the good news of post-structuralism

On my good days I have some certainty to what good news looks like. Today is not one of those days, so I am depending on the prophetic tradition to aid me. According to Second Isaiah (61), good news is for the marginalized, those who have no luck, or certainty for tomorrow. The good news presented is liberation in the materialistic* sense. Justice will come to those who need it most. Their voices will be heard and they become active members in their community just as the rich and powerful have always been. This is in contrast to their position currently in society, which they are either demonized or pitied.

Good news, at least, in the monoculture of US society recognizes technological advance. This progress is waited upon by many in the US, as their desire for entertainment overwhelms their paycheck. Relating this to church, technology and ideas rarely have anything to do with materiality. Churches want the best new Christian book study or video series. Or listening to a testimony about how Jesus changed one’s mind about what they think of people with tattoos. I know these are extreme examples, but all too often are true. We live too much out of our minds. If philosophical concepts recycle every century or so; then we as a country, listen far too much to Hegelian philosophy, than to post-structuralist philosophies of the prophets.

Post-structualism can be of Good News to the Church as well as the world. First, it allows us to not focus only on ideas or your mind. During the 60’s and 70’s, Deleuze and Guattari wrote texts against the psychoanalysis movement, Anti-Opedius. They described how capitalism causes schizophrenia in society, individuals are sucked into what they become in consuming and in consuming they become machines. Deleuze and Guattari believed that this made one’s mind and body fascist. Meaning that we do not have control over our desires, which is for them freedom. Second, post-structuralism deconstructs power. Out of this movement came critical theories including critical race theory, queer theory, deconstruction, etc. They question and they question often. For example:

-Who has power in the text?
-Who agree the ones without a voice in this text?
-Since language is flimsy, words/sentences have potentiality to have various meanings, then how do we know what we are reading into a text and what the writer intended?
-We are still waiting for justice (Derrida), what are we expecting and is this good news for all?

Questioning helps us to read text carefully, and allows our circumstances to persuade us toward different directions according to context. Lastly, post-structuralism gives us hope that metanarratives do not have the last say (certainly there is much more I could say, but I think this is the most important). Narratives shape the way we view the world, universe, divinity, the other, etc. If we allow oppressive narratives to fester in our bodily activities, we may lose hope. Recently, this happened to me after watching all those Youtube videos about the truth behind the Sandy Hook “Tragedy.” These videos made me upset, in two senses. First, these videos present harmful ideas to the general public. Here I am much more pastoral in when people should be told information that is contrary to what everyone believes. These ideas cause confusion as to who to trust and dismisses theodicy. Second, the creators of these videos are not perusing any kind of legal action or seem to have many other things to do with their time, than to scare Youtube watchers. The Good News of post-structuralism is that there are thousands of micronarratives that make the world go round. These micronarratives are in our community. Some of them are based on misinformation, others on myths, but all based in community. It’s communities that can comfort and care for us. Micronarratives should be questioned as long as we are open with others etc. Thus allows me to reject the truthers movements of Sandy Hook and talk with my youth about theodicy, and what God’s kin-dom looks like.

Post-structuralism gives theology another chance in society and we must not lose our chance. As long as we are not taking an exclusivist approach, theology will survive. On a practical level, participating fully in these narratives means speaking with and knowing our neighbors, caring for the ignored, and being open to others.

*Think Marx, not shopaholics.

Published by brother timothie

I am a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. My interests include constructive theologies, liberation theologies, documentaries, far-left politics, homelessness ministries, creative liturgies, poetry, and pop culture.

2 thoughts on “the good news of post-structuralism

  1. Timothy, I have some questions about post-structuralism. I’ll try to keep it short.

    Would you say that the rejection of the metanarrative implies the rejection of totalities (which, by definition, are universal)? It seems that it would. How can critical (cultural) theory or post-structuralism do anything but legitimate capitalism unless it admits that this totality empirically exists?

    I’m thinking of Zizek’s strong-worded critique here: “So we are fighting our [politically correct] battles for the rights of ethnic minorities, of gays and lesbians, of different life-styles, and so on, while capitalism pursues its triumphant march—and today’s critical theory, in the guise of ‘cultural studies’, is doing the ultimate service to the unrestrained development of capitalism by actively participating in the ideological effort to render its massive presence invisible: in a typical postmodern ‘cultural criticism’, the very mention of capitalism as world system tends to give rise to the accusation of ‘essentialism’, ‘fundamentalism’ and other crimes.”

    1. Thanks for the comment, Ryan. I always appreciate your reactions. I hope this helps somewhat.

      The post-structuralists I’ve read consider themselves some kind of Marxist. This includes Derrida, Foucault, and Deleuze. Although Zizek is one of my favorite philosophers I think he is wrong in how he thinks about this. Der/Fou/Del wanted to make the world anti-fascist: eliminate capitalism, the free market, and reverse globalization. These philosophers were also anti-Hegelian, writing that the dialectic is a false dichotomy of extremes. Zizek, of course, is a Hegelian-Lacanian, which is the polar opposite of these post-structuralists. I think Zizek and the post-structuralists are headed in the same direction, but through different means. Both are materialists, hate capitalism, and want people to live in a society that cares about its own existence. I guess I’m saying there is no difference: all of them protest and call for radical transformations of politics.

      Metanarratives oppress and harm communities. Zizek gravitates toward other practical measures than the post-structuralists. I find hope in the people practicing their philosophy. Zizek and the post-structuralists do this in the political realm. They are partially right, these philosophies need more legs on the ground than in the classrooms, but need to be talked about in public: at libraries, coffee shops, auto stores, etc. Until this happens, Zizek will still be writing books and we will still be in the mucky poisoned water of capitalism.

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