Ethics, Jewish Studies, Critical Theory
Recently I’ve been reflecting on the impoverishment and failings of political discourse in our media, in conversations with friends, and generally in the culture’s engagement with the most pressing social ills of our time, whether widening inequality, constant war, or an ecologically crippled planet. To me, there always seemed to be an emptiness, something missing that was essential to grappling with what I knew to be the complexities of human depth, animation, & sheer inextricability. For that reason, I’ve been turning inward and searching: in a world of absolute suffering, what preserves sparks of goodwill or generosity? What is behind the desire for justice, an aspiration whose effect is the political but in my mind, not vice versa.
The corpus of Marilynne Robinson provides excellent fodder for such a rumination. Floating from meditations on grace to Shakespeare to a re-examination of religion in a “secular” age, this series of essays presents a powerful voice towards an ethics grounded in the mystery of every human person.
In a similar realm of political theology, I recommend the writings of Emmanuel Levinas. While certainly not employing the flowering verbosity of Robinson, the philosophical writings of Levinas came as a sort of epiphany. Having been schooled for the past three years in the opaque powers of oppressive systems and the ineffectualness of language, I found Levinas’ concept of the face-to-face encounter with the Other to be a liberating theoretical development. His ethics offer a renewed commitment to pursuing justice in a “postmodern” world.