Sunday, March 28, 2010

Walking old paths with trepidation

John Milbank used to dominate my intellectual landscape but has for several years been peripheral at best. Well, I took him into my sights tonight after stumbling across two interviews, both very articulate (wouldn't have expected any less), both downright obstinate (also hardly surprising).

The first took place earlier this month and includes some startling theo-political triumphalism. The conclusion seems to suggest that Red Toryism, as a re-working of the religious and classical legacy of the Western world, "alone can now save Europe, America, and the world." The man's got balls. To demonstrate:
NS: Do you see your participation in this dialogue as evangelization? What do you hope to accomplish?

JM: Yes. Victory.

In the other interview, printed nearly two years ago, Milbank gives some of the bang-on cultural analysis that has brought him so many disciples over the years.
The boy at the shop counter with no customers is not allowed to read a book to improve himself all day, but who cares what he gets up to with sex and drink after the shop closes? general it would seem that, as Adorno and Horkheimer predicted, sexualization is intended to keep us all quiet: neurotic, hysterical, frustrated and unhappy but still ‘looking’.
Science and the so-called sexual revolution are happy bedfellows in the quest for individual liberty, one guaranteeing the possibility of an unquestionable morality, or freedom to truth, and the other guaranteeing the endless freedom of choice. Milbank recognizes the perverse nature of this new ideal of subjectivity. Of course, his stories of how this subjectivity has been created and how we might be saved from it are far too simple, or at least too confident in themselves.

I've been dipping my feet into the theological blogosphere lately and find myself drawn in and put off in equal measure. I've been away from the us-them rhetoric of the church and theologians for so long. Ironically, I would wish of this sphere exactly what Milbank wishes of the public debates surrounding atheism: for "more recognition that many embrace a complex mix of belief and unbelief" and, I would add, a greater humility and reserve when it comes to social stories of salvation. Some bloggers demonstrate great acumen in navigating this complexity, like Ben Myers over at Faith and Theology. The best post I've read in recent browsing is his brief contribution to the official 2010 Global Atheist Convention online discussion, on the role of atheism in Christian thought.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Aesthetic Justification of Existence

or The Convalescent

I had a predominantly unremarkable weekend... really quite boring. But for the entirety of the weekend I was somehow able to hear music well. Like that night at Folkfest back in 2006, standing in a hushed crowd watching Bruce Cockburn master the 12-string guitar and perform songs from several decades of his career. That night I walked to the parking lot with one thought in my mind: life is going to be awesome. If I can keep hearing superb music I've never heard before - fuck, if I can hear superb music at all - then life will literally be awe-some. A simple sentiment, I know. Perhaps too romantic, decadent even. And yet it has returned with such force over the years, often when discovering old and new music at the same time - both old to me and old in the sense that there are people who have been listening to that exact recording for 40 years.

This weekend involved favourites from a few years ago (Picastro, Karl Blau), favourites from childhood (the aforementioned Emmylou Harris), simple classics I had never heard before (Nancy Griffiths), flash-in-the-pan pop from before I was born (Haircut 100) and good stuff I somehow passed over in the last years (The Decemberists). The cumulative effect: life is going to be awe-some.

In The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche suggests that if our existence can be justified, this justification is aesthetic. As Apollo disappears from his later books, so does this far too Wagnerian notion of aesthetic justification. He finds something unseemly in his previous assertion; it is in bad taste. (Whether the redemption Nietzsche finally does embrace is not equally in bad taste is a matter for future discussion.) I am inclined to believe that aesthetic awe is something quite different from aesthetic justification, but, to be honest, I have misplaced my notes and cannot expand at present. No matter. None of these posts are really finished anyway.

Had to include this tune, considering I'm re-reading On the Genealogy of Morals, in which Nietzsche speaks with such reverence of those brave races whose action is spontaneous, instinctual, not reactive and weak. Those blond beasts, those lions.

Monday, March 1, 2010


The Gay Science, aphorism 275:

What is the seal of liberation?
-- No longer being ashamed in front of oneself.

I recently spoke of my experience on the Camino de Santiago as a Lenten journey, one of both self-discipline and self-mortification. My body was breaking down and I was becoming increasingly less attractive; my intellectual capacity was diminishing as my mind was taken over by mundane daily concerns; spending nearly 24 hours a day with other people also meant that I became less patient and less kind. I could not be the person that I think I should be... that I think I am. While I recognize the importance of allowing these self-narrations to fall away, the ego puts up a hell of a fight.

Here's to bruised egos. May they perish from their wounds.

Lately, when I'm not listening to the ambient techno of Pantha du Prince or Emmylou's gospel tunes, I've been enjoying rock anthems. Below you will find a slick tribute to endurance. I hope this is what the kids are listening to these days.