In a very revealing—and apparently boozy—interview with Full Stop, Simon Critchley recently opened up on a wide range of topics, discussing at length everything from love and death to faith and politics, and touching on how recent turns in his life set his political and philosophical worldview in a new direction. The discussion usefully clarifies many of the important theoretical moves he makes in his new book The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology and provides an immediately salient political context—especially in light of the Occupy movements—in which to understand his reflections on the relation between love, representation, democracy and belief.
For instance, he says:
Faith is a subjective commitment to something that places a demand on you, that places a call on you. There are people that will believe that the source of that call is a divinity; there are people that will believe that the source of that call isn't. It's not for me to decide one way or the other - the experience of faith is the same. If I understand faith as a faith in the existence of a deity, I still can't make that leap - and then philosophy is atheism. But if faith is understood as, let's say, an ethical disposition of the self as a kind of commitment that the self makes, then I think faith makes sense to me. So the word "faith" can be used in very different ways. But it's a question that I do ask myself and perhaps should ask myself on a deeper level, I think. One of the formulations I come up with in The Faith of the Faithless is that politics is association without representation. It's a form of being together that doesn't necessarily require the forms of voting, representative assemblies, parliaments, houses of congress and all the rest. So politics is really at its essence a form of direct democracy. The Occupy Movement was playing that out, I think, in a very incredible way.
Visit Full Stop to read the interview in full.
"Everything to be true must become a religion" said Oscar Wilde, and The Faith of the Faithless, Simon Critchley's examination of the importance of religion to the irreligious, builds upon this maxim to produce a political theology that "calls not for our "passive resignation from the world", but for "the urgency of active commitment"", according to Tom Cutterham in the Oxonian Review.
Recognising the contemporary shift of political philosophers towards the "return to religion", Critchley provides a nuanced account, offering no easy answers to the question of an ethical engagement with the political imperative.
Still, says Cutterham, the nuance complements a precise ethical position: a stand against violence and terror as political activity, as expoused by Slavoj Zizek:
again and again in [The] Faith of the Faithless, he points out and rejects the desire for a messianic rupture, an "event", an "exception" that will answer this infinite demand with a divine violence or an absolute newness.
In an interview for Frieze, Simon Critchley talks to Dan Fox about community, collaboration, avant-garde rituals, being "religious without religion," and his forthcoming book The Faith of the Faithless (Verso, 2012).
Your forthcoming book is called Faith of the Faithless. Could you explain its central themes?
Part of it is on experimentalism in art and politics: are Utopian conceptions of community practicable? I look at the history of certain heretical groups—such as the Cathars, the Diggers, 19th-century Utopian socialism—and the Situationists. I talk about The Invisible Committee, the French group who wrote The Coming Insurrection —who are trying to recover a conception of Communism—and make a link between them and various activities in contemporary art around the idea of collective intelligence. What sense can we make of collaboration as an artistic practice? Part of it is an almost mystical idea of the group, what Sartre called the ‘group-in-fusion'. I'm looking at a number of artists associated with what has been branded ‘relational aesthetics', as well as the idea that collaboration—anonymity—is sustained by a faith that something will come about through those processes. Artistically and politically, the avant-garde has always been concerned with figuring ideas of the group based around a kind of faith.