Last week I managed to take a look at Ward Blanton’s article in the latest issue of Dialog in which he provocatively argues that the recent rediscovery of Paul within contemporary postmodern and cultural theory contains an implicit claim to be the genuine embodiment of the Pauline legacy for our time (contra the claims of the church and its theologians to that legacy). This is a bold claim, and so I set off to find the relevant books, and two have arrived today, both by Slavoj Žižek.
The Fragile Absolute – Or Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? (Wo Es War; London/New York, Verso, 2000)
The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Short Circuits; Cambridge / London: MIT, 2003)
Given that in the past I have never understood a word that Žižek has written, I am pledging to try again.
Update: and in a snatched 10 minutes this morning, here is a flavour of the argument that Žižek mounts:
"What enabled [Paul] to formulate the basic tenets of Christianity, to elevate Christianity from a Jewish sect into a universal religion … was the very fact that he was not part of Christ’s ‘inner circle’. One can imagine the inner circle of apostles reminiscing during their dinner conversations: ‘Do you remember how, at the Last Supper, Jesus asked me to pass the salt?’. None of this applies to Paul: he is outside and, as such, symbolically substituting for (taking the place of) Judas himself among the apostles. In a way, Paul also ‘betrayed’ Christ by not caring about his idiosyncrasies, by ruthlessly reducing him to the fundamentals, with no patience for his wisdom, miracles, and similar paraphernalia." (The Puppet and the Dwarf, 10).
However, rather then thinking we can step around this early betrayal to get back to the authentic Jesus, much as some Marxists assume you can/must step around Lenin to get back to the early, authentic Marx, Žižek insists that "such a ‘defence of the authentic’ is the most perfidious mode of its betrayal: there is no Christ outside Saint Paul" (The Fragile Absolute, 2).
Further Update: another little package arrived this morning, this time containing Giorgio Agamben’s commentary on Romans, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (translated by Patricia Dailey; Meridian, Crossing Aesthetics; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005). I have a train journey on Saturday and these volumes will be going with me.