“WHAT CAN I DO ?”: L.CALLID KEEFE-PERRY’S WAY TO WATER: A THEOPOETICS PRIMER___REVIEW/AESTHETIC

Before you ask, I’m going nowhere with this. Just click play, bob your head, get contemplative, and take a backpack journey with me.

Section 1

Mobb Deep’s “What Can I Do” is overtaking me as the sounds of the streets surrounding and including the Queensbridge Projects soar deep into the two caverns on each side of my head responsible for conducting the sounds of the universe into my becoming, for what is “being” at this stage but a dishonest oversimplification that blatantly denies the multiplicity making even the abstraction of singularity possible?  This song, a series of questions and answers articulated by Mobb Deep members Prodigy and Havoc about the proper, improper, and ambiguous adherence to the rules of the hood, stands in the khora between monotony and novelty. The choosing of options is blasphemous to the nature of this space, soaked in the jazz of Coltrane’s abyss of saxaphone notes crashing into Elvin Jones’ irregular time signatures on contracts for a horizon that vanishes once one arrives at what it appeared to be. In other words, decision happens before, during, and after every possible option in this khora, this chaosmos, is subtly or overtly considered. Then the entity choosing must swim out of the depth of possibility and pick a course on which to voyage. The earth will never be the same after the chess move is made.  Between each bar (a musical measure of four counts that to rappers denotes a line of text) and a half after Prodigy and Havoc take turns asking questions about critical decisions that could equally preserve or destroy the quality of life that they presently enjoy, a vocal sample of Gwen McCray’s song “90% of Me is You” anachronistically invades the track. She says while silent, “What can I do?” Havoc asks questions like:

“When your shorty gets nasty and horny, she all over me kid
You locked down, doin’ a bid (jail time) {‘What can I do? ‘}
With a nigga, tryin’ to take food off of my plate
And you know I got a kid {‘What can I do? ‘}
When my stomach touchin’ ribs showin’
You off in the corner glowin’ (wearing expensive clothes and jewelry) {‘What can I do? ‘}
Nothin’ else, but to take what’s yours, convert it to mines
From the cash to the shine {‘What can I do? ‘}”

Now in this segment (and the entire song), the connected existential angst of poverty and sexual desire many times used to escape it is not explained but broken into by Havoc. This particular existential angst is nothing that I can speak of personally. But I grew up around and sometimes traveled the streets of the South Side of Chicago with those becomings confronted with such existential questions. The unstable space that was their questions unfolded right before my eyes. This is the very energy that is theopoetics — the present grappling with the immediate and distant future in ways that reject the traditional methods insofar as they are incapable of transforming the now due to their status as relics covered in poisonous dust. Havoc’s potential choices or the lack thereof in this example are not important. What is paramount is the unsettling state of the theopoetic chaosmos, a state that causes the entity experiencing it to feel uncertainty, despair, and even fear/terror. It is as frightening as the decision to rob someone and eat or not rob them and starve. Departing from that which is in hopes of arriving at that which could be with the possibility of either success of failure is the theopoetic journey that Callid outlines clearly in his text, something that, like Tillich’s concept of “theology of culture,” attempts to reveal the ultimate (theological) dimension of every aspect of life (Tillich, 39). But Callid, charting the history of the formative thinkers of theopoetics, shows us that this ultimate dimension is itself nothing we can ascribe certainty to. We must always be open to the question of “What Can I Do?” in light of its mysterious and overwhelming polyphilia if we are to ever access its concreteness, a sensuality that does exist in our experience and manifests through how we understand ideas of God as practical to life itself.

Section 2

Callid gives us an outstanding feel of what theopoetics is in Way to Water, presenting not only a thorough academic history, but also attempting to demonstrate its appearance in praxis. It is an honest text, as Callid is critical of even the task of writing about something that is said to be a creative process of actual transformation that in many ways is of a nature different than that which lends itself to the impossibility of being understood by the mere relation of words pointing to objects (Wittgenstein). The balance between personal reflection, actual poetry, the lives of the thinkers involved in the theopoetic experiment, and the rigor of thought that accompanies much of the writing on theopoetics is held, making Way to Water an enticing and “seductive” encounter with theopoetic thought as well as action. (Keefe-Perry, 127)

While I can’t go into everything that struck me in this wondrous text (and I won’t dare do a systematic review partly because the subject calls for a dis/s/persion of the ossification of system and partly because frankly that’s just not how I think), I will cite a few short examples in hopes of whetting your appetite to pursue the text yourself.

   1. Theopoetic language denotes experience.

Callid’s treatment of theologian Amos Wilder’s use of theopoetics holds that theopoetic language does not engage in syllogism, but uses language in ways that denote experience (Keefe-Perry, 39). Texts from which religions are spawned, when separated from the “miracle” behind their existence, become ossified recitations of words that find themselves devoid of symbolic and actual currency in the language game of today. But when we break from the “logic of the one” way of thinking (God can only appear as tradition has told us God appears), we see the writing of the theopoetic universe in the barber shop on the South Side of Chicago where a discussion on Wu-Tang Clan turns into a commentary/prophetic critique of religious corporations in predominately Afro-diasporic communities in the United States and their impotency to respond to the existential disaster occurring while they hide from the shrapnel in their churches, mosques, synagogues, etc. Understanding any idea of God this way is to understand away from the notion that religious language defines reality dogmatically. However, in concert with Peter Rollins, it is to understand toward the evolving postulate that religious language should be seen as a way to transform reality (Keefe-Perry, 97). This happens as religious language becomes theopoetic, that is, when religious language realizes that its only hope to revitalize the world is to admit that it is indispensably a part of the world.

2. Theopoetics realizes the history of its influences in both textual and bodily form.

Melanie Duguid-May, as Callid Points out, opposes George Lindbeck’s assertion that the possibility of revelatory experience comes from language. To that idea (not necessarily to Lindbeck) she says a resounding “Hell no!” Now, I’ll get my groove on. Let’s really get into this. How can revelation not be bodily, among other things? The experiences that philosophers of religion call ecstatic, or the idea of the holy as awe-inspiring and full of terror and overwhelming power (Otto), engage the body and no doubt produce biological responses (James). The theopoetic process of knowing is as much bodily as it is mental. This dialectic between the religious tradition and the actual experience of the wider human community to which it pertains is something that, in the words of Scott Holland, needs to be mutually critical. To instigate seclusion is to begin the trip into nothingness and irrelevance. Theopoetics is the polar opposite of the roar of the dinosaur that tries to frighten the future with antiquity. Callid outlines excellently how both Duguid-May and Holland exercise the theopoetic imagination perpetually between individual experience and the history that conditions said experience, staying in this creative space that endlessly changes the universe if we let go and let it.

3. Process thought’s construction of theopoetics is one that is admittedly metaphysic.

From the work of Roland Faber and Catherine Keller, Callid demonstrates the metaphysical nature of process theopoetics, something that is totally different from the other thinkers who he pursues in the text. The aforementioned thinkers are not concerned with a meticulous metaphysic such as that which is articulated in the thought of Whitehead and Hartshorne and continued by Faber and Keller. As Faber says, process theology does not necessarily define a thing, but a region. Hence, when the term comes up to him he thinks of “a tentative network of associations” (Keefe-Perry, 73). But, this “tentative network of associations” in a sense prescribes the rules by which theopoetic multiplicity must occur, a guided feature that Keller says is indispensable if process thought’s engagement in theopoetics is to have any transformative value on the world (Keefe-Perry, 83). I appreciate Callid’s distinction between process theopoetics and other forms of it, as many in the conversation may either not know of process’ participation in the dialogue or may assume that process thought/theology and theopoetics are nearly synonymous. However, Callid does indicate that while Keller and Faber (and other process thinkers) engage theopoiesis through the interface of (and in many ways in service to) metaphysics, they arrive at similar places, points of arrival that, in the words of Duguid-May, represent a “contextual, relational process of communication and connection” (Keefe-Perry, 76).

Section 3

Time to cook now…

I’d like to continue on forever about Way to Water, which is a fantastic excursion into theopoetic history, practices, and articulations for the future. But I can’t. My goal is to do just enough to entice you to embark on your own search for oceans, lakes, babbling brooks, and falls. Your hands are already craving to be drenched in undercurrents fresh with life, vision, and the zest for the most intriguing novelty. Before I breathe the last breath of my longwind, I’d like to address something that Callid states in the text as he ruminates on theopoetics’ relevance to members of Christian communities who don’t necessarily agree with the doctrinal articulations of their particular tradition in the epilogue of the book, which is really not a book but an experience. He says that,

“A regrettable consequence of this dynamic is that some choose to remain within their tradition, their own voice silenced, and others choose to leave, only voicing their concerns from without. In both situations, an opportunity is missed, and in so missing, another possibility to enrich the conversation of the church has been lost” (Keefe-Perry, 189).

As a person growing up in what would be classified by history of Christianity scholars as a Charismatic-Pentecostal tradition, I became a post-Christian and relinquished not only the need but also the desire to enrich the conversation of my own faith community, a bulwark of ossification and a staunch critic against that which was antithetical to its postulates, no matter how nonsensical and impractical they were. If there were those within my community of faith with at the least the theopoetic sensibility to behold that which is new as something worth plausible consideration and at the most who possessed a robust intellectual facility/feature that encouraged the revision of old dogmas effective only in that they make a sound when uttered, I may still be a part of the Church in some capacity. But I am not and have no desire to be ever again. And maybe this is a travesty. When faced with the decision at the age of 17 or 18 to break with absolute certainty and begin to move toward novelty, I understood through a theopoetic sensibility that hip-hop culture with its ethic of peace, love, unity, and having fun manifested in the vast networks of breakdancing, graffiti, DJing, and MCing to be my community. At least this idea (if nothing more) of infinite possibility and potential goodness, virtues which I once attributed to the name “God”, now live and play within the multiplicity of the sacred hip-hop culture. Through it I critique systems of oppressive capitalism, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, racism, and the like through a philosophy of life that by its very nature stands in opposition to such universal vices. Hip-hop, not Christianity, is how I theopoetically connect to the universe as it transforms itself and appears to me through this “aesthetic religion” as perpetual options of intensity (Whitehead/Schleiermacher/Gill). We are all given the “What Can I Do” question, that theopoetic fork in the road which prompts us to live within this secular theological chaosmos between known an unknown; the khora where God is created by the universe and the universe by God. Mobb Deep understands it. Do we?

Never a systematic. At least I’m not most of the time.

Thank you, Callid for your work. I’m proud to know you and call you a colleague.

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The Yesteryear Tomorrow

On the way to LA this past Saturday, I was nearly late for the train that would set my foot on its soil just before sunset. I nearly missed the train, and took rapid strides to arrive on time. Usually, time does not matter. These trains are always late. But, not this one. It was right on time, or even a minute early. As my ticket dropped from the machine a few seconds after the train doors opened, I rushed on the train, holding many of the highlights of Western philosophy in my hand. I caught a glimpse of it as I was boarding the vessel. It called me to it. The postmodern textures of the train cars didn’t suit my contemplative mood, a mood that can take me from future to past. I walked from car to car to find solace, but could not. Then, as I kept moving to the last car of the train, I really saw it.

As I walked into the ancient car, with the seats adorned with light brown fabric from a Wonder Years show, and the floors gleaming as the sun bounced off its vintage metal strips, I passed into a porthole leading to that which had already been. I recognized it though when it was present, I didn’t exist. It was like going from 2009 to 1965 instantly. I saw the world differently through its windows. Through these transparent glass holes, I can see conservative Christian dogmas and Jefferson Starship psychedelia at war in the California palm trees. They almost ruptured at the conflict. This car was the sore thumb in a modern world, being made years earlier. I could taste the patriarchy in the air, as foul as the very center of Archie Bunker’s infamous chair. Yet, the flower scent of the winds of change mixed with the stench, assuring me that life requires the picking of forbidden fruits semi blind, making the taste of both the good and evil inevitable. I felt neither peace nor war here, just contemplation. As I exited the train and entered the modern era again, I wondered what had happened to me in this short hour when I was between Aristotle, Governor Regan, and these memory laden seats. Yet, I felt that I was related to everything in the universe in this olden train car. Is the car God? Maybe not. Maybe God doesn’t know where God is because there is nowhere to be known but the all, which is nothing. This reflection makes no sense because the essence and existence upon which I reflect is beyond the rational facades you mask your own ignorance with . Just the reality as I see it. Selah.

The word of the Lord from the God.

Welcome to JonIvanGill.com

Currently, I’m taking a break from my Heidegger reading and going over a rap recording I did last week for an upcoming single. This is me. Art and philosophy intertwined and inseparable. It is a joy to mix them in my burgeoning intellectual academic and musical projects. Thank you for not only visiting jonivangill.com but also expressing an interest in the several facets of my work. Give the page a thorough look from the “About” to “Courses” sections and back again. I look forward to having you in a philosophical/theological course or Pocket that I will be leading, producing a piece of music for your personal or commercial use, or learning something from you as you contribute to my wordpress discussions. This is just an introduction, a step of a journey that you and I share in the most adventurous ideas in philosophy of religion, theology, and art. Stay tuned, and come back soon.

Jon Ivan Gill

http://www.jonivangill.com