3. Ragpicker, Shock, Citation, Dwarf, Castling: A Benjaminian Perspective on Early Christian Textuality
Critical Theory and Early Christianity - Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler - Matthew G. Whitlock
Christopher Meredith [+]
St Mary's University, Twickenham
Benjamin once wrote that commenting on a sacred text is like a child working a series of random words into an ingenious sentence; it is a game that at once establishes order at the expense of innocence and betrays the fragile spell of linguistic “sense.” This chapter asks what happens when we play the game as Benjamin and with actual sacred texts. On the one hand, it considers the obvious connections that run between Pauline writings and the world as imagined by Benjamin: a world where citation is a theological and messianic act, where mythological thinking undergirds rational argument, where older ways of thinking have been sublimated in the unconscious desires of newer orders. On the other hand, the chapter considers Benjamin’s own use of early Christian writings—Romans 9 and 2 Corinthians 12 in particular. Citation emerges as a key concept in both Benjamin’s engagement with the New Testament and in Biblical Studies’ attempts to put Benjamin to work in close reading. For while plenty of ink has been spilled on “the use of the Old testament in the New,” Benjamin bids us to pay attention to the act of citation and the political operations it suggests. Does a Benjaminian reading of “citation” suggest early Christian texts as acts of sublimation rather than projects of exposition? Can Benjamin give voice both to the overlooked detail within such texts and to the way they now feature as overlooked details in contemporary cultural life? Does Benjamin sit, in other words, in a “two-way street” between the powers of cultural sublimation at work within biblical writings and the more modern powers of cultural citation that make use of them?