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Sunday, December 9, 2007

For Kierkegaard, to read the New Testament correctly is to understand that the church is actually there before the cross

Eric Lee Says: Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 10:49 am
Nate,
Thanks for the comments. My aim in entering this conversation was two-fold: to question JD’s spurious invocation of Graham Priest and also to attempt some clarification by what he meant by paradox, which didn’t seem that coherent.
That being said, I do not mean a kind of ratio, especially in the sense that per Kant, this is the best he can do with analogy (see Milbank’s critique of this in the first chapter of his Word Made Strange).
Three things on this, though. First, this is a real clear limit to language here, right? Kierkegaard wants to think that which cannot be thought. So, it is necessarily difficult to articulate something that ultimately has nothing to do with thought outside of any excess, etc. So, I admit some of my language may be a bit confused as I am still working through these things myself.
Second, when I spoke about paradox signifying some sort of truth about a contradiction, I was not speaking in the Kierkegaardian nor de Lubacian sense — but at the most general level, as I have been thinking about paradox in general and then how different people articulate this (and have recently finished another paper on contradiction and paradox but this time in the work of Graham Priest). Reading through Sainsbury’s work on paradox, Sorensen’s history of the paradox, etc., they all have different readings as to just what it is or is not. And these are all very different from what Kierkegaard and de Lubac say. With that being said, I would need to clarify that my definition can only go so far. Kierkegaard uses ‘infinite qualitative distance’, so there is some ratio of sorts, but it’s also thereby infinite, so it also seems not to be. (I’m almost starting to sound like talk about the analogia entis here.) A second sub-point here: when I presented my paper on paradox in Kierkegaard and de Lubac in Granada, the first question I received had to do with my use of paradox because it was not the ‘usual one’ — the usual one being some sort of mere limit of thought itself (Zeno, Eubulides, name your paradoxer and your paradox), but that there was a kind of opening up of one beyond, and I was very specific about the Christological nature of this in the paradox of the God-Man and how very different this is because it requires faith. I don’t know Marion or phenomenology that much really, so I do not even want to say ‘excess’, let alone the fact that I don’t know what those connotations are, as I do not mean that, either (because wouldn’t that imply some sort of phenomenological reduction of sorts? I don’t know, that isn’t what I have in mind — hah, see, but it’s not in my mind?).
Lastly, I really don’t think that Kierkegaard’s deployment of ‘paradox’ in the Mystery of the Supernatural is the same as when he is giving a treatment of Kierkegaard in Drama of Atheist Humanism. Kierkegaard’s use is so much more halting, abrupt, forcing a decision. Whatever this ‘beyond’ is, for Kierkegaard it was more halting and disruptive, but for de Lubac it is more of a sense of calling one, ultimately, toward one’s divinized end, no? De Lubac focuses quite a bit on the ‘more’ which language cannot describe. (In a discussion between Amy Laura Hall and John Milbank, for instance, Hall made the point that it does not seem like Kierkegaard actually goes beyond the cross, and this language of his is very indicative of that, I think.) In DAH, de Lubac would rather say ‘mystery’ or ‘marvelous’ where Kierkegaard says ‘paradox’ or ‘improbable’ (p. 110). So we already see that de Lubac is distancing himself from Kierkegaard and does not ‘employ’ it in the same way at all. I really don’t see how one can say that de Lubac is talking about the same thing when he is critiquing Kierkegaard on this point. De Lubac would much rather side with Kierkegaard’s “deeper immersion in existence” (as he ends his treatment quoting, p. 111) than this halting moment, and this is very evident as something different all throughout Mystery of the Supernatural, I think.
I know that was a bit belabored, but now it’s your turn, if you don’t mind: how would you describe that which cannot be described, which has no intellectual ratio? Thanks for calling me to clarify. I don’t know if I’ve done an adequate job, but there ya have it.
Peace,
Eric
Eric Lee Says: Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 11:41 am
Nate, to directly answer your question (sorry), no, I do not think that Kierkegaard nor de Lubac’s use of ‘paradox’ is one that is fundamentally a modality of intellection.
Anticipating a possible answer to the question I asked you, would you perhaps say that one ultimately needs to go beyond any kind of apophatic or cataphatic language about the Supreme Paradox into a language of praise? (I’m culling directly from an account of Marion on Augustine that he gave at a recent conference.)
Peace,
Eric
JD Says: Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 1:33 pm
How was my invocation of Priest “spurious?” Have you been thinking this whole time that I was appealing to him in support of my position? I was actually just saying, even keeping in mind that Priest has shown us that certain contradictions are true, this is not necessarily “paradoxical” in the Lubacian sense of opening out to mystery. And, then, as a separate thought altogether - but, one which was wholly suggestive - I mused that, in light of this fact, it might be helpful for us to reconsider Lubac’s comments, favoring “contradiction,” precisely because, post-Priest, that term better fits his use of “paradox.”
So, I really don’t think you need to make comments like “spurious” or charge me with incoherence.
Two other things:
First, Lubac’s deployment of the term “paradox” may be fluid, but it is intimately linked with the basic concerns of his entire authorship: the recovery of thick, organic, integral, humanist vision of sacramentality, catholicity, communion, scripture, culture, spirituality (mysticism), etc. I mean, it is clear, his reason for rejecting Kierkegaard’s contradiction is that it is too “thin,” too “dialectical” - he specifically says dialectic always requires synthesis, meaning a telos, in a specifically Platonic-Idealist register (this may be in Sur les chemins de Dieu, an equally early work) - too “individualistic,” etc. Lubac wants the encounter with paradox to open out onto something more; but, in a world where certain contradictions can be true, the temptation is to mistake the paradoxical truth of the contradiction to be, simply by virtue of the fact that it is true, functioning so as to open out to “something more” as it does in Lubac. Thus, I suggest “contradiction” might better serve those purposes now.
But, most likely where one comes down on that matter will be determined by how one judges the value of Lubac’s argument for an integral, organicist vision - which is not to be equated with an assessment of an integral, organicist vision in general.
Second, I think that it is most likely Milbank’s discussion of ratio in the essay your quote that Nate is implicitly rejecting.
Third, just as a pet peeve I have regarding the English use of French proper names (I was corrected by Lacoste): as Edward D. Seeber puts it, “the particle de may be used after a given name or title, but not with a surname alone: one writes, for example, ‘Alexis de Tocqueville,’ ‘Tocqueville,’ but not ‘de Tocqueville’” The exceptions are: “(1) in one-syllable names(De Retz, De Thou) or two-syllable names that end in mute e, i.e., that are pronounced as one syllable (De Gaulle, De Grasse, De Maistre); (2) in names that begin with a vowel or mute h (D’Alembert, D’Holbach)…”
(Citation and first page of article here. for those that care about such things. I found it helpful.)
Eric Lee Says: Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 2:21 pm
JD, no I had no illusions whatsoever that you were appealing to Priest for support, I just wanted more clarification, so thank you for now doing that. You made that claim in a footnote, after all.
Nate Kerr Says: Thursday, December 6, 2007 at 1:14 am
Eric:
Okay, this got too long to be one comment. So I am going to break it up into two comments. The first a response to your remarks on Kierkegaard, and the second (probably tomorrow evening) a (briefer) response to your question as to “how I would describe that which cannot be described.”
So first let’s begin with Kierkegaard. I have four points.
(1.) There is an important point to be made here, which is that it was Climacus who said, “The passion of the thinker is to think that which cannot be thought.” Climacus says this on his way to saying that “Truth is subjectivity,” and precisely thereby, on his way to saying “subjectivity is untruth” — sin. The all-important point here is that from the ethical point of view, “faith” can only ever be described as the paradox of thought. The paradox as such remains governed by the “caprice” of metaphysics. This is the whole subtle message of Climacus’ authorship, as I read it: “Paradox” in-itself and as such is nothing more than a marvel, and is not itself sufficient to, nor simply a “given” of, faith. The paradox comes instead only as the giving of the condition (qua the paradox of thought) for the grace by which occurs the movement into the paradox of existence — faith. Within Kierkegaard’s dialectic, however, the paradox of thought is thus at one and the same time the condition for sin, one becomes sinful precisely as one recognizes the paradox of thought as a condition for faith, and yet seeks to retain the paradox as such, qua the paradox of thought. To confuse the condition with the means, is thus to evade faith, through recollection. To make the movement of faith, however, is to be transformed “from para-doxa to para-doxa, if you will, by way of repetition. It is also interesting to note too that the language of “mystery” and “marvel” is used by Kierkegaard in the pseudonymous works as terms according to which the ethicist describes faith. “Mystery” and “marvel” are how one describes faith from the perspective of unfaith, that is, from the perspective one still caught within the logic of the universal and of recollection.
(2.) On the “haltingness” of the Moment, or the “disruptive” grace of paradox: We have to understand this very specifically within Kierkegaard’s (apocalyptic-eschatological) suspension of “teleology.” Kierkegaard actually would not deny the language of “divinization” (certain passages in his journals suggests he quite likes it); what he would deny is that we can at all speak of “one’s divinized end,” in-itself and as such. Apart from the irruption (the Moment), Kierkegaard says, any talk of one’s “end” will remain teleological, and will reduce again to some form of the logic of recollection. Furthermore, it will simply not work to juxtapose this irruption/rupture to some kind of “deeper immersion into existence.” This is in part because, on the one hand, the whole language of “deeper immersion into existence” belongs to that “inwardness” language according to which subjectivity becomes and remains “untruth” — sin. And it is also due to the fact that, on the other hand, Kierkegaard doesn’t himself juxtapose the language of rupture to the language of “existence.” The rupture, or the Moment, is rather the ever-new transformation into a qualitatively new existence, via repetition. The Moment is, then, not an evasion of deification, but rather our very participation in eternity, which is itself alone “the true repetition.” So much, then, for the myth that Kierkegaard eschews either “participation” or “deification”: No, he alone may save them from the “caprice” of metaphysics.
(3.) This is all premised upon what Kierkegaard calls the “infinite qualitative distinction between eternity and time.” Contrary to what you say, Kierkegaard never uses the phrase “infinite qualitative distance,” as you attribute it to him above. This is why the paradox cannot remain for faith the paradox of thought, precisely because as such it still thinks the eternity-time relation according to a hierarchical distance, which qua distance would still seem to be a ratio “of sorts,” and yet qua infinite would seem “not to be,” as you say. But this is just another kind of (phenomenological) description of the paradox as a coincidentia oppositorum, which for Kierkegaard is the “passion of thought” brought to its highest intensity, the apex of “metaphysical caprice,” the sin of unfaith. Insofar as you can move smoothly from “paradox” to talking of a coincidentia oppositorum to talking of an analogia entis, as you do, Kierkegaard would say that you are yet once-again duty-bound to the hierarchical metaphysics of recollection. But if we are speaking rather of an infinite qualitative distinction, then we find ourselves within that space of an impossible possibility by which eternity might in fact enter time, irrupt it, and transform us into the time of repetition.
(4.) Finally, on the (presumably detrimental) point that Kierkegaard does not go “beyond the cross.” Kierkegaard’s response would plainly be that the very logic of Christendom is not to go “beyond the resurrection.” That is, Kierkegaard would say that the real failure is not to “not go beyond the cross,” but rather to not know Christ as the one who is ascended to the right hand of God the Father and is to come again in glory. Any espousal of a resurrection which would move one “beyond the cross” would for Kierkegaard be precisely the very denial of the resurrection as an event, and would instead make of the resurrection a hermeneutical key for some kind of teleo-eschatological schematic of recollection. On the other hand, not to move beyond the cross in history is precisely to believe that Christ is resurrected as ascended and coming again, for the sake of our own apocalyptic-eschatological participation in his resurrected life, via the movement of repetition. And this, to say it plainly, seems really to be the more “creedal,” the more primitive (and yes, one might even say “radically”) “orthodox” perspective. Any theological jutification of Christendom would require precisely the denial of this Credo, and the illusory construction of its own creedal “matrix.”
That should suffice for Kierkegaard. And all of that is prefatory to my forthcoming reply to your real question, which now, thanks to this tortuous post, can be much briefer.
Eric Lee Says: Thursday, December 6, 2007 at 12:48 pm
Nate,
Thank you. Mainly, I think you protest too much and are reading far too much into what I said. I will only address number 4 and 3, in that order.
All I mean about ‘moving beyond the cross’ is that Kierkegaard does not seem to give much of an account of what life in the church is beyond this non-identical repetition. That is fine. I honestly don’t think it is detrimental to him as you took me to think, nor did I mean it that way, as I really love Kierkegaard; I was just merely stating this as something that is indicative of his situation: if he actually were already living within something like a non-Christendomized community, then he might have something to point to that would constitute more descriptions of that life beyond what he give us. Honestly, that’s all I meant (and that’s all I took Amy Laura Hall to say as well in the context of their talk). So that being said, you would be right if I meant the other thing in the way you took it to mean.
Regarding your stuff about whether or not Kierkegaard said ‘distinction’ or ‘distance’. I will have to say I just messed up on that because I didn’t have the texts in front of me and I forgot, but that being said, I still think you protest too much; so, what you say doesn’t really follow, I don’t think, as if my getting ‘distance’ mixed up with ‘difference’ somehow unravels all my thought. In my own writing on this I got it right, and he actually uses ‘infinite qualitative difference‘ (which is what I meant, sorry, I know this is important though), at least as Anti-Climacus. Now, there are most likely some issues here concerning his pseudonyms (as your rightfully pointed out), but these are from Anti-Climacus’s work The Sickness Unto Death:
“God and man are two qualities separated by an infinite qualitative difference. Humanly speaking, any teaching that disregards this difference is demented—divinely understood, it is blasphemy. In paganism, man made god a man (the man-god); in Christianity God makes himself man (the God-man)” (p. 126).
“The existence of an infinite qualitative difference between God and man constitutes the possibility of offense, which cannot be removed” (p. 127).
And these are from Practice in Christianity, also written by Anti-Climacus:
“And thus it is unrecognizability, the absolute unrecognizability, when one is God, then to be an individual human being. To be the individual human being or an individual human being (in a certain sense it is a matter of indifference when he is a high-ranking or a low-ranking person) is the greatest possible distance, the infinitely qualitative distance, from being God, and therefore it is the most profound incognito” (pp. 127-8).
“The possibility of offense, as we have tried to show, is present at every moment, confirming at every moment the chasmic abyss between the single individual and the God-man over which faith and faith alone reaches. … But take away the possibility of offense, as has been done in Christendom, and all Christianity becomes direct communication, and then Christianity is abolished, has become something easy, a superficial something that neither wounds nor heals deeply enough; it has become the false invention of purely human compassion that forgets the infinite qualitative difference between God and man” (pp. 139-40). [These are all from the Princeton Hong translations]
Oh wait, Kierkegaard actually does say ‘distance’ there in that penultimate quotation from Practice. See, I just don’t think you can make as much out of what you’re saying, unless you want to claim that that is a bad translation, and that would be a fine argument to make, but still, the word before it in that quotation is also translated as ‘distance’. He obviously does use ‘distinction’ and ‘difference’ a lot more (depending upon your pseudonym), but you just can’t make the case that he 1) avoids it altogether (unless you want to make a case of bad translation, which I do not have the skills to do at this point), and 2) that he a fortiori argues explicitly against using ‘distance’ as if this would somehow unravel what he means precisely because we have at least one instance where Anti-Climacus uses it.
(There is probably something to be said concerning the difference between Climacus and Anti-Climacus here, as well as the fact that I am ignorant of the fact of whether or not ‘distinction’ and ‘difference’ and ‘distance’ are the same Danish word being translated differently.)
But other than that, this has been very helpful, so thank you. You are a far more adept reader at Kierkegaard than me, and I still haven’t had a chance to read all of his works yet, either, so I have more work to do.
Peace,
Eric
Eric Lee Says: Thursday, December 6, 2007 at 1:00 pm
Nate, just so you know, I think all your points about Kierkegaard breaking out out the metaphysics of recollection are correct (as Climacus points out in Fragments), I just don’t think you can build your case on a single word. There’s probably more to it than that.
JD Says: Thursday, December 6, 2007 at 4:42 pm
I think this may be empirical proof of at least part of my claim in the prior post.
Dave Belcher Says: Friday, December 7, 2007 at 12:15 am
I know this is just one of his quirks, like when he says “blah, blah” every once in a while, but when he employed the Kantian distinction between negative and infinite judgment (negation of a predicate as opposed to the affirmation of a non-predicate) in relation to the claim: “Material reality is all there is,” and he said: “This is Idealism: ‘Ha Ha, there is something else,’” I about lost it.
Nate Kerr Says: Friday, December 7, 2007 at 1:07 am
Eric:
That is a very interesting passage from Practice in Christianity. I wish I were at my office so that I could look it up in the text. I will do that straightaway when I get to school tomorrow.
We could go round and round on this Kierkegaard stuff, and I’m not entirely interested in doing that, and mostly because I wouldn’t know when to stop. But I would like to insist that the whole set of points (and for that matter any “case”) that I was making in my previous post does not simply turn on (my analysis of) your use or misuse of the word “distance” in Kierkegaard. I was arguing against several things. For one: the way you moved from the idea of the “infinite qualitative distance” in Kierkegaard to reading him as allowing a “ratio” of sorts, a coincidentia oppositorum, and an analogia entis is entirely inconsistent with either his articulation of the paradox of faith, or his use of the phrase in question, in any of its variations. But also I wanted seriously to call into question your idea that you could have Kierkegaard’s “deeper immersion in existence” without the halting, irruptive, apocalyptic Moment, as Lubac seems to want. Or even that one could properly think of divinization apart from this halting, decisive, irruptive Moment. Those issues, as much if not more than your use of the word “distance,” are what signal to me the inability finally to escape the idealist metaphysics of recollection. There is even for Kierkegaard a notion and usage of the idea of “repetition” that does not escape this metaphysics, insofar as it still thinks repetition as merely a matter of “recollecting forward.” This kind of “recollection forward” is what I fear is going on when one eschews the apocalyptic Moment for the teleological “calling” to divinization. And this understanding of “repetition,” just as the “paradox of thought,” still yet requires a “ratio” between divinity and humanity, if even a negative one. So I wouldn’t too quickly dismiss my challenges as a matter of protesting too much over the usage of a single word.
On the question of Kierkegaard’s failure to “move beyond the cross” with respect to his talk of the church, I have to admit that I really have no idea what it would mean to do this. I could write too much on Kierkegaard and the church, so let me just say this. For Kierkegaard (and I really am drawing upon journal entries here), to read the New Testament correctly is to understand that the church is actually there before the cross, in the whole journey of the disciples with Jesus to Jerusalem, and preeminently in the Last Supper. It is precisely the church itself, as the eucharistic “brotherhood” [sic!], that prevents us from going “beyond the cross.” Why? Because the church is through eucharistic repetition precisely the cruciform movement of reconciled humanity setting it’s face upon the new Jerusalem (and this as it exists within the space opened up by the resurrection/ascension and the second coming of Christ). It is clear that Kierkegaard really does believe that the “eucharist makes the church,” as Lubac would say. He interprets the New Testament as articulating the Lord’s Supper as “the originally true center in the church.” The Lord’s Supper “squeezes the church together.” So, tellingly, what Kierkegaard critiques about “Christendom” is precisely its loss of the proper sense according to which the eucharist does indeed “make the church”: a loss of the “communion of saints” as a liturgically existential, and not merely metaphysico-ontological, reality of faith. So I really don’t have any idea what Amy Laura Hall is talking about, if she means what you say she means. (And I’m not sure here: I know the conversation you’re referring to, and I remember reading that and thinking that it was part of that whole weird concession on her part to Milbank’s total rejection of the tragic.)
Now, I should answer your question, if not least because I said I would do so. How does one describe that which cannot be described, or “thought”? My answer would be that you do not “describe” it, insofar as for theology faith is not a “given” which is there for description. Theology is not reducible to a “higher phenomenology” in this regard. When it comes to description, faiths transports us to the realm, again, of what Kierkegaard calls “silence.” That silence can only speak as a lived testimony, a witness, a confession. Faith for the theologian is not a occasion for language, as a description of the “higher,” but is rather the exigency of an act. So you are right to anticipate that the direction I would turn here is towards doxology. But doxology is not here a “language of praise,” in any usual sense of that phrase. This is the problem I have with much use of “doxological” trope these days: doxology is not merely a manner of speaking which opens us onto the “mystery” or the “marvel,” or onto the filial “distance” of the Son and the Father (to use Marion’s imagery). Doxology is rather, to use Kierkegaard again, the work of “praising love.” Doxology just is discipleship — the outgoing movement of love by which we follow Christ into a world in which he is always-already ahead of us, in a manner that itself “repeats” our ecclesial “coming after.” Yes, that is paradox! But it is most decisively doxology as liturgy, where our lives are so wholly participatory in Christ that there can be no evasion of the singularity of action which his historicity requires, by way of appeal to a supposedly “doxological” or “liturgical” participation in or enactment of something which is somehow, albeit concretely, more “universal” — “transcendence,” “excess,” the “divine esse,” etc. Theology, I think, is not the description of the paradox of faith, but rather an enactment of it, as a certain work of “praising love.” (And I surmise that theology would look quite a bit different and would be quite a bit more unruly and unpredictable than what is usually carried out under the label “theology,” if we were to take this work seriously.)

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