Monday, January 07, 2019

all brows need not be furrowed

May I point out a few quick things about this wonderful, piercing dialogue at Cambridge between Roger Scruton and Jordan Peterson? 

They’re right! Art is indeed that which sorts empirical phenomenon so it can address us, and much of the academy muffles the speech. (Many of my fellow academics who sneeringly dismiss Peterson or Scruton would not last ten minutes in a debate with either of them.) But the academy is – to a certain extent – already on the side of the angels. There is a post-critical theory movement that has arisen due to the sheer failure of the kind of critique that Scruton and Peterson take on. To put that melodramatically, God has his 7000 who have not bowed the knee to Foucault.

Folks like Rita Felski exemplify this, as do the folks present at the conference Jonathan Anderson organized on post-secular (Jeff Kosky, Lori Branch), as of course does Jonathan’s work. It's been a theme here for a while. Did I mention just down the way from Cambridge the Tate Modern launched a Bible commentary? That feminism has been hacked by the Virgin Mary?

While some of the negativity is still subsidized, a lot of it has collapsed or is collapsing on its own. Peterson is in a pitch battle with those who militantly cling to the old order. The battle is real. But the attack mode has serious drawbacks, and lends outsiders (those who only listen to Peterson) the impression that the entire academy is crazed and the only sane ones left are Peterson and Scruton. I am not saying Peterson should not be fighting – the fight came to him. I have listened to and read a good bit of Peterson, and I’d consider myself a selective admirer (and critic). His more severe critics should ask themselves why he can consistently fill a Toronto lecture hall for serious lectures on the Bible and they can't. Still, Peterson's is not the only, and for many of us, not the best strategy.

That said, Scruton and Peterson are right about transcendence. I can’t emphasize that enough – I’m only mentioning Peterson's tone (which is why so many academics are allergic to Peterson – a tone which, considering Peterson’s enemies, he arguably has to take on to survive). If, as Scruton so wonderfully puts it, “culture is the residue of what we have loved,” we have a shot at fortifying that residue, at "bunking" instead of debunking. Peterson and Scruton are not hidebound conservatives - they insist we need to be “building the future instead of criticizing the past.” As they put it, "there is no formula"; and because of that, some of us may choose to take a different approach. If we are to focus on particular places as Peterson recommends, strategies will differ based on locale.

So, here's to little Kings College Cambridges popping up in many unexpected places, while believers in cruciform beauty quietly find as many allies as we can.

Happy Epiphany!