The word God, in or outside of quotation marks, has become the last taboo in the postmodern era. It seems to work as a point of obstruction, or a limit, in most of the various contemporary discourses. It is for precisely this reason, among others, that “God” and its surrounding hypostases bear examination.
We see the following three essays as the first in a series of what we hope will be a staging of arguments concerning this word, or category, God. We have begun with three writers whose work specifically illuminates how theological/philosophical debates set up the problematics . We may turn, in future issues, to writers who are thoroughly “outside” of the field of theology, to see if the concept (or category) “God” functions in their projects, even as a counterexample or point of secular transgression.
Françoise Meltzer, a coeditor of Critical Inquiry, is professor of comparative literature and romance languages and literatures at the University of Chicago. She is editor of The Trial(s) of Psychoanalysis (1988) and author of Salome and the Dance of Writing: Portraits of Mimesis in Literature (1987) and, most recently, Hot Property: The Stakes and Claims of Literary Originality (1994). David Tracy is Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley Distinguished Service Professor of Theology at the Divinity School and Member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, most recently Plurality and Ambiguity (1990) and Dialogue with the Other (1992). He is currently working on a book on the issue of naming for God.
The question of God certainly does not begin with metaphysics. But it seems—or at least it was able to appear—that since metaphysics was coming to an end, being completed, and disappearing, the question of God was coming to a close. Throughout the century that is now ending, everything happened as if the question of God could do nothing other than make common cause, positively or negatively, with the destiny of metaphysics. Everything also happened as if, in order to keep the question of God open so as to permit a “rational worship” of him (Rom. 12:1), it was absolutely necessary to stick to the strictly metaphysics meaning of all philosophy.
But could one not and therefore should one not also pose, in an opposite direction, an entirely different preliminary question: Is philosophy equivalent to metaphysics? In order to remain rational, much the question concerning God necessarily and exclusively take the paths that lead to the “God of the philosophers and the scholars” because those paths issue necessarily from the decisions of metaphysics? Such a reversal of the question can surprise and disturb or, on the contrary, seem to dodge the radicality of this century’s philosophical situation. It seems to me nevertheless inevitable, in that only such a reversal still leaves truly open the possibility of taking into proper account at least three questions, which I will evoke here without claiming to answer them explicitly. (a) At least according to its historical destiny, did metaphysics not reach its end—positively with Hegel and negatively with Nietzsche? (b) Did philosophy not devote itself throughout an entire century to overcoming that end by assuming nonmetaphysical forms, of which the most powerful (I am not saying the only) remains phenomenology? (c) Does Christian speculative theology, understood in its exemplary figures (and here I am obviously thinking first of Saint Thomas Aquinas), belong to metaphysics taken in the strict sense, or has it responded to the peculiar conceptual demands of the Revelation that prompted it?
Jean-Luc Marion is professor of philosophy at the University of Paris X—Nanterre and in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. He also directs studies in the history of classical philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure. His books include Sur l’ontologie grise de Descartes: Science cartésienne et savoir aristotélicien dans les Regulae (1975; rev. ed. 1981); L’Idole et la distance: Cinq études (1977); Sur la théologie blanche de Descartes: Analogie, creation des verities éternelles, fondement (1981; forthcoming in English). In 1992 Professor Marion was awarded the Grand Prix de Philosophie de l’Académie Française for his work as a whole. Thomas A. Carlson is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at the University of Chicago and the translator of Marion’s God Without Being (1991).
To God we are unaccustomed. Of God we are unaccustomed to speak, even to think, especially to write. if we slip and find ourselves thinking, speaking, even writing of God, it seems embarrassing, horribly embarrassing—even when our inquiry is critical. All of this was supposed to have been over a long time ago. If we venture a word otherwise, the page seems to become a confessional without walls where our most intimate thoughts and unthoughts stand revealed for all to see and hear. Faced with the prospect of such exposure, we grow modest and withdraw. Devising strategies of avoidance in an effort not to think and not to say what nonetheless we cannot not think and cannot not say, we turn to history, politics, economics, literature, art. If it is no longer professionally and socially acceptable to speak of God, perhaps we can continue to think about what really matters by examining other forms of cultural expression. Thus critics repeat—often without realizing or wanting to realize what they are doing—the nineteenth-century gesture of translating theology into philosophy and art. But why? Why do we still search, still probe, still question? What calls us to respond? What disrupts the present? What dislocates our present? Unless our work is academic in the worst sense of the word, something else haunts the search that is our research. What is this “something else” and why will it give us no rest?
Mark C. Taylor is the Preston S. Parish Professor of Religion at Williams College. His most recent books include: Disfiguring: Art, Architecture, Religion (1992), Nots (1993), and, with Esa Saarinen, Imagologies: Media Philosophy (1994). Taylor is currently completing Deserting Architecture and Seaming.
Years ago a slogan circulated among us that expressed the mood of many, above all of many young people, many young Christians. It went: Jesus, yes—church, no. If I were to venture a diagnosis for the situation in which theology takes as its starting point today, then I would assess it this way: Religion, yes—God, no. We live in a type of religion-friendly godlesseness, to come degree in an era of religion without God.
This observation seems to me to be a momentous one for the treatment of our theme here. That is, so long as it is a matter of religion—in a very general and indeterminate sense—there is really no theodicy problem Rather, religion serves in this case precisely to avoid or to obstruct this question. Here religion is, as the philosopher Hermann Lübbe has so memorably formulated it, the “praxis of contingency-management.”1 With God, however, risk and danger enter into, or return to, religion. At any rate, the traditions of discourse about God that are available and familiar to us also know of attitude that do not manage contingencies, do not accept life’s circumstances. They are familiar with articulations of dissent, of accusation, of crying out—in prophecy, in the exodus traditions, in the wisdom literature. Here we have neither the avoidance of theodicy nor successful theodicy but rather the theodicy question as “the” eschatological question. As such, it prevents the clarity of creation and of the power of God as creator; that is, it prevents one from peering through creation to its successful end by means of identity philosophy, a philosophy of universal history, an evolutionary logic, or by whatever other means. It ensures poverty of spirit; it conceives eschatology as a negative theology of creation.
· 1. Hermann Lübbe, Religion nach der Aufklärung (Graz, 1986), pp. 144-78.
Johann Baptist Metz is professor of fundamental theology at the University of Münster and of the philosophy of religion at the University of Vienna. He is viewed as the founder of a new political theology that has influenced, among other things, the rise of Latin American liberation theology. His major works include Glaube in Geschichte und Gesellschaft: Studien zu einer praktischen Fundamentaltheologie (1977; in English, 1980); Jenseits bürgerlicher Religions: Reden über die Zukunft des Christentums (1980; in English, 1981); with Tiemo Rainer Peters, Gottespassion: Zur Ordernsexistenz heute (1991); and, with Hans-Eckehard Bahr, Augen für die Anderen: Lateinamerika, eine theologische Erfahrung (1991). J. Matthew Ashley is assistant professor of systematic theology at the University of Notre Dame. He is currently completing a work on the theology of J. B. Metz as well as editing and translating a collection of Metz’s recent work.
What is the significance of the debate between [William] Brown and his colleagues? I submit that theirs was not simply a disagreement about a minor point of therapeutic technique. No, in spite of McDougall’s interest in the topic, was theirs essentially a dispute about the cerebral mechanisms that might underlie the symptoms of the war neuroses. Far more basic issues were at stake. For the force of Myers’s and McDougall’s denial of the importance of emotional abreaction was to insist that what mattered in the hypnotic cure was to enable the traumatized soldier to win a certain knowledge of, or relation to, himself by recovering the memory of the traumatic experience. The idea was to help the subject achieve an intellectual reintegration or resynthesis of the forgotten memory so that he could overcome his dissociated, fractured state and accede to a coherent narrative of his past life. For this a certain degree of the patient’s participation was required. Put more generally, it is as if two competing accounts of the role or position of the subject in medicine opposed one another in the debate. One account imagined that the collaboration of the subject was an inseparable part of the cure, while the other account imagined that, as in the case of drug therapy or surgery—dominant modes of medical therapy in the West—the collaboration of the subject was irrelevant to treatment. For psychotherapists of the war neuroses the key question was this: Did hypnosis heal the patient by soliciting the subject’s participation? Or did a suggestive therapeutics achieve its effects by encouraging the patient’s docile subjection to the coercive or authoritative command of the hypnotist that bypassed the consent and as it were the collaboration of the self?5 If we rephrase those positions in the light of Foucault’s work on discipline and knowledge, we might say that the first account emphasized the active role of a subject understood as constituted through categories of consent and refusal, while the second imagined a subject—but does the term make sense in this context?—who somehow escapes both alternatives.
· 5. Although Myers, McDougall, Brown, and many others believed that hypnosis involved the imposition of the physician’s coercive will onto an essentially passive subject, I would argue that the hypnotic rapport involves rather an inmixing of “activity” and “passivity” or a mimetic “invention” of the subject that tends to exceed the dual relationship between the hypnotist-analyst and the patient.
See also: Ian Hacking, Two Souls in One Body
Ruth Leys is associate professor in the Humanities Center at The Johns Hopkins University. She is the editor, with Rand B. Evans, of Defining American Psychology: The Correspondence between Adolf Meyer and Edward Bradford Titchener (1990) and author of From Sympathy to Reflex: Marshall Hall and His Critics (1991), and is currently working on the history of discourses of trauma, dissociation, repetition, and memory from 1875 to the present.
What if one claimed that the pleasures of rap—like the colors of Da Vinci and the polyphonies of Bach—had to be learned, deliberately, as in the art appreciation courses? Or that those who could not, at least by projection, understand such pleasures were in some basic sense uneducated? The obstacles to this training deserve study. For even supposed allies in the multicultural crusade have a zero threshold of tolerance when it comes to hip-hop. The distinction here, then, would not be between the high and the low but between the sophisticated attention now widely given popular cultures and the more coldly literal attentions widely given rap. It is not difficult to find intellectuals who value dub, country western, acid, or reggae but who find rap repetitive, childish, and ugly. How can one get to the tactical point of insisting on rap’s formal expertise when the very sense of it as art is so weak—a perception shored up by the recent stampede among black professionals to encircle it and kill it off?6 For the perceptual blockage here, I will argue, has not only to do with class but with that other dissonance known as the generational conflict. Thus, J-Smooth’s ironic proviso at the start of each episode of his hip-hop program “The Underground Railroad” on WBAI-FM in New York warns those offended by “youth cultures, black and otherwise” to turn off their radios.7
6. These words were written shortly after the announcement by Harlem-based radio station WBLS that it would now refuse to play rap with violent or offensive lyrics, a decision ratified by KBLX San Francisco/Berkeley, KSIL San Antonio, and WLIB New York. The decision was loudly supported in press conferences by local and national community leaders such as the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Rap is, however, a volatile topic, and by the time these words appear in print, the situation may well have changed.
· 7. J-Smooth, Underground Railroad, WBAI-FM New York, 99.5, Tuesdays 10:00-11:00 pm.
Tim Brennan is an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, teaching in the English department and the Program in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. He is the author of Salman Rushdie and the Third World: Myths of the Nation (1989) and is currently at work on At Home in the World: Cosmopolitanism and the Death of the Native (forthcoming).
In recent years a great deal of attention has been paid to the development and apparent success of the American Indian gambling industry. Discussions in the national media have generally focused on the legality and economic impact of reservation gambling, especially because of its power to redistribute wealth and transform regional politics. Without ignoring the importance of those issues, I will examine how reservation gambling has affected the Native American community itself and contributed to the ongoing transformation of contemporary Indian identities.
The proliferation of reservation gambling began in the late 1970s. Offering high-stakes bingo to the public, the earliest reservation gambling facilities in Maine and Florida were enormously profitable. Soon tribal councils throughout the United States were developing plans for their own bingo facilities. Their progress, however, was hindered by growing opposition. Before the emergence of Indian bingo, state governments had complete authority to control and limit high-stakes gambling within their borders. By claiming sovereign rights of their own, the tribes challenged that authority. As the number of reservation gambling establishments grew, lawmakers sought ways to limit and abolish their operation.
Paul Pasquaretta has recently completed his doctoral studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His dissertation, “Tricksters at Large: Pequots, Gamblers, and the Emergence of Crossblood Culture in North America,” examines indigenous responses to the advent of European colonialism in North America and the role of traditional Indian culture in the modern world.
In this essay, I will argue that identity politics is figured as a skill of reading by African American and/or gay and lesbian spectators of the cultural performance of passing. Indeed, what the in-group recognizes in the passing subject corroborates what Marilyn Frye proposes in The Politics of Reality: “What lesbians see is what makes them lesbians.”4 Disrupting the conventional dyad of passer and dupe with a third term—the in-group clairvoyant—the pass can be regarded as a triangular theater of identity. Considered as a hostile encounter between two ways of reading, the pass offers competing rules of recognition in the place of discrete essences or “natural” identities. In an academic milieu in which identity and identity politics remain at the forefront of a battle over legitimate critical and/or politics acts, the social practice of passing offers a productive framework through which to reimagine the contours of this debate.
To imagine identity politics as a skill of reading is to replace the inadequate dichotomy of visibility and invisibility with an acknowledgement of multiple codes of intelligibility. If we shift from a politics of substance to a politics of optics,5 identity itself no longer possesses the reassuring signs of ontological distinction that we are accustomed to reading. In this sense, however, a study on passing broaches an archaic notion of identity. For the “problem” of identity, a problem to which passing owes the very possibility of its practice, is predicated on the false promise of the visible as an epistemological guarantee. In the absence of this ancient covenant, this essay asks how it is possible to preserve the value of situated knowledge.
· 4. Marilyn Frye, The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (Freedom, Calif., 1983), p. 173.
· 5. This phrase is indebted to Donna Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14 (Fall 1988): 575-99. Haraway’s analysis of “situated knowledges” and her interest in exploring the instrumentality of vision has greatly influenced my own thinking.
Amy Robinson is assistant professor of English at Georgetown University where she teaches American literature and cultural studies. her dissertation, “To Pass//In Drag: Strategies of Entrance into the Visible,” was awarded the 1991 National Women’s Studies Association/Naiad Press Graduate Scholarship in Lesbian Studies.
It is one of the virtues of Walter Benn Michaels’s essay “Race into Culture: A Critical Genealogy of Cultural Identity” (Critical Inquiry 18 [Summer 1992]:655-85) that is focuses attention on liberal racism, particularly the kind that appears in cultural pluralism. We have learned a great deal from his insistence that racism is not an accidental by-product of the liberal reforms that replaced the appeal to race with the appeal to culture but is part of the structure of such reforms. We have benefitted from his unveiling of racialization where it is most often invisible and his outline of racism’s historical persistence through major intellectual watersheds. It is one of the symptoms of the times, however, that Michaels’s essay locates the racism of cultural pluralism in its use of racial and cultural identity rather than in the liberal racism with which pluralism coexists. Writing in a period when a post-civil rights liberalism has been accumulating increasing political and intellectual influence, Michaels’s call for an America “without race” does not get beyond the white moderate position on race but furnishes it with a philosophical rationale.
Avery Gordon is assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is editor, which Christopher Newfield, of Multiculturalism? and author of Ghostly Matters (both forthcoming). Christopher Newfield is assistant professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is currently completing one book entitled The Submissive Center: Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Problem of Democratic Authority and another on the corporate culture of post-1950s literary study.
In the final section of my essay “Race into Culture: A Critical Genealogy of Cultural Identity” (Critical Inquiry 18 [Summer 1992]: 655-85), I criticize the idea of antiessentialist accounts of identity, which is to say that I criticize in particular the idea of cultural identity as a replacement for racial identity. My central point is that for the idea of cultural identity to do any work beyond describing the beliefs people actually hold and the things they actually do, it must resort to some version of the essentialism it begins by repudiating. Thus, for example, the idea that people can lose their cultural depends upon there being a connection between people and their culture that runs deeper than their actual beliefs and practices, which is why, when they stop doing one thing and start doing another, they can be described as having lost rather than changed their culture. This commitment to the idea that certain beliefs and practices constitute your real culture, whether or not you actually believe or practice them, marks the invention of culture as a project (you can now recover your culture, you can struggle to preserve your culture, you can betray your culture, and so on), and it marks also the return to the essentialism that antiessentialists mean to oppose. For insofar as your culture no longer consists in the things you actually do and believe, it requires some link between you and your culture that transcends practice. That link, I argue, has, in the United States, characteristically been provided by race. Thus, I conclude, cultural identity is actually a form of racial identity.
Walter Benn Michaels is professor of English and the humanities at the Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism (1987) and of a monograph on American literature in the Progressive period, forthcoming in the Cambridge History of American Literature. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry include “Against Theory” and “Against Theory 2,” both written in collaboration with Steven Knapp.