Thursday, December 05, 2013

Readings in "Race": Charles Long and "Signifying Race"

This is the seventh in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account--a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along.  

If you want to catch up, here are the bookmarks so far:

The Prelude
Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"
Michel Foucault and "The Drama of Race"
Immanuel Kant and "The Drama of Religion"
Albert Raboteau and the Telling of History
James Cone and "Theologizing Race"


"The hermeneutical problem that is America is this: How is America to be narrated?... Getting the 'story' right is not a matter of simply adding 'the invisible ones,' as [Charles] Long says, 'as addenda to a European dominated historical method,' which was Raboteau's plea. Neither is a methodological inversion the solution, one in which black ideological values, or the values of whoever the oppressed group may be, dominate. For Long, the problem is more profound, and thus a solution must be more subtle and nuanced... 'The problem has to do with the pattern, the network, the nexus onto which the facts of ... history are interpreted'" (213-214).

Charles H. Long
"Cone launched his theological enterprise as a challenge to Christian theology from the stance of (black) power. But power itself, as Long sees it, was insufficiently interrogated in black theology... [and] as a matter of methodological procedure, black theology, as a distinctly Christian mode of intellectual reflection, does not ascend to the moment ... which as a moment 'precedes the master-slave dichotomy'" (219-220).

"Central to my first concern regarding how Long interprets existence under the rubric of encounter... is the question of whether in such an outlook the other qua other really appears in its own ... distinctness... But additionally, I question how the notion of 'encounter' is itself being understood. For if the work of encounter is merely to bring the subject to self-realization ... then encounter ... amounts to a kind of solipsism... This means that there really is not confrontation with the other as such" (232).

What is needed, suggests Carter, "is a positivity of the other and, therefore, a positivity of difference as such. Long's interpretation of Afro-Christianity disavows [this] ... partly, I think, because he has made the decision that the deity understood in Christian terms as Trinitarian does not positively and actually encounter the creature. Rather, the invocation of a Triune God, from his history of religions perspective, is an expression of religious consciousness.... [W]hat goes unasked by Long is this: Is there any significance, as [their] testimonies would have it, to whom black folks, in the examples given, pray?" (225).

"What is common to modernity's pseudotheological aesthetic of whiteness and to Long's aesthetic of the black religious consciousness is that neither aesthetic 'speaks in tongues' (Acts 2), neither knows how to inhabit languages not its own" (227).

"Trinitarianism, [properly] understood, renders intelligible the phenomenon of prayer as genuine conversation--that is, as the conversation that decenters tyranny [and] power as the ground of existence. It is the conversation that creates new possibilities of existence" (226).

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