Posts Tagged ‘materialism’

April 18th, 2011

De-provincializing Oprah

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In Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, Kathryn Lofton holds up a lustrous mirror to the polymorphously perverse dynamics of boom and bust, surplus and lack, and redemptive optimism and paranoid anxiety that characterize America (and much of the world) at the turn of the twenty-first century…. [Her] insight into the intense and extensive contemporary intra-activity of materiality and spirituality is a powerful explanatory tool. For example, it helps explain the explosive growth of global Neo-Pentecostal networks and cultures, which operate through mass media and popular culture to spread a gospel of health and wealth based on the notion that spiritual salvation, economic success, and physical well-being are mutually implicative.

September 14th, 2010

The sun shone fiercely through the window at Starbucks (Part II)

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Soon after reading Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, I turned to Courtney Bender’s The New Metaphysicals. It is a work of elegant inquiry and provocative precision—not only because Bender refuses to locate her subjects in a progressive history of flowering individualism, that old saw about the evolution of liberal cosmopolitanism, but because, in adopting an approach that reminded me of Brown’s reading of Marx, Bender’s portrait of new-age-Cambridge refuses Taylor’s narrative frame. Rather, Bender’s cast of characters offers critical perspective on what might be called the nova effect of arguments in the grain of Taylor. I am struck by the inadvertent but eerie parodic quality of scenes depicting homeopathic healers, yoga practitioners, past-life regressioners, shamanic drummers and bankers, energy intuitives, and lecturers in esoteric astrology. Indeed, these characters, at least on my reading, become strange reflections of Taylor’s existential élan and sober tone of explanation. They become, in other words, down-market versions of Taylor’s magisterial aspirations.

September 9th, 2010

The sun shone fiercely through the window at Starbucks (Part I)

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Let us recognize, from the outset, the delicious perversity of inviting comments upon comments about the comments about Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, itself a commentary, magisterial in scope, about the inability of Anglo-Europeans to end a certain cycle of commentary about themselves, their religion, and their humanity. Nevertheless, of the many thoughtful responses and salvos found in Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, I was most struck by Wendy Brown’s pointed and potentially devastating piece on the shortcomings of Taylor’s “odd historical materialism.”

Taylor’s sense of the material world is not unrelated to his not always implicit commitment to (or perhaps nostalgia for) the ideals of a self that flourishes, unfolds, and, at the end of the day, can be sufficiently liberated from history so as to be able to take the measure of itself—in concert, of course, with others, as they liberate themselves sufficiently from those very same forces.

September 6th, 2010

Understanding disenchantment

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Jane Bennett’s sympathetic yet critical commentary on my essay “What is Enchantment?” (published in the volume Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age) describes the notion of disenchantment that I present as primarily addressing the theological displacements that emerged with the rise of the new science. Her own work, she says, offers a quite different focus, one of a mood or affect that “circulates between human bodies and the animal, vegetable, and mineral forces they encounter.”

I don’t doubt that this interesting focus is quite different from mine, though I think it would be wrong to represent my view as being focused on the theological. In my analysis, the theological had only a central genealogical role to play in the process of “disenchantment.”

August 20th, 2010

After atheism (Part II)

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In my last post, I made the claim that I wasn’t an atheist. That’s a complicated claim. Atheism, despite being technically no more than contra-theism, is most of the time a philosophy with positive content. It’s usually strict materialism buttressed by other moral and political ideologies (though who could really separate the latter two categories).

August 1st, 2008

Let’s get clear about materialism

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David Brooks’s op-ed, “The Neural Buddhists,” is premised on a variety of conceptual confusions that are worth trying to clear up, although the widespread nature of some of these confusions says something quite interesting about innate human cognitive biases. I think he is mistaken about the precise character of the cultural impact of recent neuroscientific work, but the kinds of mistakes he makes points toward ways in which the contemporary neuroscientific model of the self continues to be misunderstood. […]

July 8th, 2008

The aesthetics of neural Buddhism

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The first three postings in this series remind us how complex the individual topics of cognitive science, Buddhism, and religious experience can be. Certainly there are many interpretations of each—many more than an entire monograph could account for, let alone a column in the New York Times—and reminders of the density of such topics are valuable and need to be repeated. But the cultural phenomenon that David Brooks’s column describes is its own topic altogether. Just what this phenomenon is will probably take a while for historians to describe and for critical scholars to assess. My preliminary suggestion is that we are witnessing an aesthetic urge, in which scientists and Buddhists find common cause in their pursuit of a beautiful—albeit potentially dangerous— “theory of everything.” […]