Guy Davies thought it might be a good idea to interview me over at Exiled Preacher – I’m sure he’s less certain now!
May 11, 2009
Ok, so I have a confession to make. I’ve never seen Star Trek before – at all. Nothing – not even ‘the Next Generation’, any of the other movies, or the other spin-offs. And, to be honest, I count it as fairly geeky. I’ll happily admit that I’m not simply averse to the ‘geek’-fiction genre (I love Firefly, Batman, Fantastic Four (I’ve even got some of the comics… which is pretty geeky), V for Vendetta and Watchmen were great (both graphic novel and film), Dr Who, etc.) So, when I went to see the new film, I didn’t really know what to expect. Let me balance this out – I went to see Wolverine: Origins or whatever it is called. I didn’t like it. Here’s a number of reasons why:
1 – I don’t like X-Men. I don’t know why – I’ve seen all 3 films but I found it fairly dull – a group of teenagers moping around gutted because they have ‘super-powers’ but they just wish they were normal. Fairly cliched. Also, the writers have no ability to commentate upon the various aspects of life which should always happen in Sci-Fi films. The stories are too neat, too Holywood, too simple, too nothing.
2 – I don’t like the net-result of removing the mystery surrounding Wolverine – the one thing I appreciated about X-Men was the character of Wolverine – Why? Because he evaded all the drudgery of the other ‘heroes’ and was genuinely interesting simply because he was so mysterious – no one knew where he appeared from (other than from flash backs), why he was the way he was, and how to take him. The very fact that the directors have attempted to solve the problems simply belies the lack of imagination in our world today – there is a desire for holism and explainations, for loose ends to be tied up, for the various heterogeneous aspects of life to be reduced down to pithy aphoristic singularities. Wolverine is now unexciting to me. I know why he’s the way he is – I know how he ‘works’ – I know what he will do. He has become totally explicable. He is boring.
Contrast this with Star Trek – what a fantastic new approach to an old series. You know what – it’s actually the most genius piece of screen writing I’ve experienced in quite some time. So imagine this – you are working with a corpus of Sci-Fi filmography which has become almost venerated to the fans. You have aspects of this corpus (which as far as I know) carry a lot of passed philosophical freight. You have a disaster on your hands. How about this for a solution – you create a parallel universe (using some crazy black hole trickery) which allows you to break with the tradition (at the point where James Kirk is born), creating a new series of events which move off from the previous tradition. You can now do things with characters which would never have happened (Kirk is some kind of gungho kid who is annoyingly rebellious who is living out the expectations of being the son to a father who sacrificed himself – contrasted against the Kirk of the tradition who lived in his father’s footsteps, etc. Spock is ‘made human’ via the destruction of his home planet and the death of his mother – it seems to be a good move – Spock made out with some bird more than any other character on the programme – genius. The philosophically dated post-Enlightenment struggle with the Cartesian Spock is replaced with a Spock who is far less ‘autonomous’ and ‘sovereign’ – replaced with an angst-ridden, impulse-led kind of guy who is the creation of Kirk who is persuaded to ‘break’ Spock by Spock himself (Old Spock – don’t ask) – the Spock who is reminded of just how dull he really was and how pointless it was (after all – his ineptitude led to the destruction of his home planet). (Inferences here of the Lacanian split subject – the Imaginary subject versus the Symbolic subject – but that’s a story for another time).
In short – go to see Star Trek – it’s fantastic. Enjoyable without kow-towing to current expectations whilst not totally destroying the tradition out of which it arose.
May 9, 2009
I’m coming back more and more to the idea that Jüngel-studien needs revising. Let me first describe my own experience of Jüngel within theology (in a narrative form). I first came across Jüngel when I was writing an essay on metaphor as an undergrad – I discovered his fantastic essay ‘Metaphorical Truth’ and I was hooked (which was probably understandable given that my alma mater worshiped at the shrine of Karl Barth and I was getting a little fed up). It was therefore of little surprise that I should use Jüngel as an intellectual foil in my dissertation – which seeked to explore Jüngel’s understanding of the relationship between philosophy and theology. At the present time, in my masters thesis, I’m currently attempting to marry together the philosophy of Slovoj Zizek and the Jüngelian doctrine of Justification so as to enliven theological accounts of subjectivity. In sum: having read much of Jüngel’s own work and the majority of the available literature, I am beginning to feel the need for a new interpretational pole to Jüngel-studien.
Let me explain further: in general, the majority of the field is dominated by John Webster’s doctoral thesis which became his Introduction to [Eberhard Jüngel's] Theology. For the most part this work is well-written, well-researched and strikingly intuitive in its critique of Jüngel’s theology – well worthy of its place as the textus receptus of Jüngel scholarship. However, I’m beginning to wonder whether or not it is too good a book. Jüngel’s thought is undeniably complex in many places and Webster is an astute guide through these torturous parts of the corpus. In this way, I would have no hesitation pointing anyone who was interested in Jüngel in the direction of Webster’s introduction.
Nevertheless, the telos of such a well-written book is that it has effectively ‘killed off’ any subsequent interpretations of Jüngel’s work in the English language. The other major works on Jüngel’s theology (Paul DeHart (excellent) and Roland Zimany (not so excellent)) are obviously strongly influenced by Webster’s interpretation and the remaining collected essays are gathered together and edited by Webster and contain fairly extensive forewords by Webster guiding the reader through the most important points of the texts. Even the translations of Jüngel’s work into English are governed by Webster (at least 90% I reckon) allowing him to divine which of the numerous works is worthy of translation – all of which leads to the remarkable conclusion: there are few areas of Jüngel-studien which do not come under the oversight of John Webster.
Far from wanting to lay the blame at John Webster’s door, I want to suggest that the fault is ours – we who read Jüngel’s work and appreciate its value within the current milieu. We have simply neglected to offer differing interpretations of the principle drives which lie behind his theological endeavour. I do not want to argue for a difference of opinion simply for the sake of difference – for the prolonging of the academic task beyond the current horizon. Instead, I want to suggest that Jüngel-studien can only benefit from the multiplicity of approaches to Jüngel’s work which will allow Jüngel-studien to move beyond its current horizons.
In his little-known work on Martin Luther, Jüngel writes:
“We must make a choice. We may be enjoined to modesty by the insight that with even the greatest historical erudition we cannot give voice to more than a segment of the true significance of past historical phenomena. Then for one who dabbles in history such modesty which desists from interrupting the scholarly alternation of videtur quod and sed contra – would be altogether proper.”
“However, ‘only rascals are modest’ (Goethe). And where theology is involved, I would rather be taken for immodest than for a rascal. To enquire into Luther’s significance for contemporary theology no doubt means to inquire theologically. And, in any event, to inquire theologically means to inquire into the truth of faith.”
This aptly highlights my point – to simply accept the scholarly consensus with respect to Jüngel might be ‘altogether proper’ – but what is needed is an attempt to engage with Jüngel theologically because that is to ‘inquire into the truth of faith’. Therefore, I suggest that more work on the theology of Eberhard Jüngel is engaged upon within the theological world – not simply to prove the Websterites wrong, but to challenge them to be right – to hone Jüngel-studien which has for too long remained unaccountable to any clarifying debate.
For example: the immense influence of Martin Luther upon Jüngel cannot be doubted. However, in Webster’s introduction, there are only 2 passing references to Luther within Jüngel’s wider theology. What effect does this have on a reading of Jüngel’s texts? Webster emphasises the place of Heidegger within Jüngel’s work and yet, on a reading of the lectures on Luther (The Freedom of a Christian) it is clear that Heidegger is not a driving factor behind Jüngel’s theological programme but merely the framework which carries the material content of Jüngel’s own reading of Luther.
June 18, 2008
I finally have a little time to myself, time which will no doubt be wasted in some way or another, but time which will have all sorts of promise and trajectory… Here’s a few things to waste your own time with.
Firstly, the Karl Barth Blog Conference of 2008 has just begun. Effectively this is actually (more promisingly *cough*) a ramble through the work of Eberhard Jüngel, the greatest living theologian. Unfortunately, this is a piece of self-gratification as I want to point out that I actually kicked off the proceedings with a post on the relationship between philosophy and theology in Jüngel’s work. It’s not very interesting (nor worth reading if Shane Wilkins has any say in the matter!) but it’s there all the same. The next few posts are as follows:
- “The Passion of God” – Some Questions for Jüngel on Divine Passibility
- A Still Greater Historicity: Hegel, Jüngel, and the Historicization of God’s Being
- Vestigia Trinitatis: More than a Hermeneutical Problem
All are worth a read and the rest of the conference is worth following. Maybe it will even persuade me to hold the first Eberhard Jüngel Blog Conference here…
Anyway, in line with this, it got me thinking about Jüngel-studien. I’m becoming increasingly aware that the field is held in complete monopoly by the Webster school of thought. What this boils down to is twofold:
- The relationship between Jüngel’s theology and Heidegger’s philosophy is not fully fleshed out but rather assumed. That is to say, the neglect of any understanding of the relationship between philosophy and theology in Jüngel’s work effectively leads to a misunderstanding of Jüngel’s Heideggereanism. With a little fuller understanding of this relationship, the flaws in Heidegger’s philosophy do not lead to Jüngel’s theology being dismissed as ‘deleterious’. The beauty of Jüngel’s project is that he takes into account the fluxing and quotidian nature of the path of thought and thus of theology and so does not make totalising claims in his theology. His theology works within a philosophical framework which is adaptable to the Zeitgeist. Should Jüngel’s philosophical foundations be shown to be suspect, the whole structure of his theology doesn’t (or shouldn’t) fall to the ground. This is something which can be explored through Barth’s theology and something which I have written a paper on in the past – maybe I will dredge it up to post on here someday.
- Webster also completely overlooks the influence of Luther upon Jüngel’s own development. However, Jüngel himself has noted the importance of Luther upon his work (which is hardly surprising given that Jüngel is himself a Lutheran theologian) in his book The Freedom of the Christian. In this vein, any criticism of Jüngel’s buying into Heideggerean philosophy should not be a simple perjorative dismissal tout court. Jüngel’s Heideggereanism is a methodology which assists his theological task – thus, a criticism say of Heidegger’s inability to overcome Cartesian subjectivity is not to be levelled at Jüngel as a matter of course, but rather, Jüngel’s account of subjectivity should be read through his theological works (such as The Freedom of the Christian).
As an aside, it’s good to see that Alastair is back to posting.
June 10, 2008
Here are a few ditties composed by WH Auden in memory of Ogden Nash (Academic Grafitti) proving that he was merely mortal:No one could ever inveigle Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel To offer an apology For his Phenomenology.
When the young Kant Was told to kiss his aunt, He obeyed the Categorical Must, But only just.
Søren Kierkegaard Tried awfully hard To take The Leap But fell in a heap.
On a more somber note, Auden actually composed a poem on the event of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
(In memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
martyred at Flossenbürg, April 9, 1945)
He told us we were free to choose
But, children as we were, we thought—
“Paternal Love will only use
Force in the last resort
On those too bumptious to repent.”
Accustomed to religious dread,
It never crossed our minds He meant
Exactly what He said.
Perhaps He frowns, perhaps He grieves,
But it seems idle to discuss
If anger or compassion leaves
The bigger bangs to us.
What reverence is rightly paid
To a Divinity so odd
He lets the Adam whom He made
Perform the Acts of God?
It might be jolly if we felt
Awe at this Universal Man
(When kings were local, people knelt);
Some try to, but who can?
The self-observed observing Mind
We meet when we observe at all
Is not alariming or unkind
But utterly banal.
Though instruments at Its command
Make wish and counterwish come true,
It clearly cannot understand
What It can clearly do.
Since the analogies are rot
Our senses based belief upon,
We have no means of learning what
Is really going on,
And must put up with having learned
All proofs or disproofs that we tender
Of His existence are returned
Unopened to the sender.
Now, did He really break the seal
And rise again? We dare not say;
But conscious unbelievers feel
Quite sure of Judgement Day.
Meanwhile, a silence on the cross,
As dead as we shall ever be,
Speaks of some total gain or loss,
And you and I are free
To guess from the insulted face
Just what Appearances He saves
By suffering in a public place
A death reserved for slaves.
May 9, 2008
I’ve been thinking (mainly in line with my post of yesterday) about the place of Barth within Protestant theology in general. Whilst I think it would be naive to suggest that any useful attempt to engage in the Protestant theological task in ignorance of Barth’s work, I think there is a slight danger creeping in of a subtle orthodoxy becoming inherent in Barth-studien. What I mean is this (see below): It appears to me that much of the secondary literature on Barth is operating with the subtle assumption that he is right. Take, for example, the current debates in the election/being of God debates which are raging throughout Barth studies. On one hand side you have the ‘traditionalists’ who argue that Trinity is logically/ontologically prior to election. On the other, you have the ‘revisionists’, who claim that it is, in fact, the case that the obverse is true – election precedes Trinity. The debates generally have taken this line – a traditionalist claims that Barth could never hold this – the traditionalist proves this by citing Barth – the revisionist replies with the rejoinder “Aha! But you are forgetting that Barth develops his doctrine of election in the years after hearing Pierre Maury’s lecture in 1936 (??? – can’t be bothered looking this up but assume it’s the right date…) and before composing volume II/2 of his Kirchliche Dogmatik (1939 – ???). However, you’ve only cited Barth from CD I/1 and II/1 and so what you are citing is the Barth asarkos (actually – I think I just came up with that phrase – I also think it’s quite good!) – this nebulous, mystical early Barth – who precedes the (obviously) more-wise ‘later’ Barth who can compose the majesterial fourth volume of CD. Take that traditionalist!” – Another traditionalist enters the fray – “How about this – I’ll prove Barth didn’t think this from later volumes (namely the majesterial fourth volume) of the Church Dogmatics – take this quote… and this quote…” (or in George Hunsinger’s case – take a, b, c, ci, cii, ciiα, ciiβ, &c. – ad nauseum. (Don’t get me wrong – clarity is a wonderful gift – but sometimes too much clarity leaves you feeling empty inside) – THE END OF ACT ONE.
Incidentally, the implicit assumption is that there is an inherent rationality within Barth’s work which, if only we could find it, would prove the debate one way or the other. My own feeling is probably that there probably isn’t. Church Dogmatics took approximately 4,234 years to complete (that’s a joke – it took 36 years to ‘complete’) and no doubt Barth developed his theology (which is something McCormack appreciates) and so there will be places where contradictions occur.
The point of my facecious posting here is to suggest (probably above my station) that perhaps Barth studies should seek to go beyond Barth and attempt to formulate a doctrine of election (with respect to Barth – don’t get me wrong – I’m not a Radical Orthobarthite – I’m not saying that everything since Aquinas is misconstrued) in new terms, without the fear that any divergence from Barth is necessarily labelling one ‘heretical’. That’s how theology works.
May 8, 2008
I’ve been reading so many theologians debating Barth’s doctrine of election recently and I keep coming back to this one recurring thread in my thoughts. Maybe the ‘revisionist’ school is right, maybe the ‘traditionalist’ fantatics are right, or maybe Barth was actually that inconsistent. Think about it… There might be a grain of truth there.