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March 26th, 2013 at 8:30 am

An Editorial and Ontological Insurrection, by Santiago Zabala

Hermeneutic Communism

This week we are featuring the Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion, Politics, and Culture series, edited by Clayton Crockett, Creston Davis, Jeffrey Robbins, and Slavoj Zizek. Remember to enter our Book Giveaway to win FREE copies of The Incident at Antioch by Alain Badiou, Rage and Time by Peter Sloterdijk, and Hermeneutic Communism by Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala. Also check out Insurrections on Pinterest!

Today, we have a guest post from Professor Santiago Zabala, in which he discusses the unique nature and success of the Insurrections series, and its significance in critical studies today.

In order for any scholarly series to work there are three indispensable components: a distinguished academic press, a long-term philosophical project, and, most of all, passionate editors. CUP’s Insurrections series not only has all of these, but also has become a model for series from other presses. A few weeks ago I was at a conference in New Delhi called On World Religions: Diversity, Not Dissension (which took place at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and was organized by the distinguished Indian philosopher Anindita Balslev and attended by intellectuals from all over the world, including the His Holiness the Dalai Lama). I was asked by a group of students whether I knew what would be the next titles in Insurrections. I must confess I was not completely surprised to be asked because these researchers, in keeping with the intellectual environment of the event, were already interested in the intersection of religion, politics, and culture. However, the series is known not only within the intellectual circle of political theology as I have discovered elsewhere in Asia and South America over the past years. I’m not interested in writing a report on the series’ editorial success, even though it’s clear the editors (Slavoj Žižek, Clayton Crockett, Creston Davis, and Jeffrey W. Robbins) have managed to create a true editorial insurrection, but rather in pointing out the ontological nature of the series. In order to do this, it is first important to understand who these editors are.

The four editors of Insurrections are truly postmetaphysical philosophers, that is, concerned with what Michel Foucault called the “ontology of actuality,” where existence is not given beforehand but rather disclosed through its own historical disruptions. This is evident not only in the work of Slavoj Žižek but also in that of the other three editors, who merit as much attention as the Slovenian philosopher. While Creston Davis, a long-time disciple and collaborator of Žižek, has been articulating a refreshing materialist-immanent theology for years now, Clayton Crockett and Jeffrey W. Robbins have contributed in a unique way to political theology’s democratic effort to overcome conservative theological articulations (unfortunately expressed by the newly elected Pope Francis in Rome). What unites these editors and what they bring to the intersection between politics and theology is the vision that the truth of political theology in the twenty-first century can no longer be imagined through liberal reforms or anarchic events but only by reconsidering democracy as a form of religious practice and political thought. This new democracy is not simply unconstrained by modern liberal capitalism but actually its greatest enemy, that is, a true insurrection. The fact these editors have so much in common is perhaps the reason why the series, only seven years after its inception, is so successful. Certainly, the books in the series have sold, which is important, but much more significant are its consequences, that is, the issues it has given form to.

These consequences are palpable in three themes that are at the center of the texts the editors have chosen. For example, in the first book of the series the hermeneutic superstars John D. Caputo and Gianni Vattimo debate the transition from secularism to postsecularism in order to indicate, among other things, the democratic potentialities of “pensiero debole,” weak thought, which this year celebrates its twentieth anniversary. This same transition is at the center of other two important texts of the series: Anatheism: Returning to God After God by Richard Kearney and Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe by Mary-Jane Rubenstein. In all these texts the death of God and end of metaphysics are points of departure not only for philosophical reflection but also for theological and political activism. These consequences are felt also when we open a very different book, Hegel and the Infinite: Religion, Politics, and Dialectic (with contributions from Catherine Malabou, Mark C. Taylor, and Katrin Pahl, among others), where Hegel’s “absolute knowledge” is interpreted not as a “monster of conceptual totality devouring every contingency,” but rather, as Clayton Crockett and Creston Davis explain in the introduction, in order to reclaim thought after “philosophy’s linguistic turn in the twentieth century, which ended up subverting the very core of philosophy’s desire, namely, the pursuit of truth.”

Those of us who have been paying attention to this remarkable series have probably noticed how the intersection of religion, politics, and culture is a postmetaphysical realm whose nature is to insurrect, that is, to disrupt ideological paradigms. To venture into the transition from secularism to postsecularism in favor of a weak God or interpreting Hegel against twentieth-century analytic philosophy’s corporatist dominion in universities is to pursue the conversation in Richard Rorty’s meaning of the word. But this conversation will not be peaceful: while in a dialogue truth is always presupposed, in a conversation it is the result of a free exchange, without which democracy and freedom are meaningless. Being in conversation means being in conflict for the sake of another world, where the death of God is an opportunity and Hegel’s dialectic is an intellectual engagement rather than a theoretical analysis. The ontological goal of the series is not to prepare a guide but rather to set in motion a conflict that for too long has been missing from our shelves. As an author who had the privilege to release a book in the series—Hermeneutic Communism, coauthored with G. Vattimo, which praises both the return of communism and the progressive reforms of the late Hugo Chávez—perhaps I am not the most objective interpreter of the value of the editorial and ontological insurrection of Žižek, Crockett, Davis, and Robbins, but I’m honored to be part of it.

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