, “Everything depends on a creative resolution of our present

antagonisms. I refer to a creative resolution of our present

antagonisms, rather than to peace, in deference to the violent aspects

of the cosmological process. . . . Neither violence nor peace in this

sense is in accord with the creative transformations through which the

more splendid achievements of the universe have taken place.”"

We are progressing ever forward....


See, this makes me want to start our argument all over. Of course this is bullshit. Anything involving Carl Sagan and spirituality is automatically bullshit.

But what makes it bullshit has a lot to do with who God is. I guess if we all have the Ten Commandments programmed into us (or beamed into us from a satellite outside of reality) that's one way to dispute his idiot argument. But obviously that dude can feel self-assured for the exact same reason. We have natural selection programmed into us, so that trumps your ethical programming. We're back to competing arbitrary dogmas, allegedly bolstered by some kind of (if you will) gnosis.

Force and destruction are absolutely a God thing, and so is pacifism. Sorting it out involves reflection of some kind, or so I claim.

My response to that pseudo-Hegelian quasi-Norse nonsense begins to get at this, but (to use a fictional example) how do you deal with Aslan as a non-tame lion?

But I have zero problems with pacifism. There are the various just-war scenarios (as in Niebuhr). At the same time I think there can be good actions undertaken in a violent situation, which might of necessity involve non-passive behavior. The thing that crank is right about is that violence is a fact. But it's worth recognizing that the reason why a person's life is worth more than an animal's is connected to the fact that peace is a choice a human can make.


See, I'd argue that what makes it bullshit is the usual progressive fallacy — i.e., things are getting better, everything is improving, original sin doesn't exist. You don't need the Ten Commandments to see that this is silly, do you? Surely you can just use your eyes.

(I mean, it's a little unfair, because this guy doesn't even understand evolution as far as I can tell, since evolution itself is not a progressive theory and transposing evolutionary theory to spiritual truths just proves that you don't understand elementary logic. But presuming he could make a better case, he'd still be wrong.)

Are you saying you can't dispute him without referring to a God whose existence you can't demonstrate? Because that seems weird to me; I don't at all think you need to be a Christian to believe he's full of shit.

I mean, yes, there's no way to prove him absolutely irrefutably wrong in such a way that he will confess himself and fall on his face — but you never get that sort of victory in ethical or philosophical arguments. I don't even know that I'd want that kind of victory, really....


And why does the progressive fallacy make him wrong? It doesn't make Marx wrong. I mean, Marx can't really be called right or wrong. This shmuck is wrong because he thinks you can justify violence transcendentally using common observations (things blow up, cats eat birds) and pretending it's specialized knowledge.

He is stupid, evil, incorrect, and misguided. We do agree. Now, do you care why, beyond that? Or is that as far as it goes for you?


The progressive fallacy is a real problem for Marx too. It does make him wrong, and evil as well (not just evil, of course, but still.) Marxism's belief in human perfectability — progress — has killed a lot of people. I mean, even compared to the number of people killed by social darwinism, it's killed a lot of people. (Has it killed more people than capitalism's various idols to progress? Hard to calculate, there.)

I probably am willing to rest the charge of wrongness on "killing millions of people = bad" more or less, which is an ethical argument which I presume you will dismiss as hopelessly material. I mean, I can probably go beyond that metaphorically and say that worshipping human beings (i.e. progress) is essentially blasphemous and a sin, since it puts human beings in a divine position that they aren't meant to occupy. (This is why I don't think I would ever vote for Zizek for anything, incidentally. A smart guy, someone I admire, not someone I want anywhere near actual power ever. (Presuming he acts on his philosophy, which is actually an uncharitable presumption, and one which probably isn't necessarily true at all.))

I'm curious what you feel the why beyond that is, though.


Man, you just can't decide on Marx. I attempt to deconstruct the moral logic of revolutionary massacre, and you don't like that. I say his theory of history isn't right or wrong (which it isn't), and you don't like that.

But I'm willing to say, yes, he's evil, and yes, it's because millions died because of his calls for revolutionary massacre, but not because he's incorrect. Because it's all just metaphors. The workers' utopia isn't going to happen, but it's an unprovable Messianic assertion (ask any Marxist if the "real" revolution has happened yet). On the other hand, his analysis of how capital abstracts and concentrates power has hardly been disproven by history.

People are always trying to dismiss religion on the basis of the suffering inflicted in its name. It's not a trivial or irrelevant charge. I think it's less applicable to Christianity than to Marxism, but that's not prima facie obvious, especially to Marxists.

The social Darwinism Carl Sagan guy (can I just call him a Saganist?) really was trying to say three things are the same which (to almost everyone) aren't: evolution, violent actions of any kind in the universe anywhere, and the nature of the divine. Progresivism seems to be the ideological.rhetorical fuel for that mistake, and it might have some evil consequences, but I doubt you would reject human perfectability if it were renamed human improvability. You and Niebuhr seem to like capitalism and democracy just fine-- which, compared to pre-industrial society, Marx did too.


I think I mentioned that capitalism had killed maybe as many people as Marx. And I'm curious as to when exactly I said that human improvability was something I even remotely believed in. I think that we've got better medicine now than we used to, but I don't think people are any better morally. We've gotten rid of slavery, which is good, but we seem on the way to making the planet uninhabitable, which is bad. I think democracy is a better system of governing nation-states than many, and I think to the extent that we've moved towards equality before the law that's a good thing — but it won't necessarily last forever, a, and b, there are always trade-offs (see possibly destroying the world above — also, certain amounts of misery in other locations round the globe.)

Metaphors can be wrong or right, in a metaphorical way, surely. And the Christian church really isn't Christianity in a thoroughgoing way that I don't think works for Marxism, precisely because Marxism is materialist. For Christianity, you don't get perfection on this earth, for Marx you do. Marxists can say, "hey, whoops, that wasn't really Marxism," but 5-year plans are in fact what Marxism is about, in a way that it's really hard to pin the inquisition on actually striving to attain Christian goals (because Christ really was not especially goal oriented.)

I think the point would be that, while you can say Marx was using metaphors, it's very unclear that Marx thought he was using metaphors. Thinking reality should conform (over time) to the inside of your skull in some sort of one-to-one way is the problem I think we're discussing.

It's worth pointing out too that, since humans are corrupt, everything they're involved in is going to be evil. It's about degrees and trying to figure out, with the corrupt thinking apparatus you have, which you think is worst and what you want to do about it. I certainly don't hate Marx or marxists in general, though. And I'm not sure what I'm supposed to decide upon in relation to him either. I mean, it's Marxism. It's a fairly complicated and influential system of thought. I can't have more than one thing to say about it?

I don't think his theory of history is right or wrong. It is progressive though, which, as I said, seems problematic to me. The class analysis stuff and looking at economic causes, though, seems right to me, for what that's worth.

I was going to say, too — I think there are metaphorical, or spiritual uses of evolution that appeal to me. I think you can look at evolution and say, this means all creatures are related to me — or look at it and say, I'm contingent and really unimportant. It's like anything about nature I guess; it can head towards a pantheism that seems to me (with my corrupt brain) a lot less objectionable than shiny progress, both in its hippieish we are all one implications and in its more naked reveling in blood sacrifice. I think pantheism is a lot easier to square with Christianity than progress as god, in any case, since god made creation but didn't make humans perfectable (which is why C.S. Lewis has Bacchus rather than Superman acting as a servant of Aslan.)


"Thinking reality should conform (over time) to the inside of your skull in some sort of one-to-one way is the problem I think we're discussing." Bingo, yes. My interest in figuring out God definitely has something to do with figuring out the difference between reality and the inside of my skull.

I think evolution (and pantheism) have appealing attention to the nature of a life-force that exists through particular organisms, but can only be understood as necessarily outside of (bigger than) all organisms everywhere always.

But violence doesn't go away. The most reasonable progessives (Obama) seem somewhat fond of war and capitalism. The fact that we are so urgently obliged and so pathetically unable to reject violence represents something about both our alienation from nature, and our alienation from God.

Someone told me that the Dalai Lama was a Marxist. I should look that up.


I wonder if Niebuhr's ideas about love and the law would be helpful to

you. He argues that divine love is both the fulfillment of the law

and the ultimate contradiction to the law. So divine love (and divine

mercy) are a stinging rebuke, opposite, to human justice (and

presumably to language)...but at the same time, human justice (and

presumably language) look towards, or take part in divine love as

their ideal and the ground of what worth they have in their

provisional human way. The contradiction is unresolvable — which is

where divine mystery (or spirit) comes in.

The language bit is me not him, but I like it. It points to the way

that language is a connection and a prerequisite for love rather than

a chain which keeps us from love, the latter being maybe

overemphasized by structuralism to the extent I understand



I got a Kirkegaard book-- I went for Fragments of Philosophy and now I think I should have gotten his love book. He definitely has thoughts on language and love and law-- love is a duty, a matter of conscience, but it also does impossible, indescribable things. Structuralism is a nicely weird counterpoint-- arbitrary and contingent and momentary, utterly and hermetically immanent, rather than universal and eternal and anchored transcendently.