Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 1 & 2

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Chapter 1 – Genesis as New Creation

The most difficult thing for us moderns to think today is absolute beginning. The naming of the absolutely new can only be the result of the end of an absolute ending. Hence, the naming of the novum can only be understood as also carrying with it a significant loss. The death of God provides an opportunity for us to re-conceive of genesis in a new way. However, this opportunity must be coupled with a thinking of a new totality, which demands that we grab hold of a vision that is a total origin. For this beginning to be new it cannot exist “in and as the shadow of a preceding eternity, for then its very existence would not be absolutely new” (29). Christian theology in the West has been wary of thinking an absolutely new totality, as it might be an offense to the Godhead. This led Augustine to posit that creation was not a new act because God acts in eternity all at once. Altizer argues that the Aquinas and Augustine differ here more than ever because Aquinas understood existence as the creation of existence itself. Ultimately, Aquinas could articulate a theology in which God was conceived as “the pure Act-of-Being” (30), which could lead him to realize creation as a newness of the world.

In the Biblical Genesis, creation is an absolute beginning that began with the revelation that God spoke (and God said…). For Altizer, revelation is a repetition of creation within which it “begins with the self-naming of I AM” (31). The naming of the I AM is the beginning of history itself where events are singular and non-repeatable. I AM is the death of a primordial silence, and it is “fullness and finality of speech itself” (32). If this beginning of history is contingent on the I AM, then so is the Fall. The Fall represents the fall from eternity, hence opening up the possibility of actual death. Speech can only ever lead to the end of silence. The revelation of God’s I AM represents the end of a primordial silence that’s inextricably linked to a primordial totality. This actuality of I AM is irreversible thus making eternal return impossible. Eternal return fascinated ancient man, and the I AM inaugurated history and signaled the end of eternal return. Events in the eternal return are never singularities or irreversible because they continually get recycled in the wheel of history. From the perspective of eternal return, beginning and end are indistinguishable. Only after the I AM is beginning only beginning and end only end. Death is now irrevocable in our actual history because death is a final perishing.

“The very speech of I AM is the self-negation of an original transcendence or totality which is itself unspeakable, and unspeakable by virtue of the inevitable silence of an undifferentiated totality, a totality foreclosing the possibility of a voice which could actually and immediately speak” (35). This speech is one of total presence because it shattered a primordial total silence. Aquinas understood the Act-of-Being as the ontological conceptualization of the I AM present in Exodus. This act of being “is only itself in that original beginning which is an eternal beginning, or is eternity itself” (36). However, we must be clear that this eternity is new and thus different from the eternity of the cycle of eternal return. It is new because it is unique and total, which is unthinkable from the perspective of eternal return. Christianity has understood the fall as a felicitous one because it is “a fall from primordial or original eternity, or an eternity that cannot become or be a truly or actually new eternity” (37). Creation is a beginning that violently destroyed the eternity of eternal return. This had to lead to an ultimate and unique beginning that is the ending of the primordial eternity of eternal return. The beginning of the absolute and total presence of the I AM is the death of eternity of eternal return. Beginning must be total “otherwise eternal recurrence or eternal return would not actually cease to be itself” (39). Hence genesis as absolute beginning could only begin insofar as it emerges from the end of an original eternity. Altizer emphasizes that this act of genesis is “an act of pure and total negation, even if it simultaneously the total realization of the absolutely new” (39).

Chapter 2 – Genesis and Death

The absolute enactment of the self-naming of the I AM results in the death of an original silence of eternal return. This forward-moving naming actualizes history itself and shatters a plenitude of silence that is forever gone. The beginning of speech is an absolute and actual ending of an original silence. This means that the naming of the I AM is “final actuality of death itself, a death which enacts and finally enacts the absolutely new” (42). We can now have an actual future because of the end of eternal return signaling the impossibility of return itself. The self-naming of the I AM is the self-negation of an eternal now because the I AM is the forward movement of history. Eternal now is gone because events are unrepeatable and irreversible because the “past that is only actually realized with the perishing of an eternal now” (44). Freed from the monotony of eternal return, now past is actually past thus barring the possibility of the future being a repetition of the past. Future is future only insofar as it is actual different from the past. Altizer goes on to write “the advent of a future which is necessarily other than the past is the advent of difference or otherness itself, an otherness that could not be actual or real in an original eternity” (46). Without this otherness, beginning could never actually begin. This beginning is wholly contingent on an actual death, a death we must recognize as the death of eternal return itself. This death opens up the possibility for an absolute new beginning, which Altizer names novum.

God “is pure difference or pure otherness itself; that is a difference which necessarily unreal in an eternity which is eternally the same” (47). Altizer goes on to argue that this God is the inevitable result of a self-negation of the eternity of eternal return. God brings the absolutely new, instituting history itself. But, this also suggests that God’s origin is also the origin of an absolute death, which is “an embodiment of pure otherness” (48). Death’s constant presence prevents the moment from being an eternal now. Death is the perishing of the current moment that preserves a real and absolute difference separating the future from the past. Because the moment is constantly perishing it creates an abyss that is grounded in the actuality of the current moment. Altizer believes that we can hear this abyss echo most loudly and distinctively in the self-naming of the I AM. “Not until the naming of I AM does an actual death fully enter the center of consciousness, then immortality or eternal life becomes absolutely forbidden to that consciousness,” (51). Death is in the inauguration of the absolutely new by virtue of the fact that it is omnipresent in every moment and irreversible.

To conclude Altizer writes “it is that novum itself is not only inseparable from death, but is the very embodiment of death, and the embodiment of an actual and final death, the death of every moment that is eternally the same, and thus the death of that eternity which is and only is eternity, or that eternity which is an eternal now, or that eternity which is not the self-negation or the self-emptying of itself” (53).

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