Tuesday, December 19, 2006

the smartest man alive?

Possibly. This is the most interesting thing I've seen on T19 lately -- and there have been plenty of interesting things. For the past several years I have lamented that, in the Academy, everything has sort of become a sub-discipline of Sociology / Anthropology. Thus Theology Departments are dissapearing to be replaced by Religious Studies Departments where (as in the Episcopal Church), Christianity is assumed to be one of many equally "valid" and equally interesting religious systems -- on an equal footing, for example, with Islam, Sikhism, and Jainism. And so it goes with the other humanities (Philosophy is an interesting holdout -- the field is dominated by Christians in recent decades). This same shift is at play in the move away from teaching "Government" in high schools to teaching "Social Studies." And so too -- in virtually all of the humanities -- we now have a profusion of this-and-that kind of critic or theorist: Queer, Feminist, Racial, Marxist, Post-Colonial, etc. etc. And we are seeing a shift away from an academic taxonomy of the objects of study, toward a taxonomy of perspective. So now, if you go to Harvard, you can major in Gender Studies, Queer Studies, African American Studies, and so forth. In other words departments are ceasing to be defined by what they study (Art History, Literature, Government, etc.), and are now being defined by how they study it.

Anyway, back to the thing on T19, which was taken from Zenit. (Read it all here at Zenit.) Its an article about / interview with Rene Girard, who has all kinds of interesting things to say. He was in 2005 made one of the "Forty Immortals" of Academie Francais. He's written on mimetic desire, violence, and the place of sacrifice in culture. In the Zenit article, he predicts a Christian renaissance:

I think the relativism of our time is the product of the failure of modern anthropology, of the attempt to resolve problems linked to the diversity of human cultures.

Anthropology has failed because it has not succeeded in explaining the different human cultures as a unitary phenomenon, and that is why we are bogged down in relativism.

Terrific point. This is relavent because ECUSA is most certainly "bogged down in relativism." And I agree that there are signs that Western culture is itself becoming aware of its being bogged down: the age of Derrida (who died in 2004) is ending, and I think Derrida himself, in a moment of clarity, knew that it was ending when in 1993 he penned Sauf le Nom, in which he explores the affinities of Deconstruction with radically apophatic theology, as in the poetry and epigrams of the 17th century German priest Angelus Silesius. The following verse was one with which Derrida was enamored:

To become Nothing is to become God
Nothing becomes what is before: if you do not become nothing,
Never will you be born of eternal light.

I suppose my overall point is, in solidarity with Girard, to note that the sociological way of looking at the world has failed. It was bankrupt from the outset, but Western culture is taking its sweet time to realize this failure. Cf. the fact that this paradigm waxes ever stronger in the Academy. But it has produced various combinations of despair, perversion, violence, and solipsism (Wittgenstein foresaw this last point in the Tractatus 5.62). How, in the end, is Deconstruction different from destruction? I would suggest that it isn't -- unless it can be properly apophatic, and therefore Christian.

Will the failure of the West's late assumptions (which Karl Marx and others have correctly observed began with the Reformation) result in a Christian renaissance? I hope so. Otherwise, to quote myself in a poem I wrote, while on a boat headed for Patmos, in reference to a legendary battle between Saint John the Theologian and a pagan priest named Kynops (which John won):

...trying to avoid this death, maybe
we’ll slide like liquid in each others’ mouths,
or press like sheets against each others’ thighs.
And when this too has failed to save, we’ll see
the modern world impossible in art,
and like our vessel’s supplicating bow,
perhaps provoke the water’s oxygen
to wreathe our bodies’ lifeless flounder-forms,
and with Apollo’s priest:
turn to stone.

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