There’s nothing rotten in the state of theology
Gilles Deleuze. In a list compiling the authors of the most cited authors of books in the humanities, Deleuze came in 12th place. As such he is unquestionably one of the super stars of 20th century philosophy. Within theology there is currently an increasing number of theologians looking to the works of Deleuze (including those written together with Félix Guatarri). Many of these have featured the Catacombic Machine podcast, such as Daniel Barber and Catherine Keller, and both Josef Gustafsson and Joel Kuhlin who run the site and podcast are drawing extensively on Deleuze’s thinking. As such — disclaimer — this is by no means an attempt to thrash this strain of theology. Nor do I think that every time we cite or draw on Deleuze, it needs to follow his entire thinking or line of reasoning. I for one think that one contribution above all is the most encouraging: The notion that philosophy should be like art, in the sense that it produces new problems and new ways of looking at, and thinking/ feeling about the world. If that is all someone takes from Deleuze, then that’s fine by me. More than fine, actually. I think that is an excellent approach to the theory/philosophy of science. But what I don’t think we should do — and which the 2007 list of ’most quoted authors suggest is already happening (all the time) — is a whitewashing of Deleuze.
Let’s throw ourselves at the very first paragraph of Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, a seminal work by Deleuze and Guattari:
”It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks.” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983, pp 2).
Now, where did I read that, again? Well, not in christian theology anyway. There’s certainly no shitting or fucking in theology. It’s simply not something we theologians do, I suppose. Later in the first pages of Anti-Oedipus we find the anal-machine, a solar anus, and the bicycle- horn machine next do the mother-anus machine, and shortly after a beautiful quoting of D. H. Lawrence there’s a flow of sperm. And some urine for good measure. So why is this important?
Like I said, we don’t have to follow Deleuze all the way.
But what, then, should we take from this? That we shouldn’t, in fact, use Deleuze? Rather, we should be mindful that christian theology doesn’t turn into something that looks an awful lot like christian art; such as christian music, christian rock or what have you. What that generally means is that it’s been watered down to such an extent that we are sure that there is nothing left that may ever challenge the theology and community it seeks to uphold. In the 2011 movie Untitled (directed by: Jonathan Parker) the difference between art and entertainment is formulated as that art provides a question without also providing the answer. From such an understanding — which I totally adhere to — christian art is really no art at all. Art should not be safe, and ’worship’ that cannot come up with a single new analogy for God, or our relation to her (see what I did there?), cannot bring anything or anyone closer to God, as the insistence on standing still nails us to the floor. It’s giving the same old gift for every birthday, anniversary and christmas. Mystically enough, it’s always dusted off and clean, but I suffer when I think of God having to try and fake surprise and greet us with an ’oh, thank you, that’s just what I always wished for — how did you know?!’
The problem for Deleuze (not with Deleuze, mind you) is that others have already done this groundwork; made him safe. Taking bits and pieces from Deleuze to bring new thinking into existence, makes sense. But taking the same bits and pieces, is giving the same gift as last year, and propells nothing new into being. Most academics usually shy away from ”Amniotic fluid spilling out of the sac and kidney stones”. I have even heard that theologian Phillip Goodchild denies Deleuze’s suicide in the terms ”he leaned out the window to take a deep breath — and fell”.
There is a balance to be struck here. We should on the one hand, not make Deleuze safe. We should follow him into the trenches, into the gore, and accept the urine and shit that is to be found there, matter of factly, and have faith that human life in the trenches is interesting and as is, not unfortunate. We should, on the other hand, avoid Goodchild’s conflation of ideas, morals and values so that we line up Other’s thinking to fit neatly with ours. This, however, also means that we shouldn’t just readily accept the suggestions of Other’s uncritically, such as that theology should be about gore, snot, urine or anal machines. Or rather, theology is always about these things, although it’s about chastising even the very thought of my bodily orifices, not to speak of the desires that may be attached to them.
At this time, however, it would seem that ’safe Deleuze’ — the 12th most cited author in humanities — can be approached entirely without picking up or even believing that there may be something productive to be found in this side of his writing. I leave it unsaid what we end up with, once we start the explorations. I believe that the results will vary radically. But I for one will take a crack at it. Watch this space for my attempts.