Thursday, June 05, 2008

Goth/Punk, Christianity, and Community Organizing

(A note to my readers, in this post you will find references to things that if one is not familiar with Goth, or Philosophy or Theology one may find what I say difficult to follow. unformtunately for the sake of space and the lack of footnotes in this forum I simply do not have the space or time to explain and elucidate. Hopefully though, the general idea I am attempting to get at will be accesable. LEK).
At the back of my mind in the past few days since the O.N.E. convention has been attempting to puzzle through if the O.N.E. convention rubbed me the wrong way because of my Goth/Punk sensibilities, or because of philosophy or because of my faith, or some interesting combination of these. I will attempt to tease all this.

First I think it is worthy to note that my take on Goth has always been on the anarchistic edge. Certainly there is an edginess to Goth, that is it exists on the edge of society. The aesthetic is eclectic. The music not easily nailed down. In fact it can be (and I have tried a few times to do so on this blog) difficult to say what exactly Goth is. In fact the illusory aspect of Goth is part of its appeal. To me a good Goth scene includes a wide variety of styles and attitudes that have a basic ground of black, and some sense of the illusions human communities create to impose unity and uniformity upon the world. I think such a summary shows that the O.N.E. convention in many ways is simply at odds with a Goth sensibility. I could then just chalk my divergence from O.N.E. in terms of a sub-culture that may find community organizing distasteful but little of a place to critique what i experienced. In my mind that is kind of where I was at when I finished writing my last post. But then Charity and Tripp seemed to see points where Christian faith and my understanding of the faith might connected up with my discomfort.

My take on Goth is certainly influenced by my Christian faith. But on this particular issue I think it is my understanding of Church and having an identity and allegiance to Jesus Christ that reinforces the goth discomfort into a possible critique of O.N.E. My understanding of the Church, the body of Christ, is that it is the what makes true community possible in our current circumstances (note the nuance here, I do not say the only place of true community). I do not have any hope in humanity or in the ability of humans to create true community on some grand scale. My hope for true community is in the work of God in Jesus Christ and the Church, but not in techniques and grand narratives of organizing through common understandings of power and its distribution.

Here is where things get further entangled with another strand, the philosophical critiques of totalitarian and monolithic narratives. Ah, yes did you know Derrida could be Goth! Or that Levinas, might fit in quite nicely right along side Nietzsche in a Goth club. I know absurd. Or even that Heidegger might also be right there, bobbing his head to Sisters of Mercy. I make note of this because my having come into the goth subculture was as much finding philosophical resonances as it was an aesthetic experience, or was an aesthetic experience because it was and is also a philosophical one. Now those of you who know me well may not be surprised by this. Now because of Marilyn Manson, I think if a philosopher is associated with some semblance of Goth it is Nietzsche. Though it should be recalled that Marilyn Manson is controversially goth: Plenty of Goths I know wish he would just go away. The point is that within Goth there is a destruction, a deconstruction and a putting together of the pieces an activity that denies some grand theme we must all come together around. This is why when people unwittingly try to find some singular summation of Goth as pagan, or Satanic (most ridiculous), or atheistic, misses that Goth doesn't commit you to a particular narrative, that as such ones meta-narrative is free for the choosing, there is no Goth meta-narrative. Thus in some places a goth scene can be elitist and no longer influenced by Punk and anarchistic tendencies. And my interpretation of Andrew Eldrich's rejection of the goth scene as a whole is that he has found the Goth scene to not fit what seems to me to be an anarchistic world view. So, there is also in my experience of O.N.E. this suspicion of grand narratives and of enthusiasm of a unity that downplays possible dissent within a particular unity. I was not supposed to ask questions about O.N.E. but accept simply its goodness and necessity(at least the methods used do not encourage in me to us my rational and critical faculties, but to abandon them for an enthusiastic experience of unity).

So, if it is not obvious there is within goth a resistance to a sense of some overarching unity, a distaste for reduction, a valuing of the unique, and the remainder, what always remains outside our attempts to organize and categorize. I suppose also a kind of apolitical anarchist approach to the world. An attitude that certainly is more at home among the philosophical worlds of Deleuze and Derrida than a Hegel, and probably friends with later Heidegger and Wittgenstein (less so with their initial impulses to explain everything). So, it is then perhaps not surprising that a Goth also with these particular philosophical influences, would find the efficient use of community organizing philosophy and principles a bit off putting and resist the blatant attempts to draw one into the enthusiasm for the unity of the "community".

But what of Christian faith and the Church? I felt asked to give my allegiance to this O.N.E. and all its campaigns and programs. Also, rhetorically I was encouraged to affirm the goodness of America and its values. As a Christian I think national identity is at best problematic and at worst idolatrous. So, appeal to America and the American dream does not go down well for this Christian. My understanding of the affirmation and proclamation of "Jesus is Lord" is that at most all other allegiances I may have are secondary and derivative of this one allegiance to Jesus Christ. What I interpreted as a demanded allegiance was the implicit expected affirmation of everything O.N.E. does, its philosophy and practice. Of course this impression comes from the enthusiasm of a rally, and is perhaps meant to be simply be momentary. But there is in my mind the grasping for power in this activity and thus a view of power as a limited resource, that must be grasped, divided up and distributed. Rather than power as that which comes from an unlimited source and can flow to all in the correct circumstances. In other words at odds with a belief that true power is a gift of life from God, and is not what humans control, manipulate and create. In our system and most human systems of governance and organizing, power is created controlled and manipulated by humans alone. As a Christian I see a different conception of power that calls members of Christs body, the church, to critique and even disengage from the systems of human power and proclaim a system of power that flows only from God, and was established and proclaimed by Jesus Christ, what Jesus called the Kingdom of God.

According to the above conception, all powers not submitted to God and Jesus Christ all systems that continue to assume that in some way we humans control power, either are not to be followed or the Christian is to know that at critical points membership in this divine reordering of the world will conflict with merely human systems of power and its distribution and organization. Thus, a Christian may end up looking like an anarchist refusing to take part in the schemes of attempting to unify large and disparate groups of people, for the sake of the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord. At times as well a Christian may find that one is called into these systems to share in their efforts which are compatible with the reality of the Kingdom of God. I generally find myself in the place of resistance to all these alternatives to the Kingdom of God even the ones with similar goals to the reality of God's Kingdom. This stance is not uninfluenced by certain philosophers and the sub-culture I belong to, but also, I am drawn to these philosophies and the Goth sub-culture because of the truly radical nature of Christian commitment and the critique of purely human understandings of power as a human possession rather than as a gift from God, to be used according to the logic of love and communion with that which is truly and completely Other.

So, What I found odd or discomforting about the O.N.E. Convention was not that it failed to put into practice good community organizing principles or was a poor example of bringing power to marginalized and minority groups, but because it was effective so effective that it, hit against my distrust of such grand efforts, and my sense of Christian commitment, which in the world of politics, and human organizations leads me to a more anarchist stance. So, I suppose I should applaud O.N.E. and say sorry but my commitments keep me on the borders of your project and actions. This Goth, postmodernist possibly anarchist Christians is simply uninterested in your grand scheme and grand narrative,though very interested in your attempts at resisting the dominant systems of power at work in our society. Perhaps another instance where I find myself in a place of dislocation and refusing an identity.