Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Political Theology and Poetic Theology

A talk by Victoria Kahn yesterday. She's a professor of English and comparative lit at Berkeley. Great talk. It was laying out a critique of Agamben's and Zizek's turn to theology. Here are my notes for your delectation.

modern subject had to be brought into being: politics as a kind of poetics

a somewhat unorthodox paper to give
political theory more than literature
but political theory is a form of literature as a self conscious reflection on its own status as fiction
recent debates about political theology have been hobbled by an inattention to poesis

powerful resurgence of interest in political theology: legitimation of political authority
castigation of liberalism for cordoning religion off within private experience
Charles Taylor, Agamben, Zizek, Eagleton
upsurge of religion or the religion dimension of secular modernity
all seem to agree that we are living in a post secular world
Whiggish narrative has come up against the fact that religion has not withered away, but is ever more present
liberalism has failed to address US profound religiosity and jihad
so we need to return to religion to recover cognitive and affective resources lacking in liberal political theory
religious or transcendental dimension of our living together
even someone like Habermas (who has preeminently defended secular rationalism) is now making this argument about religion

early modern period:
emergence of the nation state and liberal political theory
sustained critique of political theology
assumption of divine right of kings; but numerous challenges to that
even anarchist critique of the state
but Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza: dismantle theological modes of understanding
emphasis on human capacity for fiction (poesis)
a subset of poetic theology

bond that has implications for today
doesn’t deny that there are other stories
but nb the most important writers articulated a profound critique of political theology
vs our contemporary look to theology

(to what extent is the contemporary turn a reaction to reason, the disturbance of reason, the things that it has thrown up)
(and the turn to Christianity--you don’t see Zizek turning to Buddhism e.g)

Carl Schmitt: Agamben clones with Heidegger and Foucault
A nazi synpathizer whose work was influential in the 20s and 30s
the absolute sovereign is like god
thus the sovereign is outside the law, capable of deciding the exception
Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory
why does power need glory? he asks: this can only be answered by bringing the questions back to the theological
he insists that glory in the form of consensus is at the center of politics in modern democracy
“a realm of indistinction” (one of the things that she hates about Agamben--so opaque)
glory is the place where this bilateral relationship emerges into the light (unquote)
the theology of glory is the secret point of contact

Paul Kahn (no relation), The Legal Scholar
Schmitt is not just a defender of political absolutism he argues
his later work lends itself to understanding modern sovereignty as the locus of the power to decide
“a collective transtemporal subject” (sovereignty)
“the mystical corpus of the state, the source of ultimate meaning for citizens”
the popular sovereign can demand that we kill and be killed for the state
sacrifice not contract
terrorism: political identity as a matter of life and death
problem: terrorists have a genuine conception of the political

dangerously stunted version of politics!
by contrast, the alternative is what the early moderns called civil religion
Jakob Taubes: religion as a part of political theory (rather than the other way around)
Taubes: the very term “theology” in the Republic demands that theology must justify itself in the court of reason
(commentary on the dialogue between Adeimantus and Socrates in The Republic)
Soc and Ad are talking about the place of poetry when the term theology occurs for the first time
declaring your fictional task too overtly may produce a crisis

association with the ancient Romans >> Augustine City of God
mythical theology, physical theology, civil theology (the theology used by the city)
for Aug mythical theo is part of civil theo
false gods of pagans
map for early moderns
many tended to agree with the conflation of civil and poetic theology
(because unlike Aug they saw religion as a poetic fiction)

Hobbes: Leviathan; account of the state
as long as church and state separate, subjects will resist state >> outbreak of the civil war
Erastian position: absolute subordination of religion to the state
to collapse absolute religion into civil religion
mentions Numa who said he got laws from a nymph
Romans tolerated religion as long as compatible with civil government
exception for the Jews
Roman vs true Christian religion: not invented by men but handed down by God
Hobbes veresion of the Jewish question. Jews excluded by Romans because special covenant with God.
To introduce the Jews is to say that Christian claim of special relationship with God are just as “bad” as the Jews (as they have an unmediated relationship with God).
Hobbes’s Erastianism amount to a reinvention of Roman civil religion. By pretending to respect the truth of Christianity.
Human invention and divine commandment distinction collapses: it’s just the invention of the sovereign
Hobbes turns Christianity into a civil religion

Machiavelli, Discourses. Praises Roman religion. Numa’s feigned confab with the nymph. This fiction was necessary because many good things are known to a prudent man that are not so plainly rational that everyone knows them.
fountain nymphs who had gift of prophesy, identified with the muses
Numa’s poetic recourse to God was >> strength of Romans
>> good laws >> good fortune >> happy results of city’s endeavors
Moses feigned confab with God like Numa and the nymph
Prince must feign religiosity when it is useful to do so
Concluding chapter of The Prince demonstrates how you use religious rhetoric for political purposes

elsewhere M condemns the pacifism and feminization of Xianity
Even Francis and Dominic: reformed Xianity would be even more debilitating
“it is evil to speak evil of what is evil”
M recommends civil religion: poetic capacity to respond to fortune

Spinoza: the Bible is a text like any other
only on the basis of close reading can one determine whether the Bible is divinely inspired
a radical thing to say
divine inspiration a product of right reading and right use
a more daring version of Hobbes for Hobbes
“I durst not write so boldly” after reading it
TTP (Tractatus): turns religion into culture
a kind of immanent critique
vs Maimonides (you need reason to interp scripture)
Bible must be according to the Bible itself
meaning and truth distinguished
internal coherence; bracketing truth
narrative, parable, vivid imagination
critique of theocracy: truth as a basic set of moral doctrines >> undercuts crafty priests who can manipulate
destruction of Hebrew state from within << power of priesthood
covenants are now written on the heart not in stone: emphasis on consent >> defense of democracy

S’s interest in poesis not just to do with scripture, but enacted in his own text
adopting at first a pose of piety >> patient irony and dialectical redefinitions >> reason and faith incompatible

exposing religion as merely civil religion
lots of phrases where he says one thing and it turns out it can mean the opposite: religion is part of your inner being

how can religion be brought back after it has been ruthlessly exposed qua religion
to embrace religion for its utility in the absence of a conviction of its truth
in not answering the q S points us to this: dramatizes tension between civil religion and liberalism

if we think in Biner’s words as the empowerment of religion for citizenship, liberalism is the rejection of this even for the sake of empowering the citizen
S advances civil religion on religion in the Dutch republic; but his telos is a critique of religion and a defense of liberalism
allied in a critique of theocracy but opposed as to the ultimate place of religion in the modern state

early moderns offer a powerful series of meditations on creating our own social and political arrangements
counter to foundational theology
preoccupation with human capacity for poesis

Blumenberg: modern project << early modern period
(secularization debate)
Xianity can’t explain the legitimacy of scientific and philosophical curiosity
so secularization must be rejected--is this the problem with the political theologists of our age?--they are buying into a modernity talk, of a radical break)
instead, reoccupation: medieval problems reoccupied in a new way
a novel response to the crisis of the medieval world view
late medieval nominalism
crisis of order in universe but space for human self assertion
modern project as making or creating =
Vico: truth and fact are interchangeable (verbum, factum)

discovery of the unconscious, etc
some principle of authority is necessary
yet it makes a difference to our understanding whether we describe these in human or divine terms
Arendt: the alliance of religion and authority doesn’t prove that authority is religious (yay)
possibility of a purely secular politics
and a purely secular conception of culture
>> recovery of purely human realm of the symbolic

tendency hand over the symbolic realm to religion
suggesting that any gesture of transcendence is religious
or that the political is religious
>> religious metaphors a sign we can’t escape religion
>> critique of Arendt for using religion language (!) (Moine)
but why should we assume that religious metaphor is a subset of political theology rather than the exact opposite?

how useful are M H and S in liberal democracy
more than Agamben!
Hobbes defended absolutism but dissolved absolute religion
we can only know what we make ourselves
for M religion is important as a political tool
S same point
S and M were demystifers; power as a relation of forces

“praise of god” and “inoperativity” of god and human nature (Agamben)
a part of human being that escapes biological life
glory: essential nonalienated human nature
model is the poem that suspends denotation
quotes Ethics (nonteleological immanent cosmos)
but TTP: politics as non religious
we don’t have to think inoprativity as theological, unless god = nature (deus sive natura)

analysis of ideology
human making

Schmitt became popular because he was translated.
And because he offers a critique of liberalism that can be popular on the left.

it’s complex in Spinoza because for some his metaphysics has a religious core

Betty Joseph: liberalism has adopted the idea that religion is in a book
the shared idea is that religion is in a book
an idea that there is something good in religion, something in the book
codified narrative: has this been one of the legacies of the book?
some religions don’t have a version of the book
relationships to reading are different in different in different religious practices

S elaborates a model of critical thinking <> the reformation; Luther (scipture is its own interpreter)

is liberalism hobbled by a sense of interpretation that is not adequate to contemporary religious debates?

renewed interest in theology misconstrues theology and liberalism (as neglecting theology)

Hobbes translates Homer, the father of all poesis
there is a literary dimension to all these figures
Machiavelli wrote drama
but that in itself isn’t the explanation for poesis
division of the disciplines not as strong as now

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