J. Kameron Carter, race

Early Impressions of Carter’s Book

1. Clarity. His writing is generally quite clear. I would feel confident giving this book to many different levels of students, mainly because I think they could read it and mostly understand it. He digests and summarizes concepts quite well. Sure, explaining might be in order for newer students to theology or philosophy, but I don’t think it’ll have much to do with the way Carter writes. The biggest problem is keeping up with Carter’s breadth. Cone is right, the book does demonstrate “great intellectual range and theological imagination.”

2. While Carter maintains a helpful level of self-control to keep his argument admirably on track, every once in awhile, he’ll go off and say something like this (particularly the part I emphasize below), and make me smile from ear-to-ear:

How do the new science (of the true), the new philosophy (of the good), and the new aesthetics (of the beautiful)–the discursive elements of modern discourse, according to West–represent a disassembling and then a reassembling for its own purposes of Christian theology’s understanding of the true, the good, and the beautiful? And how do they do this at the juncture of the Jewish question, and how does a discourse of race emerge out of this? Lastly, how is the discourse of modern state sovereignty (which mutates into a discourse on the nation) constituted so that it reinvents itself at the same time that it masks the way it operates parasitically on theology as simulacra of a Christian soteriological vision of redemption, through the agent of redemption is different, namely, “Leviathan” (Hobbes)? That is, how does the discourse of modern state sovereignty conceive of the state as democratic “redeemer” inasmuch as it is the “creator” of a new mode of political existence and thus a new way of imagining community? [pg. 52, from part of Carter’s critique of Cornel West, and the emphasis is mine]

3. The book itself is interestingly minimalistic. And I love it. Theres little to the cover, but they designed it quite well. Its not some sort of eye-grabbing book, its captivating in its form following function. Continuing the minimalism, there is no forward and the blurb on the inside jacket about Carter only makes note of his professorship at Duke and does it in less than three full lines. The book avoids all the bullshit, flowery fluff that accompanies many other projects on race that don’t go anywhere positive, or commit an equally bad sin: uninteresting and unhelpful. You could judge this book by its cover, if that judgment is good. I could go on about the graphical beauty, but I’d convince people of something I don’t have: a book fetish. I just have a crush on this book. Honest.

4. This book will be big. If it isn’t in the near future (or perhaps moderately near future, after all, some academics can be pretty slow sometimes), there is something seriously wrong. It has the feeling of books that have made a tremendous impact in the past.

I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts in the future, but until then, let this quote sit amongst your thoughts:

I say theological and political (or theopolitical) to signal that my claim calls for analyses of the problem of race (and, relatedly, of the Jewish question) that explore the senses in which such a discourse is bound to the nature and practice of modern politics and thereby indelibly tied to what is religious about modernity and the way it parodies theology at the same time that it cloaks this fact. The discourse of race is critical to the cloaking process and thus functions as a vital cog within modernity’s own religious and quasi-theological machinery, a machinery intent, as the quotation by Étienne Balibar that opens this chapter alerts us, on producing bodies and people, but bodies and people of a particular sort. It produces bodies and people that can populate an enlightened, global, and cosmopolitan social order, the domain of civil society. The people produced is the modern citizenry; the body, that of the modern citizen; and the social order enacted and perpetuated, that of the modern (nation-)state. Given this, the politics of race and the politics of the modern state are of a piece, for both are religious or pseudotheological in character. Failing to reckon with this fact not only leaves the problem of modern racial reasoning inadequately understood but also can yield responses that risk–unwittingly, no doubt–reinhabiting, at the politically unconscious, theopolitical level, the very problem that needs overcoming. pg. 40


4 thoughts on “Early Impressions of Carter’s Book

  1. Dave says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the updates on this book. I’ve been interesting in reading it since I heard about it, and now will definitely be doing so as soon as I can. Unfortunately, I think I might have to wait until after the fall semester and try to read it over the last three weeks of December. I’m studying abroad at Oxford and am kind of intimidated by the large amount of reading that I have to do, so I am busy making a dent in my reading lists in these final weeks before I leave.

    Anyways, this book seems like a major work. I’ve been interested in possibly going to Duke Divinity since taking a class with a former Hauerwas student, but still have two years of undergrad left, so Hauerwas may be retired by that time. But with faculty like Carter, Huetter, Hays, etc, Duke certainly seems like an exciting place to be.

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