File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0109, message 109

Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2001 19:15:52 -0500
Subject: Re: Mystify me!

Julie, Matthew, All:

I admit to being disturbed by the recent thread I've had with Matthew
and my own emotional reactions to it. It brought home to me Lyotard's
concept of the differend with a vengence.  How difficult it is to
negotiate a difference of opinion through discussion, logic or the
"facts of the matter" when the root assumptions that apply can never
come into language.  This is merely a distant echo of the much more
powerful differend the world faces at this moment where people I knew
personally are now dead as a result of this terrible tragedy.

Matthew thought that during the course of our discussion, I changed my
mind concerning religion.  The truth, is, however, I have always been
ambiguous about religion, and have certainly never condemned it outright
as any would-be archeologist who glanced through these archives would
soon discover.

Christianity, in particular, has always been particularly close to me
because it is the religion I was born into and because I have always
been moved by the figure of Jesus, the person whom the theologian
Dietrich Bonhoffer once described as the "man who is for others."

I previously said that religion constituted a kind of poetics of being
and Christianity in this positive sense may be called a religion of
love, where love is defined in the mature, ethical sense of agape.  One
way to tell the story is like this. When love is encountered, in that
transforming moment of grace, my personality becomes reconstituted.  My
ego is displaced, my self is forever dis-centered.  

Henceforth, I must begin to take responsibility for my own previous
actions, my own capacity for evil, my own failure to love because I have
experienced love as a free gift.  Thus, I am moved to share this love
with others. My former foundations have been shattered.  I discover
instead that only in the disclosure of myself can I ever hope to find a
lasting freedom. I must give to each in the same measure that I myself
have been given.  This is the basis for the convivial community, Kant's
kingdom of ends and Augustine's pilgrim city composed of strangers,
nomads and outcasts. 

What disturbs me most about the current events is the persistent
insistence upon our own innocence.  As long as we continue to simply
project evil unto others we will never begin to understand the capacity
for evil within ourselves. As long as we continue to loudly proclaim our
own innocence and generosity, we will never listen to what the rest of
the world is saying to us.

Julie, you have spoken to us about mothers and their children.  Consider
this.  Suppose you were a young mother living in Iraq and you couldn't
obtain food and medicine for your sick, hungry child because of the U.S.
sanctions.  How would you feel about America then?

George W. Bush has said: "Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or
bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done."  But what kind of
justice he is talking about?  If it just retaliation based on
maintaining our global hegemony and merely continuing to protect U.S,
strategic interests, then I fear it will only initiate a new cycle of

The opportunity exists today for another kind of justice.  America,
instead of merely defending the status quo, could begin instead to take
responsibility for its own previous actions and take on a leadership
role to eradicate world hunger, restore the quality of people's health
and the environment, and overcome the fear and terror millions currently
experience on an everyday basis.  Instead of merely dictating to others,
we would listen to other's voices and act upon their needs.  Then, a
true Pax Americana could be established, based upon the foundations of a
more just and less divided world.  

For this to take place, however, perhaps a different concept of God is
necessary.  Not the transcendent God who blesses only America, the
strong and the powerful, but an immanent God who springs forth from our
own activity and blesses the world, the poor and the multitudes.  In the
end, as always, you have to ask yourself:  "What would Jesus do?"

Julie's mention of Sisyphus immediately calls to mind for me the writer
Albert Camus who wrote the novel entitled "The Plague" after writing his
famous essay on "The Myth of Sisyphus."  In it, he depicts a doctor and
others who continue to act and do good even after they realize their
situation is hopeless and the plague they are fighting will never come
to an end.   They are not heroic in any conventional sense.  Instead,
they fulfill Kierkegaard's definition of a saint.  They do ordinary
things extraordinarily well.  

One critic, reviewing Camus, once described his philosophy as follows.
"This world is absurd.  Therefore, we must love one another."

Perhaps this best describes the kind of justice and religion I am
seeking.  To answer Julie's question about what good philosophy can do,
my short answer would be this. The only thing that can impossibly redeem
this world in all its absurdity is our love and our resistance.    

Between the Great Refusal and an ecstatic love that embraces all, the
journey of the nomad pilgrim must be made, on a road that has not yet
been built, to create a world that has not yet been made.



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