Friday, October 16, 2009

On cheap and expensive deconstruction

We were taught the cheap, quick-and-dirty deconstruction toolkit in college. It was really no more than analysis of texts, the ways to take them apart and question what they mean. The creativity involved was in coming up with better B&E methods. deconstruir=to destroy.

The more I read, the more I discover the true damage of destructive deconstruction as a means for breaking down metanarratives -- thank you, John Barnes, for personalizing the concept -- and the inner complexity and utility of genuine deconstruction. Sous rature is a key to the real work: crossing out the construction and leaving it visible compels and problematizes the retrieval of the constructed realities. Just as with la morte de l'auteur, the point is not to destroy meaning, but to destroy the domination of meaning. The point is especially not to gin up some new absolute meaning in replacement, as we do every time we realize that our god is dead. This is not the opening of auditions to fill the void, as naturally happens if we simply erase the construct. There will always be an author, but the point is that the author remain dead, and that his body remain on stage.

The dance, or play, of signification is very flexible, and repairs seamlessly if allowed sufficient time. The erasure of a signifier cannot erase the signified, and certainly does not remove the sociological demand for just that relationship of signification. The place of the signifier is guaranteed as long as the sociological reality holds. Computer science strives mightily for the sheer capacity for reconstruction of missing data that massively collaborative neural networks achieve without conscious thought. Just *pop* -- and there it is again. Functionally equivalent if not materially so. You'd miss the whole erase-retrieve cycle if you weren't looking at it. Most participants never even notice.

Marking bad data is important, but keeping it around is key. The bad data is not the problem, but the symptom. More to the point, all data is ephemeral and symptomatic. If we are concerned with why the data is bad, we must deconstruct the process in place, functional and active in its native context. (CS students are rolling their eyes, because it really is intuitive.) This is essential to understanding that process, and to any success in finding and exerting useful leverage upon it.

The problem with atheism and secularity is their existence as functional equivalents of what they seek to displace. The system with a different nominal reason is still the system. On the other hand, the problem with Christianity has long been its existence as a functional eqivalent of the other cultural phenomena it displaced. The system with a different nominal reason is still the system. It's this whole business of ripping out signifiers.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Johannine Christianity and post-war existentialism

In reading W. Paul Jones' descriptions of World 1, I was struck first by the fact that this alienation is itself alien to this generation. The world hollowed of meaning in the aftermath of world wars, and the elemental angst of abandonment into that void, resonate strongly all the way to the '70s. But the generation I see around me finds Tillich alien. The pastors and future theologians of 2010 (my God, it *is* the future!) march to the beats of contention and relationality. And second, I was struck by the ways that return to the center, to the absolute, to the beginning as keys to the genuine meaning of the kosmos are thematic for John's Gospel. The plays on meaning, the misunderstandings, the signs point to an immanent otherness that is, in point of fact, primary. We are the real otherness, alienated from the ability to see what is evident to the eyes of one attuned to aion life.

What is it about Tillich, in his Schleiermacherian dependence on the unconditioned, that resonates with the Johannine placement of the Christ-logos at the center of the very beginning of all things? Is the Johannine void, like that hole at the center of German idealism, a result of the destruction of the reliable moorings of life in the violence of war? Does this have to do with the creation of Aelia Capitolina? If the synoptics are Hellenistic Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem, with their cosmic motif of following Jesus into and back out from the doomed city, John is a sort of Judean Hellenism. The Johannine influences on Justin Martyr certainly show up as ways in which he is forthrightly and officially a Hellene within the life of the Imperium. And on the other hand, they show up as ways in which he is subversive to the underpinnings of that society as one of the Chrestoi. In John, the story of the gospels is pervaded by the presence of an immanent other life available through Jesus. A world above in which the same things mean something different, a world from which God's presence breaks into this world. This world, in which there is the sense of what Jesus represents, but always also the misunderstanding of what that means into the semes of mundane existence.

The next time I approach John, I need to remember the World Wars and the first half of the 20th century, and see the ways in which they cause the gospel to resonate in a new key.