The Three Graces of Politics – The UK General Elections 2015

The Three Graces of Politics

Faith, Hope and Charity

By James Luchte

the hug

Jonathan Jones reminded us recently through “probably a wildly inappropriate pre-feminist art historical reference”, in his article, “Something new is happening in British politics. This image captures it.” (Guardian, 17 April 2015), of the resemblance of the embrace between the party leaders of Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales and Green Party, Leanne Wood, Natalie Bennett and Nicola Sturgeon, respectively and the Three Graces.

The Three Graces are commonly known as faith, hope and charity, but have the tangible meanings of trust, confidence, and love or solidarity,.a symbolism common to many religions and tendencies of thinking.

Indeed, Jonathan’s suggestion is quite apt, and can demonstrate the importance of humanities (crassly cut out of the Coalition’s Tory budget) in the context of political reality. We already know what Burns, Mary and Percy Shelley, Dickens has taught us, and Camus, Joyce, Ginsberg and Dylan Thomas, as contributors to the ethos of a culture which engages in political economic and social questioning from differing perspectives.

This embrace of three progressive leaders, amidst an era of constant crisis, allows us, by coincidence, it would seem, to remember the Three Graces and their significance to the meaning of the New Politics – one of trust, well-being, and social solidarity.

These Graces, or Virtues, in this light, are politically speaking, the characteristics of a healthy society, with some resemblance to Plato’s own tripartite schema in his Republic, and I will consider each of them in turn.

To read the rest of the essay, please visit The Three Graces of Politics: The UK General Electiions


Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred

Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred

James Luchte


Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people. [1]

Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification.  It is the fantastic realization of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality.  The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.[2]

Perhaps the most formidable obstacle in the task of retrieving a sense of the sacred in Marx consists in his repeated, and often polemical, statements against religion – or the edited selections of his editors and guardians.  Indeed, such an obstacle may in the end be one of our own making, as we are trapped within the labyrinth of our own historical understanding.[3] Yet, assuming, for the moment, that religion and the sacred are the same phenomena, if we take his pronouncement that religion is the opium of the people – which I purposely left out in the opening quotation – in isolation, we may be lead to believe that Marx felt that at best religion – and thus the ‘sacred’ – is a narcotic, which while it may be utilized to alleviate pain, remains an illusory amelioration for a situation of humiliation and despair.  Religion is an opiate in that it not only implies sedation from the pain of a life of exploitation, but also – ambivalently – suggests a systematic and strategic attempt to deaden or absorb any critical impulse to liberation.  In this sense, Marx’s characterization of religion as an opiate is a forerunner of many of the most radical criticisms of religion and ‘negative’ theology in last century – Gutierrez, Miranda, Bultmann, Heidegger, Derrida, and Bataille.  Each of these thinkers, in his own way, articulated a sense of the sacred in the wake of Marx and his deconstruction of religion as an ‘ideology’ – despite, perhaps, his own generation’s scientistic blindness to the regulative status of all ideas.

The kinship which is shared by each of these thinkers is a disdain for mere religion in favour of the ‘sacred’.[4] Religion simultaneously constructs a ‘picture’ (Bild) for contemplation (Anschauung) and an organization that cultivates our captivity to that ‘picture’ (Wittgenstein).  The sacred, on the contrary, intimates ‘love’ (Badiou), ‘binding commitment’ (Heidegger), an engaged and affirmative eruption of liberation amidst finite existence.  Religion constructs its eternal church as an everlasting perpetuation of the ‘picture’, of an idol – a captivating grammar of existence – while the sacred exults in this moment of lived existence,[5] in the haeccitas of Duns Scotus.  If religion is a ‘rational’ and ‘systematic’ orchestration of feeling and phenomena, the sacred is an attempt to seek access to a phenomenon beyond the array of objectification towards traces of the numen.  Indeed, for Otto, one need only begin amidst this singular event.

In light of this preliminary distinction between religion and the sacred, it will be the task of Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred to excavate and disclose in the writings and historical activism of Marx an affirmative sense of the sacred which is alterior to his inherently negative conception of religion.  With Marx’s empathy in his ‘sigh of the oppressed creature’, we can glimpse a sense of the sacred dissociated from a religious leviathan that merely serves to perpetuate suffering – we can begin to glimpse a sacred that exists as a radical commitment to liberation.  In this way, I will contend that Marx’s criticism of religion as an ideology of oppression and sedation in no way forecloses on a possible relationship between his work and Twentieth and Twenty-First Century attempts to articulate a sense of the sacred in the world.  There emerges in these latter attempts the possibility of an openness which discloses a topos for an encounter with a sense of a sacred not mediated by ‘ideology’ (or positive theology).

To read the book for free, please visit Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred

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Edward Snowden on Walden Pond

Socrates was executed in 399BC for breaking Athenian law.  He had a chance to go into exile, but chose death out of respect for the sanctity of Law – even if particular laws or their implementation had been found wanting.

Heraclitus had already warned us to protect our laws as if they were our city-walls.Edward Snowden

Henry David Thoreau, following in the footsteps of Socrates, challenged what he regarded as an unjust law by refusing to pay taxes earmarked for a war.  Yet, he still submitted himself to the consequences of his civil disobedience and spent his night in jail.

Thoreau resisted the particular unjust law, but submitted himself for punishment for the sake of Law itself.  The integrity of Law itself must be maintained, he held, though he remains free to resist and challenge particular unjust laws.

Edward Snowden may be in a similar circumstance as Socrates and Thoreau.

To read the rest of this essay, please visit Edward Snowden on Walden Pond

Prometheus Dismembered: Bataille on Van Gogh, or The Window in the Bataille Restaurant

Karl Jaspers Society of North America

This essay will be presented at the APA Central Conference of the Karl Jaspers Society of North America in the Palmer House Hilton, Chicago.

The Karl Jaspers Society Conference will focus upon the reception of Van Gogh amongst Continental Philosophers.

‘Prometheus Dismembered: Bataille on Van Gogh’ will be given as part of Session One, Van Gogh with Jaspers, Heidegger, and Bataille, on Thursday, February 27th, 2014, 7:40-10:40PM.

Click here for more information on the American Philosophical Association Central Annual Meeting 2014

Prometheus Dismembered: Bataille on Van Gogh, or
The Window in the Bataille Restaurant
 James Luchte

I will begin my address with a minor coincidence.

The Window of the Bataille Restaurant, sketched with pencil in Paris in 1887, shows us a typical Van Gogh scenario, a table with a chair, setting in front of a window, which not only reveals the (framed) world outside, but also lets the soft light into the space of the restaurant.  We can see Van Gogh’s hat and coat hanging on the wall by the window.  We can also see two men below outside on the street. The Window in the Bataille RestaurantIn general, the painting is quite dark, except for the intensity of the window and the motes of light that it channels onto the chair and table and the one who stands where he stands, in the position of the artist.  Yet, this does not in itself disclose the coincidence.  That it is a window in namely the Bataille restaurant is where the coincidence comes into view since today I came to talk with you upon the theme of light in Bataille’s interpretation of Van Gogh – yet, at the same time, there is a painting by Van Gogh with a central motif of light, and in reference to the name of Bataille.  Of course, to give any real significance to such a coincidence, even if it is one, is, one would usually argue, merely faulty logic, fuelled by superstitious thinking, by the fatalism of synchronicity.

To read the rest of the essay, please visit Prometheus Dismembered