2009 AAR :: the good, the bad, the unsurpassably entertaining

by Eric Daryl Meyer

I woke up in Montreal this morning, and still made it back to NYC for class at 2:30 (even if a bit road-weary and goggle-eyed from the drive). While I certainly cannot say that I enjoy the AAR—at least not without adding some serious qualifications—I am glad to have gone, mainly for the opportunity to (re)connect with folks in the theological world whom I don’t often see. Here are the highlights of the conference from my perspective:

The good:

My gold medal goes to Sarah Coakley’s excellent paper on Aquinas, Christology, and the proper uses of apophaticism. Her paper said twice as much any other presentation that I listened to in about a third of the words. I wish that Denys Turner had taken up her provocations a bit more seriously.

The bad:

I have a lot of respect for Miroslav Volf, and I’ve heard him speak with eloquence and profundity. But in the session responding to David Kelsey’s massive new book on theological anthropology, Volf’s presentation was quite a disappointment. He began by admitting that he hadn’t read the book in its entirety (to be fair, it wasn’t clear that all the other panelists had either) and continued by telling us that for that reason he would not be able to offer any substantial critique. He then analyzed the title for about ten minutes, and finished with a provocative assertion of tension between the goodness of creation and the theological implications of accepting an evolutionary narrative.

The unsurpassably entertaining:

Of course, the session starring Zizek and Altizer turned out to be just as entertaining as anyone might have hoped. Altizer was unfortunately married to his written presentation; after his over-the-top delivery he refused to answer questions or make additional comments. Zizek, on the other hand, was hard to peel off the microphone. He spoke at greater length and in greater detail (with greater clarity) about his theological interest than I’ve heard or read elsewhere. In addition to being positively hilarious, his exhortations about prayer and personal commitment to the struggle of a particular tradition (without ironic/cynical/intellectual distance) were the closest thing to a preaching of the gospel that I heard in the two days that I attended. I imagine that mine weren’t the only cheeks shifting nervously in the chair at that point in the talk.

Despite his protests, his theological turn is far from orthodox (for a start, his trinitarianism is modalist), but I can’t help but feeling that Zizek must be counted as a theological ally in the face of the collusion between late-capitalism and liberal humanist optimism. Including Zizek only makes the theological conversation richer.

Advertisements