An Interview with Creston Davis

The following is an interview with Creston Davis, co-editor of the series Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion, Politics, and Culture

Question: As both a psychoanalyst and a political theological philosopher, how does your angle on the series differ from other editors?

Creston Davis: This series is so much fun to be part of basically because we all share the same commitment to opening up radically new forms of thinking and practices. And that is so very rare these days especially because the entire academic scene has become sickeningly conventional and thoroughly corporatized.

So it speaks volumes about the courage that Columbia University Press has in pushing the limits and boundaries of traditional orthodox thinking so intrinsic to forms of American feminism, neo-conservatism, liberalism, religion, politics, aesthetics and so on that only serve as ideological masks behind which corporate power strangles academic and political freedom. What I like about the projects we’re doing in the series is that they are not afraid of the basic element of desire. And it was both Lacan and Augustine, a psychoanalyst and a theologian, who weren’t afraid of tracing out the infinite possibility of where desire goes.

Our series is so liberating because it’s not married to an identity politics looking to preserve a certain predetermined zone of “desire”; no, we don’t accept this “zone” we penetrate it for the sake of understanding new horizons, new rhythms, vibrations, and energies. For me, the question is always the question of: What do we love? What do we want? And make no mistake about it these are dangerous questions in today’s conventional world. In particular, my work has always been closely related to European philosophers like Badiou and Laruelle (in France), Sloterdijk (in Germany), Zizek (in Slovenia), Katerina Kolozova (in Macedonia), Negri and Vattimo (in Italy) and, of course, Zabla (in Spain). Recently, for example, when I was lecturing in Poland I got to know the legendary philosopher, Tadeusz S?awek who was instrumental in forging new lines of scholarship when he invited his close friend, Jacques Derrida to give some lectures in the 1990s. Now we are pursuing publishing Derrida’s lectures in a book for the series. Another project we are pursing, with the help of Carl Raschke, is translating Hannah Arendt’s last manuscript entitled “What is Politics?” which will continue to add to the conversation about the meaning of the political for our time. Finally, my forthcoming books seek to contribute to psychoanalysis and continental philosophy while being attracted to the insurrectionist movement. I’ve finished one book (with Alain Badiou) on the philosophical and psychoanalytic foundations of early America. Another book I’m doing with Santiago will be on the precise relationship of Vattimo and Zizek’s practice of communism. So, I think I’m able to contribute to the success of the series in these exciting ways.

Q: Can you elaborate on the insurrectionist commitment to The Real, as understood by Jacques Lacan?

CD: One can never overestimate how crucial Lacan’s idea of ‘The Real’ is especially when you contrast it with the obsession over security today. Everything is about security, liability, protecting your wealth, power, and social status. But this is a dangerous message to believe in because life can never be lived in the frozen fear about security. Life is about risk-taking, about growth, it is, above all about that surplus that springs forth from making a risk: To fall in love, to live with the poor, to fight for justice these are the actions of life. Lacan’s idea of the real witnesses to this surplus that no matter how hard we tried to make the world conform to our corporate and administrative standards there is something else beyond.

That is what our commitment is about. It’s about a concrete and materialist commitment to that surplus of a life lived to openness and joy and not the law and security. Slavoj, Clayton, Jeff and I have seen the collapse of academic and political freedom in the United States with the growth of the “liability industry” which functions like a neo-Fascist logic terrorizing professors into conforming to the status quo. But our insurrectionist movement takes a stance against this political and academic tyranny by risking freedom. Lacanian psychoanalysis gives us tools for breaking out of this conventional mode and into forms of expression that don’t conform to the values of corporate lawyers and the wealthy. In short, we are faithful to this X-factor, that liberation is fundamental to human existence.

Q: Clayton Crockett referred to the structure of the forthcoming manifesto as reflecting Heidegger’s Fourfold – Earth, Sky, Gods, and Mortals. Can you describe how the use of this structure will lend itself to an explication of insurrectionist theology?

CD: Yes, Ward Blanton, Jeff, Clayton and I have been writing our insurrectionist manifesto that will finally position religion, philosophy and psychoanalysis in a positive new direction.

Clayton came up with Heidegger’s Fourfold as a way to present and schematize our insurrectionist theology. I like how we are doing this because you can think of Earth in much more profound ways than simply a passive planet—we think of it as energy via the triadic theoretical structures of Hegel-Nietzsche-Deleuze, where substance becoming subject within a movement of infinite energetic differentials. Sky is intrinsically and inescapably a mediating, spiritualized element through which the divinity discloses itself. And then there’s “the gods.” But notice when you talk about Gods or a God too often ideological structures of power have tried to denude natural powers into a deity, or make absolute a single God, which once again limits infinity by assigning them a personality, an ethnic history, and to political and moral power. We are rethinking infinity in relation to energy, political freedom, and a new collectivity.

Once we reimagine infinity then we can only think mortals in relationship to the three other structures in relationship to our friends Toni Negri and Catherine Malabou’s creative thinking. Needless to say, we are excited about our project that entirely reframes the very meaning of religion, politics, philosophy and history.