Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Peter Rollins' Lack of Being and Total Depravity

Pete Rollins recently blogged about one of his Belfast events in which John Caputo was a guest. I responded to Pete's discussion of 'depravity' ("In Defense of Total Depravity") in the terms he brilliantly laid out, most notably lack, subjectivity, desire, being. I am always struck by the term lack, as it is one of those high velocity terms that lurks beneath the surface of much of what interests me lately (this blog post is a tweaking of what I wrote on Pete's blog).

For Pete, and of course Lacan, lack defines the "incompleteness hard-baked into the very nature of human subjectivity (a lack formed in and by language)." Religion, then, recognizes that lack, and performs theology. Pete offers his 'pyrotheology' as the antidote (psychoanalysis?) to the religious maneuver when it attempts " to stop it up via some signifier." I am trying to read Pete's pyrotheology through the lens of the work of Caputo and Marion. 

Lack, then, is constitutive of the subject/being (being qua ens & esse) as the subject confronts the “loss” of immediacy: the loss of experiencing itself (as itself) and the world without language, which I construe as a fall into mediation. Such loss is inherent in the growth of consciousness, and therefore constitutive of it. In the play of the Real and the Symbolic, metaphysics enacts, in the Symbolic order, something actually going on in the ineffable Real.  I read 'incompleteness' and lack as loss, but loss as a space for something to enter, not merely consciousness, but of becoming---becoming, as Marion might say, 'gifted,' or as Caputo might say, opening upon a substrate for the 'call' from he knows not where.

If we take as axiomatic that the locus of the divine is the Real (Lacan), then all movements in the Symbolic (and Imaginary) order are analogical enactments that substitute for “lack” as they engage moments in the Real. These enactments in the Symbolic order of something occurring in the Real is what Pete calls the “the ground…of…religion.” I would add that it also grounds metaphysics and its gesture of analogy of being. This gesture is itself a response to a call (we can call it a 'pure call' to marry both Caputo's and Marion's call) from the Real itself, which insists upon its representation.

In Pete's pyrotheology and 'depravity,' religion provides a frame for lack to be "made manifest." It is this idea of manifesting that fascinates me. Far from foreclosing on lack, pyrotheology opens onto the very givenness of the Real itself. In this sense, Jean-Luc Marion’s 3rd phenomenological reduction to ‘givenness’ brushes up against Pete's pyrotheological opening, and instead of foreclosing on lack, discloses the formation of the subjectivity of self (a relation of metonymy, not identity).

Depravity, then, can be understood as a ‘deprivation’ of immediacy, that, unexpectedly, opens upon the horizon that situates givenness, presenting it to the intuition. When the intuition is ‘saturated,’ the ‘religious impulse’ becomes the response to Caputo’s ‘unheard call’, which commands the aim of intentionality. The shift from the immediate to the mediated that constitutes the appearance of the self, is the heart of sacramentality itself. The religious subject is thereby called into itself, “constituted” as Pete asserts, by lack, which is the distance between the Real, and everything else anterior to consciousness, the gifted, the human person fully alive.

If we suspend Caputo’s notion that his ‘call’ is reduced to one’s “mommy” in psychoanalysis, then it’s really not "depravity" that separates pyrotheology from Caputo’s theopoetics/insistence theology, but rather entangles them in the play in his ‘chiasm’ where Marion’s new phenomenology holds lack in tension between givenness and the emerging self. For Marion’s system, the relation between what is given and subjectivity precedes the individuation of the self. Hence, we can understand that lack, givenness, the Real are all anterior to the self coming into being.

The pyrotheological, phenomenological and theopoetical gestures share in the notion that relationality precedes being, and constitutes it as that which is anterior to it.

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