Monday, June 29, 2009

Philosophy of Life Conference Round-Up

I got back last night from Liverpool Hope's "Towards a Philosophy of Life: Reflections on the Concept of Life in Continental Philosophy of Religion" conference, having had a thoroughly enjoyable (if not totally follow-able) weekend. My own learning style is not comfortable with listening to people read written papers. I'm much more at home with people presenting, rather than reading, work. But philosophers tend to go for the practice of writing a journal paper or book chapter or whatever, and then just reading it out - rather than thinking about their audience's learning styles and altering the piece in order to facilitate rather than alienate others! Only very few of the papers this weekend were easy to follow (even if you knew the material they were talking about) which was disappointing. But I have always felt that sociologists of religion are much better presenters, thereby actually helping their audience follow their argument. Didn't mean to start this post off with a bit of a moan, but philosophers' styles of presentation do tend to detract from the enjoyment of philosophy conferences.

I met a cool bunch of people, including Simon Scott (PhD student at Warwick), Shahida Bari (How To Live blog), Aaron Landau (University of Hong Kong), Todd Mei (University of Kent) and Chad Lackies (Concordia Seminary, here's his blog). It was particularly great to meet Colby Dickinson (KU Leuven) whose paper on Agamben, the messianic and canonicity was really stimulating because of a resonance with my own work. Canonicity, Colby writes, is "the 'desire' for the canonical over and beyond any canon," clearly mirroring the hope against hope for the messianic given voice in but not restricted to determinate concrete messianisms. My paper also charted this dual movement, but in relation to Jack Caputo's historical association with Christianity (I was looking particularly at creation and kingdom in order to refute Jamie Smith's characterization of Caputo's work as allergic to determinate particularities, more of which in a later post) and messianic disassociation. Colby made some intriguing connections with identity formation, and Jack, Colby and I had a useful discussion after his paper about how communities that adopt deconstructive theologies actually do (ir)religious community. It's what I'm hoping to work on next, getting together a proposal for a research fellowship after I've finished my thesis.

Anyway, Jack's paper on "Bodies Without Flesh: The Soft Gnosticism of Incarnational Theology" was very thought provoking, though I know there were a lot of people that were very disppointed that John Milbank only came for his own paper, rather than engaging with Caputo's criticisms of Radical Orthodoxy's incarnational theology. His excuse was that he had, apparently, been stuck on one of the amphibious vehicles (duck) that take you on tours round Liverpool and brokedown (lame). Well, Jack's paper draws from his work towards a sequel to The Weakness of God, currently entitled The Weakness of Flesh. He argued that incarnational theology's incarnation is not radical enough. It is a theology of in-carnation, rather than a theology of carnality. It places "the life of flesh within an economy of bodies without flesh." Like contemporary robotologists, incarnational theology attempts to transform bodies of flesh into bodies without flesh, in the process "betraying" flesh, harbouring a secret "horror of flesh." Instead, he asked, "What would a theology of carnality itself, before or without In-carnation, look like?" "Instead of a transaction between fleshly and fleshless being, I propose a more radical conception of incarnation as an event of flesh itself, of becoming-flesh," of taking, therefore, Christianity seriously, at its word, as the Word made flesh. Caputo is, as I intimated above, not removing himself from the Christian tradition but trying to make the tradition "make good" on its promises. Looking forward to The Weakness of Flesh already!

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