Shameless self promotion…

Hey. Sorry for the low content value of this post after such a great series by Joel, but just a heads up in case anyone is interested. If you’re in or around the southern California area, I’ll be giving papers at a couple of upcoming conferences in Claremont that may be of interest.

On Thursday, February 14, I’ll be participating in the pre-conference seminar leading up to CGU’s 35th Annual Philosophy of Religion Conference. My paper is entitled “We Look for the Resurrection of the Dead: On Hope, Futurity, and Temporality,” and is an attempt to think hope in terms of immanent refusal, couched in a response to Martin Hägglund’s realist reading of Derrida. Hope is this year’s conference theme, and Jürgen Moltmann will be giving the keynote address.

On Friday, February 21 I’ll be giving a paper entitled “The Problem of the Icon” at CGU’s 7th Annual Religions in Conversation Conference. This paper is in large part a critique of Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenology of the icon and the idol. Friend of the blog Tad DeLay will also be participating, giving a paper on psychoanalytic approaches to religion. The theme of this year’s conference is “Creating Expressions of the Sacred: The Intersection of Art and Religion”

The annual Religions in Conversation Conference is accepting paper proposals (limited to 200 words) on the general topic of the intersection of art and religion. Seeking to address issues of artistic expression within religious settings as well as the usage of art by religion and the usage of religion by art, the conference is aimed at examining the mutual influence and engagement of religious traditions and artistic expression through transdisciplinary scholarly engagement within the fields.

The conference invites papers in specific topics such as: icons, iconoclasm, religious artistic expressions, religious influences on specific subdivisions of art, artistic expressions of religious ideas (including painting, sculpture, drama, engravings, poetry, film, etc.), religion as art, art as religion, art in religion, iconoclasm, taboos in religious art, religious artists, curatorial decisions regarding religiously themed art, and religious authority’s embrace or denouncement of artistic expression.

Expect posts on both of these topics from me in the near future.

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Doxological Theology Part IV: Derridean Objections

Given this play between saying and unsaying, in which the via negativa maintains priority without possessing for itself a kind of “last word,” how is the theologian after Dionysius to respond to the classic Derridean objection: is this not, in some important sense, a bluff? Negative theology, Derrida will claim, “is always occupied with letting a superessential reality go beyond finite categories of essence and existence, that is, of presence, and always hastens to remind us that, if we deny the predicate of existence to God, it is in order to recognize him as a superior, inconceivable and ineffable mode of Being.”⁠1 Negative theology “claims not to do what it nevertheless does all the time,” predicating Being—and the like—of God, and inscribing God back within the frame of what goes by the names “onto-theology” and “metaphysics of presence.”⁠2 Insofar as the via negativa passes again into a saying, is it not an attempt to ground a secure possibility of predicative speech? And does not this grounding re-inscribe God  as ultimately an object or function given for thinking the presence-at-hand of things in the world? Even as we affirm that God is not a being, God still, according to this line of accusation, remains a kind of being who is not a being.  How is this formulation not, in the last analysis, ideological?

According to Marion, “It could be answered that mystical theology obviously does not intend to re-establish in fine what it denied, but to pass, through the way of eminence, from predication (affirmative and/or negative) to a decidedly non-predicative form of speech, namely the prayer which praises (ύμνείν).”⁠3 The objection that remains, however, is that “one always praises with a title… or insofar as…, thus by naming.”⁠4 Marion responds to this in part via the logic of proper names; the proper name is proper to the named precisely by virtue of its impropriety towards the essence of the named. A proper name does not predicate an attribute, but gestures toward what it signifies without predication. Indeed, for Dionysius, God “falls neither within the predicate of nonbeing nor of being.”⁠5 Dionysius deals with this at some length in the first chapter of The Divine Names. “Realizing all this, [the independence of God from metaphysical determination] the theologians praise it by every name—and as the Nameless One.”⁠6 Dionysius frequently reflects on the proper namelessness of God alongside necessity of naming. Thus, according to this logic of im/propriety, “as Cause of all and as transcending all, [God] is rightly nameless and yet has the names of everything that is.”⁠7 It is according to this logic that even those most essentially “proper” names are transgressed; thus, echoing Paul, Dionysius argues that the wisdom by which God is named “wise” is a form of foolishness. These names point, in the mode of icon, towards a confrontation that remains unpossessed by the names themselves.⁠8

1 Quoted in Jean-Luc Marion, “In The Name,” in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, ed. John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon(Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), 21-22.

2 Marion, “In The Name,” 23.

3 Ibid., 23.

4 Ibid., 23.

5 Dionysius, “The Mystical Theology,” 141

6 Dionysius, “The Divine Names,” 54.

7 Ibid., 56.

8 Marion will also refer to this as a “saturated phenomenon.” Marion, “In the Name,” 39-40. A saturated phenomenon is differentiated from two options given for appearance by Husserl: that appearance which is adequate to what appears and that which is inadequate, where appearance fails to measure up to the concept to which it is submitted. Instead, the doxological moment is described as a moment in which appearance exceeds the concept given for it. His phenomenological description highlights both the limitations of phenomenalogical description per se and the necessity of faith; phenomenology can say nothing about whether this confrontation actually happens, since the third moment has nothing more to say after saying and unsaying, but instead listens for what may or may not speak. Thus, while the question of predication can be settled in theory (via the notion of saturated phenomena), the question of ideology remains theoretically undecideable, resting on the side of the confrontation itself.