Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Catholicism and Givenness: A Brief Introduction to an Idea of the Gift

The 'new' in the "new phenomenology" centers on the reappropriation of the 'gift' and the concept of event as elucidated in the work of Jean-Luc Marion (with constant reference to a ghosted John D. Caputo). Elsewhere I have characterized the new phenomenology as deconstructive, as it seeks to release the event and the eventiveness of phenomena that appear of themselves, unconditionally. Not then, on a horizon of being do phenomena, most notably the "saturated phenomena" make their appearance, but on the horizon of possibility itself (posse ipsum). Radical openness to the possible, and even the possibility of the impossible, begins in the phenomenological reduction that brings about the self in an 'other than' natural attitude (by which we mean an attitude constructed upon ad hoc judgements and prejudices which tend to confine the event---prevent the event---and the appearance of phenomena in their givenness). Catholicism, a religious mode of aiming the intentionality of consciousness  toward the transcendent and the immanent, is a transhistorical phenomenology (instantiated in each Catholic consciousness) that opens up the natural attitude to God and (what Marion  [Being Given, 239-40 and elsewhere]  has called the "saturated phenomenon par excellence") the Christ-event.

The biblical books do not present a clear representation of the fluctuations of the self, the oscillations of relationality and individuality, or the play between the subject and the always emerging self. Though they know of creation, presence, absence, being and consciousness, they do not articulate 'givenness' as constitutive of the naming of the self. Nonetheless, the Bible's openness to creation, the good, history and God's actions in the world, suggests a space for givenness as a unitive force of nature.

The New Testament presents the Christ-event in terms of recognition, epiphany,  transfiguration. It emphasizes 'reading' the signs of the times, what is present, what is presented as a 'gift' and it certainly has an uncanny way of saturating phenomena. Even the most casual reader of the Gospels is struck by the the presentation of those who do not know Jesus, who do not distinguish the sacred from the profane: the presentation of those who did not know or receive him (John 1:10-12). The Synoptic transfiguration pericopes display bedazzlement before the gaze of Jesus closest disciples, whose interpretation can only be gibberish. Such biblical warrants look to the reception of phenomena.

Givenness characterizes all types of phenomena, those that saturate the intuition and those that do not; indeed, phenomena that do not overwhelm the intuition by spilling out of their categorical silos remain open to such spillage and bedazzlement: such phenomena, for example, are the stuff of paradigm shifts in scientific models and modes of interpretation. The givenness of things 'calls' the subject through relationality of itself to the receiving subject, individuating it, thereby bringing the self into itself: relation---individual--selfhood. The call need not have a voice, coming from a vocative order as an invasion of the existential order. The call invites the aim of the intuition, the intention of a consciousness to 'see' something in its givenness  as it is in itself. And both sides of this reduction (Caputo would recognize an undecidability here), through the relation established by a call received, come into view, into the horizon of being. this 'third' phenomenological reduction therefore locates the 'call' anterior to being, and relationality anterior to individuality. Certainly, Marion's most readable statement on this relation of self to the call can be found in his In the Self's Place:The Approach of St. Augustine. In this work, Marion reads the Confessiones through the language of givenness.

Everything is given. There are no prohibitions about what can enter the phenomenological process. Rocks, justice, God equally enter into phenomenology. Sheer givenness knows nothing of religion, spirituality, quantum physics; it does itself not distinguish the sacred from the profane. Such qualities can never emerge on either side of the reduction, but only in relationship between givenness and the emerging self and subjectivity. Nothing is a priori, and the process problematizes the a posteriori as well. Phenomena enter experience in defiance of sequence and causality. Givenness, then, is located in the chiasm, in the atemporal entanglements between the thing itself and the flux of the self.

There is a natural marriage between the universal character of Catholicism and the universality of givenness. Everything is given: creation, consciousness, God, history, life, death, salvation, the Tradition, dogma, Scripture, rocks, rain, and a starry night. Catholicism opens consciousness to the field of phenomena as an invitation to the dance; it is itself a hermeneutic of relationality within the Godhead, within the hypostatic union, and within the constitution of the self and the world. It is itself not the choreographer, but a choreography of grace and nature, of the sacramentality of the given.


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  2. Yes, you're right; by referring to psychiatric intactness, I was thinking along the line of thought disorders which sometimes preclude cognition from participating in certain methodological and theological maneuvers. Though the religiosity of some versions of schizophrenia is interesting, it is difficult to penetrate.

    Other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, only rarely affect the intellect and other processes of cognition, and therefore, my general understanding is that these issues would not impede and openness to the kinds of phenomenality we have been discussing lately. I think all that would be helpful is a plasticity of the self and subjectivity, a kind of negative capability.

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  4. "All" would be an interesting test: for now let's simply note that relation precedes the individual.

  5. We are experimenting with phenomena without recourse to metaphysics, which tends to be the 'natural attitude' in theology. Marion is attempting theology without the categories of metaphysics, bracketing them off (epoche) to allow something to appear. We should expect inversions of metaphysical ideas such as causality, being, essence, etc.

  6. Many of the thinkers in this mode of conceptualization quote Angelus Silesius: "the rose is without 'why'; it blooms because is blooms. It pays no attention to itself nor does it ask if anyone sees it."

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  8. "If that's all" never applies to Marion. There is no 'restriction' per se. But his distinctions between the kinds of objects/phenomena that pertain to philosophy and theology has been something of a game-changer. Marion is the first to offer a really comprehensive system of the "how" of things, which is always anterior to "why" and "what." That's a paradigm shift in and of itself. My introduction to givenness is certainly my appropriation of Marion's work, so if you are even remotely interested in what Marion is about, you must get into the primary texts.