Ellul’s perspective on the arts has rarely been considered. In The Empire of Non-Sense, Ellul analyses a range of artistic movements, including Pop Art, Art Brut, abstract expressionism, and Happenings, taking up critiques offered by Bernard Charbonneau, Theodor Adorno, Pierre Daix, Guy Debord, Marshall McLuhan and Abraham Moles, among others. Ellul claims that the most dramatic transformation has been modern artworks’ inability to symbolize beyond themselves, or beyond the values of Technique. In a technological society, writes Ellul, symbols become clichés or mere images, signaling a loss of place and meaning; they become technical phenomena or materialized theory. Ultimately, Ellul worries that the arts are incapable of confronting the hegemony of Technique; that, for the most part, they tend to reproduce dominant ideologies rather than create spaces for opposition.
Twenty-five years after their death, Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) and Bernard Charbonneau (1910-1996) still have something to say to us—perhaps today more than ever. The challenges raised by the swell of technique and ecological devastation demand both a rigorous analytical framework and resolute ethical engagement. Such are the intellectual, symbolic, and practical resources which our two friends bequeathed to us: think globally, act locally, elucidate the declensions and effects of the “great molting,” and incite a presence in the world which testifies to freedom and hope through non-power. This conference proposes to probe the depths of the heritage of Ellul and Charbonneau, in their sympathies and their differences, to better understand our present and to promote a liberated engagement able to confront the ethical challenges which define our times.
On June 28-30, 2018, IJES members and associates convened for its biennial IJES Ellul conference on the beautiful campus of Regent College, situated just one mile from the coastline in the northwest tip of Vancouver, British Columbia. We had 25 presenters in total, and a paper by Walter Brueggemann was read at the Banquet by his son John.
Jacques Ellul is best known as one of the premier voices of the 20th century analyzing the emergence, characteristics, and challenges of the “technological society” — the growing and seemingly irresistible dominance of technological tools, processes, and values over the whole of life and the whole of the world. But the Bordeaux sociologist simultaneously produced almost as many works of biblical study and reflection as he did regarding works of sociology. In these studies Ellul delivered brilliantly creative insights as well as provocative challenges to traditional theology. All serious students of Ellul, whether part of faith communities like Ellul (in the French Reformed Church) or not (like his colleague and best friend Bernard Charbonneau), have found interaction with his theological writings an essential complement to the study of his great sociological works. This conference will seek a multi-perspectival hearing of Scripture stimulated by Ellul’s works.
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