When we fall in love, the effect exceeds the cause. Falling in love with someone completely changes how the subject views every aspect of their object of love. This is the basic insight of the philosophy of the Event from the profoundly profane Slovenian thinker Slavoj Žižek: “something shocking…out from nowhere” or an “effect which exceeds its cause.”
In his book Event: A Philosophical Journey Through a Concept, Žižek returns several times to Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia (2011). In the Danish director’s film, Justine (Kristen Dunst) realizes the apocalypse is coming when she looks through a telescope and sees an asteroid heading for the planet. The moment of apocalyptic destruction isn’t the Event but the moment she realizes the pending doom. The encounter with the Event fundamentally changes the subject, Justine. She can no longer interact the same way with the world. Her interactions with the world are essentially different after this moment. Žižek comments, “a new subject emerges which survives the death (erasure) of its symbolic identity.” The Event creates a new subject, a new person.
2022 is the Year of the Event. Day after day, week after week, the Western news cycle seems to find or manufacture a new Event: surpassing 6.28 million Covid deaths worldwide, the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, and the targeted killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. Not all Events are of geopolitical nature, to be sure, though they are the easiest to identify. They are sudden interventions in the flow of present reality.
Our alma mater seemed to undergo an Event of their own, with the reactionary independence assigned to Calvin’s Center for Social Research when it became known an employee was in a same-sex marriage. Social work professor Joseph Kuilema was subsequently denied reappointment for officiating the wedding.
For many members of the vast Calvin community, this Event fundamentally altered how we saw our alma mater. Maybe it was harder to celebrate Calvin for their role in helping forty-five incarcerated people receive their bachelor’s degrees through the Calvin Prison Initiative. These individuals, of course, deserve to be celebrated—but perhaps we minimize Calvin’s role in our celebrations.
For others, one way or another, this Event will affect the decisions of many about where to attend college. I think it’s possible that one’s opinion on the church and LGBTQ issues does not necessarily reflect the personal gravity of this series of events; people on “either side” may be looking through the same telescope here even if they see geo-space rocks composed of different elements.
If Žižek is correct about what an Event means, and if I’m correct in identifying the recent news about Calvin as a community-specific and localized Event, then the damage done is irreparable. Calvin cannot be the Calvin we attended ever again—at least, not to those who experienced the Event that our former school manifested with a gesture of LGBTQ exclusion. Only those who didn’t gaze through the telescope will be unimpacted. I’m confident it will be tough for many recent graduates to look at our alma mater the same way again.