Provisional Schedule for Workshop on Transcendental Materialism

Below is the provisional schedule for our first event taking place next month at Loyola University Maryland. The event is FREE and we encourage anyone who is able to come join us, as there will be a lot of space for dialouge and interaction. Please contact us if you have any questions about attendance/travel/etc.

WORKSHOP ON TRANSCENDENTAL MATERIALISM, LOYOLA UNIVERSITY MARYLAND, SCHEDULE:

 

FRIDAY APRIL 24

1:00-2:45 Materialism, Neurobiology and Psychoanalysis in the work of Catherine Malabou

Rick Elmore (Appalachian State University): ‘Malabou: Ontological Reductionism and the Political Possibilities of Flat Ontologies’

Thomas Wormald (University of Western Ontario): ‘Plasticity, Habit and Sculpting: The Question of a Malabouian Politics’

Cristóbal Durán (University Andrés Bello, Chile): ‘A Materialist Indifference: Immanence of Detachment on Catherine Malabou’

3:00-4:00 Phenomenology, Materialism, and Neuroscience

Mauro Senatore (Instituto de Humanidades, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile): ‘From Phenomenology to Dialectical Materialism. The Case of Tran Duc Thao’

David Pena (Emory University): ‘Phenomenology and Neuroscience in Pieces: A Speculative Reductionist Manifesto’

4:30-5:30 Matter in the History of Philosophy

Chris Noble (Villanova University): ‘Leibniz’s Critical Appropriation of Hobbesian Materialism’

Benjamin Norris (The New School for Social Research): ‘And a Cold Shiver Ran Down His Spine: Jacobi, Transcendental Materialism and the Accusation of Nihilism’

5:45pm Ed Pluth (CSU-Chico) Must a Materialism be a Naturalism?

 

SATURDAY APRIL 25

 11:00-12:00 Marx, Engels, and Transcendental Materialism

Reid Kotlas (Independent): ‘Materialism: Transcendental or Practical?’

Bradley Ramos (DePaul University): ‘Towards a Twenty-First Century Recontextualization of Engelsian Dialectical Materialism: Transcendental Materialism and the Weak Overdetermination of Nature’

1:30-2:30 Psychoanalysis, Religion, and Transcendental Materialism

Thomas Lynch (University of Chichester, UK): ‘No Illusion: The Politics of Philosophy of Religion’

Davis Hankins (Appalachian State University): ‘Unlikely Bedfellows: Transcendental Materialism and Biblical Wisdom’

2:45-3:45 Transcendental Materialism and Hegelian Idealism

Timothy Hackett (Independent): ‘Transcendental Materialism and The Problem of Metaphysics: On Adrian Johnston’s Interpretation of Hegel’s Absolute Idealism’

Kirill Chepurin (HU Berlin/HSE Moscow): ‘The Ideal, the Real, and the Material: The (Non-)Human in the Spinozastreit and Beyond’

4:00pm Adrian Johnston (University of New Mexico) Confession of a Weak Reductionist: Responses to Some Recent Criticisms of My Materialism

5:30-6:15 Closing Roundtable

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Anthony Paul Smith responds to the final section of ‘The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence’

The final response to Davis Hankins’ The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence is by Anthony Paul Smith, assistant professor in the department of religion at LaSalle University.

 

Davis Hankins The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence is a remarkable book. The care that Hankins shows in his attention to the biblical scholarship is matched by the care he takes when thinking through the theoretical frame (“transcendental materialism”). This shouldn’t be understated. Hankins takes a great risk in the book of alienating both groups of readers and yet he truly weaves them together in a nearly seamless way such that the reader willing to trust Hankins receives something (a somewhat Satanic wager akin to that of the figure of the Adversary [hassatan] in Job). I teach a course on suffering organized around Job and contemporary readings of Job and so much of the material was familiar to me as I was reading. But, while I have read much of the same material Hankins presents here (the work of Clines being a major influence for me) I have never known how to engage with theoretical felicity such biblical scholarship. Hankins’ book should be celebrated simply for the way he does what philosophers can only usually pretend to do (as Badiou’s book on St. Paul is testament to).

Ultimately I do not share allegiance to Hankins theoretical framework, but I am able to recognize the remarkable reading of the Book of Job framed by it nonetheless. And, even if I am unsure of the possibility of fidelity to Hankins’ philosophical canon, I can see how productive and genuinely challenging it is. The figure of Job we get read through Hankins’ transcendental materialism is one that moves beyond mere ideology critique to a kind of philosophy of nature (though I am not sure that Hankins would use that term). We get a Job who cries out violence not only against the unjustness of his suffering, but that cries out violence against the very notion that his suffering could be grounded, that any sense can be made of it other than an immanent sense that turns into a practice.

I take the first claim about injustice to be legal and the claim about grounding to be ontological. By connecting the legal to the ontological—thereby moving past the readings that ground everything in the legal metaphors of the text—Hankins moves far beyond the cursory reading of Zizek as well as the deeper, but explicitly Christian reading by Gustavo Gutierrez (I would guess that Gutierrez’s commitment to Christian orthodoxy marks him as ultimately “ideological” for Hankins). However, in the line of critical theorists reading Job, he shares much in common with the overall thrust of Navid Kermani’s reading (though Hankins grounds his reading in scholarship to an extent that Kermani does not) and also Negri.

Before turning to a short summary of Part Three of the Book (“Ontology, Aesthetics, Ethics”) and further questions, I was struck by the lack of engagement with Negri’s reading of Job. While Negri is not part of the Lacanian tradition Hankins builds with and his reading might at first glance appear to be in the thrall of the legal metaphor, he too foregrounds everything in the ontological in a similar way. Negri’s book, The Labor of Job in English but bearing an Italian title that could be translated as the “the power of the slave”, focuses on the ontological resistance found in the story of Job. While I am hoping Hankins can tell me what he sees as the more important difference, I would hazard that the (immanent) theology at play in the two readings is where the difference might be thought to lie. But both Negri and Hankins have a sense of God as immanent, either as a transcendent power that is ultimately seen to be illusory and therefore finds its very genesis in immanence, or as both Negri and Hankins claim in some places that God is the name for what bars any sense-making of suffering. In both cases the instability and ultimate groundless of being/reality is affirmed. So, ultimately what causes Hankins to choose the Hegelian-Lacanian genealogy over the Spinozist one? This is perhaps an unfair question. Hankins clearly differentiates his reading from other biblical scholars and engages with a range of different interpretations within that field and spends a lot of time in the Biblical Hebrew. That is a monumental task in and of itself, so while he only provides brief glimpses at other critical theorists engagement with Job I suppose the question is simply is there a theoretical reason for that lack of detailed engagement or not?

As to the structure of Part Three, Chapter 6 (“Ontology, Aesthetics, and the Divine Speeches”) considers the ontology sketched in the Book of Job, especially in the response to Job from God presented at the end of the book. Against those who try to read some kind of affirmation of the consistency of nature/creation here, where Job’s sufferings are ultimately local and the cosmos remains fundamentally ordered when scaled above Job, Hankins’ reads the divine speeches as affirming the fundamental chaos of creation. Even going so far as to suggest, against the usual readings of Genesis for example, that the creation narrative implied in the divine speech betrays a violence origin of creation. Good news flows from this violence, though, because the cosmos described by YHWH “is not a closed totality but a dynamic genesis, not foundations but a founding, not a measured whole but the stretching out of a measuring line, not secure basis but the sinking of bases. The earth YHWH details is not a bound, eternally secure structure but an active production (180).” It is unsurprising to find Hankins engage with the work of Catherine Keller here as some of this sounds a great deal like her reading of Job in The Face of the Deep, however where Keller sees harmonious interconnections (even in discord) Hankins sees disconnection and alienation. I find this in many ways right, though of course he does not set up a simple choice between his position and hers, and in a sense Hankins refusal of process is a refusal of theodicy. Further, his textual support suggests that this alienation is present in the divine speeches far more than harmony. “Nature in these speeches is fearless, untamable, coursing in directions from which it is not deterred until it collides with another unrelenting creature. Neither the cosmos nor the earth is described as a solid or safe place. […] The message is rather that job inhabits a world form whose foundations he is fundamentally disconnected and with which no solid connection is possible because it is not fully connected with itself (183).”

We also find in this chapter an interesting distinction between hermeneutic readings and aesthetic ones. In Hankins’ casting of these two terms the first always seeks to fill in gaps and to complete the meaning of a text while the second analyzes “the conflict, the contradiction, the discord, as essential to the message (185).” He goes on to fill this distinction out through a summary of Kant on aesthetic judgments and how scholars of the book of Job take up such judgments. Here Hankins makes an argument that the speeches are concerned with the “mathematical sublime” rather than the “dynamical sublime” where the first is ultimately a immanent coincidence of two positions impossible to bring together while the other takes place through an operation of transcendence. I realize Hankins is following Kant here, but I found the two terms taken on uncritically. Why, for example, are animals excluded from the dynamic sublime since they are presumed to have a telos, while the mathematical sublime includes other natural formations like mountains and rivers? Would not “less-than-fully unified” pervasive throughout the cosmos not undercut such teleology and a recognition of it and since Kant does not hold to this Joban rejection of theodicy is not his distinction between mathematics and dynamism built upon a faulty vision of the cosmos?

Chapter 7 completes the book and turns to ethics. We see here a critique of the hegemonic role of virtue ethics in biblical studies. Job is a challenge to this hegemony precisely because he is not struggling with communal norms, but “emerges as an ethical subject at the moment of a traumatic experience or rupture from his past and himself (205).” While Hankins clearly thinks that virtue ethics is not an adequate theoretical framework for understanding the ethical import of Job, there is a certain sense in which he agrees with virtue ethics before going further than it in a way that strikes me as an important articulation of what Laruelle has called a “generic ethics”. “WISDOM’S [Haskin writes this in small capitals to refer to the third kind of “wisdom” that manifests as the difference between particular-wisdom and a transcendental Wisdom, thus it is a kind of immanent form of Wisdom present in partcular-wisdom, if I read him correctly on this nuanced and difficult concept (14)] genesis in a particular event renders it specific and immanent to a situation. WISDOM cannot be grasped as an ethic in general or as a Kantian transcendential a priori. What virtue ethics cannot allow is that the WISDOM that Job must display could be both particular to his situation and universal for his situation. Job’s particular experience renders him non-particular, the incarnation of nepes as such, the limit of experience for all in his situation (210).” In other words, Job is the generic human being as the generic human victim without this setting Job up as a transcendental figure. Job may only embody such a universal truth in so far as he remains immanent to the situation and thus remains particular in some sense. And thus, in a very specific way, Job is an ethical subject precisely because he is not a communal subject (“Job emerges as an ethical subject at the moment of a traumatic experience of rupture from his present and his past. His subjectivity is incommensurable with his past self and the community with which he sits and speaks (214).”). I have a great deal of affinity for this claim, from my own position influenced by Laruelle’s distinction between politics and ethics, but I wonder how this accords with the transcendental materialist framework which appears to have attendant political commitments. Job, on Hankins reading, is a figure utterly separate from the polis, a kind of stranger or foreigner in the social body. This may be political in some sense, but it would even suggest an impossibility to party politics. Hankins gestures towards some political possibilities at the end, but for reasons that become clear below and because he does not sketch them out, I find this to in some ways move beyond the real challenge of the book.

In reading Job so much depends upon the final divine speeches and Job’s own replies. The final prose section where Job gets “everything back” is a disgusting Hollywood edit where the viewer is thought to be dumb enough to think dead children can be replaced with new children and even Hankins’ cannot sustain the level of passion evident in the majority of the book when he turns to it. There is an impossibility of reparations here. Thus the Book of Job truly ends when Job pronounces (quoting from Hankins’ translation): “therefore I reject and I am consoled concerning dust and ashes”. For Hankins reads this as Job declaring that he “rejects and is consoled about one and the same condition” (220). What might this mean? Well, ultimately, that Job’s only real basis of hope is the very same baselessness or “unlimited openness” (what Negri calls the immeasurable nature of his suffering) of his condition. God (or Nature) is the immanent condition for Job’s existence and remains in some sense plastic.

To conclude, I want to again emphasize the beauty and power of Hankins’ book. We are given here a true alloying of biblical studies and critical theory that does not, in my assessment, sacrifice one for the other. When philosophers and critical theorists turn to ancient religious scriptures they usually do so without the level of erudition present in this text and when biblical scholars turn to philosophy they usually do so in a purely instrumental way. Hankins performs that rare feat of letting the biblical scholarship perform philosophy and the philosophy respond to the biblical text. I suspect there will always be an element of arbitrariness in the philosophical system the biblical text is thought to support, but Hankins provides more evidence than most for the fittingness between the Book of Job and transcendental materialism.

Response to Part II of ‘The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence’ by Tommy Lynch

In the next installment of our book event on Davis Hankins’ The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence, Tommy Lynch responds to section II of the book. Included below is Davis Hankins’ response to Lynch.

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‘Part 2. Ideology, Resistance, Transformation’ is a bold, complex analysis of the book of Job drawing on Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, Levinas, Derrida, Agamben, Sartre and a variety of biblical interpretations. Running through this dense and diverse discussion is a central theme of resistance – the character Job’s resistance to the various interpretations of his plight and the book of Job’s resistance to the resolution of the tensions and ambiguities of the character’s situation.

In chapter 3, Hankins discusses ideology in terms of the tendency towards resolution. Ideology is the presentation of ‘an opposition as ultimate and exclusive that actually only involves one side of a dilemma’ (80). Working through Job 4-5, he argues that the resolution of uncertainty and ambiguity is the ideological temptation confronting both Job and the interpreter.

Chapter 4 examines two potential responses to Job’s situation: fear and anxiety. The friends recommend fear: ‘Fear will allow Job to escape his anxiety not because it tells him something he does not know but because it locates the unknown dimension of his experience at a safe distance from himself’ (118). If Job fears God, his experience of disruptive anxiety would be rendered intelligible. Hankins puts this in Lacanian terms: ‘By negating this dimension of truth and the Real from what is accessible, the ideology of sapiential fear installs it in a beyond’ (117). Fear allows Job a measure of resolution – it might not ease his suffering, but it provides a framework in which that suffering makes sense.

Job is unable to accept this option, though. His anxiety ‘indicates to him the immanent presence of the dimension that fear treats as transcendent’ (125). As a result, God is not a transcendent agent tormenting Job. God is immanent to Job’s reality as that which distances reality from itself (130). Or, put another way, God has no place within the Symbolic; God is that which prevents the Symbolic from closing. God is not transcendent in the sense of being beyond or above immanent materiality, but is ‘somehow a surplus within the world over itself’ (134). As Hankins later explains, this attempt to convince Job to fear God is, again, part of the effort to ideologically resolve Job’s situation. To fear God is to relate to God as presence, even if an absent presence. Job experiences God as the collapse of the difference between presence and absence.

In chapter 5, the resistance to resolution manifests itself in the opposition between guilt and shame. If Job is guilty of something, the legal reading is able to resolve the tensions within the text. For Hankins, if Job is guilty his alienation becomes something beyond, something out there – in his guilt he is free to fear God. Instead, unable to move from anxiety to fear, Job becomes unbearable to those around him, ‘an abhorrent display of excessive jouissance’ (160). Rather than being guilty, Job is filled with shame.

One of the strengths of part 2 is the parallel between Job’s struggle and the struggle of the interpreter. Just as Job is hearing from Eliphaz that the ambiguity is a failure of understanding, the interpreter is on the same quest. This parallel sets up the potential irony of reading Job – all too often, as Hankins shows, interpretations seek to valorize Job and critique his friends, while simultaneously making demands of the biblical text in the way that the friends make demands of Job.

Evading this collapse back into the demand for a resolution of ambiguity is the crux of Part 2. Perhaps the best articulation comes towards the end of the section. Hankins repeatedly returns to an analysis of the shortcomings of legal framings of the narrative. These readings cast Job as a courageous figure calling God to appear in court and justify God’s treatment of the faithful servant. Hankins explains:

‘What is presented as an ideology-critique of theology turns out to perform the most ideological of theological moves, safely installing God in a realm transcendent to the Bile and to experience, and this safely protecting the Bible and experience from God’s presence. What is avoided is the traumatic presence of God to which Job’s testimony testifies, a presence that is not transcendent to the courtroom but is the courtroom’s immanent limit, that which keeps it from ever constituting itself. In short, the celebrants of the legal metaphor fail to apprehend the text because they transpose Job’s testimony about the non-phenomenal character of God into testimony about a God that resides beyond phenomena’ (164).

Part 2 left me with two questions. First, at the end of chapter 4, Hankins writes that ‘Job locates God precisely in the position that Lacan will call the objet petit a, that unique object that is a product of and surplus beyond the Symbolic order’ (134). Much of the discussion of God and the Symbolic emphasizes the latter half of this characterization. God as a product of the Symbolic order, on the other hand, is less developed. This phrase captures the essence of the subtitle of the book – ‘the immanent genesis of transcendence’. What is the nature of this genesis? Does ‘God’ name the disruptive lack of any Symbolic order? Or is this lack the site of the emergence of God?

Second, I wonder about the relationship between transcendental materialism and the biblical text. As Marika noted last week, Hankins writes, ‘this project demonstrates that these concepts are there, walking around throughout the texts, even if they have not yet been thematized by interpreters’ (18). There is a difference between philosophy (whether it be transcendental materialist or other otherwise) illuminating a truth already contained within a text and tradition and philosophy producing a truth through an engagement with theological or religious materials. What is at stake in insisting on the former rather than the latter? Hankins is right to dispatch any potential charge of anachronism, but the charge of anachronism relies upon a particular understanding of the reader’s relationship to the text.

Davis Hankins’ Response to Tommy Lynch:

Much thanks to Tommy Lynch for his careful reading of part 2. I appreciate his accent on resistance and resolution, and I especially enjoyed the Freudian slip of the keystroke where he typed Bile instead of Bible.

Lynch’s questions at the end are, at least structurally, quite analogous. On the one hand, he asks, is God in Job the name for the lack in the Symbolic order that keeps subjectivity and reality open to transformation, or, is God something that emerges out of that lack? On the other hand, does philosophy name a truth in the book of Job, or is the book’s truth produced by the philosophical engagement with the book?

To the first question, I think that Lynch rightly suggests that the accent falls much more on the former. Job’s God is fundamentally a force within the world that keeps it and himself from ever achieving any sense of closure. God keeps reality and subjectivity unfinished, foreign to themselves, and open to transformation. The book of Job offers a number of different perspectives on this basic ontological structure of openness. The friends try to resolve it by imagining a transcendent deity that stands outside this openness. Their theology thus secures their sense that the experience of an open ontology is actually contingent upon the limitations of humans with respect to the unlimited divine. Job emerges in the book as the answer to the latter half of Lynch’s first question. Job actually becomes the surplus produced out of this fundamentally conflicted structure. At the end of the book the community is formed around Job as the bearer of truth about the ontological structure of reality and God’s relationship to it.

To the second question, I think that the answer is not quite as straightforward. The question is whether I am discovering something about the book of Job that has been there all along and yet has been obscured in some way, such as, for example, by theological categories blinded by metaphysical commitments. Alternatively, does this analysis actually produce the philosophical truth of the book of Job that is absent apart from the philosophy?

The quickest way that I can respond to this question would be by recourse to the psychoanalytic notion that Freud referred to as Nachträglichkeit (“deferred action”) and Lacan called the après-coup or “retroactive effect” of meaning. The logic here allows one, in a sense, to affirm both alternatives. On the one hand, the mobilization of the philosophical orientation produces a truth about Job that was not previously present within the book. On the other hand, my analysis goes to great lengths to show that this reading is demonstrably immanent to the book. To affirm both of these requires a particular theory about texts according to which they are inherently open to transformation. Texts are, as Adrian Johnston might say, “hard-wired to be re-wired.”

Lynch’s question made me wonder about another concern that some may have about this book on Job. Do I think that we need the book of Job? Do I think that folks working within the transcendental materialist framework have to recognize the book of Job as part of their intellectual history? Is this an attempt to compel a group of materialists to start attending Bible study? Certainly not. However, new developments in thought such as we have in transcendental materialism are always compelled to rethink the past alongside the present and future. In so doing we might find that our intellectual history has allies we could not have foreseen. So I do hope that this book might add Job to the list of helpful precursors to contemporary reflections about these difficult issues. While I think that Job’s helpfulness goes even further, especially in its dramatic staging of the paradoxical link between the structure of material reality and the kinds of subjects, animals, and communities that emerge out of this material reality, I don’t think that it’s the only way to respond to this difficult question about the relationships linking and dividing ontology, subjectivity, and community. I should probably stop here, however, since these are issues of direct concern to the third and final part of the book.

Response to Part I of ‘The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence’ by Marika Rose (Update: Response from Hankins)

Below is the first response to Davis Hankins’ The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence‘, dealing with Part I of the book (‘God, Wisdom, Sage: Immanent Emergences of Transcendence’) by Marika Rose.

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‘Part 1. God, Wisdom, Sage: Immanent Emergences of Transcendence’ begins to bring the project of transcendental materialism to bear on the first section of the book of Job. It is imaginative, illuminating, and compelling. I’ll never read Job in the same way again, and I don’t think I’d want to.

Hankins’ argument opens by drawing distinctions between three different types of wisdom which can be found in the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. ‘wisdom’ is the imperfect, incomplete human wisdom, which yearns towards the perfect and transcendent divine ‘Wisdom’. This divine ‘Wisdom’ may be glimpsed, partially, in the particular wisdom of the sages, not through some partial truth which can offer us a shadowy image of the true Form of Wisdom itself but precisely in the cracks and gaps, the wisdom which ruptures wisdom from within. wisdom is the gap between thesis and antithesis, between Proverbs 26:4a, ‘Do not answer a fool according to his folly’ and Proverbs 26:5a, ‘Answer a fool according to his folly.’ The choice we have when we read Job, Hankins argues, is the choice between the traditional reading of Hegel, in which the constant churn of thesis, antithesis and synthesis lead us on infinitely in the direction of the Absolute/Wisdom; and the Žižekian reading of Hegel, in which the key is to realise that the Absolute is not what we arrive at when we finally resolve the contradiction into identity but the recognition that identity is contradiction. Job is not, Hankins argues, a book about the desire for God which leads us on endlessly towards an impossible and ever-receding goal but about the rejection of this desire for wholeness in the name of the death drive, that the transcendence which escapes us is not the missing piece which will fill up the gap at the heart of being but the excess which emerges out of that generative gap. God is not that which holds all things together but the crack which divides all beings from themselves. Whilst this approach is an attempt to ‘short-circuit’ ‘the usual categories of biblical interpretations with concepts drawn from other fields’ (16) – in this case, specifically, from Lacan and the Hegelian Lacanianism of Slavoj Žižek and Adrian Johnston – Hankins is clear that it is not simply a case of anachronistically imposing an external conceptual framework onto the text. Rather, ‘this project demonstrates that these concepts are there, walking around through the texts, even if they have not yet been thematised by interpreters’ (18).

Chapter 2 begins to draw out the implications of this approach for the first two chapters of Job, the prose tale which frames the book. When ‘the satan’ incites God to wreak havoc on Job’s life, the central question on which his challenge hangs is this: ‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ (Job 1:9). Against the scholarly consensus that the issue at hand is whether Job remains pious only because God rewards his good behaviour with blessings, Hankins points out that, even in the biblical texts, calamity commonly leads not to a rejection of God but to renewed worship. After all, the satan suggests to God that ‘if you stretch out your hand and touch all that [Job] has, he will bless (brk) you to your face’ – the Hebrew verb tending to be incorrectly rendered as ‘curse’. What God is after, Hankins suggests, is a more Kantian ethic whereby Job’s piety is properly for nothing, indifferent to blessings and curses alike. The test is rigged: if Job curses God when disaster arrives, he was only pious for mercenary reasons; but if he blesses God, his piety is a no-less-mercenary attempt to find hope and solace in the divine.

When divine violence visits Job it is ‘“for nothing” in the sense that it has been committed for the sake of including a nothing within the world’: for the sake of making Job himself a nothing. Divine violence ‘does not save Job from his inauthenticity, or from his folly, or from his impiety, but from himself, from determination by his own empirical conditions.’ It renders Job symbolically dead, as we see from the fact that Job’s response to the series of catastrophes is to begin the rituals of mourning which cut off the mourner from the rest of their community, to scrape his skin from his body, and to take up residence on the trash heap, the place of that which has been ejected from human society but has not yet quite made its way back to the neutrality of the nonhuman world. Job is ‘between the two deaths’, symbolically dead but physically alive, occupying the place of horror and disgust, of zombies and vampires. He is nothing, but also not quite nothing; less than nothing, perhaps. Job likes this liminal place of symbolic death to the liminal place of symbolic life: ‘naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I shall return there’ (Job 1:21). Perhaps it is precisely here that new life will emerge.

In the meantime, Job must contend with his wife’s imprecations which hold him, like the satan, between two impossible choices: to ‘Curse God, and die!’ maintaining his integrity but not his piety; or, by implication, to continue to do his religious duty at the cost of his honesty. Job rejects this false dichotomy, refusing the notion that there is any coherent law by which either he or God might be judged, and refusing to act out of the desire to fulfil the law, to attain completeness and consistency. Job chooses instead to worship God out of a freedom which is conditioned neither by the consistency of the symbolic order that he inhabits nor by any consistency of his own identity. Job fully acknowledges the split within himself, which is also a split within both Wisdom and wisdom; in doing so he becomes identified with wisdom.

Tucked away in a footnote later in the book, Hankins asserts that ‘the feminist insight that undergirds the logic of the entire book’ is that ‘Job’s transformation of the wisdom tradition [is] a feminization of the tradition’s (masculine) structure of wisdom.’ But Lacan and Žižek are at best dangerous allies for feminists, and it’s not clear to me that Hankins here escapes the logic by which Lacan asserts both that women are the exemplary subjects and yet also that only men like Lacan himself are capable of consciously occupying and articulating that subjective position (Seminar XX: ‘A woman cannot but be excluded by the nature of things, which is the nature of words, and it must be said that if there is something that women themselves complain about for the time being, that’s it. It’s just that they don’t know what they’re saying, that’s the whole difference between them and me.’). The apparent wholeness of Job’s life as a wealthy, property-owning man is stripped away from him; his animals and children all die; yet it is not his sons and daughters who Job mourns but himself, ‘the conditions of his life … his ties to the community … all that he identified with’ (55). Even the incipient natality of Job’s abject positioning between the two deaths is a way to return to the womb and be born again, but this time without a mother. Didn’t Irigaray warn us about this?

I’m asking these questions not because I want to catch Hankins out, but because they’re some of the least comfortable questions that have emerged from my own work on Žižek. I don’t know how to answer them. But I hope that Hankins, whose use of Lacan, Žižek and Johnston is both careful and incisive, might be able to help me, that some surplus dimension might emerge from these cracks.

Hankins is careful to distinguish the freedom of Job from the ‘autonomy or freedom often disparaged these days as Cartesian/Liberal/Romantic’ – and, of course, masculine. The fantasy of wholeness, of the coherence of the Symbolic order, may be equally untrue for all subjects. But as Lacan himself knew, it is not equally intended for all subjects: ‘A woman cannot but be excluded by the nature of things’. Can a person be made a nothing if she has always been nothing? I am thinking here not only of women but also of blackness, especially as it is understood in the work of Frank Wilderson. There is something troubling in the valorisation of violence and trauma in Žižek’s work, of the affirmation of rupture as the locus of newness and possibility. This is not so much because violence and trauma are inherently bad, but rather because of the implication that the primary loci of transformation are we for whom the symbolic order exists, those of us for whose security and stability the violence of everyday language and the ordinary function of things is wrought. If women are constructed as the projection of male fantasies of wholeness, if black people are constructed as the projection of white fantasies of completeness, then may well be that men and white people need to recognise and face up to our own inherent incompleteness. But this is still to construct a drama that takes place primarily around us, we who have already made ourselves the centre of the world. Are we to take even their nothingness away from them?

Davis Hankins’ response to Marika Rose

I am grateful to Marika Rose for her careful presentation of the ideas and analysis offered in the first part of my book, and for her thought-provoking questions.

Rose highlights an admittedly under-developed footnote in which I suggest that Job’s challenges to sapiential discourse could be understood as a feminist response or “feminization” of the tradition’s masculine or patriarchal discourse. She then asks important questions about the extent to which (1) Job’s story, and (2) the primary philosophical influences underlying my interpretation of it, can actually contribute to struggles for transformation by groups marginalized with regards to social life and power.

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Introduction to ‘The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence’ book event

The Following is an introductory post to our book event on The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence by author Davis Hankins. 

A word of thanks, first, to the organizer of this event, Michael Burns, to those who will give their important time to engage this book, and to all who will follow the event as it unfolds over the next few weeks. I am thrilled that such a group would gather to discuss a book that proposes (yet another) reading of the book of Job. I hoped that my book would do more than that, of course, and I gladly take this group’s interest in it as evidence that it does. It’s humbling that such intellectual collaboration and inter-disciplinary engagement would occur around my book.

In this initial post I intend to introduce the event with some background addressing (1) Why I wrote the book? (2) What I see as the primary intellectual stakes of the project? and (3) How I understand this project to relate to a (transcendental) materialist perspective?

 

  1. The book is a revised, truncated version of my doctoral dissertation, defended in February 2011. I first began to formulate the ideas articulated within it in the spring and summer of 2006. While writing my final paper for a spring semester graduate seminar on Lacan with Adrian Johnston, the extent to which a Lacanian orientation could reframe the defining issues in scholarship on ancient Israel’s wisdom tradition became increasingly clear.

Since then, I have expanded the cast of thinkers most important for my theoretical orientation, which initially and primarily included Lacan, the Slovenian marriage of Lacan with Kant and the German Idealists, and Adrian Johnston. While Johnston comes last in this intellectual genealogy, he has been most important to me for (1) clearly presenting the ideas and stakes of the former figures, (2) complementing their work with incredibly useful insights into the clinical importance of theoretical ideas for psychoanalytic practice, and (3) offering important critiques of their ideas from both philosophical/theoretical and political/clinical perspectives. I have continued to learn about and from these thinkers and others as well, even as I have extended my work beyond the wisdom tradition to other questions in biblical and religious studies. This book focuses on Job but also engages these broader influences and interests.

 

  1. I tried to write the book for two audiences. First, at its core the book offers a new reading of the Hebrew text of the book of Job. By consistently relating my interpretation to a full spectrum of contemporary biblical scholarship, I tried to make clear my sense of the extent to which my reading undermines ubiquitous conventions about the book of Job. Far from the liberal humanist referring to a personal experience of transcendence to critique stable doctrines about the divine, Job opposes any appeal to transcendence and insists instead upon God’s immanence to materiality and subjectivity as that which fractures them and ensures their contingency and freedom to enable transformation. My reading will not persuade everyone, but I hope that it raises new questions for Joban scholars to consider and exposes how standard readings of the book actually veil some of the most radical issues that it raises.

As I became increasingly familiar with deconstructions of the distinction between the “religious” and the “secular,” as well as with increasing philosophical interest in and engagement of religion and pre-modern forms of thought, I began to see how my philosophically informed analyses of ancient Israel’s wisdom literature might contribute to larger conversations in contemporary critical theory. Thus the other audience for which I wrote the book, the audience that is presumably involved in this event, includes non-specialists in Second Temple Jewish wisdom literature who are engaged in contemporary conversations about ideology, subjectivity, ethics, ontology, and materialism.

Of course, the book of Job is peppered with theological language, which would superficially at least seem at odds with ideas often associated with materialist thought. But in line with other recent works, such as Michael Burns’s Kierkegaard and the Matter of Philosophy: A Fractured Dialectic, and Ward Blanton’s A Materialism for the Masses: Saint Paul and the Philosophy of Undying Life, one can read religion and theological language in critical, materialist terms without either dismissing such language or compromising one’s materialism. In fact, in my judgment a truly rigorous materialism would be obliged to deny religion the exceptionalism it sometimes seeks. One need not subscribe to supernaturalist belief in a being beyond the rhetoric to ask what function references to God play in the structure of a particular text or philosophical perspective. One can even examine how such paper gods attain agential capacities in shaping the practices, social relations, and psychical symptoms of a particular community without having to posit the existence of some divine being beyond the vagaries of historical particularity. Thus, books by Kierkegaard, letters by Paul, and literature like Job should not be uncritically abandoned to a wasteland of philosophically useless idealisms. On the one hand, such abandonment would fail to take theological language seriously enough by ignoring how such language can effectively mobilize free human subjectivity and authorize collective political activity. On the other hand, such a facile dismissal takes theological language far too seriously, as if it is capable of realizing the onto(theo)logical foundation that new materialisms are otherwise eager to reject.

Some are rightly suspicious of those who would seek to advance their idealist religious and theological commitments by dressing them in the conceptual cloaks of contemporary materialisms. However, as many recognize, explicit atheisms can and often have been informed by a conceptual structure that is homologous to the worst kind of ideological religiosity. And even if such suspicions are justified by some (ab)uses of contemporary materialisms, I think that we cannot grant to religion or theology the idealism to which they at times (but not always) lay claim without thereby recreating the very framework that our materialism is supposedly rejecting. It seems to me that a materialist perspective must analyze theological language without reflexively assuming that it presents a popularization of idealist metaphysics, and attuned to how it participates in signifying systems that endow various political, economic, and other social relations with meanings. This doesn’t mean that all theological language is philosophically of equal value, and so one question that my book addresses is what makes the book of Job philosophically valuable.

 

  1. This book argues that Job is not simply illuminated by a reading from a transcendental materialist perspective; it actually wrestles with and so contributes to the fundamental concerns of transcendental materialism. In the roughly 2500-year-old book of Job, one finds the human self and material reality depicted in ways that resonate deeply with contemporary materialisms. Job offers a relentless critique of transcendence as represented by the wisdom tradition’s two-tiered conception of (human and divine) wisdom. Job resists framing the events it describes by referring to a god or principle such as Wisdom beyond those events. In line with several contemporary materialist projects, the material world and the human subjects within it are, to use Malabou’s term, plastic. Because material reality is non-All, inconsistent, and internally conflicted, it generates more-than-material entities and makes free human subjectivity possible. God in Job is primarily a name for the agency that appears in the capacity of materiality to produce, out of its limits, contradictions, and contingencies, transformations that did not seem possible. God is the force that undermines every attempt to finally determine an identity and keeps material reality destabilized and open to transformation. The book of Job falls far short of an exhaustive engagement with the concerns of contemporary materialisms, but it certainly stages a provocative conflict among voices intriguingly connected to emerging materialisms. Job’s presentations of subjectivity, freedom, ontology, theology, and ethics are certainly not naïve.

For this group, insofar as I make productive use of insights developed within contemporary transcendental materialism for presenting such an ancient, foreign text in a new, materialist light:

  • I think that my book testifies to the flexibility if not generativity (perhaps I should say plasticity) of this emerging materialist orientation.
  • I hope that my book will make it less likely that theological texts are excluded as necessarily non-materialist, and that it will open the canon of ancient literature and the contexts of social dispute that contemporary materialisms engage beyond Paul and Christianity (useful though they are).
  • I suspect that more useful texts and contexts for exercising a materialist critique of religion might be discovered beyond the Platonism that infuses much early Christian rhetoric. (And in fact, materialist engagements with Paul tend to find, as Blanton puts it, a materialist Paul prior to “that saintly Paul who was retrofitted with the concrete shoes of a foundational ontotheology.”)
  • I wonder whether a more materialist engagement with religion might open the theological language that suffuses many of the foundational texts of contemporary materialisms to renewed critical analysis.

With these preliminary remarks in place, I will wait with the patience of Job (that is, anxious anticipation) to hear what others have to say about the book. Again, to all the participants I extend my heartfelt thanks.

 

Book Event: The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence

We are going to be starting our inaugural book event on Davis Hankins’ recently published The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence (Northwestern University Press, 2014).

The event will consist of an introductory post by Hankins on his motivations for writing this book, and what he aims to contribute to debates on contemporary materialist thought, followed with responses to each major section of the book by Marika Rose (Durham University, Tommy Lynch (University of Chichester), and Anthony Paul Smith (Lasalle University).

There is still time to get yourself a copy of this book and get involved, and comments and discussion are encouraged.

We will be posting Hankins’ introduction this weekend, with the three responses to follow in the coming three weeks.

CFP: Workshop on Transcendental Materialism

Workshop on Transcendental Materialism

April 24-25, 2015

Loyola University Maryland

Baltimore

CALL FOR PAPERS

‘Transcendental Materialism: Anthropology, Nature, and the Political’

Keynote Speaker: Adrian Johnston, University of New Mexico

Since the publication of 2008’s Žižek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity, the work of Adrian Johnston has aimed at the development of a contemporary materialist ontology which accounts for the emergence of a more-than-material form of subjectivity from a wholly material grounds. Utilizing the intellectual resources of German idealist philosophy, Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis, Marxist political theory, and the natural sciences, Johnston’s transcendental materialism aims at the development of an atheist, naturalist, and materialist ontology and theory of subjectivity that rivals the work of figures such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek.

This event, the first associated with the Working Group on Contemporary Materialism, will be the first focused on Johnston’s work in particular, and transcendental materialism more generally. To this end, we invite paper and panel proposals that both constructively and critically engage with Johnston’s recent published work, transcendental materialist accounts of subjectivity, the notion of a weak nature, critical engagements with transcendental materialism (especially those coming from the natural sciences, philosophy of mind, religion, and political theory), discussions of Johnston’s work in relation to other contemporary figures, the relationship between naturalism and materialism, and the place of atheism in transcendental materialism.

Other topics include, but are not limited to: 

-Psychoanalysis and materialism

-The natural sciences and contemporary European philosophy

-Materialist accounts of gender and race

-Materialist accounts of life

-The role of materialist analysis in contemporary political theory

-Materialism and religion

-Psychoanalysis and the cognitive sciences (in particular, accounts of emergence)

-Critiques of new materialism and vitalism

-Materialist readings of modern philosophy and German idealism

-Material accounts of notions such as the will, affect, desire, anxiety, etc.

-Materiality in contemporary artistic and literary practice

-Marx and Marxism

-The work of Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek, and Catherine Malabou

-Relational ontologies and theories of transindividuality

We welcome advanced graduate students and all rank of faculty to submit any of the following to be considered for this workshop: papers of approximately 2,500 words, paper abstracts of up to 300 words, and panel proposals of up to three papers. We especially encourage submissions for under-represented groups in the humanities.

Please send submissions (including author’s name and affiliation) to moburns@loyola.edu by March 1st, 2015.

This event is sponsored by The Center for the Humanities and Department of Philosophy at Loyola University Maryland.

For more information on the Working Group on Contemporary Materialism visit: contemporarymaterialism.wordpress.com and facebook.com/contemporarymaterialism

Workshop on Transcendental Materialism CFP (PDF of the CFP)