A Misbegotten Child? Christianity, Postmodernism, and the Secular State

Modern Continental philosophy is very much the misbegotten child of theology, indeed a kind of secularized theology; even at present its governing themes everywhere declare its filiation….There are theologians who believe theology has something to learn from and contribute to the analytical tradition of philosophy…[but] there is no natural kinship.  But theology is always already involved in the Continental tradition–its longings and nostalgias, its rebellions and haunting memories, its interminable flight from the Christian rationality that gave it life–and so is responsible for and before it; modern philosophy was born of some failure and some anguish within the language of faith, and so even its most strident rejections of faith are determined by Christian tradition, and by the Christian West’s internal struggle against itself.  This is the burden of consanguinity:  theology cannot disown its history–or its children (David Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 30).

Each time a son, the son, the only one.  At the expense of Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael.  Should it be said that these three, and everything they were to represent in the future, were the first to be sacrificed?  Each time the son is lost and saved by the father, by the father alone.  A story of men (Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, 110).

I am tempted to leave these two quotes alone (maybe, if the mood were right…).  Hart’s quote is so stridently productive, virile, and determined.  This is clearly a birth scene the father wishes he didn’t have to see:  not just misbegotten, but very much so, a distant unfelt–dis–passionate–anguish, the wayward birth of the West’s (singular!) own, internal struggle.  What kind of birth is this–an internal affair?  And who is this one who is normally so in control of his–his?–(re)productions?  Yes, him, a father, for, as Derrida says, it’s the always the son who is lost and must be saved by a father, the father, alone:  that is the burden of a certain consanguinity.

My previous post challenged a certain genealogy, a history of the secular state as theology’s misbegotten child.  Misbegotten, and so, one that is the illegitimate offspring of a proper, true, Christianity (and so, one for which Christianity is not responsible:  who could have foreseen this monstrous child?).  Yet, it is the child of theology, and thus, one whom only the father can save.  To save the world from this monstrous horror, we need to reinvigorate that father who can so thoroughly determine and control his offspring (Christian politics as a matter of controlling the drift in Christian, communal (re)production, and, bringing those wayward children back under the father’s responsible hand).

My counter-argument runs the risk of reproducing this genealogical concern:  against the salvific narrative (the church could have prevented and is the only community now capable of saving the world from colonial modernity), I gave an insistent reminder that Christianity produced this colonial world.  I stand by such risky encounters but want to point out how this alternate genealogy can also function to breach the patrilineal anxieties of these historical genealogies.  For the concern is not to imagine a proper control or mode of reproduction.

In the space between the two quotes, let us (us?) attend to a third voice (what kind of productive scene is this!):  What is dead and what will live share the same bed.  Tomb-cradle:  another definition of Stigma (Hélène Cixous, Stigmata, xiv).  The stigma is that which pricks or pierces, and also, a sign of fertilization:  the stigma is a little magic uterus.  In the cavity resurrection is hatched (ibid).

"Rembrandt paints the secret: the trace of what escapes us" H. Cixous, Stigmata, 16.

Cixous is approaching something dangerous:  I do not fear that trauma and stigma will form an alliance:  the literature in me wants to maintain and reanimate traces. To what, then is her thought oriented, and how shall I follow (a pale Gentile with no womb)?  Cixous inscribes the misbegotten future, the traces, the edges of wounds out of which life may yet, even here, grow.  She follows what is born, even in anguish, out of anguish.  Like Césaire, she too will reanimate traces or ghosts, seeking that “motionless veerition,” that careful retracing of the wound or reckless plunging into the sea which opens up a different, unforeseeable future, a future which is not the mere progeny of our calculating productions but that comes to us, even as prodigy (the gifted, perhaps the monster).  Neither the reader nor above all the author knows, foresees, commands, calculates, anticipates, prepares for the event of revelation.  This incalculable is the text’s promise and taste of triumph (xii). Beyond the sacrificial offering and salvation of/by the masculine, Cixous inscribes “stigmatexts,” inscriptions that can remember and bless the wound (blessure, in French) as Derrida says in his foreword.  Within this stigmatic space, let us (yes, us) listen now to a fourth voice, another call to re-member and trace our misbegotten origin, another opening of revelation:

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us (Ephesians 2.11-14, NRSV).

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This entry was posted in art, atheism, Césaire, cixous, colonialism, Derrida, ecclesiology, history, politics, race, religion, secularity, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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