Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Truth in Weak Theology - part two - Aporia

This is the second post in a series about Jack Caputo's The Weakness of God. It follows on from yesterday's post: Truth in Weak Theology - part one - Names and Events. Today we're looking at aporia, or undecidability; the impossible; and weakness. Here's where we left off yesterday:


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.

‘[E]verything turns on keeping the gap between the name and the event open, on keeping the tension between them strong and alive, and thereby to be transported by that tension into the passion of life… It is when I truly do not know what I desire that desire is fired white-hot. It is when I truly do not know if there is anyone to pray to that I find myself praying like mad. It is when I truly do not know where I am going that I am really faced with making a move’ (298)

This radical uncertainty forms part of the ‘element of irreducible indeterminancy and instability built right into creation’ (64). Aporia is a condition of possibility for both re-formation and de-formation, for both promise and threat. ‘The event is subject to all the contingencies of time and tide, of chance and circumstance, of history and power – in short, to all the forces of the world that conspire to prevent the event, to contain its disruption, to hold in check its bottomless disseminative disturbance, to betray its promise’ (5). Good, good, yes, yes, ‘Good – now let’s hope it works’ (71).

The risk of creation – what Caputo says Levinas might call a ‘beautiful risk’ (64) – comes with the gift (promise and threat) of what Derrida calls an ‘absolute future to come’ (à venire) (175), an ‘unforeseeable surprise, a promise and a threat, but about which Jesus would tell us not to be afraid, not to be of little faith, but to trust in God’s rule’ (175). This is a future for which we cannot prepare, for which no horizon of expectation can ‘absorb the shock of the event’ (297).

A correlative (or a ‘least bad definition’ 103) of deconstruction, différance and the event is an experience of the impossible. The event contained in the name of God is the possibility of the impossible (87-88), which is not simply a logical contradiction (p and -p), which implies a horizon of logical expectations, but rather ‘something unforeseeable that shatters our horizons or expectation’ (103).

The possibility of this event, contained in the name of God as in many other names, isn’t an “anything-goes” eventuality, for this is not merely an experience of the impossible, but an experience by the impossible, external to (or beyond) the plane of being so that the experience is a desire beyond desire, ‘for the gift beyond economy, for the justice beyond the law, for the hospitality beyond proprietorship, for forgiveness beyond getting even’ (111; his emphases).

This experience of the impossible shattering of hopes, fears, prayers and tears, forces ‘being into motion, mutation, transformation, reversal’ (9). The experience of the impossible is ‘a transforming event on the level of meaning and existential significance’ (207), not instigating an entitative change but offering a new meaning and calling for transformation, for metanoia (206-207).

This transformation is not exacted through the strong force of the omnipotent God of metaphysics, a God which then requires the obscenity of theodicy. As Caputo writes, ‘God is not up to what metaphysics calls God’ (244). Rather, Caputo “cross wires” St Paul’s ‘weakness of God’ (which still hides power, 49) with Derrida’s ‘weak force,’ Vattimo’s ‘weak thought’ and Benjamin’s ‘weak messianic force’ (7). Both Caputo’s “God” and his theology are ‘weakened by undecidability and translatability’ (9) and ‘weakness is constructed as a blessing’ as in the Beatitudes (11). The event is thus weak, with a power of the powerlessness, as ‘a call is as weak as a word, as a breath of air, a trace, or a sigh’ (15) and is it a Derridean ‘sovereignty without force’ (29).

‘The name of God, what we call God, is God’s call, the word he pronounces, the promise that he inscribes in creation, the word that calls things good. The name of God is the name of an unconditional promise, not of an unlimited power. A promise made without an army to enforce it, without the sovereign power to coerce it. That is what I am calling the weak force of God. That force is the power of powerlessness’ (90)

Tomorrow: Truth in Weak Theology - part three - kingdom without kingdom.

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