Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Readings in Post-modernism

I've just started the drafting for my new book, "A Crisis of Passion," which is about post-modernism, art and the Catholic church. It's strange, because when I started to do my research I thought "I like post-modernity, but I don't like the post-modernists." Now, after several months with my nose in various books, my position is almost precisely the opposite: "I like the post-modernists, but I don't like post-modernity." (The basic difference? Post-modernity is the state of the world as it is, in so far as it is "post modern" or "after modern." It's this sort of being-in-epistemological-and-cultural-limbo feeling that permeates current society. The post-modernists, on the other hand, are philosophers like Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, etc.)
That may sound like heresy, but it comes from a particular way of reading -- one that I picked up while I was working on Sexual Authenticity. The way I used to read -- and I get the impression that a lot of Catholics read this way -- was to accept more or less anything in a book that had some sort of real or implied doctrinal sign of approval, and to scrutinize, with the greatest possible care, any book that had a questionable status, trying to root out heresies, implied errors, wrong ways of thinking, etc. In short, the book had already been judged before it was understood.
When I was researching Sexual Authenticity, however, I had made a promise in my proposal: this was going to be the first Catholic book on homosexuality that relied as much on writings from within the gay world as on Catholic sources. This meant that I had to read a lot of books about homosexuality written by people who identified as gay, and I had to read them with an eye to understanding, so that I would be able to explain and not merely condemn. What emerged from the project was a way of reading books for their truth instead of for their errors.
I've carried that over into this new project, so now when I'm reading Foucault, it's not a matter of trying to work out how to refute the great heresies of the great post-modernists, but rather of trying to see what is true in his work, how that truth appeals to people, and how it can be used by Catholics who are trying to interface with culture.

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