Monday, October 31, 2005

Kingdom & application from Jon

Thom: I wonder if, in responding to my post below, you wouldn't give an explanation of your understanding of the Kingdom situation of the church and how this situation might impact a Christian hermeneutic?

Jon: The sole measure of the church's success is the degree to which the kingdom of God is actualized in this world. However, as Jesus tells Pilate, his kingdom is not of this world. It is like a mustard seed, a weed growing up everywhere and often where it is least expected or wanted. The kingdom will always be actualized within this world but will never be of this world. Now, what does this kingdom look like?

Let us consider James, although we could consider a variety of other texts. James has a real problem with Christ-believers who replicate social heirarchy within the Christian ekklesia. James will also say that "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (1:27, NRSV). The idea seems to be that the Christian ekklesia should be a place in which distinctions of wealth are meaningless. However, this can only be possible if one attends to the real, objective conditions in which members of the ekklesia find themselves. There is a paradox here, of course. In order to render socio-economic distinctions meaningless one must focus upon these distinctions in practice.

Of course, the kingdom is more than the dissolution of socio-economic distinctions. It is also the place where the lion can lay down with the lamb. These things are related, for only when the distinction between predator and prey are dissolved can the lion and lamb lay down together. Perhaps this is what the kingdom of God is at its core, the place where there are no predators and no prey, no rich and no poor, no great and no small. It is where the meek shall inherit the earth.

And what does this mean globally? Wherever the distinction between the great and the small is meaningless because of a community's conscientious obedience to the God of Israel, there is the kingdom of God. And what does this mean practically? I can't say. Each community must make that decision in their own context; one size cannot fit all. The kingdom, though, is the end toward which we all move. I say "the end" quite specifically, for the kingdom of God is the end. A Christian conception of history is teleological; for us history has an end, an eschaton, a final actualization of the kingdom. Still, now, in history, the kingdom is inaugurated--in Torah, in the words of the prophets, in Jesus--by these the kingdom has been inaugurated. Let us now serve the king, and allow him to use us to establish his reign. And never through force, for the moment that we use force, Christ no longer reigns. No, only through love: a real, practical, making-a-difference sort of love.

Thom: Your insight into how the in-breaking of the Kindom applies to the interpretation of James is quite thought provoking, as is your discussion of paradox. Christian maturity always looks less and less like personal ability and social and psychological wellness and more and more like the anxious-but-hopeful tension of constant (and difficult) interpretation.

Jon: I would tend to say that the more fully one realizes and grasps the paradoxes that play out in texts such as James, the more "psychologically well" one will become. To put this otherwise, I think that the kerygma, properly understood, brings not only theological but also existential clarity. This is where I will cop to being a bit Bultmannian, incidentally; although in certain areas (such as historical Jesus studies) I am solidly post-Bultmannian.

Thom: I have been trying for several weeks to bring my adult Sunday School class to this kind of realization. We have been going through Ephesians. I have very much been trying to get them to stop reading Ephesians as if it is a private, devotional text and, instead, treat it more like a political manifesto or constitution.

Jon: I am very open to this sort of reading. Have you read Taubes's Political Theology of Paul? It is a brilliant book! (It also happened to be translated into English by a professor in my department, so I have a certain bias.)

Thom: Going back to Ephesians again and the desire to devotionalize it, I think of Chapter 2, which divides into two parts. Part 2a discusses "we were dead in our sins but Christ made us alive again," and 2b, "there is no longer a difference between Jew and Gentile in the church but all are made one new humanity in Jesus." No one would even try to spiritualize or privatize 2b, a la Schleiermacher. Indeed, this section had real political consequences in the first century. But the latter portion--2a--is always privatized and demythologized into the purely psychological and existential.

Jon: I would agree, although I would suggest (again) that a serious wrestling with the social dimensions of this text will entail a greater existential awareness. This is because I see the social as a fundamental part of being human, perhaps a more fundamental quality to being human than the self. Thus, a proper reordering of social relationships will go along with a proper reordering of the self.

; ; ; ; ; ; .

A New York sculptor describes living in the tensions

Our own present moment is not so straightforward. With the many cultural platforms and strategic positions that seek to create knowledge, revise histories, and influence world views, our identities seem to be in constant flux. The contingency of the self is center stage, and its liberation the priority. However, the question of the self and what constitutes its liberation are far from resolved. At the risk of simplifying the far from trivial problem of how change occurs and how the individual develops in society, we are subject to everything but ourselves. Oppression comes in many forms. The options seem clear: either negotiate the multiplicity of positions and constant restructuring of existent views or be subject to them. Developing tactics to cope is paramount. Strategy is the status quo.

Within an art context, multiple dialogues, operating within varying degrees of righteousness and entertainment, have arisen that in one way or another deal with these contingent issues by portraying alternative forms of representation, addressing neglected spaces, and challenging our notions of time. The articulation of all of them is not my intent. Moreover, there have been much greater minds than my own within more global dialogues who have sought to define and offer vision to these problems, and still many more people who, under greater modes of distress, are forced to draw conclusions about these things. The last thing I would like to do is trivialize through pedantic simplicity. Therefore, I characterize my own artistic efforts as an intense need to learn, to justify or undermine what I have been taught, to question the social conditioning of authority, to meet all contingencies of the self and relentlessly critique their implications, even if only I see the results. I think our present moment requires, at a minimum, this paradoxical addition: a simultaneous search for reasons for this activity of learning and of critiquing, and, perhaps, only at the most intense and extreme points when we have a chance to see our deepest conflicts and hidden paradoxes, an absolute cessation of it.

Samuel Nigro. “Strategy is the Status Quo” PAJ: A Journal of Performance & Art. 73 (2003), 21-28.

; ; ; .

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Complexity Necessity Necessitates Caution

Earlier, I made the point that not only is it interesting to find the same issues and problems that afflict religious studies addressed in the broader liberal arts, but that it is important to do so. Along the same lines, I would like to post the introductory comments of an introduction to theatre text published by Oxford University Press (Lennard, John and Mary Luckhurst. The Drama Handbook: A Guide to Reading Plays. Oxford University Press, 2002). The point: hermeneutical complexity is everywhere, not just in religious studies. Here is the quotation:

This book is born of frustration. For full-time students of drama there are many books on text and elements of performance; but for students of English Literature, who may in their studies at school or university encounter one classical Greek, one mediaeval, several Renaissance, and a variety of later plays, and for the general reader or playgoer, there is no good, short guide to all the basics. Our remit therefore, is what all such readers need to know to avoid misunderstanding drama, and to develop their reading in ways that promote better connections with their experiences of spectating and auditing.

The communal and performative nature of drama means plays are inseparable from theatrical conventions, architectures, and technologies specific to the cultures that produce them, and in teaching a significant part of the problem is a general ignorance of theatre-history. [Most literature students cannot] say much about the history of drama. Yet theatres shaped by specifically modern conditions are not remotely like [Shakespeare’s] Globe I and it is misleading to read older texts as if they were written for modern performance conventions. Both omnipotent directors and dimming house-lights for performance, for example, date only from the late nineteenth century; and the conditions of most mainstream productions, from lengthy rehearsals to professional reviews and long runs, are now profoundly alien to the performative tenor of Shakespeare texts.

Many readers treat plays as static objects, complete in themselves, but from writing and rehearsal to performance and revival drama is an open-ended process, constantly dynamic and never complete. Performing and spectating are intrinsically collaborative, and drama is in many ways more like music than like poetry or prose--all of which can be deployed performatively within a play that demands a more complex approach than any one of its component forms. It is hard for readers without dramatic experience or training to respect this dynamism and complexity, but to approach any drama, printed or performed, as only an object is often to court disaster and almost always to miss the point.

; ; ; .

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Am I closer to right or further to stupid?

A recent post on the postliberal theology group run by my friend Chris Criminger elicited the following response from yours truly.

[Dear so and so:] I am unsure how to read your post. As I understand it, postmodernity, and, really hermeneutics (the philosophy/Athens behind your argument for piety/Jerusalem), gets us to realize our limitations. It makes us aware of the reasons behind why we say things. In the words of N. T. Wright, it makes us be "grown up and nuanced" in our thinking. As I understand it, there is a great difference between Socrates saying, "I know nothing" and a freshman at Seminary saying exactly the same thing.

If you have arrived at Socrates, then I salute you and I hope you will continue to share your thoughts on the way forward for the anemic church in the West; but if you are naively throwing your hat in with the freshman pseudo-sophisticate, then I caution. Then I would say that you may have read some postmodernism (or even, say, some Enlightenment modernism) but that you didn't understand where it was going (namely, right at your own presuppositions). I'd also recommend a book to you: Jens Zimmerman. Recovering Theological Hermeneutics (Baker Academic 2004) In it Zimmerman argues that Christianity is a radically interpretive religion. The Christian cannot escape the "interpretiveness" of life, and cannot cease struggling to interpret his faith to and within the ever-changing context of daily living. It is a thesis with which I heartily agree even as I wish and long for it not to be the case, yearning for the simplicity and rest of simpler times which may never come again.

Therefore, I hardly know how to take your words as you say, "Christianity has but one salvation: Christ Jesus, and him crucified. Our language games obscure his words." Have you stepped outside language? Have you found a presuppositionless place in which to stand? Have you escaped the deep context of culture and class into which you, me, and everyone finds themselves inescapably immersed? If so, please share. No, it is your responsibility to share what you have learned.

; ; ; .

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The last four abstracts & my reading

Here are four more abstracts from the 2005 FIRT/IFTR conference which give some shape to various bits of thought already in my head. Of course, my thinking is informed by theological and (classic) philosophical ideas, and that is why finding correspondences to them in other branches of the liberal arts is such a welcome exercise. It not only lends credence to the questions themselves, but plays question-and-answer on a wholly different field of options and constraints, often suggesting novel solutions and hitherto unseen connections. There is another strategy, too, in discovering points of connection, and that is the assertion of theology as a living confession along with the denial of its existence as a heavenly, opiate metaphysics, a Dr. Pangloss to everyman’s Candide. The doing of theology is a function of the doing of humankind in no way different from the doing of dance, of theatre, of poetry, of ballad, of song.

I will present the following four abstracts/selections in a different font and then add a short gloss of my own explaining what about this abstract fascinated me and what connections I made while reading it. Now on to the first abstract.

From Nostalgia to the ‘Unheimlich’
Rodem, Freddie (Tel Aviv University)
This paper will deal with moments of longing and homesickness (which is what nostalgia actually meant originally) as they are/can be expressed in performance and how such a longing becomes transformed into something Unheimlich (“uncanny” in the English translation of Freud’s term) a term which literally means “not homely” at the same time as it means “not secretive.” The uncanny is a form of revealing the secrets of the home. I want to argue that this revelation in connection with the “algos,” the pain of nostalgia, which is lethal (see ‘Carmen’), is the locus where something really uncomfortable, what Freud called Unbehangen (usually translated as “Discontents” in “Civilization and its…” begins to appear through the death drive.

Nostalgia caught my eye right away simply because of its connection with Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialist philosophy. Existentialism is such a powerful philosophical force in twentieth century theology (the early Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Rudolf Bultmann, to name a few) that this abstract's simple act of connecting it with homesickness, with Freud, with a revealing process, and of supplying a few good German words to boot is just great. However, when one considers that longing and homesickness are very much existential responses to eschatological promise, well, then these connections become even more interesting. There is a good deal of work being done in foundational eschatology--the theology of hope, proleptic theologies--but none has, as far as I am aware, explored nostalgia as a portion of this otherwise hopeful mood. J. Moltmann always mentions the tension required of living between the times, but can one be more specific? How is nostalgia a response to eschatological promise (or the other way round)? The possibilities evoked by the above paragraph are many indeed.

Criticism as a Creative Act
Wilcox, Dean (North Carolina School of the Arts)
…I am a firm believer that any act of criticism is a creative act. The same interpretive problems arise in transferring a text from page to stage that arise in transferring a performance from the stage to the page. As critics we make choices, focus attention, employ metaphors, and conduct the viewpoint of our readers in the same spirit as actors, designers, and directors. In writing about performance we employ similar strategies of focus, rhythm, pace, and juxtaposition that dominate the historical and contemporary stage. As we reflect upon the work of others we, in a real sense, create our own form of theatre, virtual as opposed to material, but performative nonetheless.

I am of the growing opinion that theology goes untaught in the schools. It is suggested, and its waste products are examined, but very little of its pneumatic force is allowed to stir or even asked to do so! What this paragraph suggests is that, despite this situation, one cannot help but do theology even in the act of criticism. As far as I know, criticism (what Walter Kaufmann calls referieren[1]) is never pursued for what it contributes to the discovery of one’s own project. [Indeed, religious education is largely an attempt to avoid the development of an owned theological project in students and, worse, may even be an attempt to substitute ideology for theology. That line is very fine, and I would hope that every religion instructor acting in good faith would be constantly watchful against it.] Further, Wilcox’s parallelism between the act of performing and the craft of criticism is fantastic, reinforcing some of my own discoveries in the pursuit of “craft.” [When is the last time a theologian talked to you about the craft of theology? Let me guess: never.]

Movement – A Bodily Process
Ravn, Susanne (University of Southern Denmark)
In phenomenology perception is described as the primary entrance of our being in the world and the ecstatic nature of corporality is central in the description of how and why the body itself is forgotten in experience while reaching out for the world. The more the ecstatic nature of corporality is described the more the lived experience about how to handle and master the physicality of the body seems to vanish. Specifically the resistance of the body in relation to movements seems to recede into a forgotten area. Phenomenology aims at a description beyond the natural attitude, that is, beyond our way of daily living and immediate way of understanding and creating meaning. This means that the contextualized body that we actually meet the world through is somehow left behind. Phenomenology describes the body of the world while this body of lived experience is left behind. It is an essential thesis of the project that the weight of the body is understood as a primary resistance of movements and in that sense is central to the understanding of what it means to deal with the body as also a physical matrix.

In dance there can be equilibristic elements but there is not a present visible connection to any goal that has to be reached or any object that must be manipulated. The dancers development as dancer depends heavily on his or her ability to attend to and differentiate the perception of different movement qualities. In dance the body is the prime point of departure of movement and in that sense, movement experiences of dancers can be understood, linked and discussed in relation to broader areas of the phenomenological descriptions.

The aim of this study is to describe structuring factors of movement based on the lived experiences of dancers. It is central to describe how the mastering of the weight of the body structures movement in relation to different kinds of techniques – and how the weight has to be understood in relation to other factors – such as time and place.

Susanne Ravn brings a good critique against phenomenology here, one aimed right at its platonic gonads. On the other hand, she also offers a suggestion of a way forward out of Cartesian dualism by means of the weight and resistance of the body as a phenomenological experience. Note the rich philosophical tradition with which Ravn connects by invoking time and space. Proper Christian theology requires the body, indeed it asserts the body. The connections, too, with various theologies of body – primarily feminist theologies – is quite helpful, as well as its suggestion for further ways to broaden my own investigations of nakedness and humiliation.

Body, Memory and Dance in ‘Körper’
Malka, Liora (Tel Aviv University)
‘Körper’ (the body or bodies), a dance-performance piece, was created by the German choreographer, Sasha Waltz and her international company in 1999. In one of the episodes a dancer tells ‘her story’, expressing how she wakes up in the morning and has to reestablish her sense of having a body whilst trying to reintegrate its parts. While portraying this process of re-membering her body she points to each body-part she speaks of, but confuses them with each other. Her confused experience of awakening, framed by the need to re-collect her body, is corrected by another dancer, who stands at the back, points to all the right places, and matches names to body-parts. The conflict between personal experience and cultural communication is clearly manifested in this episode. The provoked conflict between naming and sensing the body and its parts conceptualizes the body as a crossroads between personal experience and theory, practice and ideology, constitutes the focus of this paper.

What is striking here, is the depicted situation in which an individual does not remember her/his body – which means that the body has no memory of itself. Memory is the agent through which we sense our body, as well as recognize, know, and communicate its functions and experiences. Moreover, memory has a performative power since it is rooted in the act of recollection, and as such it is fundamentally imprinted in and through bodily practices: for the past (personal or cultural) is also manifested in the body and its actions. Thus, when the dance presents the need to recollect the body it not only precisely indicates the performative quality of memory but also turns bodily memory into a performative strategy.

Liora Malka enriches the body of insights already suggested by Ravn above. Phenomenology’s Cartesian problematic was mentioned above, and here Malka points to the existence of body or muscle memory as potentially a point of certainty right alongside the cogito of Augustine and Descartes. The dancer who knows the proper names of things, and who then properly directs actions (wisdom) corresponds tantalizingly to Augustine’s inner teacher (de Magistro), and the subsequent tradition of illumination. Memory, too, is a powerful force in Augustine, and thus for theology as a whole (anthropology, ethics, etc.) Finally, I cannot stress enough that discovering these connections in works that are about dance is radically important in and of itself. Like Jacob’s ladder, angels can go up and down on such connections, offering a wealth of discovery and possibility for every discipline involved and pointing the way forward toward a renewed world in all its performative richness.

See, I have always understood the development of the liberal arts by Cain and his descendants to be part of that which must be redeemed. The people of God always come to things second-hand. They are always developing themselves after the fact, whether in the technology with which they make war or even in the genres and literary forms they use for writing scripture. The point, of course, is that this “bondage” to the world awaits a divine deliverance and liberation. The Author of the arts will restore primacy of place to his people when he comes. Then all will realize who are the true artisans. The arts, taken up second-hand by his people, are restructured now according to the hope of their redemption. The fine arts will not truly be practiced until the eschaton. This is what is meant by the long biblical tradition which ends in Revelation 21.23-26:

And the city (πόλις) had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light (λύχνος) thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk (περιπατήσουσιν) in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it.[2]

The possibilities suggested by this are staggering! Not only for an extension of eschatology into the arts, but by an extension of the arts into eschatology. The liberal arts are, after all, disciplines, ways of ascesis for the sake of the deepest purposes of humankind: to glorify God and to love one’s neighbor. Aesthetics as righteous law-keeping (ἡσυχίᾳ). Well, I’ve gone on long enough. One sees, however, that the connections suggested by the above abstract are multivalent, and I cannot forget the nod to personal and cultural tradition in the second paragraph and its connection to the pedagogical function of liturgy.

[1] Defining referieren Kauffman writes: “One of the favorite pastimes of German professors and students: the word is hard to translate but means making a report on an author by way of offering a condensed paraphrase, a summary, an outline of his argument.” (pp. 24-25). Kaufmann’s definition is meant to highlight the desire of German existentialist Karl Jaspers to become unreferierbar about the doing of philosophy, where “any content is a mere means to transcend all contents. No statement has been understood until it is seen to be an invitation to be dissatisfied with all statements.” (Ibid.) Also note: “The initial impulse of Jaspers’ Existenzphilosophie was not a doctrine but a dissatisfaction with mere doctrines and the conviction that genuine philosophizing must well up from a man’s individual existence and address itself to other individuals to help them to achieve true existence.” (23) Walter Kaufmann, Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, New York: Meridian Books, 1956. One can easily draw the parallels between Jaspers’ criticism of the philosophy of the schools and my own criticism above per the theology of the same. I also note with some interest the parallel impulse between Jaspers, myself, and the protests of Bacon, Leibniz, and Descartes against their own neo-scholastic schoolmasters. Oh, and all one has to do is look up Jacques Mauritain to discover a revolt against the same scholastic sensibility. Perhaps we discover the Hegelian protest that defines all students; the analysis that comes before synthesis?

[2] If you think that the light (λύχνος) referred to here is daylight, you have no business reading the book of Revelation. Also, how far I am from Hans Urs von Balthasar here I do not know--he is a bit impenetrable to me yet--but I’ll bet I am at least playing in the gates.

; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; .

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Artist, Aristotle, Kingdom, Polis: Random bits born of two abstracts

The papers represented by the following two abstracts were presented at the 2005 FIRT/IFTR conference in Washington, D.C. The theme of the conference was Citizen Artist: Theatre, Culture and Community. Both abstracts speak to the evolving investigation on this blog of modernity and its effect on the self and on the liberal arts, in which is included that sphere called “religion.” By discovering diagnoses of the problem similar to those found in sociological and theological texts, I want to demonstrate the pan-dimensionality of the problems besetting the Western church and its members, and open the door to dialogue among all those involved, perhaps discovering thereby a prognosis worthy of one's life's work.

A recovery of the public role of religious language in the West is a recovery of the public role of all the liberal arts. It is an end to the privatization and elimination of the self – and even of that suffocation represented by the word “self.” This is also a contribution to my own project, as in my mind theology is best discovered outside of the ghetto and in the street. Theology is too young, too sanguine, too full of the joy of life (la joie de vivre) to be shut up or shut in. At its heart, after all, is a dance.
A recovery of the public role of
religious language in the West is simultaneously
a recovery of the public role of all the liberal arts.
I, with the rest of the believing West, have imbibed personalistic and existentialist theology from my mother’s milk. The exile is over, the King has assumed his proper station. It is time for his subjects to enter the polis. To quote David Thunder:

Aristotle also appeals to human nature to show that people cannot be happy (or good, since happiness and goodness are, for Aristotle, inextricable) without friends, being ‘political’ and ‘tending by nature to live with others.’ (1169b 18-19). Let us recall that Aristotle began his enquiry into the human good by asking what the function of a human being was (Book I, Ch. 7, 1097b 24-25) Since the end of human life is to attain happiness, or excellent human activity, man’s nature, that is, the structure of his existence as a given, must be an important factor in the ethical life. Since man has a natural tendency to be with other people, part of his function or purpose must be precisely to be with other people well, or, in plain English, to get on well with others. R. G. Mulgan’s (Aristotle’s Political Theory (Oxford, 1977)) interpretation is that community life for Aristotle is at the very heart of the individual’s life.

The polis can exist without the individual, but the individual cannot exist without the polis...If men are separated from the polis, they cease to be men in the same way as a hand ceases to be a hand if cut off from the body...the function of man, the realisation of his essence, lies in the achievement of the good life which cannot be lived except in the polis.

At any rate, here are the abstracts:

The Artist & Society – A Portrait of the Artist as Next-door Neighbor
Fyfe, Hamish (University of Glamorgan)

In this paper I want to argue that the most of our operative notions of art and artists are the inherited remnants of nineteenth-century romantic individualism. Despite the post-war project of cultural democracy there persists an image of the artist as being outside the realm of the ordinary. My contention here is that this view tends to militate against any role for the artist as citizen, or even neighbor, of any specific city, nation, or for the artist as part of any global movement. The extreme version of the ‘modernist’ perspective is contained in a quotation from Georg Baselitz, writing about his work as late as 1983:

The artist is not responsible to anyone. His social role is asocial; his only responsibility consists in an attitude to the work he does. There is no communication with any public whatsoever. The artist can ask no question, and he makes no statement; he offers no information, and his work cannot be used. It is the end product which counts.

I want to suggest that hidden behind those comments is a personal and cultural myth that has formed the modern artist’s identity – the model of the egocentric, ‘separative’ self, whose perfection lies in absolute independence from the world, apparently beyond all ethical and social considerations. It places the arts as a closed and isolated system requiring nothing but themselves to be themselves, demanding an autonomy, which disregards relationships, demands independence from others and derives its power from association with authority and apparent invulnerability. In this model the arts are organized around the primacy of the product rather than relationships, and are set apart from reciprocal or participative interactions.

Immersed in Narratives: Citizen Artist and the Provisional Site
Riccio, Thomas (University of Texas, Dallas)

The world is increasingly composed of fragmented communities, the individual defined by a composite of overlapping, negotiated identities. Traditional associations with place, sense of individual and collective identity, responsibility, and affiliations have become fluid, provisional, contradictory, and complex. “Reality” is a theoretical construct; the material inexplicably concomitant with the virtual. Simultaneously, we are more intelligent and aware of one another, the multiplicity of histories, cultures, contexts, similarities, and differences the world over. We are increasingly sensitized to the environmental, technological, political, and economic holism to which we belong yet tentative about exactly where and how we belong. Place, once the sure and central germinating core of a cultural, and in turn, individual identity, has been bent to the will of capitalist-driven, transnational bureaucracies and corporations. What was indigenous has become manipulated nostalgia; the narrative of place usurped by an overlay of agenda constructed narratives. We are immersed within a multiplicity of narratives becoming metaphors of ourselves.

It is within this context the challenge of contemporary theatre occurs. Process and expression are one in the same, the artist is the harbinger of a new kind of citizen, one who is able to read and, by necessity, navigate the invisible, surrounding currents to organize a provisional “community”. The citizen artist creates a provisional place, a site of divination, exhortation, affirmation and healing. Theatre is no longer the object it is the means, a medium, the ephemeral fulcrum by which to manifest, expose, and affect the multiple narratives we live within.

; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; .

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What is Epoché ? Hopkins speaks, pt 1

At the center of Burt C. Hopkin’s article “Husserl’s Epochē: Theory, Praxis or Something in Between?”[1] is an attempt to define the epoché of Edmund Husserl and, in doing so, to reassert the foundational importance of Husserl’s phenomenological method for modern epistemology. In essence, then, Hopkins is interrogating the first principles of philosophy itself.

Husserl claimed that “phenomenology is the method of rigorous science” -- and what else is philosophy? Isn’t philosophy by definition the critique of knowledge? Again, the epoché, said Husserl, is the method of phenomenology. So then, phenomenology is epistemologically dependent upon the epoché, and, therefore, an analysis of the epoché is an analysis of phenomenology’s claim to be philosophy. To analyze the epoché is to raise the question of philosophical viability. Such is Hopkins’ aim. His article seeks to justify Husserl’s claims, both to be a philosopher and to provide a fundamental philosophy. Its conclusion will recommend or decry Husserl’s phenomenology for the practice of modern philosophy.

From the beginning, Hopkins endorses Edmund Husserl with the honorific “Philosopher.” But on what basis? “Because,” writes Hopkins, “he did not manifest the unquestioning understanding of oneself that always exhibits a failure to comprehend one’s own presuppositions and thus a failure really to grasp what one believes one knows.” Again, in the matter of Husserl’s critique of other doctrines, Hopkins repeats:

Rather than rest content with an unquestioning understanding … [Husserl] tirelessly interrogated the presuppositions proper to the conceptuality of each by confronting the latter [concepts] with the contents that fill them in [presuppositions].

Thus, Hopkin’s bid for elevating Edmund Husserl to “Philosopher” rests on the latter’s ceaseless interrogation of the presuppositions underneath every claim of knowledge he could discover, both in himself and others. Hopkin’s presents an epistemology.

Again and again throughout his article, Hopkins presents knowledge as an aggregate of what and how. He writes, “To ask of anything “what it is” already involves, which is to say, already presupposes, some kind of access to that which we are interrogating with respect to its what.”[sic] To ask what something is proves inseparable from the question of how such knowledge is acquired. It is a fundamental question about first principles. – No! -- It is a first principle for the interrogation of any claim to know and, indeed, for recognizing knowledge when it is obtained. “Knowledge means seeing that the contents that our concepts presuppose are in harmony with our presuppositions that our concepts really presuppose such contents.” To know is a harmony derived from the synergy between concept and presupposition. Hopkins’ definition is straightfoward enough, but in praising Edmund Husserl with the laurel he risks his entire argument.

If one is a philosopher, then one has something to teach, something which can be learned. So if Edmund Husserl is a philosopher, then he must have something to teach, and Hopkins claims that he does: the epoché. But can we learn the epoché? Is it something which can be taught? And here is the risk: The answer is “yes” only if we have already have access to it. Bluntly, we can only learn about the epoché if we already know it, if what it is arises from our own innate presuppositions. But this is absurd! How does one learn anything, if what is learned is already known? And what does that say about teaching? Who, then, may teach? Is Husserl such a one? Is he, as Hopkins claims, a philosopher, if not a philosopher among philosophers? Hopkins refers his readers to Plato’s middle-dialogue about human excellence, the Meno, as he begins to answer these questions.[2]

In the Meno, Socrates refuses to separate the question of what something is from the question of how it is taught. Human excellence is not just the doing of excellence the being of being excellent. They two are inseperable. The teaching of human excellence, then, is not like learning a method, but more like the invocation of a new state of being. The point Socrates is making is that only one who already possesses human excellence (through a knowledge of its form, according to Socrates: a gift of the gods) has the know-how (phronesis) to invoke it in another human being. The knower of the form, the true philosopher, can, by dialectic (ἔλεγχος), cause the hearer to recollect their own knowledge of the form. Any real understanding of things must be based on a knowledge of the universal behind them. This sounds like philosophy!

So then, Hopkin’s claim that Husserl is a philosopher is only true if Husserl is, in fact, a philosopher, where a philosopher is recognized by their ability to make others into philosophers. Picking up on the definition above, this means that Husserl should be able to make others into those who have knowledge, and thus can make proper judgments about knowledge. Husserl claims the epoché does this, and so Husserl can only be a philosopher if he can lead those seeking to become philosophers to discover the epoché already within themselves. So the field in question becomes the content of human beliefs.

At bottom, says Husserl, there is the world. The world is the ‘thesis’ of human experience. The world does not show up like anything else. It is unmediated and already there, that which is native to all experience. Therefore, the world is the unsurpassable horizon for all human experience and the durative element of them all. Human belief in the world is elmeental, and, therefore, Husserl calls all fruits of this belief, every experience and question which assumes the world, the “natural attitude.” Hopkins writes:

The existence of the world is accepted by immediate experience as both what it is, that is, as something that is “on hand” for expeirence, and as how it is, that is, “always already there” as the unsurpassable horizon for whatever else shows up in experience. . . . the positing of the world thesis does not show up as a presupposition, but as the way that it, i.e., the world, is. (emphases mine)

More to come...
[1] Hopkins, Burt C. “Husserl’s Epoché: Theory, Praxis or Something in Between?” in Essays in Celebration of the Founding of the Organization of Phenomenological Organizations. ed. Cheung, Chan-Fai, Ivan Chvatik, Ion Copoeru, Lester Embree, Julia Iribarne and Hans Rainer Sepp. Web-published at, 2003. Accessed September 1, 2005.

[2] Cf. Peter King's introduction to his translation of Augustine: Against the Academicians and The Teacher (Hackett, 1995) as well as his article, "Augustine on the Impossibility of Teaching". Also Michael Mendelson ""By the Things Themselves": Eudaimonism, Direct Acquaintance, and Illumination in Augustine's De Magistro" Journal of the History of Philosophy 39.4 (Oct. 2001) and Han-liang Chang "Paradox and the Elenchus in Plato's Meno, Augustine's De Magistro,and Gongsun Long's Jianbailun (Discourse on Hardness and Whiteness)" (Chinese characters might jam pdf).

; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; .

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

"You are removing God from the everyday!"

Here is the point of resistance: "What you are saying removes God from the everyday!" This is the resistance constantly offered against my turn toward radical sola scriptura, this is the real sticking point against all my talk of psychologism and serendipity and revelation and God-breathed and authority and law and gospel and stuff. And, I must admit, there is an element of truth in this. The direction I'm facing does remove "God" from the everyday moment, in a manner of speaking.

Now, this is not to say it secularizes everything, it doesn't. There is no doubt that God upholds and orders all things (Genesis/Ephesians/Colossians passim). What it does remove is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans. It denies every request to look for God in things (en se). It “limits” our knowledge of God, or , if you will, our places of finding God, to Word and Sacrament directly and creation (natural theology) indirectly, but in this latter only in a derivative sense. To explain.

Where natural theology is concerned, it denies that we can begin with the observable world and go on to say anything properly about God. This would be the analogia entis with which Barth beat Catholicism about the ears. Underneath this practice is the Roman Catholic assertion that God does not destroy but perfects nature. Instead, the position to which I am turning begins with Word and Sacrament and only then goes on to say anything about the world which correspond to these things – for example, as a good sermon illustration would do, or in the way we give thanks or that we do good works.

Thus, this is to assert a difference between God and the world. This is to assert the need for special revelation. This is to assert that God redeems the world not as much by perfecting its nature but by killing it and bringing it back to life again. In short, the direction I am looking is, as closely as I can tell, fundamentally Reformational, and fundamentally a "theology of the cross" where any attempt to say anything about God apart from the cross was denounced by Luther as a theology of glory, sure to be an assertion of man and sure to be an eruption of law and an eradication of grace.

This is only a radical move when one considers the evangelical folk-religion Christianity represented by the revivalist/pietist tradition. Indeed, it is because I have begun calling that tradition into question that I’m beginning to wonder whether or not what I'm actually doing is setting off toward another expression of Protestantism entirely; one found in a denomination which discovers it origins closer to the magisterial rather than the radical Reformation. But, of course, one which does not loose the very deposit of faith which has set me off in such an unknown direction. Yes, this is scary, but it is also exciting, in that I am quite sure that by following as best as I can in the direction of the elevation of Scripture, I am discovering a better and more accurate way of understanding Jesus himself, as he is for me, as I am for him, and as this relationship is discovered in the trinitarian economy of God’s saving and redeeming work in the world.

; ; ; ; ; .

Baudelaire is Melting

This post continues a series summarizing Marshall Berman’s thought-provoking book, All That is Solid Melts into Air (Penguin, 1988 rev ed.). In this book, Berman explores the phenomenon of modernity, highlighting its characteristics across multiple disciplines and through the eyes of many different participating figures.

Baudelaire: Pastoral, Counter-Pastoral and What?

Berman begins his chapter on Baudelaire with a couple of important descriptions of where he is going both in the book and in his underlying sociology. He writes:

Our vision of modern life tends to split into material and spiritual planes: some people devote themselves to "modernism," which they see as a species of pure spirit, evolving in accord with its autonomous artistic and intellectual imperatives; other people work within the orbit of "modernization," a complex of material structures and processes -- political, economic, social -- which, supposedly, once it has got under way, runs on its own momentum with little or no input from human minds or souls. This dualism, pervasive in contemporary culture, cuts us all off from one of the pervasive facts of modern life: the interfusion of its material and spiritual forces, the intimate unity of the modern self and the modern environment. But the first great wave of writings and thinkers about modernity ... had an instinctive feeling for this unity; it gave their visions a richness and depth that contemporary writing about modernity sadly lacks.

Baudelaire, he says, is one of these first writers.

By examining Baudelaire, Bergman hopes to get at some of the aesthetic, the emotive, the psychological side of modernity. "[Baudelaire's critiques] contain several distinctive visions of modernity," he says. First, celebration, or as he calls it, pastoral modernism or modernolatry; then denunciation, counter-pastoral and cultural despair; and, finally . . . well, Marshall doesn't give this one away quite yet.

At any rate, the first vision of modernity to be explored is pastoral modernism. This perspective is represented in Baudelaire's earliest works. In them, Baudelaire paeans the bourgeois. Theirs is not a backward-looking stagnation, but a realization of the idea of the future in all its diverse forms: political, industrial, artistic. The fundamental motive is the desire for infinite human progress in every sphere, including the arts. "It would be unworthy of their dignity to stand still and accept stagnation in art." "Baudelaire's faith in the bourgeoisie neglects all the darker potentialities of its economic and political drives--that is why I call it a pastoral vision." This pastoral vision "proclaims a natural affinity between material and spiritual modernization; it holds that the groups that are most dynamic and innovative in economic and political life will be most open to intellectual and artistic creativity --'to realize the idea of the future in all its diverse forms'!" This is a grand adventure, sparkling, dazzling, youthful, glittering and triumphant, "a harmony in the turmoil of human freedom." Pastoral modernism, not only in Baudelaire but among many of his contemporaries, "sees the whole spiritual adventure of modernity incarnated in the latest fashion, the latest machine, or--and here it gets sinister--the latest model [military] regiment."

Here, modernity is naive, taking the glitter of sharpened swords for the glow of hope and human betterment; "modernity without tears." Marshall points out the irony that Baudelaire misses his own erasure. This beautiful modernity gets rid of dissonance. It cleans up "the street"--that environment which nurtures Baudelaire's artists and Baudelaire himself. It attempts to gets rid of the darker side of human nature, its social and spiritual turbulence, with the blinding dazzle of an outward show.

Baudelaire's counter-pastoral notes are sounded even in the middle of his pastoral ones. Baudelaire didn't seem to notice the change, even as he began to discern a hegemony of beauty. Where beauty is static and enforces its aesthetic like a spiritual policeman, there can be no alternative visions. There is a confusion of material order with spiritual order, a confusion spread by the romantic story-utopia of Progress. The development of better technology is mistaken for the deepening of human moral and spiritual life.

Unfortunately, instead of resisting this trend and re-asserting the artist's place in the whirl of the modern world, Baudelaire disconnects him. "He disconnects his artist not only from the material world of steam, electricity and gas, but even from the whole past and future history of art." The artist derives his art, now, from himself, a walking Ding-an-sich, dualistically floating freely above it all. [How different is this from Schleiermacher’s use of theology?] Baudelaire divorced discussions of beauty from discussions of truth, finding in truth that modern reality which is "utterly loathsome, empty not only of beauty but of even the potential for beauty." Art divorced from reality is "pure." Along with it goes a contempt for modern human beings and their lives, a contempt which, as Marshall says, cripples Baudelaire's aesthetic. Marshall writes, "what makes this pastoral, and uncritical, is the radical dualism, and the utter lack of awareness that there can be rich and complex relations, mutual influences and interfusions, between what an artist (or anyone else) dreams and what he sees." Baudelaire doesn't begin to suspect that the artists whom he lifts above the earth to the clouds are in actuality human and as deeply implicated in la vie moderne as anyone else. Ironically again, Marshall points out that Baudelaire himself could not follow his artistic prescriptions. His own art was too bound up with the everyday life of the Paris streets, its confluences of people and its night life, its cellars, pubs, cafes and the concrete of its time and place. [This is why I like to write and work in public.] "Baudelaire must have known this, at least unconsciously; whenever he is in the midst of sealing off modern art from modern life, he keeps reaching out to trip himself up and bring the two together again." Marshall concludes: "The lesson for Baudelaire ... is that modern life has a distinctive and authentic beauty, which, however, is inseparable from its innate misery and anxiety, from the bills that modern man has to pay."

This entire series can also be read as a single document.

; ; ; ; ; .

Friday, October 07, 2005

Der Heimweh an predigt Luthers

The sermons of Martin Luther -- what pleasure in reading! What a brace for the soul! Oh, that I were standing now in the pews of the Stadtkirche, running my hands along its dark wood pews, breathing its frosty Oktober air and drawing myself backward of almost 500 years. Is there a more theologically pleasant spot on earth? Isn’t its city, Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, made of rude bricks and cobblestones, wooden iron-jointed gates and ordinary dwellings a living and earthly forerunner of that very City of God?

Consider these two quotes from Luther’s sermon “The Twofold Use of the Law & Gospel.”

God promised of old, in Joel 2.28 and other passages, to give the Spirit through the new message, the Gospel. And he has verified his promise by public manifestations in connection with the preaching of that Gospel, as on the day of Pentecost and again later. When the apostles, Peter and others, began to preach, the Holy Spirit descended visibly from heaven upon their hearts. Up to that time, through the period the Law was preached, no one had heard or seen such manifestations. The fact could not but be grasped that this was a vastly different message more than what Paul declared: “Through this man is proclaimed unto you remission of sins, and by him every one that believeth is justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

When the consolation of the Gospel has once been received and it has wrested the heart from death and the terrors of hell, the Spirit’s influence is felt. By its power God’s Law begins to live in man’s heart. He loves it, delights in it and enters upon its fulfillment. Thus eternal life begins here, being continued forever and perfected in the life to come.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Tyndale-Luther connection

Few realise the connection between English Bible translator William Tyndale, whose feast is October 6th on the Anglican calendar, and the German reformer, Martin Luther. (Or, at least I didn't realize it.) Tracing the publication of Tyndale's works reveal a deep connection between the continental Lutheran and English reformations in the persons of these two men.

William Tyndale was born about 1495 at Slymbridge near the Welsh border. He received his degrees from Magdalen College, Oxford, and also studied at Cambridge. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1521, and soon began to speak of his desire, which eventually became his life's obsession, to translate the Scriptures into English.

Although the Bible was available in the vernacular in much of Europe, the only version of the Scripture tolerated in England was Jerome’s Latin translation, dating back to the 4th century. It was thus a closed book even to most clergymen. Tyndale was determined to make an English translation which would be accessible to all. As he protested to a visiting cleric over the table of John and Lady Anne Walsh in Little Sodbury, "If God grant me life, ere many years pass I will see that the boy behind his plow knows more of the Scriptures than thou dost!"

Finding that the King, Henry VIII, was firmly set against an English translation, Tyndale had fled to Germany, visiting Martin Luther in 1525. (Luther's translation of the New Testament into German was published on September 21, 1522. Luther's Pentateuch appeared in 1523 and the Psalter in 1524. Luther, with the other members of his Collegium Biblieum - Melanchthon, Bugenhagen (Pommer), Cruciger, Justus Jonas, and Aurogallus - freely consulted Jewish Rabbis on matters of Hebrew translation.) Moving in exile from place to place, Tyndale completed his translation of the New Testament in 1525. It was printed at Worms and smuggled into England. Only two survive of the original eighteen thousand copies, but by as early as 1526 more than twenty editions of Tyndale’s New Testament had been circulated. Others followed them like a mighty river. Between 1400 and 1557, Tyndale’s books and tracts (or "pestilent glosses" as his enemies referred to them) were smuggled into England wrapped in bales of wool or cloth, or sacks of flour by fellow "Lollards", Oxford students of John Wycliff. In 1534, he produced a revised version, and began work on the Old Testament. In the next two years he completed and published the Pentateuch and Jonah, and translated the books from Joshua through Second Chronicles, but then he was captured (betrayed by a friend), tried for heresy, and burned to death.

The publication of Tyndale's Old and New Testaments was groundbreaking in many historical respects. Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament was the first ever printed in English. Also, both the Old and New Testaments were the first English translation of the Bible taken directly from the original Hebrew and Greek languages. There was novelty in the Hebrew itself. Hebrew was virtually unknown in England at that time, yet, as Tyndale wrote to a friend from prison: "I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Procurer that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study." The publication of the first fourteen books of the Old Testament into English in the 1530s made Tyndale the first man to translate anything from Hebrew into English.

Miles Coverdale continued Tyndale's work by translating those portions of the Bible (including the Apocrypha) which Tyndale had not lived to translate himself, and publishing the complete work. In 1537, the "Matthew Bible" (essentially the Tyndale-Coverdale Bible under another man's name to spare the government embarrassment) was published in England with the Royal Permission. Six copies were set up for public reading in Old St. Paul's Church, and throughout the daylight hours the church was crowded with those who had come to hear it. One man would stand at the lectern and read until his voice gave out, and then he would stand down and another would take his place. All English translations of the Bible from that time to the present century are essentially revisions of the Tyndale-Coverdale work.

Recommended reading of Tyndale's writings may ve found in C.S.Lewis' English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama (Oxford University Press, 1954)

; ; ; ; .