Monday, September 18, 2006 

faith and différance

(with a little help from Caputo.) Here's how he briefly explained différance in his latest book:

...we must all make our way by way of the differential spacing of signifiers... the structuralists took these signifying chains to be rigoriously systematic and rule-governed... Derrida argued that these chains formed, not closed formalizable systems, but open-ended, uncompletable networks, like the Internet, in which any element could link on anywhere with some other element and in that fashion spread endlessly across the surface. One could no more get to the end of these chains than one could point and click on every link [on the Web]...

By defending the idea of différance, Derrida meant to say that we make sense under conditions that threaten to undo the sense we make, and that our beliefs and practices enjoy only a provisional unity and tentative stability that is in principle liable to unravel at the most inconvenient times.

From a religious point of view, I think this does not undermine faith but explains precisely why we need faith.

Différance... is a quasi-transcendental condition of possibility for distinguishing "secular/sacred," or "theistm/atheism," constituting the slash between them. Différance... exposes the contingency of any constituted order.

There it is, in the bolded text above (emphasis mine).

Caputo goes on to link "Paul and Derrida, First Corinthians and deconstruction -- a scandal to the faithful and a stumbling block to the deconstructors, the central point" of the book I've just quoted, The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event. Which I'd like to get to at some point, but I think I need to read past the first several pages of Chapter One before tackling that.

No, I think the thought this morning leans more towards personal exploration. St. Paul will have to wait.


Let me repeat in paraphrase. Différance does not undermine faith, but reveals why it is necessary. How cool is it that différance was coined for a secular philosophical world by a philosopher who says of himself "I quite rightly pass for an atheist"?

I suppose that Jacques and I have that last part in common.

So, what is différance? What is faith? Am I suggesting they are synonyms? Hardly! I'm saying that they are inextricably connected, that the space between a seeming binary opposition (signified by the slash) can signify both -- particularly when we are talking about "christian/atheist."

The problem here is that Caputo (and I) define faith rather differently than most people I encounter. Their faith seems to be some blind claim to something known as Truth. My faith is in something rather different, an unraveling instability that opens up a vast array of opportunity for Something Different, Something Unknown, Something To Come. Rather than mysteries embedded in fairy tales and myth, I'm passionate about the mystery found in the trace, the unknown miracle of all that is signified by that which cannot be deconstructed: things like justice, love, the gift. (This does not mean that story does not play a big role. On the contrary! Stories, life, context are the very things from which meaning is created.)

What I'm getting at here is that -- and I might be really getting myself in some deep shit here -- I have unofficially added my faith, both in concept and its very personal application -- to that list. Faith can't be deconstructed, nor easily defined. That means that I have faith in faith.


This is very different than saying "I have faith that things written in this book are True." You know, things like sin and the fall and Adam, Eve, resurrection, Hell, etc. That is a very easy thing to explain, especially when others understand your shorthand ("I am a Christian.") to mean this.

I don't believe that that is faith, at least as I am attempting to define it, to defend it.


You know, at first I misunderstood deconstruction. In failing to see the hope that's released when one is at play with language, the trace and what is signified, I mistook it for something nihilistic (and I didn't mind this so much, nor did I find it to be so damn dangerous -- perhaps because I'd already had other, less philosophical reasons to be nihilistic and I didn't quite have it in me to act out any longer). I remember having an engaging discussion with Michael Turner, along with several film and English majors at a party. Theory and deconstruction came up (like it does) and I was arguing that there is no Meaning. Michael said, "Of course there is meaning!" only I couldn't tell he wasn't capitalizing the "m" because this was spoken discourse (don't even get me started. I was utterly baffled when the first text we read in the Lit Theory seminar was the Phaedrus).

Of course there is meaning.

It just took a Catholic scholar's reading of Derrida to get me to understand that.


Which kind of leads us to the blog post below.




What possessed me to voluntarily attend church

... twice in as many months.

this is not to mislead anyone (especially the likes of the young gentleman i ended up sitting next to at brunch today post-service, who desperately needed to figure out how to categorize me... not an xian but why did you go to church?!? etc.)

i don't know. i think i'm a christian as much as i am an atheist, but i prefer to avoid both descriptive self-referential signifiers (and others similar to them) because both terms are SO FREAKING LOADED. what i mean by both is so incredibly different from what others assume i mean, that it doesn't really make sense to try to "explain" my beliefs without the vast swath of context that comes from months, years of candid conversation and friendship. you know, that and very long theoretical blog posts, manifestos, etc.

what i am isn't even as simple as the space in between a single binary, say christian/atheist (i'd love to just write that out and draw an arrow pointing to the slash, but it's too simple). i don't even have the wherewithal to explore the trace in both (and surely they are tightly wound, entertwined at certain points).

the two signifiers seem to pretend to be opposites, such a neat binary opposition, but they are so dependent on each others' limitless strings of signifieds that i think the slash signifies some crazy endless patternless weave between the two.

and you want me to trace the slim thread known as "shanna" that is wound so tightly in knots and curlicues, patterns without pattern within that string of characters while sipping a mojito and eating a veggie burger?

i promised not to use the weaving/tapestry metaphor again but it's simply too convenient, and this one is infinite (i'm reminded of "the blanket thing" in i heart huckabees).

okay, so here it is. caputo said something that i really love (please don't kill me for the heresy of paraphrasing, for this was spoken in a small session at a conference a few years ago). one of the arrogant young pastors who kept insisting that jesus (or the bible, or his particular interpretation of certain portions of that text) is the final signified became very irritated and questioned why, then caputo was catholic. caputo replied very simply that it's the tradition from which he, jack caputo, theologian and college professor, sprung. thrives. (it's contingency, folks!)

okay, wait for it, because this is the really odd, exciting part. the mysteries of the unexpected! who thought in my early militant atheism, in the sloe-eyed passion of agnosticism, the extraordinarily painful and frightening loss of particularly charasmatic xian faith, the early nihilistic deconstructive days* -- that i would return to the christian conversation? why do i give a shit about the emergent church? the assumptions embedded in the language spoken from pulpits/lecterns/podiums drives me nuts. the language assumes that i share the same myriad of first principles, beliefs, definitions as the speaker. i'm not a big fan of participating in liturgy; i'm uncomfortable and frankly bored by most religious services, even those i grew up attending.

it's the conversation that i'm interested in (and admittedly some deep-seated hope that somehow things will end up in a sing-a-long that involves the songs i know and love). the breaking of bread, sharing of wine, intimate conversation and community. no one else is discussing these things (well, i suppose they do in academia, but i don't currently have access to those conversations, and you must admit that a campfire or a spaghetti dinner is preferable to an ivory tower), and this is what i'm passionate about.

on a weekday afternoon from the blue office of an independent press i took a quick break from editing a paranormal fantasy novel to google a couple of high school friends i had lost touch with. (this was before myspace ;-) i stumbled across david hopkins' musings on postmodernism and christianity.

how could this be? at the time i could not imagine that those two could do anything other than repel each other like opposite poles of a magnet.

and so, on a lark, in a few brief moments, i shot david a quick email that would serve as a marker, a pivot upon which my life would turn, change.

i got drawn into -- no, i dove into -- the conversation. one unlike those i shared with my marxist, freudian, feminist professors and peers, those who viewed my passion for theory, deconstruction, derrida with bewilderment.

i'm friends with some people just as crazy as i am, perhaps even more so to try to marry christianity and deconstruction with heart and integrity.


listen: i have church nearly every sunday morning while listening to garrison keilor. when i sit quietly with a book, engaging with the text, reading and writing. twice a year when i throw dinners spaghetti and chili. when i'm in my kitchen preparing dinner, creating something to share across a table from loved ones.


the contingency/ies of a human life lived bring us to the unexpected places. bran is a queer theorist, a buddhist, a vegan. i'm a chef, a friend, an editor, a mediocre seamstress, a one-time songwriter, an attendee of emergent gatherings and conferences, a lover of rorty and caputo, derrida and dollimore, a reader of books and a friend of two cats.

i am defined by the life i faithfully create.

*please note that these are listed in no particular order


yes, i am back

i am living in dallas. i have a job interview on tuesday.

that is all.

Monday, September 11, 2006 

The Weakness of God

some thoughts from Caputo:

... prayer is not the private property of the faithful but a common passion, indeed, the common lot of us all, for we are all praying and weeping for the coming of something, even if, especially if, we know not what, which leaves us praying to be able to pray.

the kingdom [is] a way of living, not in eternity, but in a time....

(emphasis mine. quotes form pp 18 and 15, respectively)

check out his book