Preservation as Iconoclasm

This post is a brief departure from our usual more philosophical posts.  Rather than masterfully tackling Spinoza or Deleuze as previous contributors have done, this is post attempts to engage with my current digital humanities project.  Working with Art historians and art theorists, I’ve been working toward digitizing Greenville College’s Richard W. Bock Sculpture museum.  However, in this pursuit a few interesting theoretical questions have emerged.  What’s the state of the aura of a piece when it is captured digitally.   Moving from this practical experience I began thinking about the importance of religious art and iconography and the digital reproduction of these pieces.


So much of western culture is based on the notion of preservation.  Exceedingly, the museum, the library and all of the auxiliary media apparatuses function toward the end of preservation.  Preservation, overall, is a slippery topic.  What does it mean to preserve, maintain, keep or protect an artifact?  There’s something paradoxical or aporetic about in the relationship between preservation and destruction.  I think we can see this aporia most clearly when we turn to the trajectory of the Christian art of the east: the icon.  The preservation and reproduction of the religious icon has been a practice throughout the history of the church as well as in the humanities.  Though, changes in technique and new possibilities introduced through different technologies make it necessary to consider the reproduction, and in turn preservation, of the icon.  The critical theorist, Walter Benjamin, offers up a helpful thesis concerning the mechanical reproduction of art.  This thesis holds some helpful insight concerning iconography and will help work out my thesis on aporia inherent in preservation.

In eastern Christianity, the icon functions as an organ of worship as a signifier of the divine.  Very simply, the icon is a visual analogy of the divine: an attempt at reflecting the divine through artifice.  The icon has a specific function and context in liturgy.  The veneration of the icon in eastern Christianity is apart of the array of bodily discipline inlayed into what it means to worship.  The icon is, perhaps, a component of interface with the divine.  The notion of the icon has its roots in Christian notion of embodiment and is a testament to the bodily life of Christ.

The traditional reproduction of the icon is very much inline with Benjamin’s observation in the opening lines of his The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.  Benjamin says, “art has always been reproducible. Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men. Replicas were made by pupils in practice of their craft, by masters for diffusing their works, and, finally, by third parties in the pursuit of gain.”  Essentially, icons have been reproduced with a fidelity toward the original.  This results in only incremental changes and differences between reproductions.

Though, following Benjamin’s analysis on reproduction, the 19th and 20th century’s method of reproduction orients toward the mechanical.  When a piece can be reproduced mechanically something is necessarily left out.  Benjamin notes the differences photography brings to reproduction.  The lens of the camera may capture qualities of a piece that are beyond the capacity of the human eye, therefore the reproduction, while faithful to the original, is substantially different.  Even more, the camera introduces the possibility of the transmission of an image.  The photograph introduces a new vector in the reproduction of a piece, however within this new vector we see the exclusion of what Benjamin calls the aura.

On the aura, Benjamin says, “One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.”  The technical reproduction of a piece removes a piece from its context and history.  The piece loses something when reproduced mechanically.  Mechanical reproduction is a method of mass culture, it brings a piece to the masses while excluding the so-called aura.

Benjamin’s orientation in his essay creates a helpful mode of criticism when approaching mechanical reproduction.  While taking what Benjamin offers, mechanical reproduction has largely been subsumed within the digital.  Digital reproduction offers more possibility and ease in the reproduction of images.  Digital reproduction is inherent in the production of digital images.  The digital image is always already reproducible.  However, when it comes to the meeting of the physical and the digital, things become more complicated.

The digital reproduction of the physical piece has largely become the project of a discourse called “digital humanities.”  When the physical piece is reproduced digitally it is often done so for its preservation.  Digital preservation is inseparable from digital reproduction.  Even more, digital reproduction perfects the ability to extract a piece from its tradition or context.  The digital acts like a sieve, the mathematical properties of a piece can pass through to the digital, but the aura is necessarily left behind.

Then, turning back to the icon, we see the problematic nature of the digital reproduction of such an embodied aesthetic work.  To preserve a piece digitally, as is so common, has an aporetic relationship to the destruction of that same piece.  When we, as digital humanists, strike out to preserve a piece digitally for future generations we inevitably destroy or kill the piece: we transmute the piece into a ghost of its former self.  To reproduce the icon digitally is to put the piece in stasis, to remove it from tradition and context.  Reproduction, in this sense, pins down a living piece.  The digital mediation of religious imagery disconnects it from the bodily discipline and liturgy it is apart of.  The reproduction of the icon destroys the aura or the signifying power the icon has in liturgy.  How do we move forward with preserving historical liturgical artifacts while not destroying them?

The preservation/destruction of a piece removes the aura from the work and disembodies it.  As the digital creates a disembodiment of its users through tele-presence, it also creates a disembodiment of artifacts, the humanity is strained out and representation becomes empty.  In this aporia we see that to preserve something is also to destroy it, though this observation should not produce any reactionary ethics or romanticism in the dignity of simply letting a piece die.  Despite these problems with preservation, the prospect of preservation calls for a fidelity to the future of humanity.  Though, we are betrayed by our attempts at preservation, we still preserve.

Digital means of reproduction introduce new avenues for consideration in the preservation of aesthetic and historical artifacts.  The digital humanities is perhaps too utopian about the digital piece of the equation.  Preservation of an artifact is never guaranteed and often eludes the act of preservation all together.  However, some of us feel the need to remain true to the future of the humanities and future generations.  History and art are seemingly important and to reproduce these artifacts is a necessary, but problematic task we must face.

Regarding Religious Language: Spinoza’s Political Theology

I’d like to reflect on something that I picked up on in reading Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus a few weeks ago. Right from the beginning I was fascinated by the way in which Spinoza talks about God, consistently anthropomorphizing God in the standard way theology has done in order to speak of a personal God: i.e. “God said,” “God did,” “God demands,” etc.

The problem, of course, is that Spinoza doesn’t think that “God” is a personal God in any way. For Spinoza, as detailed in his Ethics, God is the totality of the universe. God is an infinite, necessary, self-subsisting, uncaused substance with two attributes, extension and thought. That isn’t to say that our physical world is God. Rather, by positing God as Nature, Spinoza means that God is the only substance that there is, and we (and every other physical thing) are modes of that substance. In other words, there are two sides to Nature: Natura naturans (naturing Nature) and Natura naturata (natured Nature.) God is the former, the sustaining activity that causes everything else. The physical world is the latter, sustained and produced by the former. Consequently, we also take part in the mind of God. Therefore, for Spinoza, knowledge of the natural world (what he calls natural knowledge in the TTP) is also, in his special sense, knowledge of God. The more one can stop seeing the world as individual, disconnected substances and events and begin being able to see that world is actually a unity, the more knowledge one is gaining of God.

This way of conceiving of God, though the argument is not worked out until the Ethics, frames Spinoza’s entire discussion of Judaism and Christianity in the TTP which, for me, gives rise to a really interesting phenomenon that I want to explore here briefly regarding Spinoza’s method in the TTP. It would be a mistake not to acknowledge at the outset that one of the likely reasons Spinoza uses the language that he does is his fear of the Dutch government. There’s no getting around the fact that Spinoza’s conception of God would have been (and was posthumously) seriously problematic for church authorities. So in one sense we could say that Spinoza is simply disguising his metaphysic in language that would be palatable to those authorities whom he rightly feared.

But on the other hand, I think I have to agree with Spinoza scholars who argue that Spinoza seems to be obsessed with the idea of God. It would be a mistake, then, to read Spinoza as merely prefiguring scientific material accounts of religion a la the New Atheists, in effect explaining away religion or pulling back the curtain, so to speak, in order to reveal what’s really happening–that behind religious language, ideas, and practice, there is a natural explanation. If that’s all Spinoza were doing, then why insist on retaining all of the religio-theological language? I don’t think fear of persecution is strong enough.

For example, in the first two chapters, Spinoza addresses the ideas of prophecy and prophets, concluding that there should be no sharp distinction between natural knowledge and prophetic knowledge, since all true knowledge simply is knowledge of God. What the prophet brings is a particular imaginative power to knowledge, giving it its peculiar quality. The prophet, then, is someone who has this capacity, who is receptive to the way God “chooses to speak” to him. In other words, Spinoza is content to say that when someone like Joshua sees the sun stop in the sky, we shouldn’t criticize the account on the basis of our knowledge that the Earth goes around the sun and not the other way around. Everyone in Joshua’s day, including Joshua, thought the opposite; hence, the sun stopping in the sky would make sense to them. Spinoza suggests that “God speaks” even through what seems like insanity to us today (e.g. the visions of Daniel.)

Note that this prophetic knowledge for Spinoza, even when based upon something that we today understand as scientifically erroneous, is still real knowledge. All real knowledge is knowledge of nature, and Spinoza’s claim is that prophetic knowledge really is natural knowledge. For this reason, it’s a mistake, I think, to read his account as strictly removing the special status from prophetic knowledge, viz. reducing the prophetic to the natural. Because of how Spinoza has defined God, all knowledge in his special sense is “revelatory.” That may be too far for some readers, but I think it’s fair to say that his understanding of the relationship between God and nature allows for that step. I think a better way to read Spinoza here is that instead of demoting or demystifying the prophetic, he’s heightened the status of natural knowledge. This puts Spinoza’s account in this odd place of reading as reductive but not actually being reductive. He is giving a natural account of the supernatural but writing as if supernatural language still retains some meaning and relevance.

The as if I think is what is most important in this text. Spinoza, the arch-atheist of the 18th and 19th centuries, is actually advocating for what he thinks is a politically viable religion such that religion is a necessary component of society. In other words, for all the talk about Spinoza’s God being non-personal, pantheistic, etc., he sure does speak very seriously as if God is not those things. E.g., Spinoza on what his new, politically viable faith requires in chapter 14:

Hence it follows that a catholic or universal faith must not contain any dogmas that good men may regard as controversial; for such dogmas may be to one man pious, to another impious, since their value lies only in the works they inspire. A catholic faith should therefore contain only those dogmas which obedience to God absolutely demands, and without which such obedience is absolutely impossible.

Just a few paragraphs later, he details seven tenets of this faith that include God’s existence, omnipresence (both uncontroversial Spinozist was of viewing God), God’s “supreme right and dominion over all,” worship and obedience to God consisting “solely in justice and charity, or love towards one’s neighbour,” etc.

Here, it seems to me that Spinoza is not making a case for how to regard religion (i.e. as a mistaken understanding of nature); rather, he’s making a case for how to regard the political religiously. To take it a step further (but maybe too far), this is a case for how one could and should regard reality religiously–or at least the experience of reality (though the latter is not Spinozist.)

To dial it back for a moment, I think it would be reaching too far to say that Spinoza intended the TTP to be anything more than a rendering of religion as a political theology that could be accepted “universally” and uncontroversially with the shadow of the religious wars of the 17th century looming in the background. But I’m interested in this idea of regarding as a methodology, as it has echoes both in Kant’s account of religion and in the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th century among neo-Kantians like Heinrich Rickert, Georg Simmel, and Max Weber.

(I’m planning a post on Rickert for the not-too-distant future.)

Wittgenstein, Realist?

This semester, my term paper for my Wittgenstein class was an attempt to read Wittgenstein in light of a Deleuzian account of immanence. I was interested in this in part because what became clear to me after a semester or so of reading Wittgenstein: contrary to what’s become the dominant continental reading after Meillassoux, and contrary to a lot of his antirealist interpretation in analytic circles, I don’t think that Wittgenstein’s thinking is rooted in a correlationism. Here’s some scattered thoughts on why I think such a project could be worthwhile—I’ve been thinking that it’s something I may come back to down the line to expand at greater length.

The conventional reading is summed up pretty well, I think, in terms of Meillassoux’s account of ‘strong correlationism’ in After Finitude. Basically, the correlationist reading of Wittgenstein would interpret Wittgenstein’s reservations about talking about a world outside of language, and of the impossibility of giving final grounds for language’s access to things-in-themselves, as referring to a situation in which you have a thinking subject on one side, who apprehends a world on the other, and whose access to that world is mediated by what renders her thinking intelligible: language. Subject and object are correlated in language, and thinkable only on the basis of language, and so language becomes the transcendental correlate without which neither subject nor object are considerable in-themselves. The subject’s only ‘access’ to the world, then, is via language-games that render the world intelligible, and so one is always forced into a position of skepticism about any knowledge that would claim to be real regardless of the formation of a given language-game. Meillassoux, of course, thinks that this formation leads to problems—ancestrality becomes unthinkable in any ordinary sense, and fideism becomes inevitable with regard to claims about the fact that ‘there is a world.’[1]

Wittgenstein himself, while reluctant to label his own position (in part because he was famously leery about ‘theory’ in philosophy) did at least provisionally use the term ‘realism’ to describe the basic orientation of his thought.[2] This should strike one as strange, if the correlationist reading is the correct one. What sort of realism is possible if, as Wittgenstein thinks, to ask about what is ‘outside’ language is always a confused project?

People say again and again that philosophy doesn’t really progress, that we are still occupied with the same philosophical problems as were the Greeks. But the people who say this don’t understand why this has to be so. It is because our language has remained the same and keeps seducing us into asking questions. As long as there continues to be a verb ‘to be’ that looks as if it functions in the same way as ‘to eat’ and ‘to drink’, as long as we still have the adjectives ‘identical’, ‘false’, ‘possible’, as long as we continue to talk of a river of time, of an expanse of space, etc. etc., people will still keep stumbling over the same puzzling difficulties and find themselves staring at something which no explanation seems capable of clearing up. 

And what’s more, this satisfies a longing for the transcendent, because in so far as people think they can see the “limits of human understanding,” they believe of course that they can see beyond these. [3]

To use a well-worn metaphor Lacanians like to throw around to talk about the Symbolic order, we might say that there is something going on with the structure of language, something akin to the way a slightly mis-sized rug produces wrinkles that make it look like something sits underneath the rug, causing the wrinkles.

Faced with this feature of our language, we are tempted toward two options. One temptation is to insist on the priority of what ‘lies’ underneath the rug: we attempt to discern the shape of the invisible givenness that ‘bends’ the rug, and in so doing we generate fantasms of transcendence which are retrojected as causes or conditions for the rug. We might detect something like this temptation in the fixation on givenness found in certain strains of post-Husserlian phenomenology, or even a in neoplatonic metaphysics of participation which underlies so much theological-philosophical thinking.

The other temptation that faces us is to flatten the rug—recognizing that nothing lies beneath it, we try to ’subtract’ this remainder. We might recall here the ideal-language philosophies of the early 20th century, or attempts to reduce the world to a ‘flat,’ de-mystified ontology, a scientism, or even the various speculative realisms. Here the emphasis is on ‘subtracting’ the subject to gain the world, to think the world apart from the subject and the ‘transcendences’ her language retrojects.

It’s here that—even though Wittgenstein doesn’t give anything like a theorization of immanence—there’s an opportunity to give Wittgenstein the sort of monstrous offspring that Deleuze liked to give to various philosophers.[4] Both of the above strategies, I think, enact transcendence. Both—in an attempt to think the world as it is before or without the subject—double the world in thought. Both think the world and something apart from the world: the world and the subject, the world and its transcendent condition—and this and, this possibility of doubling and the mediation entailed therein precisely is transcendence. Transcendence and immanence are, after all, relations before all else—relations enacted in thinking.[5] To think a radical immanence, then, is to refuse both of these temptations, and Wittgenstein thinks at least part of the way in that direction, proceeding in terms of an investigation into the ‘logic of sense’ that starts only from determinate sayings and follows their logic wherever it leads. Thinking from immanence, however allows us to suspend the remaining quasi-transcendence operating in Wittgenstein’s thought: namely, the relative transcendence of sense in relation to nonsense. It’s no secret that, for Wittgenstein, there is a certain priority to sense in the context of philosophical investigation; the task of a philosopher is to examine how meaning and sense are made, how words are used. What is excluded in this formulation is the way in which the question of sense may not in fact be the same as the question of use. The specter of madness consistently haunts Wittgenstein’s investigations; in examining how it is that words come to mean for their users, words and statements which do not mean—mad statements, nonsensical statements—are viewed only from the perspective of sense. Madness is broken sense, incorrect or incomplete sense. In light of an explicit theorization of immanence, however, we are able to think nonsense in its constitutive relationship with sense—not as a privation of a prior sense, but as mutually given alongside sense, as itself doing things in a variety of ways.


1 The problem of ancestrality, for the uninitiated, goes like this: there seems to be a problem that emerges when ‘correlationist’  philosophies attempt to think a discourse that would claim to be able to speak about objects and events which are not only prior to the correlation in question, but in which the correlation itself arises as one event among others. It’s not that the correlationist philosopher has nothing to say about the discourse of the scientist, but that the she must posit a layer of meaning more primordial than the scientific one, so that what the scientist is really saying requires a kind of translation. The scientist’s language is subtly translated by the philosopher’s meta-reflection on the correlate: what the scientist’s reflections amount to more precisely is not simply ‘x occurred,’ or ‘there is y,’ but x occurred/there is y for humans, for the kind of observer who can make sense of x and y. Meillassoux thinks this forces you into a fideism, not with regard to manifest facts, but with regard to speculative claims about any absolute which gives the world as such.

2 “Not empiricism, and yet realism in philosophy, that is the hardest thing.“ Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, 325.

3 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 15.

4 Wittgenstein’s anti-theoretical stance would, of course, preclude him from offering this kind of account.

5 Daniel Colucciello Barber’s reading of Deleuze has been invaluable in clarifying this point for me. See in particular Daniel Colucciello Barber, Deleuze and the Naming of God: Post-Secularism and the Future of Immanence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014).

Basic Transitions Toward Immanence: Small Thoughts on Theodicy

ImageThis past semester I have been participating in a Theology and Science seminar at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. The seminar comes at a time of transition for me. I am working, preparing for my new  doctoral programme in Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University, attempting to finish an initial reading list for my first semester of research for my PhD at Nottingham and finishing a paper I am giving at the University of Bielsko-Biala, in Poland at the end of June. With so much going on I have worried that my capacity for attentiveness might be somewhat diminished with regard to the seminar. I have found, rather, that the seminar has coincided well with the material I have been engaging elsewhere, albeit a very critical coincident. 

Some point of obvious contention have included certain statement made by those on the theological end. “Quantum theory says ‘this’ so then we may speak of divine action like ‘that'” etc. There is an entire apologetic posture built into those types of questions that I don’t think I really need to expound but really only need to state in order for its fallacious nature to be obvious. However, I was assigned a brief presentation with another student on John Hick’s book Evil and the God of Love. The point of the assignment, with regard to its relation to the particular variant of the science-theology dialogue that the class engages, is to approach the topic of theodicy in light of what science purportedly has to say or do.

Specifically, I was tasked with responding to Hick’s argument for an “Irenaean approach” to theodicy. Hick argues that contrary to an Augustinian narrative of sin, where there is a historically and ontologically verifiable original state of humanity from which the species falls in sin, that Irenaeus provides a way of thinking humanity, evil and God that both takes evil serious as real, unlike Augustine’s privation, while preserving the transcendent categories for God and Being. What follows is my response that I will present tomorrow, which I have above characterised at a transition toward Immanence. In part this is due to how I take Hick to misrepresent Spinoza, and  the entire idea of monism. However, also see this response as an outworking of a larger transition toward figuring out how the work in my MA on critical pedagogy and personhood relate to a deeper recognition of what it means to think in an immanent frame. 

Here I wish set Hick’s descriptive account of the Irenaean approach into dialogue with an earlier section of the book in which Hick attempts to describe two other approaches, which he deems incompatible with Christian faith. The polar schematic Hick draws pits a monist ontology on the one end of the spectrum, what I will refer to here as an ontology of “immanence,”[1] and dualist ontology on the other end. Our focus for this reflection is upon the monist paradigm.

The purpose for such a move on my part is to provide the context from which to inquire into Hick’s understanding of the goal of theodicy, and by extension, the legitimacy of such an endeavor in itself. In short, I wish to question whether Hick’s nuanced attempt to bring about an eschatological resolution to the problems that plague other projects in theodicy actually accomplishes its goal. This line of questioning serves the larger purpose of getting us to the more basic question at work in Hick’s text, namely, whether or not the sought after goal of his theodicy is legitimate. Toward this end, I wish to argue that what Hick says he wants in the text, set against what his work discloses with regard to his desires, is contradictory.

Hick wants a rejection of an original state of perfection. Yet, he also needs to retain some sense of an incompleteness of the present in order for his interest in constructing a theodicy to remain intelligible. There is a certain type of rhetorical game that Hick plays at this point in recourse to Irenaeus, (i.e. the notion of ‘maturing’ vs. the Augustinian idea of moving from innate damnation to salvation in Christ). Yet, we must press Hick to differentiate further how this rhetorical move functions any differently than the move Augustine makes. I contend, with regard to function, that the logic is the same as the Augustinian. Any form of a redemptive eschatological goal that regards the present as somehow wanting in content, necessitating something other than the immanently real, ultimately devalues the present. Ironically, Hick will proceed to charge Spinoza, one of the great thinkers of immanence, with failing to take the immanent reality of evil seriously, while still making use of the aforementioned model.

I want to assert along these lines that Hick’s desire for an eradication of the perfect original state of humanity conflicts with how he wants to recognise the reality of evil in theological categories. Indeed, I want to so far to ask whether or not, in light of his use of modern theology, he maintains his proposal for dogmatic and not speculatively honest, reasons? Hick’s desires obfuscate the primary value that he highlights in his recovery of an Irenaean theodicy through Schleiermacher, namely, the primacy of an immanently human framework from which to make intelligible statements about evil and suffering.
            Hick couches his basic description of theodicy’s purpose in the form of a critical response to Spinoza’s concept of evil and suffering. Hick describes Spinoza’s monism, writing, “Everything in nature is, not indeed as it ought to be – for ‘ought’ presupposes a cosmic purpose or norm – but as it must be as a necessary part of the universal being tht is God in his aspect of natura naturata (20). Accordingly, evil is not “real” in any ontologically positive sense. To this point, Hick compares Spinoza’s understanding of evil with the Augustinian privation theory, writing of that Spinoza actually participates in the Augustinian paradigm.[2] “Sin, for example, is a state if self-imposed privation of virtue; the sinful act is good in so far as it contains a certain degree of reality, but evil in so far as it lacks a greater degree (20).” Following his description of Spinoza, Hick then gives us a response, in which the stakes of theodicy are laid bear. Hick writes, “the weakness of this way of thinking is not far to seek. In showing that the evils that we human beings experience are the illusory products of confused and inadequate ideas Spinoza has not made those evils any less dreadful and oppressive (23).”

On this basis, Hick thinks he is rejecting the monist ontology, and by extension of his critique of any privation theory of evil, he is able to already cast doubt upon the Augustinian legacy. However, this charge against Spinoza is curious since, in the first instance, the reading is questionable, and in the second instance, any attempt to frame evil outside of the parameters of a sheerly given experience already forces one to condition the experience beyond what is phenomenologically given, creating distance from whatever evil is as experienced. Is it not rather the case that in attempting to look at evil and suffering within the parameters of an immanent frame that one avoids such conditioning?[3] Hick, having dismissed the monist proposal outright, then, misunderstands the ramifications of Spinoza’s ontology for theological discourse, and as a result, fails to incorporate immanence into his own project as a viable way to understand issues of evil and suffering.[4] I find this misreading unfortunate for our current discussion since it seems to expose one of the more basic tensions at play in our discussion of how science and theology can speak to each other. Attempting to take experience as real and describe it accurately without the need to qualify it in any categories outside of itself appears the methodological site of struggle between the scientist and theologian.

Some questions for further consideration: Is the point of theodicy to really make evil less dreadful? What does this sort of statement reveal pedagogically about the difference in posture between the theologian and scientist? Is there room for an honest inquiry on the part of the theologian who seeks to ask questions related to theodicy if, for maintenance of theological identity, one has to condition, or qualify, experiences?


[1] Beistegui, M.d., Immanence: Deleuze and philosophy. Plateaus. 2010, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 35. Here it is important to be precise about what is meant by “immanence.” To begin, we must avoid conflating our meaning with another type of discussion more properly dogmatic in both language and aim. That particular discussion lies strictly within the scope of Christian theology and is dogmatic in concern. Ours is a larger concern, philosophical in nature, and encompasses only aspects of that other theological discussion. “Immanence” is to state the core realisation of an assertion for univocity. This is that the common substance of the universe is purely immanent to itself in cause and effect, such that the distinction between the two is only relative to itself in substance and time. “Pure immanence, on the other hand, requires as a principle the equality of being, or the positing of equal Being: not only is Being equal in itself, but it is equally present in all beings; not only is it said of everything that is, but it is said in the same sense– as ‘expression.’”

[2] This is one of the more directly fallacious associations Hick attributes to Spinoza. While the language appears similar with regard to evil not ‘being’ in a positively ontological sense, the association fails to seriously consider the difference the Augustinian narrative of a necessary salvation makes for framing privation. Privation only makes sense if there is a prescriptive order to the world, in which one can participate either fully or partially. For Spinoza, the statement of necessary order is not in any prescriptive sense but rather a phenomenological reality, the world just is and this includes the spectrum of human desires, feelings, etc. For Spinoza, then, there is no true privation of evil but rather an acknowledgment that evil and suffering function along a definitional horizon that is always in-flux, much the same way we now understand sexual desire to function.

[3] Barber, D.C., On Diaspora: Christianity, religion and secularity. 2011, Eugene, Or. Cascade Books. p. 27. Barber writes, “Immanence, ontologically speaking, names a reality that rejects any transcendent beyond, but it does so from a point prior to the distinction between a beyond and a below. What immanence defends, in other words, must not be defined by a prior relation to the beyond.” (Italics are mine). Hick comes close to realizing this outright when he affirms Schleiermacher’s project of eradicating the original state of perfection. “This is accordingly not a doctrine of the original perfection of the world in the sense of a harmonious primordial condition…The perfection of the world, in virtue of which the God-consciousness can occur within it, still exists; it is ‘original’ in the non-temporal sense of being fundamental and constitutive (221).” Hick appears to favour the use of ‘original’ as merely descriptive in nature of something innately given to human experience. In this regard though, Schleiermacher is much close to Spinoza than any explicitly Christian formulation insofar as such a theological conviction is not need for the affirmation of Schleiermacher’s position. This is not a conditional definition but rather a phenomenological description.

[4] Barber. On Diaspora. pp. 26-27. Barber illustrates my point in relation to understanding Spinoza’s notion of immanence and what this means for theological discourse, including theodicy. Immanence is unitary; it is ‘immanent’ to nothing and contingent upon only itself. In this sense, Hick’s description of monism is only partly wrong, his utilization of ‘harmonious’ to summarises Spinoza’s point being the target of my criticism on this point. Spinoza struggles with naming immanence, calling it dually ‘nature’ and ‘God.’ Barber picks up on this necessary act of naming in such a way that one asserts two difference names at once. He writes, “Spinoza thus serves as an excellent exemplar of the approach I am advancing, one in which the opposition of immanence to transcendence requires not the rejection of theological discourse’s signification, but on the contrary a new expression of it.” Theology, Christian theology included, is not necessarily against the monist but is required for the monist insofar as it expresses something necessary for stating the sheer thereness of the world as one substance.


Future Speaking Engagements and an Update

This post is I suppose (another?) shameless attempt at self-promortion and a brief update, which should hopefully explain why there has been such an absence on our end of the blog. 

In the first instance here is an update on some upcoming speaking engagements Sean and I have this summer. 

On June 25-27 at the University of Bielsko-Biala, Poland, I will be delivering the paper “Self-Possession’s Dis-onto-logic: The Epoché’ of Occupation in The Undercommons.” This is part of the conference Revolting Peripheries 2014. This is shaping up to be quite an exciting conference with the focus being on how to think the periphery and the gaze of the centre, or rather to unthink the binary definition of the periphery-centre.  My talk will focus on the theme of self-possession and phenomenological epoché in relation to how Moten and Harney describe the current state of education and the situatedness of students within such a state.

On July 11-13 Sean will be delivering a paper at the Mystical Theology and Continental Philosophy conference at Liverpool Hope University. Sean’s paper deals with Marguerite Porete, reading her work in light of the strategies used to repress and re-read it (most specifically, her murder) in order to re-articulate the transgressive element of her text.

In addition to these speaking updates, I would like to share that I have recently made a shift in trajectory and am now undertaking a PhD in Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University concurrent to my PhD with the University of Nottingham in Theology. I am very excited and look forward to jumpstarting posts on the blog now that my programmes are set in place.