Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dialectics of the Self: Transcending Charles Taylor

"Chapter Two of this work provides a sustained critique of Taylor's short book A Catholic Modernity? (1999). This work provides the fullest statement so far of Taylor's personal religious outlook, and Fraser finds many problems with his statement of belief. As Fraser sees it, Taylor does not practice the openness to other belief systems that he preaches when it comes to comparing Christianity and Buddhism; his idea that theism provides a more robust source for unconditional love is unfounded; his choice of the sixteenth century Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci as a model for Catholics today is troubling, given Ricci's commitment to conversion rather than tolerance of other religions; and Taylor is ultimately incapable of providing a persuasive account of transcendence.

Fraser is careful to indicate that his critique of Taylor's Catholicism is not based on any hostility to religion, spirituality or transcendence: he is only attacking Taylor's handling of these issues. In Chapters 3-5, Fraser argues that thinkers in the Marxist tradition offer superior alternative ways for thinking about some of the questions of time, death, transcendence, moral and spiritual sources outside the subject, and the relationship of art to the modern identity. Thus Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch have better conceptions of transcendence and Theodore Adorno is more helpful in thinking about aesthetics and identity. Once again, the comparison with these figures is not adventitious: they are all thinkers with whom Taylor engages at some point or another. Fraser regrets Taylor's failure to fully exploit the resources they offer for thinking about the questions that concern him. In these comparisons, he sometimes identifies Taylor's commitment to theism as an obstacle to a fuller and more open reading of these thinkers (63, 77, 79, 85, 88, 101). In Chapter 4 he applies this line of argument in his discussion of James Joyce and the idea of epiphanies: Fraser offers a reading of Joyce that emphasizes non-theistic epiphanies and contrasts this with Taylor's more limiting theistic reading of Joyce."

Full review here

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