Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Truth in Weak Theology - part one - Names and Events

Okay, enough posts on Oakland!

Over the next few days I'll post bits of what I'm working on at the moment, which is a paper on truth, weak theology and a/theism. To start with, a few posts laying down the key concepts in Jack Caputo's (2006) The Weakness of God. He ends with “A Concluding Prayer – for Theology, for the Truth, for the Event,” so I'll also be blogging about how truth is figured in TWOG.

  • Weak Theology isn't a systematic theology, so it doesn't lend itself well to being broken up into distinct chapters within a linear progression, so it's going to be quite a job to hope (against hope!) to con(s)t(r)ain it to set of posts rather than one long one, but I'll try. The posts will roughly follow this pattern:

  • Caputo's distinction between names and events

  • Aporia, or undecidability; the impossible; and weakness

  • Pragmatic rather than semantic translation of events; the kingdom (without kingdom) of God; and hyper-realism

  • A/theism

  • and truth in Weak Theology

Names and Events

Caputo’s (2006) The Weakness of God hinges on a reduction, which is at the same time a magnification, of the name of God to an event. His distinction between names and events pivots on the conditioned nature of names and the unconditionality of events. For example, the name of God contains an event it cannot contain, in a relative stability which will always be undone, deconstructed, by the event itself. In this way, ‘a name is a promissory note that it cannot itself keep… asked to carry what they cannot bear toward a destination they do not know’ (3). The burden of names is an event beyond and below being, not an actual entity nor being itself, but something – I know not what – astir in the plane of being, calling being beyond itself.

This event is uncontainable, while names are endlessly translatable into other names. ‘No name can be allowed to have a lock on the event, even the name of God itself, for the event that unfolds under that name comes and goes under many other names’ (267). As no conditioned name can contain the event and no conditioned name can ever be ‘impartially accessible to everyone or uniformly desirable by everyone’ (289), names need to be deliteralized and de-ontologized (3-4), reduced to the event which they harbour, a reduction which is simultaneously a magnification, even a Magnificat (123).

The event is a vocative, evocative and provocative force at work within names and beings, to solicit, seduce and disturb the plane of being (39), so that the event ‘would be something of which we would say not that it “is” but that it “calls”’ (13). The event is thus both excessive and unconditional, an in-coming (l’invention) rising independently of us (4), laying unconditional claim to us, without conditions (90) and without an ‘army to enforce its claims’ (17). The ‘best way to describe an event is not to say that “it is” but [that] it happens’ (153). Caputo prefers to ‘think of the world as addressed by a call, not produced by a cause, as an addressee, not an effect, and of God as a call, not a cause, as a beneficence, not a sovereign power’ (39).

His meditation on Genesis 1.2, in conversation with Catherine Keller’s (2003) theology of creation The Face of the Deep, highlights that God calls creation, contra creatio ex nihilo, not into being from non-being – as the barren earth (tohu wa-bohu), the deep (tehom), and the wind (ruach) are God's companions – but rather from being to beyond being, from being to life, from being to the good (58,67). Following this theology of creation, ‘God is an event, not in the order of power or being, but in the order of the good, the order of the order or command or call or appeal for the good, which calls for the good even when, especially when, things are going badly’ (53). Good, good, yes, yes. Viens, oui, oui. This call is Caputo’s ‘hermeneutical pre-understanding:’ ‘we are all constituted as the recipients of a call about whose origin we cannot comment with assurance’ (114).

While what is constructed (names) can be deconstructed, the event is undeconstructible. ‘The event is always undeconstructible because it is always promised or called for, always to come, whereas whatever actually arrives has arrived under present conditions and so is deconstructible.’ (6). Deconstruction of the conditioned name releases the unconditional event, but deconstruction is a condition built into the name, which cannot contain the uncontainable and so the name auto-deconstructs and the event translates itself endlessly. For example, ‘…when you cross the wires of différance with the name of God, the result is to have crossed out the name of God in order to release the event this name contains’ (35).

Deconstruction constitutes the slash between theism/atheism, the condition of possibility for distinguishing between names, their translatability, and the necessary structural gap between names and events (28). For Caputo, this gap ‘does not undermine faith but explains precisely why we need faith’ (25). Faced with the radical ‘undecidability’ of life – of from whence the call comes, for example – it is this undecidability that constitutes the very condition of possibility for decisions to be made, for the non-cognitive leap of faith to be made.

I'll pick up here tomorrow in Truth in Weak Theology - part two - Aporia

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