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.