Monthly Archives: February 2013

Contra Deleuze: Latour’s Disputes

While I have read everything of Deleuze, I am not always convinced he is so useful in my empirical enquiries. I am impatient in this otherwise beautiful book, What Is Philosophy?, with the way philosophy’s role is exaggerated beyond any recognition, and also by the fact that on religion he has nothing much to say.  Deleuze is not my all-purpose philosopher.  Also, and that’s a disagreement I have with Isabelle [Stengers], I don’t see him as a good writer, and for me the writing is very important, the crafting of books with very specific literary strategies that embody very specific theories.
Bruno Latour, “Interview with Bruno Latour,” in Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality, eds. Don Ihde and Evan Selinger (Indiana University Press, 2003), p. 24.

I agree with Latour’s assessment of Deleuze’s writings, and more than that, I agree with his problems regarding Deleuze’s lack of attention to religion.  Although much has been written lately appropriating Deleuze into theological and religious discourses, Deleuze himself did an extremely poor job of accounting for religious truth.  Accordingly, it’s easy to say almost anything about Deleuze’s religion.  Is it a this-worldly Hermeticism (Joshua Ramey), a helpful source for Christian liberation theology (Kristien Justaert), or a Gnosticism that is neither this-worldly nor helpful for concrete emancipatory practices (Christopher Simpson)?   

I couldn’t agree more when Latour says, “I consider that philosophies that don’t deal with the truth production of religion are as incapable of dealing with real thought as those who can’t deal with the truth production of science or the truth production of techniques.  This is why the whole current of anti-religious thinking, which is very strong in much French critical thought, I find unhelpful” (ibid.).

That Latour said those words over a decade ago is an indication that he has been concerned with religion long before the “new enquiry into natural religion” that he is presenting in the current Gifford Lectures…even long before his work on Iconoclash or his articulations of “factish gods.”  Indeed, as he says in the interview I’m quoting here, “I started with religion and was a theologian first, exegesis more exactly” (ibid.).  I’m sure a book of Latourian theology is forthcoming.


Speciesism and Philosophical Botany

I’m participating in a couple of events in March.  First, I’m a panelist in a session on “Religion and Culture: How Self-Perceptions and Scientific Literacy Influence Political Views,” which is part of an ongoing seminar, Speciesism and the Future of Humanity: Biology, Culture, Sociopolitics, taking place at the University of California, Berkeley.  The specific time isn’t listed on their site yet, but my session is March 14, 5-7pm in Boalt Hall room 132 South Addition. 

I’ll be responding to a couple presentations on the roles of religion as it relates to conservation, sustainability, and the sociology/politics that surround our solutions to major environmental problems, particularly in light of questions regarding how or if Western religion promotes the belief that humans are different, or potentially better than, other organisms in the planet.

A couple weeks later, I’m presenting a paper on philosophical botany at the American Philosophical Association’s pacific division annual meeting, which will be held in the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco’s Union Square.  I’ll be speaking on Friday the 29th in the evening, but the whole event runs from March 27-31. 

I’ll be speaking about a comparative philosophical botany, touching on indigenous, Hindu, and Buddhist perspectives on plants along with some occidental philosophy (especially Aristotle and Theophrastus).  I’m following Matthew Hall pretty closely, whose work on philosophical botany takes its cue from the ecofeminist philosophy of Val Plumwood and from a multicultural comparative orientation.  I like Michael Marder’s work on plant-thinking, but I probably won’t engage much of it in this talk.  His focus is on hermeneutic phenomenology, deconstruction, and weak thought, which have plenty of internal critiques of the anthropocentrism and zoocentrism of occidental philosophy, but he doesn’t touch on external critiques from non-Western traditions (aside from acknowledging the importance of those critiques).

Growth suspended in ecstasy, the ideal flowering for you. 
The plant will have nourished the mind which contemplates the blooming of its flower. […]
Untouchable because it does not touch itself in its centre.  Only its edges will lightly touch — there where already it is no longer held in that suspended becoming — the interruption of its unfurling.
—Luce Irigaray, Elemental Passions.


Rough Words with Whitehead and Neruda

“In order to acquire learning, we must first shake ourselves free of it. We must grasp the topic in the rough, before we smooth it out and shape it.”
Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Free Press, 1966), p. 6.

That comment from Whitehead could be read as an exegesis of one of Pablo Neruda’s poems, Verbo.  Here’s a rough translation:

Verb

I’m going to crumple up this word,
I’m going to contort it,
yes,
it’s too sleek,
it’s as if a great dog or great river
had passed its tongue or water over it
during many years.

In the word I want
the roughness is seen
the iron salt
The de-fanged strength
of the land,
the blood
of those who spoke and of those who did not.

I want to see thirst
Within its syllables:
I want to touch fire
in its sound:
I want to feel darkness
in its cry. I want
words as rough
as virgin stones.


Sensitive People are Taking Over

It’s true!  In case you haven’t heard, a new world is at hand, a world run by people who feel things that you can’t.

Sensitive people.
We’re taking over.

Listen to the good news HERE.


It’s only teaching, but I like it

The last month has been a busy one.  I’ve graded roughly 400 pages of student papers, and I’ve given about 60 hours of lectures.  I haven’t spent much time writing, and I feel good about that.  Well, I suppose I’ve done some writing, if you count lecture notes, syllabi, and emails to students.  To adapt a phrase from Mick Jagger, it’s only teaching, but I like it.  This is what I do. 

I consider myself a teacher far more than I would consider myself a writer.  Along those lines, I feel an affinity with Heidegger: my work is not to write, but to teach, where teaching is understood not as advising or instructing (belehren) but as a practice of letting learn (lernen lassen).  Foucault is also a companion in that regard.  I often recall his statement that he is a teacher and not a writer or a public intellectual or a philosopher.  This isn’t to say that being a teacher precludes writing.  Heidegger and Foucault wrote quite a lot.  But they were not writers.

I would say that teaching is more difficult than writing.  Indeed, teaching is even more difficult than learning, since the teacher has to learn how to let students learn.  The teacher has to be more teachable than the students.  I feel like that’s almost verbatim from one of my favorite Heidegger books: What is Called Thinking?  Not incidentally, that book is a series of lectures, like so many of Heidegger’s works.

I’m sure there are some possible rebuttals to what I’m saying here.  Nonetheless, I simply can’t shake some of my Heideggerian convictions… after so much walking along the path, still coming into the nearness of distance…  Hier stehe, ich kann nicht anders.


Experimental Theological Education

As usual, Kwok Pui-lan has it right.  She recently posted some comments in light of her keynote address “From Pasts to Possibilities: Religious Leadership in 2040,” presented to the Association of Theological Field Education (ATFE) during their recent conference in Williamsburg, Virginia.  She focuses on the year 2040 because that is the year that, according to projections, the United States will no longer have a racial or ethnic majority.

Her main point: “What if we see theological field education not as apprenticeship, but more like a laboratory—a place to try out and test new things?”

Theological education needs fieldwork, and those field sites cannot be churches only, but must also include non-traditional field sites.  My favorite example that Kwok mentions of a non-traditional field site: national parks.  This all strikes a harmonious chord with me personally.  I include fieldwork assignments in all of my classes, and I am continually working to open up fieldwork possibilities to include greater variety and diversity as well as greater relevance to the unique needs and interests of the students. 

Experimental fieldwork in theological education is necessary if we are to prepare students for the kind of participatory leadership roles called for in an increasingly complex and uncertain world.