Religious anthropology in the postmodern situation

Questions related to religious faith have once again become an object of speculation in contemporary culture. What is meant here is not speculation in the ordinary sense of the word, a way of thinking which we are accustomed to equating with an unconscientious attitude toward someone else's opinion. The speculation of faith exists in the most «natural» intellectual sense, even according to the logic of which the sphere of human existence is measured exclusively by the narratives of a formally scientific approach. In other words, faith is understood as a sort of human quality that it wouldn't be a bad idea to verify by means of the algebra of rational discourse. Tertullian's «I believe, because it is absurd» is subjected not simply to doubt, but to absolute denial. Our contemporaries often don't even suspect that religious faith exists, in a natural, primordial, moral and spiritual sense, and that it cannot be examined, even by the most perfect intellectual apparatus.

Those works that speak of the decline of Christian civilization have become platitudes. So be it. Let us try to understand these prophets, their authors, since it is likely they have in mind the decline of the technological civilization generated by man. However, what values do they offer instead? Absolutely none. And this intellectual «idleness» passes itself off as a new kind of discourse, negating the decaying past of moralizing mankind. It is, in fact, at this boundary that postmodernism, as a polymorphous interdisciplinary construction, is born, negating, as well, any constructiveness, and discourse itself.

Before we correlate postmodernism and Christian thought in contemporary culture, let us recall some of the lessons of the twentieth century. It is obvious that after the «anthropological revolution» at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a phenomenon recognized by the majority of scholars today, human-oriented philosophical thought already was not able to develop in the old rational direction.

But why was such a revolution possible? At the turn of the centuries, mankind was dealing with the same problems that we encounter today. The crisis of the value system, the destruction of man's moral and spiritual world, the cult of technological power threatened to replace the humanitarian approach, the crisis of the Christian idea… The list goes on. It is most important, however, to admit the following: the present situation, often described using the emblem of postmodernism is not fundamentally new. The acceleration of technological progress and man's moral degeneration are, chronologically and topologically, taking the same course today that they were at the beginning of this century. The only difference is that in the postmodern situation, the temporal interval has grown noticeably shorter and space has suffered even greater destruction. Everything that was introduced into the life of 20th-century man developed at the very beginning of the century, in the period of time the threshold of which coincides with the First World War. The Nietzschean ambiguity tending toward the «death of God» turned out to be prophetic in the direct, worldly sense according to which European civilization lost its spiritual reference points and felt the unbearable «lightness of being». That «being» in which private and public freedom have no limits. Freedom, as the direct consequence of incorrectly understood postulates of enlightened humanism, played its own destructive role and demonstrated how, under the banner of love for humanity, the most savage crimes can be committed.

In twentieth-century European thought, there have been several interrelated attempts to define the parameters of human existence. First, clarifications have been introduced into classical anthropological subjects connected with the interpretation of «human measurement» of Gnostic and ontological problems (Neo-Kantianism, Neo-Hegelianism, and Phenomenology). Second, the singular «vital impulse ideology» was developed; at whose origin stand the names of Schopenghauer, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Third, under the aegis of psychoanalytical thought-in all the main versions of contemporary psychoanalysis-a whole spectrum of concepts has been developed, the main task of which has been to decipher and to understand the still-hidden meaning of human existence. Fourth, the existentialist-personalist tradition, with its significant forays into the realm of the hermeneutic-phenomenological, and then post-structural analysis, has had an enormous significance. Fifth, the latest tendencies in the contemporary natural sciences and modern theology have made it necessary to widen the scope of anthropological problems to cosmic proportions and to clarify the «cosmic destiny» of man-not in the metaphorical sense, but in the fully real, normative sense of the expression. Sixth, under the powerful psychological influence of both classical and «Blankisf» Marxism, the socio-economic basis of the anthropological problem has developed, leading to the birth of various schools of social philosophy-from Freudian Marxism to classical structuralism.

In the present situation, research in the genre of «marginal anthropology» has become especially relevant, since the 20th century has revealed the fallacy of certain obvious truths of classical philosophical discourse, in accordance with which strict rationalism and the orderliness of existence are absolute constants, on which all other human manifestations are based. The logic of the everyday, the non-classical, and the corporal sometimes overpowers the logic of the classical anthropological constants. The problems of marginalism, nomadology, crisis philosophy, lost self-identity and post-cultural being are vital in contemporary philosophical thought. In brief, practically all of the basic philosophical trends of the century, one way or another, have been plunged into the depths of the «anthropological revolution», injecting new tints, meanings and moods into the whirlpool of philosophical thought.

Undoubtedly, postmodern constructs have also exerted a substantial influence on Christianity. In the 20th century, the problem of the religious perception of man has become one of the decisive factors in the comprehension of the cultural situation. The view of Christian metaphysics and Christian anthropology, as negative and unable to meet the demands of truth in contemporary philosophy, does not stand up to any criticism and only subverts one of the fundamental anthropological points of reference of philosophical thought. The word «solace», which unveils its true meaning in the nature of religious revelation, still cannot be replaced by any other word in human culture. Of course, any «cultural-philosophical game» ends in a general epilogue of death. Therefore, the question about the right to play such a game is relevant. As it is known, already by the time of Nietzsche, the thesis about the «death of God» had no apriori character. Nietzsche's struggle with God is determined not by the absolute negation of moral principles, but by the doubts already so characteristic of enlightened humanism: acknowledgment of moral infallibility as the basis of dogma is accompanied by, as a rule, the rejection of the real Church. Nietzsche's ideas always end up in the lair of Kant's antinomies: he has no desire to unmask his opponent in the spirit of Christian doctrine but, on the contrary, in the fully Kantian sense, he wishes him eternal life and wants to preserve him as an adversary, as an indispensable element of culture. In essence, Nietzsche's thought is determined by Christian impulses, although the content has been lost.

The approach to the problem of death from the point of view of postmodernism-the direct heir of the «cheerful science» of the death of God-has a deliberately paradoxical character. Self-depletion, as it is sensitively described in postmodernist writing, is a consequence of the attitude toward death, not simply as a loss, but as a depletion, a final waste. The «death fashion» at the end of the 20th century is approximately the same as the postmodernist fashion. What is more, we see today an unquestionable ritualization of postmodernist language. On the one hand, postmodernist inquiry no longer hides behind the mask of scandalous pranks and self-irony, but has become completely serious. On the other hand, the metaphor of fashion has dissolved into a mediocrity of language. A dilemma unexpectedly arises: Which is better or more productive, to interpret and retell the classics or postmodernism? Indeed, the linguistic connotations, the exquisite language which forms the semantic field of postmodernist discourse, have become the password of truth. In this respect, the linguistic intentions of postmodernism resemble a hardened ideological lexicon.

The flowering of Russian postmodernism in the middle of the 1980s gave hope for a renewal of philosophical consciousness. The hope, however, has turned to disillusionment. One of the reasons for this, and at the same time a higher tactic of postmodernist inquiry, has been the read and retold 'text.' The attitude toward religion, as to something unreceptive to new ideas and textually fossilized, has been exploited with the help of symbols and stereotypes, which have become customary not only in kitschy cultural patterns but also in the tactics of post-Soviet political theater. Postmodernist gesticulation has almost turned into a lucrative business, the decoy of the «new Russians».

Such a situation could have been able to withstand a degree of scandalous trickery if it had ended with a debasing of the postmodernist manner. But, in practice, there has been a displacement of cultural values without anything whatsoever to take their place. And this has been a fundamental position, which has turned out to be very convenient, since the classical cultural tradition has developed, as it were, out of nothing. Of course, what we are talking about here is not «classical» (if the word can be used here) models of the genre, but models of persistent imitation, which mask pedestrian thinking and the impossibility of seeing lost horizons.

The question of what it means to be beyond the bounds of postmodernism is relevant today. Using the pet phrases of postmodernism itself, we can answer this question as follows: postmodernism has to do with either the squandering of desire or its definitive loss, the depletion of the longing for life and culture. The economy of desire becomes the desire for economy, since there is no actual difference between the two: the boundaries are effaced and dissolve into the formula «desire of economy of desire of economy of 'desire…'» A foolish unfitness of linguistic space results and an irretrievable deconstruction begins. Consequently, the feeling of being beyond the limits of postmodernism is the feeling of the tragic immortality of culture, man, the author. God-of all that space of meaning which the postmodern «as if» is all about.

The well-known Russian philosopher Merab Mamardashvili once said that the symbol of death would arise in culture when something appeared that was independent of culture's own content. In the case of postmodernism, it is apparently impossible to say that its discourse is independent of its content. But postmodernist experiments with death resemble the killing of death. In other words, we have here the classic incomplete formula about the absolute contempt for death, but without the Resurrection. The replacement of death by experiments on it only widens the «pause in culture»-a pause of suspended and definitive debility.

The conversion of culture to the text is the most significant event now happening in the postmodern situation. The ontological given of culture, including the culture of the physical, is replaced by the text and writing (including the so-called «automatic» type). The situation of the death of the author, the writer, the hero-like a forerunner of the death of man-arises out of the thesis that writing is that realm of uncertainty, heterogeneity, and evasiveness in which the boundaries of our subjectivity are lost and any sort of self-identity vanishes, first of all the corporal identity of the writer. The birth of the reader has to be paid for with the death of the author. (R. Bart) Despite the unity and even «dialecticalism» of the manner in which the question is put, the question of the death of the author, dissolving in his own work, we must recall that we are dealing with a definite (namely post-structuralist) vision of the world of the text, in which reality is replaced by mirror-like superficiality. (J.Lacan) Observance of a degree of seriousness and suspension are essential here.

It is possible that the crisis in postmodernist ideas is, in many respects, connected with the fact that contemporary culture inevitably tires of its own triviality. Outside of positive religious experience, it is becoming impossible to reveal either the pseudonyms or the genuine names of reality. The state of affairs, when, together with God, we are the recipients of despair and terror, resembles metaphysical «corporeality» collapsing under the weight of multiplying self-interpretations. The well-known logical situation of performative contradiction in culture arises: that which is assumed by the thesis as premise (the presence of the fact of thought, of God the thinker) is contradicted by the content of that thesis. The attitude toward Christian culture, as toward a variety of «patriarchal philosophy», something prehistoric (or, in any case, pre-post-modern), becomes superfluous. On the whole, to paraphrase Tatiana Gorichev, the tyranny of private «corporeal» life, the gulf between deed and diversion not only «appeals to heaven» and threatens to bring on a schizophrenic breakdown, but also defines the measure of schizophrenia in the transmitter of the post-structural «literately logical word». Along with the poeticizing and romanticizing of death («Even so, I am falling in that, in that only Civil War») comes the romanticizing and «discoursizing» of the talk about it. Fully abstract and romantic «commissars in dusty helmets» are, for some reason, less suitable than thugs and assassins. The universal civil war, happening in us, is passed off as discourse about death, and Petrov-Vodkina's «Death of the Commissar» is consistently replaced by the slogan «death to the commissars», not in the defense of truth but for just another proclamation of the totality of death and dying, for the pleasure of talking about a supposedly forbidden topic, which has long ago grown tired of itself.

These examples taken from the themes of Bulat Okudjava are not accidental. Today's prevalent pose of negation (or even deliberate silence) with respect to the sixties generation of the 20th century goes along the same lines as the creation of a fundamentally new culture, a culture not having (nor wanting to have) an awareness of its own roots, since it has forgotten the genuine meaning of thinking about death. This tragedy of the cultural existence of post-modernity is becoming more and more obvious as the last representatives of the great sixties generation take their leave from us.

Talk of death today seems intentionally impassive and inconsequential. But then, is this not the basic tenet of postmodernist discourse, when confession turns into a fashionable «pronouncement» of an aestheticizing fellowship. Whether or not you talk about death with such a view, it doesn't change a thing: it does not exist because it exists. A thanatology which turns itself into a special kind of «merry science,» one that Nietzsche himself would welcome, is unlikely to have a future. And in this, undoubtedly, there is a certain bit of optimism. It is possible that immortality, and not the death of God, Man, Culture and the Author will become the reference point in the quest for new horizons in post-postmodernist writing.

The problem of the metaphysical and anthropological comprehension of the essence of Christianity in the postmodern situation is at present undergoing an extremely contradictory transformation. On the one hand, the Christian idea will not cease to be the core, around which will be carried out the search for meaning in a spiritually shattered world, which has lost its only moral compass. On the other hand, the obvious thought that, historically, man has produced no point of reference more rigorous, more definite, more anthropocentric than religious values has ceased to be obvious for whole generations of people. In other words, the essence of contemporary Christian metaphysics will most «squarely» manifest itself on the anthropological horizon.

It is not a question of a cultural-historical outlook, nor even of gradations of a «gentle» (or ironic) attitude toward Christianity. The crux of the matter consists of apriori non-recognition of Christian teachings as an equivalent (at least) prerequisite for moral consciousness. Modern man is not losing touch with the roots of Christian thought. He is, rather, squandering energy of an honest relationship with himself and the world on futile attempts to construct something like a model of a categorical imperative of the end of the 20th century. But does this route hold out the possibility of a new paradigm? And so, this article ends with the same question with which it began, the question of the values of human existence.

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