“Why do you call yourself ‘Beloved’?”
“In the dark my name is Beloved.”
~Toni Morrison, Beloved.
Having begun with the redundancy of the cross, we arrived at the redundancy of life — life as redundancy. What are the implications of this?
Well, once we get over our dismay about not being a necessity for anyone or any thing, we can begin to understand that redundancy and superfluity point to excess. Excess is over-abundance. Over-abundance, far from being worthless, is a gift. Recognizing our lives as redundant does not lead us to conclude that they are meaningless. Rather, this recognition enables us to understand that our lives are gifts — crazy, excessive, unnecessary gifts — given to ourselves and to each other.
Living as gifts, and life as a gift, means that who we strive to be and what we strive to do may be entirely removed from the domain of duty — if we are not needed then we are not bound by duty. Instead, we are free. Free to be and do what we desire (and not what we “need”) to be and do. I am free to love my children not because I must (in which case I am not free to love them at all), but because I want to. I am free to be a gift to others and free to understand that every living redundant moment and deed is a beautiful gift to me as well.
This is the domain of grace. Dying to ourselves-as-necessities is a dying to any and every rule of law and a resurrection unto the anarchy of grace. The Law wants us to think of ourselves as necessities — we must be and do this or that, and if we do not be or do this or that, then it is appropriate for us to be disciplined and punished. As necessities we are enslaved. Furthermore, the logic maintained by this rule of law then meshes seamlessly with the logic of contemporary capitalism — as workers, we need to earn money in order to consume superfluous items that are sold to us as though they were necessities (You need this credit card to be free, you need this car to have a healthy family, you need this scent to be desired by the other sex, etc.). This is the central lie in all of it. We can see through part of it — at the end of the day, we know that we don’t really need a lot of these things — but few of us can see through the whole of it — that we, ourselves, are not needed.
However, when we embrace ourselves as redundant, we are liberated from the law and from wage-slavery (working-to-consume), or from any other imperative. Instead of obeying, working, and consuming, we are free to love and to be loved. We are free to be joyful. We are free to be gifts to one another and to our own selves. Everything becomes grace. All the way down.
This is the message of Easter. As I stated at the end of my Good Friday meditation:
God dies every day for (i.e. because of) the sins of the world. That is God’s way of being with us. The crazy message of Easter is that this dying is not futile. And if the dying of God is meaningful then perhaps our living-unto-death is also meaningful. Perhaps death is not the last word for us. Perhaps, like the cross of Christ, we are redundant but not without meaning.
Our living-unto-death is not without significance. We are redundant but not without meaning.
Hence, the resurrection of Jesus throws open the tomb of the living (which I mentioned at the end of my Holy Saturday post). The stone is now rolled away and all of us are free. Free to love. Free to be loved. Free to play. Free to rejoice. The grave has been thrown open. It is up to us to choose if we want to follow Jesus out of it.
Dan, I’ve been following your blog for a while, and appreciate your thoughts. I’m curious if you’ve read Against Ethics by John Caputo. He differs a bit from you, and maintains that we must live in the tension between a heideggerian sense of life as excess and a levinasian sense of duty to the other. I find that more true to my life, as often my freedom to love comes at a cost, for instance, my freedom to love my fiance means giving up the freedom to love other women in the same way. How does your sense of freedom jive with living as mortals within certain limits?
I’m not a huge fan of any talk of duty — mostly because it seems utterly pointless — but I think the vast bulk of my posts on this blog suggest that I certainly think some ways of relating to others is better than some other ways, and that I also desire that other people share this perspective with me… but I wouldn’t talk about that as “duty” (haven’t the book you mention by Caputo… hardly read any of his stuff actually).
Grace… what is the connection of grace and duty? And I’m not talking about faith and works here. I get that connection pretty well (I think). Grace and duty seems pretty different.
As for freedom and limits… I don’t know. I have been thinking about this a fair bit since a series of sketches I did (Dancing Towards Nihilism 1-3) as I have intended to continue them, but am not at a place where I feel especially capable of knowing what to think let alone say.
I think your post makes sense from an economic perspective but not fully from a parenting one. I would disagree: I think we do have a duty to our children. Many in fact. And we need to act on (out of) these. Of course we are not necessary, and yes we are insignificant in the grand schemes of life, but if children do not have safe, secure caregivers (true, doesn’t have to be us), they will (un)necessarily suffer. In my work, what I see time-and-again is the failure of parents to live up to their obligations to their children. The redundancy you describe does not often (ever?) move in the direction of gift, but more towards an easy out to avoid responsibility. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether or not people are redundant or not, or feel either way, they are accountable for the lives of the people they brought to earth.
What you are describing might work for economics, but not fully for parenting. It doesn’t matter whether or not a person thinks they are redundant or not, or feels either way; people have many obligations to fulfill when it comes to children they’ve brought to the planet. Duty doesn’t only come about as a result of whether or not we are needed, but also from the responsibilities we have in our chosen roles.
But, it seems to me that you are arbitrarily choosing where you are responsible and where you are not. You want to be responsible for your kids — and you want others to be responsible for the same — but when I write other posts talking about how our lives and work and consumption are rooted in exploited, enslaving, and actually killing others elsewhere, you seem to suggest that I’m setting the bar too high or trying to set boundaries for “in” and “out.” So, you seem keen to have others to recognize their responsibilities for their kids, while also being keen to not recognize the ways in which we are responsible for a great deal of suffering in the lives of people who are not are kids.
Something seems amiss here. Maybe I’m misundertanding something (I’m not being facetious — I mean that seriously). If you want to talk about “duty” and “responsibility” then it seems inconsistent not to go all the way. How is owning a Mac or a smart phone, or half the clothes we wear, or a car, or half the food we eat, not just as irresponsible as abandoinig our kids? Because we’re hurthing somebody else’s kids so we’re not responsible for them — it’s their parents problem? Or what??
Also, I would like you to explain your basis for asserting this: The redundancy you describe does not often (ever?) move in the direction of gift”. Perhaps you mean that a lot of folks you know who abandoned others, perhaps even their own lives, felt something like this? Maybe that’s the case but, look, if we’re honest about ourselves, it seems an inescapable conclusion. One just needs the strength to face into it. Instead of either running from it or annihilating one’s self upon recognizing it (not that I would condemn anybody for choosing either of those other options).
I’m having trouble following your argument(s) in the first and second paragraphs, so I’ll have to think about it more – or maybe you can clarify – before I respond.
As to my thought re. redundancy. The way I read what you’ve written, it could easily be a justification for people to negate their parental responsibilities – if I’m not necessary, why should I bother being involved in a loving way with my kids. Parenting requires a significant level of stick-tuitiveness that is overwhelming for most and abandoned by some. It might not be necessary for me to be the primary caregiver of my children (for them to grow up healthy and secure), but if I abandon them I will have (un)necessarily hurt, if not traumatized, them. This to me, means I am not redundant. I guess I don’t understand how it is liberating or freeing to love my children out of a place of redundancy, or lack of need, as you describe it. I hope I feel free to love my children. But, at the end of the day, if I don’t have this feeling or stance or whatever it is called than I sure think I have an obligation to do so.
I guess my point is that any talk of “responsibility” is just as arbitrary and lacking in a firm foundation as of my talk as redundancy as gift. Why am I responsible for my children? Why am I not responsible for the plight of the children who made my computer? Why am I more responsible for one than the other? Why am I responsible for anything? Who says, who decides? On what basis? It’s all selective and arbitrary and equally open to manipulation.
Of course, when I talk about redundancy and freedom it could be used as a way of avoiding responsibility. That’s the risk one encounters when one tries to suggest that everything is gift and grace and nothing is duty. I encounter this frustration all the time when I study the economics of the early Jesus movement (bear with me a moment). That movement was based upon an economics of radical mutuality and sharing — quite literally, “to each according to his or her need, from each according to his or her ability” — but it was all done on a voluntary basis. Because the movement was (initially) opposed to hierarchical power structures and to mimicking the giving of commands and to others (the sort of power that was explicitly rejected by Jesus and, by implication, by God — for those who saw Jesus as God’s representative), it was out of place to command people to live this way. The idea was, however, that if a person truly grasped the nature of grace and the Way of Jesus, then that person would choose to and desire to live in that way. Of course, we know how it goes — hierarchy quickly came into being, mutuality faded, and Christian economics today is far more about hoarding what one has, accumulating more, and fucking the poor (who are considered immoral, undeserving, and lazy). This is the polar opposite of where things began and (returning now to the pint of contact with our exchange) I have often found myself wishing: “Damn it! Couldn’t they have just phrased it like a command! All this grace an dfreedom gives people the possibility of living in another more death-dealing way!” Precisely your concern here. However, that’s where I think we are left when such things are recognized. It’s a risky place. It’s open to being abused (like any position really). But that’s how I understand things.
1) Who says we’re not responsible for other humans? I’m not sure how this got integrated into my suggestion that we have a duty towards our children.
2) So, your argument is that my position is as arbitrary as yours??!! Makes my head spin a bit trying to figure out how then to engage in this discussion. Because my “duty” might be your “voluntariness”, but neither really matters because they are both founded on nothing other than some type of self-selection process. A philosophical black hole.
(1) Probably should just drop this point now, but in my prior post on Christian and Marxist scholarship, I suggested that people are responsible to others — those who are marginalized and oppressed and so on — and your response suggested (to me) that you thought I was being too harsh and piling burdens up on people. So then this ties into this discussion because you are adamant (or seem to be adamant to me) about stressing responsibility in relation to our kids. This is what seems inconsistent to me and, I think, helps to highlight how arbitrary notions of “responsibility” and “duty” really are.
(2) Speaking of that, to observe that “duty” is really an arbitrary self-selection (or simply accepting things that have been arbitrarily selected and designated as such by others) doesn’t mean that (a) it doesn’t matter (my last few posts have dealt with how things can be arbitrary but not without significance) and (b) we’re falling into a “philosophical black hole.” Really, we’re hitting the bottom of the hole. This is what is at the base of everything — we just gotta be willing to dig deep enough to realize it (I think).
I thought the way your post on scholarship was framed sounded like an attempt to set a bar for who’s “in” and “out”. That is different than acknowledging (and living) that we have a responsibility for our own children as well as others.
I have been having a hard time keeping up with all your excellent posts DanO. They need some time, reflection and re-reading, which is uncomfortable on my laptop. So…I was just wondering if a bunch of these couldn’t be put into print form? Would it be some kind of violence, transgression or compromise to go back a ways and maybe order and combine many of these reflections into a compilation of some kind of…pilgrimage of contingent affinities? (or anarchic intentionalized disorder?). Think about this, and I would be privileged to provide a picture for a cover. Obliged.
p.s. forgive me brother for even mentioning this on Easter, it’s the 2000 years of Roman Catholic practical/mystical, apostatesticle, devil-dealing pragmatism that we whores of Babylon are so known to trade in, but…I think this book would be very marketable, even via self-marketing on Amazon (there will be plenty of time for you to reflect on any spiritual anguish over ‘selling-out,’ yadda yadda, while you and your family are summering in the south of France in your second guest house). Anyway, it’s Easter, but I am more of a Maundy thursday to ‘Black Saturday‘ kind of believer. Oh I affirm that the tomb was empty and all, I been inside it many times (empty, that is, except for those Orthodox brothers selling cheapo icons, Chinese scapulas and knotted prayer ropes). it’s just that i have always found it much easier to schedule and perform my grief than my joy. Blessings, and keep looking up and listen for the shout!
I am resonating with your line of thinking Dan. However, I am reading Levinas and he seems to be heading in the opposite direction in terms of infinite obligation. I am not sure if the two of you meet around the back end of the spectrum but I am still not sure what to make of him. Dan Imburgia I am still waiting for you to set me straight about Levinas!
“The face opens the primordial discourse whose first word is obligation.” (Totality and Infinity 201).
Cancer is also an overabundance, and even though I reckon it takes a superheroic kind of spirituality to see it as a blessing, still, some do! Now it wasn’t necessary that my wife and I had human babies, we could have chosen to have porcupines instead, but it was a biological imperative that our children were human. Now the thinking goes (after Levinas, D.B. Hart, Balthasar, Aquinas, etc.) that the world as it is is both a gift and necessity. That is, the world is created out of God’s very Beingness, it is not one world God chose to create from a bunch of other options. It’s not like God and Jesus (with the Holy Dove perched on his shoulder) went shopping at ‘Planets R Us’ and loaded up a cart full of the latest design choices. “Hmm…Lions and cheetahs for the sport, peacocks for color, and for a balance of chiaroscuro maybe some zebras, oh and to keep those murderous bipeds in check how about some of those plagues and cancers with an asteroid now and then! That aught to get them thinking about the three of us once and awhile.” Though I feel kinda stupid saying this where God can read it, God’s only necessity is Being God and that necessity manifests itself in creation, in love, in us. But, does it make me freer than God because I can f#%ck up my kids and God can’t?
Anyway, I really like the way DanO says ‘Jesus dies everyday,’ we Catholics have been gnawing away on that dying and resurrecting God for thousands of years as a way to express this mystery long before Terrence Malick started making movies about it. Of course, the ‘mystery’ part is troublesome. Like when your abusive, alcoholic step-dad came home drunk every saturday night for years and threw you against the wall, then years later you find yourself throwing yourself against a wall every saturday night and you just don’t know why! Then one saturday night your getting ready to throw one of your own kids against the wall and ZOOM-CRACK, just before your kid hits the wall you get a revelation!
@David, So I don’t really see any serious dichotomy between Levinas and DanO (if it helps, think of the elective affinities between Carl Schmitt and Ayn Rand, LOL), I agree with Dostoevsky: ‘We are all guilty of everything all the time, and me more than all the rest.’ And I agree with Levinas, “This gaze that supplicates and demands, that can supplicate only because it demands, deprived of everything because entitled to everything, and which one recognizes in giving (as one “puts the things in question in giving”)–this gaze is precisely the epiphany of the face as a face. The nakedness of the face is destituteness. To recognize the Other is to recognize a hunger. To recognize the Other is to give. But it is to give to the master, to the lord, to him whom one approaches as “You” in a dimension of height… The presence of the Other is equivalent to this calling into question of my joyous possession of the world.” (Totality and Infinity 75-76). And I agree with DanO, that because of the superfluity of God’s love, “we are free to love and to be loved. We are free to be joyful. We are free to be gifts to one another and to our own selves.”
Of course, there are other options besides these isn’t there? I mean I follow Jesus for a whole variety of reasons, culture, habit, fear, infatuation, magical thinking, I hope there is some love in there too, but I won’t really know till I emerge from the blazing crucible of God’s unmediated presence, then again, I think that maybe even the slag heap of our ugliest infirmities will be fashioned again by God into an astonishing new creation! Like DanO says: “Everything becomes grace. All the way down.” Tzimtzum and Obliged y’all.
p.s. anytime one needs to start poking around with ideas of “freedom,” I tell them look first to the Jews, and then quickly work your way to Levinas. However, Zizek offers a harsh (sarcastic, and snooty) critique of Levinas‘ ideas of responsibility to the Other, and I have hated that snot nosed, egomaniacal mother fu#%cker ever since! (it didn’t help any that he made some good points either). On their deathbeds, and we are all on our deathbeds, no one cries out for their Zizek, but I pray that the Rabbi who comes to comfort me knows his Levinas (the priest can offer me the sacraments, but like with Wittgenstein, it may be best if he just keeps his mouth shut).
Meaning itself might be a cancerous overabundance…