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May 03, 2006


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Intriguing vignette. Thanks.


Or had Sam already made his mind up on the questions he posed?

"The first thing to note with regard to religious matters is that reference to "deep spirituality" is again in, and direct materialism is out; one is rather solicited to harbor openness toward a radical Otherness beyond the onto-theological God. Consequently, when, today, one directly asks an academic, "OK, let's go to the basic fact: do you believe in some form of the divine or not?," the first answer is an embarrassed withdrawal, as if the question is too intimate, too probing; this withdrawal is then usually explicated in more "theoretical" terms: "It is the wrong question to ask! It is not simply a matter of believing or not but, rather, a matter of certain radical experience, of the ability to open oneself to certain unheard-of dimensions, of the way our openness to the radical Otherness allows us to adopt a specific ethical stance, to participate in certain unique social practices, to experience a shattering form of enjoyment. . . ." Against this, one should insist more than ever that the "vulgar" question "Do you really believe or not?" matters—more than ever, perhaps."

The number of Sams in the US is, disturbingly, rapidly on the increase ...

John Reeve

"But I wonder, would different answers have made orthodoxy less persuasive to Sam?"

Is this an authentic wondering or a lament that fundamentalist answers were not forthcoming (Or, what would have been a better answer?)?

As to academics and if they "believe in some form of the divine or not," academics do answer like that. But isn't that how we work, placing our beliefs into a particular philosopher['s] approach or fram[ing them] within a specific discourse? This is simply how people adopt the professional status of "professor:" by not professing. Or, more properly, by only stating their own beliefs through citation of others' beliefs.

I don't know if I really am an academic yet (though I certainly do teach a lot of classes...), and I hear the problem in being unable to respond either in a way that would cure my students' fundamentalist tendancies or in a way that would prevent my complicity in maintaining those symptoms.

Luckily for me, students in Texas are used to paying to know what they believe, and so (instead of structuring the question as intimate) I start ranting about the sacred and shit, and how the "Stonecutter" episode of _The Simpsons_ accurately charts the motion of appropriation and excretion which characterizes the sacred.

This position, when stated with conviction, is generally sufficiently based in my real belief (and cryptic enough) to place students in relation to my own beliefs and demands, or at least position me as a useful teacher.

This approach is possibly lame, but I don't know what other response to give (I'm bad at playing Christmas, too).


Having not been privy to what your student's specific questions were, I would say that my personal frustration with academics in general is their unwillingness to make political commitments and give reasons for such commitments. Or if they are willing to state "what they really believe," their justification is couched in the rhetoric of the university. As much as I am enjoying the Parallax View, my biggest frustration with Zizek's more "popular" writings is the unintelligibility of his positions concerning current events. Though I admire his strong critique of the naturalization of neoliberalism, and his struggle to articulate an alternative, much of his public pronouncements suggest something like acquiesence or resignation. This just baffles me.


Thanks, for your comments. It's hard for me to discuss this very well. I can say that Sam is very smart with a lot of interesting experiences--he didn't go into this lightly. He was born and raised in the USSR. In the US, he's changed his name a couple of times and sought different sorts of experiences and answers: American neocon, American liberal, feminist and gay rights, radical progressives, then more philosophical, more left. He retains insights from all his experiences, so it isn't like he is a chameleon--far from it: at every step he learns and challenges.

I'll affiliate my answer with John Reeve: I think as an academic and understand my thinking, my conviction, through academic discourses. That said, because I've worked through them, I know why I find Zizek more convincing than Habermas, why I admire St. Paul and Lenin, why I cannot tolerate neoliberal capitalism and neoconservativism. How this works out on policy levels is perpetually tricky, but this strikes me as sensible.

At any rate, back to Sam: one element appealing to him in his move to orthodoxy is the level of intellectual argumentation and engagment. Most interesting: he told me that he has learned that faith is not an issue or even word for orthodox Jews; what matters is truth and practice. So, here is the truth, here is what we know, and here is what we do. If he had been around longer, I hope I would have learned more about this. As it was, I was pretty flumoxed and wondering what this meant for his everyday life.


I have regular thoughts about "becoming-orthodox", Jewish - that is, but an orthodox Judaism which is thoroughly egalitarian in respect to gender, which, of course, is currently unthinkable.

I was struck by Sam's designation of truth as that which matters along with practice. There is, in fact, a word for faith or belief. It is "emunah", but it is certainly true that practice remains paramount even or especially in those times of waivering faith. With a little research, I realized that as regards truth, Sam was probably invoking the principle of "Torat Emet", literally the Torah of truth, the idea that Torah is true, infallible, and incontrovertible because it is given by God. Almost by definition, this idea had significantly less sway in the strongly affiliated yet non-Orthodox Jewish communities I grew up within.

One of the things I am drawn to in certain kinds of religious orthodoxies is the disappearance of an "outside". Everything becomes intelligible from an all-inclusive inside.

John Reeve

"One of the things I am drawn to in certain kinds of religious orthodoxies is the disappearance of an "outside". Everything becomes intelligible from an all-inclusive inside."

Just 'cause I am in the middle of reading Sublime Object, I wonder if this isn't a desire for an ideology which has no breaks and is totally functional.

I see the appeal here, too.

But what I find more attractive is the fact that, even with the existance of an outside, the outside has already been included by the "inside:" at the point where that which makes up an outside exists, it has already become part of an inside.

I believe (and this is something I am still working through, so I'd welcome some analysis of its flaws) that at the point where we See a simple, all-inclusive inside, the outside has not dissapeared, but has been Stripped of that which made it legitimately other.



Thank you for these comments. Your points are well taken. I share these concerns too.

I made that remark with some trepidation knowing how exposed I would be.

It reflects my current efforts to work through some immanentist inclinations and their consequences for a viable political ontology with as-yet naive readings of Spinoza and Deleuze.

The irony is that I am doing so only after reading Zizek (and Badiou by implication) on Deleuze. "Is it possible not to love Spinoza?", indeed!


Won't say more right now, Marc, but glad you remarked even though you felt it left you a bit exposed. The question, of course, is what such a thoroughly egalitarian orthodoxy would look like. I am, of course, interested in pursuing such questions with you.


I remember from my own readings of Zizek that in the end, if one was concerned with real change, it did come down to being non-egalitarian, of drawing a line and excluding certain practices as unaceptable, of becoming a "radical" according to Western Liberalism, be it through your rejection of Gender, Class, Capital, or Corporate Democracy.

Is not idealism the drawing of a line before something that is unacceptable and should be dealt with? Of taking a stand and fighting against something? A Marxist cannot allow for someone having a private business, some feminists will campaign against my use of pornography, an enviromentalist may use law to stop me from buying the car I want, a Catholic will think that my abortion is akin to murder, and a PETA member may spray paint my new coat.

So is then Orthodox Judaism unnaceptable because it is non-egalitarian per say (that is claims for some things to be unaceptable) or, because of the things that it is non-egalitarian about (polytheism, abortion after 40 days, anal sex, lending with interest)? As opposed to being non-egalitarian about pornography, firearm ownership, big SUVs, meat eating, fur, "hard" drugs, sexism, "free" trade, hunting, etc.


Shmuel, I think Marc is saying that he would like perhaps to be a feminist and Orthodox. I don't think Zizek is saying that you must have one and only one cause that to which you are faithful. Of course, at a certain point one could have so many competing values that drawing lines, having enemies, fighting on behalf of a cause becomes simply impossible. But perhaps the combination feminist-orthodox is at least as possible as marxist-freudian.



I actually meant that the concluding remarks of my comment left me exposed, but you're right-my opening remarks have certainly done so too.

I could let myself off the hook by saying that, in retrospect, I clearly should have said traditional rather than orthodox Judaism.

By traditional, I would be speaking descriptively rather than prescriptively. That is, the sum total of historical Jewish practices that would include the various mysticisms, Hasidism, etc. in all their, dare I say it now, heterodoxy.

"Becoming-orthodox" has been more than a regular thought, it has been a so-far unfulfilled wish.

My main interest is in finding support within historical Judaism for a socialism (religious or otherwise) for people of all faiths (or no faith).

I am forever marked by the five months or so I spent on a religious kibbutz some twenty-five years ago.

And now I really feel exposed!

All this said, I am still eager to be of use to you in your project as I slowly work my way through your thesis.



You are absolutely right. I read Zizek the same way.

In saying that I am interested in such an Orthodox Judaism does not mean that I in anyway condemn Orthodox Judaism as it is currently practiced. I feel great admiration, kinship, and as you might infer from my above comment, even envy for those who practice Orthodox Judaism.

The difficulty I have is strictly on a personal level of lacking the requisite faith commitments to fully
inhabit a genuine Orthodox Judaism.

Doug is right to recognize my commitment to feminism and if I truly found myself within Orthodox Judaism, I imagine I would continue to feel this commitment. But this commitment itself is not the obstacle.

Your comment appeared as I was working on a response to Doug.

Orthodox is not

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