There is a new app from Random House for the 50th anniversay of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. It only seems to be available in the U.K. at the moment but hopefully in the future it will arrive on these shores. The reviews are all incredibly positive, declaring that this is one of those apps that really does enable the reader to engage with the text in new ways, not simply monetize a piece of text via another revenue stream.
Just over halfway through the course and today we finished up the television section. In honour of Halloween we spent some time exploring otherness--strangers and monsters. We looked at The Walking Dead and True Blood using some of Richard Kearney's thinking on Strangers, Gods and Monsters, which I have found insightful along the way in thinking about the ways in which we (various and diverse cultures and societies) process and manage our fears, anxieties and concerns.
"There are monsters on the prowl whose form changes with the history of knowledge," declared Foucault and I think these shows, and others like them, give some examples of how our monsters have changed over the past decades. The fact that both zombies and vampires have traction in the culture is interesting to me. Those characters first appeared out of the underbelly of the enlightenment project, the 19th century churning with change and looking for new maps, manifested its anxieties in the tales of Frankenstein and Dracula--today we seem to have come back around to these symbols and are using them again, in modified forms, to attempt to find new pathways, to handle our present challenges and fears in this time when of not-knowing--when once again, the maps that have brought us thus far, seem insufficient.
Next week we are turning our attention toward digital culture and entering the world of new technologies, social media and all that. Geert Lovink's book on Network Culture is strong critique of post-desktop digitality, the world of mobile digitality, but along with critique he does open up some great questions about things like anonymity, connectivity, sociality, which I hope will give the students plenty to wrestle with. I must say that this particualr class has been very engaged thus far and I have heard and learnt a lot from them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent some time reflecting on the idea of 'religionless Christianity,' a concept that has found considerable acceptance, or at least interest, in recent times. About this idea Bonhoeffer said,
"How do we speak of God with religion, i.e. without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even 'speak' as we used to) in a secualr way about 'God'? In what way are we 'religionless secular' Christians...not regarding ourselves from a religious pont of view as specially favoured, but rather as belonging wholly to the world."
Bonhoeffer seems to be reaching for something much more than re-designing church, or abandoning church etc., this idea of 'belonging wholly to the world' would seem to be hinting at something much more than that. His rejection of the presuppositions of metaphysics and inwardness would seem to be inviting us to something much deeper than cosmetic adjustments to our believing or practice. It might just be that he sees them as obstacles to belonging wholly to the world--which in other times might be referred to as being secular. Gianni Vattimo, my favourite Italian philosopher, speaks of secularity not as a rejection of Christianity but as an extension, and as a way of 'living the return of religion' in our times.
Giles Fraser, in his great book, Redeeming Nietzsche: On the Piety of Unbelief, interprets this idea like this,
"Metaphysics, is, for both Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer, the name for a particular genre of betrayal; for in as much as metaphysics attempts to locate what gives human life its ultimate value in some realm beyond earth, it degrades and disparages earth-bound fleshly human existence."
I had a couple of friends, Kester and Pete, visiting this week, and for the first time we got to explore our theological interests in public together at a couple of different events. We made a decision to try and have a bit of a public chat in support of radical theology as a growing and important contribution to contemporary theological conversations about religion, and Christianity in particular. This is something we have been wanting to do for a long, long time, but time and geogrpahy has always hindered, but not this week.
Materialist Christianity is what I try and practice in life--I am not particularly interested in metaphysics or inwardness--which I find generally to be a disctraction from the business at hand. Christian interiority is something I do not find that helpful-both ideas attempt to take us out of this world--it's why I also don't like too much worship stuff either--it seldom seems incarnational to me and is generally consumed with the ecstatic, almost, trance-like dynamic of an out-of-body experience--not that I am against that, just that a continual diet of it can lead us out of the very world that I think the gospel wants us to enter into.
Anyway, it was a marvellous week, a real gift to me--I realize that I have been 'theologically lonely' for some time, and it was nice to have company for a change.
Abbey Road, Bridge Over Troubled Water and Cold Facts--if you were young, into music and South African in the 70s, chances are these were the albums that you listened over and over. The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and Rodriguez? Who the hell is Rodriguez? Well, that's the premise of this lovely and moving documentary about a man who by all odds should have been a huge star and instead disappeared through the cracks of the music business, another failed attempt at stardom--except he was the inspiration for a generation of young South Africans to rebel against apartheid and find courage to stand up against the things that troubled their world.
Rodriguez made two albums and disappeared but a couple of SA music fans set out to find out the truth beyond the myth of the man.
Its a redemptive story tinged with incredible sadness and sense of loss--the music is lovely, admittedly 70s sounding, but hey, thats when it was made--a sort of Dylanesque sound with Detroit soul affectations.
And the man himself? When we finally meet him, well, you should find out for yourself.
Apparently in the 17th century, Bishop James Ussher calculated that God created the universe on the 23rd of October 4004 BC. In 1650, he published his monumental The Annals of the World, a 1,300-page work written in Latin, a book in which he sought to date every major historical event from Creation - "in the beginning" - to 70 AD. On his death, Oliver Cromwell ordered him buried in Westminster, with this epitaph: "among saints, most scholarly; among scholars, most saintly," a big deal indeed given that the Puritan's were decidedly unenthusiastic about Anglicans and perhaps even more so someone like Ussher as he was a Royalist. By Ussher's calculations, we are now in the year 6016: 4004 plus 2012.
Saul of Tarsus goes off in rage to root out the followers of the upstart Jesus and encounters the sacred in unexpected ways. It may have been Caputo who said that falling off a horse can sometimes be a mark of progress, this is certainly the case with Saul. What's interesting to me is that his encounter initially results in darkness not light. For three days he sits in complete blindness(his rage had already blinded him anyway, so in some sense it is an outward symbolism of the internal), not eating or drinking, suddenly changed from the fire-breathing persecutor to a man who must be led by the hand. It's his darkness, his false desire and drive have brought him face to face with what he wants but he cannot see it and must live with his own blackness before the scales can be lifted. The three days often get linked to the three days between the cross and resurrection, but I think it is bigger than that--that it is about coming to the real, the substantial, the essential if you will.
After all this saul gets a new name-Paul-which means small or humble-the big man has become the small man, but now he can see and he moves in the same direction but with renewed purpose, not to extinguish this fire but to fan its flames. He also lives in weakness the rest of his days, thereby providing philosophers and theologians with a hook to hang weak theology upon