Archive for the ‘Derrida’ Category

Derrida on the Animal as the Absolute Other

05/10/2010

Tonight I began reading Derrida’s work The Animal That Therefore I Am. Like so much of Derrida it’s insightful and witty. This quote especially grabbed my attention.

“The animal is there before me, there next to me, there in front of me – I who am (following) after it. And also, therefore, since it is before me, it is behind me. It surrounds me. And from the vantage of this being-there-before-me it can allow itself to be looked at, no doubt, but also – something that philosophy perhaps forget, perhaps being this calculated forgetting itself – it can look at me. It has its point of view regarding me. The point of view of the absolute other, and nothing will have ever given me more food for thinking through the absolute alterity of the neighbor or of the next(-door) than these moments when I see myself seen naked under the gaze of a cat” (The Animal That Therefore I Am, 11).

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Derrida Lecture on Psychoanalysis and Deleuze

02/26/2010

This is great stuff: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=DD498CDE04B51C2D

Interstices of the Sublime – Chapter 10 – Processing the Real

02/12/2010

Introduction

This chapter attempts to tease apart the relation between the Lacanian Real and the Aristotelian conception of substance. Ultimately Crockett wants us to conceive of Aristotle’s substance as a process, which can be understood from a Deleuzian perspective as the production of the Real. Lacan understood the term lalangue as being the “starting point of everything – nature and language” (166). The creation of para-being out of lalangue can be understood as a generation of being out of a substance that is virtually nothing.

Aristotle’s Substance

Defining Aristotle’s substance poses many problems. Philosophy deals with ““the highest sense object of knowledge, the science of substance”” (166). Heidegger’s study of ontological difference between being and beings is maintained by a reading of substance as the proper object of study for ontology. However, Aristotle’s actual definition of being has a multiplicity of meanings. For Aristotle, being can be though of as the accidental, as truth contrasted with falsity (non-being), as predication or categories, and finally as split between actuality and potentiality. Aristotle offers the individual man as specific form of being as being, but Crockett asks how does the particular “manifest being as being”? (167). Aristotle understands that there are three substances: nature (form), matter, and the particular, which is constituted by the former two. Crockett reads Aristotle as associating substance too closely with form. This focus on substance as form also “drives Aristotle to privilege energia (actuality) over dynamis (potentiality) because matter is distinguished as potential and form as actual” (168-9). Crockett intends for us to think of substance as potentiality and particular being constituted by both matter and form as opposed to a formal essence.

Spinoza’s Substance – Deleuze

Spinoza’s ontology not only overcomes Cartesian dualism but also offers a clarification of Aristotle’s substance by claiming that God is the only (infinite, absolute) substance. Deleuze praises Spinoza for laying out a system in which all existence is distributed on a plane of immanence. Against transcendence, even God himself is ““the immanent, not the transcendent cause of all thing”” (170). Spinoza intends for us to live ethically by intellectually grasping the attributes of God. Unfortunately, the mind cannot fully understand the body. Psychoanalysts cannot totally embrace Spinoza’s ontology because they presume that something does resist making itself known the conscious mind, i.e. unconscious processes. Deleuze also recognizes in Spinoza’s thought an attack against analogy. Substance manifests itself in attributes and modes directly, whereas analogy “retains the equivocity of being that delimits God as transcendent but it anchors the revelation of God in the world in an absurd and unknowable way” (171). For Crockett, “the problem with theological analogy is not what we do not know, it is what we think we know, and the leap that is made from one to the other” (172). Mapping out concepts on a plane of immanence does not lead to the equality of things, but rather the notion of identity is predicated on an understanding of difference as repetition. Deleuze’s concept of singularity offers us a helpful way to conceptualize substance because a Deleuzian singularity “refers to the “difference” within a thing that makes it what it is” (172).

Whitehead’s Process

Whitehead transforms Spinoza’s modes into actualities and thinks of substance as an internal becoming. Whitehead’s ontology describes a world in constant process to such an extent that he can equate both process and reality. Although, Aristotle prioritized actualities over potentialities, Deleuze emphasizes virtualities (potentialities) over actualities. In Deleuze’s work The Fold, he reads Leibniz through Whitehead. While Leibniz conceived of God as detached and fashioning the best of all possible worlds, Whitehead understands God as a process immanent in the world. Deleuze understands “Whitehead as radicalizing Leibniz, such that God is processed through compossibilities and even incompossibilities” (174). The compossable refers to not only to what is possible, but also to the arrangements of the various events and entities in the world. Whitehead also divided God into two natures. First, Whitehead conceived of God as primordial, which can be read through Tillich’s notion of God as “being-itself”. Also, Whitehead recognized God “as the consequence of concrescence, the sense-making of the world related to a special kind of eternal object” (174). Although, Whitehead and Deleuze are suspicious of the linguistic turn as potentially leading to a navel-gazing, narcissistic subject, Crockett believes that a linguistic ontology can be reconciled with their systems. As Derrida would remind us there is no simple “hors-texte”, which means although there are obviously things outside of language we are forced to signify these objects with language. This leads to the problem of language as a mediation of reality, i.e. representation. Deleuze and Whitehead would rather us think that language “directly expresses, actualizes, and becomes or concresces” (175).

Lacan and the Being of Language

In Seminar XX, Lacan wants to realize the impossibility of separating language and being with the terms lalangue and para-being. “The difficulty is the stubborn persistence of what Whitehead calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, which substantializes our language into being or disembodies language by supposing that being is somewhere, “out there”” (176). Lacan posits that the existence of lalangue, which is a “proto-linguistic stammering or stuttering that precedes symbolic discourse” (176). Heidegger would remind us that when we try to seize being it takes flight. Language both discloses and conceals being. Crockett goes on to equate substance with para-being. He urges theologians to recognize the death of God, which is the distance separating God (in the Real) and symbolic discourse. “Theology expresses substance: the articulation of creative and substantial language that makes being appear beside itself as para-being” (177). Crockett exhorts us to open language up and detect moments where our discourse intersects the Real. This intersection goes by many names: substance, being, lalangue.

Conclusion

The holy trinity of continental thinkers: Deleuze, Derrida, and Lacan are often pitted against one another. Crockett prefers to think of three as existing in a triangulation. We could think of the Lacanian registers as placing Deleuze in the Imaginary, Derrida in the Symbolic, and Lacan in the Real. Of course, these thinkers will not stay put and continually shift and rearrange themselves preventing any simple categorization. He admits (and this is the main reason I profiled this book) that he has privileged theological insights from Deleuze and Lacan. He recognizes that postmodern theology has gleaned many insights from deconstruction, and this work was an attempt to put Lacan and Deleuze in conversation with theology. Crockett finally challenges us to keep in mind the importance of doing our work in and through love. “A psychotheology sustains itself in and as theological pragmatics without thereby neutralizing the importance of language and its effects, including that of truth” (179).

Interstices of the Sublime – Chapter 3 – Desiring the Thing

02/06/2010

Prelude: A Detective Story

In this chapter he argue that psychoanalysis offers us an ethical that is not defined by striving towards the Good. Crockett believes that a Lacanian ethics is oriented towards a desire for the Thing, which is located in the Real (hence, beyond the symbolic order and the Other). Lacan interpreted Freud’s statement that “where it was…it is my duty that I should come into begin” (52). That is to say the proper subjectivity emerges from where the id (it) was there the analytic subject should come to situate herself. Crockett notes the shift in Lacan from the imaginary (narcissistic relations) to the symbolic (intersubjective, social) and ultimately to the Real (that which resists symbolization). The word suggests the death of the thing; hence Mark C Taylor argues that the body was always already lost (i.e. virtual). This Thing for Taylor is forever out of reach, but Lacanian psychoanalysis offers us resources to conceptualize the Real and its relationship to the ethical structure of desire. This ethics will be radical insofar that the Thing lies beyond good and evil.

Beyond Good and Evil (Das Ding)

For Lacan, the Thing is not only beyond the symbolic, but when we attempt to represent we can only recognize it as not. Thus it “is characterized by its absence, its strangeness” (54). Lacan understands classical philosophy as a utilitarian ethics oriented towards happiness or the Good, which Lacan realizes only affects the symbolic and imaginary registers. Both desired and forbidden the Thing is beyond good and evil (e.g. the incestuous desire for the mother), beyond representation. The child’s renunciation of Oedipal desires is both positive and negative. While forever losing the original unity with the mother, the child gains access to the symbolic by entering into language. The Name-of-the-Father is what breaks up the original mother-child matrix, and if the child refuses to submit to the Law then he will fall into a psychotic subjective position.

The Thing, the Other, and God

This Lacanian reading of the Thing criticizes modern continental philosophy of religion’s fixation on the Other. Both Levinas and Derrida argue for an ethics of the Other as wholly Other. This ethics of alterity demands that we recognize the Other as laying claim to us unconditionally, and not surprisingly God can be thought as a prime example of the Other. However, to equate the other with God, falters because it “conflates the symbolic with the Real” (56). Crockett teases apart the ramifications of Lacan’s famous dictum that “desire is desire of the Other”, one interpretation suggesting that our desires are not our own. On the one hand, this shared desire promises a sense of community, however, on the other hand, one has to recognize that our very most innermost desires are in some sense a byproduct of the symbolic sphere we inhabit. Now, we come to the theological implications. If we want to understand the Thing as God then we must recognize that this God cannot be understood in classical terms as the Supreme Good. In his later works, Lacan began to associate desire with the Other, whereas the drive is related to a circulation around the inaccessible Thing. Lacan and Taylor both recognize that the death of God means one thing: that God has always already been dead. Crockett wants us to move past deliberations of God’s objective existence, but rather to think of the Real qua Thing for which conceptions of God can serve as a helpful parallel. To conclude, Crockett writes, “God can metonymically represent the Real, which resists symbolization, which must be present as an absence to symbolize or represent anything” (58).

The Question of Sublimation

Returning to sublimation, Crockett reminds us that satisfaction is always partial because the Thing is outside of representation. This explains why the repressed returns. He has already deconstructed the difference between the material and spiritual (in chapter I) in such a way to complicate any straight linear relationship between sex and religion. There is no outside sublimation. Even sex itself is sublimation. Following Deleuze this sublimation can never be vertical but rather horizontal, rhizomatic. Sublimation as a repetition of difference is an endless substitution in which one cannot properly distinguish between the material and the spiritual. “Original desire is for God as Thing, metonym for the Real beyond signification” (60).

The Ethical Structure of Desire

In Seminar VII Lacan related the Thing to creation ex nihilo because it the signifier of signifying as such. Lacan said, “creation of the signifier is out of nothing because the vase is ‘an object made represent the existence of the emptiness at the center of the Real that is called the Thing, this emptiness as represented the representation presents itself as nihil, as nothing’” (61). Crockett argues that the Thing is often associated with evil in traditional ethics because it is the Thing that resists symbolization. He compares the dedication to the Thing as represented by Antigone’s refusal to give ground on her desire to have her brother properly buried. Antigone incarnates genuine sublimation because her fidelity to her desire leads to the terrifying sublime of the death drive ultimately resulting in her own suicide. Finally, Crockett concedes that differentiating between authentic desires and the desire of the Other is almost impossible. This difference can only be understood as a virtual difference, not an actual difference. This gap that separates desire of the Thing and desire of the Other is a hole burned in the Real by the Thing.

Caputo and Tillich’s Theological Similiarities

01/13/2010

Last night I read an interview with John Caputo in the latest book showcasing his theology entitled Cross and Khôra. I’ll always have a soft spot for Caputo. His work introduced me to postmodern thought especially Derrida. His work also freed me from the illusions of much of my theological upbringing. While I do not support all of his work (especially his theology), I’ll never forget reading two of his more philosophical works on deconstruction and religion: Prayers and Tears and Deconstruction in a Nutshell. The interview got me thinking about the content of his theology. Caputo argues for a weak theology. While his theology is more or less pluralistic, at its base is Christianity (more specifically the life of Jesus of Nazareth). While he would agree with Paul Tillich that God does not exist, insofar as he does not consider God to be a ‘being’, he still believes that there is event that goes on in the name of God. He calls this event that calls which calls us unconditionally, albeit in the name of weakness. Virtues such as the forgiveness are paradigmatic for Caputo. In typical Derridean fashion, forgiveness’s condition of possibility is only realized in its im/possibility. True forgiveness is forgiveness that extends itself unconditionally. That is to say forgiveness can only forgive the impossible. Furthermore, love is only realized when we love the unlovable (i.e. our enemies). Otherwise, love is simple economics. Who wouldn’t love their friends when it pays off in the end?

Caputo’s God is weak in the sense that God has been divested of all God’s sovereignty. Caputo believes that all political concepts, following Schmitt, are secularized theological concepts. I’ve also been listening to Caputo’s course where he critiques more confessional theologies in favor of a radical or weak theology. Confessional theologies are metaphysical and strong. Think of Barth’s God that intervenes without conditions with a straight perpendicular into the world. Caputo critiques such a notion, because he believes phenomenologically we would have no way to experience such an event. The unconditional cannot be experienced phenomenologically because there would be no way for us to integrate such an experience. He likens Barth’s God to the 800 lb gorilla sitting in the corner of the room. This contrast between Barth and Caputo reminded of the passages Genesis 15 & 17 that document the Abrhamic covenant. In the first story we have the God that reminds us of the immanent anthropomorphic God of Genesis 2-3 who walks in the Garden with Adam. In the later story God approaches and Abraham falls face down on the ground. This would be the God of Barth. When the Word of God breaks in all we can do is tremble and pray for mercy. Caputo prefers the first God, the God who walks with Abram and shows him the stars, the God who walks with Adam. This is the God who calls unconditionally to serve the widow, orphan, and stranger (a concept borrowed from Levinas and the Jewish scriptures).

Here I believe we begin seeing parallels develop between Tillich’s God who is the ground of being and Caputo’s God who is the weak unconditional call. God is not up there sitting sovereign over humanity. Another parallel is Tillich’s definition of faith as that which concerns us ultimately. In a similar vein, Caputo (following Derrida following Augustine) believes God is best understood when we ask the question, “What do I love when I love my God?” This passion, this theology of desire is the theology Caputo is attempting to capture. He takes this to be Biblically grounded in idea of kenosis, and St. Paul’s verse in 1 Corinthians 1 that talks about the weakness of God. Tillich’s understanding of faith as that which concerns us ultimately is in many ways a reformulation of Augustine’s question.

However, differences emerge when we begin contrasting both Tillich’s and Caputo’s view of the cross. For Tillich, the cross is a symbol that literally embodies Jesus’ ultimate concern. However, ultimately the cross points beyond to the glory of Christ. Caputo stays at the cross. The cross is Jesus’ renunciation of violence, God’s identification with the victim. According to Caputo, no debt is lifted from us on the cross, no metaphysical transaction occurs between God and man, but rather a responsibility is imposed on all of us. We have seen the example of God in Jesus, now we must go and do likewise. I think if Caputo could choose a gospel ending, he’d probably end with the traditional closing of Mark. Jesus is out on the streets, he’s not in the tomb. At the conclusion of the gospel of Mark we have no guarantee of redemption, or eternal life. All we have is an exhortation to incarnate the life of Jesus. This is the risk of faith. Perhaps there is no afterlife or resurrection of the dead, but faith is ultimately a heeding of a call that demands a risk be taken.

I said I have some criticisms of Caputo. In After the Death of God, he criticizes Vattimo for being a supersessionist. That is to say Christianity is a completion and perfection of Judaism. Caputo attempts to move beyond this. That is why he views such notions as unconditional calls like the one Levinas mentioned in our responsibility to the widow, orphan, and stranger as being found in multiple traditions. Neither religion is better; both instill within us a passion for justice, a passion for the impossible. However, I’m reminded of Zizek’s critique of Levinas in the Neighbour where he accuses Levinas of being too Christian. This might help explain why Christian theologians are so prone to appropriate Levinas’ thought. Furthermore, I question to what extent Caputo’s theology is not supersessionist. He argues for a weakness of God, but can he honestly ground this in Scriptures? Is the omnipotent, metaphysical God really just a perversion of Greek metaphysical thought? I don’t think a faithful reading of Scriptures would uphold such a reading. I think this weakness of God is almost completely grounded in the Greek Bible, and it would be difficult for Caputo to reconcile his notion of a weak God with the tribal God of the Hebrew Bible.

Either way, Caputo’s theology of desire and weakness, is intriguing. I need to read more of Tillich because I’m realizing more and more both hold such a similar view, albeit Caputo’s has rid his theology of Tillich’s ontological baggage. I’ll try and make a detour through Tillich’s Systematic Theology later on this year.

Talking Points on the Gospel of Luke

12/08/2009

Let me just say that after listening to the Gospel of Luke, I’m more and more inclined to believe that this Gospel is the most ripe for theological appropriation (especially for liberation theology). Luke is intent that we understand Jesus’ ministry as being one that is offered to the despised, hated, and ostracized in society. This is confirmed in Jesus’ reading in the synagogue from Isaiah in Luke 4,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I was reminded of Yoder’s wonderful political reading of the Gospel of Luke in his Politics of Jesus. The proclamation of the jubilee year was key to Jesus’ mission.

I find it interesting that church has always focused on the Beatitudes in Matthew, but not the ones in Luke. Read in Luke 5,

Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

Notice how concrete the Kingdom is. No longer is it the poor in spirit or those who hunger after righteousness that will enter the Kingdom, but it’s merely the poor and hungry.

In Luke 12, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” It is beyond me how some read Jesus as a westernized Buddha. I guess they just focus on John’s Gospel.

Derrida talks about radical hospitality. We let the Other come without conditions whether that Other be meek or monstrous. Unconditional hospitality demands that we cannot discriminate, but rather we open ourselves to allow the Other to lay claim to us. Luke 14, “Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

How weird is this in Luke 22: He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.”

Of course, in the same chapter one of Jesus’ followers cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus reprimands him, and then promptly heals the servant. So, what was the purpose of the swords again?

I’m currently listening to the Epistles and should have some talking points on those as well in the following days.

Autobiography, Philosophers, and Ethics

11/28/2009

Last night I was talking to my sister-in-law’s mother who studies continental philosophy, especially Husserl, Marion, and Levinas. First off, let me just say it is one of the most exciting things in the world when I meet someone in the real world who has actually read Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, and Derrida. It just got my blood rushing to know I’m not alone in the struggling through these great thinkers. Anyway, I told her of my interest in Lacan, and that I’m currently working through some of Deleuze’s works. Her primary work is in phenomenology. We started talking ethics, and she made the comments that Deleuze’s ethical system just doesn’t work. According to her, “anyone who throws himself out of a window renders his contribution to ethics moot”. Of course, this led us to your typical conversation about Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism and how his complicity in Nazism problematizes any direct appropriation of his thought. Then she moved on to discuss Levinasian ethics, and how beautiful of a system it is. This brought to mind other autobiographical details from the lives of philosophers. For instance, Freud was incredibly Puritanical. He told his children that masturbation was inextricably related to the development of neurosis, and after he and his wife stopped trying to reproduce he refused to have sex with her. I’ve never been a fan of Jung, and apparently he broke the cardinal rule of psychotherapy by having an affair with a patient. Let me offer a positive Derridean autobiographical narrative. In his latest work Field Notes from Elsewhere, Mark C. Taylor recalls a touching interaction between Derrida and his daughter before dinner at Taylor’s house. While Taylor was in the kitchen preparing dinner, Taylor’s six-year-old daughter went into her room where she showed Derrida her toys as he listened to her stories. Taylor confesses that this singular gesture was more impressive to him than anything Derrida penned throughout his illustrious career.

The question that comes to my mind is what is the relationship between autobiography and a thinker’s conceptual system? That is, to what extent do these misjudgments arise out of the conceptual system they created? For example, what is it within Heidegger’s phenomenological system that clouded his judgment enough to support National Socialism? Based on the conversation I had I got the impression that a person’s autobiography has the ultimate say in the importance of someone’s ethical system. Basically the ultimate test of an ethical system is contingent on how the ethicist lived out his own life. While I understand the reason for this position, it seems to me rather naïve. People have a strong ability to dissociate cognitively. Generally, most people find it very easy to unconsciously split off action from thought. Also, many post-structuralists are known for their emphasis on “difference” and “pluralism”. Apparently, before the 1950’s every other philosopher was intolerant, hegemonic, and obsessed with silencing differences in opinions. I just really have a hard time believing that people are so strongly driven by conscious, ontological beliefs. I don’t think Hegel’s Absolute Spirit or Nietzsche’s Overman were responsible for the Stalinism or Nazism. This sort of causal relationship between belief → action ultimately undermines the important influence the unconscious has on our ethical decisions.

Derrida and Keller

10/21/2009

One thing that never ceases to frustrate me is when philosophers caricature Derrida as a nihilist who believes that we can make texts say anything we want. Right now, I’m reading S. Shakespeare’s new book Derrida and Theology. It’s a fairly even-handed presentation of Derrida’s work, and I really enjoy that he spends the majority of time actually in Derrida’s text, teasing out the theological gems. I’m looking forward to the end where he discusses theological appropriations of Derrida ranging from Altizer to Taylor to Caputo to Milbank to Keller. The diversity of interpretation of Derrida’s theological insights ranging from a death of god theologian, to a negative theologian, to a secular postmodern nihilist, to a radical atheist speak volumes of just how complex and dense Derrida’s corpus is.

Much of Derrida’s critique of onto-theology stems from his belief in theology’s penchant for being a totalizing system that suppresses all difference for the sake of unity. Hence, God is inextricably linked to the primary arche from which all of creation beings. That is to say creation ex nihilo. This is where Catherine Keller’s magnificent work The Face of the Deep comes in handy. While I don’t generally like process theology as I am suspect of most natural theology (here Barth was certainly right). Keller argues that lurking beneath the text rests a different interpretation, one that has been ignored by theologians for thousands of years. As opposed to typical picture of God hanging out in outerspace playing checkers with Jesus in the dark, until he decides to “Let there be Light”. Keller unearths in the text a new understanding of creation where matter was always already there. God does not create being out of nothing, rather his job like a beloved caretaker is to call creation good and bless it. He paints creation and breathes life into it.

Read Keller’s book if you want to see a fascinating mixture of post-structuralism of Derrida and Deleuze with Whitehead and some superb literary studies of Moby Dick and the book of Job, along with her re-fashioning of the creation myth.

Death of God Part V

08/04/2009

So, I decided to save reflections on Moltmann for a later time. Today, I want to consider Mark C Taylor’s books Erring. This book, although not the first, has been definitive for radical theology. Raschke, who first introduced deconstruction to theology, once quipped that, ‘Deconstruction is the death of God put in to writing’. In Erring, Taylor synthesized his work on Kierkegaard and Hegel with Derrida. I respect Taylor’s work because he’s a virtual renaissance man. He’s published books on theology, philosophy, art, architecture, complexity theory, and economics. His most recent book After God is somewhat of an summary of his entire work. Taylor’s theological contributions stems from his relationship with Altizer. He has remained faithful while simultaneously betraying aspects of the death of God theology.

He famously coined that deconstruction is the ‘hermeneutics of the death of God’. Now, what does that mean? In Of Grammatology, Derrida works through how our perceptions of language would change if we started considering language as a form of writing as opposed to speech. Derrida notes that in the history of Western philosophy we have continually though that Logos (reason/thought) has a more intimate relationship with speech while writing is a derivative form. Because speech is so closely tied to presence of our conversation partner we fail to recognize the amount of interpretation that requires our comprehension of language. For instance, when we hold a conversation we rarely remember that the words we speak are not self-evident in and of themselves, basically when language is conceived from the perspective of speech language is effaced. What if we began understanding language from the perspective of writing? Would anything change? For one, the author is dead/absent. There is no possibility of asking for clarification from an author who’s absent. The words are on the page, and we are stuck with onerous task of interpretation. Derrida encourages us to think of language as writing because when we read we are struck with the fact that language is a collection of signifiers whose meaning is not given. These signifiers are wrapped in a complex web of other signifiers. His term differance helps us think through this relationship. Differance plays off the double meanings in French which means to both defer and differ. For structuralist linguistics, signifiers are only distinguished by how they differ from other words with similar sounds and meanings. Likewise, whenever we look up a word’s meaning in the dictionary we recognize that we never arrive at the actual meaning; rather we are sent on an infinite quest for a meaning that is always deferred. Now, when we reconsider language from the perspective of writing, we are struck with the fact that language always requires an act of interpretation. The illusion that meaning is ever secured is tied to a naïve perspective of language that results when we think of language as speech. Now, we must recognize that language itself is never secured but always open and foundationless.

So, for Taylor deconstruction is the hermeneutics of the death of God because deconstruction enables us to realize that all of our foundations are themselves insecure. Hence, God or Logos or Being or Meaning have all become destabilized. I also imagine that Taylor would view the death of God as being a historical event beginning from the Reformation through Kant and prophesied by Nietzsche. Here, people tend to confuse deconstruction as nihilism, but as Derrida’s later work indicates he had certain commitments that were ‘undeconstructible’. Now, if God is dead, what happens to man? We all know in Genesis 1 that man was made in the image of God. Taylor recognizes that the first Western autobiography was coined by St Augustine whose heart was ‘restless until we rest in you’. So if the man’s identity is in a reciprocal relationship with God, certainly the self also becomes de-centered because of its contingency on God. Here, I’m reminded of Foucault’s ruminations on the ‘death of man’ or the eclipse of humanism. Foucault states, ‘It [man] was the effect of a change in the fundamental arrangements of knowledge. As the archaeology of our thought easily show, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end’.

Lyotard’s famous definition that postmodernism is an ‘incredulity of metanarratives’ motivates Taylor’s next thesis. So, if history is the recording of the self and God’s interaction then we know that history has now come to an end. The end of history complements Lyotard’s understanding of postmodernism, which tends to be skeptical of any sort of narrative that can explain the totality of history. Whether that be Freud’s psychoanalysis, Marx’s dialectical materialism, or Hegel’s absolute spirit all of them lose their credibility to explain all facets of life. The atrocities of the 20th century have rendered any sort of teleological outlook of the world unthinkable. Finally, if the book documents history, we’re struck with the closure of the book as well. This is likewise mirrored in Barthes’ ‘death of the author’. There is no book that could properly document the progress of history; we’re always already in the flux. Nothing can elevate us out of particularity to have a ‘God’s eve view’ of the world.

This is Taylor’s a/theology. One trying to err along the way.

Note: I’d especially encourage everyone to read this who has only been introduced to Derrida via Caputo. Caputo’s defense of Derrida focuses more on his ethical/political work of the 80’s and 90’s and less on his more philosophical books of the 60’s and 70’s. Also, Caputo’s strident defense against nihlism sometimes diminishes the radicalism of Derrida’s work.