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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Electrified Tightrope Between Psychoanalysis and "Religion"

I'm working on a long essay right now about what I've learned from the literary scholar and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, whom I have often discussed on these pages. He persuaded his fellow analyst Michael Eigen to publish a collection of his essays, and since they came with Phillips' recommendation and under his editorship, I made a point of just finishing Eigen's The Electrified Tightrope, ed. Adam Phillips (Jason Aronson, 1993), 320pp.

The essays rather meander somewhat which is not surprising at all. There are three things I found of benefit in the book.

First, I found Eigen's insight into the lust for omniscience very provocative and important. Psychoanalytic thought, going back to Freud, has been aware of the similar, and sometimes related, lust for power and domination and the many psychic implications and permutations of that. (I treat a good bit of that in my own new book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power.) But a similar demand for omniscience has not been reflected on nearly as widely until Eigen came along.

"The fantasy of omniscience is a denial of the unconscious," Phillips says in opening the book with his introduction. This is a point that would easily link up with Christopher Bollas's reflections on "normotic illness," which I discussed here. It is also, as Eigen  makes clear late in the book, a fantasy usually founded upon, and fueled by a desire for mastery over, some earlier trauma. If we cannot ourselves become omniscient, then we often project this desire and expectation onto others--priests, popes, and therapists being perhaps the three biggest examples. But Eigen offers an important clinical caution here in saying that the pressure to know, or to show that one knows, can often impede the therapist from doing good work, which sometimes consists simply in letting go and being taken up by and into that "evenly hovering attention" Freud first described, an attention in which one deliberately chooses not to know for a time, not to focus on anything, but instead to allow for the freedom to grow and develop in the transference.

I know how often that has been my experience. I was well into my analysis when, somewhat distastefully, I realized that my analyst wasn't cranking out instant interpretations of the myriad dreams I would bring her, sometimes on a daily basis. What was she good for? Why did she say so little? These were complex dreams, sometimes terrifying, and I wanted them decoded and thereby mastered. But analysis doesn't work that way when it comes to dreams.

Nor does it work that way in most other respects, either. It wasn't until many years after my analysis that I came to realize, with extreme reluctance and through clenched teeth, that I could spend the rest of my life on the couch and still not exhaust, let alone defeat, all unconscious dynamics and matter and achieve mastery over everything--an insight I resented and still do in some ways. Instead, it offers the freedom to move out from behind the prison of one's self-diagnosis and self-sabotaging search for absolute control.

It has been Phillips, and now Eigen, who have been helpful in showing that one of the benefits of analysis is that you can learn to forget about yourself, and forget about the futile quest of seeking total coherence, total understanding, total comprehension of and mastery over the unconscious mind. Perhaps such a desire is an occupational hazard of the intellectual life, especially if one's personality is of the schizoid type Fairbairn, Guntrip, Winnicott, Klein, and others have so well described.

Second, picking up themes that Phillips would later develop, Eigen talks about the role of excess in our life, and the role of asceticism--a word he repeatedly uses, with obvious suggestive connotations in the Jewish and Christian spiritual traditions. Reflections on excess I think are important for Christians to consider because of how often we are miserly towards ourselves, and recreate God in that image instead of understanding His lavish "excessive" love, as I tried to suggest here, drawing on the insights of Jean Vanier.

Third, Eigen is noteworthy in coming from something of a Jewish mystical background, and being quite open with discussion of God in a way that avoids the reductive and often almost adolescent caricatures of God one sometimes finds in psychoanalysis. He openly discusses the notion of "faith" in several chapters, drawing on Winnicott, Guntrip, and others of the British Middle School and clearly going beyond Freud, whose treatment of God he finds, rightly, very reductive. As he puts is:
A goal of analysis is to unmask the hidden god sense displaced onto or mixed up with some mundane reality. ....In the West God was to function as the one living Reality which possessed the qualities of the ideal imago as such, thereby objectifying it. In Bion's language he was to be the one container for human desire who could not be exploded by it.
Finally, at the end of his book, in an offhand way, he notes that analysis should be seen not just as a talking cure, but also a "writing cure," which has certainly been my experience. So expect to hear more about this on here, including, soon, three new books by Adam Phillips I have just finished, including the very short Attention Seeking. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Catholics: Heretics and Schismatics?

I've just learned of the recent publication of a new book that looks to be most interesting, and will continue the exploration, now increasingly well advanced, of the process of constructing late-medieval and early modern "identities" and images of and between Eastern and Western Christians: Savvas Neocleous, Heretics, Schismatics, or Catholics?: Latin Attitudes to the Greeks in the Long Twelfth Century (PIMS Press, 2019), 308pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The political division of the Roman world into Western and Eastern Roman Empires at the end of the fourth century spurred the divergence of the Latinised Western and the Hellenised Eastern halves. According to a pervasive and deeply ingrained belief in modern academic, educational and popular literature, the ensuing antagonism on religious and cultural grounds between the two parts of medieval Christendom eventually led to the "schism of 1054." Less than fifty years after the schism, Greeks and Latins came into closer contact as a result of the crusades and the encounter was catastrophic, leading to the capture and sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the armies of the Fourth Crusade. This study, the first to deal exclusively with Latin perceptions of and attitudes toward the Greeks in terms of religion, aims to revisit and challenge the view that the so-called schism between the Latin and Greek Churches led to the isolation of the Byzantine Empire by the Latin states and eventually to the events of 1204.
Heretics, Schismatics, or Catholics? investigates a wide range of often neglected historiographical, theological, and literary sources as well as letters, and covers the period from the last quarter of the eleventh century, when Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) first conceived the idea of the union of Christendom under papal leadership for the liberation of Eastern Christians, to the decades that followed 1204, when the crusading enterprise went out of papal control and ended up destroying the very empire which it had initially set out to defend. It brings rigorous analysis and a fresh perspective to bear on these antagonisms and divergences: it demonstrates persuasively the persistence of a paradigm of shared unity between Latins and Greeks and their polities within an integral Christendom over the course of the long twelfth century.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Desiderata for Bishops and Dioceses

With the news that arguably the most abused diocese in the country is set to receive a new bishop, herewith some desiderata for the new bishop of Wheeling-Charleston to set an example for all the others:

First, if he wants to be taken seriously, he will begin by ensuring parish councils have power to decide with their pastors on an annual budget and then require an annual outside audit. Nothing above, say, $500 can be spent without signatures of both pastor and council.

Second, the same will be done at the diocesan level: the synod meets each year to pass a budget, and then the diocesan council, empowered by and representative of the synod, works out the budget with the bishop and they and he are accountable to each other and the wider diocese for all monies spent, and for ensuring an annual outside independent audit.

Third, the bishop and parish council are also mutually empowered and accountable for the selection and removal of clergy. When a new priest is to be introduced, the parish council first must see his entire personnel file and be told by the bishop under oath that he has no evidence of any abuse and is not hiding abusers by shuffling them around.

Absent these changes at a minimum no bishop anywhere can expect to recover one shred of credibility, authority, or trustworthiness. All this (and much more) is argued in more detail in my new book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Essential Writings of Nikos Nissiotis

As someone who, involved in the global ecumenical movement since 1990, has benefited from some of the works of Nikos Nissiotis, I am glad to see them brought together in this newly edited collection, Theology as Doxology and Dialogue: The Essential Writings of Nikos Nissiotis, eds. Nikolaos Asproulis and John Chryssavgis  with a foreword from John Zizioulas (Fortress Press, 2019), 348pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Nikos Nissiotis (1924-1986) was one of the foremost and formative intellectuals of the ecumenical movement in the twentieth century. As professor of philosophy and psychology of religion at the University of Athens, director of the Bossey Institute, and Chairman of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, he interpreted the Orthodox spiritual tradition for a Western audience and highlighted the role of Christian thought in the modern world.
This collection of his most fundamental and significant articles – some of which have been largely inaccessible until now – includes an introduction by the editors to the ecumenical and theological legacy of this exceptional thinker.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Oxford Handbook of Mary

With a release date timed to the exact beginning of the Dormition fast in the Byzantine East, this book, with a rich section on the East but much else besides, looks like it will provide a feast for mind and heart next month when it's released: The Oxford Handbook of Mary, ed. Chris Maunder (Oxford University Press, 2019), 736pp.

About this hefty collection the publisher tells us this:
The Oxford Handbook of Mary offers an interdisciplinary guide to Marian Studies, including chapters on textual, literary, and media analysis; theology; Church history; art history; studies on devotion in a variety of forms; cultural history; folk tradition; gender analysis; apparitions and apocalypticism. Featuring contributions from a distinguished group of international scholars, the Handbook looks at both Eastern and Western perspectives and attempts to correct imbalance in previous books on Mary towards the West. The volume also considers Mary in Islam and pilgrimages shared by Christian, Muslim, and Jewish adherents. 
While Mary can be a source of theological disagreement, this authoritative collection shows Mary's rich potential for inter-faith and inter-denominational dialogue and shared experience. It covers a diverse number of topics that show how Mary and Mariology are articulated within ecclesiastical contexts but also on their margins in popular devotion. Newly-commissioned essays describe some of the central ideas of Christian Marian thought, while also challenging popularly-held notions. This invaluable reference for students and scholars illustrates the current state of play in Marian Studies as it is done across the world.
We are also given the Table of Contents:

Introduction, Chris Maunder
Part 1: Foundations 
1. Mary and the Gospel Narratives, Chris Maunder
2. Mary in the Apocrypha, Tony Burke
3. Mary in Patristics, Andrew Louth
4. The Virgin as Theotokos at Ephesus (AD 431) and Earlier, Richard Price
5. Marian Typology and Symbolic Imagery in Patristic Christianity, Brian Reynolds
6. Mary in Islam, Zeki Saritoprak

Part 2: Mary in the Eastern Churches 
7. Mary in the Hymnody of the East, John McGuckin
8. The Virgin Mary Theotokos in Orthodox Piety, Christine Chaillot
9. Mary as Intercessor in Byzantine Theology, Bronwen Neil
10. Byzantine Festal Homilies on the Virgin Mary, Mary Cunningham
11. The Doctrine of the Theotokos in Gregory Palamas, Christiaan Kappes
12. The Russian Spiritual Verses on the Mother of God, Richard Price
13. The Mother of God in Finnish Orthodox Women's Lived Piety: Converted and Skolt Sami Voices, Elina Vuola
14. Marian Devotion in the Contemporary Eastern Mediterranean, Nurit Stadler
15. Mary in Modern Orthodox Theology, Andrew Louth

Part 3: Marian Themes in Western Christianity 
16. The Virgin Mary in the Hymns of the Catholic Church, Thomas Thompson
17. The Papacy and Maria Regina Imagery in Roman Churches between the Sixth and Twelfth Centuries, Eileen Rubery
18. Mary and Grace, Matthew Levering
19. Mary in the Work of Redemption, Robert Fastiggi
20. The Patristic and Medieval Roots of Mary s Humility, Brian Reynolds
21. Mary in Medieval Prayer: The Hours of the Virgin, Rachel Fulton Brown
22. The Idea of Mary as Sister in Carmelite Mariology, Kevin J. Alban
23. Mary in Medieval Hispanic Literatures, Lesley K. Twomey
24. The Annunciation from Luke to the Enlightenment: A Cultural History, Gary Waller

Part 4: Mary in the West from the Reformation 
25. Mary, Gender, and the English Reformation, Stephen Bates
26. Chasing the Lady: Revealing, Reforming, and Restoring the Virgin Mary in the Eucharist during the English Reformations and beyond, Paul Williams
27. Mary in Luther and the Lutheran Reformation, Beth Kreitzer
28. Mariology in the Counter Reformation, Robert Fastiggi
29. Mary and Inculturation in Mexico and India, Patrizia Granziera
30. Original Holiness: The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Catholic Theology of Nineteenth-Century Europe, Sarah Jane Boss
31. Mary as Cultural Symbol in the Nineteenth Century, Carol Engelhardt Herringer
32. Mariology at and after the Second Vatican Council, Arthur B. Calkins
33. Mary and Modernity, Charlene Spretnak
34. Symbol, Vision, Mother: Mary in Film, Catherine O'Brien
Part 5: Marian Pilgrimage, Apparitions, and Miracles
35. Medieval Marian Pilgrimage in the Catholic West, James Bugslag
36. Marian Piety and Gender: Marian Devotion and the 'Feminization' of Religion, Tine van Osselaer
37. Mary and Migrant Communities: Pilgrimage and African Mary-craft in Europe, Catrien Notermans
38. Mary in a Mobile World: The Anthropology of a Moving Symbol, Simon Coleman
39. Mary and Multi-Faith Pilgrimages, Dionigi Albera
40. Mary and Modern Catholic Material Culture, Deirdre de la Cruz
41. Marian Apocalypticism, Daniel Wojcik
42. The Global Network of Deviant Revelatory Marian Movements, Peter Jan Margry

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Life and Works of Saint Charbel

Angelico Press asked me last winter to read in mss form a short little book that is now in my hands in published form: Hanna Skandar, Love is a Radiant Light: The Life and Works of St. Charbel, trans. W.J. Melcher (Angelico, 2019), 116.

As I said in my blurb, it is a short little book whose virtue consists in getting directly to the point, reminding us in pithy and pellucid sayings and examples of the clear and eternal truths of the gospel.

The publisher further tells us this about the book:
"A man who prays lives out the mystery of existence, and a man who does not pray scarcely exists." Thus writes St. Charbel Makhlouf (1828-1898), a Maronite monk and priest from Lebanon whose reputation for sanctity spread widely during his life, and whose heavenly intercession has worked countless miracles after his death. St. Charbel's homilies and proverbs are reminiscent of the sayings of the Desert Fathers: simple, homespun, and direct, yet shining and profound. "Success in life consists of standing without shame before God."
This holy monk speaks from a reservoir of silence about the fundamentals of the Faith and targets the temptations facing all Christians today: the flight from suffering, excessive attachment to comforts, pride over accomplishments, complacency, factiousness, substituting talk for action, fear of proclaiming the truth in an age of hostile unbelief. Alert to the reality of spiritual warfare, St. Charbel calls each one of us to hold fast to the Cross, "the center of the universe and the key to heaven," and defy the devil who seeks our ruin. This collection of some of the most beautiful words spoken by St. Charbel is augmented by a short biography that will bring him to the attention of those who have not yet made his acquaintance or profited from his wisdom.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Those Tedious Moon Landings and Greek Orthodox Villagers

With all this incessant and self-congratulatory remembrance about the moon landings going on just now, the tedium of which is most intolerable to those of us unmoved to fetishize floating rocks access to which costs a wholly unjustifiable sum better spent fixing earthly problems, I am reminded of a delightful book I have mentioned on here often before--but not for some time--which deserves a renewed audience: Juliet de Boulay, Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village

There are fascinating insights galore in her book--about "hatch, match, and dispatch" customs; the latter, funerary customs, are especially interesting. She shows, time and again, how loosely the villagers wove together their Orthodox Christianity with beliefs and practices one might be tempted to call "pagan."

But along the way Boulay, who was in Greece doing her research at the time of the moon landings, documents how many people there utterly refused to believe in them, thinking the whole thing an enormous fabrication.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Thomas Berry: A Biography

When, in the latter part of the 1980s, I was first learning about ecological issues and the Church's possible role in them, I came across the name of the Catholic priest and theologian Thomas Berry, whose writings on ecological stewardship long seem to have predated comparable writings on the same themes by, e.g., the bishops of either old or new Rome, or other Catholic and Orthodox figures generally.

Now Berry is the subject of a full-length biography I look forward to reading: Thomas Berry: A Biography by Mary Evelyn Tucker, John Grim, and Andrew Angyal (Columbia University Press, 2019), 360pp.

Thomas Berry (1914–2009) was one of the twentieth century’s most prescient and profound thinkers. As a cultural historian, he sought a broader perspective on humanity’s relationship to the earth in order to respond to the ecological and social challenges of our times. This first biography of Berry illuminates his remarkable vision and its continuing relevance for achieving transformative social change and environmental renewal.
Berry began his studies in Western history and religions and then expanded to include Asian and indigenous religions, which he taught at Fordham University, Barnard College, and Columbia University. Drawing on his explorations of history, he came to see the evolutionary process as a story that could help restore the continuity of humans with the natural world. Berry urged humans to recognize their place on a planet with complex ecosystems in a vast, evolving universe. He sought to replace the modern alienation from nature with a sense of intimacy and responsibility. Berry called for new forms of ecological education, law, and spirituality, as well as the creation of resilient agricultural systems, bioregions, and ecocities. At a time of growing environmental crisis, this biography shows the ongoing significance of Berry’s conception of human interdependence with the earth as part of the unfolding journey of the universe.

Monday, July 15, 2019

A History of Eastern Monasticism

Too much of monastic history and practice is traduced today by people who seem to feel (as the useful phrase has it) they can magic up a solution to problems in Church and world alike. Careful study of monastic history, theology, and structures, as well as attendance upon the broader problems of historiography and the relationship between history and theology, is one way to avoid some of these traps. A recent book by a well-respected author will assist in this: The I.B. Tauris History of Monasticism:The Eastern Tradition by John Binns (I.B. Tauris, 2018), 336pp.

Binns is the author of, inter alia, the recent study, The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia as well as Ascetics and Ambassadors of Christ: The Monasteries of Palestine 314-631.

About this new book on monasticism, the publisher tells us the following:

For all its rich history in the Latin lands, Christian monasticism began in the east; and it is from the third-century Egyptian wilderness that the wellsprings of monastic culture and spirituality can most directly be sourced. This essential companion to the corresponding I.B.Tauris volume on the western tradition thus begins with St Anthony, the 'Father of Monks', who retreated with his disciples into the scorched Eastern Desert. Anthony inspired the former Roman conscript Pachomius (292-348 CE) to establish a monastery for men and women and devise a formal rule. Such community monasticism then brought cells of hermits together into a federalised structure where property was held in common under an abbot or abbess.
John Binns shows how the Orthodox community of Mount Athos and the western Rule of St Benedict were alike strongly influenced by the austerity and sanctity that began with the original Desert Fathers and also by the organisational efforts of Pachomius. This vivid, authoritative account traces the four main branches of eastern Christianity, up to and beyond the Great Schism of 1054.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Oxford Handbook of Early Biblical Interpretation

With chapters by Orthodox scholars such as John Behr, Peter Bouteneff, and Mary Cunningham, as well as many other riches, this is yet another Oxford handbook that no serious library will want to be without: The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Biblical Interpretation, eds., Paul M. Blowers and Peter W Martens (Oxford UP, July 2018), 784pp.

About this hefty collection the publisher tells us this:
The Bible was the essence of virtually every aspect of the life of the early churches. The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Biblical Interpretation explores a wide array of themes related to the reception, canonization, interpretation, uses, and legacies of the Bible in early Christianity. Each section contains overviews and cutting-edge scholarship that expands understanding of the field. 
Part One examines the material text transmitted, translated, and invested with authority, and the very conceptualization of sacred Scripture as God's word for the church. Part Two looks at the culture and disciplines or science of interpretation in representative exegetical traditions. Part Three addresses the diverse literary and non-literary modes of interpretation, while Part Four canvasses the communal background and foreground of early Christian interpretation, where the Bible was paramount in shaping normative Christian identity. Part Five assesses the determinative role of the Bible in major developments and theological controversies in the life of the churches. Part Six returns to interpretation proper and samples how certain abiding motifs from within scriptural revelation were treated by major Christian expositors.
The overall history of biblical interpretation has itself now become the subject of a growing scholarship and the final part skilllfully examines how early Christian exegesis was retrieved and critically evaluated in later periods of church history. Taken together, the chapters provide nuanced paths of introduction for students and scholars from a wide spectrum of academic fields, including classics, biblical studies, the general history of interpretation, the social and cultural history of late ancient and early medieval Christianity, historical theology, and systematic and contextual theology. Readers will be oriented to the major resources for, and issues in, the critical study of early Christian biblical interpretation.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Incarnate Maternal Bodies

I briefly met the author of this new book when I was in Romania in January for the inaugural IOTA conference. Carrie Frederick Frost was and perhaps still is one of the officers of the International Orthodox Theological Association as well as the author of Maternal Body: A Theology of Incarnation from the Christian East (Paulist Press, 2019), 144pp. About the book the publisher tells us this:

In Maternal Body: A Theology of Incarnation from the Christian East, Carrie Frederick Frost places Orthodox Christian sources on motherhood icons, hymns, and prayers into conversation with each other. In so doing, she brings an anchored vision of motherhood to the twenty-first century especially the embodied experience of motherhood.
Along the way, Frost addresses practices of the Church that have neglected mother s bodies, offering a insight for others who also choose to live within truth-bearing but flawed traditions. Whether female or male, whether mothers or not, whether mothers adoptive or biological we each make our appearance in the cosmos through a maternal body; our mother s body gives us our own body. In these bodies we live our lives and find our way into the next. From the unexpected and fresh vantage point of the maternal body, Frost offers new ways of understanding our incarnate experience as humans and better cultivating a relationship with our Creator.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Iconography and Western Christianity

As I have noted on here from the beginning, Western interest in Byzantine iconography has been growing for at least two decades now. One of the best books to introduce the area to Latin Catholics is Jeana Visel's Icons in the Western Church, which I am using later this week with some high-school students coming to the University of Saint Francis for almost a week in which they will learn about the history and theology of images, interact with university faculty from across all disciplines, and then paint their own icons with the help, and under the guidance, of Lorie Herbel, who has done this now three years in a row, and is just a wonderful teacher.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Magical Episcopal Thinking

Catholic apologists make much hay insisting that faith is not magic, and is compatible with reason. Catholics frequently talk about their own intellectual tradition as something very considerable, demonstrating a long tradition of thinking about big questions in a rigorous and serious way. And yet, when it comes to the ongoing abuse of sex, money, and power in the Church today, the default for virtually all bishops, and most others, is to magic up some spiritualized solution that will in fact solve nothing: just pray and fast more, little children! (The other, equally fatuous, approach is to scapegoat: if only we didn't have all these gays, or this "heretical" pope, or these bad bishops, or these "lavender mafias" then everything would be grand.)

There is no serious reasoning here. It is partial, ideological, and blind. One can cite, week after week, examples of this magical "thinking," this infantile exercise in wish fulfillment exactly as Freud demonstrated. It comes from those who identify as liberal, progressive, conservative, and traditional--and just about everyone in-between. This time it comes from Phoenix, whose bishop published his weekly column, ostensibly offering practical solutions for people to overcome these crises. While claiming that "problems and crises must not be over-spiritualized," he does exactly that by mindlessly rehearsing all the same old procedures in place for years now which have not prevented the crisis, and then by even more mindlessly exhorting people to just somehow believe more! believe harder! have stronger faith!

What is absent, of course, is any admission of what bishops should do, both immediately and by way of long-term reform. Instead, it's the usual pious guff designed to deflect from their own culpable wickedness and to inflict guilt on the people of God in the usually pathological way we have come to expect from hierarchs. (The Spanish Jesuit psychoanalyst Carlos Dominguez-Morano is the absolute best person here for diagnosing these psychopathological dynamics masquerading as piety.)

Thus the Latin ordinary of Phoenix claims: "Scandals are the manifestation of a crisis of faith. Therefore, scandals will be healed by strong faith, spiritual courage and heroic confidence in our Lord." This, as I argued here, is a tendentious and obvious twisting of the very meaning of "scandal," which today only means one thing: bad PR for the bishop.

And as I argued in Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, drawing on Dominguez-Morano and others, the fetish for "spiritualized" solutions reflects a crypto-monophysite ecclesiology which will only continue to harm the Church.

Rather than indulging in this nonsense, what is needed is to begin to talk about power, about structures, and about the unhistorical and theologically unjustifiable monopoly on power held by hierarchs and clerics in the Church today.

My book, taking with deadly seriousness the Church's teaching on original sin, is guided by one adamantine principle: nobody, at any point and for any reason, in any organization--the Church or otherwise--should ever have a monopoly on power. The lure of libido dominandi (original sin's chief and perennially tempting manifestation) is too great, and ordination does nothing to lessen it (another form of magical thinking). The reforms we must begin to put in place in the Church today must ensure going forward that nobody ever again has a monopoly on decision-making power--whether over the appointment of parish clergy, the diocesan budget, or any other major matter.

Laics, clerics, and hierarchs must learn to hold each other accountable. Absent this, the abuse crisis will continue sine die.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Iconoclasm is Always a Prelude to a New Politics

In a time when Confederate monuments are being torn down, other colonial and imperial figures erased from university campuses, and now a mural in San Francisco being covered up, I pause only to note an invaluable book by James Noyes that many years ago laid out with pellucid cogency this rule: whenever iconoclasm breaks out, it is always a prelude to a new politics. 

Unlike many books treating iconoclasm, which often confine themselves to the so-called Byzantine outbreaks of the eighth-ninth centuries, Noyes' book, The Politics of Iconoclasm: Religion, Violence, and the Culture of Image Breaking in Christianity and Islam, takes a wide and fascinating approach, showing the outbreak of image smashing in a variety of Christian and Muslim contexts ancient and modern, and also in 20th-century politics in Germany and Russia, inter alia. These latter outbreaks were tied directly to the rise of revolutionary politics in and after 1917 in Russia, and the rise of Nazism after 1933 in Germany. Both destroyed old images and art and replaced it with that of their own devising for obviously political purposes.

The same is no less true today whenever the demand is made for historical memorials or other art forms to be effaced, erased, removed, or destroyed. For some people perhaps more than others, "we suffer from our reminiscences," as Freud famously said.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Notes on the London Review of Books 41/12 (20 June 2019)

Say what many will about Freud, he seems, relative to Jung and Lacan, to have been a far more faithful husband and far less destructive father. Indeed, I would put that more strongly, based on reading, inter alia, Paul Roazen's invaluable books: Freud seems to have had a very charming domestic life as a rather conservative member of the upper middle-classes of Vienna. Lunch times were, many reported, including Oskar Pfister, a warm, languid opportunity to indulge in unhurried and wide-ranging conversation about all manner of topics without embarrassment. All the hoary ideas of him as some kind of sexually libertarian revolutionary find no support in how he lived his life.

Not so Lacan. I've tried off and on to read him over the years, but never with any success. What little I have read of and about him has consistently made him sound like an over-rated wanker who mistook obscurity for profundity, and recondite jargon and graphics for any serious or concrete insight.

He does not improve after reading the most recent London Review of Books, where we find L.O. Rowlands' review of A Father: Puzzle, written by Sibylle Lacan and translated by A.N. West (MIT Press, 2019), 92pp., This odd memoir of sorts makes Lacan appear by now completely unattractive. It seems impossible to understand his relationship to her other than a lifelong sadistic dangling of interest, affection, and attention that was quickly retracted, slowly driving her mad. He eventually recommended she go into analysis, but then ended up sleeping with his daughter's analyst. In the end, Sibylle killed herself.

Andrew Preston has a long and fascinating review of Michael Cotey-Morgan's new book The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War (Princeton University Press, 2018), 424pp. The negotiations dragged on for so long and were so complicated, requiring the presence of so many people, that they ended up moving from Helsinki, judged to have inadequate and insufficient facilities for all the delegations, to Geneva. Precisely because of their complexity and length, most governments in the West and Soviet bloc alike seem to have taken their eyes off the ball, and misjudged what ought to have been top priorities for each vis-a-vis the other. In the end, it is suggested that both sides underestimated the consequences of several of the agreements, and that doing so would prove costly to the Soviets in ways they never expected.

Along the way there are amusing anecdotes, not least about the chef de mission for France. His government, like apparently all the others, lost interest in the endlessly complicated discussions, and apparently begged for far fewer documents to be sent home regularly. So he devised an ingenious method for making things work: at the end of the week, he would send, each Friday, a list of questions for further instruction back to Paris. Then he got on a plane from Geneva, flew to Paris, went into his office Monday morning, answered all his own questions with fresh instructions on how to proceed, and returned to Geneva!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...