Friday, 21 September 2007

On Barth and Žižek

The October issue of Modern Theology was released today, and it includes some excellent articles. I was especially interested in Kenneth Oakes, “The Question of Nature and Grace in Karl Barth: Humanity as Creature and as Covenant-Partner,” Modern Theology 23:4 (2007), 595-616 – an article which is also relevant to yesterday’s discussion. Oakes offers a careful and sophisticated defence of Barth against the criticisms of Przywara and Milbank, i.e., that Barth separates nature and grace, with the result that human beings are construed as “closed and alien to the grace of God” (p. 597). Oakes shows that Barth was in fact remarkably close to de Lubac – in Barth’s own words, “man in the Bible is the being for whom, whether he knows it or not, it is necessary and essential to desire God; and he is the being who by his creation is capable of this” (CD, III/2, p. 413).

The same issue includes a fascinating reading of Žižek’s theological writings: Frederiek Depoortere, “The End of God’s Transcendence? On Incarnation in the Work of Slavoj Žižek,” Modern Theology 23:4 (2007), 497-523. Depoortere explores the Hegelian, Lacanian and Marxist coordinates of Žižek’s theological analysis, focusing especially on Žižek’s view that “the Incarnation should be understood as the end of God’s transcendence” (p. 498).

I thought the most interesting aspect of this paper was the elucidation of Žižek’s claim that Christ is “the ultimate objet petit a.” For Žižek, just as “money is the commodity as such, Christ is man as such” (p. 514). In the crucifixion, “a particular human being is stripped of all his particular characteristics and reduced to ‘man as such’. At that moment, he is disgorged by the symbolic order … and therefore he reduces to nothing but a piece of waste, the excrement of the symbolic order. Only at that precise moment, then, does Christ truly become Christ, the ‘ultimate objet petit a,’ the incarnation of the human excess as such, that excess which can never be contained within the symbolic order of exchange. And in precisely this way Christ effects our redemption” (p. 516).


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