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Preface to Politics as Materialist Spiritualities

For a Postsecular “Return” of Paulinism Industrial factories used the body, forcing it to leave the soul outside the assembly line, so that the worker looked like a soulless body. The immaterial factory asks instead to place our very souls at its disposal: intelligence, sensibility, creativity and language. —Franco Berardi, The Soul at Work Resurrected as a spiritual body (sōma pneumatikon) . . . —Paul, 1 Corinthians 15.44

to wonder even at history, to be perplexed over always elusive origins and ends, is to think, with all the danger and hilarity this word implies. As historians, too, we begin as we will ourselves also have ended, as variations of a thought and of its curiously related excess of matters which that thought itself will of course never have understood or

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captured. Rambunctious souls, we ever live, die, and live again always at least minimally as a meandering and mendicant fragment of temporality which is itself never merely located in the past, the present, or the future. Tremble or laugh in the face of this simple beatitude of our common life, it is as if we are always enquiring into, bringing forward, or participating in an excess over a stability which our defensive naming and ritual maintenance of discrete positions and identities cannot exhaust. Even as historians, in other words, we traffic in a becoming which was, is, and will be more monstrously wonderful than to remain, simply, ‘in’ the proprietorial limits of time. No wonder my philosophy often turns to Paulinism and my Paulinism to philosophy. I have always been drawn to those whose taste for becoming incites them—again, in danger and hilarity—to call the dead the living, the singular a new collective, or a surprisingly compelling form of being-together the undying itself. Several intuitive axioms in the form of questions, indications of what is to come: What if that name, Paul, or that figure Paulinism, were not naturally linked to metaphysical dualisms, to brutally supersessionist anti-Judaisms, or to the economies of salvation with which both of these are tied? What if, in a word, we were to trace a Paul who, as a force of thought, did not play the guarantor in relation to all those tropes and tricks that Nietzsche diagnosed so beautifully with the gloss: “Platonism for the masses”? As part of the counterfactual or suppressed story I am developing, what if a consistently creative—but ultimately marginal and shortlived— praxis of Paul the partisan Jew had not been co-opted and buried beneath what can only be called a weaponized form of Platonic-historical narration which came to dominate accounts of the foundations and origins of that name, Christianity, within lastingly influential writers like Eusebius of Caesarea? In terms relevant to the opening quotations of both Nietzsche and Althusser, what if the figure of Paul had not been swallowed up by early Christian stories of a supersessionist conversion from one idealist economy of salvation to another? What if the very problēmata of idealist—which is to say calculable or guaranteed—economies of redemption had not become the most important organizing apparatus by which Paul’s life and writings came to be repeated, refused, or offered freely to others? What if early Jewish and, eventually, Christian groups had cared about (and for) the various modes in which Paul’s peculiarly risky social experimentations evidently failed to last more than several decades? What if the

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ephemerality of Paulinism as a form of processual collective experimentation had become the most important legacy of this apostle? What if Paul had become in the stream of cultural memory not the cornerstone of a new foundation for a new religion (one which soon enough aspired to be a new empire), but rather the exemplar of unexpectedly and riskily creative openings immanent to tradition, identity, and the panoply of techniques which constitute these? Why has this stream of cultural memory not remembered—why has it been essential not to remember—that such strikingly subtle transmogrifications of life emerged as a movement which maintained itself in blissful vibrancy and exposure to risk and weakness before passing away as other impassioned contingencies reshaped life in other ways? What if the only way latter day Paulinists were to imagine that this kind of originary Paulinism could be repeated, therefore, was at tangents or in fits and starts, in the oddly singular or vibrant comparison as coding networks shift and swerve, opening and closing, folding and unfolding ecological spaces for a time of life immeasurable because without original version, authorized copy, or prefabricated purpose? What new Paulinists would arise! Or, differently put, what would have emerged were Paul to be for us resurrected thus outside the theologico-political frame of the old “Platonism for the masses”? And if such thoughts were to have been provoked by and provoking of a life which is itself unowned and undying? And if we were to find ourselves in such a moment of encounter, would we have become revisionist historians, challenging inherited forms of thought about the past? Would we have become sharers in a becoming we might name apostolic, at any rate Pauline? Or would we have become benefactors, so many patrons and patronesses funding a decidedly different form of new life than that instantiating and grounding the old bulwark of Western idealist metaphysics? Would we have invested in a different form of life, eluding the other form’s otherworldliness and (necessarily) accompanying persecutorial tendencies against all those “merelies” from which it saves, or against which it attempts to inoculate itself (e.g., the merely animal, the merely human, the pre-Christian)? And what if we could not locate a difference within these options which would naturally stand in as a guarantor of judgement about which metamorphosis is about the past of another and which about a temporality which is strangely our own? What if we were to find, rather, that we had slipped into transformative potentialities which are not be so easily locat-

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able, not so readily owned, as if existing in relation to place and property neither here nor there, neither then nor now? And if we were to find ourselves marked by that uncertain and unsafe mixture of capacity and desire to seduce such a transformative newness from out of the world as we know it, would we say yes, would we gesture for it to come closer? Already we see that our judgment of an ancient historical figure in these respects must entail a judgement we ourselves will not escape. This book is a solicitation, just a beginning, to a metanoia, that turning, twisting, spiraling of mind which is itself hard to localize and impossible to own.

Nietzsche’s ear to the ground, he seemed always to hear better than the rest a humming from an enormous cultural machine, one which manufactured docile humans, fitted them up with perceptions, certain kinds of sociality, experiences, readymade or originary debts, and—above all—their own proper judgements about their own appropriate limits. This machine, which he imagined as a pop Platonism named Christianity, operated by fitting up its creations with origins and identities capable of sustaining an increasingly virtual or speculative system of credit and obligatory debt. This fiduciary tale, we might say, was always both deeply religious and deeply economic, so it is no wonder that Karl Marx responded similarly to the desiring hum he also sensed resonating throughout economic life, a desire he glossed as the “massive phenomenon” of Western Christendom. Is one being audacious, or is one simply awake, when one declares that the religion of the future will be keyed to difference, ecological interrelations, and the emancipation of new kinds of worldliness? This future religion (if we should still call it that), not to mention its future Books, will set in motion experimental series of bodies that are both creative and material, materially creative. These bodies, exemplars of a life that is common—unowned and undying—must necessarily skew received maps of materialism—which tend to be reductive and representational—and spirituality—which tend to represent newness as an ideal category or a category of another world, a world somehow free, unrelated, or saved from all that which comes always to be imagined retroactively as “merely” “here below”. My solicitations, my thoughts, emerge neither from a friendship to a reductive materialism nor to an idealist or otherworldly religiosity.

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Even more importantly I think, the economies of redemption, so many promises of salvation peddled by friends of the one or the other metaphysical option are not at all what is at issue for me. If there is an emancipation to be discussed, then let it be the emancipation of ephemeral—and therefore unexpected and uncoerced—happenings, events, processes as instances of an undying life which is in itself not subjected to the need for a redemptive translation into another sphere of tabulation. We believe, therefore, in a redemption (if we should still call it that) which does not go anywhere, does not need, as we like to say today, to cash out. For this world in which we believe, this world without end, this eternal life, we must now struggle and invent, calling on old archival allies to weave together promising collectivities which have, to this point, remained loose ends or squashed prospects. Heidegger was not wrong in his questioning of technology or in his updating of both Nietzsche and Marx: the life of faith would appear most clearly in a world without objects, in an oikoumenē constituted by exposure to risk, a world whereby being itself is neither objectified nor subjectively invented but rather conjured by new creations of new attunements to, or participations in, ecological or deeply relational events which are themselves processual, wholly relational, and constitutively open. Trying to conjure—ever by hook and crook—affective links between strata of objects, lives, bodies and futures, the investments of our new faith have neither targets to shoot for nor territorialities to own, both of which obfuscate our hope in new forms of the common, the shared, and—in that sense—the universal. In thinking of Paulinist events in a world without objects, I have often felt that I am posing only a few fundamental political questions for our time, questions associated with instances that remain to me as crystalline and simple as they are problematic. For example, while the exemplary instance of this question could be different (there are plenty to choose from, unfortunately) or updated (we have not stopped producing them), one of these questions concerns whether, on being coralled and sequestered and rendered generally ineffectual during our protests in New York City against the invasion of Iraq (can you still remember?), we should have not started to throw rocks. Or, perhaps, once I heard the politicians’ dismissive speech about our place in the political liturgy of a society of the spectacle (“isn’t it wonderful that our proud spirit of protest is alive . . . nevertheless in the real world . . . ”), I should have not organized a group of people to return to the streets with rocks in hand. Or something, some-

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how to materialize at different levels a kerygma about the lives of scores of thousands of Iraquis who would surely be lost if that remarkable force which is the US military were to be loosed. How could such a moment have been eventalized rather than spectacularized, made “historical” in a completely different way than the way it actually became so? In a world in which the apparatuses of the production of profitable death often seem so much more alive, vibrant, and resilient than the “living” who try in vain to resist them, Paul has become for me a beloved touchstone. Above all, I wonder with and against him about how to snatch an undying life from imperial apparatuses which have, somehow and much to our horror, become more living than the living. Perversely faithful to the counter-intuitive para-doxa of the Stoics, Paul liked to curl up inside the apparatuses themselves, hollowing out within their irresistibly effectual machinations the space of something like a downfall, something like an end, a kind of strangely invested or vibrant suspension of the machine or power in question. Such aggressivity—the vibrancy of this suspension—is not to be lamented, then or now. In fact, it seems to me that today is more than ever the time to take seriously some of his oddly antinomic or paradoxical fascinations, not only his antiPlatonic “spiritual bodies” (cited above), but also the accompanying “spiritual weapons” which are in keeping with an interventionist Pauline détournement of governing dualisms. For me, Paul returns as a figure of inevitably forced and troubling participations in systems of power which are nevertheless—this is the perverse gift implied by the Stoic spiritual exercises—susceptible to being creatively folded over into improper zones of unexpected solidarity. Spiritual weapons of the Paulinist are for me those performances of solidarity capable of feeding off a transformative theft of autonomy from power. As an instance similar to my mention of this recent manufacture of horrors abroad and slavishness at home, while writing this book I have also felt pressed to wonder comparatively about our participation in affective economies and the proliferation of all those forms of work which now readily overflow working days—not only in the sense that they creep into our “off ” hours, but also in the sense that they constantly remetricize (or polemicize differently) the spaces and times of our working life itself. While, once again, other examples are ready to hand, my recent wonders about the shifting function of labor have matured in the midst of life in which hard work so often seems to yield only the weakest of buffers against the demand for more work, a demand always linked to a

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generalized threat that some contingency (of economy, of organizational involvement in economy) could retroactively invalidate currently valued forms of work. In the ongoing crises of finance capitalism, debt appears always in the form of unexpected catastrophe or the unexpected necessity of a new sacrifice, in our case a retroactive manufacture of new debtorsfor-life. Such phenomena are never far from my reflections on Paul and his paradoxical tweaks of the old philosophical question: how do we know the difference between freedom and slavery? In other words, there is a pressure at the heart of simple, fundamental questions and their exemplary instances, something I often describe with the language of vibrancy. A faithful witness to selected pressures, I am not at all opposed to doing with my education as critical theorist of culture, as scholar of the cultural history of the European study of religion, and as biblical scholar, what Nietzsche did with his education in Classics, namely, to weaponize it against some of the more atrociously enabling lies of the cultural moment. And, since I am mobilising an education in biblical studies rather than in Classics per se, when it comes to Paul I definitely think I can do Nietzsche one better. He promised to pillory Paul as the horrid inventor of a “Platonism for the masses”; I think I can emancipate Paul from a few of the metaphysical and sacrificially controlling apparatuses constitutive of Western governance. Or, differently, the pressure constituting our moment suggests to me that we must outdo Nietzsche in this way, outdo his cultural diagnosis of a pop Platonism in order to think about and with Paul concerning—you guessed it—a “materialism for the masses.” The moment for such a thinking, for such a metanoia, arrives all vibrant with the halo of a world which must come. One day there will be a “mass” movement, this (often a good Paulinist) I believe. And so, buzzing with this vibrancy we think—comparatively and archivally—even as we live as so many laboratories of new collectivities. This mode of thinking life which we could name “materialist spirituality” is yet ahead of us, to come, but it is not just that. It is rather waiting in the wings, getting closer, here now in the very form of our uncertainty about whether it is the case.

A Materialism for the Masses, by Ward Blanton  

Read "Preface to Politics as Materialist Spiritualities," from "A Materialism for the Masses: Saint Paul and the Philosophy of Undying Life,...

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