Sometimes, You Just Have to Do Everything Yourself

Aber wer thäte mir diesen Dienst! Aber wer hätte Zeit, auf solche Diener zu warten!—sie wachsen ersichtlich zu selten, sie sind zu allen Zeiten so unwahrscheinlich! Zuletzt muss man Alles selber thun, um selber Einiges zu wissen: das heisst, man hat viel zu thun!

"But who could perform this service for me? And who would have the time to wait for there to be such capable servants—who too seldom show themselves, and who are thus unlikely in the best of times! In the end, one must do everything oneself in order to know anything for oneself. And that means that one has much to do!"

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil §45

I don't want to engage in the pretension of saying that I'm "re-reading" McCormack's Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology—but I'm definitely paying more attention to it as a work in its own right this time, rather than using it as a means. And there's a lot to be learned from it. Including the reality that naming the second part of a two-part project in advance is a sure way to see that you never actually complete it!

But what grabs me most is what McCormack saw himself as having to do because of the field. He calls it a Gesamtdeutung, for which I don't have a totally satisfying English gloss. "Total (re)interpretation of the whole" might cover it. The field is stuck in a persistent misinterpretation, such that even the best original sourcework still assumes that this interpretation is correct. We refine it, we adjust it, but we never engage in the kind of wholesale correction that is really needed. But it can be done, and someone must.

And to do that, one finds oneself at sea, beyond sight of all land. Or, in the proper Nietzschean metaphor for this part of Beyond Good and Evil, a solitary individual confronted by the vast and primal reality of the forest. Paradigm work is easier. It would be preferable, as Barth knew in his own work in exegesis, to have reliable professionals who were reliable precisely for the purposes of one's own hunt. And that is never a reality. Even when one has students, one sends them out to become experts in their own hunts, and when they have become so expert, they will no longer do your work for you.

It's hard to genuinely collaborate. It's easier to do piecework for someone, inside a paradigm. It's easier to do everything oneself to create a paradigm, and farm out piecework after the fact. And it's much easier, when one is faced with the need to do everything over again, to do it in reaction against the existing paradigm.

It's no secret that I'm working on universalism in Barth—and I feel much the same necessity for gesamtdeutung in the face of this field and its assumptions. And I could certainly be following worse models, by far, than McCormack provides! But for me it has to be the dogmatic project, not the historical one. Were I to attempt the historical project, I would never complete the dogmatic one. Still, I suppose there's some consolation to be found in a career spent doing the dogmatic work. Perhaps it will work out the other way for me.


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