Wounded Response
Posted: 22 January 2010 10:40 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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By Lyndon Shakespeare

The cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz once remarked that you can learn as much about things by looking obliquely at their edges — where they come together with other things — as you can from looking at them directly, straight on. This is true whether the thing in question is an entire culture or the workings of a particular group or stratum of a community.

The recent episode surrounding the election of the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool as bishop suffragan of Los Angeles, the press release from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the chorus of critics who sang out in support of Canon Glasspool and against Rowan Williams provides an opportunity for the kind of “edge work” that Geertz recommends. To look at the edges of this episode is to pay attention to how critique is being practiced, how identity is functioning within the imagination of those who support the election, and how the place of power is recognized and unmasked through the words and deeds of the critics. In the process, our reflection on this moment may capture something of the character of critique, identity, and power within the Anglican Communion.

First, what are we to make of the place of critique — when one action corresponds to a specific response, followed by a cacophony of counter-responses?

Critique, political theorist Wendy Brown reminds us, is a term derived from the Greek, krisis. In ancient Athens, krisis was a term identified with the art of making distinctions: between true and false, genuine and spurious, right and wrong. It involved evaluating and eventually judging evidence, reasons and reasoning. As a legal term, krisis called for knowledge, deliberation and judgment in order to avoid error. In the day-to-day, critique may be deployed in deliberations on the political, social and religious landscape of our communities. Critique can be the breaking of silence in pursuit of freedom from tyranny. To be critical of an authority that demands illegitimate obedience remains an essential task for the oppressed and those who stand with them in solidarity. On the other hand, critique can also become a fetish where the mode of critique leads to its own kind of subjugation. In making distinctions — in offering judgment — the practice of critique can become a way of magnifying the unacknowledged power of the critic in service of the establishment of regulatory norms and symbolic power that become another tactic for suppressing alternative judgments.

This raises a quandary: what right or truth is being sought when the critique serves not just to embolden the critic and the critic’s position, but to secure a position that, when unacknowledged by others, breeds a collective suspicion of any person, group or community that would challenge the critique?

One more thing needs to be added to this account before providing further analysis. Is there an added value to critique when the party or community offering the critique shares a collective sense of being wounded? Allow me to explain. For the supporters of Canon Glasspool’s election, one common expression when referring to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s response was that of disappointment and anger. According to a popular petition on the social networking site, Facebook, Rowan Williams “failed to exercise moral leadership to protect gays & lesbians in Uganda and has instead exercised political pressure to attack a bishop-elect in Los Angeles because she is a lesbian.” The eventual denouncement of the proposed anti-gay legislation of Uganda by Williams notwithstanding, the message of disappointment and anger was supported by close to 4600 people within a week of the election. This disappointment is of course not new for supporters of full inclusion of gays and lesbians within every level of church life and leadership. The appeal from Williams for “gracious restraint” regarding episcopal elections is just one echo from the period following the election of The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson in 2003. It is not an exaggeration to argue that a stratum of the Episcopal Church has been carrying the wounds of Williams’s invitation for such restraint for some time now.

This woundedness is a peculiar matter with regards to the dynamic of critique. Wendy Brown has analyzed the sense of woundedness within the American political imagination following the attacks on September 11. Brown notes that the call for unwavering patriotism in the aftermath of 9/11’s horrors bred appeals to the moral goodness and victimhood of America. When citizens voiced dissent to such patriotism or questioned the role of America in international affairs, the citizen or group was deemed un-American and this led to the simple declaration, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” America was wounded but America was good. Critique that sought to deliberate on this dual nature encountered the injury of dismissal. The wounded goodness of America was meant to generate sympathy. According to Brown, those who would offer critique of this status were faced with political aggression, thoughtlessness and public disdain. Consequently, critique generated suspicion within the public imagination the more America was identified with victimized innocence.

I would propose a parallel between the wounded goodness of America post-9/11 and the wounded state of supporters of Canon Glasspool. When considered against the chorus of critique against Williams, the woundedness of supporters in favor of further inclusion of gays and lesbians into every level of leadership with the Episcopal Church bred the kind of victimized innocence that, when faced with an invitation for restraint from the Archbishop of Canterbury, responded with what could be seen as political aggression. Questioning the authority of Williams and all future challenges to the freedom of dioceses to elect whomever they choose, the critics adopted rhetoric that communicated the place of a diocese to act and be itself, without remainder. For Williams not to acknowledge the power of the supporters of Canon Glasspool’s election was for Williams to be disaffected by the wounded goodness of these supporters. In this instance, the place of critique became the honored institution of one group and one group only. All other critique was a futile attack on the common identity and self-understanding of self-appointed deans of the true, the genuine and the right.

The difficultly with this stance is that it ignores how, while searching for equality and freedom, the critics who spoke against Williams adopted the kind of imperial conceit practiced by the federal government after 9/11. By attaching themselves to a discourse (i.e. a particular mode of speech and its related practices) that makes their social authority appear self-evident and beyond reproach, the supporters of Glasspool inoculated themselves from criticism either from within ECUSA or outside. This is a troubling place to find the manner of critique when the future shape of the Anglican Communion is at stake.

The focus of this brief analysis has been with the edges of one episode, not the larger arc of history. The critiques that were focused around Canon Glasspool’s election and Williams’s response have their own extended background and history. Additional analysis would certainly find the mode of wounded goodness functioning also within the ranks of critics opposed to Canon Glasspool and the general movement within the Episcopal Church since 2003. The benefit, however, of paying specific attention to one act within the greater drama is to bring from the edges a few interrelated segments of our common life in order to encourage a more open and honest engagement across the boundaries established by groups and coalitions within our corner of the body of Christ. Whether or not Canon Glasspool receives the necessary support from American bishops and standing committees is still to be determined. What is already apparent is that without some gracious restraint in the manner of totalizing critique, the long standing krisis within the Episcopal Church will not merely concern American bishops but our ability to seek knowledge, deliberation and judgment as members of Christ.

The Rev. Lyndon Shakespeare is the rector of All Saints Memorial Church, Navesink, N.J.
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Posted: 22 January 2010 01:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Lyndon,

This is helpful analysis. I wonder if there isn’t a similar dynamic of “wounded goodness” operative among many conservatives in TEC and still more those who “had to leave” to form ACNA. On all sides, there does seem often to be a sort of wallowing in grievance which leads to cherishing each new outrage perpetuated by others which reinforces the wounded goodenss and self-perception of righteousness of our own position and its representatives. The result is an attitiude of “you are either with us or you are against us” - and thus deserving of contempt and derision.

So, how do we break that cycle?

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Posted: 25 January 2010 01:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Matt Gunter - 22 January 2010 01:37 PM

Lyndon,

This is helpful analysis. I wonder if there isn’t a similar dynamic of “wounded goodness” operative among many conservatives in TEC and still more those who “had to leave” to form ACNA. On all sides, there does seem often to be a sort of wallowing in grievance which leads to cherishing each new outrage perpetuated by others which reinforces the wounded goodenss and self-perception of righteousness of our own position and its representatives. The result is an attitiude of “you are either with us or you are against us” - and thus deserving of contempt and derision.

So, how do we break that cycle?

I suppose it begins with confession. The trajectory of an analysis of ‘wounded goodness’ (regardless of who is bearing the goodness) leads, i think, to a recognition of symbolic identification of a certain image that represents ‘what we would like to be’. Slovoj Žižek picks up on this somewhat when we talks about identifying the place from where we are being observed, from where we look at ourselves so that we appear to ourselves as likable and worthy of love. A lot of violent and questionable activity can be legitimated through the deployment of this kind of identification. Confession subverts this image-making through the speech-act of contrition that precedes the absolution. The absolution is our symbolic identification reborn/re-created by God’s initiation in us (as the source of our being and nature), “bringing us back from dry sterility to the rich luxuriant life bursting out all over the place” (Herb McCabe). This is just another way of saying that we need a different politics that will struggle to confess an image of human life that falls short of the ‘image of God’ but not be defined only by the struggle. 

These are some initial thoughts, Matt. I imagine you have more of your own.

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Posted: 26 January 2010 09:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Possibly relevant - possibly not - Eric Gans on “victim culture” - this is sort of a prevailing thread through much of his work, as he believes his notion of generative anthropology cuts through the romantic tendency toward victim culture - http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/views/VIEW38.HTM .  He gets much of his inspiration from Girard.

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Posted: 26 January 2010 10:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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It looks like some gay dudes have figured out the victim culture meme and are kinda sick of it - Jack Donovan at http://www.jack-donovan.com/androphilia/androphilia-the-book/ - & Justin Raimondo - http://www.anti-state.com/raimondo/raimondo1.html .  Stuff that would make most TEC people’s toes curl, I think.  But there is such a thing as over-propagandizing and over-zealous activism - look at all the skinheads that came out of the German schools with the stark lessons on the evils of Nazism.  Rebellious kids grew sick of the constant harping on these political themes and left school with some very unhealthy attitudes.

I don’t really see how the current fascination with all things gay will be sustainable - and the attention, I’m afraid, will not have been positive for the gay community - it’s not terribly productive.  There is indeed still a lot of anti-gay sentiment, but one begins to hit the law of diminishing returns when media goes into overdrive - or even lessening returns, if the populace begins to consider that it’s had enough with the issue, and feels gay rights to imply an intrusive presence when it comes to heavy-handed interventions in classrooms, libraries, and activism aimed at firing individuals.  I live in Europe and I’ve never seen so much fascination with things gay here as what I see in U.S. media.  But then again, Europe has never had the civil rights obsession which the U.S. has.  And some Americans seem to think we’re all gay here anyways.

Actually I’ve been surprised at the lack of victimology I’ve seen amongst ACNA people.  A lot seem to be satisfied with their decisions to have walked away from the money and the property, and very few have gone forward to publish their reasons for leaving TEC, or the machinations with their diocese prior to leaving.  In a way this is admirable, but I would also like to be able to read more about actual conditions of departure, and events leading up to departure.  The information could be helpful in simply understanding the general situation better and possibly an instrument for later reconciliation.  There’s still a lot of criticism of TEC, but it seems more concerned for the 700,000 that are still in the TEC pews, and for what they are being taught by their leaders, and not bitterness for the property grab.

What I have seen, however, is a “wallowing in grievance” - not so much victimology, but a circular, unproductive discourse that remains outraged and gets little beyond that.  That is present in some areas of ACNA.  I must admit to my own portion of it as well, as it effects the entire Communion.  I still can’t get over the fact that we have a Primate who teaches what the PB teaches.  I wallow, I wallow.

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