Interstices of the Sublime – Chapter 8 – God Without Being (God)



Marion’s theology can be understood as an attempt to rethink God outside the confines of being. The question of God’s being is bracketed, and God is primarily thought of as loving and as a gift. Furthermore, Marion primarily associates God with the Good because God is abundant and loving. Crockett praises Marion for having responded to the challenge of overcoming onto-theology. In this chapter, Crocket offers a critique of Marion’s reading of Anselm’s argument with resources from Lacan and Wyschogrod.

Marion on Anselm

Marion wants to read Anselm’s argument for God’s existence as being set primarily in the context of faith and prayer. The ontological nature of the argument is secondary. According to Marion, Anselm’s definition of God as “that than which greater cannot be conceive” does not enchain God to some static essence, but rather it defines God as an upper limit or a nonconcept. Anslem also sets up a guiding principle: given two alternatives; God must be thought as the greater of those two. Marion detects a shift in the Anselm’s argument from greater to better. This is a shift from greatness to moral goodness. “This turn away from Being and toward the good repeats the argument of God Without Being, since the good is a more primary name for God than Being” (136). Crockett criticizes Marion for thinking he has freed Anselm’s argument from the shackles of onto-theology. Have we really overcome metaphysics by simple reversing the relationship between being and goodness? Then Crockett compares the concepts of greater and better to the Kantian sublime. For the mathematical sublime, imagination converges upon an upper limit (greater), which sets off a feeling of dysphoria in the face of sheer magnitude. However, reasons steps in and saves the day, which then produces pleasure because of reason’s ability to restore harmony. Also, it “is not simply the force of power, but the moral elevation that characterizes the feeling of the sublime for Kant” (137). Doesn’t reason’s moral character remind us of Marion’s concept of the better? For both thinkers, the moral contains the greater or beyond. Marion has also compared the Kantian sublime to his concept of saturated phenomenon, which is an abundant givenness that overwhelms our intention towards this saturated phenomenon. Crockett concludes that his “critique of Marion is he that disavows any negativity in theology; to preserve an understanding of God as good, Marion is unable to think of God “as beyond good and evil”” (138).

Wyschogrod on Anselm

Edith Wyschogrod performs a therapeutic, deconstructive reading of Anselm in which she interprets Anselm’s voice at the level of the unconscious while Gaunilo and the Fool are “ego ideals and mirages of the subject” (139). She wants us to conceive of the argument as a development of a “coming to consciousness of desire” (139). The profoundest desire of Anslem is to express his love for God. Following Lacan, Wyschogrod recognizes that the discourse about God represents an unconscious desire for God that can never be fully articulated the conscious level. The difference between the highest being and Anselm’s definition suggests that the understanding of God is contingent on this difference. Hence, she introduces a “thinking of the name or definition of God involves instantiating a radical negativity into conscious language because, as Lacan avers, God is unconscious” (141). If God necessarily exists for Anselm it must be in the Real, beyond the limitations of the Symbolic. Analysis ends when all characters internalize the Name of the Father and come to terms with the fact that their primordial desires are forever barred because God inhabits the Real.

Lacan vs. Theological Utilitarianism

Lacan believes that traditional ethics hailing back from Aristotle have been primarily focused on the Good. Happiness or pleasure is the foundation for the ethical life. This ethics is utilitarian because pleasure regulates social activity, which is ultimately grounded on the Good. Freud offers us an ethics beyond the pleasure principle that focuses on an ethical relationship with the Thing (in the Real). This relationship is beyond good and evil, and it focuses on pain not pleasure. Kant’s deontological ethics required that the subject painfully stay faithful to his duty just as Sade’s radical amorality found that the ultimate ethics is the extremity of pleasure when it converges with pain. Sublimation happens at the outermost limit and stands in relation to aesthetics of beauty, which when forced to the limits moves toward the sublime. For Lacan, sublimation is synonymous with the death drive and it “leads beyond the field of ethical utilitarianism toward aesthetic beauty” (144). Lacan reads Antigone as an example of someone whose desires eclipse the beautiful and heads straight for the abyssal sublime. This is a desire beyond the ethical, beyond the Law. Sublimation always includes the forfeiture of jouissance, and “the satisfaction of desire is the loss of the Good” (146). God is not good, and Crockett finally encourages us to “hold onto this distance constitutes the core of the ethics of psychoanalysis, and I am suggesting that theological thinking should also attend honestly and faithfully to the irreducible gap between reality and the Real” (146).


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