It was perhaps fitting that the final gathering of our Simon Critchley book meeting took place yesterday. June 28th, was the tricentenary of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the influential philosopher. As Terry Eagleton wrote in a piece in The Guardian,
"Much of what one might call the modern sensibility was this thinker's creation. It is in Rousseau's writing above all that history begins to turn from upper-class honour to middle-class humanitarianism. Pity, sympathy and compassion lie at the centre of his moral vision. Values associated with the feminine begin to infiltrate social existence as a whole, rather than being confined to the domestic sphere. Gentlemen begin to weep in public, while children are viewed as human beings in their own right rather than defective adults."
Rousseau figures heavily in the beginnings of Critchley's book, Faith of the Faithless. In fact, our initial discussion was around our distinct lack of knowledge of Rousseau beyond bullet point ideas about his works. But upon reflection it seems that this 'maverick intellectual' as Eagleton called him, was the perfect foil for Critchlety's maverick work about the role of faith amongst those who hold no belief in religion or metaphysical gods. I liked Critchley's book on many levels. I was particularly struck by his take on St. Paul--a man whose thinking many continental philosophers seem to be exploring these days. I really liked his view on Paul and mysticism-that he essentially thought there was something more--of course, I would like this given my own post-metaphysical and post-mystical theological meanderings. Anyway, hats off to Rousseau, hats off to Eagleton's lovely little commentary on him, and hats off to Simon Critchley, who once again demonstrated that sometimes the best theology happens in places where you'd least expect it.
I love Wayne White's work, in fact, I usually assign one of his typography paintings to my art center students. There is a documentary doing the festival rounds. It's called Beauty is Embarassing--great title. Here's the promo,
"He (Karl Marx) is talking about Roman-Catholicism, which is an external religion and appropriate for a monetary system, in contrast to Protestantism, which is the appropriate reflex of the internalised world of credit and commodities..."
Roland Boer throws out yet another insightful and provocative post on Marxism, religion and the like, this time addressing 'vulgar' marxism. The above comment caught my attention. Responding to statements made by Marx in Capital 1, that religion is a reflex of the real world, Boer makes this distinction about the role of certain incarnations of Christianity in terms of economic systems. I find this fascinating, because I think the current financial crisis/shift is precipitating much of our changing views on religion and its ability to address need. Our relationship to money, to capital, is undergoing a shift, and has been for longer than the current financial crisis. The dawn of the digital era precipitated a shift in conceptions about money--it's movement to digitality--from paper to vapour if you will--heralds not only changes in how we think about money, but perhaps, how we think about the world. It's not the only reason, but I think economics plays a role in religious associations (economics certainly played a role in the Protestant schism--the sale of indulgences etc., which is a matter of money as well as theology).
I have been reading Simon Critchley's Faith of the Faithless, in not one, but two, different reading groups, and am enjoying it immensely. Critchley makes the statement that philosophy emerges from religious disappointment. It might also be that this disappointment also manifests in the appropriation of other forms or expressions of the religious in our lives--i.e. we may not move away from religion, but we might look for other iterations of it, that would seem more expressive of our disappointment, not just with the failure of religion to address, but with the failure of a particular form of religion--this might in some way address the religious shuffling that seems to characterize our time)spiritual/religious-old religion/new etc.)--trying to find the right approach. Of course today, a blend of both internal and external--the catholic and the protestant--in all forms of religion, seems to be the order of things, but that in and of itself, feels a little insufficient.
Critichley also addresses mysticism in his book, spending some time with St. Paul and offering some great insights into the apostles view of mysticism. I find all this extremely interesting as I contemplate my own place within the various religious schema, as well as the ongoing and shifting dynamics of religious expression in cultural life. Dominant in thinking or action in the past decade or so, has been a 'return to mysticism' by certain Protestants--particularly evangelicals and non-denominational types--this is not enough in my mind. It might be a first step, a direction to take when ones certainty takes a hit, but it's not the end, as far as I am concerned. I have been speaking about this a bit in my lecturing, usually beginning withthe emergence of contemporary Christian forms and music from the late 60s psychadelic counter-culture--pitting ecstasy against incarnation. Increasingly, as my own views have become freed from metaphysics and more earthbound if you will, I am ready to say that mysticism is a step, but not the final step in the religious process--it is not enough for the economic environment we live in, much as the economic reads of salvation, atonement and the Cross, are not sufficient for the present age.
Boer also makes this statement,
"the famous opium statement is usually taken as an example of Marx’s vulgar approach to religion. So it is worth noting that in contrast to our own associations of opium with drugs, altered states, addicts, organised crime, wily Taliban insurgents, and desperate farmers making a living the only way they can, opium was a much more ambivalent item in nineteenth-century Europe. Widely regarded as a beneficial, useful and cheap medicine at the beginning of the century, it was gradually vilified by its end by a coalition of medical and religious forces. In between debates raged: it was the subject of defences and parliamentary enquiries; its trade was immensely profitable; it was used for all manner of ills and to calm children; it was one of the only medicines available for the working poor; it was a source of utopian visions for artists and poets; it was increasingly stigmatised as a source of addiction and illness. In effect, it ran all the way from blessed medicine to recreational curse."
I appreciated Boer's softer read of this Marxist statement, which has often been used to villify and dismiss Marx. One generation's medicine is the next generations illicit, escape hatch from reality, but the realities are more complex. And one final statement,
"Lose the vulgarity and you lose the Marxism" again, I think the same could be said of Christianity, lose the vulgarity and you lose the religion--it's a profane faith in some ways, we are called to be the trash, the shit of the earth---that's vulgar, and its the heart and rule of the game, and of course, this throws out the idea that it is in post-mystical epxressions that a faith for our time might be found?
Summer hits today. 4:09 this afternoon to be precise. In honour of that, a typical summer scene in California, courtesy of Mark Tansey. Look closer, thats the rule with Tansey's work, things are not as they seem. For instance, it seems as though there is a truck riding the wave into shore, so are we certain this is the ocean? Or it can work upside down,
I am a big admirer of all things Paul Smith. His latest book is a simple A-Z of ideas coupled with images from his vast catalogue of photos which are used to give some clues to the designer himself, his creative process and how he looks at the world. Dyslexia, dislocations, disruptions, curiosity, not being driven by profit and loss margins in his company--the fact that he makes his design team draw new stripe patterns by hand rather than by computer to retain a sense of humanity, the fact that he loves George Best, keeps flower patterns in his clothing line season after season as a reminder of the radical shifts of the 1960s--his one-day travel trips, love for Japan, the fact that he called Prince Charles 'mate' in public, for all these things and more I like Paul Smith, and this book captures many more intersting and insightful things.