Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Cornel West on Marx and Engels on Religion.

November 16, 2012 1 comment

The classical Marxist understanding of religion is more subtle than is generally acknowledged. Crude Marxist formulations of religion as the opium of the people in which the religious masses are viewed as passive and ignorant objects upon which monolithic religious institutions impose fantasies of other-worldly fulfillment reveal more about Englightenment prejudices and arrogant self-images of petty bourgeois intellectuals than the nature of religion. Contrary to such widespread crypto-Marxist myths about religion, Marx and Engels understood religion as a profound human response to, and protest against, intolerable conditions. For Marx and Engels, religion constituted alienated forms of human cultural practice under circumstances not of people’s own choosing. On this view, religion as an opium of the people is not a mere political pacification imposed from above but rather a historically circumscribed existential and experiential assertion of being (or somebodiness) by dehumanized historical agents under unexamined socioeconomic conditions.

– Cornel West. Religion and the Left

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OK…So I’m Back.

November 13, 2012 1 comment

After much himming and hawing, and not a little haste, I have decided to reconvene the Grand Ampersand Project. Although, from here on out, I will be primarily focused on Religious Studies, especially the work of Timothy Fitzgerald, Talal Asad, Charels Taylor, William Cavanaugh and John Milbank.

In the interval since this blog was last active, I have begun several separate blog projects. One dedicated to an ongoing discussion of Continental philosophy and political theory, and one dedicated to logic and analytic philosophy. I will be trying to balance the activity of all three of these blogs going forward.

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Dissolving the Ampersand…

What have been the most central topics of interest for me have also tended to be very disparate and unrelated. The whole idea behind the “grand ampersand” was that I would bring these different spheres of interest together, under one umbrella. But if the name “the grand ampersand” invokes some king of intellectual synthesis or dialogue between, say, formal logic, continental philosophy, vegetarianism, Christian political theology, and marxist-socialist political theories, then perhaps a better name would have been “the grand disjunction” (doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way, does it?).

In light of this, I’ve decided to break up the blog into multiple different blogs, one to discuss political theory, another, for analytic philosophy, and another for theological topics. The primary motivation for this is the sheer chaos of information that potential new readers are likely to meet when coming across this site. Hopefully this move will not only lead to more interest (and therefore more discussion), but also inspire more of a drive to write on my part.

I’ll be posting the links to the new blogs in a subsequent enry, as well as in the margin (to the right).


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Compiling a “Political Theology” Reading List

In order to better acquaint myself with the certain current trends in theology, I am compiling a list of books to serve as a kind of crash course in political theology. As is common when anticipating a coming break from school, I have deluded myself into thinking any of my free time will be spent on reading non-school related books. With any luck, the following list will serve to indulge my fantasy:

1. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology

2. Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation

3. Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God

4. Giorgio Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory

5. Talal Assad, Formations of the Secular

6. John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory

7. William T. Cavanaugh,Torture and Eucharist

8. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age

…. Any thoughts? What books am I missing?

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Continental Philosophy, Difficulty and Obscurantism

One of the more well-known and oft-repeated accusations against ‘continental’ thinkers by those in the analytic tradition is that of “deliberate obscurantism”. As far as I can tell the accusation is basically that the notoriously difficult prose of thinkers like Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze, et al, is intended to create an impenetrable barrier between the reader and the meaning of the text. The accusation implicitly equates this with intellectual dishonesty: First, in that it allows the author to avoid criticism (Foucault and Searle alike find Derrida guilty on this count, referring to his rhetoric as a “terrorism of obscurantism”). Second, in that it mystifies the thinker, creating the illusion that his work is more substantial than it actually is. On this latter point, I admit that Slavoj Zizek has often been an object of fascination for me, despite (and perhaps because) I don’t fully understand him (In an ironic way, Zizek himself becomes a kind of “sublime object”)

That this criticism can be extended to the entirety of “continental” (read: non-analytic) philosophy is unlikely. Nevertheless, something like a “deliberate obscurantism” seems to be a more or less explicit aim in the work of Kierkegaard. In both the preface and the epilogue to Fear and Trembling, he draws a comparison between the world of commerce and the world of ideas, referring to an incident in which some spice-merchants deliberately sunk some of their goods at sea in order to inflate the value of the goods back home. Kierkegaard maintains that, “we need something similar in the world of spirit”. Kierkegaard clearly perceives a decline in the value of faith among his contemporaries, which is related to the ease and simplicity with which the concept is commonly associated. In other words, because everyone assumes faith is easy, it is cheap; and because it is cheap it is of little value. His aim throughoutFear and Trembling is to cause the reader to question her assumptions about the ease of faith. He seeks to make faith more difficult and so to make it more valuable. Not only is this difficulty present in his exegesis of the story of Abraham, but it is also accomplished at different levels of the text in, for example, his use of pseudonyms, multiple beginnings, “attunements”, and prologues, mysterious epigraphs, and odd chapter titles. All of this is intended to create difficulty for the reader, to arouse his audience from complacency.

Perhaps, if there is any “deliberate obscurantism” in the works of other “continental” philosophers it is not so simply a matter of intellectual dishonesty. Perhaps, if the difficulty is calculated as it is in Kierkegaard, then it serves a purpose – like pointing to a kind of truth that would simply be lost on a facile, reductive explanation. (If this is the case, then it’s too bad that Derrida’s counter-accusation of superficiality on the part of Searle was not more aptly directed at, say, Dennet or the Churchlands. At least Searle doesn’t just ignore problems because they’re difficult).

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Right Now

Right now, I am dreaming of deep prayer – my mind is on the warm august air, bending back crispy blades of grass that poke up from stony, dry riversides. My head is empty (you know that kind of empty that comes from so many disparate thoughts that cancel each other out into a wash of white noise? – that’s the kind of empty). Right now, my heart wants hands of it’s own.

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I miss blog

So my good friend David just recently started up a blog to journal his thoughts and reflections on life. Reading through his entries made me realize what an amazing thing ‘the blog’ really is, and how much of a bum I am for not utilizing my own. Seriously.

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