Thursday, January 24, 2008

Truth in Weak Theology - part three - kingdom without kingdom

Third in a series about Jack Caputo's The Weakness of God, following on from Truth in Weak Theology - part one - Names and Events, and Truth in Weak Theology - part two - Aporia, today I'm posting about the pragmatic, rather than semanitc, translation of events; the kingdom (without kingdom) of God; and hyper-realism.

kingdom without kingdom

Conceiving the name of God as a weak force of a call holds implications for phenomenological scriptural hermeneutics, wherein ‘these texts are solicitations that call for a response, appeals coming from I know not where about a way to be, a style of existence, about a poetic possibility that we are invited to transform into existential actuality’ (117).

Scripture is not treated as representational of reality, but as ‘hermeneutically explicative or phenomenologically disclosive or revelatory about a mode of being in the world’ (188). There is thus a movement from text to call to response and actualizing activity. For Caputo, ‘[r]eligious discourses are not “verified” like propositions, by finding a fact of the matter out there with which the proposition makes a snug fit, but rather the event they harbor is “testified” to in experience, by being borne out or confirmed in our lives’ (118).

While names are endlessly translatable semantically, the event calls to be translated pragmatically. This translation is ‘radical, beyond any semantic transfer, beyond any aligning of meanings in different semantic fields, beyond being and knowledge, because it is a translation into witnessing, into action. The name of God must be translated into an event, and the event must be translated into a deed’ (272). Semantics should not block pragmatics, which is why Caputo is concerned to ‘save the name of God, not absolutize’ or literalize or ontologize it (40).

He reflects upon continental philosophy’s fondness for the French word ‘adieu,’ holding for Levinas the sense of being turned to God: ‘The à in à-Dieu represents a turn toward God, not a turn taken by the conscious freedom of an auto-turning autonomous self, but a being-already-turned to God, long before the conscious self steps in and takes on turn or another’ (264). Long before one turns to God though intentional actions and aspirations for God, ‘before I even know this name,’ one is ‘always already turned by God to God: à Dieu (264).

The name of God, which contains an uncontainable unconditional event, names a transformation (whatever name we give it) which turns the self to the other, because the name of God is an undeconstructible event of justice, forgiveness, hospitality, and love. This is where, Caputo argues, Levinas and Derrida converge:

‘Starting out from the opposite shores of theism and atheism, they join rails in the middle. Even as for Levinas, religion, me voice, au nom de Dieu [here I am, in the name of God], translates into ethics, me voici, tout court [here I am, just that], so for Derrida, for whom deconstruction is justice, messianic peace, and hospitality, deconstruction undergoes a parallel translation into an ethic-politics and therefore into the name of God, into a working equivalence with speaking in the name of God. Me voici, au nom de Dieu, and me voici, tout court – these translate into the same thing, into hospitality, which is not their “common meaning” but the event they share in common, whether or not one rightly passing for an atheist.’ (274)

The experience of the impossible, the event, which is ethics for Levinas and deconstruction for Derrida, turns from semantics to pragmatics, from names to events and our response to the event. ‘What matters with the event,’ Caputo writes, ‘is to take a step’ (298).

To recap, ‘It is not what we call God that is at issue, but what God calls. Then again, it is not what God calls that is at issue, but the response’ (97). For Caputo, the response, the action or deed, constitutes what he calls a ‘sacred anarchism’ (14), visible in the poetics of the kingdom of God. The kingdom which unfolds when the event harboured in God’s name rules (with sovereignty but without force, or, rather, with the sovereignty of a weak force, a call, a word, a sigh) is a ‘kingdom without kingdom,’ an anarchic kingdom, an (Alice in) Wonderland of a kingdom, which is a ‘holy disarray’ (14), a ‘kingdom of the kingdom-less’ (26). This anarchism, like deconstruction, is undertaken ‘in the name of something’ (140), in the name(s) which we ascribe to the event, the call, the ‘infinite task of making good on Elohim’s “good”’ (128) with acts of love, justice, gift, forgiveness and hospitality, if there are such things (s’il y en a).

This ‘making good’ is vital for one of the senses in which Caputo understands truth, which will be examined in a later post, but it also pertains to his understanding of ‘hyper-realism.’ Events, which are ‘not what is present but what is coming’ (6), avoid the realist/anti-realist debates which concern the level of being, the level of names (102).

‘I do not take the name of God to pick out an entity, as in realism, or an illusion, as in anti-realism, but an event, an advent, a future and a promise, a call and a claim, a hope and an aspiration, which is why I speak of a hyper-realism, which hopes in a being beyond or below being with a desire beyond desire and a hope against hope’ (124).

Reducing or magnifying the name of God to the level of events is to neither confirm nor contradict theological realism or theological anti-realism, but is to affirm a different reality altogether, the reality to come, the to-come (l’à-venir), whatever name it be given now or in the unforeseeable future. Hyper-reality is a reality promised beyond what is presently taken to be real’ (11). Hyper-realism ‘reaches beyond the real to the not-yet-real’ (11-12), so that it is a realism of the called-for to-come.

The translatability of names (mentioned in part one), the context of undecidability (part two), and the importance of pragmatics over semantics (here in part three) lead on to the discussion of a/theism, which I will post about in tomorrow's installment: Truth in Weak Theology - part four - A/theism.

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