According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Foundations for a Radical Theology, Part 7 - Epistemology: Language, Lacan, and Postmodern Theology

"For many, life, as in language, must be marked by certainty. For myself,
I am learning to grow beyond the more fundamental needs of epistemology
that would limit my existential sense of being."

- R.E. Slater

An Epistemology of Inexpressiveness, Uncertainty, and Doubt

Inherent in language is its incompleteness. For all that language would promise in describing something or someone completely (for instance the idea of God) it too often falls short of its goal. For the postmodernist this is known as a "lack" as used by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan of language's structural impossibility to fully describe anything except partially or vaguely.

The fact that we cannot say everything about anything means that we experience "a lack" simply by existing as a "speaking being" who is trying to re-describe our incomplete expressions (or impressions). Hence, we cannot "say it all" and therefore must admit to our "lack" of infinite expression. This is the incompleteness of language as both a gift and a problem that is spoken between verbal (symbolic) beings searching for structure, definitiveness, completeness between one another.

And yet, circumnavigating the missing piece of language's incompleteness is the epistemological phenomena of "desire." Desire is birthed by language's "lack." It is a "generative" reaction to filling in the void of our human experience unable to describe what we sense and wish to place in the stricter categories of (divine or human) structural knowledge. More simply, our feelings or consciousness of lack is what generates our desire. And desire may then become a positive reaction to an unfillable (or inexpressible) void of communication by whatever medium it is expressed. It is in this "white space" of our human experience which marks us as finite beings propelling us forward towards the need for fundamental expression between one another using concrete verbal structures while at the same time unconsciously admitting to a deeper void within our souls crying out for an expression that cannot be expressed. A "mystical" expression as some would say.

Someone once said "The fantasy modernism (or, "linguistic fundamentalism") subscribes to is that there is a picture for us to see, or a totalizing puzzle for us to complete rather than realizing that we are always engaged in a uniquely creative or, re-generative process, of completing the puzzle to our existential "lack." And hence, we react to this deep need by furnishing our own incomplete experience to an inexpressible existential void we wish to describe.

As a consequence, postmodern theology restructures the theory of knowledge from its fatal (or finalizing) sense of certainty to the re-generative spaces of uncertainty, doubt, and mystery built upon existential experience and desire. Conversely, knowledge absent desire becomes fatal (or finalizing) for any society, creed, or religion no longer willing to explore the mysteries of its existence, being, or beliefs beyond its fundamental appraisals of it. And thus, when coming then to definitive religious or theological statements written in the pen of artificial completeness (sic, era-specific creeds and confessions, doctrinal liturgies, ecclesiastical dogmas) it discourages removal of those staid (non-being) equations of expression by refusing to make room for the divine/human narrative of incompleteness beheld by later generations. As such, postmodern post-structuralism seeks to re-circumscribe our structurally-imposed experiences of life. Experiences which would confidently assert language's delimiters thus leading to its many deaths in the lands of linguistic secularity (or sterility) forming the status quo bonds of modernism.

For postmodern theology this then becomes a kind of existential agnosticism or atheism over against the religious certitudes and fundamental verities we have grown up with limiting the vision of our lives and theologies bound behind the socially acceptable structures of mundane society. For others, the beginning of this existential/hermeneutical (interpretive) void is the beginning of a life teeming with phenomenological expression using uncertainty and doubt (or a kind of religious/interpretive agnosticism or atheism) as the driving motivators beyond the fundamental certainties we carry within our breasts. This kind of postmodern theology is more formally known as a "pyro-theology" which gives assent or permission to burning down the past in order to rebuild another kind of post-structural foundation. Consequently, a generative postmodern theology demands another kind of "hermeneutic" or "interpretive structural vision," into the realms of language and experiences of life. It demands of language to be less taxing, less specific, and more open to the possibilities of discovery - or movement - from the Spirit of God, and the spirit of human nature, cast beyond the boundaries of "what is known" to those realms of "unknowingness." Spiritual qualities which are deeply felt, sung, or dreamed within the human breast bursting with life and deliriously committed to seeking, searching, and communicating this spiritual life with other similarly thriving human beings.

R.E. Slater
September 26, 2015
edited September 28, 2015

Definitions - from Wikipedia

Post-Structuralism is a label formulated by American academics to denote the heterogeneous works of a series of mid-20th-century French and continental philosophers and critical theorists who came to international prominence in the 1960s and '70s.[1][2][3] A major theme of post-structuralism is instability in the human sciences, due to the complexity of humans themselves and the impossibility of fully escaping structures in order that we might study them.

Post-structuralism is a response to structuralism. Structuralism is an intellectual movement developed in Europe from the early to mid-20th century. It argued that human culture may be understood by means of a structure—modeled on language (i.e., structural linguistics)—that differs from concrete reality and from abstract ideas—a "third order" that mediates between the two.[4] Post-structuralist authors all present different critiques of structuralism, but common themes include the rejection of the self-sufficiency of the structures that structuralism posits and an interrogation of the binary oppositions that constitute those structures.[5] Writers whose work is often characterised as post-structuralist include Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler, Jacques Lacan, Jean Baudrillard, and Julia Kristeva, although many theorists who have been called "post-structuralist" have rejected the label.[6]

The movement is closely related to postmodernism. As with structuralism, antihumanism is often a central tenet. Existential phenomenology is a significant influence; Colin Davis has argued that post-structuralists might just as accurately be called "post-phenomenologists".[7] Some commentators have criticized post-structuralism for being radically relativistic ornihilistic. Others have objected to its extremity and linguistic complexity: philosopher John Searle writes "deconstructive prose tends to be systematically evasive."[8] Others see it as a threat to traditional values or professional scholarly standards.

Postmodernism is a late-20th-century movement in the arts, architecture, and criticism that was a departure from modernism.[1][2] Postmodernism includes skeptical interpretations ofculture, literature, art, philosophy, history, economics, architecture, fiction, and literary criticism. It is often associated with deconstruction and post-structuralism because its usage as a term gained significant popularity at the same time as twentieth-century post-structural thought.

The term postmodernism has been applied to a host of movements, mainly in art, music, and literature, that reacted against tendencies in modernism, and are typically marked by revival of historical elements and techniques.[3]

Phenomenology from Greek phainómenon "that which appears" and lógos "study") is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. As a philosophical movement it was founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl and was later expanded upon by a circle of his followers at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany. It then spread to France, the United States, and elsewhere, often in contexts far removed from Husserl's early work.[1] Phenomenology should not be considered as a unitary movement; rather, different authors share a common family resemblance but also with many significant differences. Accordingly, “A unique and final definition of phenomenology is dangerous and perhaps even paradoxical as it lacks a thematic focus. In fact, it is not a doctrine, nor a philosophical school, but rather a style of thought, a method, an open and ever-renewed experience having different results, and this may disorient anyone wishing to define the meaning of phenomenology”.[2]

Phenomenology, in Husserl's conception, is primarily concerned with the systematic reflection on and study of the structures of consciousness and the phenomena that appear in acts of consciousness. This ontology (study of reality) can be clearly differentiated from the Cartesian method of analysis which sees the world as objects, sets of objects, and objects acting and reacting upon one another.

Husserl's conception of phenomenology has been criticized and developed not only by himself but also by students, such as Edith Stein, by hermeneutic philosophers, such as Martin Heidegger, by existentialists, such as Nicolai Hartmann, Gabriel Marcel, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, and by other philosophers, such as Max Scheler, Paul Ricoeur, Jean-Luc Marion, Emmanuel Lévinas, and sociologists Alfred Schütz and Eric Voegelin.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jacques Lacan

Jacques Marie Émile Lacan (/ləˈkɑːn/;[1] French: [ʒak lakɑ̃]; 13 April 1901 – 9 September 1981), known simply as Jacques Lacan, was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud".[2] Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced many leading French intellectuals in the 1960s and the 1970s, especially those associated with poststructuralism. His ideas had a significant impact on critical theory, literary theory, linguistics, 20th-century French philosophy, sociology, feminist theory, film theory and clinical psychoanalysis.[3]

Desire [Excerpt]

Lacan's concept of desire is related to Hegel's Begierde, a term that implies a continuous force, and therefore somehow differs from Freud's concept of Wunsch.[55] Lacan's desire refers always to unconscious desire because it is unconscious desire that forms the central concern of psychoanalysis.

The aim of psychoanalysis is to lead the analysand to recognize his/her desire and by doing so to uncover the truth about his/her desire. However this is possible only if desire is articulated in speech:[56] "It is only once it is formulated, named in the presence of the other, that desire appears in the full sense of the term."[57] And again in The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: "...what is important is to teach the subject to name, to articulate, to bring desire into existence. The subject should come to recognize and to name his/his desire. But it isn't a question of recognizing something that could be entirely given. In naming it, the subject creates, brings forth, a new presence in the world."[58] The truth about desire is somehow present in discourse, although discourse is never able to articulate the entire truth about desire, whenever discourse attempts to articulate desire, there is always a leftover or surplus.[59]

Lacan distinguishes desire from need and from demand. Need is a biological instinct where the subject depends on the Other to satisfy its own needs: in order to get the Other's help "need" must be articulated in "demand." But the presence of the Other not only ensures the satisfaction of the "need", it also represents the Other's love. Consequently, "demand" acquires a double function: on the one hand, it articulates "need", and on the other, acts as a "demand for love." Even after the "need" articulated in demand is satisfied, the "demand for love" remains unsatisfied since the Other cannot provide the unconditional love that the subject seeks.

"Desire is neither the appetite for satisfaction, nor the demand for love, but the
difference that results from the subtraction of the first from the second."[60]

Desire is the a surplus, a leftover, produced by the articulation of need in demand:

"desire begins to take shape in the margin in which
demand becomes separated from need."[60]

Unlike need, which can be satisfied, desire can never be satisfied: it is constant in its pressure and eternal. The attainment of desire does not consist in being fulfilled but in its reproduction as such. As Slavoj Žižek puts it,

"desire's raison d'être is not to realize its goal, to find full satisfaction,
but to reproduce itself as desire."[61]

Lacan also distinguishes between desire and the drives: desire is one and drives are many. The drives are the partial manifestations of a single force called desire.[62] Lacan's concept of "objet petit a" is the object of desire, although this object is not that towards which desire tends, but rather the cause of desire. Desire is not a relation to an object but a relation to a lack (manque).

In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis Lacan argues that "man's desire is the desire of the Other." This entails the following:
  1. Desire is the desire of the Other's desire, meaning that desire is the object of another's desire and that desire is also desire for recognition. Here Lacan follows Alexandre Kojève who follows Hegel: for Kojève the subject must risk his own life if he wants to achieve the desired prestige."[63] This desire to be the object of another's desire is best exemplified in the Oedipus complex, when the subject desires to be the phallus of the mother.
  2. In "The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious".[64] Lacan contends that the subject desires from the point of view of another whereby the object of someone's desire is an object desired by another one: what makes the object desirable is that it is precisely desired by someone else. Again Lacan follows Kojève who follows Hegel. This aspect of desire is present in hysteria for the hysteric is someone who converts another's desire into his/her own (see Sigmund Freud's "Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria" in SE VII, where Dora desires Frau K because she identifies with Herr K). What matters then in the analysis of a hysteric is not to find out the object of her desire but to discover the subject with whom she identifies.
  3. Désir de l'Autre, which is translated as "desire for the Other" (though could be also "desire of the Other"). The fundamental desire is the incestuous desire for the mother, the primordial Other.[65]
  4. Desire is "the desire for something else" since it is impossible to desire what one already has, The object of desire is continually deferred, which is why desire is a metonymy.[66]
  5. Desire appears in the field of the Other, that is in the unconscious.
Last but not least for Lacan the first person who occupies the place of the Other is the mother and at first the child is at her mercy. Only when the father articulates desire with the law by castrating the mother, the subject is liberated from the mother's desire.[67]