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  • Intercarnations: Exercises in Theological Possibility by Catherine Keller
  • Thomas A. James
Intercarnations: Exercises in Theological Possibility. Catherine Keller. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017. 256 pp. $30 paperback.

Though Catherine Keller frequently publishes essays, and many of her book chapters have had their beginnings in journal articles, most of the material she is known for has been delivered in the form of tightly organized, if somewhat chaophilic, monographs. What makes Keller's latest offering, Intercarnations, distinctive is that it is a collection of recent stand-alone pieces, some of which carry her ideas and her deterritorializing style into new territories. There is no tight organization here, only resonances across various interventions and themes. Nor does Keller suggest a preferred order for reading. Like the rhizomatic entanglement suggested by her title, the text is a series and not an order.

A recurring theme of the book is, as the title also suggests, a re-reading of the idea of incarnation—not to "recuperate" a classical Christian dogma but to "redistribute" it (1). That is, Keller seeks to free the idea of incarnation from a single instantiation that is enshrined in an allegedly nonnegotiable tradition. A divine that is "all in all," she reasons, must be "pan-incarnate," present in a "promiscuous" and indiscriminate way in and through the bodies of all creatures. Echoing earlier radical theologies, Keller links this pan-incarnation to the death of God, but she argues that it suggests a reality that is more interesting than the end of religions of transcendence. Instead, pan-incarnation offers the prospect of a reincorporation of religion within a much more complicated (post-) secularity—a more vital entanglement with a more variegated world. Instead of a death of God, that is, pan-incarnation produces a new kind of divine liveliness as the divine is distributed away from towering exceptions and into the multiple.

Throughout, Intercarnations develops explicitly political articulations of Keller's work, moving well past the frequent jabs directed at religious and political fundamentalisms one finds in much of her writing. This especially is true of "Toward a Political Theology of the Earth," which seeks to translate her stress on multiplicity and entanglement into an urgent political practice in the face of globalization, neoliberal capitalism, and environmental destruction. The argument begins with a reference to Bruno Latour's Gifford Lectures, where he invokes and redeploys the concept of the earth as Gaia. Latour prefers Gaia to the concept of nature, because the latter carries with it the idea of a domain that is rigorously separate from humanity, and that completely lacks agency. Keller draws on Latour's notion of the earth as agent that actively participates in political struggle, asking whether the earth, then, can have enemies. Here she engages Carl Schmitt, but finally refuses his "friend-enemy" conception of the [End Page 82] political in the name of an open-ended, democratic politics in which alliances are possible (and required) across a broad range of experience and interest, including even partnership with the earth itself. Not surprisingly, she turns, in the end, to Whitehead (and to interpreters William Connolly and Paulina Ochoa Espejo) to suggest that what we need is a concept of the "people as process," so that we may envision the kind of participatory and open-ended politics required for survival in the face of global climate change (190).

Keller develops further political implications of her relational ontology with "The Queer Multiplicity of Becoming." Here, Keller is at her deconstructive best, offering withering critiques of the notion of the sovereign exception as it is embodied in the idea of an utterly transcendent God, an exceptional empire, an imperial Christianity, an exempt humanity, a privileged male gender, a heteronormative sexuality—and, most interestingly, perhaps, an eschatological "chrononormativity" that tries to territorialize all time in terms of a "straight" line from past to future. The alternative, she argues, is a "queer space-time" that does not seek to constrain and conquer by encompassing all in a master narrative, but which rather allows multiple times to become entangled with each other, undermining the would-be dominance of any. This queer temporarily, she suggests, is one component of a cosmic...


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