This post is part of a blog tour around John Caputo’s latest book – The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps. Check out this link to see lots of other folks weighing in on this book.My post engages Chapter 4 “The Insistence of God.” I was sent copy of the book as part of participating in this blog tour. It was made out of paper.
As per usual I was too lazy to condense my thoughts into the written word, so a video (in four parts) is what you have.
[These links go into the video itself if you want to skip around]
First Part: Contextualizing this book in Caputo’s trajectory
Second Part: Discussing the broad content of the chapter itself
Third Part: Caputo’s use of theopoetics in the context of his “theology of perhaps”
Fourth Part: My commentary on the nature and Caputo’s (possible) intent for this project.
Cribbing from wikipedia, I know that Scarry is the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University, which means at least some other people think she knows a thing or three about aesthetics. For my purposes though – that is, thinking more seriously about the body and its experience(s) as the primary site of theological thought – this book was elusive. Wild, weird, and a bit fun, yes. But still elusive.
From Pages 111-113
At the moment we see something beautiful, we undergo a radical decentering. Beauty, according to Simone Weil, requires us "to give up our imaginary position as the center… A transformation then takes place at the very roots of our sensibility, in our immediate reception of sense impressions and psychological impressions." Weil speaks matter-of-factly, often without illustration, implicitly requiring readers to test the truth of her assertion against their own experience. Her account is always deeply somatic: what happens, happens to our bodies. When we come upon beautiful things—the tiny mauve-orange-blue moth on the brick, Augustine's cake, a sentence about innocence in Hampshire—they act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space; or they form "ladders reaching toward the beauty of the world,” or they lift us (as though by the air currents of someone else's sweeping), letting the ground rotate beneath us several inches, so that when we land, we ﬁnd we are standing in a different relation to the world than we were a moment before. It is not that we cease to stand at the center of the world, for we never stood there. It is that we cease to stand even at the center of our own world. We willingly cede our ground to the thing that stands before us.
The radical decentering we undergo in the presence of the beautiful is also described by Iris Murdoch in a 1967 lecture called "The Sovereignty of Good over Other Concepts." As this title indicates, her subject is goodness, not beauty. "Ethics," Murdoch writes, "should not be merely an analysis of ordinary mediocre conduct, it should be a hypothesis about good conduct and about how this can be achieved." How we make choices, how we act, is deeply connected to states of consciousness, and so "anything which alters consciousness in the direction of unselﬁshness, objectivity and realism is to be connected with virtue.” Murdoch then speciﬁes the single best or most “obvious thing in our surroundings which is an occasion for 'unselﬁng' and that is what is popularly called beauty.”
This video is primarily here for Dave and folks that have either read his book, The End of Evangelicalism? and/or were part of his Northeastern Seminary Seminar. If you fit into any of those categories, I'd love to hear what you think. Am I missing something? Have I misread? Misthought?
The “Richard” I reference in the interview is Richard Kearney of Boston College, and the book being referenced is his Anatheism, the official site of which is here, and a good (independent) engagement of which is here.
A series of conversations between Caputo and Kearney are archived here from the 2007 Emergent Village Philosophical-Theological Conversation.
A series of recordings of lectures from Caputo are found here.
Relatedly, Caputo asked that I try to promote the Call for Papers for an upcoming conference he is co-hosting around the future of philosophical thought. He is particularly interested in younger voices being present, so lets send him a whole host of interesting things to read!
Alrighty… So I am trying to get in the habit of doing things that nourish me before 9am, when I start doing the things that (a) get errands done and/or (b) earn me income. Who knows how long this pattern will last, but it has, at least for today, brought out another vid. While not a direct response to anything other folks said, it is certainly prompted by the thinking going on in the comments (and Blake Huggins' post) responding to the vid I posted earlier this week.
As far as I can tell, the thrust of the thinking that is emerging is that while a physical science like, say, geology is about understanding the present state, process, and components of various geological systems and formations, theology cannot be restrained to the present. Of course, at some level, science must also be able to predict future effects, for example, we like to know in advance if an earthquake is coming, and we attempt to learn new, more detailed things about systems under study; the difference here seems to me to be that science is about predicting the future as it emerges from what has come before while theology (writ large) is invested in the exploration of that which arrived, is arriving, and has yet to arrive again fully. God is unpredictable: the realities of human life (not just biological functioning) are bewilderingly not something we can predict. Why do good people die and not others? Why does some art make us cry? How exactly does a poem manage to evoke so much in so little? While there may be precise scientific answers to some of these, the truth is that that science cannot (perhaps cannot yet) predict how or when that will happen again and/or what the human response to it will be. All the more crazy it all becomes when the humans involved are attempting to live into the Kingdom of God in which things are all topsy-turvy (Kraybill's The Upside-down Kingdom is awesome by the way). Insert the study of God into all this swirl of not-quite-predictibleness and we start to get to the point from which I jumped off.
I would want to put a highly eschatological gloss Deleuze’s claim that “theology is now the science of nonexisting entities, ”radicalizing Moltmann’s insistence that eschatology must be the heart and soul of theology from beginning to end. A theology of the event, then, is not so much about what is but what is yet to come in the future. It is a discourse of possibility, a poetics of the (im)possible, one might say, which locates itself in the interstitial space of the Pauline already-not yet.
This kind of poetics of the (im)possible such as Caputo addresses in his book and that Blake points toward are interesting and yet they make me wonder about what has come before. If we are always pointing (Moltmannically) toward the hopeful future yet to come, some significant questions are raised about the inbreaking of the future that has already arrived: what do we do with the Christ event? Both in terms of the ministry and crucifixion of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit as some kind of experiential phenomenon we are left with our theological hands in the air if we can only look toward that which is yet to be.
Perhaps this is why I am so fascinated by incompleteness: to hope for the completed future of some holy eschaton is to hope for some cosmic get out of jail card. Instead, I think we are called to live in the nexus of becoming the impossible. It is easy to become an idolitrous cult of the impossible, because the idea of the "crazy-and-Just-yet-to-be" is so appealing, but unless that ideal "lavishly flings us forth" into some engagement with that which already is, I'm not sure that what we're doing is Christian Theology. Interesting to be sure, but perhaps not Christian Theology. We are called to that sloppy, in-between place of almost-but-not-quite. We are in this world to be sure, and have access to that which is beyond at the same time, yet hoping for, and attempting to live into, something which has not yet come in its fullness.
Woah. Writing takes me soooo much longer than blathering into a camera.
Often times those interested in Postmodernism are so interested in the topic that they sometimes struggle to talk about it in a way that is concrete and accessible to folks not already interested. In this video I try to explain my understanding of postmodernity in a way that folks can get at without needing a degree. As a result of the simplicity I'm leaving lots out and cutting corners, but the hope is that it is worth it. One of the things I hit on in the vid is my problem with calling the whole shebang "post"modern, when, in fact, modern thinking is hardly past. I think its very name sets it up hurdle to understanding… Has anyone out there also been bothered by this? Invariably, when Christianity and Postmodernism cross paths, the issue of relativism and absolute subjectivism pops up. I have unabashedly skipped this issue all together. It certainly does require consideration and IS A PROBLEM that some folks with sloppy thinking do run into. I run into it too, so don't think I'm unaware… I'm not planning to dodge it forever. Its just that I'm currently writing a paper on the topic and trying to sort through my own thoughts. Eventually I'll address it. In the meantime though, I'd be curious to know what others think:
How would you describe postmodernism to someone who doesn't quite know what it is?
What are the benefits of postmodernism to a life of faith?
This morning, Tony Jones published on his blog the contents of a chapter he wrote for The Justice Project. In it he discusses the utility of some aspects of postmodern thought to the faithful Christian. His particular consideration of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur and the hermeneutic of humility prompted me to add on to some thoughts I started in my comments of the transforming possibility of text. I have been engaged by the work of Paul Ricoeur since I first read him, and I imagine I’ll further address some of his thoughts as I proceed. He has lots to offer.
In this particular video I am mostly concerned with his idea about the Second Naïveté.
Over at his blog, Matt Gallion raised some interesting questions, via a comment from Slavoj Žižek, about the role of narrative in our thinking. Long story short, the question seemed to me to be about effective and persuasive communication: Are we best served by prosaic and uber-clear communication, or is there something to be said for subtlety? Also, should we shy away from narrative, just sticking to the facts ma’am?
My take is that narrative and creative engagement with ideas are foundational aspects of human social life, and while we often have the tendency to like to make everything as reductionist as possible so we know easily who to hate, I think the world is often murkier than we can make it seem. There is only one white and one black, but an infinite number of grays.
One of the problems of course is that liking narrative for narrative’s sake, and believing in the transformative power of language can once again but you (singular and plural) on the slippery road to unhinged subjectivity. For example, while I like much of this sermon I found online, it contains the following, which I think can become problematic:
Some people are very concerned to know whether [the events in the Bible] actually happened, and they will either believe it or disbelieve it based on whether it actually happened to an actual person at a real time in a real place. Curiously enough, these people are sometimes found in the pews of fundamentalist Christian churches, and sometimes in the pews of humanist Unitarian Universalist churches. I respect their desire to know what really happened in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. But I am not personally interested in it, any more than I am interested in whether there was ever a real King Lear or a real Mary Lennox. That question seems rather beside the point. These people are real and Jesus is real insofar as their stories, the lies that were told about them, tell us some very important truths. The truth the story of Jesus tells, like the truths in all of these stories, is born of its lies, its beautifully, skillfully told lies.
While I think the power of story is such that it can transform regardless of its historical-critical veracity, I think that routing one’s faith in something that even the believer understands to be a lie is risky business to say the least.
Though I think that the power of theological inquiry is greatly supported by a creative and imaginative quality of thought, I don’t think that doing away with the whole notion of truth in text is the way I would want to go. I believe than we can simultaneously embrace transforming narrative and tradition.
This past weekend, November 6-10, I was at the American Academy of Religion Conference in Montreal. While there I made a number of great connections, including some longer conversations with Tripp Fuller (of Homebrewed Christianity) and Phillip Clayton, both at Claremont and involved with the Transforming Theology Project. Well, long story short, both those fellows were encouraging about the work I’ve done over that THEOPOETICS(dot)NET and inspired me to get more of my work out on the web instead of just focusing on printed output. This is the beginning of what I hope with be one or two videos a week engaging theological work (in print and on the web) with some smaller textual summary below. Cheers!