Thursday, September 10, 2015

Negative Certainties, Counter-Experiences, The Impossible and Saturated Phenomena

Some preliminary and very provisional remarks on the arrival of the English translation of Marion's Negative Certainties (trans. Stephen E. Lewis, Chicago Univ. Pr: Chicago, 2015) will record impressions of a first reading.  This book is either very easy or very difficult: I am simply uncertain.

Marion concludes 'the necessity of God's possibility' through 'the impossibility of God's impossibility' (69). This section, "Possibility without Conditions," achieves an alarmingly apologetic tone, mitigated only by his making a safe landing in Cusanus and the latter's posse ipsum. Marion does not succumb to unadulterated apologetics because he enfolds his argument in apophatic entanglement, which deconstructs metaphysical possibility and impossibility.  'The impossible for man has the name God...[H]ere we find the  fold of the impossible...of which the world, metaphysics, or perhaps even philosophy are capable of merely the slightest glimmer' (82).

I surmise that within these apophatic folds the nature of saturated phenomenon come into view through the lens of negative certainties via a counter-experience that experiences such phenomena as 'saturated' in the first place. Marion seems to be rewriting differance as negative uncertainty of the trace of (im)possibility. While it is impossible that saturated phenomena are impossible, our sense that they have truly entered experience is constituted by the uncertainty characteristic of their overwhelming the intuition and blinding the intention. We know we cannot know them as they are in themselves, but in a counter-experience of them, we know their saturation in its fullness but not its content. Of this reality we have negative certainty. In other words, we know a phenomenon is saturated when our certainty becomes negative.

Conversely (and implicitly), the relative poorness of phenomenon becomes apparent through its 'positive uncertainty' (Marion does not use this term, but he does deploy 'positive certainty' to characterize the certainty of scientific affirmations, p.4). Phenomenon that present as closer to their objectness neither saturate intuition nor foil intention. On the contrary, such phenomenon are the focus of pure science, which knows them through their characteristic of uncertainty that can be calculated or viewed by an observer. Positive uncertainty provide the courage that inscribes a curve through data points delimited by 'error bars'; it also allows for the understanding that some poor phenomena present themselves in one way or another, depending on the vantage point of an observer (this kind of phenomenon has been elegantly described in the famous double slit experiments).

Their may indeed be a kind of polarity between negative certainty and positive uncertainty. When we identify one or the other, we know we are either doing something like phenomenology or something like physics. Whether or not these poles are situated on a continuum or not remains open to conjecture, but should a continuum become an attractive model, degrees of saturation, givenness and certainty might play out on such a model.

Regardless, the implications for hermeneutics become clearer, especially regarding the interpretive approach to sacred scripture. The scriptures are not divinity itself, but are always already there to release the elemental event of revelation---the self-communication of God, regardless of such an event as being a saturated phenomenon (as such). We can speak about scriptural texts as they speak to us, not as the voice of God, but as the voice of an unconditional, anonymous call, a vocative 'pure gift' and 'pure call.' The saturated phenomenon of the call, the insistence of saturation, cannot preclude our deconstruction of the text, because the voice---the voice to which scripture itself is directed and already a response---is always in advent.


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