Video lecture on Kierkegaard and Agamben

This video is a recording of a paper presented at a conference dvoted to Søren Kierkegaard at the University of Gdansk, Poland, in April 2013. The paper discusses the notion of leaps that we find in Kierkegaard and makes links to Pascal and the recent work of Giorgio Agamben on power. The key question is how it is that we find ourselves unable to act meaningfully in the present conjuncture.

Video lecture by Torgeir Fjeld on Kierkegaard, Pascal and Agamben

Some recent publications

“Out of time, or Anderson’s national temporality revisited” in Networking Knowledges, vol. 9, no. 1, 2016.

This peer-reveiwed paper discusses, among other things, the notion of Messianic time (Walter Benjamin), which is to be understood as a temporality where the moment of redemption is an ever-present potentiality. First, it can be considered as a psychological time, or a mind time, that is governed by traumatic encounters. This sense of time is rendered as a strictly logical time in the work of Jacques Lacan. Second, it is a time of grace, in the sense that it is governed by necessity. Blaise Pascal and the Jansenists went to great length to refute the dominant notion of grace as sufficient. If there is an instance that determines events, then the means by which this instance governs can only be a necessary cause. Finally, the work of Benedict Anderson, and particularly a later article in his corpus, is reconsidered. Here, Anderson argues that the effects of globalization have to some extent rendered the temporal linearity of nationalism obsolete. It is therefore apt to consider what a time after nationalism will be like.

“Clandestine Acclaim: how spectacles conceal our praise of power” in Oxford Left Review, no. 14, 2015.

This article investigates how it is that we tend to settle for negative liberties (liberation from obstructions, hindrances or impediments to our desires) even though we are fully aware of the limitations of such freedoms, and how a peculiar technique of governance – what we shall refer to as clandestine or hidden acclaim – underpins an emergent form of social domination, so-called ‘acclamative capitalism’.

“National, Authentic, Excessive: toward a globalized body of sports” in Altitude, 2014.

In this peer-reviewed essay, the implication of Pierre Bourdieu’s insight that sports are ways of knowing with the body that are to a large extent taught silently, transferred from the teacher to body of students, often without ever reaching the level of verbal utterances is under scrutiny. The body produced through the Physical Education curriculum is increasingly enmeshed in what Pierre Bourdieu referred as the “cult of the natural and authentic.” Such a body enables a more autonomous cultural field of sport compared to nationalism’s epic body, since it no longer places nations in a necessarily antagonistic relation to each other. Instead, the impure and unnatural pose as new opponents of the sporting body. Sports increasingly function to signify excessive and ineffable aspects of our existence. Bourdieu’s notion of illusio shows how sport participants can arrive at this understanding through an experience of the seductive character of sports.

“Spectacular sports as desire engine” in International Journal of Zizek Studies (IJZS), ISSN 1751-8229, Vol. 3, No 3., 2009.

In this essay, the notion of acephalic knowledge is discussed as a possible point from which to launch ideological critique. Acephalic knowledge is situated in a body that is without head and without heart, i.e. it is a kind of knowledge that is prior to reason and emotion. As Slavoj Žižek states, it provides a «thou art that», or a kind of recognition that the subject cannot but accept since it articulates the very kernel of the subject’s being. When we are stripped of our emotional and intellectual defenses – when we are placed in a state of subjective destitution – we are in a position to recognize this kind of knowledge. Here we ask if mass mediated sports can provide an experience of such subjective destitution.

Nietzsche’s rejection of happiness

Nietzsche makes no secret of that it is Schopenhauer — Europe’s great pessimist — that is his true and most magnificent teacher. It is from him that Nietzsche got his idea of the will as essential to man and his existence, and it is against Schopenhauer that Nietzsche can finally announce the end of all values, or, to put it more precisely, the zero-point of morality that has as its entailment the transvaluation of all hitherto acknowledges values.

Let’s begin from the beginning: the question of the will. To Kant the world as it appears to us had a dark and hidden underside, what he referred to as the noumenon. Behind the phenomena were this entity, shrouded in darkness and knowable only as negation. To speculate about the noumenon, Kant believed, was tantamount to delving in metaphysics, and this was something Kant would advice strongly against.

To Schopenhauer things were different. While he acknowledges the division between the world as it is experienced and some hidden core or essence to this world, the noumenon was not beyond speculation. In fact, the noumenon was renderable as will. Hidden behind everything we see — the representations of our world — is a world-governing will, and the will manifests itself in people, but also in animals, in organic matter — trees, grass, plants — and even in dead objects: planets moving through space is governed by will. There isn’t anything morally laudable or desirable in the will — it’s on the level of what later philosophers would refer to as an existential facticity.

It is only with Nietzsche that the will takes on the appearance of something that is in itself beneficial. In his Genealogy of Morals he critiques Schopenhauer for claiming to have found an essence to ethics: the pessimist held that our ability to experience compassion lay at the core of our morality. It is this claim that Nietzsche cannot endure. The will, Nietzsche held, doesn’t rely on any preconceived ethical core. Not even compassion or happiness can hold that position. Instead, the will is nourished by that which supports and strengthens the will itself.

Such considerations tend to turn curious travellers away from Nietzsche: should life have some ethical core or daimonic goal? Commentators have claimed that Nietzsche’s will to power has to do with the kind of self-preservation that was hailed by biologists and 19th Century social critics influenced by Darwin. Such readings of Nietzsche should be complemented with a fuller understanding of what it is that Nietzsche’s Superman — the Ubermench — is above or beyond. And the answer is not other people or some such, but values that have been received as essential without being subjected to the kind of trans-valuation prescribed by Nietzsche.

To Nietzsche the essence of life lay not in “self-preservation,” but in a self-transcending enhancement. Valuable are those moments that supports, furthers, and awakens the enhancement of life.

Heidegger on theology

In Being and Time Heidegger enumerates how a range of disciplines — sciences and humanist enquiry — have had their fields reconfigured as a result of deep-searching alterations in how their most basic objects have been grasped. The theory of relativity, the relation between tradition and historicity, and so on, have had such strong impacts on their respective fields of operation their their most fundamental beliefs have been altered. What is perhaps even more striking still today is Heidegger’s brief glimpse into the theological debate of his time.

Heidegger was thoroughly versed in contemporary theology: prior to writing Being and Time he had written papers on Luther, Calvin and others, and in the late 1910s he broke with his Catholic boyhood faith. It is in this light we should read his comments on the upheaval in theology, which, in Heidegger’s view, had been brought about by a renewed attention to Luther’s critique of a purely formal approach to belief. Heidegger comments that the crux of Luther’s argument was that the foundation of dogma at Luther’s time had not been consistent with attention to faith, and in certain respects would distort and falsify a relation to divinity that is faith based.

They key here is that to Heidegger the central concern of theology should be faith — how is man configured in his belief in divinity. Man and God, mortal and groundless ground, wesen and Being: these key concepts retain their sense in the context of faith and faith alone. Questions of dogma, tradition and denomination are secondary.

Where does such reflections place us in the most up-heaving debate concerning theology in our time: the claim that the core component of a world view — any world view — is faith? Theology today should embrace a notion of power that brings to the table precisely the question of belief: power is praised, upheld, cared for in so far as it is a power that is faithfully adhered to. And it is a view that has ample support in Scripture: in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we read that

that which is sown in dishonour is raised in glory. That which is sown in weakness, is raised in power. That which is sown in a body of nature is raised in a body of spirit. [1 Corinthians 15: 43-44]

Glory, power, spirit: these are words that properly belong in the domain of theology, they are complex and challenging, and yet they provide us with key terms for investigations that truly situate us in the centre of what should inform our most critical debates today.