The title of this post comes from an essay written by Thomas Müntzer in 1524, and although his use of the phrase has no direct connection to my present task, I find the sentiment applicable. It could be argued that my research and work is all in memory of its error. But what memory, exactly? And which error? Before I answer, let me begin with an introduction.
Over the last several years, my exploration of theology, philosophy, and politics has brought me to a synthesis of all three, although I would, of course, hesitate to finalize anything. (The future is becoming, and who knows what might change an hour from now, let alone a decade?) I came of age as an aspiring evangelical, foundationalist conservative, and evolved into a postmodern, Christian, Marxist hybrid. (Or, something like that.) Inverting Jacques Derrida’s famous quip “I rightly pass for an atheist”, I now say that I rightly pass for a Christian. Yet, it will be up to the reader to decide if my contention has any claim to truth.
This post, as I mentioned before, is merely an introduction—both to myself and my style of writing—and as such, I felt it necessary to briefly elaborate on the three pillars of my research: Christian theology, continental philosophy, and Marxist political critique. Try as I might, I cannot escape the enticing mystery of Christ. The God-Human, Son of God, the Human One, Savior—how am I to capture the grandeur of this divine being within the limits of human language? No matter how much I wrestle with the reality at play, the person of Jesus remains the seminal haunting figure behind all of my research and work. It is where I begin and end. I look to those who have gone before me for insight into this “event” of Christ: Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, J.R. Daniel Kirk, David Congdon, among many others. Yet, even as I find myself returning to the person of Jesus, I also find myself reformulating the words and concepts I use to describe that which is unexplainable; this is where continental philosophy arrives. A dear friend recently asked me what the task of theology would be, and I answered, “To speak of that which will always escape the grasp of language.” Though I return to Jesus in almost everything I say or do, I recognize that everything I say and do is by nature conditioned to the extent that it fails to capture the reality of which I speak. The work of Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Marion, John Caputo, Catherine Keller, among others, all affect my understanding of existence, language, and experience. They remind me of limitation, an inescapable element of existence. My memory is, by nature, an error; I am conditioned by existence-itself to never define, describe, or detail that which haunts my memory. However, I counter this abstraction—theological rumination and philosophical discourse—with something more material. Karl Marx, and his future interlocutors, provide that systematic, dialectical, material critique of human existence, which allows for a methodology of action. It is not enough to dwell within the confines of abstract thinking, but to also alleviate the pain of existence and seek the liberation of all people. To the aforementioned thinkers, I add Fredric Jameson, Herbert Marcuse, and Silvia Federici.
In memory of its error; I am in memory of its error. What concerns me in these troubled times is that the propensity for certainty, totality, finalization, or the “end” of whatever we fancy to be important is to ignore the inherent ambiguity of existence as such. Things are not always as they seem; appearance is no guarantee of actuality. I find fault with both traditional variations of Christianity and Marx and his interlocutors for their reliance upon a pre-decided telos. Yet, I realize that both Jesus and Marx, to varying degrees (Jesus more so than Marx, if I may be so bold), have something very important to say regarding human nature and human existence. I appropriate the label even as I eschew the label as a totalizing system; appropriation is done in memory of its error. When I look for truth in this world, I find it in a myriad of places, yet no place in particular has ever been able to lay claim to absolute, universal, or objective truth. Truth, much like being, is becoming. Who knows when, where, or how one will discover its trace? Christian theology, continental philosophy, and Marxist political critique may seem like strange bedfellows, yet each lays claim to truth. I use all three because each speak to something elemental in human existence, even in part; I find myself appropriating and blending all three methodologies mentioned above in order to find an answer—not the answer, but an answer nonetheless.
The memory is simply that of my existence within a matrix of ambiguity, becoming, possibility, future, and historicity. The error is any moment I presume to have a grasp upon the aforementioned elements of my existence. All I do is in memory (a haunting of which I must speak even in limitation) of its error (the limitation of my speech reminds me to keep speaking).
In memory of its error…