Friday, January 30, 2004

Busy Busy

Life has had to take precedence over blogging the past couple of days. Apologies to the newcomers -- the old hands, they know the program, so no apologies necessary for them. I decided that, what with it being my final year here in Scotland, that I really ought to have a current curriculum vitae. Those suckers are hard work, particularly when you are as unspectacular on paper as I am! Not sure how much'll get done this weekend, either, since I'm going to spend much of tomorrow readying my ass to shake at the Twilight Singers gig later that evening. But, we'll see.

Hope you Midwestern / Northeastern Americans stocked up sufficiently for the winter.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004


A Name to Remember

Harold Ford, this is a name to remember -- he may very well be the future face of Democratic politics. Savvy, centrist, pragmatic. And, yes, black.

Need something to attach to his name?

Imagine an America where a 13-year-old girl attending a struggling public school logs on to the Internet or turns on CNBC every day to check her stock portfolio before her parents come home from work. Sound far-fetched? Not if you live in Britain, where Tony Blair's government has established child trust funds for every newborn Briton, beginning with an initial deposit of $400 to $800. The accounts grow with compound interest and with tax-free contributions. When a child reaches 18, the money is hers.

Meanwhile, here in America, President Bush plans to unveil his own series of proposals to create a new "ownership society." But his plan, unlike his British counterpart's, does little to help build the assets of those who have none. At least one-quarter of Americans are considered "asset poor" -- meaning they could survive no more than three months without a source of income.

[. . .]

The president's plan focuses on creating new tax shelters for existing wealth. A wiser policy is to help more people become investors. For $40 billion over the next 10 years -- less money than the president's plan -- we can build upon the British model and establish an "American Stakeholder Account," seeded with $1,000, for every child born in America. Children living below the poverty line could start with $2,000. Additional contributions would reward children for performing community service and completing high school. Upon graduation, the young adult could use accumulated savings tax-free to pay college tuition, purchase a home, start a business or invest for retirement.

[. . .]

Building assets is not about combating inequality. Rewarding hard work, risk-taking and initiative is the American way. The problem is that too many low- to middle-income Americans are accumulating no real wealth despite working harder for longer hours. Without ways to reward work with an asset base that grows over time, it will be nearly impossible for these families to provide a better future for their children.

A true "ownership society" is one where all Americans have a stake. At the same time as we improve education, we should give every family the tools to achieve its financial aspirations. We should give every child an ownership stake in America's future.

You don't even need to agree with the entire editorial to be impressed with the rhetoric -- i.e., a very clever co-opting of Bush's so-called 'Ownership Society' -- and the clarity and specificity of actual, holy hell you mean there' smore than just re-election politics(????), policy. All of which give us something to think about. When is the last time we could say that of Preznit (who pissed off God and got us stuck with this guy?) Bush?

Deeper, Baby! Deeper!

The Congressional Budget Office released its new deficit projection numbers yesterday and, well, it ain't erotic poetry, but it does paint a picture of something squishy, deep, and penetrating to the core. (Yes, I'm just trying to boost my hits with that sentence.) This is, of course, on the hells of Bush's assurance to his Republican constituents (everybody else knew he was lying) in last week's State of the Union address that he was going to cut the deficit in half in the next five years. I don't guess the CBO got that memo.

Max explains:

Around the end of this period [2014], the Baby Boom retirements are revving up and we could transition from trouble to deep doo-doo, as redemptions of Social Security and Medicare Trust Fund assets soak up more income tax revenue.

At that point, President Neil Bush might as well redesign Old Glory to depict Chiquita Banana. That's the shape we'll be in. Or perhaps he will request that the U.S. be annexed as a new province of the Peoples Republic of China. If you don't like it, you must hate America.

For more, see Krugman.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Echo . . . Echo . . . Echo

It may seem repetitive to say the same thing the same thing the same thing over and over and over again. Indeed, it undoubtedly is repetitive. But in an age of digitally shared files and interactive technology, but more importantly in a country where the dominant media has to be shown up by a comedian, repetition is not just a necessary evil, the way the game's played: it is the game itself.

With that prologue out of the way, take it way Mr. Soros:

Even today, many people believe that September 11 justifies behaviour that would be unacceptable in normal times. The ideologues of American supremacy and President Bush personally never cease to remind us that September 11 changed the world. It is only as the untoward consequences of the invasion of Iraq become apparent that people are beginning to realise something has gone woefully wrong.

We have fallen into a trap. The suicide bombers' motivation seemed incomprehensible at the time of the attack; now a light begins to dawn: they wanted us to react the way we did. Perhaps they understood us better than we understand ourselves.

And we have been deceived. When he stood for election in 2000, President Bush promised a humble foreign policy. I contend that the Bush administration has deliberately exploited September 11 to pursue policies that the American public would not have otherwise tolerated. The US can lose its dominance only as a result of its own mistakes. At present the country is in the process of committing such mistakes because it is in the hands of a group of extremists whose strong sense of mission is matched only by their false sense of certitude.

This distorted view postulates that because we are stronger than others, we must know better and we must have right on our side. That is where religious fundamentalism comes together with market fundamentalism to form the ideology of American supremacy.

As Vaara points out, there's a reason the right wing elite hate this guy -- which seems as good a reason as any, I think, for everybody to read his latest book.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Sometimes Things Are Alright

When he walked in on him in early December, he put on some Glenn Miller and then he bent over and said to Mr. Grossman, "Lew, when you're up in heaven with your friend, Roy, and you will be in heaven, you've been in purgatory down here, how would you like to be remembered? I'm a lawyer and I can do anything you need to have done. But tell me, how do you want to be remembered?"

Mr. Grossman looked up at Mr. Keating and whispered, "I want to be remembered." He tried to stop himself from crying.

"You will be remembered," said Mr. Keating, his eyes damp too. "I will always remember you. People ask me about you all the time. And I say, You're a fabulous person. Knows more about music than anyone I know. What else should I say?"

"I don't know," Mr. Grossman said.

"Well, I know. I'm lucky to have you as a friend."


"You mean an awful lot to me."

"You mean a lot to me."

"I know I do. Let's listen to Ella Fitzgerald, shall we?"

The invention of solitude, friendship, and the coping with death. It's all here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

My Nightmare

A German woman married to a Brooklyn schoolteacher had been told that she had all her papers in order when she took a quick trip to show off her infant daughter to her parents in Germany.

But her return home in late December turned surreal and terrifying when Homeland Security officials at Kennedy Airport rejected her travel documents, confiscated her passport, then detained her and the 3-month-old overnight in a room with shackled drug suspects. They let her go only after ordering her to leave the country no later than tomorrow.

After a month of desperate efforts by her American husband, their lawyers and legislators, late yesterday a spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department said that the woman, Antje Croton, 36, would be granted a last-minute reprieve. But Mrs. Croton said she had received no written notification. "I'm in a nightmare," she said as she packed yesterday afternoon, having abandoned hope of straightening out the problem. "I feel like I'm in the wrong movie."

[. . .]

He pointed out that other foreigners with fewer resources have been caught in the same kind of bureaucratic confusion ever since the Immigration and Naturalization Service was absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security last year.

Mrs. Croton has lived in Park Slope for five years, and her application for a green card has been pending for nearly two. When her sister urged her to visit Germany, she wanted to take no chances. So in October, she said, she asked immigration officials at 26 Federal Plaza about getting a new travel permit.

According to her account, an immigration official, C. E. Herndandez, insisted that her old permit was still valid, though it had a July expiration date, because it bore a stamp saying "April 2004." Reassured, Mrs. Croton departed on Dec. 9. "I did everything by the rules," Mrs. Croton said.

But on Dec. 22, when she returned to Kennedy Airport at 9 p.m., exhausted after a 10-hour trip alone with her baby daughter, Clara, front-line border security officers barred her way. They said the immigration official had been wrong: the July 2003 expiration, not the April 2004 stamp, applied, and she could not enter the United States.

They interrogated her until 2 a.m., she said, as she wept, tried to nurse her baby and pleaded with officials to call her husband, who was waiting without word in the terminal.

K. (a Belgian national, for those of you not keeping score) and I aren't married or anything yet, but, still, this kind of thing scares the hell out of me.

Our Dear Leader Speaketh

In spite of my better judgment, I just read the transcript from last night's State of the Union address. I am truly baffled, perplexed, completely fucking gobsmacked by the fact that any self-respecting, halfway intelligent person would vote for him in November. I know (and even like!) several Republicans, and even they emailed to say they were cringing last night -- the only thing that got them through the sad incoherent nothingness of the speech (perhaps he's embraced Zen, I wonder) was chanting their fight song: 'War on terror, cha cha cha, foreign terror, choo choo choo . . .' When the biggest selling point of a president is something that most Democrats readily support, albeit in a different, more rhetorically & diplomatically measured form, I really don't see the point of thinking this guy a good buy for your electoral money.

There isn't too much of substance in the speech, and what's there aren't really, in the most technical sense, lies. To use a crass metaphor: I guess it's more a matter of an inmate whispering to you, as his tattoo-scarred cadre of buddies grab your arms, 'I dropped my soap near your feet, can you pick it up for me.' If you don't know the disingenious set up by now, well, you very well will soon. In the case of this administration, it seems, most people who vote for Bush won't realize the effect until after he's gone, where they will then blame whichever Democrat has taken office.

There is, though, a particularly loathsome juxtaposition towards the end. Sets my blood ablaze:

A strong America must also value the institution of marriage. I believe we should respect individuals as we take a principled stand for one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization. Congress has already taken a stand on this issue by passing the Defense of Marriage Act, signed in 1996 by President Clinton. That statute protects marriage under federal law as a union of a man and a woman, and declares that one state may not redefine marriage for other states.

Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage. (Applause.)

The outcome of this debate is important -- and so is the way we conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight. (Applause.)

Every individual has dignity and value in God's sight, just not the right to legalized love and companionship, insurance coverage, tax benefits, et al. Thanks for the dignity and value, God. As always, you come in handy once again.

A Note


Whoooooo . . . jokes about bombs at airports, they sure are funny, aren't they?

A note to every maturity-stunted young adult out there who gets a giggle out of scribbling bomb threats in airplane lavatories or snickering about explosives in carry-on luggage, whereever you may be, your crime is not suspected terrorism -- yes, your weeping parents are right, you are not Osama Bin Ladin. No, yours is something else: it is a crime against humor. When the only person liable to laugh at a joke is you, then it probably ain't worth saying. Jokes are, by their very nature, participatory -- even when they're at somebody else's expense. Otherwise, you are on par with the homeless drunk who tells you the same incoherent funny every day.

In the case of this young Brit, I'm sure her fellow inmates in Miami have a few jokes for her to take back home.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Stream. Of. Conscious

Michael D. and I are trying to talk this guy into speaking at our conference in May as a replacement for Douglas Rushkoff (who, by the way, is conducting a very interesting looking -- FREE!! -- online course called "Theoretical Perspectives on Interactivity" starting Wednesday afternoon).

Friday, January 16, 2004

A Poem For Record Players

The scene changes

Five hours later and
I come into a room
where a clock ticks.
I find a pillow to
muffle the sounds I make.
I am engaged in taking away
from God his sounds.
The pigeons somewhere
above me, the cough
a man makes down the hall,
the flap of wings
below me, the squeak
of sparrows in the alley.
The scratches I itch
on my scalp, the landing
of birds under the bay
window out my window.
All dull details
I can only describe to you,
but which are here and
I hear and shall never
give up again, shall carry
with me over the streets
of this seacoast city,
forever; oh clack your
metal wings, god, you are
mine now in the morning.
I have you by the ears
in the exhaust pipes of
a thousand cars gunning
their motors turning over
all over town.

(John Weiner, from his Hotel Wentley Poems [1958])

I attended a really interesting lecture yesterday on the poetry of John Wiener, and I've walked away a fan. Track this book down today, and get it on one of the best kept secrets of American poetry!

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Another Letter to a Young Theologian [Part 2] (the last one, I promise!!; or A Post That I Suspect Only Two People Will Want to Read

In the Christian tradition, the theologian's desire to 'know' God has often taken on the sexually euphemistic notion of 'knowing'. In his study on depictions of the Crucifixion in medieval Europe, Richard Trexler notes that it was customary for Jesus' crucified body to be regarded as a 'volume to be penetrated' ('Gendering Jesus Crucified' [1993], 108-09). Thus one might find Jesus appearing and quickly embracing Rupert von Deutz in a dream, kissing him, and then opening his mouth, 'so that I could kiss him more deeply'. Battista Varani is even more literal with his desired penetration when he expresses the wish to wriggle into Christ's dying body in search of his Saviour's heart.1

To further consider the character of theology, death as such, of course, is never the end. The character eyes death, but, in order to remain a character, can never make the step beyond. 'Dying is not an event', Martin Heidegger points out. 'It is a phenomenon to be understood existentially' (Being and Time [1962], 284). The 'being-towards-death' that identifies one as an individual, then, is an impossible gift and destination, namely because 'every relation to death is an interpretive apprehension and a representative approach to [one's own] death' (Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death [1995], 45). Unwrapping this 'gift of death', we end up only playing with its bows and strings.2 '[O]ne never dies now', we hear from beyond the grave, 'one always dies later, in the future -- in a future that is never actual, that cannot come except when everything will be over and done' (Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature [1982], 164-65). The grave matters, then, because this 'beyond' is within, we are forever separated from ourselves, from our beginning and ending.3 That which once seemed familiar or present has actually always been foreign and absent, ever-'becoming' itself in relation to an infinitely other. Consequently, 'identity, which we attempt to support and unify under a mask, is in itself only a parody; it is plural; countless spirits dispute its possession, systems intersect and compete' (Michel Foucault, 'Nietzsche, Genealogy, History' [1977], 161). This, however, inevitably leads us to one further question.

Who is the character of theology? Which of the character 'I's steps into character on theology's stage? Its self-imposed split, the 'I Am that I Am', this tear has pained theology beyond measure. 'But what is pain?' Heidegger wonders.

Pain tears or rends. It is the tear or rift [Riss]. But it does not tear apart into dispersive fragments. Pain indeed tears asunder, it separates, yet in such a way that it at the same time draws everything together to itself. Its rending, as a separating that gathers, . . . draws and joins together what is held apart in separation. (Poetry, Language, Thought [1971], 204)

Similarly, theology's character is not, nor has it ever been, transparent. If, as Frank Kermode has suggested, there is 'a need in the moment of existence to belong, to be related to a beginning and to an end', all presence is a presentation whose 'subject' is only ever 'becoming' (Sense of an Ending [1967], 4).4 This is perhaps what I have been trying to say all along, that this redemptive self-presentation is a necessary fiction, one that I cannot help but regard as thoroughly, albeit peculiarly, theological, as it is being constructed in and as an impossible narrative that is never sure how to begin.

1 Also see Jean Wirth, L'image m?di?vale: naissance et d?veloppements, VIe-XVe si?cle (1989), 323; and 'La naissance de J?sus dans le coeur: ?tude iconographique' (1989), 149?58. Citing Wirth once more, Trexler also notes: 'Long before modern psychoanalytic insights, the genital implications of such penetrations were clear among late fifteenth-century German printmakers, who might, for instance, provocatively place the crucified Jesus' pierced, externalised heart over the space where his genitals belonged' ('Gendering Jesus Crucified', 109).

2 Notably, Derrida's title, The Gift of Death [Donner la mort], equivocates between the ordinary meaning ascribed to donner, 'to give', and the idiom, 'to put to death' (as in se donner la mort, 'to commit suicide').

3 Maurice Blanchot, Faux Pas (1943), 35. Most of Blanchot's best writing comes when he attempts to reflect on the implications of his own insights. For instance, apropos to the realisation above he reflects:

But what is 'humanism'? In what terms can we define it without engaging in the logos of a definition? In those terms that will remove it farthest from a language: the cry (that is to say the murmur), cry of need or protest, cry without word, without silence, ignoble cry where, perhaps, the cry writes the graffiti of high walls. It is possible, as one likes to state, that 'man passes away.' He fades. He even has always already passed, faded, to the extent that he has always been suited for his own disappearance. But, in passing, he cries; he cries in the street, in the desert; he cries while dying; he does not cry, he is the murmur of the cry (Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation [1993]).

4 It should not be surprising that Kermode goes on to suggest that 'we may call books fictive models of the temporal world' (54). Cf., '[W]e experience the "fictionalization" of history as an "explanation" for the same reason that we experience great fiction as an illumination of a world that we inhabit along with the author. In both we recognize the forms by which consciousness both constitutes and colonizes the world it seeks to inhabit' (Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism [1978], 99).

Saturday, January 10, 2004

One Good Turn Deserves Another

In response to this post, dedicated to me as it is, I in turn dedicate this article to Pat.

A teaser:

Theory is a way of problematizing, of wondering about what we are saying and doing, about what we think we are saying or doing, and whether that is what is really being said or done, or whether something else has silently crept over us and turned it into something else altogether. In theory of the deconstructive sort, one could put "quotation marks" or "scare quotes" around each and every word or fragment or sentence, practice or institution, and problematize it, ruminate over it, worry over it. The trick lies not in knowing when to do that—you always can—but to know when not to do that. It depends upon a Socratic demon that warns us to leave this or that alone for the time being because it would represent a more strategic intervention to worry about something else instead.

Theory is endless suspicion and mistrust. But it is not the jaundiced eyed mistrust that believes nothing and does nothing and that slanders everyone who tries, but the kind of felicitous mistrust that somehow finds a way to cohabit with faith, which mistrusts the present in the name of the future. Theory, and the theory astir in deconstruction in particular, doubts the present because of its faith in the future, its love of the à venir, of what is always and structurally to come, so that the Messiah never actually shows up, since if he does, then he is no longer what is to come. What deconstruction will have done, and the way that it will live on, after Derrida, after deconstruction itself, lies in its insistence on the future, on what is coming, and on the courage it takes to keep the future open. Theory is the endless problematizing of our beliefs and practices, the bottomless suspicion that our current beliefs and practices are unworthy servants of the future, unfaithful to the open-endedness of the future, the anxiety that the present tends to ensconce itself in its presence and to close off what is coming. If there were no theory, there would be no future, just the endless repetition of the same. Resistance to theory is reactionary. To resist theory is to resist the future in order to cling to the present. Theory pries the present open to the future, making possible the coming of the impossible, in the name not of doubt but of faith, not of contempt but of love. To understand the future of theory would require understanding the future of love.

I will, later this week, write a bit more about this.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Religion Outside The Limits of Religion; or Another Letter to a Young Theologian [Part 1]

What is theology's character, you ask? The polyvalence of the question, identifying where it might begin and end, is as dizzying as its implications. Might we strip it bare, the question and theology, to get beneath their textual, textile surface, and behold them in their natural glory? Might we yet behold the question, the problem of theology, in its truth and origin, in its naked nature, as it strives to understand what it can of God? What, though, would be the character of this undressing? Would it be rape or consent, this theology, violence or foreplay? When surfaces are compound, when theology's flesh is textual and textile -- published, bound, and disseminated -- its undressing cannot go simply skin-deep. Pierced and tattooed, theology bleeds, as it is riddled anew with innumerable cuts beneath the surface that go beyond the quick, to the blood and the bone and the sinew. Unable to escape the ontological and perspectival dilemma, the theologian's attempts at meticulous dissection of theology, be it through systemising, narrating, or even deconstructing, crack open the subject's breast plate and reveal a voluminous blood flow of ink.1

Hegel may best represent the systemically redemptive fetish that, its cries of protest notwithstanding, still grips traditional theology. Through his classic dialectical logic he humbly sought (and, so he believed, achieved) a totalisation of identity-in-difference and thus also the culmination of all philosophical thought. Personal subjectivity, he argues, is 'pure self-recognition in absolute otherness', in which the subject 'relates itself to itself and is determinate, is other-being and being-for-self, and in this determinateness, or in its self-externality, abides within itself; in other words, it is in and for itself? (Phenomenology of Spirit [1977], 14, 18). The subject (or identity), then, is never self-present. Identity becomes itself only in-and-through difference, and difference becomes itself only in-and-through identity. In other words, to affirm itself, identity must negate itself and becomes its opposite, i.e., difference, because 'identity is different from difference'. At the same time, however, because identity is in-difference, 'as difference that is identity with itself', its relation to its other is naturally a subjective relation to itself. (Science of Logic [1969], 413-17).2

It is not a coincidence that in developing the all-encompassing implications of his System, Hegel incorporated the three classical arguments for the existence of God: the cosmological, teleological, and ontological proofs. First, with the cosmological proof, Hegel demonstrated that the finite is not simply identical with itself, but inherently and self-contradictorily, needs the infinite (Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion [1987], 2: 254-55). With the teleological proof, he continues, God's purposeful wisdom and activity are demonstrated. Purposefulness, he writes, 'marks the beginning and end of the process . . . hence it is the final end' (ibid. 2:405). Teleological purposiveness demonstrates the consequences of the cosmological argument inasmuch that it is 'fixed', 'exempt from the [dialectical] process', and 'determined by the free self-determining of the subject' (ibid.). Furthermore, the reunion of beginning and ending, of subjectivity and objectivity, Hegel continues, is demonstrated in the ontological proof, which essentially replays the double-negation at work in his System. This unity of subject and object, beginning and ending, in sum, is truth (or the Absolute Idea); and God, in turn, is the realised-eschatological 'essence of all reality' (Science of of Logic, 86).

Though he does not cite Hegel or his philosophical System, Tyler Roberts recognises a similar totalising tendency in the seminal works of two of your favorite contemporary theologians, Stanley Hauerwas and Mark C. Taylor ('Theology and the Ascetic Imperative: Narrative and Renunciation in Taylor and Hauerwas', Modern Theology 9 [April 1993], 181-200). Specifically, he argues persuasively that each fall prey to the metaphysical recalcitrance of narrative. For instance, while Hauerwas claims that self-identity, or, in his suggestive words, 'character', is derivative of one's knowledge of and submission to God, one's knowledge and trust are always already deeply embedded in a preexistent Christian narrative in which humanity recognises itself as 'contingent', 'historical', 'sinful' creatures of God (The Peaceable Kingdom [1983], 27-29, 46-49). According to Roberts, this is the very sort of 'master narrative' of which the postmodern theologian, we who have been made wary by those most incredulous insights by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Frederic Jameson, and Francois Lyotard, ought to be especially mindful ('Theology and the Ascetic Imperative', 188). Nevertheless, even Mark C. Taylor -- who is as suspicious as they come, especially of beginnings and endings, and who is delighted by the notion of a 'nomadic self' who endlessly errs and sempiternally puns in carnivalesque discourses that would make Bakhtin blush and Zarathusa proud, because that is all one does (Erring: A Postmodern A/Theology [1984], 149-65) -- is undermined by an 'internal narrative':

Once there was a pre-modern subject who embraced faith in God. But in its journey to modernity the subject overturned the God-human relationship, making God its own creation as well as dominating others and hoarding possessions in a futile attempt to secure a foundation for itself and escape from death. But, when the subject recognized this futility and embraced the difference at the core of its identity, it emerged into postmodernity, an eternity of play. There the subject threw off lacerated consciousness, entered the divine milieu, and erred happily ever after. ('Theology and the Ascetic Imperative', 186)

What makes Roberts's essay so compelling is not simply that he questions whether Hauerwas adequately addresses the disruptive interplay of 'history and the world' on the 'unity and plot of the Christian narrative' (ibid., 188), nor that he points out Taylor's slippage back into metaphysics; rather, it is the coherence with which he points out the necessary (i.e., structural) and liminal linkage of theology and narrative. The ramifications of this are, like the best of stories, far from obvious.

Unable to free itself fully from a beginning and an ending, the peculiarities of what Gordon Kaufman has described as its 'imaginative construction', cannot be lost on or in theology. As such, who then is the character of this characteristic undressing? Torn apart, theology's heart still pounds. Is it the character of theology to beg the theologian to peek inside and g(r)asp? Does theology whisper to its spectator, 'All this I did for you. Pulled myself apart so that you might see, and touch, and taste the blood, all that blood and pain for you. You didn't know a heart could pump so much blood, did you? It's endless?' Here, violence and foreplay seem to masochistically merge, and the theologian can only pull away a bloody, ink-stained member. Theology, as such, becomes a sacrament, a spectral spectacle, upon and into which the theologian cannot help but attempt to gaze or probe, a violence from which the theologian, like Bataille's bacchant, cannot be fully differentiated.3

1 Cf., 'Although it may be obvious to us that the constructive work of the imagination has in this way always been constitutive of theological activity, theologians have seldom understood themselves to be engaged primarily in imaginatively constructing a theistically-focused worldview; on the contrary, they have largely regarded themselves as attempting to express in human words and concepts what the divine King had objectively and authoritatively given the church or synagogue in revelation. The fact that their work was thoroughly imaginative and constructive in character was simply not recognized' (Gordon D. Kaufmann, 'Theology as Imaginative Construct', Journal of the American Academy of Religion 50 [March 1982], 78).

2 Hegel explains that 'identity is the reflection-into-self that is identity only as internal repulsion, and is this repulsion as reflection-into-self, repulsion, which immediately takes itself back into itself. Thus it is identity as difference as difference that is identity with itself' (413).

3 Cf., Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-39 [1985], 238:

'I AM joy before death.'

'The depth of the sky, lost space is joy before death: everything is profoundly cracked.'

'I imagine the earth turning vertiginously in the sky. I imagine the sky itself slipping, turning and losing itself. The sun, comparable to alcohol, turning and bursting breathlessly. The depth of the sky is like an orgy of frozen light, losing itself. Everything that exists destroying itself, consuming itself and dying, each instant producing itself only in the annihilation of the preceding one, and itself existing only as mortally wounded. Ceaselessly destroying and consuming myself in myself in a great festival of blood.'

For Something Completely Different

Most of Silentio's readers, for better or worse, but surely not surprisingly, are Americans. For them, this link may prove something of a shock; or, at the very least, a bit perplexing. For those of you from Britain and Belgium, though, this is kind of old news. But, oh ho ho, important all the same.

The topic is, generally speaking, if you've not yet bothered to click the mysterious link, the relationship between the 'sacred' and the 'secular'. More specifically, it is about headscarves in French (and Belgian) public schools -- namely, whether they should be permitted. Your appetite for something new whetted? Go ahead . . . don't be afraid . . . click the link.

Upon doing that, be sure also to note the new home for this post's author, Scott Martens. I've been shamefully slow on getting that announced. For my money, Scott is one of the best bloggers out there. His is not a daily go-to site, not typically anyway, as he, well, has a life. But when he's on, which is most of the time, he's bound to write something that'll make you want to either tear your hair out in frustrating disagreement -- just after he made you scratch it in confusion -- or he'll make you wish you had that idea first. Not for the faint of heart or the short of attention.

Friday, January 02, 2004

A Must Click2

A couple of weeks ago I linked to Dwight Meredith's excellent post on scare tactics used by the tort reform lobby to convince us that America's courts are out of control -- that they're handing money out left and right to the litigious cranks who are sullying the good name of corporate America. Today, he has posted a follow-up. And it is good.

Breathe Deep

I love the smell of an unregulated industry at work. It smells like, like, a slow death.

Two years after President Bush declared he could combat global warming without mandatory controls, the administration has launched a broad array of initiatives and research, yet it has had little success in recruiting companies to voluntarily curb their greenhouse gas emissions, according to official documents, reports and interviews.

At the heart of the president's strategy is "Climate Leaders," a program that recruits the nation's industrial polluters to voluntarily devise ways to curb their emissions by 10 percent or more in the coming decade. Scientists believe these greenhouse gas emissions, which include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, are contributing to a troubling rise in the earth's temperature that could disrupt weather patterns and cause flooding.

Only a tiny fraction of the thousands of U.S. companies with pollution problems -- 50 in all -- have joined Climate Leaders, and of the companies that have signed up, only 14 have set goals. Many of the companies that are volunteering say they did so either because reducing emissions makes good economic sense or because they were being nudged by state and federal regulators.

[. . .]

Many of the companies with the worst pollution records have shunned the voluntary programs because even a voluntary commitment would necessitate costly cleanups or possibly could set the stage for future government regulation, according to industry insiders.

Most of what the administration hopes to accomplish in terms of reduced emissions will not become apparent for many decades to come, experts agree. The president's more immediate goal, announced on Valentine's Day 2002, is to reduce greenhouse gas intensity -- the amount of gas put into the atmosphere per unit of economy -- by 18 percent over the next 10 years. Congress's research arm, the General Accounting Office, concluded in October that Bush's plan would reduce overall emissions only 2 percentage points below what the nation would achieve with no federal program whatsoever.

One more reason that electing anybody, a horse's ass, a pig's right testicle, is better than voting for Bush. (Okay, I exaggerate. Make it the pig's left testicle.)

Out With the New. More of the Same

A couple of days into this new year, 2004, and things of old do not die easily. I'm still in Belgium (one more day)... I'm the same weight I was two days ago (a stone more than last year, I fear)... I'm still listening to the same set of Kate Rusby songs I downloaded upon my arrival... and I'm still reading, for reasons that elude me altogether, about religious pluralism (which is, for those who do not know, the opposite of religious dogmatism, of the sort that says 'I'm right' and therefore 'You're wrong'). In desperate search for something new, but nothing to make me assess all that I have and take for granted -- this is not the time for soul-searching, these cold January mornings in stone houses surrounded by snow -- my mid-morning pancake, caked in brown sugar (mmmm!), was accompanied by the Best Books of 2003 lists in the San-Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times. Though I've only read a couple of the books on either list, there is some nice looking stuff in there. A couple of the highlights for me included:

Gilligan's Wake. By Tom Carson. A loopy, exuberant novel-type prose event that sees 20th-century America through the lives of the castaways on ''Gilligan's Island.'' The originals are augmented by culturally significant characters, from Amelia Earhart and Holden Caulfield to Richard Nixon and Maggie the Cat. [Note to one of my Hoosier guest bloggers of old: this looks to be up your alley.]

Oracle Night. By Paul Auster. An up-to-date metasomething novel on a dizzy rotation between life and invention, situated in a writer's notebook; the writer, Sidney Orr, recently very ill, has lost his will to write until he buys an exotic notebook in Brooklyn. Immediately stories begin to proliferate, right from the bottom of the page upward, in a stew of creation and discovery, communication and concealment.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. By Azar Nafisi. Recalls how Nafisi secretly gathered a group of women in her home in the Islamic Republic of Iran every week to study such banned authors as Austen, Fitzgerald, James and Nabokov. The question of "how great works of imagination could help" them negotiate their "present trapped situation" allowed the women's own stories of brutality and hope to entwine with those of the characters they studied. In this account of her experience, personal insights such as the texture of Nafisi's marriage or her relationship with her two children are tucked away within the larger questioning of literature, her students, her friends and the regime.

Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. By Jessica Stern. "Religion is a kind of technology," as Jessica Stern puts it in "Terror in the Name of God." "It is terribly seductive in its ability to soothe and explain, but it is also dangerous." Religious violence springs from a desire to find a clear purpose in the confusion of a world dominated by American capitalism, Stern asserts. A Harvard professor and former government policy wonk, she spent five years traveling around the globe to research this remarkable study, which combines psychological depth with forensic scholarly rigor.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. By Jon Krakauer. Krakauer's new work is a fantastic read, right up there with "In Cold Blood" and "The Executioner's Song" in its depiction of that strange American blend of piety, violence and longing for the End Times. His book's bizarre tale revolves around the true and horrifying 1984 murder of a young woman and her baby daughter by Dan and Ron Lafferty, two brothers who joined a fundamentalist, polygamist Mormon splinter group and soon began following their own twisted revelations. Krakauer masterfully weaves Mormon history and modern polygamy into a seamless story about the strangest subculture of the American Southwest.

Vernon God Little. By DBC Pierre. A first novel that is smart, ridiculous and funny even though it is nourished chiefly by the Columbine High massacre of 1999; its 15-year-old protagonist, whose best friend has killed 16 classmates, is the focus of the town's lust for retribution. [ed. I've been hearing insanely good things about this. Most Booker Prize winners lose their luster over time, but this one might prove exceptional.]

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Out With the Old. In With the New

It's getting late here in Belgium, and I've yet to recover from my evening of hell in Leuven -- it's not worth blogging about, trust me -- but I just wanted to say, because I'm so bad about doing it in person, or on phone, or in emails, Happy New Years everybody. I hope your celebration did not find you stuck in the freezing cold with narry a taxi to be found (and when you thought you found one, the driver turned out to be, in fact, a dick who plead ignorance as to your destination and drove away in haste) and facing the prospect of an hour-long walk to the nearest available warm bed. No, I wish none of that on you.

Oh, unrelatedly, but while I'm thinking about it. I just watched the finale of World Idol, and while it was complete and utter crap, and not even the utter crap that I find enjoyable, part one on Christmas Day more than prepared me for that expectation. Nevertheless, congratulations to the Norweigan troll who won. With luck, we'll all see him on top of every school kid's pencil, his blonde hair baroque with erratic tangles and twirls. Just kidding, he was a good singer. Huzzah!