The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion) by John D. Caputo

The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion) by John D. Caputo

Author:John D. Caputo [Caputo, John D.]
Language: eng
Format: azw3
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Published: 2013-09-13T04:00:00+00:00

GIGANTOMACHIA: MILBANK AND ŽIŽEK

That brings me back to the fear of one small word. My differences with Žižek are rooted in his distrust of the chaosmic and unwieldy peut-être to which Derrida and I have recourse. He shares this distrust with Milbank. The two of them oppose my peut-être with their competing absolutes of Absolute Peace and Absolute Conflict, suggesting something of the mythological scene of Gigantomachy, the combat between Heracles and Alcyoneus, Olympian Cosmos and a dark Chaos. The war is between two overarching cosmic narratives, which are pitted against each other quite nicely by Gareth Woods, speaking in summary of Milbank: “In the beginning was the Word…and everything will be fine”—enticing Katharine Moody to add, speaking in summary of Žižek, “In the beginning was the Void…and nothing will be ‘fine.’”15

It is worth noticing, I should add, that the very fact that their debate is not cast as a war between theology and anti-theology is a good example of their common debt to postmodern discourse. The “theological turn” among European intellectuals, even of the most hardened neo-Marxist sort, is to turn to theology for help in addressing basic questions in ontology and political theory, going back to the fascinating interpretation of St. Paul by Alain Badiou, which drew Giorgio Agamben and Žižek into the debate. Although it would make Žižek and (less so) Milbank uncomfortable to say so, there is nothing else to call this turn but “postmodern,” if postmodernism means a recognition of hybridity, a weakening of rigid modernist binarities like matter and spirit, faith and reason, objective and subjective, philosophy and theology. Their debate concerns whether this hybrid theological monster is to be interpreted dialectically or analogically. Žižek's willingness to play the Christian role is a strictly postmodern ploy; it would previously have been off-limits to a secular leftist intellectual fifty years ago.

Of course, for the most part Žižek and Milbank cannot think of things mean enough to say about postmodernism, which they both regard as a spineless and indecisive compromise with late capitalism, pluralism, and liberal individualism. On their telling, postmodernism means that Platonic truth collapses into relativistic “conversation,” decision dissolves into a pool of undecidability, genuine political action into political correctness, and love into sexual libertinism. In this regard, whatever their differences, both authors ride a high theological horse. Both love G. K. Chesterton's old chestnuts about orthodoxy offering the most radical revolution, or about past papal censures of scientific research providing reason its best protection. That produces more and more dreadful monsters: Milbank (an Anglican) is happy to invoke the pope to counter the Reformation and Žižek happily calls himself a Stalinist to counter democracy. Milbank defends “Red Toryism” and pleads that paternalism has its bright side and Žižek wants us to see the rose in the cross of an “austere socialist dictatorship” (MC, 292). That leaves their readers to decide just how much they actually mean these things, and just how much we should love the monsters of Milbank and Žižek.

There are times when Žižek is very close to the spectral logic of the peut-être that I am defending.



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