“The fact remains… that Auschwitz and Hiroshima are also two names that reflect – with their immense differences — a transformation that has affected all of civilization: the involvement of technological rationality in the service of goals incommensurable with any goal that had ever been aimed at before, since these goals embodied the necessity of destruction that was not merely inhuman (inhuman cruelty is an old acquaintance in human history), but entirely conceived and calculated expressly for annihilation. This calculation should be understood as excessive and immoderate compared with all the deadly forms of violence that people had ever known through their rivalries, their hostilities, their hatreds and revenges. This excess consists not only in a change of scale but first and foremost in a change of nature. For the first time, it is not simply an enemy that is being suppressed: Human life taken en masse are annihilated in the name of an aim that goes well beyond combat (the victims, after all, are not combatants) to assert a mastery that bends under its power not only lives in great number but the very configuration of peoples, not only lives but ‘life’ in its forms, relationships, generations, and representations. Human life in its capacity to think, create, enjoy, or endure is precipitated into a condition worse than misery itself: a stupor, a distractedness, a horror, a hopeless torpor.” [10-11]
As Andrew Feenberg once noted, Henry Bugbee’s The Inward Mornings is “the only truly original American existentialism.” Here are two great quotes from the book:
“This theme of reality as wilderness is the theme that unifies my life. It enfolds and simplifies, comprehends and completes. Whenever I awaken, I awaken to it. It carries with it the gift of life.” (128)
“Philosophy is not a making of a home for the mind out of reality. It is more like learning to leave things to be: restoration in the wilderness, here and now.” (155)
The last quote represents only one instance in which Bugbee’s thought resonates with Martin Heidegger’s Gelassenheit.
“From the very beginning of our life, and evermore until we die, movement keeps us in touch with our world in the most intimate and profound way. In our experience of movement, there is no radical separation of self from world. We move in space through constant contact with the contours of our environment. We are in touch with our world at a visceral level, and it is the quality of our ‘being in touch’ that importantly defines what our world is like and who we are. What philosophers call ‘subjects’ and ‘objects’ (persons and things) are abstractions from the interactive process of our experience of a meaningful self-in-a-world. It is one of the primary facts of our existence that we are not now and never were, either as infants or throughout human history, alienated from things, as subjects over against objects. There is no movement without the space we move in, the things we move, and the qualities of movement, which are at the same time both the qualities of the world we experience and the qualities of ourselves as doers and experiencers.”
Mark Johnson, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, 20.
“Interpretation has long been a sin. Understood as a postlapsarian phenomenon (occurring after the Fall) from which humanity must be redeemed, hermeneutics has traditionally been linked with the curse and banishment from the Garden. Interpretation, in short, is a result of the Fall, is itself a fall— from the intelligible to the sensible, from immediacy to mediation, from reading to hermeneutics. As the medieval poet Dante tells the story, the nature of the Fall itself was the transgression of the sign (il trapassar del segno), a lawless semiotic act that initiated the tragic history of interpretation and corrupted the previous immediacy Adam enjoyed in Eden. Hermeneutics is something to be overcome by redemption, whereby the curse of interpretation will be removed in a hermeneutical paradise where interpretation is absent.”
—James K. A. Smith, The Fall of Interpretation, 13-14
“God calls us to be artists, not in some specialized sense, but in our very being. It is this sense of being an artist that is most fundamental: all other senses are derivative from it. The idea that we should view ourselves as works of art becomes even clearer when we consider what Paul says in Eph. 2:10 (RSV): ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ The word translated as ‘workmanship’ could quite easily—and very literally—be translated as ‘work of art.’ For the Greek term is ποιημα (poiēma), which happens to be a form of the term ποιησις (poiēsis). Poiēsis is used to denote the kind of knowledge involved in making art. So Paul quite explicitly says that we are God’s works of art, a meaning that the English term ‘workmanship’ fails to capture adequately. As God’s artworks, we have been ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works,’ and we fulfill God’s intentions for us when we ‘walk’ in those good works. Paul reminds us that we ‘have been saved through faith’ and that this is ‘the gift of God’ (Eph. 2:8). Indeed, our very being is a gift!
Bruce E. Benson, Liturgy as a Way of Life, 22.
“The truth of experience always implies an orientation toward new experience. That is why a person who is called experienced has become so not only through experiences but is also open to new experiences. The consummation of his experience, the perfection that we call ‘being experienced,’ does not consist in the fact that someone already knows everything and knows better than anyone else. Rather, the experienced person proves to be, on the contrary, someone who is radically undogmatic; who, because of the many experiences he has had and the knowledge he has drawn from them, is particularly well equipped to have new experiences and to learn from them. The dialectic of experience has its proper fulfillment not in definitive knowledge but in the openness to experience that is made possible by experience itself.”
—Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 355.
“However one wants to characterize it—whether as finitude, limit, mortality, opinion, partiality, mutability, or immanence—the first topic of philosophy has generally been taken to be something to be overcome.”
—Dennis J. Schmidt, The Ubiquity of the Finite: Hegel, Heidegger and the Entitlements of Philosophy (via James K. A. Smith, The Fall of Interpretation)
How can one see Malick’s The Tree of Life and not be profoundly affected, even changed for good? As Ben Wilson rightly puts it, “his films are often autobiographical, in a way that examines Malick’s mistakes and hopes to educate his viewers about the pitfalls of worldly life, a life that is both a Christian notion and general notion of inauthentic being.” I rank this as one of my top 5 movies of all time.
Click here for a brief review of Malick’s movies and their basic themes.
My favorite scene from The Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life trailer.
“… The church is not a collection of individuals, not even just an organization, but an organism. The church is in fact not an ‘it’ but a ‘we,’ a living subject, united to Christ our head, a body of people that brings many individual persons together, binding wounds precisely in binding people to one another in mutual care and love. For the same reason, the church is not the hierarchy but all of us. You have to start, as [Pope] Francis says, from the ground up. And like any good hospital, the church attempts to heal all those looking for healing, Christian or not.
The church, though, is not just a hospital but a field hospital. Unlike a stationary institution that occupies a certain territory and defends it against encroachment, a field hospital is mobile, an event more than an institution. A field hospital is unconcerned about defending its own prerogatives and instead goes outside of itself to respond to an emergency. As a body, it is visible, but it does not claim its own territory; its event-like character creates spaces of healing. It neither withdraws from the world, sect-like, nor resigns itself to the world as it is. It is not confined to working within the given political and economic structures of the world, nor is it concerned primarily with gaining influence among the powerful in order to change the world from above….”
Click here to read more.
“Consider a lazy day on vacation: the sun is high, the sky a clear duck-egg blue, and you set off for an ambling walk to the beach. First, there is a lunch to think of and plan. A simple lunch of bread, cheese and pickle chosen from among a number of different foodstuffs in the kitchen. Lunch prepared, you look at the fruit bowl and decide to take an apple…. You set off with your map and a book and walk for some time, making observations on the trees and hedgerows, recalling the last time you were here, thinking of friends and family back home, cursorily dwelling on problems at work that are yet to be resolved, imagining what it would be like to stay here by the sea and retire early, enacting in your head little scenarios that might occur when you tell your family and the people in the office of your plans. You find a path down to the coast, checking it against the map. The path is marked but overgrown, and a fence has to be negotiated. On the other side of the fence you pick up the path, and follow it as it wends towards the sea. At one point it disappears and you find yourself in a boggy area without the right footwear. But there’s a large piece of driftwood you can use to cross the worst of it, and some semblance of a path is picked up further down. At the beach you find a good sheltered spot in the sun, with rocks to your back and the sea creeping up the sand in small waves. You sit and decide to read back and the sea creeping up the sand in small waves. You sit and decide to read for a while – a novel about a New York detective in the latter part of the nineteenth century investigating a series of brutal murders in which the bodies are being buried in the foundations for the pillars in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The sun is warm and you doze off, dreaming of waves and huge iron girders, the steep descent down a rugged bank towards the Hudson River, where you encounter your boss.
What we have in this scenario is a spectrum of normal modern consciousness over a given stretch of time…
“To speak of trauma is always to speak too late. Trauma is something we do not see coming. Consider philosopher of neuroplasticity Catherine Malabou’s definition: ‘The word ‘trauma’ in Greek means ‘wound’ and derives from titrosko, which means ‘to pierce.’ Trauma thus designates the wound that results from an effraction—an ‘effraction’ that can be physical (a ‘patent’ wound) or psychical. In either case, trauma names a shock that forces open or pierces a protective barrier.’ Trauma is the experience of an invasive accident. We do not go looking for trauma, and we do not predict its affects or effects. Trauma happens.
Malabou speaks of trauma as a rupture in normal plasticity, the creative process by which human beings synthesize events in our lives so that they make sense. Trauma might also be characterized as a crisis of existential motion, a rupture in the normal processes of human mobility. Human experience is a series of starts and stops. To be human is to navigate the reality of time and space, to deal with ourselves in motion, as beings always defined in relation to our ability to move or not move. When we are confronted with events that overwhelm our capacity to synthesize them into everyday life, we find it inconceivable to move forward. We are stalled by suffering, insurmountable guilt, uncertainty about our sudden change in circumstance, or even the paralysis of idle, abstract thinking. In the face of these events, we are halted, unable to move, shell-shocked by life itself. We are frozen in an existential stasis, stuck inside or outside ourselves, waiting for a time when motion seems possible again and life can go on. Trauma is a name for this crisis of motion…”
Click here to continue to The Other Journal article.
“When I think of the years when I had no faith, what I am struck by, first of all, is how little this lack disrupted my conscious life. I lived not with God, nor with his absence, but in a mild abeyance of belief, drifting through the days on a tide of tiny vanities—a publication, a flirtation, a strong case made for some weak nihilism—nights all adagios and alcohol as my mind tore luxuriously into itself. I can see now how deeply God’s absence affected my unconscious life, how under me always there was this long fall that pride and fear and self-love at once protected me from and subjected me to. Was the fall into belief or into unbelief? Both. For if grace woke me to God’s presence in the world and in my heart, it also woke me to his absence. I never truly felt the pain of unbelief until I began to believe.”
-Chris Weiman, My Bright Abyss
“There would be no history as we know it, no religion, no metaphysics or aesthetics as we have lived them, without an initial act of trust, of confiding, more fundamental, more axiomatic by far than any ‘social contract’ or covenant with the postulate of the divine. This instauration of trust, this entrance of man into the city of man, is that between word and world.”
― George Steiner, Real Presences, 89.
Hot off the press! – “How do human beings become human? This question lies behind the so-called human sciences. But these disciplines are scattered among many different departments and hold up a cracked mirror to humankind. This is why, in the view of Paul Ricoeur, we need to develop a philosophical anthropology, one that has a much older history but still offers many untapped resources.
This appeal to a specifically philosophical approach to questions regarding what it was to be human did not stop Ricoeur from entering into dialogue with other disciplines and approaches, such as psychoanalysis, history, sociology, anthropology, linguistics and the philosophy of language, in order to offer an up-to-date reflection on what he saw as the fundamental issues. For there is clearly not a simple, single answer to the question what is it to be human? Ricoeur therefore takes up the complexity of this question in terms of the tensions he sees between the voluntary and the involuntary, acting and suffering, autonomy and vulnerability, capacity and fragility, and identity and otherness.
The texts brought together in this volume provide an overall view of the development of Ricoeur s philosophical thinking on the question of what it is to be human, from his early 1939 lecture on Attention to his remarks on receiving the Kluge Prize in 2004, a few months before his death.” (Publisher blurb)
With proper delimitations, I fully resonate with Foucault when he writes: “I can’t help but dream about a criticism that would try not to judge but to bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life… It would multiply not judgments but signs of life.”* May God grant me such spaciousness of mind and soul.
*”Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth: Essential Work of Michel Foucault, 1955–1984,” Volume 1, 323.
Mark gives us the specific, though ambivalent, toponym of the desert. The desert is the site of coercion, anxiety, exile, and especially ordeal, hence we have very few positive statements about it. It is a difficult place, a playground for evil spirits and demons, and when we are there we must answer only one question: how to survive? But the desert is a space of silence and peace which is far from the noise of the city and civilization. In the desert there is no wrangling over space, no quibbling as there is in the city, and what is quite important to say, the desert offers a kind of shelter because all social bonds are broken and physical needs are reduced to a minimum. We go to the “desert” when we would like to distance ourselves from the city and its “complex and urban” style of life. Mark warns us that we must adopt the primordial Messianic practice of confessing sin, which begins, paradoxically, in the desert, since the desert is the only privileged place for encountering God. But at the same time the desert is a place to leave in order to confront in terms of ideology the elite in the seats of power who oppress the poor on the margins of society. Mark describes this journey to the seat of power in a lucid and “moderately” deconstructivist way.
In Mark’s case deconstruction should be understood as a specific strategy of reading that brings into doubt every privileged structural taxonomy by introducing a new difference, trace, and supplement to the reading. Deconstruction insists on a marginal irreducible remainder which generates heterogeneity by insisting on digressions, quotes, commentaries, parodies. And finally, deconstruction in this instance should be thought of as a tool that brings into question a reading which claims to be privileged. Understood in this way, deconstruction in Mark’s case can be a form of political strategy.
-Boris Gunjević, God in Pain, 257-258
When I look back at the years of my undergraduate teaching, the following words by Rowan Williams very much sum up one of my central concerns: “Sharing the good news is not so much a matter of telling people what they have never heard of, as of persuading them that there are things they haven’t heard when they think they have” (The Lion’s World, 17). In other words, shattering the sense of familiarity and unstated disdain of “there is not much there” or “I have already heard it before.” To that end, confusion rather than clarity is often the more appropriate outcome, as is fabulation and excess over didactic obviousness.
“Ressentiment is a self-poisoning of the mind which has quite definite causes and consequences. It is a lasting mental attitude, caused by the systematic repression of certain emotions and affects which, as such are normal components of human nature. Their repression leads to the constant tendency to indulge in certain kinds of value delusions and corresponding value judgments. The emotions and affects primarily concerned are revenge, hatred, malice, envy, the impulse to detract, and spite.”
-Max Scheler, Ressentiment, 29