This year Adam Kirsch, 33, has cemented his position as this century’s first pre-eminent Jewish man of letters. A widely admired poet and essayist, his mind is exercised both by Jewish particularity and the broader world of culture. Both are evident in, for example, his biography of Benjamin Disraeli or when reminding readers of the New York Times that Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum. He wrote the weekly column “The Reader” on Jewish topics for Nextbook and is regular writer for its reincarnation: Tablet Magazine. When the New York Sun, for which he was the book critic, ceased publishing in September 2008, his writing appeared more frequently in what earlier had been occasional venues: the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, The New York Times, Slate and The New Republic — where he had been the assistant literary editor while still in his 20s and is now a senior editor.
I’ve never actually read anything substantial by Žižek, which is of course essential before dismissing him entirely. I admit it’s even possible that his critics have taken him out of context (O beloved zizekian word!) in order to make him appear a “reckless” intellectual. Adam Kirsch’s well-known attack on the controversial counterculture guru (in the New Republic) seems strangely to have disappeared from the internet. All links to the article – including my own – lead to a “page not found” page. Is the zizekian secret police out to erase Adam Kirsch from existence?
Here is a little taste of the publisher’s marketing for Slavoj Žižek’s new book, “The Monstrosity of Christ.”
“What matters is not so much that Žižek is endorsing a demythologized, disenchanted Christianity without transcendence, as that he is offering in the end (despite what he sometimes claims) a heterodox version of Christian belief.” –John Milbank
“To put it even more bluntly, my claim is that it is Milbank who is effectively guilty of heterodoxy, ultimately of a regression to paganism: in my atheism, I am more Christian than Milbank.” –Slavoj Žižek
In this corner, philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who represents the critical-materialist stance against religion’s illusions; in the other corner, “radical orthodox” theologian John Milbank, an influential and provocative thinker who argues that theology is the only foundation upon which knowledge, politics, and ethics can stand. In The Monstrosity of Christ, Žižek and Milbank go head to head for three rounds, employing an impressive arsenal of moves to advance their positions and press their respective advantages.
By the closing bell, they have proven themselves worthy adversaries–and have also shown that faith and reason are not simply and intractably opposed. Žižek has long been interested in the emancipatory potential offered by Christian theology. And Milbank, seeing global capitalism as the new century’s greatest ethical challenge, has pushed his own ontology in more political and materialist directions. Their debate in “The Monstrosity of Christ” concerns nothing less than the future of religion, secularity, and political hope in light of a monsterful event–God becoming human.
For the first time since Žižek’s turn toward theology, we have a true debate between an atheist and a theologian about the very meaning of theology, Christ, the Church, the Holy Ghost, universality, and the foundations of logic. The result goes far beyond the popularized atheist/theist point/counterpoint of recent books by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others. Žižek begins, and Milbank answers, countering dialectics with “paradox.” The debate centers on the nature of and relation between paradox and parallax, between analogy and dialectics, between transcendent glory and liberation.
I mean, how can you be more of an atheist than Richard Dawkins (the key word is paradox)?