It should come as no surprise: unpalatable for most, too complex for some and yet strangely prescient to many, Milbank’s response to Zizek brings up the expected cacophony of knee-jerk reactions and praise, as I found through a bit of blog reading. 

What I find compelling in this piece is that Milbank unloads a more intense short-circuiting of Marxism, psychoanalysis and history itself, and all on Zizek’s own terms.  Hence his opening claim that Zizek isn’t really an atheist as much as he’s simply a Protestant; a claim, by the way, which is substantiated by Zizek’s reading of Eckhart, Lossky and probably Chesterton, each resembling more of Martin Luther than they do themselves. 

Some responses to this piece were not overly impressed with Milbank’s brief summary of psychoanalysis (131) and to be sure, such critics do have a strong argument to make.  However, in light of Zizek’s reading of Christ, coupled with his mode of psychoanalysis, Milbank’s claim remains: taking to it’s extreme, what is Zizek offering other than a “rosier” perspective bordering on “pietism” (127)?  What Milbank refers to as the “quotidian reality” linked to the coordinates of the cross is merely replaced by a “cultic relationship” (132), which he sees as Zizek’s position.  More importantly still, the debate continues: what will ultimately stand against the juggernaut of capitalism:  Zizek’s “Kantian sense of the ‘public’ realm” (to use Milbank’s interpretation) or catholic metaxu

Ultimately, I think Milbank has the better take, but not merely because of Catholic reasons, but for historical; in the sense of what Charles Taylor has done in A Secular Age, which Milbank refers to as an “invention of a new intellectual genre – a kin of historicized existentialism” (“A Closer Walk on The Wild Side, 102). 

But where, exactly, does Milbank have the upper hand in this debate (if there even is one)?  Terry Eagleton has something to do with it, I suspect.  In the sense that Eagleton represents a synthesis of Marxist radicalism while not jettisoning the material at the cost of the spiritual.  So, what really is at stake, or at least what one keeps returning to, is the debate forming between the Aristotelian Marxists as opposed to the Atheist Marxist; to wit, between those who buy wholesale into the modern project and those who are more comfortable dabbling in talk of prudence, hierarchy, virtue and the like.  The Aristotelian Marxists variety tend to be more comfortable in a Desmondian Middle (i.e. an ethics of the between) or paradox; they tend to side with the Romantic and poetic Schelling vs. the logic of Hegel, as Milbank argues (cf. The Monstrosity of Christ, 158). 

And so the line is drawn: “where the paradoxical ‘between’ is denied,” writes Milbank, “either in the cosmos or the social order, a hypostatized unity gives license both to the tedium of isolation and the daemonic power of the arbitrary” (134).  This is a mouthful, to be sure, but it does sum up the issue nicely or at least expose the coordinates of Zizek’s position: we’re individuals striving with Bartleby the Scribe as our guide declaring our arbitrary preferences against the larger and more well-equipped arbitrary preference of capitalism.  According to Milbank, this is hell: “if the world is not aimed at heaven, then there is every reason to believe that the hell of this world is all there is” (131).