Politics, Religion, Violence, and Faith: Simon Critchley’s Faith of the Faithless Reviewed

Works Reviewed: Simon Critchley, Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology New York: Verso, 2012. 291 pp.

 When I think of religion at all, I feel as if I would like to found an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of the Faithless, one might call it, where on an altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine. Everything to be true must become a religion. And agnosticism should have its ritual no less than faith. – Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Penned within the dreary atmosphere of Reading Gaol, the dismal cry of the Irish poet has now been taken up by an English philosopher as the launching point for a series of historical and philosophical investigations into the interdependence of politics and religion. In Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology Simon Critchely argues that the religious dimension of the letter Wilde penned while in prison, and especially his interpretation of the figure of Christ, can helpfully illumine the “dilemma of politics and belief.” (3) This dilemma is not merely one confronted by those who identify as atheists, although that is the vantage point which Critchley chooses to adopt. At the heart of what makes Wilde such a captivating figure, for Critchley, is his resolute refusal to accept any misfortune as the occasion to accept an extraneous mode of salvation. Aware that he has ruined himself and squandered his artistic talents Wilde sees his condition as “the occasion for a fresh mode of self-realization.” (2) Wilde articulates this self-realization in terms of politics and ritual. That everything to be true must become religion, suggests Critchley, should be read as an affirmation of the necessity of ritual in the act of fidelity, or ‘being true to’ something.(3)

Can the need for ritual, for religious truth and a framework of ritual, coexist with a rigorous refusal of external commands or extraneous symbolism? Continue reading

Identity, Ecology, and Entanglement

Review: Timothy Morton The Ecological Thought Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012 159 pp.

Joshua Paetkau

the-ecological-thoughtUnder the auspice of identity we write towards an indiscernible future that holds forth hope not only as vision or project but in reality and in truth. What is it to evoke a catholic commons but to signal an intimate entanglement with which we are never truly finished? Never finished because the commons is not something that belongs to us but rather the interconnectedness wherein we constantly find ourselves surprised by beings who fill us with wonder, delight, amazement, disgust, frustration and pain. To speak of the commons is always to speak of what is beyond private control; it is to speak of communion and camaraderie and at the same time the pain, isolation, and violence that come bound up in earthly existence. That the commons is catholic is a sign of its expansiveness, our locality is not protectionist. And what could it be to be seeking the kingdom except that we are on the road open to encounter with that strange stranger who just, just might be the Christ? Continue reading

A Review of William Ophuls’ Plato’s Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology

Plato’s Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology, William Ophuls, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2012, 256 pp.

Joshua Paetkau

At the heart of every recent political discussion is an increasingly insurmountable problem; the challenge of ecological scarcity. At the heart of the ever-deepening ecological crisis is the uncomfortable reality that the way we live today, the consumptive choices we make and the way we organize ourselves socially and politically, may be denying our grandchildren a future. The fact that consumer/industrial society has so eagerly jumped on the “green” bandwagon makes our situation that much more ridiculous, as though slapping on a few eco-friendly labels could radically alter the destructive consumptive patterns to which we have become accustomed.

William Ophuls confronts this ecological challenge, in Plato’s Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology, with a powerful mixture of ingenuity and wisdom. Continue reading

Review: Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control

Medea Benjamin Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control New York: OR Books, 2012.

Joshua Paetkau

A recent article in the New York Times, entitled “A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a Word Away” chronicles some of the psychological disturbances facing drone pilots, as they routinely confront an “enemy” across the world from the safety of a computer screen. While critics may argue that drones turn war into a video game reality, the piece seems to contend, the high-resolution cameras bring intimate footage of the people these pilots are attacking. Continue reading

Sacred Exchanges

Images in Global Context

Robyn Ferrell Sacred Exchanges: Images in Global Context New York: Columbia University Press, 2012, 192 pages. $50.00

Joshua Paetkau

Time and again, as I read through Robyn Ferrell’s new bookthe words of Frank Scott’s villanelle passed, unbidden, through my mind. Not steering by the venal chart, that tricked the mass for private gain.We rise to play a greater part. Reshaping narrow law and art, whose symbols are the millions slain, From bitter searching of the heart We rise to play a greater part. Through the lens of the Australian Aboriginal art movement Ferrell confronts the reader with some surprising truths about the world we live in and the myopic and murderous callousness which makes us inattentive to these realities. Continue reading

Girls Fall Down: An Online Symposium

The Catastrophe of Bodily Living

by Joshua Paetkau

Review: Maggie Helwig Girls Fall Down
Toronto: Coach House Books, 2008, 266 pages.  

Bodies rushing along at breakneck speeds through underground tunnels; impersonal and unattached they come and go in steady even streams. As if they formed a sort of modern analogy of Epicurean materialism, bodies raining down evenly through the plumbless void. What could cause them to break their eternal movement of incessant isolation? What could cause this solitary congregation to turn its attention outwards? Continue reading

Infrastructure Wars: Connectivity and the Role of the State

A Review of Jo Guldi’s Roads to Power: Britain Invents the Infrastructure State. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012, 297 pages.

Joshua Paetkau

The opening paragraph of Jo Guldi’s Roads to Power: Britain Invents the Infrastructure State plunges the reader into the sinkhole of a 1726 British road large enough to swallow a horse.  This scene is directly contrasted with the wide level highways of 1848 setting the stage for a classic tale of human ingenuity, progress and national unity. It is not to be. Guldi instead depicts a vivid dialectical landscape, narrating the rise and demise of infrastructure, and the many battles between, with far-reaching and incisive clarity. Continue reading