- Ian Tregenza, "The Political Theology of the Morpeth Review, 1927-1934," forthcoming and available on early view in The Journal of Religious History, which is publishing a special issue on secularization in Australia. Of particular note is this article, which looks at the history of radical thought arising in the Newcastle area. Dr. Tregenza also contributed to the forthcoming edited collection on Religion in Australian Political Life which was part of our University of Newcastle funded research on the subject.
Judith Wolfe - "Caught in the Trap of His Own Metaphysics," Standpoint Magazine - http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/node/5583/full
This is an nteresting and excellent public note on the recent publication of Heidegger's black notebooks. Wolfe was recently appointed at St. Andrews University Divinity School, and a brief interview on her recent Heidegger and Theology with Bloomsbury can also be found here: http://bit.ly/1jZuOOO. This latter book looks to be an exceptional edition based on two years of archival research at Humboldt and Freiburg Universities.
Matti Friedman "The Continuing Mysteries of the Aleppo Codex," Tablet - http://www.tabletmag.com/?p=176903
An interesting read for anyone interested in the history of codex books.
Michael Rosen, "Kant Confusion," Times Literary Supplement - http://bit.ly/1zqXQeA
Rosen's suggestion, it seems to me, echoes Levinas' appropriation of Kant in that he also collapses the transcendent into the ethical imperative to treat others as ends in themselves.
Towards the end of one of the seminars I taught on Jewish thought this past semester a student told a story, which seemed quite apropos to Arendt's conclusion to The Origins of Totalitarianism. They recounted the experience of struggling with heavy bags to find a seat on a train. As they passed by, each person turned away or pretended not to notice. The student wrestled through and eventually found a place to rest. Then a man from Peru made eye contact - a moment of recognition that led to a conversation. Just four weeks prior the man had been beaten to an inch of his life by thugs, destroying his guitar in the process. Yet, of all those in the crowd, he reached out to connect.
This example perfectly sums up Arendt's notion of loneliness. Unlike solitude loneliness occurs in the experience of displacment and dislocation from others. The paradox being that loneliness requires another person and is accentuated in what Arendt calls "the masses." Part of Arendt's enduring relevance is due to this common experience in cities and factories today. Furthermore, as was the case in Melissa Raphael's work on The Female Face of God in Auschwitz, the moment of recognition is crucial to Levinas' notion of "the face." Even clearing the mud from another person's face can be redemptive if its aim is to recognize them as a human being anew and as an end in themselves. This is especially true when we find ourselves in situations where people are treated as mere things or dispensable beasts.
Arendt's conclusion to The Origins of Totalitarianism, focused on the link between loneliness, terror and ideology. As we discussed, she asked her readers to think in their experience, not just follow the cold logic of ideas. She encouraged communication between a plurality of human beings, not just those bound together by common appearance or history.
In many respects, I hope our class discussions this semester embodied those aims.
As it happens, the Blake Prize is on tour at Newcastle University's Art Gallery at the moment. Well worth visiting, and there is one piece in particular that echoes the seminar conversations that occurred this semester. In particular, Franz Kempf's "The Outrageous Has Become Commonplace," which was this year's winner for human justice and can be seen on the Blake's website along with all the others.
"AP's Style Guide for Religion, Metaphysics, and God's Existence" The Atlantic - http://bit.ly/1hnH36o
It is interesting in particular that the editors at the Atlantic had to negotiate the theological issues at stake in the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon regarding how to communicate the humanity and divinity of Jesus. The issue is humorously echoed in Steve Martin's "Atheists Don't Have No Songs."
I'm sometimes asked why my research writing is dense and rather complex at times. I usually respond with an analogy. Some of the most complex math today sits behind that simple white box on Google's website. People like the box but rarely do the math. Like Schroedinger's quantum calculations, most people only know the paradox of the cat in the box.
So what's my box?
It's the classroom teaching in a university, which sometimes spills out into the public through open access seminars, public lectures and media commentary.
My job as an academic is relatively simple, I write and I teach. Said another way, research university staff work to create knowledge and transfer it to others. In the end, the transfer happens in the classroom and the public spaces where religion and theology are discussed. Just like Google's box, mine depends on the math in the background, which demonstrates how theological questions continue to haunt contemporary philosophical, sociological and political arguments.
Students like taking classes on religion, because they implicitly recognize the impact of the various aggregates that can be grouped under that concept, e.g. beliefs, institutions, voting blocks and lobbies, as well as transcendental claims on street corners and Facebook walls. Scholars use the teaching spaces to explain introductory concepts for further step by step, pedagogical understanding. But when students sometimes catch a glimpse of how high the staircase goes, it can look a little daunting. This is why I typically don't recommend first year students read my research work.
This coming 11-19 June, the University of Newcastle's Callaghan campus Art Gallery is hosting an exhibition for the Blake Prize, which awards excellence in Australian art on religious themes (http://blakeprize.com.au). To launch the event, the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Prof. Caroline McMillen along with the Blake Prize Chairperson Dr. Rod Pattenden will be speaking at 5.30pm on Friday 13 June. As well, an open conversation between the artist Dani Marti, Dr. Kathleen McPhillips and Rev Dr. Rod Pattenden will take place at 2pm on Saturday 13 June.
Dr. Pattenden is also teaching a course in the BTh on Spirituality, Religion and Visual Culture (www.newcastle.edu.au/course/RELT2013) in semester two of this year. The course will provide an excellent opportunity to learn more about the intersection between visual arts, religion and theology.
I saw one of the most beautiful films of the year this past week, Wes Anderson's masterful The Grand Budapest Hotel. It includes his usual fanciful flourishes and is utterly imbued with nostalgia. Unlike his past films which were more focused on inner family dramas, the main characters in this film are without family. Instead, Anderson steps out to convey the life of a hotel concierge Gustav H. (R. Feines), and his young lobby boy Zero (T. Revolori), who are caught in the throws of a verisimilar early twentieth century. The story is told from the perspective of the elder Zero, known as Mr. Mustafa (M. Abraham). The drama arises not simply from the contrast between a fading occidental civilization and new modern barbarism, but between Gustav H. and himself. One of Gustav's early pedagogical overtures to the young Zero, expresses the tension:
Anderson is sometimes referred to as a postmodern director. It's a term that focuses upon his aforementioned penchant for fanciful nostalgia and introverted insularity. It strikes me that this attribution misses the deeper sense of pain that drove his earlier work. The various philosophical and theological movements variously called postmodern did, in some cases, lose sight of this pain. However, the idea that postmodernity ends in today's austere times, overlooks the deeper anteriority at work in the "post," in these movements. It explains the return of metaphysics, not as an alter ego of philosophical absolutism, but a more profound "after" physics, and the sense in which meta always implies a deeper dissatisfaction with reductive physical accounts of reality. Moral, ethical and political dimensions can no longer be reduced to physics after the holocaust. Rather, we are more directly returned to a fragile notion of civilization laid bare in the twentieth century's darkest moments. As Gianni Vattimo argued in a compendium on religion, it too returns in these gaping unhealed wounds.
Anderson's recent film shows the twilight between a long gone past and the new barbarisms we live with today. He does so not with an historical farce, as such, but a personal story of one man who took responsibility for maintaining the highest expression of civility in the fantastical experience of a luxury hotel. Of course, it shows how civilization did not exist as a stable established "thing" in the first place. But it also shows what a beautiful dream it was, a whisper that the people of that era once believed in. As Mr. Mustafa (the elder Zero) explains at the end of the film:
It seems to me that we go to movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel fully alert to today's public cruelties, the threat of global catastrophe and social injustice (Cf. Darren Aranofsky's Noah). The dark fantasy, however, is no more honest because of its darkness. Wes Anderson's recent film depicts, not unlike the work of the best postmodern theorists, both the fragility of civil societies as well as the painful work that goes into breathing civility to life in our social and political conditions. It is a nostalgic lost world, but its core is not an abstraction as such. Rather, it beats within the flawed heart of Mr. Gustav H. and makes you wish there were more of them today.