"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
mattress,/
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Religious Minorities in the Middle East

It's been out for almost a year, but I just came across a collection of articles, The Future of Religious Minorities in the Middle East, edited by John Eibner and published last year by Lexington Books (276pp.).

Other books and collections that treat this topic do not seem to have the wide-ranging scope of this one, which I'm looking forward to reading.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The Future of Religious Minorities in the Middle East addresses the domestic and international politics that have created conditions for contemporary religious cleansing in the Middle East. It provides a platform for a host of distinguished scholars, journalists, human rights activists, and political practitioners. The contributors come from diverse political, cultural, and religious backgrounds; each one drawing on a deep wellspring of scholarship, experience, sobriety, and passion. Collectively, they make a major contribution to understanding the dynamics of the mortal threat to the social pluralism upon which the survival of religious minorities depends.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Augustine's Confessions: A New Translation

Augustine of Hippo occupies a famously ambivalent place in certain Eastern Christian circles. As a rough rule of thumb, one may estimate that the higher the percentage of polemics he attracts from Orthodox, the higher the certainty that he has never been read comprehensively in original critical editions. Instead, like other major Western figures--one thinks immediately of Anselm and Aquinas in this regard--he has been traduced by ignorant apologists. Much of this was addressed in a volume that's been out for a decade now, but remains absolutely crucial: Orthodox Readings of Augustine, eds.  George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou (Fordham University Press, 2008).

But regardless of what one thinks of Augustine's theology--if, indeed, one can use such a term and assume thereby to have captured something simple and singular in so vast a corpus of writings--he has profoundly shaped the world we live in through his City of God as well as his Confessions--to say nothing of myriad other works. And no person considering oneself reasonably educated in antique literature can ignore The Confessions, which have, of course, often been described as the first major Western "autobiography" or reflection on one's inner life. They may be that, but they are much more than that.

They have also been regularly released in translation from major and minor scholars. Along comes another new translation which is the subject of a searching and laudatory review by Adam Phillips (who always attracts attention in these parts) in a recent edition of the London Review of Books which I read with great interest. While recognizing the uses of other major translators (including especially that of Henry Chadwick), Phillips commends to us Confessions: A New Translation by Peter Constantine (Liveright, 2018), 368pp. He notes that Constantine's translation helps us more sharply realize just how unreliable language is in and for Augustine, and how inadequate all our attempts to describe our searching for and desiring of Him who is beyond our categories of language and being.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
No modern, well-versed literature lover can call her education complete without having read Augustine’s Confessions. One of the most original works of world literature, it is the first autobiography ever written, influencing writers from Montaigne to Rousseau, Virginia Woolf to Gertrude Stein―and most recently informing Stephen Greenblatt’s provocative thesis about one of our foundational mythologies in The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve. It is here that we learn how one of the greatest saints in Christendom overcame a wild and reckless past, complete with a rambunctious posse of friends, an overly doting mother, and an affair that produced a “bastard” child. Yet English translators have long emphasized the ecclesiastical virtues of Augustine’s masterpiece, often at the expense of its passion and literary vigor. Restoring the lyricism of Augustine’s original language, Peter Constantine offers a masterful and elegant rendering of Confessions in what will be a classic for decades to come.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

But the End of the Beginning: on the Centenary of the End of the Great War

More than five years ago now, I noted that the eve of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War was already occasioning a slew of new books from publishers. Without in any way pretending to be an historian of that conflict in all its complexity, I have nonetheless read a great deal for many years now, some of it connected with lectures I gave on the centenary of the Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian genocides of 1915 at the hands of the Ottomans. I am convinced, as many other historians are, that the First World War shaped everything that came after it, and shapes us still. The person who has argued this most persuasively--at least among those I have read--is the Cambridge historian David Reynolds, particularly in the book, The Long Shadow, which I noted here.

In anticipation of today's anniversary of the end of the fighting, I recently finished a book that has been out for some time: Joseph Persico, Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918, World War I and Its Violent Climax (Random House, 2004). It's a not bad book, though its format takes some getting used to as the author jumps back and forth, sketching individual characters or units on 11 November 1918 and then earlier in the war to see where they were, how they changed, and whether they survived to the end or not.

A just-released book also focuses on this particular day: Guy Cuthbertson, Peace at Last: A Portrait of Armistice Day 1918 (Yale UP, 2018), 304pp. I look forward to reading it.

One of the men in Persico's book, as he is of course in myriad others, is General Haig, a man for whom it is almost impossible to have any sympathy. (I have, I suppose, been influenced in my judgment by the ferocious attack on British army leaders in The Donkeys by Alan Clark--he of the uproarious diaries.) Haig is featured in a new study released this spring by Jonathan Boff, Haig's Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany's War on the Western Front (OUP, 2018).

Boff's book is featured in the history catalogue sent to me in October from Oxford University Press. In it they are featuring a number of new and forthcoming books connected to the end of the war.

Coming out early next year is Owen Davies, A Supernatural War: Magic, Divination, and Faith during the First World War (OUP, 2019), 304pp. About this book the publisher tells us the following:
It was a commonly expressed view during the First World War that the conflict had seen a major revival of "superstitious" beliefs and practices.
Churches expressed concerns about the wearing of talismans and amulets, the international press paid considerable interest to the pronouncements of astrologers and prophets, and the authorities in several countries periodically clamped down on fortune tellers and mediums due to concerns over their effect on public morale. Out on the battlefields, soldiers of all nations sought to protect themselves through magical and religious rituals, and, on the home front, people sought out psychics and occult practitioners for news of the fate of their distant loved ones or communication with their spirits. Even away from concerns about the war, suspected witches continued to be abused and people continued to resort to magic and magical practitioners for personal protection, love, and success.
Uncovering and examining beliefs, practices, and contemporary opinions regarding the role of the supernatural in the war years, Owen Davies explores the broader issues regarding early twentieth-century society in the West, the psychology of the supernatural during wartime, and the extent to which the war cast a spotlight on the widespread continuation of popular belief in magic. A Supernatural War reveals the surprising stories of extraordinary people in a world caught up with the promise of occult powers.
Davies' book immediately puts me in mind of a similar study, that of Phillip Jenkins' The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade, which was published in 2014. It is a fascinating book I have often recommended to others and returned to many times, not least for its insight that Catholics, so hysterical about some apparent happenings in some obscure Portuguese village, were far from alone in claiming divine apparitions: it was a game that everybody got in on, with French atheists in foxholes claiming visions of their dead comrades in arms; Russian Orthodox peasants claiming divine visions; staid German Lutherans and English Anglicans also had their own supposed apparitions; and even Muslims were also claiming to have had visions.

Another book just out this month will also disabuse us of common assumptions today about the supposed origins of "fake news" under Trump. Au contraire, as Gill Bennett suggests in The Zinoviev Letter: the Conspiracy that Never Dies. About this book Oxford tells us this:
This is the story of one of the most enduring conspiracy theories in British politics, an intrigue that still has resonance nearly a century after it was written: the Zinoviev Letter of 1924. Almost certainly a forgery, no original has ever been traced, and even if genuine it was probably Soviet fake news. Despite this, the Letter still haunts British politics nearly a century after it was written, the subject of major Whitehall investigations in the 1960s and 1990s, and cropping up in the media as recently as during the Referendum campaign and the 2017 general election.
The Letter, encouraging the British proletariat to greater revolutionary fervor, was apparently sent by Grigori Zinoviev, head of the Bolshevik propaganda organization, to the British Communist Party in September 1924. Sent to London through British Secret Intelligence Service channels, it arrived during the general election campaign and was leaked to the press. The Letter's publication by the Daily Mail on October 25th 1924 just before the General Election humiliated the first ever British Labour government, headed by Ramsay MacDonald, when its political opponents used it to create a "Red Scare" in the media. Labour blamed the Letter for its defeat, insisting there had been a right-wing establishment conspiracy, and many in the Labour Party have never forgotten it. 
The Zinoviev Letter has long been a symbol of political dirty tricks and what we would now call "fake news". But it is also a gripping historical detective story of spies and secrets, fraud and forgery, international subversion and the nascent global conflict between communism and capitalism.
When the war ended, the armistice was of course signed at Versailles. That treaty is the subject of a recent Oxford UP book by Michael Neiberg, The Treaty of Versailles: A Concise History. I look forward to reading it in due course.

But Versailles was preceded by half a year of hard slogging among various powers in Paris. That process was covered by the superlative and unsurpassable book by  Margaret Macmillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. which I have read three times with delight. It has justly won several awards.


Friday, November 9, 2018

Christianity in Iraq in the 15th Century

If nothing else has come out of the disaster which Iraq has been for fifteen years now since the neo-imperial American invasion, perhaps one might find some glimmer of good in the slightly increased (relatively speaking) awareness by American Christians of the age-old Christian presence in that country and surrounding region. Much of that Christian population has, of course, been destroyed since the war of 2003; much of it has fled. In his very useful new book Ecumenism of Blood, about which more another time, Hugh Somerville Knapman notes that in 2003 there were "1.4 million Christians" in Iraq, but by 2016 that number was "reduced to 275,000."

That much-reduced population has long roots, and a book set for release at the end of December will focus on one period of that population's history: Thomas A. Carlson, Christianity in Fifteenth-Century Iraq (Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization, 2018), 322pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Christians in fifteenth-century Iraq and al-Jazīra were socially and culturally home in the Middle East, practicing their distinctive religion despite political instability. This insightful book challenges the normative Eurocentrism of scholarship on Christianity and the Islamic exceptionalism of much Middle Eastern history to reveal the often unexpected ways in which inter-religious interactions were peaceful or violent in this region. The multifaceted communal self-concept of the 'Church of the East' (so-called 'Nestorians') reveals cultural integration, with certain distinctive features. The process of patriarchal succession clearly borrowed ideas from surrounding Christian and Muslim groups, while public rituals and communal history reveal specifically Christian responses to concerns shared with Muslim neighbors. Drawing on sources from various languages, including Arabic, Armenian, Persian, and Syriac, this book opens new possibilities for understanding the rich, diverse, and fascinating society and culture that existed in Iraq during this time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Marriage and Sex in Early Christianity

I confess to growing weariness with the endless focus on sexual issues today and the endless policing of and editorializing about the same. But I have none of those fears in approaching a new book by David Hunter, whom I know personally to be a first-rate scholar of antique Christianity, treating issues with the serene and objective regard that characterizes historical scholarship at its best.

He is the editor of the newly released collection, Marriage and Sexuality in Early Christianity (Fortress Press, 2018), 272pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us this:
Marriage and Sexuality in Early Christianity is part of Ad Fontes: Early Christian Sources, a series designed to present ancient Christian texts essential to an understanding of Christian theology, ecclesiology, and practice. The books in the series make the wealth of early Christian thought available to new generations of students of theology and provide a valuable resource for the church. Developed in light of recent patristic scholarship, the volumes provide a representative sampling of theological contributions from both East and West. The series provides volumes that are relevant for a variety of courses: from introduction to theology to classes on doctrine and the development of Christian thought. The goal of each volume is not to be exhaustive but rather to be representative enough to denote for a nonspecialist audience the multivalent character of early Christian thought, allowing readers to see how and why early Christian doctrine and practice developed the way it did.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Medieval Middle Eastern Christians

I've followed the work of the relatively young scholar Jack Tannous for some time, and been consistently impressed. So it is with eager anticipation that I look forward to the publication, next week, of his book The Making of the Medieval Middle East: Religion, Society, and Simple Believers (Princeton University Press, 2018), 664pp.

Bearing a slew of impressive recommendations, including from the well-known Byzantinist Averil Cameron, this book, the publisher tells us, is
A bold new religious history of the late antique and medieval Middle East that places ordinary Christians at the center of the story.
In the second half of the first millennium CE, the Christian Middle East fractured irreparably into competing churches and Arabs conquered the region, setting in motion a process that would lead to its eventual conversion to Islam. Jack Tannous argues that key to understanding these dramatic religious transformations are ordinary religious believers, often called “the simple” in late antique and medieval sources. Largely agrarian and illiterate, these Christians outnumbered Muslims well into the era of the Crusades, and yet they have typically been invisible in our understanding of the Middle East’s history.
What did it mean for Christian communities to break apart over theological disagreements that most people could not understand? How does our view of the rise of Islam change if we take seriously the fact that Muslims remained a demographic minority for much of the Middle Ages? In addressing these and other questions, Tannous provides a sweeping reinterpretation of the religious history of the medieval Middle East.
This provocative book draws on a wealth of Greek, Syriac, and Arabic sources to recast these conquered lands as largely Christian ones whose growing Muslim populations are properly understood as converting away from and in competition with the non-Muslim communities around them.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Art of Armenia

If you read my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy, you will know that I have a special affection for the Armenian Church, whose structures are utterly singular in the Christian world for reasons I go into great detail about.

So Armenia continues to fascinate, and some day I should be delighted to visit that small country that has suffered so much slaughter of the last 1400 years and more.

Oxford University Press has recently published a book by Christine Maranci, The Art of Armenia: An Introduction (OUP, 2018), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Though immediately recognizable in public discourse as a modern state in a political "hot zone," Armenia has a material history and visual culture that reaches back to the Paleolithic era. This book presents a timely and much-needed survey of the arts of Armenia from antiquity to the early eighteenth century C.E. Divided chronologically, it brings into discussion a wide range of media, including architecture, stone sculpture, works in metal, wood, and cloth, manuscript illumination, and ceramic arts. Critically, The Art of Armenia presents this material within historical and archaeological contexts, incorporating the results of specialist literature in various languages. It also positions Armenian art within a range of broader comparative contexts including, but not limited to, the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, Byzantium, the Islamic world, Yuan-dynasty China, and seventeenth-century Europe. The Art of Armenia offers students, scholars, and heritage readers of the Armenian community something long desired but never before available: a complete and authoritative introduction to three thousand years of Armenian art, archaeology, architecture, and design.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Antoine Arjakovsky on Orthodoxy and its Genealogy

I have been a great fan of the work of the Russian Orthodox scholar Antoine Arjakovsky for some time, having previously interviewed him here about this book discussed here. Slowly more and more of his works are making their way into English translation through several North American publishers. One such publisher, Angelico Press, contacted me this past summer asking me to read and provide a blurb for an Arjakovsky book they were about to publish. And now it is here: What is Orthodoxy? A Genealogy of Christian Understanding (Angelico, 2018), 412pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
In this remarkably original work, Antoine Arjakovsky brings us to a discovery of Orthodoxy within the dynamics of history—including the profound crisis that the Christian churches, with their too often congealed identities, are passing through today. Faced with internal tensions and the millennium-old fragmentation of Christendom, the path to a common Christian identity has been rendered all but impossible. Undaunted, Arjakovsky points to the emergence of a new concept of Orthodoxy as “right knowing,” a knowing that unifies what is believed with what is lived, wherever this might be. He is an acute reader of the tensions between the piously political and the truly spiritual in the troubled history of Christendom—East as well as West. The book’s contributions to studies in the history of Christianity, ecumenism, and sophiology offer Christian readers renewed hope in an ecumenical project uninhibited by tired tropes of division and over-rehearsed acrimony. It is a most timely work.
And don't just take my word for the importance of reading Arjakovsky. It comes with a foreword from John Milbank, and then the publisher provides a slew of vastly more impressive "blurbers" than I:

 “Antoine Arjakovsky’s theological, geographic, and diachronic breadth is matched by largeness of heart and deep reflection guided by lived experience and eschatological hope.”—BISHOP BORYS GUDZIAK, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

“Antoine Arjakovsky has written a sweeping scholarly account of how the very concept of ‘orthodoxy’ has been approached historically, philosophically, and theologically over the last two millennia. In this rich exploration beyond the closed spheres of confessionalism, heterodoxy versus orthodoxy, and our ‘epistemic ghettos,’ Arjakovsky sees the possibility of ‘a common shared consciousness’ that could open ‘a new ecumenical history of the Church and a new history of philosophy.’”—FR. JOHN A. JILLIONS, Chancellor, Orthodox Church in America

“In this remarkable book, Antoine Arjakovsky shows why a theological Church History is crucial for theological understanding. Orthodoxy is not such, if it is only about right belief. It is, rather, about the participation of human existence and history in the divine and angelic wisdom which is itself a metahistorical drama.”—CATHERINE PICKSTOCK, University of Cambridge

“This volume is no mere historical overview of Orthodox Christianity, but an extraordinary multidimensional exploration of what Orthodoxy has tried to confess and enact of Christ’s Gospel. An exciting, provocative, and most important contribution to theology and church history.”—THE V. REV. MICHAEL PLEKON, Professor Emeritus, City University of New York

“Antoine Arjakovsky’s historical scholarship opens onto an astonishing array of sources, ancient and modern, offering us a vitally important exploration of Orthodoxy that is both theologically faithful and historiographically self-critical.”—A.A.J. DEVILLE, University of Saint Francis

“Antoine Arjakovsky offers a provocation to orthodoxy that is rooted in genuine metanoia, and thus irreducible to the triumphalism of ecclesial bureaucracy and confessional boundaries. An important and highly-recommended work.”—AARON RICHES, Seminario Mayor San Cecilio, Granada, Spain

Monday, October 29, 2018

Bulgarian Orthodoxy Under Communism

We have for the better part of two decades now seen an increasing number of books devoted to post-Soviet realities across central, southern, and eastern Europe. As those regions move further and further away from their communist past it sometimes becomes a bit easier to gain the beginnings of historical-critical perspective on them. A new book, just released, does that for Bulgaria, with chapter on the role of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which continues to struggle even today with its communist past: Bulgaria Under Communism, eds. Ivaylo Znepolski et al., (Routledge, 2018), 476pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The book traces the history of communist Bulgaria from 1944 to 1989. A detailed narrative-cum-study of the history of a political system, it provides a chronological overview of the building of the socialist state from the ground up, its entrenchment into the peaceful routine of everyday life, its inner crises, and its gradual decline and self-destruction. The book is the definitive and the most complete guide to Bulgaria under communism and how the communist system operates on a day-to-day level.

Friday, October 26, 2018

North American Churches and the Cold War

Eerdmans recently put into my hands a very impressive collection edited by Paul Mojzes, North American Churches and the Cold War (2018), 560pp.

It is a substantial collection of considerable size and range. I am especially cheered to see included two sections that one rarely finds in collections like this--or, if one finds them, then they are invariably tiny and begrudging: thus we have a hefty first section devoted entirely to Canadian church history in six chapters; and another section with five chapters devoted to Eastern Orthodox Churches. (Too many collections, if they include either section, usually have one token contribution in it.)

In the former, I recognize with fondness the name of Lois Wilson, author of the chapter "Canadian Churches and the Cold War 1975-90." Growing up in Canada in the 1980s and 1990s, you could hardly avoid the name of Lois Wilson if you paid any attention to both ecclesial and political affairs. She was elected moderator--the first woman to hold that position--of what was then the largest Protestant body in the country, the United Church of Canada. She came out of the social gospel tradition of Western Canada from which, in part, the inspiration for the Canadian universal healthcare system emerged. I met her in the fall of 1990 at a preparatory meeting in Quebec City for those us going to Canberra, Australia in February 1991 for the seventh general assembly of the WCC, of which Wilson was then one of the seven outgoing presidents. Her reputation as a dynamo did not disappoint, and I think I had a mild but instant crush on her.

The latter section, on the Orthodox Churches, contains chapters by names familiar to all, including those I am glad to call friends.

The section leads off with a chapter by Leonid Kishkovsky, "The Orthodox Church in America: Steering Through the Cold War."

This is followed by Nicholas Denysenko (see my recent interview with him here) authors the chapter "Sustaining the Fatherland in Exile: Commemoration and Ritual During the Cold War."

Andrei V. Psarev and Nadieszda Kizenko co-wrote "The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, the Moscow Patriarchate, and Their Participation in Ecumenical Assemblies during the Cold War 1948-64."

Lucian Turcescu, who has written about Orthodox Churches and Cold War (as well as post-Cold War) politics in Romania itself, here authors "Fascists, Communists, Bishops, and Spies: Romanian Orthodox Churches during the Cold War."

D. Oliver Herbal (see my interview with him here about his splendid book Turning to Tradition) rounds out this section with his chapter, "Redressing Religious Freedom: Anti-Communism and the Rejection of Orthodox Christianity as the 'Fourth Major Faith'."

Before and after these two sections, there are chapters on "Evangelical Approaches," "Peace Activities," "Roman Catholic Approaches," "US Mainline Protestant Approaches" and a final section, "Lessons Learned."

All told, as the publisher tells us, this book fills a considerable gap:
History textbooks typically list 1945–1990 as the Cold War years, but it is clear that tensions from that period are still influencing world politics today. While much attention is given to political and social responses to those first nuclear threats, none has been given to the reactions of Christian churches. North American Churches and the Cold War offers the first systematic reflection on the diverse responses of Canadian and American churches to potential nuclear disaster.
A mix of scholars and church leaders, the contributors analyze the anxieties, dilemmas, and hopes that Christian churches felt as World War II gave way to the nuclear age. As they faced either nuclear annihilation or peaceful reconciliation, Christians were forced to take stands on such issues as war, communism, and their relationship to Christians in Eastern Europe. As we continue to navigate the nuclear era, this book provides insight into Chris-tian responses to future adversities and conflicts.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Two Jews Meet on a Couch Somewhere Between Damascus and Vienna: Debate Follows

Dear readers! How faithfully you have endured a good two weeks and more now without me mentioning psychoanalysis or capitalism! But fear not: this drought now ends. For I have in my hands the recent book of Paul Axton, The Psychotheology of Sin and Salvation: An Analysis of the Meaning of the Death of Christ in Light of the Psychoanalytical Reading of Paul (T&T Clark, 2015), 220pp.

Here is the publisher's blurb:
Through the employment of the work of Slavoj Žižek and his engagement with the Apostle Paul, Axton argues that Paul in Romans 6-8 understands sin as a lie grounding the subject outside of Christ, and salvation is an exposure and displacement of this lie. The theological significance of Žižek (along with Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan) is his demonstration of the pervasive and systemic nature of this lie and its description as he finds it in Romans 7. The specific overlap of the two disciplines of psychology and theology is found in the psychoanalytic understanding that the human Subject or the psyche is structured in three registers: the symbolic, the imaginary and the real. These three registers function like a lie analogous to the Pauline categories of law, ego, and the 'body of death' which constitute Paul's dynamic of sin's deception.
Axton argues that if sin is understood as a lie grounding the Subject, the exposure of the lie or the dispelling of any notion of mystery connected to sin is integral to salvation and the reconstructing of the Subject in Christ. While the lie of sin is mediated by the law, new life in the Spirit is not through the law but is a principle unto itself, which though it accounts for the law, is beyond the law. 
Of all the books I've read over the past three years in the realm of theology and psychoanalysis, this is one of the most rigorous ones, closest in nature to what Marcus Pound did in his Theology, Psychoanalysis, and Trauma. (Indeed, Axton, explicitly borrows from Pound at several points.)

Your mileage may vary with both books depending on what you think of Lacan, who is the major interlocutor for both authors--along with Zizek, whom both also engage extensively. I have not read a great deal of Lacan, and what I have leaves much to be desired (!). Freud is more grounded, and a far clearer and more disciplined writer than Lacan seems to have been.

Still, Axton offers useful insights into the psychology underlying Paul in Romans, especially in Paul's grappling with the themes of death and self-defeating and often self-destructive behaviors. Axton begins boldly by claiming that "psychoanalysis has taken up what, rightly understood, is within the domain of theology" (17) and illustrates this claim by immediately going on to say that "no theologian has done more than Freud to explain Jesus' counter-intuitive statement, 'For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it' (Mt. 16:25)."

Much of the rest of the book is then an attempt to understand sin as death-dealing, and this puts him into close conversation with Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where, of course, the great analyst put forth his controversial (but, to me, patently obvious) thesis of the death drive. I'm using that book next semester in a course entitled "Sin, Evil, and Hope" where Freud will be put into explicit dialogue along these themes, offering one understanding of sin and evil even while, of course, eschewing such theologically freighted language.

Axton's contention--along with others, including Pound, Rizzuto, and many others discussed on here over the past few years, perhaps especially Adam Phillips--is that Freud could not escape theology, and that he remains enormously useful for Christians and Jews (inter alia) in seeing through many of our neurotic spiritual habits and idolatrous religious practices.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Ecumenism of Blood

In the latter half of the 1990s I lived in an intentional community, Somerset House, that was deliberately ecumenical. One of my house-mates had grown up Baptist, migrated to the low-church Anglican parish I was then in, and was content to go no further--even as he respected my migration out of Anglicanism and into the Catholic Church. He used to remind me very often that the earthly walls of division do not reach so far as heaven, and I have thought of him often over the years in considering these questions.

More recently, I considered these questions almost exactly a year ago in South Euclid, Ohio, at a conference there, the annual Eastern Churches Seminar (preceded by the absolutely best Armenian food I have ever had). There I gave a lecture "If my saints are true, are yours false?" in which I looked at complicated martyrdoms, especially those coming after the Reformation, and including figures such as Josaphat Kuntsevych and Alexis Toth.

Such questions as mine are freshly taken up in a new book I'm greatly looking forward to reading, authored by the Benedictine scholar Hugh Somerville Knapman in his just-published book, Ecumenism of Blood: Heavenly Hope for Earthly Communion (Paulist Press, 2018), 128pp.

The publisher gives us the following blurb about the book:
Ecumenism of Blood demonstrates that it is possible within the status quo of Catholic doctrine for the Catholic Church to recognize in some official way, in this case liturgically, the Christian martyrs of the eastern churches. Such a development would have immense implications as an example of realizable, practicable ecumenism, as well as a gesture of solidarity with an ancient and persecuted church. Pope Francis's unsystematic references to ecumenism of blood offers an opening, though many in the blogosphere mentioned the ancient denial of the martyr's crown to heretics and schismatics. However, if blood could baptize non-Christians who died in odio Christi, why could it not absolve non-Catholic Christians from schism? Thus, it seemed possible for there to be a reconciliation of blood that could be derived by analogy from baptism of blood. Searching the tradition, it is possible to see this development prepared for, especially from Benedict XIV and reaching a climax with John Paul II's Ut unum sint, the teaching of which is conclusive. Considering ecumenical sensitivity and to avoid the appearance of ecclesial imperialism, Ecumenism of Blood proposes the mechanism of equivalent canonization as a means of realizing what is shown as doctrinally possible. The obvious question serves as an epilogue: would the blood of martyrdom for Christ reconcile any non-Catholic to the Church, even those from communities outside the apostolic succession.

Monday, October 22, 2018

On the Greek Genocide of 1915

In 2015 I gave several lectures on the centenary of the genocidal massacres of Eastern Christians at Ottoman hands. The best-known of these is of course the Armenian Genocide, about which a considerable number of books has emerged over the last quarter-century. But during my lecture I noted that two other captive Eastern Christian populations--Greeks and Assyrians--were also slaughtered in huge numbers. The Assyrian massacres have started very recently to receive some attention, as I noted here. But details about the Greek slaughter have largely been confined to a tiny handful of scholarly articles or passing reference in the occasional book--until now.

Set for November release is The Making of the Greek Genocide: Contested Memories of the Ottoman Greek Catastrophe by Erik Sjöberg (Berghahn Books, 2018), 266pp.

About this book we are told this by the publisher:

During and after World War I, over one million Ottoman Greeks were expelled from Turkey, a watershed moment in Greek history that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. And while few dispute the expulsion's tragic scope, it remains the subject of fierce controversy, as activists have fought for international recognition of an atrocity they consider comparable to the Armenian genocide. This book provides a much-needed analysis of the Greek genocide as cultural trauma. Neither taking the genocide narrative for granted nor dismissing it outright, Erik Sjöberg instead recounts how it emerged as a meaningful but contested collective memory with both nationalist and cosmopolitan dimensions.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Georgian and Armenian Memories of the Caucasian Schism

Stuck as they are by a behemoth to the north, and by the turmoil of the Middle East to the south of them, the Orthodox Christians of Georgia and Armenia are sometimes overlooked, and their history not well known by outsiders. For those who do know something, they might be able to tell you that the Georgian Church is Eastern Orthodox while the Armenian Church is part of the so-called Non-Chalcedonian family.

But what of their earlier history and unity--and later still schism? A new scholarly study sheds light on these events: Nikoloz Aleksidze, The Narrative of the Caucasian Schism: Memory and Forgetting in Medieval Caucasia (Peeters, 2018), 228pp.


About this book the publisher tells us this:
In the early seventh century, the Georgian and the Armenian Churches separated. Since then, the two nations formed their distinct Christian cultures and national Churches. This also resulted in mutual antagonism, the repercussions of which are still observable in modern Caucasia - This is the prevalent narrative that one encounters in modern histories of medieval Caucasia. In the centre of this narrative lies the Schism - a watershed that divides the history of Caucasia into two chronological constituents, the era before and after. Indeed, the Schism is allegedly one of the most well documented events in Caucasian history, infinitely evoked and referred to in medieval Armenian historical accounts. The present study is an attempt to deconstruct this grand narrative by focusing on the formation of the narrative of the Schism, its central element. It argues that the narrative of the Schism was perpetually reconstructed and reinvented by medieval historians for the purpose of sustaining teleological continuity in their perception of the region's history. In the historical imaginaries of different medieval writers in different times and places, the Schism served as an interpretive tool in attempts to create a sound connection between the present and the forgotten past. The Schism was once again reinvented in contemporary Armenian and Georgia national discourses, and thence has made its way into scholarly studies.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Ukraine and Europe

Perhaps--given the semi-regular appearance of "Ukraine" in Western headlines over the last few years, given the Russian annexation of Crimea and then its war in the Donbas, and given the present struggle for a united and autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine (about which see my interview with Nick Denysenko and his must-read book on the subject)--we might finally expect that Western readers will lose some of their ignorance about the country and acquire some deeper understandings of its history, culture, and future.

One resource to aid that process was recently published. A wide-ranging collection by some important scholars, including one of its editors Serhii Plokhy, is now out in hardback: Ukraine and Europe: Cultural Encounters and Negotiations, eds. G.B. Bercoff, M. Pavllyshyn, and S. Plokhy (University of Toronto Press, 2017)

About this collection we are told:
Ukraine and Europe challenges the popular perception of Ukraine as a country torn between Europe and the east. Twenty-two scholars from Europe, North America, and Australia explore the complexities of Ukraine’s relationship with Europe and its role the continent’s historical and cultural development.
Encompassing literary studies, history, linguistics, and art history, the essays in this volume illuminate the interethnic, interlingual, intercultural, and international relationships that Ukraine has participated in. The volume is divided chronologically into three parts: the early modern era, the 19th and 20th century, and the Soviet/post-Soviet period. Ukraine in Europe offers new and innovative interpretations of historical and cultural moments while establishing a historical perspective for the pro-European sentiments that have arisen in Ukraine following the Euromaidan protests.

Monday, October 15, 2018

War, Memory, and Myth-Making in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus

For many years now the questions of memory and the healing of its traumas have preoccupied me, especially in Catholic-Orthodox relations, but also more generally across cultures. In our forthcoming book on remembering the Ps-Sobor of Lviv of 1946, I briefly discuss some of the challenges posed by competing memories and competing historiographies of the post-World War II world in Ukraine and Russia. A recent and substantial collection carries this discussion further and broadens it out to include a third country: War and Memory in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, eds. Julie Fedor et al (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), ‎506pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This edited collection contributes to the current vivid multidisciplinary debate on East European memory politics and the post-communist instrumentalization and re-mythologization of World War II memories. The book focuses on the three Slavic countries of post-Soviet Eastern Europe – Russia, Ukraine and Belarus – the epicentre of Soviet war suffering, and the heartland of the Soviet war myth. The collection gives insight into the persistence of the Soviet commemorative culture and the myth of the Great Patriotic War in the post-Soviet space. It also demonstrates that for geopolitical, cultural, and historical reasons the political uses of World War II differ significantly across Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, with important ramifications for future developments in the region and beyond.


Friday, October 12, 2018

Coptic Archaelogy

I find there are many things to admire about the Copts, beginning with their steadfastness over many centuries in the face of changing political fortunes in Egypt under various imperial powers. They are also admirably concerned with the safeguarding of their patrimony, as well as its study and ongoing renewal. Too many Eastern Christians are often not good at telling their history in all its forms. Not so the Copts, as we see in another recent book focusing on Marcus Simaika Pasha: Father of Coptic Archaeology by Samir Simaika (American University of Cairo Press, 2017), 240pp.

About this book we are told:
Marcus Pasha Simaika (1864-1944) was born to a prominent Coptic family on the eve of the inauguration of the Suez Canal and the British occupation of Egypt. From a young age, he developed a passion for Coptic heritage and devoted his life to shedding light on centuries of Christian Egyptian history that had been neglected by ignorance or otherwise belittled and despised.
He was not a professional archaeologist, an excavator, or a specialist scholar of Coptic language and literature. Rather, his achievement lies in his role as a visionary administrator who used his status to pursue relentlessly his dream of founding a Coptic Museum and preserving endangered monuments. During his lengthy career, first as a civil servant, then as a legislator and member of the Coptic community council, he maneuvered endlessly between the patriarch and the church hierarchy, the Coptic community council, the British authorities, and the government to bring them together in his fight to save Coptic heritage.
This fascinating biography draws upon Simaika's unpublished memoirs as well as on other documents and photographs from the Simaika family archive to deepen our understanding of several important themes of modern Egyptian history: the development of Coptic archaeology and heritage studies, Egyptian-British interactions during the colonial and semi-colonial eras, shifting balances in the interaction of clergymen and the lay Coptic community, and the ever-sensitive evolution of relations between Copts and their Muslim countrymen.

Canonical Considerations of the Russian Church-State Relationship

The unwieldy title of this new book is perhaps fitting in some ways insofar as the relationship it treats is, to put it mildly, unwieldy also: Alexander Ponomariov, The Visible Religion: The Russian Orthodox Church and her Relations with State and Society in Post-Soviet Canon Law (1992–2015) (Peter Lang, 2017), 362pp.

The publisher tells us the following about this new book:
«The Visible Religion» is an antithesis to Thomas Luckmann’s concept. The Russian Orthodox Church in post-Soviet canon law suggests a comprehensive cultural program of modernity. Researched through the paradigms of multiple modernities and post-secularity, the ROC appears to be quite modern: she reflects on herself and the secular environment, employs secular language, appeals to public reason, the human rights discourse, and achievements of modern science. The fact that the ROC rejects some liberal Western developments should not be understood in the way that the ROC rejects modernity in general. As a legitimate player in the public sphere, the ROC puts forward her own – Russian Orthodox – model of modernity, which combines transcendence and immanence, theological and social reasoning, an afterlife strategy and cooperation with secular actors, whereby eschatology and the human rights discourse become two sides of the same coin.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Alan Jacobs on Christian Humanism

This interview with Alan Jacobs is worth your time. In it he discusses his newest book, The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis (Oxford UP, 2018), 280pp., which sounds fascinating, focusing as it does on several prominent Christian intellectuals of the 1940s--Lewis, Weil, Auden, Eliot, and Maritain.

Oxford tells us this about the book:
By early 1943, it had become increasingly clear that the Allies would win the Second World War. Around the same time, it also became increasingly clear to many Christian intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic that the soon-to-be-victorious nations were not culturally or morally prepared for their success. A war won by technological superiority merely laid the groundwork for a post-war society governed by technocrats. These Christian intellectuals-Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil, among others-sought both to articulate a sober and reflective critique of their own culture and to outline a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world. 
In this book, Alan Jacobs explores the poems, novels, essays, reviews, and lectures of these five central figures, in which they presented, with great imaginative energy and force, pictures of the very different paths now set before the Western democracies. Working mostly separately and in ignorance of one another's ideas, the five developed a strikingly consistent argument that the only means by which democratic societies could be prepared for their world-wide economic and political dominance was through a renewal of education that was grounded in a Christian understanding of the power and limitations of human beings. The Year of Our Lord 1943 is the first book to weave together the ideas of these five intellectuals and shows why, in a time of unprecedented total war, they all thought it vital to restore Christianity to a leading role in the renewal of the Western democracies.

At different points in the 90s, reflecting changing ecclesial sensibilities as well as ecumenical friendships (that is to say, who my room-mates were), I found myself reading some of the works of all the figures Jacobs features, with early interest in Lewis and Simone Weil, and later in the others, including Maritain (after I had a Catholic room-mate who would sponsor my entry into the Church in 1997).

It was also in this period that I discovered George Grant, a rough contemporary of all the above five though perhaps less explicitly theological and more particularly concerned about Canadian realities. William Christian's biography of Grant was very good--or so I thought at the time, remembering almost none of it now more than two decades later. Grant's essay Technology and Empire was prescient, I thought at the time also.

I read Lewis when I had a hardcore evangelical for a roommate who thought Lewis was just about the only theologian who ever counted. I demurred from that judgment after reading, e.g., the Screwtape Letters and even Mere Christianity. Both are decent, even sometimes droll, works, but I think the Cappadocians and scholastics (inter alia) need not worry about being thrown out of the theological guild by this moderately interesting Ulsterman. I could never get into the Narnia books because I dislike all such books in that genre.

More recently, the Orthodox biblical scholar Edith Humphrey has returned to Lewis in her Further Up and Further In: Orthodox Conversations with C. S. Lewis on Scripture and Theology.

After my evangelical room-mate moved to Japan (where he later became Catholic), and perhaps to re-balance my Anglican sensibilities, I moved over to the Anglo-Catholic Eliot. I'm now slightly embarrassed to recall how many times I have quoted from his essay "Thoughts After Lambeth."

In addition, of course, I read The Wasteland and the Four Quartets in an undergraduate poetry class. I return to both works on a semi-regular basis. His Letters are also fascinating, as this one brief excerpt shows.

All the others on Jacobs' list are men, of course, but Weil is not only the sole woman, but the most unconventional. For me--and for others, I suspect--she is also the most haunting of figures. She raises in an acute way the question of where, and whether, there is any such thing as a limit to God's kenosis--and ours. If Christ descends even unto hell to harrow it, what does it mean to claim that extra ecclesiam there is nulla salus? How far does divine self-denial go, and how far must ours go? And what does it mean to embrace God and salvation? Weil, of course, famously remained outside the Church, but to write her off as some lost cause is a grave mistake it seems to me.

Since I read David McClellan's 1990 biography of her there has been an explosion of interest in Weil, and now biographies proliferate, including one (no surprise) by the ubiquitous Robert Coles (who has also written workman-like biographies of, inter alia, Dorothy Day and Anna Freud.) 

Auden is the one figure I've perhaps read the least of. But just last month, in giving a lecture on why reading Freud is still hugely important, I had occasion to read Auden's poem "In Memory of Sigmund Freud," written only a few months after the great man died in September 1939 in London. How very observant Auden was to say then that

if often he was wrong and, at times, absurd,
to us he is no more a person
now but a whole climate of opinion
under whom we conduct our different lives.

How different our lives have been in this climate of opinion that has not let up in nearly 80 years (as much as it kills Freddie Crewes to admit it)!

Maritain is the only fully paid-up Catholic on the list. I've read bits and pieces of him over the years, including Art and Scholasticism and especially Liturgy and Contemplation. I tried to read the quasi-joint memoirs of his wife, We Have Been Friend Together but never finished it. Among Catholic philosopher friends, I find that reactions range wildly, from some seeing him as a reactionary crank to others thinking him one of the greatest French Catholic intellectuals of the last century and more.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Vigen Guroian on Orthodox Reality

I have been a fan of Vigen Guroian for some time since he most unexpectedly won me over with his two books on gardening, an activity I thought I liked only in theory, never in practice.

I also found his book Life's Living Toward Dying useful in a graduate class I did some years ago now along with some of his other books in ethics.

So, when apprised by the newest Baker Academic catalogue that Guroian has a new book coming out in November, naturally I made a note of it and look forward to reading it.

About this forthcoming work the publisher tells us this:
This is a book about the struggle of Orthodox Christianity to establish a clear identity and mission within modernity--Western modernity in particular. As such, it offers penetrating insight into the heart and soul of Orthodoxy. Yet it also lends unusual, unexpected insight into the struggle of all the churches to engage modernity with conviction and integrity. Written by one of the leading voices of contemporary Orthodox theology, The Orthodox Reality is a treasury of the Orthodox response to the challenges of Western culture in order to answer secularism, act ecumenically, and articulate an ethics of the family that is both faithful to tradition and relevant to our day. The author honestly addresses Orthodoxy's strengths and shortcomings as he introduces readers to Orthodoxy as a living presence in the modern world.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Russian Orthodoxy and Russian Nationalism

Much has been made of resurgent Russian nationalism over the last two decades, outbreaks of which are in part behind the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, and certainly the fight over Ukrainian Orthodoxy still ongoing and so well covered by my friend Nick Denysenko's superb book, noted here in my interview with him. I confess to finding all nationalisms absurd on their face but some of the claims advanced by Russia in this regard are especially so, not least in trying, with a straight face, to claim that Moscow is somehow the mother-church of Kyiv, when it was of course the latter Christianized in 988.

For those desirous of deeper insights into these nationalist forces, a recently published book will help: The New Russian Nationalism: Imperialism, Ethnicity and Authoritarianism 2000-2015, eds. Pål Kolstø and Helge Blakkisrud (Edinburgh University Press, 2017), 436pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Russian nationalism, previously dominated by ‘imperial’ tendencies – pride in a large, strong and multi-ethnic state able to project its influence abroad – is increasingly focused on ethnic issues. This new ethno-nationalism has come in various guises, like racism and xenophobia, but also in a new intellectual movement of ‘national democracy’ deliberately seeking to emulate conservative West European nationalism.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent violent conflict in Eastern Ukraine utterly transformed the nationalist discourse in Russia. This book provides an up-to-date survey of Russian nationalism as a political, social and intellectual phenomenon by leading Western and Russian experts in the field of nationalism studies. It includes case studies on migrantophobia; the relationship between nationalism and religion; nationalism in the media; nationalism and national identity in economic policy; nationalism in the strategy of the Putin regime as well as a survey-based study of nationalism in public opinion.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Capitalism and its Deceitful Pseudo-Eschatology

I previously discussed in detail an earlier book by Todd McGowan, Enjoying What We Don't Have, which is an extremely insightful and helpful book and has much of the same apophatic-ascetic wisdom of Adam Phillips, as I have been suggesting for some time. Both Phillips and McGowan have a great deal to offer Eastern and other Christians.

Now I have finally had a chance to read his more recent book, Capitalism and Desire: the Psychic Costs of Free Markets (Columbia University Press, 2016), 304pp.

I have been investing (!) this time in figures such as Phillips, Fong, and McGowan because of an inchoate but increasing sense that too much of Christianity, especially in North America, has been infiltrated and corrupted by market ideas and practices in ways most Christians are not consciously aware of. In some cases, of course, this is obvious--indeed, it is the most obvious feature of such blatant shysters as, say, Joel Osteen or Creflo Dollar.

But the real danger lies elsewhere. The real danger comes when capitalist influences on Christian belief and practice are unrecognized; worse still, when their recognition is resisted because it would upset too many apple carts, that is, profit margins and comfortable, quiet middle-class lives. The real danger is assuming that Christian desires are uninfluenced by capitalism, a point I learned from Alasdair MacIntyre, as I showed here.

Like MacIntyre, I do not have answers as to what we do with all this. If a man of his vast erudition and learning, with his reading in Marx and a thousand other sources ancient and modern, says we still have to figure out ways beyond advanced capitalism, then I can but nod my head in agreement and hope that he and others smarter than I will continue to push forward in search of a new pathway--which includes, just to be clear, in no way attempting to re-create the genocidal atrocities and daily brutalities of "Kruschev Enterprises Inc."

But in the meantime, my little piece of the puzzle came several years ago in teaching my class on Catholic social teaching and realizing that there was an increasing tendency to elide any differences between CST and advanced capitalism in this country, making it appear that the former could become a useful form of the latter. In this approach, something like, say, recycling or paying your employees a just wage was simply "good business sense." Do the right thing and rake in handsome profits! What's not to love about that?

And, indeed, if Christian virtue operated thus, we'd all be billionaires. But Christian and especially Catholic social teaching is much more radical than this, and many of its most outstanding models are incomprehensible in the categories of capitalism. There's no money to be made in tending dying lepers on obscure islands; no amount of "branding" can "monetize" ministry with gay male prostitutes on the streets of Chicago; nobody can read Dorothy Day (or her Canadian counterpart and contemporary Catherine Doherty) and think she was in favor of the militarism and capitalism of her day and ours--and what a pity that her Catholic Worker houses didn't enter into a partnership with Starbucks to help each other out since bad coffee was so often a lament in her diaries.

In this regard, we are witnessing the transformation of CST into Costco. Sure they have a reputation for good hours and wages, and lots of "hipsters" appear to work there, but they are still a capitalist corporation catering to an elite. There is more than a whiff of upper-class elitism among those Catholics who think there can be some kind of "seamless garment" between CST and American capitalism. It is precisely their failure (or unwillingness, whether conscious or not) to see the corruption of desires already within the Christian mind that alarms me. Hence I find McGowan--who is otherwise both uninformed about and unduly critical of much of what he takes to be Christianity--actually very helpful, not least when he delivers himself of reflections such as this: "under capitalism Christianity becomes a romance comedy that ends with the discovery of one's soul mate in Christ," the right spouse being, of course, just one more commodity to find and acquire via that legal contract we call marriage.

That line comes near the very end of McGowan's newest book. McGowan, who teaches at the University of Vermont, starts out by facing a question I have long considered: can a method pioneered in an individual-clinical setting be applied to a social-economic one? In Civilizations and its Discontents and other works of his last period (1921-39) Freud recognized the dangers of this, if not its impossibility. But still he pressed on and with good reason. And McGowan says that if we cannot psychoanalyze the underlying dynamics of capitalism, then we allow it to continue unchecked in its dubious claim that capitalism is merely an outgrowth of "human nature" and we thus have no space from and in which to analyze it.

He also commendably begins by facing the criticism, not unjustified, that in some hands psychoanalysis has functioned as a handmaid of capitalism--a point David Pavon-Cuellar also makes in his new book, which I began discussing here (and will soon return to), Marxism and Psychoanalysis: In or Against Psychology.

That, certainly, was one of the fears Freud had about psychoanalysis moving across the Atlantic to take up post-war primacy in America. And there is evidence that it did function this way once the American medical establishment took it up in a Cold War context in which it required everyone to be trained in medicine first--something Freud also strongly resisted in his last period with the curiously overlooked essay The Question of Lay Analysis.

So we must admit, as McGowan does, that the record of analytic thought cooperating with (and being co-opted by) capitalism is bound up with a record of it being a critic of capitalism also--a mixed legacy in other words. That is both true, and a quintessentially Freudian recognition for who among us can cast the stones of pure and unmixed motives?

Instead of focusing only on the social effects of capitalism, or its economic structures, we need to understand how it operates dynamically on the human mind. Though he appears not to have read MacIntyre, this is exactly the latter's point, as I showed last year, when he claims that capitalism “is not only a set of economic relationships. It is also a mode of presentation of those relationships that disguises and deceives.” McGowan quite agrees, as do I. It is especially the disguises that Catholic social teaching has not sufficiently recognized or begun to remove.

McGowan further agrees with MacIntyre that the question of surplus value is the key question we must face. And in facing it, he draws on Adorno, Foucault, and others, including early analytic "radicals" such as Wilhelm Reich and Otto Gross.

Picking up on themes from his earlier book, McGowan notes that capitalism "has the effect of sustaining subjects in a constant state of desire. As subjects of capitalism, we are constantly on the edge of having our desire realized, but never reach the point of realization. This has the effect of producing a satisfaction that we don't recognize as such" (11). It is this lack of recognition of how capitalism operates on us that must be brought to light.

It operates, in part, on faith, on trust, and on promises: I invest on faith and while trusting that the promise of this stock increasing in value will in fact come true. And the biggest promise capitalism advances is what I would call (and McGowan does not) eschatological: of a better, more "prosperous" future where all shall be well: "to take solace in the promise of tomorrow is to accept the sense of dissatisfaction that capitalism sells more vehemently than it sells any commodity" (13).

McGowan says his book cannot entirely escape the idea of a better future--else why bother analyzing, let alone criticizing, capitalism? But the future as he sees it is not one so radically better than the present as to constitute some kind of break from it or some kind of entry into an entirely new world. Rather, the future is but a continuation of the present but without the false promise of finally fulfilling hitherto thwarted desire.

McGowan notes once again the crucial role of Freud's death drive in all this. For capitalism presupposes that individuals operate much as Freud theorized in what was and remains perhaps his most controversial book that revised so much of the analytic edifice up to that point. (Most analysts ignored or scorned it. Even the authorized biographer Ernest Jones--who can scarcely let Freud sneeze without spending twenty intimate pages on all the implications, meanings, and reactions to it--is clearly holding his nose when discussing Beyond the Pleasure Principle.) McGowan goes on to claim without hesitation that this book of Freud's, especially in its claim that "the pleasure principle seems actually to serve the death instinct"--offers "the most thoroughgoing critique of capitalism that anyone has ever written" (50).

And that is perhaps why so many have been so opposed to this book, starting with that second generation of analysts in America who so desperately wanted acceptance and recognition by the medical and other establishments. The price of such things was to ignore and disdain Freud's death drive as being very bad for business.

And yet it must be said that the idea that some unconscious force motivates people to undermine themselves, destroying themselves and their loved one--whether via opioids, adultery, or a thousand other actions--seems patently obvious in nearly every human life. To alter Chesterton's famous aphorism, the presence of the death drive is the one demonstrably verifiable Freudian dogma. The death drive is an attempt to answer the same question as that answered by the Christian doctrine of original sin: why do we not only harm others, but most often ourselves? Why do we repeat self-destructive patterns that "kill" so much of what we love?

Far from writing off such behavior as absurd, the analytic tradition says, as McGowan certainly did in his earlier book, that the repetition of seemingly self-destructive behaviors exists, has meaning, contains an internal logic: the death drive both has aim, and aims at something rather than nothing; its nihilism is merely one more disguise we have to ignore, one more trap laid for the analyst to get lost in a useless detour of apparent meaninglessness. The repetitions of the death drive very much have meaning, and our refusal to see what they are condemns us to never be free of them. As Freud, in discussing why patients actively undermine a therapeutic analysis and refuse to get better, noted, a "negative therapeutic reaction" exists for a reason, or several reasons, not the least of which is that patients find satisfaction in their suffering. (For those inclined to dismiss this as crazy-talk from a now long-dead and discredited "Godless Jew," I ask them to explain, inter alia, the half-billion dollar Fifty Shades of Grey industry.)

Capitalism is no different. It operates by undermining desires and their satisfaction, promising, perpetually promising, that soon and very soon they will be satisfied. This repetition of promised satisfaction which is never totally fulfilled is a very big part, perhaps the biggest part, of its success. As McGowan puts it at the end of his introduction, "capitalist subjects cling tightly to their dissatisfaction, and this dissatisfaction is the main thing holding them to capitalism" (18).

What is to be done? McGowan telegraphs that the book will proceed along similar lines to his earlier work, arguing that we need to learn (as Phillips argues, and the Christian tradition going back to at least Evagrius before them did and does) how to bear our dissatisfactions without seeking their resolution, and to learn to experience the sublime here, now, today, without promise of a better but illusory future. Thus the task remains--as he puts it later in the book--to turn the French slogan of 1968 on its head: rather than jouir sans entraves (enjoyment without obstacles or hindrances) it should be jouir les entraves (enjoy the hindrances). Only in this way do we break the power of the endless repetition of promised but unfulfilled desire.

In his first chapter, McGowan notes that one must distinguish between culture and capitalism, the latter promising but never giving the same sense of identity and belonging that the former sometimes proffers and secures. Indeed, capitalism exists in part to undermine any sense of belonging--until and unless one has attained some commodity which will then induct one into a club of, e.g., car-owners, sports fans, married people, etc. One is promised belonging but the price is accumulation, which never ends. Thus one never fully or finally attains the promised belonging. Here again I would argue--though McGowan does not--just how much capitalism is first and foremost a disguised eschatology, a point (to my surprise) that seems to have been little developed in modern theology. Perhaps I shall have to write something along these lines. (Matthew Shaidle's new book, which I have just learned of, seems to discuss these themes a little bit.)

In capitalist systems, much of their power comes from this satisfaction-dissatisfaction dynamic propelling one forward. The commodity never satisfies, but I rarely realize that. Rarer still do I get to see that the object or commodity is not what I want anyway at an unconscious level. I want unconsciously--the level on which capitalism is most insidious and most effective--the sense of dissatisfaction, of the quest, of the ongoing search. That is what gives me satisfaction of a sort; that is what propels me forward; that is what capitalism cultivates for its own survival.

By contrast, bad consumers are those who resist this search for that new thing, or that upgraded model, that will promise me satisfaction. Quiet subverters of capitalism, McGowan says, are those who are happy with the outdated VCR, or the flip phone that does not text, or the car with the big dent in the hood. Resisting the allures of new commodities and perpetual accumulation are not just acts of Christian asceticism, but blows against the system.

Chapter II looks at the creation of privacy as capitalism advances, arguing that the latter depends on the former. The effects of this are twofold: as we move away from the public commons into our private spheres, we must of course each have our own lawnmower, car, tractor, etc. But we also thereby retreat from politics as well. As he puts it, capitalism has an "allergy to the public world [which] inspires a thoroughgoing retreat from this world" (57). Here McGowan draws on Rousseau's distinction between un homme (private) and un citoyen (public). Rousseau saw this as a problem, but McGowan says he could not see how much it would be a problem in the late 20th century--the person to see that more clearly would be Hannah Arendt in her The Human Condition.


Such retreats from the commonwealth are manifested in the rise of private prisons and gated communities, and the calls for "austerity" in public finances. In this discussion McGowan also draws on Habermas, especially his The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.

Such retreats are not, contrary to some images, what psychoanalysis aids and abets. McGowan notes that psychoanalysis requires that one enter into the "public" in order to have a conversation with one's analyst, thereby "publicizing" what one would usually prefer to keep private. Though he claims to have attempted it with himself, Freud does not recommend self-analysis (Lacan would later call that Freud's "original sin") and thus psychoanalysis cannot be seen as purely private.

The chief result of psychoanalysis that it offers patients in a capitalist society is that "the satisfaction of desiring derives from the obstacle rather than overcoming it" (63). In other words, each time we obtain what we think is the desired object, we quickly find it dissatisfying; it has not lived up to not just its hype, but also our own unconscious sense of desire. Capitalism depends on this to be so. As he nicely puts it later in the book, "though capitalism demands that subjects act out of their self-interest, it sustains itself through their self-sabotage" (73).

The problem here is thus with our own inability to realize that we do not desire what we think we desire, and do not find satisfaction because we have not realized that the ostensible obstacles to our desire are the very thing that would satisfy us if we could but recognize this. What I take McGowan to be saying here is that psychoanalysis breaks the cycle of repetition of false promises of satisfaction, which satisfaction is always said to be enjoyed in private. Rather, McGowan argues, we need to learn that satisfaction takes place in public and together right now, rather than in some ever-receding future promise. As Alexander Schmemann might have put it, private joy is impossible. And as Schmemann might also have said--and the Christian ascetical tradition before him certainly has said--the refusal to lust after objects is a refusal ultimately of illusion and idolatry.

McGowan's third chapter has yet more strong echos of MacIntyre in arguing that capitalism succeeds in part by its disguises, by its charade of seeming to come from nowhere and to have no history but simply to constitute the only available-believable of our world without every drawing attention to itself in those terms. Capitalism thus disguises from us that its purported offer to us of "choices" (where and how to work, what to eat, how big a house to buy) are not naturally occurring. Rather all such choices take place within a very narrowly defined set of possibilities. To put it in a MacIntyrean vein, there are three such choices on offer in today's politics: conservative capitalists, liberal capitalists, and radical capitalists. There is no possibility of putting capitalism itself to the question in any serious way.

Sacrifice and its persistence are the themes of the fourth chapter, which puts me in mind of Terry Eagleton's recent book on that theme, discussed here. McGowan notes that in some ways capitalism lives without ritual sacrifices, at least of, say, vestal virgins. But it does demand periodic sacrifices, as seen, e.g., under the guise of "creative destruction." Or consider the titans of industry subject to regular fawning profiles in which they are portrayed as sacrificing their time (and families) to work 90+ hours a week while inventing some new widget or putting their company in the top ten most profitable corporations in the world.

McGowan rightly says that capitalism secularizes sacrifice--no longer is it a turtledove or a fatted calf--and privatizes it, denying to it ritual's socially cohesive power. Now it is the individual CEO, or worse, the worker who gets up at 3am, hidden in the dark, to start his shift at the factory, sacrificing sleep, breakfast with his family, and much else. In this light, sacrifice is actually demanded by capitalism's logic because no satisfaction is possible without loss--the loss that motivates us unconsciously to search perpetually for some new object to supposedly satisfy us. Loss is thus a phantom that haunts our unconscious minds, and capitalism pretends to offer rest and relief to this perpetually restless and searching spook.

McGowan uses an arresting example when he notes that most capitalists would prefer to sell, and most consumers to purchase, Cheetos over bananas for the former involves much more sacrifice--worthless sacrifice--and complicated processes (which involve more people making profits) than the latter. Growing bananas would be rather simple and straightforward, but this, we think, is unsatisfactory. Better to spend millions researching how to keep taste buds in perpetual unslaked longing for the salt and fat of a Cheeto (which, admittedly, I love but refuse to buy because I will eat an entire bag in one sitting).

Chapter V is McGowan at his most theological: "A God We Can Believe In." While stipulating at the outset the tiresome old canard that the rejection of God has created a world of freedom, McGowan does not proceed to do what most others who claim this do: celebrate the absence of God. For he knows that the human psyche cannot abide a void like that--as Freud did too, which is why he has no false hopes that if everyone followed his counsel in Future of an Illusion and rejected God as neurotic paternal projection and illusion then the world would be free. On the contrary: such a rejection creates an opening which others rush in to fill. And here McGowan is right: "capitalism...erects a new form of divinity, one even more tyrannical than the old form" (114).

But the old God was superior insofar as one never had to guess where one stood: he declared he was a jealous God. The market makes no such open declarations, leaving one perpetually uncertain of where one stands. And in fact, of course, the market is jealous--and capricious, and mendacious: its promise of being a free market is always insistently stated thus because it is as Freud might say, an obvious overcompensation (to put it mildly) to hide and distort the truth. This new god of the market turns out to be intolerable and intolerant, leaving McGowan to end his chapter with this rather bald-faced claim: "the fundamental catastrophe of modernity is the disappearance of God as a substantial Other" (135).

This is a catastrophe because--as he will go on to show in chapters six through nine--the disappearance of God opens up an endlessly infinite and pseudo-transcendent space ("the sublime") for capitalism perpetually to expand and try to fill with stuff, giving us what--quoting Agamben--McGowan refers to as means without end, "end" understood here not just as "endless" but also in the sense of purpose or goal; or what MacIntyre recognized as the abandonment of teleology (first principles) in modern philosophy.

Quo vadis? What next? Like any good psychoanalyst, McGowan's conclusion is its shortest and does not get into highly detailed prescriptions. Instead he begins from the striking premise that "the critique of capitalism must begin out of our satisfaction with capitalism and not our dissatisfaction with it" (239). This is precisely an anti-capitalist move for, as we saw earlier, capitalism does not want, and cannot long survive, our being satisfied with anything. Constant modes of production, and product improvement, must fuel constant economic "growth," all of it driven, of course, by a never-ending sense of dissatisfaction. For one can never have enough.

But this endless quest for more than enough hides not only the accumulative impulse of capitalism, but also its unwillingness to acknowledge what McGowan calls "traumatic loss" and to mourn it. That which is lost to us, what is the lost object of our unanalyzed desires, motivates us to accumulate more, all the while ignoring the fact that the lost object will never satisfy.  Thus we must realize that "only the turn from the logic of accumulation to the logic of satisfaction--with an acceptance of the lost status of the object--can move us beyond the crisis of capitalism" (242). To go beyond capitalism, McGowan recognizes, is of course a political act; but before we can act politically towards such change, we must first think differently, and here, once more, is where Freud is invaluable, showing us that "until we accept that the satisfaction of loss is our driving motive, we will remain the hostages of an economy of enrichment" (244).
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