Monday, February 2, 2015

Horizon of Love, Horizon of Desire

 And man, being a part of Your creation, desires to praise You, man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that You resist the proud, — yet man, this part of Your creation, desires to praise You. You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.

---The Confessions of St. Augustine, Chapter I.

 Jean-Luc Marion's translators are both gifted and talented, perhaps even sainted, in heeding their call to render such French into English. I have been eating Marion's books lately, and his project has become something of a blur to me. I've eaten too much and digestion is slow and, it would seem, inefficient. It occurs to me, though, that in my early synthesis, Marion moves from metaphysics to his version of phenomenology, not so much by changing the rules of the game, but by changing the field of play. He moves from Baseball to Football, even if the players still have caps and gloves while the new field calls for pads and helmets. This shift from the horizon of Being to the horizon of Love is his signature gesture, and that creative gesture is one of love and praise. By relocating God from the horizon of Being to the horizon of Love, Marion begins the creative turn from Jerusalem to Mecca, leaving metaphysics behind to embrace the vision of a new development in phenomenology, one that absents the causa sui and the great via negativa and places the phenomenality of God in only the horizon(s) that allow(s) God to be God.

On first blush, I am not at all surprised that the subject of St. Augustine would occupy Marion in his book, In the Self's Place: the saint doesn't have a metaphysical idea in his head. Though I am unprepared to declare my suspicion about Marion's project in an official 'reading' of it, I am mulling over the probability that it is highly invested in what the apologists call the 'argument from desire.' Though the argument has its rhizomes in the Confessions, its most recent iterations come from C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity and Peter Kreeft's Handbook of Christian Apologetics.

The argument runs something like this: natural desires 'prove' the existence of their objects because of their participation in those objects. So, the human gut proves the existence of food, because it participates in the existence of food by is very structure (the absorptive structure of the gut are absurd if food didn't enter it). So, too, the soul, which desires its object: God. The soul participates in the existence of God through its very structures,  which are built to receive the divine and supernatural. So goes the classic explanation of what Augustine meant by the 'restless heart' remaining restless until it rests in its object. In psychological terms, natural desire (as opposed to artificial desire, e.g., desire manufactured during a Super Bowl commercial), comes not from a fundamental 'lack,' but from jouissance itself (there is a wholesomeness to this Lacanian inversion). At this moment I am rather pleased with myself in that it has been over 20 years since I abandoned apologetics.

I would also suggest that 'desire' can be understood as saturated phenomena, even as 'idol' and 'icon.' For Marion, there is no privileging of one of these terms over another: they merely present themselves as themselves. Desire as idol sees itself as the object of its own gaze, fulfilled, as it were, in its own fullness. It absorbs, even gets satisfied, but completely reflexively and effectively delimited. Desire as icon projects the gaze from itself---provoking a gaze much more critical, inquisitive, open, desirous of what is not merely reflected back but what's behind what Marion calls an 'invisible mirror' (God Without Being). Only the icon can release the event of the experience of the object of desire, because it frees that object to present itself as it is in itself; it is free because it locates that object on the horizon of love, yes, but also of praise. This relocation is not a metaphysical maneuver designed to recover God from the horizon of Being, but a paradigmatic shift from essence to phenomenality.

It would be amazing if it turns out that Marion's project is an extended expatiation and appropriation of desire, praise and love. The possibilities for phenomenology would be inexhaustible. This is not to say that such a discovery would not have its dangerous and unsavory side. It would certainly fuel the flames of the 'theological turn' railed against by the anti-continental critics. It would be yet another example demonstrating how the onto-theological God of the old metaphysics comes onto the postmodern stage from the rear of the theatre, barely noticed until it does its metamagical pouncing. Still, moving the phenomenality of God off the stage of Being and onto the stage of Love has got some purchase, and makes for quite a drama, even if in French. The gesture would be akin to John Caputo's strategy of side-stepping the humongous onto-thelogical God in favor of the 'event' harbored in the name of God. Both strategies allow God to be God and revelation to freely present to human experience as phenomena.

For the time being, Marion has burdened my intuition beyond any effectivess of my intentionality. The reading continues, as these books never cease to fascinate and illuminate. I hope to engage these ideas more fully as my understanding breaks the surfaces of their depth.

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