Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Everything's at the Mall

Not that there are real malls anymore, but ghost malls are better anyway.

So, my buddy Noah wrote an interesting response to this guy on his blog, R. Fiore, who thinks that we should all "act as if" there is no God.


I talk again about Slavoj Zizek and John Milbank's book The Monstrosity of Christ, and I also talk about this guy Philip Kenneson's article-- he writes about pragmatism being good for Christianity because there shouldn't be any objective truth anyway. Thanks to Randall Szott for sending it to me. http://www.kevers.net/pkenneson.html

Here's me ruminating. I think my "mythology shopping mall" lines up nicely with William James idea of a "shared corridor" between all worthwhile forms of reflection----

Reagarding the moral center of Christianity... there is that Michigan Christian militia that really did want to kill cops and start Armageddon (I kind of wondered if Doc Dart was involved somehow), and the Catholic Church has recently been feeling the pain of transparency, but there is no fundamental static with Christianity and humanism. This guy Randall Szott sent me an article by a pragmatist theologian who denies the Enlightenment categories of objective and subjective truth, so that God can exist on the basis that nothing is true without language. Which is somewhat compelling, but it doesn't really deal with the fact that modern subjects are merely the blank stain left by the negative force of their own self-awareness. It is the same belief but with no ground underneath, no Holy Spirit.

But what is the cost of, instead of accepting some kind of Holy Spirit, leaving Christ to rot on the cross instead? Zizek sets up Kant as the poster example of the Enlightenment trying to overcome faith with reason and then having to restrain reason with something transcendent, so that both faith and reason exist under this condition of repression. But Christianity was born in the context of repression, and has operated in the logic of repression ever since. Eugene O'Neill has some quote about how we are all looking for a door to an mystical land to which we have are entitled but have been denied access all our lives.

So, instead of coping with trauma as trauma, we incorporate it into our modern self-decimation, so that the idea of faith becomes something that could be accepted in principle but, in practice, is impossible. Or you have God as the great justifier of irreconcilable empirical facts, which unites Kant with Milbank with evangelical fundamentalism.

But the thing Zizek says (and does his best to disavow elsewhere) is that there is a gap-- a wide-open door, if you will-- between the group that believes and the world that suggestively hides the object of their belief. The Holy Spirit is the God of peace, in between the God of anger and the God of suffering. The chickens at least can remember that they have a home.

The obvious/weird thing about the pragmatism-materialism split is how interdependent it is. Just to spell it out in my reliably jejeune fashion, when you are claiming all truths are not objective, we're all in some kind of mythological/ideological shopping mall, how can you do that without claiming an objective viewpoint (no matter where you go in the mall, you're in the mall)? This is underscored by the pragmatist fetishization of "ethics." This perfect contingency is anchiored in necessity, just as materialists always wind up anchoring their stable cosmos on the basis of thoroughly contingent empirical observable reality.

Anyhow, I'm rereading Monstrosity of Christ, in preparation for reviewing it for that Lutheran journal-- I'm at the part where Zizek defines the "monstrosity" thing (Thing)-- it's a Hegel idea about how an excessive, unnatural intermediary is required to allow a passage from the transcendent God (Father) to the community of believers (Holy Spirit)-- a transition that Marx, Feuerbach, and Judaism in general are able to make "directly," although the role of Christ is probably achieved largely for Marx by revolutionary consciousness and for Jews by Law.

I'm currently hung up on the issue of what is at stake in belief-- Saying "nothing" or "your eternal soul" are the only easy answers, and it is nice how symmetrically unsatisfyingly hollow and arrogant they are. I mean, behavior toward your fellow creatures is a non-trivial result of beliefs, but the same beliefs can inspire extremely different actions, and really different beliefs can result in the same actions. I have to acknowledge the marketplace of mythology, and just affirm that Christ is the best product because of His attributes, and that seems like a non-presumptuous way to express it. Just like in the Old Testament-- your idols are not meaningless, but they are merely utterly (perhaps abominably) inferior. But I don't know if I believe in Him precisely for that reason myself. I like to think of Jesus smashing all the cash registers in the mythology shopping mall.

I'm regressing, I know. I sound a sixteen-year-old reading John Stuart Mill.

It's true, the pragmatist guy is a good writer. It has the whole above-it-all charm of the unbuttoned academic, which makes me want to shake him.

It's interesting (and isn't everything just ever so interesting?) that economics (having enough to eat) is the only legitimate response to claims of universal contingency and freedom? Materialism is useful in arguments (pragmatically speaking), but if one follows it, one can wind up saying that workers should own the means of production, or that life is nasty and brutish and we need a strong leader to maintain order at all costs, or that the nation or the institution demands endless sacrifice. Alternately, if one just brings it (food, justice) up to get folks to back off of one's essentially lassez-faire meta-theory, there is some possibility of hypocrisy.

My whole point is obviously not that people literally go to the mall instead of church. My point is that the freedom we think we have is supported (quite materially) by a structured set of presumably value-neutral options. If church is in the mall, going to church does not get you out of the mall.

Which gets us to Foucault, who is perhaps the most astute critic of pragmatism I know. Of course you can't wish yourself out of your culture, but it's important to notice how your culture encourages the illusion that you can.

I just realized what the R. Fiore comment about "acting as if" reminded me of. It's a total lift from St. Paul (unintentional no doubt)-- from 1 Corinthians, about everyone behaving as if they have no more spouses, families, jobs, attachments of any kind.

Whether or not Zizek's reading of Hegel as contingent accident (Being) as the basis of all Essence is accurate, it actually seems completely reasonable to dismiss the world on that basis rather than God. Hegel says that the king exists as a contingent personality to ratify the essential nature of the law (rather than vice-versa), which is why Paul can dismiss the Law the same way he dismisses family and economic ties.

The idea that capitalism (civilization, modernity) can be overcome, violently or otherwise, is getting it backwards. Everyday reality is essence, and it is an empty hole. The act of recognition of and faithful obedience to the Divine is not transcendently ordained (as Kant would hjave it), but an act of will. Self is asserted by overcoming of self, like Lacan says, but that declaration of freedom is freedom from what you see and touch, not from the specters of conformity and divine truth.

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