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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Blackwell Companion To Postmodern Theology edited by Graham Ward (Blackwell Companions to Religion: Blackwell Publishers) provides a definitive collection of essays on postmodern theology, drawing on the work of those individuals who have made a distinctive contribution to the field, and whose work will be significant for the theologies written in the new millennium. Each essay is introduced with a short account of the writer's previous work, enabling the reader to view it in context.

The collection is prefaced with an introduction that situates postmodern theology with respect to other forms of contemporary theology, such as liberalism and conservatism, and evaluates the cultural context in which postmodern theology can be viewed. The Companion is divided into seven parts: Aesthetics, Ethics, Gender, Hermeneutics, Phenomenology, Heideggerians, and Derrideans.

Graham Ward is one of the most outstanding and original theologians working in the field today. This lively collection will have an international appeal, providing readers with the definitive guide to theology and postmodernism.

Excerpt: In the spring of 1829 Thomas Carlyle composed his eloquent, yet biting essay Signs of the Times. Much later, in 1848, Matthew Arnold would publish his own condemnation of soulless materialism and utilitarian functionalism in Culture and Anarchy, and Ruskin would follow, in 1861, with his essays in Unto This Last. But it is with Carlyle's essay that we begin because he recognized early, before Marx, what later became known as the sociology of knowledge. He knew the importance of asking about where we stand.

We were wise indeed, could we discern truly the signs of our own time; and by that knowledge of its wants and advantages, wisely adjust our own position to it. Let us, instead of gazing idly into the obscure distance, look calmly around us, for a little, on the perplexed scene where we stand. Perhaps, on a more serious inspection, something of its perplexity will disappear, some of its distinctive characters and deeper tendencies more clearly reveal themselves; whereby our own relations to it, our own true aims and endeavours in it, may also become clearer.

Postmodernity promises neither clarification nor the disappearance of perplexity. It is debatable whether theology promises these things either. Nevertheless, Carlyle's call to take stock of where we stand is pertinent, for the whole conception of there being a distinctive "postmodern theology" rests upon`the notion that our thinking and our cultural/historical context are pro­foundly related. And part of what I wish to investigate in this Introduction is the profundity of that relationship – the ways in which theological speaking and doing are implicated in contemporary culture, both as its products and its`producers.

Where We Are Now

In 1998 Nicholas Boyle produced a stimulating collection of essays entitled Who Are We Now? Christian Humanism and the Global Market from Hegel to Heaney. My question is different (the existence of the unity of any subject that can be so strictly identified with the interrogative pronoun "Who" is doubtful), but my theological enquiry into our contemporary situation is similar. My question is: "Where are we now?" And before I begin to answer that question with respect to what is variously termed "the end of modernity," "late-capitalism," "post­Fordism," "postmodernism," and "globalism," I wish to distinguish between two forms of cultural transformation.

The first form is a transformation within the logics of a certain movement. This transformation might radicalize elements already apparent within an his­torical epoch. For example, the postmodern thinking on the aesthetics of the sublime by Jean-Francois Lyotard (one of the earliest to write theoretically about the phenomenon of postmodernity) extends Kant's own analysis of the sublime in his Critique of Judgement. This form of transformation may develop what is already there in the tradition.

The second form of transformation is a radical break with the cultural logic of the past or present. The postmodern thinking of`Michel de Certeau wishes to examine the Christ event as "an inaugurating rupture," and several poststruc­tural thinkers employ words like "rupture," "diachrony," and "event" to mark an encounter with a wholly Other whose difference cannot be calibrated within the continuities of narrative. The Other fractures the symbolic systems that con­stitute any given cultural milieu. Some cultural analysts suggest postmodernity performs such a radical break with respect to the thinking and practices of modernity. I, along with others, would question that. Nevertheless, the times always change and when we come to recognize that change then consciousness marks a present situation from a past one.

I believe this distinction between two forms of cultural transformation is important when assessing where we are now, or, to put it more theologically, when we read the signs of the times. For whatever label we place on the present cultural scene – and a very Westernized, Americanized scene it is – the context issues from complex`forms of transformation. Put briefly, the cultural situation we find ourselves in both develops certain themes evident in modernity (like the social arena as composed of barely repressed struggles and competitions regu­lated through contract), but also breaks with categories that maintained the hegemony of modernity (its naturalisms, positivisms, essentialisms, dualisms, and humanisms, for example). I am going to label where we are now "post-modernity." I do this because some of the other labels (post-Fordism, late-capi­talism, even globalism) are too tied to economic discourse and I want to demonstrate that where we are now is not simply a place economists can define. To understand economics is fundamental for understanding history (Marx has taught us that), but the postmodern condition as Frederic Jameson and David Harvey (both left-wing thinkers) now see is not simply the effect of free-market capitalism. Things are more complicated. Neither does the current fashion for describing where we are as at "the end" of something – the end of history (for Fukuyama), the end of metaphysics (for Derrida), the end of modernity (for Vattimo), the end of art (for Danto) – actually tell us anything. It simply spa­tializes time and maps us at the end of a promontory. Such labels can inform us about the current cultural scene in terms of the first form of transformation, but not the second. So, like Jameson, I can say

I occasionally get just as tired of the slogan of "postmodernism" as anyone else, but when I am tempted to regret my complicity with it, to deplore its misuses and its notoriety, and to conclude with some reluctance that it raises more problems than it solves, I find myself pausing to wonder whether any other concept can dramatize the issue in quite so effective and economical a fashion.'

Unlike Jameson, I do want to continue to maintain a distinction between postmodernism and postmodernity. It is not a watertight distinction, but it is functional and, as I will demonstrate, helpful. I follow Lyotard in seeing post­modernism as the other side that haunts the modern – Lyotard even suggests it comes before modernism, making it possible. It is characterized, according to Lyotard, by its acceptance of the plural and the rejection of grand narra­tives of progress and explanation. It is also characterized by a nonfoundation­alism, a hybridity, an appeal to a certain excess, the employment of masks, irony, anti-realism, and self-conscious forms of representation. As such postmodernism is both an aesthetic and a critical moment within the ideology of the modern. It is, on the one hand, a matter of style – Pop Art and John Portman buildings – and, on the other, a genre of theoretical para­Marxist writing. The Baroque and Weimar culture of the 1920s has been viewed by historians like Stephen Toulmin as protopostmodern.7 Writers like Rabelais, Kierkegaard, Mallarmé and, of course, Nietzsche are then viewed as protopostmodern. What postmodernism suggests is that a certain social sea-change is occurring; new emphases and sensibilities are making themselves felt and older ways of looking at and explaining the significance of the world are becoming otiose or no longer credible. If I were asked what was the substance of those emphases and sensibilities, then, very broadly, I would say (and this returns us to the theological) that the death of God had brought about the prospect of the reification and commodification (theologically termed idolatry), not only of all objects, but of all values (moral, aesthetic, and spiritual). We have produced a culture of fetishes or virtual objects. For now everything is not only measurable and priced, it has an image. It is the image which now governs what is both measured and priced. And so the age of the Promethean will to power – in which human beings rationally measure, calculate, predict, and control – turns into the age of Dionysian diffusion, in which desire is governed by the endless production and dissemina‑

tion of floating signifiers.' Furthermore, this cultural sea-change was paralleled by the closing down of a certain political space for credible challenge. That is, it paralleled the weakening of socialism – the one discourse that, in a galloping secularism, had been able to arrest the social conscience for more than a hundred years.

We can see these two cultural changes taking place – the production of what Guy Debord, nearly thirty years before the development of virtual reality, termed "society's real unreality," and a realization of the ineffectiveness of any cultural critique – in an astonishing essay written by Michel de Certeau in August 1968, following the riots in Paris. The essay is called, significantly, "A Symbolic Revo­lution." It argues that the May riots had left in their wake the sense of a cultural trauma and the explicit feeling of powerlessness:

Something that had been tacit began to stir; something that invalidates the mental hardware built for stability. Its instruments were also part of what shifted, went awry. They referred to something unthinkable, which late May, was unveiled while being contested: values taken to be self-evident; social exchanges, the progress of which was enough to define their success; commodities, the possession of which represented happiness.

The principles of established order have become questionable and what remains is a "hole, opened by a society that calls itself into question." It is a hole that cannot be covered over; nor can it be avoided. No quick-fix solutions like a better division of goods or the call for true community are credible. And yet de Certeau ends his essay on a rhetorical high, speaking of "revolution," "revision," and "challenge." He dispatches the sense of failure and loss by making speech itself a transformative event, replacing the political revolution with a symbolic one. A real transformation has become a virtual one. And de Certeau is too astute not to allow the uncertainties of that victory to be regis­tered: "taking speech is neither effective occupation nor the seizure of power,' he opines. He recognizes that this rhetorical gesture only turns political and ethical values into aesthetic ones; nevertheless, this is the only way forward that he can see. Out of failure and a lack of resources a virtual triumph is fashioned which, for the moment, curtains the void, the hole. It is fashioned out of words.

I call this "hole" the implosion of secularism and it is the many consequences of that implosion that postmodernism explores and postmodernity expresses. The implosion of the secular has also facilitated a new return to the theological and a new emphasis upon reenchantment: a return not signaled by theologians but by filmmakers, novelists, poets, philosophers, political theorists, and cul­tural analysts. Let me define more closely what it is I mean by the implosion of secularism, because it will be fundamental for understanding the nature of the change and its consequences.

First, we have to conceive of the secular according to a world of immanent values which has disassociated itself from,`and in its various important discourses – the natural and human sciences – even discredited, the transcendent is a world grounded, resourced, and evolving according to its own internally conceived laws: physical laws like Newton's laws of motion and Maxwell's law of thermodynamics; psychical laws like Freud's Oedipal triangle; the law Descartes believed observable by "natural light." In order to compose and posses knowledge in such a world, there must be what Descartes describes as "the search for first causes and true principles which enable us to deduce the reasons for everything we are capable of knowing." The world must constitute an integrated system. The secular, therefore, is conceived as a world-system, constituted by forces it is increasingly coming to understand and which integrate various aspects of its systematicity. This world began to emerge in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

Second, we have to understand how it is that any system implodes. A thing is exploded when an external force is required to detonate and facilitate the explosion; an external force or principle which can tear the system apart and render it`incoherent. But the radical immanence of secularism (which rejects an exteriority) cannot be exploded. Theologically, certain figures in Weimar Germany who propounded dialectical theology (founded upon a certain revelatory positivism) were trying to explode the secular, and religion as impli­cated within secularity. With the rallying calls of Crisis and Judgment, they chal­lenged the secular world-system itself. One commentator on the second edition of Karl Barth's Der Romerbrief suggested that the book was the pitching of a hand-grenade into a playground full of diehard liberals. The implosion of a system, on the other hand, comes about through internal processes, forces, or principles which no longer regulate the immanent order but overshoot it.

A worldview becomes acceptable by being internalized. Its internalization brings about its naturalization. But various forms of critical thinking – from the so-called Masters of Suspicion (Marx, Nietzsche, Freud) to the work of the Frank­furt School and the poststructural critical strategies of Foucault, Derrida, and Irigaray, among others – have challenged aspects of this naturalization. Each, in their own way, reminded the secular that it was produced, that it was self-constituted, and that such a constitution was governed by a certain cultural pol­itics with particular ideological investments and presuppositions. Hence, the secular value-system was always unstable and fragile. The work of Bruno Latour and Alain Touraine has done much to develop our notions of the instability of modernity or the secular worldview. Their historical analyses help us to under­stand the cultural background of postmodernity and something of its future. Touraine, in particular, believes the crisis and collapse of modernity is due to the advancing critiques of rationalism which took a rabid turn when left-wing intel­lectuals in the late 1960s, disillusioned with modernity's hopes and freedoms, turned against it. "[A] purely critical vision of modernity became a total rejec­tion of the very idea of modernity and then self-destructed when it became post­modernism.' I accept this, but on Touraine's model of modernity's collapse we are left with a choice: either to continue the nihilistic drift which will lead to the fascisms and fundamentalisms of neo-tribal diversity, or to return, a little wiser now, to modernity's project. "If we do not succeed in defining a different con­ception of modernity — one which is less haughty than that of the Enlighten­ment but which can still resist the absolute diversity of cultures and individuals — the storms that lie ahead will be still more violent than the storms that accom­panied the fall of the anciens regimes and industrialization."' Touraine, albeit in a different way, joins forces with that neoliberal thinker Jurgen Habermas.' But the implosion of modernity I am arguing for leaves us with no opening to resurrect its project (though that does not deny the benefits modernity has bequeathed to us). We live in the trajectory of what is coming to us from the future; we never return to the same place twice to rethink the choices aban­doned. Furthermore, all these critiques and rejections of modernity, in already accepting secular immanence, can offer nothing to overturn the system. As rational extrapolations from the secular world, they can only attempt to ground the secular more securely (fostering a divorce between literary form and intel­lectual content — in Hume and Schopenhauer, for example — that Nietzsche sutured). The system turns increasingly into a hideous chimera that adapts itself to absorb the challenges posed and takes delight in its own destructive powers, rather like those proliferating aliens of contemporary science-fiction films whose strength and intelligence lie in their ability to adapt, virus-like, to new conditions and to turn attacks against themselves into a mechanism for further self-development. Let me give some examples here.

In Kant the noumenal renders fragile an appreciation of the phenomenal because it makes evident its constructedness and contingency. Nevertheless, the analysis on the basis of intuitions, synthetic a priori, and the teleology of tran­scendental reasoning reinforces the universal power of rationality itself. The Kantian critique then provides (as Kant himself intended it would in the face of Hume's skepticism) the metaphysics, the architectonics, for the instrumental reasoning required by ethics, aesthetics, and science. The liberating postmodern nihilisms of Baudrillard, Lyotard, and Deleuze are based upon returning to and employing this Kantian distinction and emphasizing the delights of the fragile appreciation of the phenomenal. The system adapts to serve another purpose.

Let me give a second example with respect to the critiques of commodity fetishism by Marx and various members of the Frankfurt School, for the post­modern shift from value to image fetishism is culturally pervasive. These early critiques of fetishism — in which the authentic is betrayed by the mass-produced, by the reification and alienation of the worker's labor from the value of the object-product — did not and do not lead to the end of mass production, nor the collapse of the bourgeoisie. In fact, attention to commodity fetishism, to the processes of reification, could be absorbed and harnessed by market economics. Thus, on the one hand, the "authentic," the "handmade," and the "customized" could become that which is most marketable; while, on the other, the first step towards the mass reproduction of Van Gogh's Sunflowers is the production of Van Gogh's work as an aesthetic object with a certain magic appeal, the aura of the authentic. An observation by the contemporary Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek with respect to The Communist Manifesto and Marxian communism develops this point:

This notion of a society of pure unleashed productivity outside the frame of Capital, was a fantasy inherent to capitalism itself, the capitalist inherent transgression at its purest, a strictly ideological fantasy of maintaining the thrust towards produc­tivity generated by capitalism, while getting rid of the "obstacles" and antagonisms that were . . . the only possible framework of the actual material existence of a society of permanent self-enhancing productivity. . . . Capitalism and Communism are not two different historical realizations, two species, of "instrumental reason" – instru­mental reason as such is capitalist, grounded in capitalist relations; and "actually existing Socialism" failed because it was ultimately a subspecies of capitalism, an ideological attempt to "have one's cake and eat it," to break out of capitalism while retaining its key ingredient.'

The demise of socialism as a critique of capitalism is itself evidence of the way the secular system (which renders all values internally exchangeable and transferable) absorbs internal critiques.

The secular, modernity, is founded upon the strength of its integrating mech­anisms. Critiques and even rejections are themselves only turns within a certain secular logic that remains itself uninjured. The most that can be achieved from such critique is the ontologizing of politics – which returns us to Hobbes or, more recently, the work of Thomas Keenan and William Connolly." One cannot rebuild an imploding system, nor reject it from within – just as one cannot turn a black hole back into a red dwarf, nor counter the gravitational pull from within the black hole itself. According to Touraine's analysis, then, the alternative is a drift towards cultural nihilism, the replacement of value by image. But that alter­native, too, is based on a view from within the system. Another possibility, which installs the theological project, can radically challenge the system from else­where, from an exteriority, or what Ernesto Laclau calls a "constitutive outside."' Challenged from outside, a transformation of the cultural in the second mode outlined above becomes possible.

How then does the implosion take place if critique is already inherent to, or a subspecies of, the system? I suggest it does so when the system comes to rec­ognize itself as a system, rather than as a natural order; when it recognizes what it produces as production, rather than discovery of what is out there. How does this recognition take place? Well, modernity maintained a hierarchical order among secular values, an order predicated on a series of dualisms: public–private, mind–body, reason–passion, universal–particular, nature–culture, object–subject, in which, generally, the former was valued more highly than the latter. These dualisms and separatisms structured a space for public action: they founded the liberal state. In postmodernity's development of the logic of modernity, these dualisms and the hierarchical system of values associated with them have collapsed. How this collapse took place is complex to narrate, but it has something to do with modernity's need, in the face of estab­lishing this system of dualities, for finding ways of mediating between them." For it is not the case that "subject" and "object," "natural" and "cultural," "public" and "private" are on some kind of spectrum in modernity's thinking. They are rendered essentially distinct from each other in order better to facilitate a program of public accountability (transparency). Diversity of opinion, democracy itself, is only made possible by such institutional quaranti­ning. Nevertheless, to establish a principle of difference and contradiction as such, at the heart of what is, can lead to skepticism of the Cartesian kind: that is, how can I as a subject know with certainty that the objective world I see is really there at all? Or, read politically, why — if I can indulge my private plea­sures without interruption — should I be at all concerned for the public welfare? For Descartes, God is the only guarantee of the world beyond the "I." In the wake of the death of God, however, there is no transcendental mediation. The tools, the mechanisms for mediation between the dualisms, have to be found in-house. Methodologically, dialogue, dialectic, debate, reconciliation, synthesis, and the establishment of common self-interest offer themselves as means of mediation. So, for example, political representation of various kinds mediates between the private and the public; institutions such as the law and education mediate between nature and society; and nature itself is examined through certain constructions (like the vacuum pump) and the results published in various acknowledged journals. The implosion occurs when the processes of mediation —dialogue, dialectic, and debate — can no longer be held to operate; when certain incommensurable perspectives become apparent; when the subject increasingly loses the distinctiveness of its position and likewise the object; when the natural is seen as already cultivated; when the private is increasingly subject to social policy and internalizes a public surveillance; when the universal is recognized as representing a certain power/knowledge interest which necessarily margin­alizes other interests. And so the hierarchy of values implodes, with no appeal possible to an authority outside the system itself — no principle, no shared ontology, no grounding epistemology, no transcendental mediation. And so we move beyond the death of God which modernity announced, to a final forget­ting of the transcendental altogether, to a state of godlessness so profound that nothing can be conceived behind the exchange of signs and the creation of sym­bolic structures.

The godlessness which was inherent but not fully apparent in the secular world-system is now realized and spawns a variety of responses (including public enquiries into theological questions). In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy Marx discusses the social implosion in terms of the logic of capitalism. I find this significant because of the associations between capitalism, modernity, and postmodernity. 'At a certain stage of their development, the material forces of production come in conflict with the existing relations of production.

. . . From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into their fetters."' More recently, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe have written about "a new logic of the social" which has begun "to insinuate itself, one that will only manage to think itself by questioning the very literality of the term it articulates."' From these two observations we could say that the forces of secular production forged an understanding of the world whose very con­structedness came increasingly to haunt and obsess it, so that the relations pro­duced, instead of continuing to work on behalf of the system, came increasingly to shackle and finally dismantle it. Secularity then gets locked into the virtual realities it has produced; locked into the paranoias of David Cronenberg's eXis­tenZ and the Wachowski brothers' The Matrix. The godlessness which was inher­ent but not fully apparent in the secular world-system is now realized. The system has exhausted its own self-conceived, self-promoted symbols. The sym­bolic itself collapses (as Baudrillard observes, plaintively) because it is not stand­ing in for or symbolic of anything. Liberal tolerance become post-symbolic indifference in the face of the endlessly plural and contingent relays of connec­tions, disconnections, and erasures. In the implosion of the secular the weight­less flow of signs which constructed the secular as a symbolic system views itself as such and, now, without alternative. The real is the simulated22 that installs an omnipresent commodification, a trading on emptiness, a pervasive cultural fetishism. Postmodernity is then characterized by simulation, the play and creation of virtual realities, the surface suggestions of depth – like the Opryland Hotel in Nashville where acres of woodland and rocky gorges, with a river, gladed pools, and waterfalls, lie beneath a great canopy of glass. The rooms of the hotel, each with their balconies, look inwards over the country idyll with its bandstands and cascades, clock-towered clapboard buildings and cobbled streets. Space collapses in carefully crafted perspectives and temporal distance dissolves; one is both resident and tourist, set adrift in a highly organized culture of nostalgia for a premodern world.'

This implosion of the secular produces a vacuum without values, a horror Vacui. What de Certeau calls the hole, Heidegger called the Zeug, and Derrida and Irigaray have called the Khora. Fascination with it can transform it, too, into a commodity fetish. We need to examine this fetishism more closely, for it charac­terizes contemporary culture, as I have suggested, and it focuses the effects of the implosion of secularism.


Contemporary accounts of fetishism weave Marx's observations on the magical nature commodities take on in the process of reification (Capital, vol. 1) into Freud's and Lacan's analyses of the nature of desire. For Freud and Lacan, desire does not seek its fulfilment, for that would terminate the pleasure of desiring. Desire promotes the allure and attraction of an object that stands in for what it

lacks, but its enjoyment lies in not having what it wants. The commodified object then becomes the cause of desire rather than the object of desire itself. In fact, pleasures issue from not having what you want – which produces what I have called elsewhere the cultural prevalence of sado-masochistic desire.' It is sig­nificant that the structure of commodity fetishism involves both a recognition that the fetish is a substitute, not the object desired itself, and, simultaneously, a disavowal of its substitutional character. It has the grammatical structure of "I know, but even so. . . ." As Jacques Lacan pointed out, this intrinsic disavowal renders desire itself unstable. The desire can then continually displace itself onto new objects.' The pleasure of not getting what you want drives consumerism. Consumerism becomes an endless experience of fetishism – as Marx was inchoately aware.

The point I am making is that the effect of the implosion of the secular is a hole that is at once longed for and disavowed. Contemporary culture both wishes to embrace the nihilism of the abyss and screen it through substitutionary images. Another way this might be put, which draws upon the work of several feminist thinkers (from Hannah Arendt and Adriana Cavarero to Grace Jantzen and Catherine Pickstock) and a statement by John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae, is that a profound necrophilia emerges: 'a culture of death', a longing and a frisson for oblivion. Postmodernity embraces this fantasy and is sustained by it in the same way that certain people are able to cope with the ongoing struggle with life only by repeatedly fantasizing about suicide, fatal accidents, and terminal illnesses. "Beam me up, Scottie" expresses a more pervasive desire for vaporiza­tion, a total immersion in forgetfulness.

A certain paradoxical cultural logic, the logic of fetishism, is evident in postmodernity: David Harvey (from the New Left perspective) can lament the political vacuum, while Ernesto Laclau (from the post-Marxist perspective) can find hope in the radical politicization of everything. Now you see it; now you don't. The same fetishist logic pertains to the theological in contemporary culture. I have argued that the deepening sense of godlessness is the apotheosis both of the secular worldview and, simultaneously, the generator of theo­logical questions, motifs, images, and mythemes articulated by a variety of secular sources in contemporary culture. What is this announcing but a certain pathological enjoyment of a postmodern sensibility; an enjoyment of the absence of God by the commercialization of God's presence – through angels and miracles, through stigmatas and sacramentalisms, through philosophies of charity and appeals to the "social divine?"' In Michel Serres's book Angels: A Modern Myth, the angels announce a Jpantheistic world of immanent fluxes, a world in which the Word is to be made flesh. But beyond the angelic hosts is the Most High or the All High God to whom all glory is due. Nevertheless, Serres concludes: "if our will becomes sufficiently good for us to make an agreement between us to accord the glory only to a transcendent absent being, then we will be able to live in peace."' The logic of the fetishist desire is that pleasure is found in the failure to attain what one desires; pleasure is taken in absence itself. And so the profound alienation that the hole evokes

is veiled and curtained. We will have to return to this when we examine what postmodern theology is doing.

Where does this leave us? Where do we stand? Michel de Certeau was in no doubt about the questioning which circled the hole at the heart of the social. "Our society has become a recited society, in three senses; it is defined by stories (recits, the fables constituted by our advertising and informational media), by citations of stories, and by the interminable recitation of stories."' In a recited society people believe what they see and what they see is produced for them -hence, simulacra-created belief which installs the logic of fetishism: "The spectator-observer knows that they are merely `semblances' . . . but all the same he assumes that these simulations are real."' This "objectless credibility" is based upon citing the authority of others. Thus the production of a simulacrum involves making people believe that others believe in it, but without providing any believable object. There is what de Certeau calls the "multiplication of pseudo-believers"' promoted by a culture of deferral, credit, and accreditation.

By the 1980s the culture of deferral and credit, the culture of the virtually real, had not yet taken on the pervasiveness which is registered our current glob­alism. Nevertheless, postmodernity now becomes an epochal term describing a culture in which postmodernism is seen as the dominating worldview.

Postmodernity and Postmodernism

It is exactly here that I want to argue for the helpfulness of a distinction between postmodernity and postmodernism. It is a distinction that enables us to see why so many of the postmodern theological voices in this volume have turned to various forms of postmodern critical theory to help them analyze the contemporary cultural phenomena that most concern them. Postmodernism enables us to distinguish certain elements in our contemporary world which are other than postmodern and yet, all too often, can be lumped together as characteristics of postmodernity. For example, it enables us to distinguish between globalism and postmodernity. Put briefly, advocates of globalism such as Francis Fukuyama and historians of the world-system such as Immanuel Wallerstein quite explicitly discuss their ideas in terms of the grand narratives of Hegel (Fukuyama) and Marx (Wallerstein). In fact, along with the various forms of neo-Darwinism - right-wing political and social thought and its biological equivalent in the work of someone like Richard Dawkins - and neoliberal economic progressivism, grand narratives are making something of a cultural comeback. Certain postmodern "values" or "emphases" - on simu­lacra, pastiche, irony, the kitsch - and certain postmodern understandings of space and time are developed considerably by what David Harvey terms "accumulative capitalism." Nevertheless, it is important not to view these developments as antinomies of postmodernism but, rather, ways in which, within postmodernity, cultures become complex weaves of ideologies, values, symbols, activities, and powers. The danger of tying postmodernism to developments in capitalism and conflating postmodernism with postmodernity, postmodernism with globalism – as Jameson, Eagleton, Harvey, and Soja do – is that we can lose sight of postmodernism's critical edge. Its critical edge is impor­tant for the way it can sharpen theology's own analytical tools, enabling theology not only to read the signs of the times but to radicalize the postmod­ern critique by providing it with an exteriority, a position outside the secular value-system. That exteriority is founded upon the God who is revealed within, while being distinctively beyond, the world-system. Without that exteriority aca­demics in cultural studies are faced with a dilemma: how is it that critical theory, which has been one of the driving forces behind postmodernism and which, in many ways, appeared as a mutation in the history of Marxist thinking, leads to and advances global consumerism? Academics in cultural studies face the chal­lenge Nicholas Boyle speaks of when he states that "Post-Modernism is the pes­simism of an obsolescent class – the salaried official intelligentsia – whose fate is closely bound up with that of the declining nation-state. . . . The Post-Modernist endlessly repeats what he believes to be his parricidal act of shatter­ing the bourgeois identity."' In other words, without the radicality that a theo­logical perspective can offer the postmodern critique, the postmodernist is doomed also to inscribe the ideology he or she seeks to overthrow. The radical critique is not radical enough. Hence the important contribution that theologi­cal discourse can make in postmodernity when "the historical modus vivendi called secularism is coming apart at the seams."

When, in the early 1970s, Jean Baudrillard first introduced his thinking on simulation and simulacra; when, in the late 1960s, Roland Barthes first turned our attention to the empire of signs, and the erotic pleasures of surfaces without depth or shadows; when Thomas Pynchon was composing The Crying of Lot 49 and Guy Debord began instructing audiences on the society of the spectacle, the Cold War was still being played out, American money was still related to the gold standard, Keynesian economics and the GATT trading agreement still held, Mandel had not yet written his Late Capitalism, cable TV and video were unheard of, and the linking of two or more computers so that they might "talk" to each other was still a science-fiction fantasy. There was post­modernism before there was postmodernity. The erection of John Portman's Peachtree Plaza did not catapult Atlanta into postmodernity. Neither do the ethical concerns for alterity and difference in the writings of Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva inevitably supplement the cultural logic of late-capitalism. On the one hand, what is happening today is the vast commodification of postmodern sentiments. On the other, the inevitable incommensurabilities of pluralism are coming to the fore – where the insistence upon difference vies with narratives of historical progress towards global democratization, the bureaucratic call to transparency and the fulfilment of Bentham's Panopticon dreams, the erasure of the other as nonconsumer, and the flattening of differences in a world market. It is this very process of turning objects into idols, fetishism itself – which is more than just a matter of analyzing economic processes – that theological discourse challenges. That is the theolog­ical difference, the theological critique. This theological difference has the poten­tial for transforming culture in the second mode of cultural transformation I alluded to: that is, radically. That is why postmodern theology is not simply a product of the new reenchantment of the world, but an important mode of critical analysis in such a world.

The essays in this volume testify to the variety of theological responses to the critical and aesthetic contributions of postmodernism and the complex cultural logics of postmodernity. They testify also to the implosion of secularism while, simultaneously, they attempt to think creatively beyond it. Theologians are never above and beyond the cultural situation in which they work. Theological dis­course not only employs the language of its times, but also inhabits many of its dreams and aspirations. Hence the question must arise as to the commodifica­tions and fetishisms of its own projects. There is no room for a dogmatism that is not strategic, for polemic which is not self-consciously rhetorical, for categori­cal assertion which does not foreground its poeisis. Theology, too, is mediated and mediates, encultures and is encultured. It is a discourse which, as I have argued, has public relevance and can offer certain cultural critiques and insights. But it is a discourse. It traffics in signs and seeks to make its own beliefs believable. It must, on the one hand, make judgments while, on the other, rendering itself vul­nerable to interruption, critical reflection, contestation, and engagement. There is no moral high ground.

For a long time I wrestled with the attempt to situate the essays in this volume with respect to various categories elaborated in an earlier essay on postmodern theology' – liberal and conservative postmodern theology, postliberal and radical orthodox theology. But the categories did not hold. There are too many shades of liberal to conservative theological thinking, too many people working creatively between the positions, say, of Thomas Altizer and Don Cupitt on the one hand, and Jean-Luc Marion on the other. The development of the postlib­eral position, the emergence of a constructive theological project in the United States (associated with Kathryn Tanner, Serene Jones, and Mary McClintock Fulkerson, among others), has close concerns with those of radical orthodoxy. Hence, the categories collapsed because they proved unhelpful, too reductive, and too restrictive.

I had decided to present the theological voices in alphabetical order when Robert Gibbs alerted me to how the failure to provide an architecture signaled a failure to do justice to the contending differences evident in the material.' It was he who suggested the present architecture of this collection of essays. The groupings, rather than categories, that emerged – aesthetics, ethics, gender, hermeneutics, phenomenology, Heideggerians, and Derrideans – point to im­portant foci not only for postmodern theology but in postmodernism more generally. As I argued in my introduction to The Postmodern God, along with structuralism, Heidegger and the French phenomenologists are important genealogical roots for postmodern thinking. The turn towards encountering the Other raises ethical and political questions. And deconstruction's attention to semiotics rather than semantics opens up issues fundamental to aesthetics and hermeneutics. It is then no accident that these foci for critical attention in post­modern theology are prominent thematics in postmodernism itself. Neverthe­less, the groupings for the essays in this volume are fluid. The theological essays of a phenomenological nature are all highly indebted to Heidegger, for example, and the concern of those in the hermeneutics group with the interpretation of founding theological texts is not intended to diminish the ethical questions with which they are also preoccupied. If the boundaries of the groups are drawn on water, then the essays within them are also transgressive and some could have been placed in another grouping entirely. The architecture of the volume reflects the postmodern emphasis upon a space of flows.' But setting out the material in this way allows the differences of approach, emphasis, argument, and con­clusion between thinkers to take on the prominence which makes postmodern theology diverse, creative, and not without its frictions. Robert Gibbs was right: it is important to portray some of those frictions. Putting contributions in alpha­betical order would have dissipated the frictions in a very modernist fashion. Now I can see this collection as a gathering of friends and colleagues to a supper — not a formal supper where the discussion is ordered, but more a buffet supper in a British pub, where food, drink, and uninhibited conversation can circulate between a long oak bar top and a spitting log-fire. People are not ensconced in seats; rather, they stand, are flexible, and are ready to move on. Laughter and the clashing of opinions strongly held can be heard throughout, for it is dis­tinctiveness that matters, not typology.

Accordingly, each thinker is introduced and their work to date outlined in order to provide a context for the essay they have contributed. All of the essays are from work currently undertaken by these writers, but my introductions explicitly mention their other work in order to facilitate further reading. The judgments made in these introductions are my own and are therefore inevitably partial; another editor would have written other things, sketched other portraits. Several of these thinkers have been very productive indeed over many years; where this is so, I have made a selection from the long list of their available titles. But if conversations are to begin then – lacking a venue and the ability to coor­dinate 31 different diaries – it is the reader who will conduct them, introducing each to each, catching the reflection of one in the eyes of another, the clink of glasses raised together, and the flush of cheeks inflamed with argument. For this is a Festschrift of its kind, for friends.

This introduction began with the words of Thomas Carlyle, so it is fitting that he should conclude it. Having outlined the darknesses and fetters of his own age and offered his analyses and critiques, Signs of the Times ends on a note of`qualified optimism:

On the whole, as this wondrous planet, Earth, is journeying with its fellows through infinite Space, so are the wondrous destinies embarked on its journeying through infinite Time, under a higher guidance than ours. . . . Go where it will, the deep HEAVEN will be around it. Therein let us have hope.'

Of Divine Economy: Refinancing Redemption by Marion Grau (T. & T. Clark Publishers, Ltd.) (Hardcover) is an interdisciplinary theological text that engages a variety of postmodern discourses in a dialogue across time and place. In rereading ancient Christian texts along with poststructuralist, feminist, and postcolonial works, I employ these critical theories not as a trendy plot to discredit tradition but as a valuable tool for the critical investigation of material that rarely has been critically engaged. As we will see, rereading Christian texts in this manner reveals the potential of imagining a trickster-like "God the economist": a gambler and a courageous, hopeful investor in unpredictabilities, involved in subversive divine economic deals. Thus, divine economy emerges as less predictable, as it renegotiates "the domi­nant oikonomia—the economics, the ecology, the ecumenism of order." It deconstructs simplistic characterizations of God as "capitalist" or "commu­nist" and instead delights in uncovering multiplicities of economic rela­tionality that resist tyranny, stasis, and oppression by envisioning strategies of flexible, miraculous exchanges. Aware that "theology has not outgrown the subjection of the oikos to the dominus," it points toward the redemp­tion and release of those women and slaves expropriated by the domination of the profit-driven deified economies of late, or extreme, capitalism.

Chapter 1 positions the "third space" Grau attempts to construct by charting a variety of discursive spaces where theology and economy have intersected since the 1960s. By gaining a greater understanding of how people are invested in the economic structures they find objectionable, we must begin to understand that the line between economic justice and exploitation is not comfortably located outside ourselves but goes right through our own investments, theological, relational, and financial. The chapter further traces the outlines of a countereconomic theology that is less involved in a critique of contemporary economics than in a genealogy of the interactions between theological and material economies, ancient and postmodern.

At the core of the proposed reconstructive figuration in a contemporary feminist and postcolonial third space, chapters 2 through 4 each portray a figure that forms part of ancient and contemporary rhetorical and actual economies. Each of these figures represents an iteration of an ancient image of redemptive divine economy. They are feminist figures in the sense that, as Haraway suggests, "feminist figures of humanity . . . cannot be man or woman; they cannot be the human as historical narrative has staged that generic universal. Feminist figures cannot, finally, have a name; they cannot be native. Feminist humanity must, somehow, both resist representation, resist literal figuration, and still erupt in powerful new tropes, new figures of speech, new turns of historical possibility."

Attempting thus to "resist representation" while exploring "new tropes, new figures" from among our histories, these central chapters, which are structured as a discursive triptych, explore three textually embodied figures that not only blur the boundaries between man and woman, master and slave, but also question the binary opposition of lack and abundance, cap­italism and Marxism, divine and earthly economies. Resisting the ten­dency of "feminist theology ... to leave biblical interpretation to feminist exegetical and historical scholars," the approach to an interdisciplinary constructive theology in these chapters consciously engages the texts of the tradition as well as the texts of biblical and historical scholars. Thus, the three figural genealogies are situated in contemporary theological and his­torical discussions as the descendants of Christian typologies of salvation history. These soteriological genealogies can help us to inhabit a third space beyond theological and economic dichotomies only if we hold these figures lightly. They do not mean to represent persons but rather function as tex­tual incarnations, as hermeneutical products of textual economies that have shaped our theological past and present.

These three genealogies trace the literary lives of members in an ancient household: kurios (master), kuria (mistress), and doulos (slave), and their descendants who resemble us uncannily (unheimlich). Uncannily, in a sense that points to the ambiguity of our being at home with (heimisch) as well as unheimlich—estranged and spooked by the spectre of the hierar­chies of gender and class written into the divine economy. The power-knowledge constructions of the human household have contributed to images of divine oikonomia that reaffirmed the patriarchal shape of the oikos at the same time as they called into question the conventions of class and gender among humans. The first figure resembles the rich young man (Matt 19:16–30) in his wealth and corresponding lack of spiritual abun­dance; the second figure emerges from images of female givers such as the poor widow (Mk 12:43–44), whose lack of material wealth nevertheless counts as abundance with God; the third figure is the slave-liberator found in the christological topos of divine commerce, a sacred trickster mediating between dίvίne abundance and human destitution.

All of these figures share some of the characteristics of the trickster fig­ures Haraway evokes and are formed by modes of textual production akin to what Bhabha has described as hybridity, the "problematic of colonial representation and individuation that reverses the effects of the colonialist disavowal, so that other `denied' knowledges enter upon the dominant discourse and estrange the basis of its authority—its rules of recognftion." Thus, these figures are not untroubled and contain great hermeneutical and incarnational complexity. Chapter 5 further elucidates the trickster qualities that emerge in the central chapters, and rethinks the way they trouble the categories of gender and class. Then it begins to portray con-temporary trickster figures as they embody miraculous exchanges.

Ambivalence remains a constant companion, an inspiration and challenge for this exploration. The figural reading proposed in these pages aims to deconstruct the proliferation of polarities as expressed in stereotypes of economic and theological genders, classes, and races and in the locations of various other forms of colonial and postcolonial embodiment. With Gayatri Spivak, they refuse to "continue to celebrate" essentializing moralisms such as those of colonizer/colonized and white/black in which "the migrant is all good" and "the whites are all bad." Instead, they embody a theologi­cal response that gives witness to the complexities and complicities of the relations between oppressor and oppressed. They also resist the salvific proclamation of a "mighty mongrel" whose hybrid, mestizo characteristics are elevated as a new suρerbreed of human that can solve the problems of the past by embodying a variety of pasts and traditions. Such romantic displacements spawn new dangers if hybridity develops into another form of orthodoxy, reinscribing rather than challenging the divisions of the past.

The first twο figures show symptoms of hysteria, a notoriously puzzling condition in which the hysteric's body discloses through linguistic and phys­ical symptoms a larger condition transferred onto the sufferer by his or her societal context. Chapters 1 and 3 thus offer a hermeneutic with which to read this trickster among diseases, this "mimetic disorder," as it performs "culturally permissible expressions of distress" in men and discloses unforeseen subversive potencies in women. Hysteria emerges as a disorder that closely maps the gendered economic conditions of lack and plenitude as they are assigned and reassigned in the Christian oikonomia of redemption. Although ancient rhetorical economies have endowed male bodies with an abundance of administrative and reproductive power while linking the reproductive cavities of female bodies with the appearance of both physical and mental lack, men too can be marked by hysteria, deficiency, or lack.

In chapter 2, we see how almsgiving and asceticism are theologically negotiated as male investments in an economy of salvation that informs the interpretation of the exemplary narrative of the rich young man in Matthew 19. Ascesis and almsgiving emerge as twο modes of divine and earthly resource management for the wealthy males who interpreted Matthew's text. In Matthew 19,`wealth becomes poverty, while ascesis and almsgiving, although they represent renunciation, eventually pay off as a smart investment in the heavenly economy. Thus, like the seemingly unisex but rather effectively masculine homo economicus of the British enlightenment, these readers operate and make economic decisions on the basis of a notion related to hysteria and lack while continually striving for abundance.

Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray have shown that in the gendered economies of phallocentric cultures, women are traded as inferior, marked as a hollow "lack," but also signify the place where future abundance and the growth of male descendants (and hence, wealth) occurs. Women's ambivalent position between lack and abundance is similarly reflected in the rhetorical and material economies of gender and salvation in biblical and patristic texts. Chapter 3 traces the figure of the "giving woman" through several such texts. In them, we find the continued reinscription of women as the economically impoverished gender via the stereotypical ascription of lack to the bodies of women. In the overall economy of most early Christian texts, women are rarely "of substance." And even if women appear as significant figures, their images are disciplined and managed through various rhetorical topoi and societal constructs. At the same time, we find figures such as the poor widow presented as the epitome of a wealth of grace in Jesus' basíleia ("reign" or "kingdom"). At times women emerge endowed with unexpected subversive powers within the constraints of the economies of gender and church structures.

The figure of the "slave" and the "trickster" involves another set of rhetorical economies that have disciplined human and divine economies: the redemptive exchange of a price to redeem—to buy back—the body of a slave. Chapter 4 then reconstructs divine commerce using the soteriological motif of ransom from slavery. Ransom thus becomes the admirabile com­mercium, the divine commerce and miraculous exchange between God, humanity, and the devil. A critical reconstruction of this motif brings the soteriological motif of the commercium into the twenty-first century, mim­icking the dynamics of ancient slave management even as it changes and modifies them. The ambivalence of the "wonderful exchange" allows for a reconstruction of the topos as the redemptive trickery of a God who, while preserving wisdom and justice, is not above "deceiving the devil" for the redemption of creation. The image of divine commerce thus offers a sacred trickster's scheme as one incarnation of divine countereconomy.

The figures represent textual incarnations of early Christian notions of redemption and salvation as their salvific and material economies(almsgiving, asceticism, gender and class dynamics) become the site where constructions of human and divine economy stand in a close but tenuous relationship to each other. From these genealogies, chapter 5 develops cre­ative possibilities for contemporary theological and economic subjects, for inhabiting various locations in a subversive, prophetic divine economy that imagines exchanges of coredemption, of "consensual salvation" in an ongo­ing process of mutually transformed relations.

All three trickster figures live in the borderlands of heaven and earth, wealth and poverty, sincerity and deception. They embody forms of theo­logical, sexual, and social hybridity. As genealogies of our contemporary theological and economic context, they help us to inhabit that elusive third space between theological and economic dichotomies. In chapter 5, Grau imag­ines what the contemporary incarnations of these sacred tricksters might look like. Holy Fool, Saint Mysteria, and the Counterfeit(ing) Christ are introduced as possible descendants of the figures whose genealogies are represented in chapters 2 through 4. These trickster figures, their similarities and differences, unfold as midrash-like pieces, bridging the stretches of the millennia of salvation history. As revelatory figures, tricksters unveil the monetary, relational, and physical exchanges that become theological expressions of divine economy. Chapter 5 offers a discussion of the possi­bilities of a tricksterish economics in a world where con men appear to win the day. The sacred trickster's redemptive trickery, in contrast, is inspired by Christ's divine commerce and the tricksterlike "economist" of Luke 16, an ambivalent figure that yet inspires divinely clever trades. A post-Weberian reassessment of ascetic practices suggests that birth control and simplified living on an overpopulated planet is a form of cultural protest, and another possible strategy. A reconstruction of the time-honored motif of the Holy Fool is followed by a call to recognize gender differences among male and female trickster figures and tactics and further to assess the gendered diver­sity of tricksterisms. Gendering the trickster is crucial if the concept is to be inclusive of women's particular strategies. Beyond the recognition of gender difference, it will be necessary to more deeply que(e)ry divine commerce. The voluntarily enslaved male Christ of tradition is recast (with a little help from Jean-François Lyotard) as Jesus, the calculating female pros­titute who barters salvation in return for his/her body. Such tricky trades

do not promise purity of motive or predictable profit. Rather, they always take place in a matrix of ambivalent relations and resemble the complexity of the created universe, or divine economy, which periodically returns to the creative and unpredictable edge of chaos.

In traditional constructions of redemption, not all models juxtapose the singular activity of God with the complete passivity of humanity. Rather, numerous apostolic and patristic texts central to the Christian tradition's notion of divine salvific activity retain the coredemptive character of divine salvific agency resident in many biblical texts. Eastern theologies likewise have preserved the notion of theosis as the human participation in salvation, and a sizable number of feminist theologians emphasize the synergic character of salvific relations between God and humanity. Imagining redemption as a similarly cooperative process involves a soteriology of "modest witnesses" striving to heal and be healed, yet knowing they exist in the fragile space of Paul's old predicament—the turmoil within the redeemed, the ambivalence at the intersection of the "already" and the "not yet:' This modest soteriology resonates with "ροly­glossic" relations and does not easily figure as purely divine or merely human.

In the process of reconstructing redemption, we are working in danger­ous and murky zones, as Moltmann reminds us: "For where this way of perceiving history is concerned, Hölderlin's saying is true: `Where there is danger, the salutary also grows'—as is also its reverse: where the salutary grows, there danger also grows (E. Bloch)" Combining Hölderlin's more optimistic statement with Bloch's more sober observation, Moltmann reaf­firms that the kairos of a moment in space remains open for many possibil­ities and includes potential for both dangerous and redemptive moments. In this respect, at least, the theology to be reconstructed here might repre­sent an instance of theologia viatorum (theology on the way) suggested by Moltmann, a practice that lοοks at Scripture not as a "closed organism" but as a text open toward future instances of divine economy unfurling in each moment of space-time.

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