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Against the uncritiquable

Dan Barber has a great blog post (with reference to a couple of excellent essays that he’s written) over at AUFS. I’ve probably been guilty of the revalorisation of Hegel at points (too much Zizek).

The key point, for me, is this:

What universalism, normativity, and Hegel have in common is the capacity — a capacity, by the way, that is grounded in nothing other than a sort of sovereign self-assertion — to present themselves in terms of neutral abstraction, or of intrinsic symmetry, and in doing so to set it up so that the field of disagreement about the term’s value is already enfolded within the field of the term. “Do you not see that your critique of universalism / normativity / Hegel, in order to realize itself, must (in some renewed sense) affirm universalism / normativity / Hegel?”

I’ve noticed this operation at work in a couple of theological papers I’ve attended recently. It’s the logic of conversion, as Barber calls it. Or, put another way, it is the Anonymous Christianity of Everything Good. If you have a critique of capitalism, heteronormativity, racism, etc., Christianity already includes this critique. This logic was at the heart of Radical Orthodoxy’s engagement with continental philosophy and, even amongst those who now disavow Milbank and crew, this logic persists. You are critiquing the bad version of Christianity. We’ve incorporated your critiques and now it’s time to endorse the good Christianity. Or, your critiquing a misguided form of Christianity which was never the true Christianity anyway.

This operation or logic is not just prevalent in Christianity, though. It is the logic of Christianity. And this is why Marx was ultimately right – the critique of religion is the beginning of all critique.

Links etc.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with the start of first year teaching and work on developing our new BA.

The Royal Institute of Philosophy has just posted its schedule for the year. There’s some interesting papers – Stern’s paper in February looks promising and Sebastian Gardner is sure to be good. There’s plenty to skip though. I don’t really need to hear about clearing ‘the ground for a real politics that would jettison the absurd hubris of liberalism and of most “Leftism”. And would jettison the extreme Prometheanism and lack of precaution endemic to our current pseudo-democratic technocracy.’

Stuart Elden shared a History of Philosophy chart. Readers quickly pointed out that the chart was exclusively white and male. I prefer this one much more – I even have a copy hanging in my office. It’s great, though I have noticed other people have a hard time not getting distracted by it when they come in to my office.

Micro-resistances

The other day I was thinking about the term micro-agression. I was mostly thinking about the term because of James KA Smith’s unhelpful article and Anthony Paul Smith’s satisfying smack down. At the same time, I’ve been looking at Gramsci, popular education and the relationship between philosophy and the politics of resistance.

In moments of great tension (IS, Ferguson, Gaza) talking about philosophy and resistance/liberation can feel foolish and cheap. True revolutions happen in the streets, collaborating with other workers, not in the comfortable isolation of university offices banging away on a Macbook. Yet the classroom provides a valuable opportunity to teach patterns of resistance – a basic refusal of accepting things as they come to us. Exposing the contingent nature of systems of meaning and production opens up the space for alternatives.

This understanding of micro-resistance highlights what is so disturbing about Smith’s piece (the core message of which is strikingly similar to the Faith and Theology post about apocalypticism that I discussed earlier). A student who has just discovered Freud, Marx, Focault or Said is developing an alternative view of the world. I remember when I was in high school and read Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. It was utterly disorientating. Facilitating those moments of disorientation and helping students decide how to respond is the greatest part of undergraduate humanities.