Thursday, January 26, 2012

An Introduction of Sorts...


“…we ought to ask, what political possibilities are the consequence of a radical critique of the categories of identity.”  - Judith Butler,
Gender Trouble

“As participators in this possibility, we are a riddle to ourselves.” – Barth, CD I/2, §16.2.


While my little description on the contributing authors page offers a small taste of who I am and my interests and such, I thought I would take a moment, as my first post on this site, to say just a little bit more about myself.

I am not quite sure where to start, however, because I am not quite sure how to explain myself. Actually, it is more that I don’t like explaining myself. Explaining myself means categorizing myself: Do I do theology or ethics? Political theology or theological anthropology? Feminist theology or queer theology? Am I a Marxist or a poststructuralist? A Thomist or a Barthian? A Freudian or a Foucauldian? (Ok, those last few are pretty easy to figure out if you know me at all, but you get the idea). Much of the work that I want to do in theology can be narrated in relation to these concerns about categorization—I’m really interested in thinking theologically about identity, about the different ways it is constructed (Black/white, male/female, gay/straight, sacred/profane, etc.), how those constructions are, well, constructed historically, how they are bound up in discourses of power, how they can be challenged/transformed, and how they impact ‘life together.’

Put another way, I am interested in exploring how the theological and social converge in the production of subjectivity, in the categorization of identity—in how this has been problematic, and in where it has been and can be liberative. My interest in studying boundaries, and in pushing against them has, ostensibly, found a few footholds theologically. As my now contributing to this blog suggests, Karl Barth is one of those. I find Barth’s emphases on revelation and the transcendence of God particularly generative in thinking theologically about power (which, is not saying much, but I figure I will have plentyof time to expound on what I mean later). The other theologian that holds a special place in my heart is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I like his stuff for many of the same reasons I like Barth—his emphasis on the transcendence of Christ and its ethical implications on power and on thinking through community. I’m also really interested in how both Barth and Bonhoeffer’s thoughts are shaped by their social contexts and vice versa. Another theological theme that I’ve found particularly generative is apocalypticism—what might it mean to think of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection as the radical interruptive event that both grants history meaning and conditions it? How might that trouble how community and identity are conceptualized?

Not surprisingly, I am also really interested in interdisciplinarity, and in thinking theologically at and through things that are not part of the theological canon. One of my professors and mentors, J.Kameron Carter, summed this up in a particularly profound way in a comment on a blog book event (a blog that I also contribute to occasionally. This, when paired with my blogging here, itself perhaps indicates how I tend to eschew categorization...) on his book Race: A Theological Account. Here, Carter writes:
I approach many thinkers with theological issues in mind. And I also approach them trying to hear how theological concerns are being voiced by them. And so, for example, my work on Du Bois tries to takes seriously his wrestling with theological problems. This goes against the grain of Du Bois studies. But this isn’t Du Bois’ fault. It’s the fault of those who come to him with disciplinary blinders on and who’ve already determined what they will hear. The same can be said with reading people like Richard Wright or Fanon or Sylvia Wynter or Toni Morrison or Angela Davis or Walt Whitman etc.

I remember reading somewhere of a letter that Carl Schmitt once wrote to Jacob Taubes in which he said in celebration of the latter’s work that “everything is theology—except what the theologians are talking about.” Isn’t this a great quote?! As a theologian it challenges me to not be surprised who speaks the theological (“out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you, O God, have ordained praise”) and that most often it’s not the theologians who speak the theological.
The critical humanities, especially race and gender theory, have been particularly helpful interlocutors for me in these ways that Carter points to. I find Foucault’s genealogical method and its attention to discourses of power-knowledge alone enormously helpful in exploring the role of theological discourse in constructions of subjectivity. And that is simply brushing the surface…how he calls epistemological certainty into question, what he does in his later work in thinking about possibilities for recasting subjectivity, how he is taken up by theorists like Judith Butler to think through feminist theory and gendered identity…these are just a few of the many riches I find in Foucault. But I don’t want to ramble too much in this introductory post, so more on all of this later too.

Similarly, and finally, I also think experience is a ripe, and all too often untapped, site of and for theological reflection. Moreover, I think attention to experience, and to how experiences and social contexts factor into theological discourse, is connected to how theology operates in discourses of power and in the production of identities. Quoting W.E.B. DuBois, Emilie Townes notes  in her 2008 AAR presidential address "Walking on the Rim Bones of Nothingness”:
One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk and only remember that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner, or that Thomas Jefferson had mulatto children, or that Alexander Hamilton had Negro blood, and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.

So. That is a little bit about me and my theological interests and such. I’m going to try to blog here on a pretty regular basis, though it is quite a busy semester for me, so we’ll see how that goes. But alas, I look forward to getting to think through some of these things—and many other things, of course—with y’all, and to learn from and with you, through this virtual space.

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3 comments:

2/3 Nelson said...

Thanks for this Brandy. We have many similar interests and you are interested in many things I have no idea about. I look forward to learning from you.

david cld said...

Great intro. Looking forward to your posts. I do hope you are reading D Barber's recent book and will also comment on 'that other site' in the next book event! It is definitely challenging my prior conceptions of immanence and transcendence . . . I would be curious to hear your reactions.

W. Travis McMaken said...

Thanks for posting, Brandy! I'm looking forward to your continued contribution. Your work in bringing together the theological line we find in folks like Barth and Bonhoeffer with critical theorists is, I think, one of the important tasks facing our generation of Barth scholarship.

Glad to have you on board!