Saturday, June 29, 2013

Readings in "Race": Foucault and "The Drama of Race"

Carter spends chapter one of his book analyzing the contributions and shortcomings of Cornel West and Michel Foucault's "genealogies" of race. In this he explores how they both saw today's "race problem" come to be what it is, and comes to the conclusion that in order to come up with a theological assessment one must plumb deeper than they did into the theological underpinnings that (wrongly) enabled it. Last post I shared some excerpts from the section on West, this post is from the section on Foucault--interacting mainly with his 1975-76 lectures entitled Society Must Be Defended.

"[According to Foucault] the first phase of sovereignty centralized power and sought to increase the strength of the state. But there was an inverse process at work at the same time: the process of decentralization, of individuating....

In the second phase of modern sovereignty, the individuating process is heightened.... [so that, as James Miller summarizes]: 'The result was a hybrid new art of government, concerned as never before with regulating and monitoring the outward and the inward life of each and every citizen."

"[When such a thing becomes oppressive, we see how] ancient Israel [can serve as] the fountainhead of a different political ordo, a counterhistorical one .... by defining itself as a collective, a distinct people--that is, as Jews--in contrast to the oppressors.... And yet there is a troubling downside.... [since this] collectivity can also spawn a new form of hegemonic sovereignty, the sovereignty of a collective conceived of as the race."

"[In the twentieth century we saw how h]istorical discourse functioned ... [so that] the purveyors of history began to view the present as being in a sense ahistorical and replete in itself. Thus, 'the present becomes the fullest moment' ... despite the many (racial) rifts and cleavages that mark it."

"[Our c]onsideration of Foucault's claims ... suggests an unwitting reenactment of modernity's anxiety about the theopolitical meaning of Jewish existence.... It centers on an insufficient theological grasp of the covenantal status of this people and in its election. Hence, what the lectures have no way of interrogating are the ways in which Israel embodies and is called to a performance of what it means to be a people, more specifically, YHWH's people....

That is to say, Foucault's lectures cannot imagine Israel as a covenantal people and therefore as a people constituted (however imperfectly) beyond modernity's hegemonic and counterhegemonic alternatives.... In the end, he, as Cornel West did, brackets the theological from his genealogy of modernity and thus from his analysis of modern racial discourse."

- from chapter one, "The Drama of Race: Toward a Theological Account of Modernity," 
namely the section dealing with "Michel Foucault's Genealogy of Race," pages 56-57, 73-75.
next up, chapter two: "The Great Drama of Religion"

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Readings in "Race": Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"

Having begun with a quote from the Prelude of J. Kameron Carter's "Race: A Theological Account," I figure I just may keep it up with more excerpts. These may be avenues for the odd online conversation or they may not, but at the very least I find it helpful to process the reading if I'm forcing myself to come up with a few indicative excerpts at the end of each section. This is a challenging yet rewarding book.

"[Cornel] West is careful to distinguish his inquiry into power in relationship to race from what he calls the historiography of the 'revisionists and vulgar Marxist(s),' who focus more or less on power as it operates through concrete historical actors, be they individuals (such as sovereigns or any other potentate) or collectives (such as parliaments or mobs). West tells us that his mode of genealogical inquiry focuses instead on the 'subjectless powers' driving modern Western discourse....

West's genealogy powerfully shows the epistemological ... conditions that made possible the idea of white supremacy as an expression of modern racism, but it does not provide insight into the mechanisms by which those discursive factors interacted so that modern racism and the idea of white supremacy moved beyond epistemic possibility and into discursive actuality....

[David Theo] Goldberg, in framing his own critique of West on similar matters, puts his finger on the problem: 'The concept of "racialized discourse" (must) show how, methodologically, socioeconomic materiality ... and ideological conception ... are mutually interactive and codetermining.' Goldberg further argues that to penetrate to the level of how socioeconomic materiality and idealogical conception ... interact is, among other things, to uncover the 'grammar,' or the deep structure, of modern racial discourse."

(In other words, it is one thing to say that racism comes down to individual vices such as pride and greed, another thing to point to the development of causative societal structures, and another thing still to discuss the underlying patterns of thought or language which have served to enable racial privileging to flourish--often in ways uneasily detected by those who are privileged)

- from Part One, "The Drama of Race: Toward a Theological Account of Modernity," 
namely the section dealing with "Cornel West's Genealogy of Race," pages 45, 50-51.
next up:   "Michel Foucault's Genealogy of Race"

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Readings in 'Race: A Theological Account' (The Prelude)

"The ancient Gnostics thus ended up with a nonmaterial Christ (one situated between pneumatic and psychic mankind), one lacking interhuman and interlinguistic Jewish flesh, flesh that was not embedded in the history of Israel.... [Here] I tell the story of how the loss of a Jewish-inflected account ... of Christian identity cleared the way for whiteness to function as a replacement doctrine of creation. Hence, the world was re-created from the colonial conquests from the late fifteenth century forward in the image of white dominance, where 'white' signifies not merely pigmentation but a regime of political and economic power for arranging the world."

J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account, pp. 34-35