Grammars of the Immanent: or, Will the Real Catholic Žižek Please Stand Up?

Dissertation, Toronto Baptist Seminary & Bible College (2021)

Abstract

The high-profile debate between John Milbank and Slavoj Žižek in The Monstrosity of Christ comprises an immensely important work in the contemporary intersection of Church dogmatics and ontology. This study consists of an indirect commentary on this debate, using Milbank and Žižek’s dispute as a foil for mobilizing an ontology favorable to Eastern Orthodox dogmatics. The starting point here is that Orthodoxy simply bypasses Neo-Platonism as the definitive philosophical expression of its dogmatic theology, and, on this score, Žižek’s powerful criticisms of theurgic Neo-Platonism can be embraced and redirected in support of an ontology of the Orthodox dogma of synergy. It will be shown that Milbank’s position that there is a “Catholic Žižek” who embraces theurgy—that is, analogical, Neo-Platonist ontology—is mistaken; the dismantling of the “suspended middle” is necessary for the Žižekian and that, therefore, a Catholic version of this figure does not exist. But it will be suggested that, instead, there is a latent Orthodox Žižek whose criticism of analogical ontology can pave the way for a more profitable dialogue between Žižek and Orthodoxy. The conclusion will provide a playful reading of an Orthodox Žižek—an entirely fictional but ontologically serviceable character—who can begin new conversations between ontology and dogmatic theology. The upshot of the study is the extension of Terry Eagleton’s claim that the historical materialist, but not the dialectical materialist, can legitimately venerate the Virgin Mary—to the surprising suggestion that even the dialectical materialist can justifiably venerate her, too.

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