Latour, Rejoicing: A Critical Review

The recent work by Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME, for short), deals with the various felicity conditions of different modes of existence, including religious modes of existence.  Along these lines, AIME extends his previous works on religion, including his writings on factishes, iconoclash, and the freeze-frames that convolute science-religion dialogue.  It is appropriate, then, that the release of the English edition of AIME was accompanied by the release of the English edition of his 2002 work on the felicity conditions of religious speech, Rejoicing: Or the Torments of Religious Speech (Polity, 2013).  With these works as well as his recent Gifford Lectures, Latour is making important contributions to theology and religious studies, opening up nice points of contact with science studies, ecology, speculative realism, and object-oriented ontology.

There are a lot of good points coming from Latour’s Rejoicing, which he articulates elsewhere as well.  Religions and sciences are not amenable to worn-out oppositions such as transcendence and immanence, subjective and objective, spirit and matter, fetishes and facts, iconography and iconoclasm, traditional and modern.  Instead of separating religions and sciences into two different realms of being or knowing, Latour recognizes that there is only one world, “no other world, just this one here” (174), and there is no truth we can discern about this world without constructing that truth.  Neither religion nor science has a monopoly on truth about existence, and neither one lays claim to knowledge of another world (since there is no other world).  Religions and sciences involve two different kinds of speech acts which thus have two different sets of felicity conditions, and when those felicity conditions are met, different things happen.  Scientific speech acts bring us knowledge of distant things (atoms, the Big Bang, the climate, etc.), whereas religious speech acts bring us closer to one another (family, friends, loved ones).  Sciences enact references and information about the distant and far away, whereas religions enact translations and transformations of what is close by, the everyday.  Nonetheless, I have a few problems with Rejoicing (which are, more or less, also problems with his other writings on religion).

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Interfaith Dialogue, 1240

Putting a book on trial?  That’s exactly what happened in the 13th-century trial in which King Louis IX of France decided to hold a trial prosecuting the Talmud, a central book for rabbinic Judaism.  Many documents from that trial have been translated and are available in a new book, The Trial of the Talmud: Paris, 1240.

The book lost that trial.  However, the trial still holds relevant lessons for cultural contact and interfaith dialogue today.  One of the main lessons is that interfaith dialogue puts too much emphasis on…dialogue.  Peaceful religious coexistence is not always the result of dialogue or conversation.  Instead of aiming at mutual understanding, where both parties have a proper knowledge of one another, it could be helpful to let different parties differ.  Instead of hermeneutics , deconstruction (I’m siding with Derrida in the Gadamer-Derrida exchange).

Instead of religious coexistence facilitated with dialogue, I’m more interested in religious coexistence facilitated sans dialogue, indeed, sans voir, sans avoir, sans savoir.   This resonates with some of Michael Schulson’s comments on the new translation of the documents from the 1240 trial.

[I]ntellectual examination can actually interfere with the daily realities of religious coexistence. Above all, religious groups need to be respected, and to see that someone is making an active effort to coexist with them. Listening is important, for sure. But some of the details of religious traditions don’t make for easy hearing. To repurpose an old saying about marriage: in interfaith relationships, it’s wise to be a little deaf.

Coexistence, not through dialogue and vision, but through a touch of deafness and blindness.

Adoration, Anniversary

My first post on this blog went up one year ago today.  It had something to do with thinking after postmodernism and postsecularism.  Today, that’s still what my practice of thinking is after.  Today, I’m in the middle of Jean-Luc Nancy’s second installment in his deconstruction of Christianity, Adoration.  It follows an opening of Christianity, exposing its various theisms to the open sense of the world, and sheltering its exposure without replacing it with another “-ism” (including atheism, humanism, rationalism, irrationalism, etc.).  It warms my heart, opens my body…   

Adoration is addressed to what exceeds address.  Or rather: it is addressed without seeking to reach, without any intention at all.  It can accept to not even be addressed: to be unable to aim, or designate, or recognize the outside to which it is dispatched.  It can even be unable to identify it as an outside, since it takes place here, nowhere else, but here in the open.  Nothing but an open mouth, or perhaps an eye, an ear: nothing but an open body.  Bodies are adoration in all their openings. (20) 

There is not even “atheism”; “atheist” is not enough!  It is the positing of the principle that must be emptied.  It is not enough to say that God takes leave, withdraws, or is incommensurable.  It is even less a question of placing another principle on his throne–Mankind, Reason, Society.  It is instead a question of coming to grips with this: the world rests on nothing–and this is its keenest sense. […] Let there be no more place for God–and in this way, let an opening, which we can disucss elsewhere whether to call “divine,” open. (32-33)