Sunday, July 24, 2011

Some Magic Wall That Keeps His Violence and Fecundity From Being Similar To Our Own

Reviewing some not-so-recent dialogues... here’s Noah and I talking about a blog post I can’t find anymore, from 2009, where I got into it with Adam Kotsko, atheist Marxist and author of Zizek and Theology.


I went back and looked at your conversation with the zizek scholar now that I'm reading Zizek. I don't know that I understand Zizek as well as I might, but I do know that when that guy says this:

"He's not just trying to keep up his materialist cred: he actually is a materialist. He's also actually an atheist and his reading of Christianity is meant to demonstrate that the radical core of
Christianity shows us a way to the most radical atheism possible."

he is so utterly full of shit that even the absent God is going to have trouble finding room to not inhabit him.

Saying that Zizek is "actually" anything simple seems pretty fucking brash. I mean, if your atheism involves embracing the radical core of Christianity, in what sense are you an atheist? If your materialism involves sneering at naive materialists for denying transcendence, how
exactly are you a materialist? Zizek has complicated answers to those questions, but he's so steeped in dialectic and eating his own tail that I don't see how you figure out which end is up without qualifying your answers in a way that doesn't just depend on "i've read
everything he's written, nyah nyah."

For example:

""all that happens in the passage from Objective Spirit to Absolute Spirit is that one takes into account that 'there is no big Other'," in this case meaning there is no God."

But Zizek's whole point is that the big Other is *not* God, or doesn't have to be God, or isn't God after the incarnation. One of the takeaways from a Christian perspective, it seems like, is that for Christianity God is not separate from Creation/man, or both separate and not separate, so that the killing of God is both really, especially, truly the death of God (Christ dies, God dies) and not the death of God, in that God is not transcendent and distant in the first place. God is not the big Other is different than saying "there is no God." It's more like saying "there is nothing that is God," with all the ambiguity that Zizek squeezes into (or out of) nothing.

And then he does it again:

"saying there is no big Other is the same as saying there's no God."

Then why didn't he just say it, smarty pants? Did he lose the letters on his keyboard?

And good lord, could he possibly be more condescending? What a putz.


Say what you want about fundamentalists and psychoanalysts, you can;t beat a Marxist academic for smug assurance in their totally unjustifiable faux-rational opinions.

Speaking to your "he couldn't find the keys on his keynoard" point, I really think the whole rhetorical concept of "begging the question" was invented for Zizek-style (a)theology. If you don't have the slightest suspicion that there might be some kind of God character, and you're not doing anthropology, or some hideous Joseph Campbell breathless syncretism self-help, WHY in Gaia's name are you talking about religion?

I do like Milbank, and I think I might actually be a little more behind him on the eros issue, actually, than I am with Zizek, Lacan, or Barth. I think I really am dismissing the gay utopia out of hand if I don't acknowledge the spiritual centrality of libido (which I really don't unequivocally say in my Glory and Hole essay I realize). You can't have the murderous energy of apocalypse without some white-hot repression. I'm less with Milbank on atavism and the evils of Protestantism, obviously, and some of his stuff on paradox and mist kind of reminds me of myself at age 20, but his out-materialisting materialsts thing about that one guy (Heinrich Friedrich Jacobi-- ed.) who sort of said to Kant that there are no a prioris before the existence of your body, was brilliant and really helped me think that out. And I was reading my Eckhart book at the same time as that book-- I should lend you that. What Barth is to ecstatic modern orthodoxy, Eckhart is to mystical medieval postmodernism.

You'e right, it's definitely all about love-- love cannot be easily dissociated from sin. It's almost the only reason to keep a transcendent God-- so that there's some magic wall that keeps His fecundity and violence from being similar to our own. That magic wall became the death of Christ-- it's almost as if what died on the cross was not only the certainty of a transcendent dimension, but also the banal self-identiity of the tangible world. Take that, equivocal/univocal/paradoxical academic philosophers!

And so... here’s Noah and I discussing Meister Eckhart.


reading Meister Eckhart, who I'm not that into. is interesting that he appears to be a Buddhist.


Detachment is a Buddhist term, but it's also a Christian one. Christianity is every bit as much about controlling (if not extinguishing) desire as Buddhism is. When Christ talks about "Blessed are the poor in spirit," that's generally interpreted to mean people who aren't attached to their things and even their lives and kin. It's sort of a key feature of most modern religions.


I think Eckhart is definitely talking about extinguishing desire. And he's not just saying that people shouldn't be attached to their possessions and kin; he's saying they shouldn't be attached to God. Which seems pretty Buddhist to me.


I don't want to dismiss the Buddhism charge completely, because it's not totally baseless-- and it's a nice "touche" to Zizek. But what keeps Eckhart from being a heretic is his attention to grace, ethics, etc-- and his really subtle theology. He's sort of Buddhist, but he's also sort of neoplatonic, which is a weird combination, and deserves some serious attention before being dismissed out of hand. I'd kind of like to compare him and Bataille as weirdo dissident but nonpartisan believers (Bataille of a different variety, obviously)..


Well, I'm not against it receiving serious attention from somebody else maybe. The New Ageyness of it is just really putting me off. I'll finish the book, but I don't know that I'm necessarily going to search out more....


I love that you're calling a 12th-centruy Christian theologian New Agey. And thus tarring Milbank, Zizek, and a large number of Catholics by association.

Philosophy is really not like music for you, is it? It is for me.


Ummm...sometimes? Like I said, my negative reaction to him is really aesthetic more than logical. So maybe it's just liking different bands?


You know, I don't think I could have articulated my artificial/natural idea without Meister Eckhart. "God" might even be the insertion into nature of the artificial "Godhead," which is far from unimportant. It is the vastness underneath actual reality, that Badiou wants to be math-- which is an attempt to insert nature into artifice, highly useful but not necessarily meaningful.

I think you're actually somewhat allergic to ontology yourself, which is understandable. But it might be something you could think about. If not Godhead, what can possibly lend coherence to universes? Time-space continuum? Superstrings? DNA?

I'm about to read the Brothers Karamazov. Have you read that?

(P.S.: After beginning the Brothers Karamazov, I discovered the line Zizek derides, about how without God everything is permitted, is uttered by Ivan, a demagogue-ish character advocating theocracy, who is corrected by the elder Zosima. So there.)

And finally, here’s a conversation we had about a new book on evolutionary psychology that Noah handily demolishes:


I love that the evolution-psych holy trinity is comprised of groups that are not hard to cast as subhuman-- at least from an evolutionary-psych perspective. Chesterton would relish that irony.
I keep being a little amazed that you are so willing to defend Biblical truth-claims; of course the Bible is quasi-objectively far more subtle and complex that eugenics, so it's a fairly clear aesthetic choice.

Yeah-- realizing that self-awareness is hooked up with language is central to Genesis. We get language to name (and thus control) all life, but God names us and gives us Law, we break Law immediately and achieve self-awareness (naked!!! shame!!!), and then receive punishment, which essentially is the part with awareness of death and universal contingency. For all of Lacan's critique of religious types as caught up with the Imaginary, it frankly seems as if the leap of faith is really to posit a fundamental Symbolic level. The power of science involves pushing the Symbolic to its breaking point-- not in nonsense dada, but in a fundamental figuration of the Real-- the nothingness of Divinity that allows language to exist by its sheer inexpressibility. If DNA isn't concrete structuralism, What else is? Beisdes, you know, culture and everything it generates.

I have to share this John Stuart Mill gem with you that I'm glad you reminded me of-- he wrote in a letter:

"Besides these I have been toiling through Stirling’s Secret of Hegel. It is right to learn what Hegel is & one learns it only too well from Stirling’s book. I say "too well" because I found by actual experience of Hegel that conversancy with him tends to deprave one’s intellect. The attempt to unwind an apparently infinite series of self–contradictions, not disguised but openly faced & coined into [illegible word] science by being stamped with a set of big abstract terms, really if persisted in impairs the acquired delicacy of perception of false reasoning & false thinking which has been gained by years of careful mental discipline with terms of real meaning. For some time after I had finished the book all such words as reflexion, development, evolution, &c., gave me a sort of sickening feeling which I have not yet entirely got rid of."


That's Mill quote is awesome. He and Hegel definitely deserve to make each other ill.

I'm trying to unravel your bit about Lacan and religion and the symbolic. I'm not sure I agree that the fundamental religious more is faith in the symbolic...but it seems like the symbolic has to be pretty important? The idea that there's a law...I guess Lacan doesn't think there is a transcendent law, which is why he claims that religion is in the imaginary, whereas someone with faith would argue that the symbolic is in fact from God?

Not sure I get how science pushes the symbolic to the breaking you mean by pushing it closer and closer to the real, demanding that the symbolic open up directly onto the real? DNA as symbolic which creates real would then be a kind of barrier case as you say; the real as coded message creating the real.

It's kind of amazing how banal ev psych guys are when they do decoding. Corballis was talking about mystery novels and the best he could come up with was, well, they must be narratives about evil being punished which is obviously evolutionarily ideal. You sort of think, have you ever *read* mystery novels? Is it possible that treating everything as a one to one code could, conceivably, be somewhat reductionist?


Yes, getting math to duplicate the vibrations of possibility is what science does-- but without fundamentalism. It's just that you do get totalizing dicks who write about evoliution and bell curves. Christianity holds that the Word is in the beginning. The chicken and the egg is solved in favor of the chicken. Narratives are always connected to desire and lack, but that doesn't mean Lacan isn't kind of a hermeneutically refined Protestant of sorts.


Chicken and egg is not exactly solved; God is around there somewhere with the word....


It reflects the entire Bible narrative. God made chickens. Adam named chickens. The Word was chicken, and it was good.

Mmmmm, chicken.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Device That Kills With Gravity

So, I decided that queerness, idealism, Plato’s world of essential forms, but also the transcendent, the conscious mind, intelligence, love, math, self-awareness, God, could all be collapsed under the term “artificial.” Sexuality, materialism, physics, death, catastrophe, the Spinoza substance, all these things can be collapsed as “natural.” Noah found this fairly grandiose and sloppy, but I still like it.


All intelligence is artificial. That is the prime religious frustration. Also why aspects of Christian poststructuraslism are less annoying than New Age pantheist poststructuralism. But I probably never would have started attending church if it wasn't for the gay utopia.


Isn't the Christian idea that intelligence is primary — the one thing that's not artificial? In the beginning was the word, etc.?


Artificial, as in always already constructed, and in opposition to all things that function in obedience to forces of inertia. The Word was in the beginning. Artificiality exists without and previous to nature.


Yeah, I'm not following that. God's intelligence is before the world; it's the most natural thing. It's what creates everything else. So intellect isn't artificial, or at least God's isn't.

Or you're saying it's artificial precisely because it's previous to nature? That the Word is artificial? It seems bizarre to call god artificial...shouldn't he be the one thing that's natural if anything is?


no, see- God as nature is pantheism. that's the transcendence thing.


There's a difference between saying it's transcendent and saying it's artificial though, surely. If anything it should be reversed, I'd think. Transcendence means god is natural and nothing else is. Push that far enough and you get gnosticism, I guess, but gnosticism is a christian heresy...


Heresy is heresy. Nature is trees. God is distinct from trees, although hardly irrelevant to trees.


I deny that nature is trees. Trees come from nature. But nature isn't necessarily the natural. It could be artificial. Like in Solaris.


Not trees. So... nature is laws of nature? Deep math? Whatever you call it, it's a process, an aggregate of force vectors, something that we are intimately part of at all times. Not our intelligence, our awareness of ourselves, which makes everything strange and secondary and reducible to deep math. The possibility of an absolute that creates nature comes from an absolute that perceives nature, which is our intelligence. Giant brains, weird bodies, straining at the surface of the shrink wrap around totality, totality itself starts to change as it is perceived and understood, and an outside seems as clear as the fact that somehow the space in our heads has become a space outside.


Nature is Bacchus, like in C.S. Lewis. But Aslan is natural.

I was just reading Hume, who argues that procreation creates intelligence rather than the other way around. Our intelligence is as much a part of nature as our loins, surely. If we make a watch, that's artificial. If God made nature, then that's artificial. Artificial is what's built, not the builder. I guess you could say our intelligence is not part of nature since it's connected to God...but I don't think that makes God artificial still...


Brains and loins (and lions) are natural. But, in fact, so is a watch. Metal and glass (or sand) are natural. The concept of its purpose is what even makes it a watch.

There is no outside to nature, unless you are aware of yourself, or of God.


But putting metal and sand together into a watch is different than having just metal and sand. A watch is metal and sand plus artifice. Reading Kristeva, who seems to agree with you re consciousness being un-natural. She doesn't call it artificial though....


Right-- the watch is natural, except for the artifice. Same with the brain.

Kristeva is writing in a different language (perhaps), but she's also an atheist. If you want to say that "artificiality" is somehow an anthropomorphic fallacy, you need to explain what the difference between "artificial" and "unnatural" might be. I certainly have no problem with de-anthropomorphizing the term "artificial." Birds' nests are artificial. Footprints are artificial. But the simple cause-and-effect logic is not enough to sustain a distinction between nature and artifice.


So you're saying the brain is different than the rest of the world becausethe brain is the only bit that has been created using artifice?

That doesn't seem right...?


The brain is natural, except for the artifice. The intelligence itself, that you could call a property or effect of the brain, I call artifice. It puts a hole in reality through which reality can operate upon itself. It inaugurates the possibility of a world. That's why it's like God.

Kirkegaard said "I choose the absolute than chooses me. I posit the absolute that posits me." That was my Facebook post a couple days ago.


Hmm. Artifice still seems like the wrong word. Transcendence works better I think. Or noumenal.

Yeah, I think material and noumenal or material and transcendent is much better here than natural and artificial. The latter have too many other connotations; it ends up being confusing.


Sometimes being confused is worth it. I'm proposing a concept, not just a definition. God and Not-God is too vague-- because either everything is one or the other. God is everything and there's no Not-God, or, well, God is just dead.

I'm talking about something that involves not cutting off spirituality from the "normal" world. That's the whole point. The cross is artificial. It's a device that kills with gravity, and spreads fear among people, and then a symbol allegedly repudiating those things. The Word (as you point out) is artificial. Language is technology. It's not spiritual, as such, when you call someone an asshole or order a latte. What makes it transcendent is the artificiality, the outside-reality. This possibility allows for a much more complicated environment that doesn't let the "numinous" be mistaken for indigestion and subsumed in DNA.


I knew it wouldn't be that easy.

You should use whatever concepts you like...but it's just very hard for me to see how the Word which is the base of everything isn't more natural than the tree that it makes. Artifiice may make the world, but the artificer isn't artificial.

I think...maybe paradox would help? Neibuhr's idea that love is both the fulfillment of the law and the antithesis of the law...perhaps what you need is to see the Word as both the fulfillment of nature and the antithesis of nature? It's both outside nature and the definition of nature. Neither gnosticism nor pantheism but holding them in tension.


I have fears about cozying up to paradox. William Desmond and betweenness and the metaxological. It makes me think of wholeness and wonder and following your bliss. It's as if God could only exist when you're satisfied and happy and warm-- but of course God matters most when you're desperate and hungry and crazy and sick. Balance is a supremely pantheistic notion in the first place. If you're that balanced, though, how can you move or change or think or act?


Neibuhr's notion of paradox isn't a static whole, though. It's not between and balance, but both and tension.

For love and the law, it's the idea that love is the thorn in the heart of the law; the thing that denies the system and fulfills it. The need to satisfy love through the law is impossible and imperative. It's not a pantheistic everything is happy. It's more like Cioran; religion as unendurable ache.

For intelligence as the basis of nature and as the beyond of nature it could work somewhat similarly I think. The need to reach God and get beyond nature/the material is the impossible fulfillment an denial of our nature. It's a description of fallenness; nature holds us, but intelligence (like love) demands we wrest ourselves from it.



Sure. I mean, Christ announces Himself as the fulfillment of the Law. And he is love, and of course he goes around defying the Law and ticking off the Pharisees and Saducees all day, and gets killed for it. Love is Other and irruptive and disruptive, true, and it allows healing and defies death.

What happens both in the Eden story and on the cross is that the artifice that arose from within the universe doesn't just bump into but spills over into the artifice from which the universe arose. The intelligence, which I maintain is not "false" but denies mundane ideas of reality and authenticity that are bogus precisely because they are based on phenomena that arise and dissipate, is a wound, or a thorn... love is not obviously the same thing to me, although it does work quite well as a superior substitute for "balance."

Or it's just that I'm talking about ontology and Niebuhr is talking about ethics. It may be a fine analogy.


"The intelligence, which I maintain is not "false" but denies mundane ideas of reality and authenticity that are bogus precisely because they are based on phenomena that arise and dissipate, is a wound, or a thorn..."

This is why I think calling it artificial is a problem. You're not saying it's artificial, but that it's more real than real. It is the gnostic thing; the world is a transitory veil; the thing that is solid is god.

I'm not saying that reality is love (though that's not an unChristian idea, come to think of it...) but that the way Neibuhr put together the ethical paradox might work ontologically as well.

Maybe thinking about Eden would work? Eden is both "really" real and outside reality; it's the platonic ideal. What causes the loss of Eden is the knowledge of good and evil — so intelligence both casts you into the real (material) and causes you to lose the real (Eden).

It seems like that should sync up with intelligence specifically as well. The knowledge of good and evil is why you exit Eden; intelligence tosses you out of reality, though it is also your link to it — or at the same time intelligence hooks you to reality, though it is also your passage out of it.....


Nature is still nature. It is what really is. That's why it's different than you saying God is natural and nothing else is. We are divided between our natural and artificial aspects, and God is as well. Nature is tangible but not immortal. God is an idea but not mortal. I'm not saying one is more real than the other.

Eden is a great example, as is the proto-semiotic state before language. Love exists naturally before language, but then must be reconstructed, artificially, both through and in spite of ethics.

Intelligence destroys us, it destroys everything around us, it is clearly not in harmony with nature. It also makes us free like nothing else around us, and capable of experiencing destruction, violation, and suffering like nothing else around us.


Intelligence is natural though. It's what makes us mortal, first of all, if you accept the Eden story. And it's natural to us; it evolved. Our intelligence isn't *that* much different from a chimpanzees'. They can even talk to us.

And surely God is supposed to be what really is. Moreso than nature even, which is why he'd be more natural than nature, and why in C.S. Lewis the wood between the worlds is a wood.

Intelligence here is kind of becoming free will, isn't it? The thing that separates us from nature and requires from us ethics. It certainly makes us free like nothing else. I think it's maybe presumptuous to say that it makes us more capable of suffering...?


Using Eden AND evolution against me. How diabolical. And, according to you, natural.

Evolution is natural. Creation is artificial. Brains (to reiterate) are natural. Consciousness (which still seems like something bugs might have) is perhaps also natural. Intelligence is something else, whether humans or robots or dolphins or aliens or chimpanzees have it.

And it includes free will, but that's hardly everything it means. It means limitless desire, language, problem-solving, and two big aspects of the Eden story, shame and the awareness of death. There is a site that is a subject, a space that should not be a space, that violates conservation of matter-- if it was actually matter and not just thought.

And this is not to devalue nature. The importance of wilderness as that which we are somehow in an undeclared war with, that overwhelms and envelops and, tamed or not, sustains us-- extends to our own bodies. We are not in any way better than our bodies. But we are not at one with them.


I'm not using them against you. I am helping you clarify your ideas. Naturally.

Evolution is natural. Creating an ant hill is natural. Creating a toupee is natural (though the toupee itself is not exactly.) Creating the universe seems like it should be natural as well.

We may not be at one with out bodies, but is the disjunction there well-described by saying that our mind is artificial and our bodies natural? We're not a calculator chained to a dying tree. We're an angel chained to a dying animal. Both angels and animals have minds; just different kinds; and while you could argue that an angel isn't natural, I don't think you'd usually call it artificial.

Eden is a metaphor for the world before intelligence; prelapsarian infantinnocence. It's also a metaphor for a world outside nature. Intelligence shackles us to the world and cuts us off from it — neither of which is whole oneness happiness, both of which are crucifixion/castration. I don't deny your being in the world and not of it as our tragedy, but I think our tragedy is also being in the world and of it. We're natural and not, but that includes our minds. The binary isn't mind/body and isn't nature/artificial. God's natural but not nature, and we are too, though less naturally.


Paul says, "If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away. all things have become new." i can expand more later. but my goal is to deal with atheist materialism on one hand, and Zizek and Eckhart on the other, who insist that God needs us as we need Him.


"New" isn't artificial, though. Surely the metaphor there is a
rebirth, not being smelted out of plastic....

What does the "need" consist of? Parents need children...


Rebirth is not natural. Resurrection is not natural. You can have some issue with calling it artificial, but the whole zombie/cyborg as Messiah totally works for me-- it is a thing that should not be, except that it must be.

It also comes down to a queer thing. Not that homosexuality is unnatural (although the term itself is weird), but its very natural-ness throws off the way we equate natural with real-- and heterosexuality with procreation.

Artificial is not false. Angels are perhaps the only intelligence that is artificial, so far-- God is divided between natural and artificial, as are we, as I have stated previously.


Yeah; zombies don't seem artificial. Unnatural, yes.

I think your terms don't really work for you if you don't want artificial to be false, is what I'm saying. Artificial really does mean false in most ways it is used.

If it comes down to a queer thing, maybe you should use natural/queer?


I think it's perfectly fine to alternate terms sometimes-- "queer" is a pretty good synonym, insofar as "all sexuality is artificial sexuality" seems equally valid to "all sexuality is quer sexuality," and for basically the same reasons.

"Queer" is also properly a term meant to designate a specifically marginalized community, and I sort of think honoring that community from a Christian standpoint should also mean acknowledging siblinghood without wholesale appropriation.

But I do think "artificial," especially post-Warhol, post-Terminator, is just as ripe as "queer" for rehabilitation as a term. Christians should be allowed some divergence of opinion on sexuality (although that's ethically uneasy, it seems as valid a discussion to permit as the one over abortion), but by no means should Christians be comfortable with the eliding of all differences between nature, reality, and truth.