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Slavoj Zizek and John Milbank, The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? edited by Creston Davis (Cambridge, MA, and London: The MIT Press, April 2009). [Thesis. Slavoj Zizek gets the last word in this high-level theological debate with "radically orthodox" John Milbank about the nature of Christianity and its philosophical contribution to humanity's self-understanding. Zizek's view is that "Christianity includes within itself its own overcoming" (287) and that Hegel's dialectic provides the philosophical means to understand this. "[W]hile Milbank advocates a postsecular reenchantment of reality, I claim that we should learn to 'live in a disenchanted world without wanting to reenchant it'" (247).] Series Foreword. Zizek is the editor of the Short Circuits series, whose "underlying premise is that Lacanian psychoanalysis is a privileged instrument" of critical inquiry ([vii]). Introduction: Holy Saturday or Resurrection Sunday? Staging an Unlikely Debate, by Creston Davis. Theology is back (3-4). Organization of essay (4-5). — I. Toward a Materialist Theology. Despite reason's evident shortcomings, balancing reason and faith has proved difficult in modernity, in part because neither side needs to speak to the other (5-7). Zizek is a militant atheist; Milbank a theologian who asserts the primacy of theology: their "improbable" dialogue is more interesting than the sterile debates between, for example, Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath because it asks what reason is and goes beyond "the impoverished Enlightenment view of reason" (10; 711). With respect to the Cartesian cogito, "for Zizek the subject is constituted in the gap between nature and its representation in the symbolic order," while "for Milbank the 'subject' is itself an invention of modernity" (11). Milbank is romantic; Zizek less so (12). "The debate in this book is principally framed by how Zizek and Milbank interpret and idiosyncratically appropriate Hegel in their respective ways" (13). Truth has been abandoned for language by many modern thinkers, but Zizek and Milbank are part of a "return to Truth" that restores Hegel to his proper place as "the most significant thinker in modern and twenty-firstcentury philosophy and theology" (13). Since Hegel's idealism posits unity in the subject, it overcomes the fragmentation of the object: substance is subject (1314). — II. Postmodernism and Theology: The Twisting of Hegel. Postmodernism substituted a metaphysics of language for a metaphysics of truth (14-16). — The Dialectical Method. Zizek views Christ as "the monstrum (monster)—that is, the exceptional that cannot be accounted for in rational terms alone—and is, paradoxically, that on which the rational itself rests" (17). Zizek sides with kenosis (Christ's 'emptying' of the divine to become human), Milbank with transcendence (18). — III. Theology: Orthodox or Heterodox? "The fact that it is not completely trapped in the standard 'capitalist' Enlightenment's version of reason opens up the possibility that this debate is a portal to . . . a new engagement with Christianity" (20; 1921). — Conclusion: Holy Saturday (Zizek) or Resurrection Sunday (Milbank)? Will post-Enlightenment theology be grounded in dialectics (Zizek) or in paradox (Milbank)? (21).
The Fear of Four Words: A Modest Plea for the Hegelian Reading of Christianity, by Slavoj Zizek. The notion that "He was made Man" frightens people who cling to a "transcendent God guaranteeing the meaning of the universe" (25). Only Hegel's idealism has "thought the implications of the four words through to the end," and fear of this has led to a number of defenses (26; 25-28). The Trouble with Christ in Orthodoxy... A Hegelian interpretation of the three forms of Christianity: Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestantism (28-33). ...and in Meister Eckhart. Eckhart made of God "the only Substance," shattering the God-creature duality, but was unable to reach the notion of "pure difference" (34; 43; 3343). — "A Matter More Dark and Awful..." A Hegelian reading of G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday; "God falls into his own creation" (50; 43-50 & 52). — From Job to Christ. "[I]n our societies, anarchism is already in power, wearing the mask of Law and Order" (50). Similarly, "God IS also the greatest Rebel—against himself, ultimately" (51). The Book of Job is thoroughly modern: God ups the ante and tells Job "it is a much stranger world than Job ever thought it was " (53 [Chesterton]; 52-53). "[P]otential or actual catastrophes, from AIDS and ecological disasters to the Holocaust: they have no 'deeper meaning'" (53; 5356). "God is neither just nor unjust, but simply impotent" (56). — The Double Kenosis. "Protestantism and the Enlightenment critique of religious superstitions are the front and obverse of the same coin" (57). God's fall into nature (kenosis) was necessary for human subjectivity to emerge; as Badillon says in Claudel's L'otage, "Dieu ne peut rien sans nous" (60; 58-61). What is sublated in Christianity is "the divine Substance itself (God as Thing-inItself)"; God becomes "the virtual presupposition of the activity of finite individuals" (61; emphasis in original). —
Christ with Wagner. The Christian supplement illustrated by works of popular culture (61-73). — The Monstrosity of Christ. "The Christian God appears as human to himself" (81, emphasis in original; 73-83). "The ultimate question is . . . in what kind of universe is freedom possible?" (82). — Toward a Materialist Theology. Reason in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (82-87). Musings on quantum reality (87-89). We need to get over our fear of Zero, of matter disappearing if matter is a "substanceless void with in a void," and embrace what Zizek is "tempted to call postmetaphysical idealism" (91, emphasis in original; 8992). Badiou: "There is nothing but bodies and languages . . . with the exception of truths" (92; 98-99). On embracing ontological fuzziness (94101). The Double Glory, or Paradox versus Dialectics: On Not Quite Agreeing with Slavoj Zizek, by John Milbank. — I. The Eroto-Linguistic Animal. Tribute to Zizek's exemplarity as "Christological clown" (113; 111). But unlike Zizek, Milbank believes universal logic must be theistic (111-12). There is a "latent Zizek" that knows this (113-14). Milbank rejects Zizek's dialectical metanarrative and embraces paradox instead (114). Zizek claims to embrace contingency, but his version of the history of theology does not take contingency seriously enough (115). Milbank argues for "a radically Catholic humanist alternative" to Zizek's "atheist Christianity" (117). Milbank agrees with Zizek in rejecting "postmodern free play" (117). Discussion of Lacan (118-26). — 2. Catholic versus Protestant Metanarratives. Zizek's account of history, like other "left" narratives, is "biased toward Protestantism" (126-31). — 3. Univocity, Difference, and Dialectic. Zizek exaggerates the presence of dialectic in ordinary "univocal" experience (131-47).
Schelling (147-58). — 4. Paradox: A Misty Conceit. In the phenomenological-logical domain William Desmond called "the metaxological," "all truth is mediated by beauty" (166; 16066). "[O]ur ordinary experience is paradoxical"; a defense of paradox as superior to dialectic (176; 166-76). — 5. Christianity, Paradox, and Dialectics. Critique of Zizek's biased account of the history of the Trinity (177-88). Critique of Zizek's treatment of Meister Eckhart (188-216; see also Milbank's extensive notes on Eckhart, 224-29). — 6. On the Philosophy of History. "The logic of Christianity is therefore paradoxical rather than dialectical" (216). "The entire Bible, but more especially the New Testament, is, like Plato, counterprogressive insofar as it resists the advance to pure abstraction" (217). "It is time we abandoned the paganism of progress" (218). Dialectical Clarity versus the Misty Conceit of Paradox, by Slavoj Zizek. — Materialism, Theology, and Politics: The Terms of the Debate. Zizek comments on the limits of the debate, e.g.: "Of course I 'fail' to see this — . . . because, for me, there is no transcendent God-Father who discloses himself to us, humans, only in a limited way. The reason God can only appear incognito is that there is nothing to take cognizance of here: God is hidden not to hide some transcendent Truth, but to hide the fact that there is nothing to hide" (236-37). Other misreadings (23740; 246-47). On the relation of religion to psychoanalysis (241-46). But their basic difference is that "while Milbank advocates a postsecular reenchantment of reality, I claim that we should learn to 'live in a disenchanted world without wanting to reenchant it'" (247). Zizek argues "that it is Milbank who is in effect guilty of heterodoxy, ultimately of a regression to paganism: in my atheism, I am more Christian than Milbank" (248; 247-54). — From the Death-of-God
Theology to Postsecular Thought . . . and Back. A "new field" is emerging which is not postmodern or poststructuralist; it includes Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, and Zizek, and had predecessors in Deleuze and Lacan (254-55). A critique of John Caputo's On Religion (2001) (256-60). Present-day apocalyptism 260-63). "There are . . ., grosso modo, three main currents in Christianity: Centrist 'Legal' Christianity (the ideology of the Church as a State Ideological Apparatus), 'Rightist' aristocratic Gnosticism, and 'leftist' apocalyptism" (263; 263-65). The reason we speak of God is that "our immediate self-experience" tells us that we are not at home in this "miserable reality"; God is the expression of this sense of homelessness (264-66). On Satan (26668). — Law, Love, and Drive. On St. Paul's negative appreciation of the domain of the Law (268-85). — The Necessity of a Dead Chicken. Because it is unique among world religions in conceiving its very core as the overcoming of another religious tradition (Judaism), "Christianity includes within itself its own overcoming" (287). The song "Joe Hill" (288-89). "[W]hat 'God is love' means is: 'No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us' (John 4:12, New International Version). Or: 'No one has ever seen Joe Hill since his death; but if workers organize themselves in their struggle, he lives in them . . .'" (290-91). "Crucifixion is Resurrection—to see this, one has only to include oneself in the picture" (291). Zizek agrees he is "effectively on the Protestant side" (293; 291-95). On the death of God (295-97). In concluding, Zizek is more paradoxical than dialectical: "This is where I stand— how I would love to be: an ethical monster without empathy, doing what is to be done in a weird coincidence of blind spontaneity and reflexive distance, helping others while avoiding their disgusting proximity. With more people
like this, the world would be a pleasant place in which sentimentality would be replaced by a cold and cruel passion" (303; 297-303). Index. 22 pp. About the Authors. Slavoj Zizek is a philosopher and social critic who has published more than thirty books. John Milbank is a theologian. Creston Davis has studied under both Zizek and Milbank; this encounter was his idea. [Additional information. Slavoj Zizek or, as it is properly spelled, Žižek, was born on Mar. 21, 1949 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, into middle-class family. He holds a Ph.D. from the Univ. of Ljubljana and studied psychoanalysis at the Univ. of Paris VIII. He has established himself as a leading anti-postmodernist continental philosopher and his work has already spawned an International Journal of Žižek Studies. He is a continental philosopher interested in Hegelian and Marxist political theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and film theory, and writes on broad philosophical themes from these perspectives. Of these, Lacan is of greatest importance to Zizek. He was a member of the Communist Party of Slovenia until 1988, when he resigned as
part of a mass protest of intellectuals against a political trial of intellectual dissidents; he joined the campaign for democracy that led to the founding of an independent Slovenia. His first book published in English was The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989). Critiquing Zizek has become a cottage industry in academia. Critics often complain about his intellectual volatility, for he changes his position frequently, but Zizek says his is role is to challenge ideological presuppositions, not to explain the world. Known for his oratory, he speaks Slovene, Serbo-Croatian, English, French, and German fluently. Zizek has been married twice. He is the subject of the 2005 documentary "Žižek!" (2005). — John Milbank studied at Oxford and at Cambridge under Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury since 1991, before taking his Ph.D. at the Univ. of Birmingham with a dissertation on Vico. He is professor of religion, politics, and ethics at the University of Nottingham. Part of his "radical orthodoxy" is a denial of the usefulness of modern social theory. — Creston Davis assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy & Religion at Rollins College. You can follow him on Twitter as OedipalRex.]
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