Book Symposium: Insurrection – Rollins’s Response to Moody
Peter Rollins has offered a response to Katharine Moody’s review of his newest book, Insurrection. If you missed Katharine’s review, you can read it here. Learn more about Pete and his work at his website.
I have long been an admirer of Moody’s work, having heard her present papers at a number of conferences over the years. It is thus a privilege to have her engage with my work here. Moody inhabits the same theoretical field as myself so the question she raises in this article is more concerned with how we achieve the aim of Insurrection than a critique of the aim itself.
To summarize what I take to be Moody’s main concern let us first outline the pertinent points of agreement. Moody concurs that we should provide environments within which we are encouraged to come into contact with our shadow side; places where we can be honest about the parts of us that are eclipsed by our various cultural, political and religious narratives. She also agrees that this can be done through a type of mimetic identification in which the repressed parts of us are called into the light through the act of being named by an external creative source (such as music, ritual or testimony).
In light of this Moody’s concern revolves around the way that we can refuse to participate in this act of mimetic identification by making a fetish out of the external source (I shall primarily use the example of music for the remainder of the article). This means that we listen to what the musician does, even praising her, while not undergoing the event that is embedded in her creative work. Or, to put it in a different way, not actualising the potentiality that calls out to us from the song (a potentiality that lies within actuality).
It is this type of response that Kierkegaard termed the response of the critic. The critic here is someone who is able to appreciate what is being offered while never really entering into it (never “getting” it). Their knowledge brings them so close to the actuality of the music (what exists), yet a chasm separates them from the event housed there (that which John Caputo would say does not exist but insists). For Moody my own work can be engaged in this way, offering people a way of celebrating the experience of mystery, brokenness and loss without actually connecting with these realities for themselves. Those who read me are thus able to jump off the cliff all the while knowing that a bungee cord is firmly attached. The way Moody describes this is brilliant: I may refuse to lead, but what if people don’t refuse to be led?
This is a concern that I share with Moody and one that I have witnessed first hand. Indeed I would argue that this is the very act that plays out today for most of us regarding the Crucifixion. We find ways of showing our absolute love of it (usually through an unwavering commitment to the belief in its historicity) that enable us to dodge being drafted into the event that it testifies to.
We so love to be the critic when it comes to the Crucifixion: praising it, arguing for it, wearing its symbol around our neck etc. But, understandably, very few of us wish to enter into it. Christ died on the cross so that we don’t have to. In other words, we don’t have to participate in the Crucifixion (to pick up our cross), we get to stand at a safe distance and watch.
The loving critic then engages in the most deceptive form of attack, for the very act or praising the musician and putting them onto a pedestal enables them to maintain a positive position with regard to the musician while avoiding the event that the musician testifies to. Loving critics (i.e. “fans”) are thus often the people one must be most wary of, for they tickle the musician’s ego while avoiding what the musician is inviting them into. It is easy to spot the way that someone who hates a musician misses the event testified to by them; it is much harder to see how a fan misses it.
While I have concentrated on the leader as one who refuses to lead Moody has reminded me that we need to be people who refuse to be led. It is an important and insightful comment. To understand it one need only remember Monty Python’s Life of Brian in which Brian refuses leadership by telling those gathered that they are all individuals and all different. In response everyone simply echoes what he says in a totally devoted way (except for one who asserts his difference by claiming he is not different).
Both “the leader who refuses to lead” and “the people who refuse to be led” aim at the same goal and both need to be explored in relation to the other. Moody’s reference to Zizek here is illuminating and important.
We need to foster communities where we are all able to identify and subvert the tendency we have of making the other into a believer on our behalf. The art of doing this would take us beyond the scope of a response, however I find the psychoanalytic work of people like Bruce Fink useful in working out how to short circuit these tendencies.
Kierkegaard often feared the thought that one day the academic institutions would pour over his work. Not because he thought that they would hate him, but because they might actually love him. Picking over his books and becoming experts in his style, seeing the words but failing to be caught up in what calls forth from the words. To understand this let us conclude by constructing a simple thought-experiment concerning a musician who genuinely sings from the depths of her own being. After one of her concerts she attends a party where she meets a music critic who is keen to talk about her technique. He is obviously very knowledgeable and praises her artistry with the highest compliments. Beside this critic is his partner who had never heard of the musician before. She happily admits to her ignorance and even confesses a dislike of the musical style. However in passing she mentions that some of the experiences being sung about by the musician reflect her own struggles and that listening caused her to bring those struggles to the surface. There are, of course, many musicians who would like to spend time with the one who is willing to build their ego. But I know that, were I in the position of the musician, I would be kindly excusing myself from the conversation with the critic and figuring out a way of spending time chatting with his partner.
So then Moody has reminded here that those leaders who do not want to lead find their friends, teachers and equals in those people who refuse to be led.