(5 stars for Zizek, 2 for Milbank)
This is a collaboration between Zizek and John Milbank - Zizek writes the first part, Milbank the middle and Zizek the end. Zizek is of course a famous cultural theorist of the left, Milbank a Christian theologian who supports Radical Orthodoxy.
I enjoyed the book overall, but found Milbank's middle section hard work. I found him pretty obscure and often difficult to follow - I've taken an interest in theology and philosophy for the last thirty years so I think I'm ok at the "interested layman" level of reading, but I struggled with this, even though I was genuinely interested in what he had to say.
Zizek is much more enjoyable - it is a while since I have read him, but coming back to him was a delight. I'm not saying he is the easiest person to follow either, but it doesn't really matter, you know that basically he is trying to make you think about things differently, take what you thought might be the case and turn it on its head - and doing so in an engaging and intelligent way.
So try to summarise the book - well they certainly do make reference to each other. They are clearly in disagreement, Zizek offers a sort of Christian Atheism as the true Christianity - when God becomes human and dies, this really is God emptying himself and freeing humanity to make their own choices. Following Lacan however he says that when God dies he does not vanish, but goes into the unconscious, unaware of his own death.
There is a lot of this sort of playing with ideas and theology, but essentially the issue is a political one. Milbank represents a new moderate middle ground political force that aligns itself with "Red Toryism" and "Blue Labour", his central argument is that we must accept paradox as part of reality, and not try to resolve it to remove it. There is a lot of quoting of Meister Eckhart - the German mystic and theologian who took over from Thomas Aquinas after his death - on both sides - for Milbank it is the paradox at the heart of Eckhart - there is nothing outside the world, there is nothing outside God, we are yet both within the world and within God etc. Yet this also reflects the paradoxical nature of the state and our political strategy - being both on the left and on the right. He problem with Zizek is he doesn't stay in the paradoxical moment, but is in too much of a hurry to move on from the existing paradox.
For Zizek the issue is of course the dialectic - the constant move of one side unsettling the other, which in turn unsettles the first side, like two Judo fighters pulling and twisting each other to the ground.. each perhaps in turn being replaced by another fighter (perhaps a Power Ranger or an American Wrestler). He refuses to settle for the paradox of the present but continually wants to look at how the injustice of the global political system can be overturned through an authentic act of agape - the term for "love" in the Bible which Zizek defines as "political love".
Zizek isn't interested in the supernatural - unless as some fantasy or dream or desire - any miracle is only an event after all which believers choose to interpret as a sign or portent. His interest in theology and religion is political. Can we discover within religion and more particularly in Christianity the political revolt against the dominant world order which attempts to make every subject simply a consumer?
Such an interpretation is actually quite in line with the New Testament readings of John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg - they see the story of Jesus as itself a parable against the dominant violent Roman Empire -all the titles of Caesar - Saviour of the World, Light of the World etc - are taken from him and given to Jesus, and the Magi following the Star to Jesus is a reinscribing of Aeneas following the Star of Venus to Rome.
I'm not quite sure what Zizek wants to take from theology in the cause of politics - but against the claim from AJ Ayer and others that theology is meaningless, it is clear that it serves a purpose in defining the self and the creation of the subject - just read Weber on Calvinism and Protestantism for example - so it may just be that there are enough believers in Anonymous, Occupy, Uncut etc that are following the star away from capitalism to create a new Kingdom/Political Space that is not of this world.
on 27 April 2011
The reader should beware: a knowledge of Christian theology and of Hegel's philosophy is a necessary requirement for understanding this book. A more approachable introduction to Zizek's atheistic Christianity is 'The Puppet and the Dwarf'. Here, however, his musings are followed by a reply from the Anglican theologian John Milbank. There is an aggressive tone to Milbank's humourless ramblings. He seems to believe that only one interpretation of Christianity (his own) is acceptable, and that all modern philosophy is 'nihilistic' (a characterization which would certainly not be accepted by many of the thinkers to whom he refers). Milbank's understanding of Hegel is superficial; his comprehension of Lacan is defective. The best part of the book is Zizek's reply to this, illuminating his own views in the sparkling light of intellectual fireworks.