Badiou, Encounter, and Narrative

I have long been fascinated with Alain Badiou.

If you have paid much attention to this blog I interviewed a close friend, mentor, and teacher of mine, Jeph Holloway, early last year. Jeph is not only a keen reader of Paul, philosophy, ethics, and everything else in the world, but he is a nice fellow and has a knack for realizing what the important trends are in scholarship and pointing his students toward those.

So, knowing my naive, undergraduate fascination with Derrida and how deconstruction and theology interact he quickly encouraged me to look into Badiou and his book on Paul. This was at the very beginning of my Master’s work. I still remember him asking me to meet him in his office and telling me about the revolution going on in Paul’s use in political philosophy. Since then, I have tried to pay attention to Badiou, transcending just his engagement with Paul (however fruitful that may be, which depends on who you’re reading, really).

I am no Badiouian. But, I recognize the significance of what he has done with set theory in connection with ontology, and most importantly the insistence on Event and how Events are defined and characterized.

Badiou and a rather beautiful cat.

Recently I came across his interview centering around ‘encounter’ published on Verso Books blog page. And, here I realized that accepting encounters are not for the timid. Encounters are unlikely, break from the usual, and upends one’s life. And, encounters are ‘contingent’, a moment of pure chance. Perhaps here we can speak of a clinamen, an Epicurean swerve of the atoms that is unpredictable and non-reductive (and, in the irreducibility of the clinamen, Lucretius sees the justification for freedom of the will).

For the encounter to be distinguished from mere experience the encounter has to ‘disturb the rhythm of existence’, and it then assumes a moment of newness or beginning. The beginning, then, has to be either refused or accepted.

In order to make sense of one’s life, Paul Ricoeur insists on a sort of hermeneutic anthropology (Edit: How the heck do word processors not have ‘hermeneutic’ in thier dictionary??). For time to make sense for the human actor there has to be a narrative element present to represent and bring together otherwise discordant elements. But, sometimes one has an encounter. And, the encounter, while acting as an interruption, brings about new. The new is painful, it is disturbing in the fullest sense of the word because it breaks apart and irritates what was once seemingly coherent, and it is destruktion in the positive Heideggerian sense of the word, in that perhaps it will disturb those previous calcified, traditional elements within our seemingly coherent, static story.

 

But, stories shift. And can be told in new ways. Perhaps instead of the origin, the present is what gives form to the past of the narrative. And, with this in mind, the encounter, though a present reality (because it echoes throughout the constancy of the now), forms a new hermeneutic lens through which to understand the self.

What should we call Christian Anarchism?

taylormweaver:

Josh Porter, mastermind behind one of the greatest bands ever, Showbread, shares his thoughts on politics and Christianity.

Originally posted on Joshua S. Porter:

The_Deserter

Often, I have favored the term “Christian Anarchy” when describing what I perceive to be the theological perspective that best describes the relationship between disciple of Jesus and the State (or, the government). The reasons I have favored this term are threefold: Firstly, it is used by many of the authors and thinkers who have informed my own opinion on the subject. Second, the term has etymological significance. The final advantage to the term “Christian Anarchy,” is, I think, the attention it garners, which almost inevitably leads to conversation. People tend to laugh, recoil, or furrow their brow in confusion, and questions typically follow.

But is Christian Anarchism the best way to describe the way a Jesus-follower relates to government and politics? Is the position a one-size-fits-all, or is there room for diversity within so specific a view?

And what the heck is Christian Anarchy, anyway?

Depends on who you ask. The term…

View original 803 more words

The Mysteries, Myths, and Legal Texts of the ANE. Oh, and a Grenade Launcher.

This is not a post about philosophy, theology, economics, or a critique of culture. I probably have too much built up in my system and need to write a post about something a little more theory oriented; however, I took some great pictures while at the British Museum and have to share them. Because this blog loosely circulates issues with religion, it is still on topic, though.

Some of you may be interested in archaeology, textual traditions, and the ancient near east. If so, these pictures will certainly be a treat for you. While my training isn’t near expert level, I did take several classes in which we read ancient near eastern creation myths, flood myths, and legal texts. Seeing some of these in person was a great experience.

Plus, while the British Museum is famously crowded because it is free and full of amazing artifacts, almost no one seemed to care about the sections these were housed in. While that’s a bit saddening, it did make for a much more relaxing time in the museum!

A minor god from Nineveh.

A minor god from Nineveh.

Contains sixty lines from the Babylonian Story of the Flood.

Contains sixty lines from the Babylonian Story of the Flood.

A section of the Code of Hammurabi!

A section of the Code of Hammurabi!

Several disconnected tablets. Some building inscriptions, temple accounts, and other stuff.

Several disconnected tablets. Some building inscriptions, temple accounts, and other stuff.

Other various tablets.

Other various tablets.

Babylonian plans, drawings and measurings of a ziggurat dedicated to Ashur, and an incantation tablet.

Babylonian plans, drawings and measurings of a ziggurat dedicated to Ashur, and an incantation tablet.

A section of the Gilgamesh Epic!

A section of the Gilgamesh Epic!

Furthest to the left is a section detailing Marduk's appointment after defeating Tiamat. Far right is a section detailing Ishtar's descent into the underworld.

Furthest to the left is a section detailing Marduk’s appointment after defeating Tiamat.
Far right is a section detailing Ishtar’s descent into the underworld.

This a fragment depicting Teshub, the sotrm god.

This a fragment depicting Teshub, the sotrm god.

The Standard of Ur, depicting various animals  being brought by laborers to a banquet.

The Standard of Ur, depicting various animals being brought by laborers to a banquet.

Hopefully you enjoyed these pics despite the cellphone quality!

P.S. I also saw a 15th century grenade launcher :)

Yeah, this is a fifteenth century grenade launcher. Yes, you did read that correctly. Grenade Launcher.

Yeah, this is a fifteenth century grenade launcher. Yes, you did read that correctly. Grenade Launcher.

Is Violence Insurmountable?

Several weeks ago Pope Francis admitted the need to do something about the growing destabilization of the Middle East, going as far as to urge governmental powers to step into the mix (admitting the need for violence to counter violence?). Displacement of people groups, militarized violence against religious minorities, and the destruction of peaceful religious/cultural structures in recent months has brought feelings of devastation and physical torment to thousands of people.

The Pope, yo.

Something has to be done. But what?

 

It seems that violence may be the only action, or systematized group of actions, that can have any relevant effect upon the tsunami of violence that has already engulfed large regions of the Middle East. But, is this really so? What do we admit when we react with violence against violence? Does violence, then, act as a sort of enveloping power, a punishment that causes those who are doing evil to come to terms with the evil that they have done? Or does violence beget violence?

Are there political theories of (non)violence that can point the way toward a sort of salve for such a situation (I am looking at you, Walter Benjamin, Simon Critchley, and Judith Butler)? Despite the many and varied theories about the origin of ISIS (such as the hypothesis that the US’s role in Iraq in the past 30+ years was the catalyst for such violence and extremism), the fact remains that cruel and unusual circumstances abound in the Middle East. Do we take the stance of a Zizek and passively wait? Do we take the conventional American approach and storm the gates of injustice (I mean, as long as there is oil to get as well….)? Or is there a Jesus option of nonviolent resistance (or an anarchic “nonviolence”, or, as Crtichley points to a “violent nonviolent” approach)?

 

I just want to hear YOUR answers with justifications given. Or are you too busy surfing the net to think about the cruelties going on abroad?

Theology of Money

What follows is a sort of review I did of a incredibly dense and thought-provoking book called Theology of Money, authored by Philip Goodchild of the University of Nottingham. I did this in conjunction with my friend Johnny Walker, whose blog you can check out by following this link! He’s a great guy and writes in a wonderful and thoughtful manner.

Philip Goodchild’s Theology of Money may be one of the more important works in contemporary scholarship on issues of economy, politics, divinization, and the importance of valuation. Because of this, the title may seem a bit deceptive, as the emphasis is not on the usual issues associated with theology, such a systematic analysis of what is meant by the signifier “God”, or the praxis of a community built upon ideals usually associated with the moniker “religious”.

Philip Goodchild. Looks like a rather jolly fellow. (http://www.wlv.ac.uk/files/SAD/RIP/philip_goodchild.jpg)

However, at the same time the title is wonderfully appropriate. Part of Goodchild’s analysis rests on the crucial point that money occupies in society the same space that God normally does in traditional religion. Money is religious precisely because “God and wealth are set in competition” in several key areas: for time, in terms of “storing up treasure”; for attention, in terms of the health of the eye; and, for devotion in terms of service”(6). Because all religions “direct and distribute time, attention, and devotion” money seems to occupy a religious space.  In Goodchild’s estimation the contemporary theology of money, however, directs such time, attention, and devotion in such a way as to evoke a social order that is essentially short-sighted and ultimately self-destructive. The aim, then, of the book is to “understand the conditions of existence within our contemporary age” and ultimately show that the life of humanity is based on local practices of monetary “contracting, accounting, and evaluating.” These practices, however, are to be exposed in all of their “contingency, irrationality, arbitrariness, and violence” because they ultimately enable “chaos, instability, and possessive[ness].” (xvi).

In order to accomplish this weighty task Goodchild divides the book into three major sections. The first section, “Of Politics”, is mainly introductory and serves to locate money theoretically in relation to political life. Goodchild identifies modernity mythically, both because a theory of money bases the political life on the valuation of money primarily, but also because the essential utopian ideals of modernity are short-circuited by money’s place in political life, and are necessarily contradictory. The mythic nature of the ideals of modernity can be summed up as one of mastery of the natural world through means of science, technology, and economics; nonetheless, such mastery is façade, as seen through ecological disasters and realizations that economics is less determined by “humane values and substantive rationality” and more so “autonomous processes driven by debt, profit, and the control of consumer desire.” (31,32). Such inability to control and master serve to undermine economics because ecology, specifically, cannot handle the consumptive practices of modern economics, and this speaks to the meta-human powers that both science and technology (despite the promises of modernity) cannot control (43-49). In the conceptual realm there is instability because utopian ideals of universal freedom, and a wealth that promises freedom, has caused a grasping that “has had the effect of subordinating humanity to the impersonal and abstract force of money” (67). Such opens up the realization that much determination in democratic institutions is due to propagandizing and political advertising, which short-circuits truth within open discourse (51-53). In all, it seems that value, broadly, then, results in a frenzied maintenance of monetary value through consumptive practices, ecological destruction, predatory production, and an appropriating and colonizing capitalism.

The middle section, A Treatise on Money, is divided into three chapters dealing with the Ecology, Politics, and Theology of money. Goodchild identifies this main section as having a two-fold purpose: to expose the main threats of humanity found in “illusion and error” and to “illuminate the principles necessary for reforming money as a social institution” (22). In the chapter on ecology Goodchild develops further the earlier thesis regarding the instability of natural ecology in an economic environment that does not take into account natural environmental concerns. But, he goes deeper, showing the conceptual problems that cause this disregard, namely regarding money itself. Money functions as value that promises value. It is fundamentally tautological as “money is a means of payment because it is a store of value, yet money is a store of value because it is a means of payment” (93).  Perhaps most important in this chapter, however, is the delineation of the economic issues of promise and desire. Money and economy enter the religious schema here because of the notion of faith in the promise of these abstractions. Money provides “the freedom to select and refuse within the marketplace . . . to disassemble current relations of mutual dependence to replace them with future, more desirable relations of mutual dependence” (103). Because money promises these freedoms, there is a generation of demand for it. However, Goodchild’s analysis ends with the conclusion that despite the promises, “money is fundamentally false and deceptive”, at least in part because of the relation of debt to society, but also because one’s evaluations are always of little weight and ultimately up to subjective fashions; or, “the consumer has no basis for giving value to value, apart from the value of money” (120-21).
In the next chapter, on the “Politics of Money”, Goodchild moves on to similar criticisms, though this time in relation to markets specifically. Here he levels charges against the market, calling it “a despotic social institution founded on violence” (128) because it allows for no contradictory claims and because of the mutual parasitism of market and state, a state that justifies “inflicting unlimited violence on their enemies in the name of freedom, democracy, and  progress that they may be establish in place of existing social formations” (128). Goodchild goes on to make the connection between money, contract, and value. Namely, that money is an implicit contract, and “contracts underwrite social cooperation” (132).

In the last chapter in this section Goodchild focuses on a theology of money. Here, by theology, Goodchild enters into an examination of the value of money, but also the concept ofevaluating value. His discussion begins with a critique of accounting practices, and specifically what accounting practices say about the nature of what is considered valuable in the first place. A portion of his critique is the metaphysical basis of accounting itself. It represents the shared fiction of money, yes, but it also motions to the immateriality and spirituality of money as an incorporeal reality that promises and powers desires. Accounting becomes the material basis of money, however, in the place of coinage and banks take over as the basis of credit (171). Yet, a more important portion of his critique reminds that “knowledge produced by accounting is highly selective and very limited” (172). This is the reminder that accounting is far from being distinct from the ethical or the evaluative; “determinate moral effects” result from the practice, as analyzed earlier in Goodchild’s discussion of the ecological, economic, and political intersections with the economic (172).

Theology of Money. This is the cover of a book. (https://www.dukeupress.edu/Assets/Books/978-0-8223-4450-6_pr.jpg)

It is in this section that Goodchild begins to engage more with construction. He does not intend to leave the reader with a largely critical account that does not lead to hints about what a more positive and concrete theology of money would entail. While this will be dealt with more depth in the final section, Goodchild reveals that for a “revaluation of all values” to take place practices of accounting must be reoriented. He claims that “if money is an expression of a practice of recording value, then new kinds of money can emerge from new methods of accounting” (180). Likewise, because accounting is primarily concerned with how much money can be given for a given product, it follows that accounting is not concerned with the evaluation of the actual product or process of production (188). Here is part of the moral problem, but also a hint at the proper trajectory to take in order to reorient the idea of money and value within society. He ends the chapter by mentioning that only the “creation, critique, and crediting of evaluation” can stand in as the theological activity that can lead “the economic order” (198).

Goodchild begins his last section with a properly metaphysical discussion, noting the opposition between God and money (here drawing on the words of Jesus). The metaphysical parallel is deep, noting the commonality between God, truth, and money as representing absolutes that help solve problems of “being and thought” (208, 212). However, the specific metaphysics that money evokes in action is one that counts all things as “passive objects of exchange”, names all people as “sovereign subjects capable of entering into contracts at will”, and considers all knowledge “science”. Use of money evokes, likewise, a politics, ethics, and theology. These require subordination to spirals of debt, the necessity of spending and acquiring money, and the obligation to state systems that “preserve the stability of a fragile financial system”; and, according to Goodchild emancipation can only come through “some reorganization of the institution of money”, hopefully away from the sort of organization of money as created through debt as began in the founding of the Bank of England (214).

Once again, the crux of the issue comes down to distinguishing what is truly the value of values. And, further, how do we evaluate value? This is perhaps the area where God and money are most robustly in competition. It is here that he branches off and engages in a reorganization proposal, stating as follows: “there needs to be a secondary tier of economy concerned solely with the production and distribution of effective evaluations” (243). Evaluation of products and productions would be the force of credit and investment. Because evaluation would take precedence investment and credit would flow to those things that are truly of value, not to those things that merely promise further gains in capital. Here, there would be attention paid to particulars and the wider scope of what allows the economy to exist (such as environmental sustainability) rather than an abstraction and isolation from concrete life.

Of course, Goodchild recognizes the tentativeness and work that needs to be done with the proposal. What is to be commended is the imagination and strength of the work behind the critique that leads to a proposal such as his. Bolstering the importance and far-sightedness of the work as a whole is its seeming “prophetic” nature, as the exact problems Goodchild points out could be seen clearly in the economic crisis in 2008 (original printing was in 2007). Of course, with or without such contemporary insight, the book as a whole, while incredibly dense, provides a deep analysis of money in the contemporary landscape and confronts the cracks and fissures in the modern theology and metaphysic of money with a strong tentative, future-oriented economic proposal.

Humans: Are we Forgetful and Distracted by Default?

Trying to figure out why exactly people behave in the ways that they normally do is a tall order, for sure. It seems that, especially in the humanities, there are devotions to the subject of human behavior within most disciplines. Psychology, of course, but also sociology seeks to answer questions regarding human behavior, as does certain philosophical disciplines, and of course theology. Some of the explanations appear more magical, to me, than really substantive or explanatory. For instance, there have been, certainly, a relative amount of interest in evolutionary psychology; but, I don’t find much explanation found here to be helpful, nor very interesting. Once again, it is an example of a queer determinism at the very least.

Fumbling around on the internet I came across an article dealing with the phenomenon of forgetfulness and inattention to dire circumstances given a relatively quick passing of time. To put it a bit simpler: often after a tragic event much concern is shown throughout various media machines, especially social media, but despite the horrifying nature of the events soon the ongoing problem is forgotten. Even if it is an ongoing circumstance. The example given was of the kidnapping of dozens of young girls in Nigeria. Afterward there was a parade of sympathy, but now, just a few months later, really, all is silent.

The article makes clear, and yes it is true, that there is only limited space on the web to talk of these things; likewise, if there is nothing to report, then you can’t very well write an article up, can you? This is all true, of course, but often it seems as if the tragedy has completely left the minds of all who were once sounding the drum. Surely, as with all social justice campaigns, there is work to be done by the common people, even if there is nothing new to report, even if that means trying to find out what exactly is actively being done for the victims. But, you don’t really hear any of that going on.

Why do we forget so easily? Several reasons are given, some of which are plausible, but one that stuck out to me that seems, at the least, to be a bit anachronistic, was the assertion that as a “species” we are “forgetful and easily bored.” Is such a deeply anthropological statement really justified?  Or do we occupy a certain space in history wherein we have broken away from the longsuffering and tenacity of our ancestors? Have we always been so forgetful?

I don’t want to press the quotation used in the article too far. It isn’t a deeply academic account, nor is it confronting what I want to confront. There are multiple angles to the question of forgetfulness, inattention, and boredom.

What I mostly work on are the interstices of theology and economy. But, and I think it should be relatively obvious, both of these areas (separate or together) touch on social and cultural attitudes.  When dealing with cultural ebbs and flows it does seem quite obvious that the main mediums of entertainment have changed quite suddenly in the last few hundred years, with metamorphoses occurring quicker as technology continues to accelerate.

Before the printing press the majority of humans didn’t spend too much time reading, especially as an exercise in leisure. Heck, even afterward reading wasn’t much of a leisure activity for several reasons, with perhaps one of the most important being that most people were not afforded the luxury of time.

Us Westerners are used to luxury and the conundrum of what to do with our time. We are spoiled in comparison, and part of that spoil is the gluttony of entertainment. Reading as a medium of entertainment gave way to radio, then television and movies, then video games, and next the internet (with the near infinite means of wasting time, or being productive). Of course, we shouldn’t press a strictly linear progression, as there is definite overlap. But, even the way that television is presented as an artform has changed, especially to cater to a public that craves, desires, drools over excitement. Just count the seconds between shifting shots in most television programs. There is no stillness because it causes unrest. We need movement. We cannot sit still enough hardly to  read a novel, unless it is a young adult novel which caters to the excitement factor necessarily.

 

These are all musings. But, I do think it is a tall order to prove that we are, as a species, forgetful and easily bored. We have to remember that our ancestors, those illiterate, savage, uncouth humans in our lineage, were often largely an oral and based their social and civil lives on narrative structures. Identity was formed around common stories, some of which were quite complicated and intense. One could look at the biblical stories, for instance, and remember that these were known by the “common” people as oral tales.

Furthermore, when reading the New Testament letters of Paul one is struck by the amount of intertextual engagement going on, the echoes Paul include that reach back to the Old Testament stories. These weren’t obscure allusions, but were integral to images Paul constructs at some points. Paul provides no footnotes and, in fact, we would do well to remember that these letters would probably be read aloud to the church community they were written to.

 

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/08/01/attention_deficit_disorder_economy_nigeria_gaza_caring?utm_content=bufferd27c4&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Empty Sets?

Are empty sets sensible? Mathematics, I suppose, doesn’t have to make sense as a sort of ontic category as far as I can tell. But I still wonder if empty sets are not a silly idea… is it not like a club that has never had any members and never will? This excludes the originator of the club.

What do my math oriented acquaintances think?