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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Folly of God: John Caputo's Tetragrammatology



It is unclear to me if John Caputo's The Folly of God: A Theology of the Unconditional (Polebridge: Salem, OR, 2016) [F] is the final installment in a trilogy comprised of his earlier work, The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event [W], and The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps [I]. I am equally unsure that the last 3 books Caputo has published does not comprise some kind of valediction, as there is language in It Spooks, Hoping Against Hope and even F that is elegiac and valedictory. Perhaps these observations are nothing more than a recognition of Caputo's farewell to the academy, though he seems to pop up everywhere these days.

F is a brief volume that lays out Caputo's own (Tetra)Grammatology, in which he articulates the great themes of his previous work. In a nutshell, Caputo wants to leave a lasting impression of these four letters of deconstruction:

1. Anything culturally mediated is constructed.
2. Anything constructed is deconstructible.
3. Deconstructibility arises from any mediation, as inscribed spacetime ('from below') or from the 'pressure' of the undeconstructible itself ('from above').
4. Deconstructibility is constituted by conditionality, and undeconstructibility is constituted by unconditionality. (F, 23-29).

Hence, the call, the pure call that has captured the imagination of those enthralled by what's been going on in continental philosophy, unconditional and without sovereignty (cf. W), pressures 'from above' (but whence we know not), from undeconstructibility.

Unconditionality and undeconstructibility play out in the trace, the 'gramme' as Caputo states. The trace is what is already there, what already might be there, written before the letter is traced there. This is the locus of 'perhaps' (cf. I). The trace does a good deal of heavy lifting, for Caputo, and certainly for Derrida. Caputo repeats Derrida's grammatology in F (in his trilogy?) as a writing of a 'tetragrammatology' (my coinage, not in Caputo or F) of deconstruction, which is a way of making straight the path of the conditions for the release of the event (cf. W) which calls from the unconditional, anonymously.

After all this prolegomena to charity how can Caputo get it so wrong? How can he, after tracing the Protestant Principle  (after Barth's [ecclesia] semper reformanda) through the Jewish Principle (after Derrida's "semper deconstruenda"), let 'narrative time' lull him into misreading simul justus et peccator as an economy of a false gift, falsified by reciprocity? The sheep and the goats of Matthew 25 are pure Vorstellung, and they must not be read as a corruption of innocence (F, 119ff.). As I have argued elsewhere, all the parables and parabolic narratives (of which Matthew 25 is clearly one) are perlocutionary acts.

A more subtle hermeneutic allow for the possibility that the goats and sheep are the existential reality of the 'blessed of my father.' These actors in Matthew 25 are at once sheep and goats, and are liable to an act of faith and the justice to come already visited upon them. Caputo, then, has mistraced the trace in his reading into some imagined economy of reward and punishment. The sheep are traced into the goats, the goats into the sheep; and that trace is unconditional and without sovereignty---the goat-sheep in the 'blessed of my father' is undeconstructible. We must not, as Caputo warns (F, 126f), "confuse the unconditional (undeconstructible) with the conditional (deconstructible)." We must "[r]emember that in all this" (even when we appear in Matthew 25) "we play the role of the justus et peccator."


If W, I and F are a trilogy, then they certainly offer a vision of religion, not necessarily one 'without religion,' but one which itself is the trace that ghosts the letters in 'confessional' religions. The religion of the trace is the religion that is already traced in the insistence of the letter in all religion. Whenever the word is written, it is traced upon a form that comes from somewhere,  that can never completely be traced over, leaving a slight blur, a haze on the page that lets the words reverberate, that lets the already written come though the tracing of a letter. There is a quietude there, in the gentle beckoning of the trace, the call of the trace that quickens the letter of the word, and the word of the letter. It insists from above and from below, and even from the legacy of Caputo's tetragrammatology of the perhaps---the weakness, the folly and the insistence of God.





21 comments:

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  2. Anything put together within an a priori framework is constructed. Most things therefore are constructed (hence, so much construction, so much deconstruction:-). The law is conditioned and constructed and therefore deconstructible; 'justice' is unconditional and therefore undeconstructible. Justice 'calls' the law to be 'just' so that the law might approach 'justice.' Religion is constructed; faith is not. Yahweh is constructed; God is not.

    Caputo want is to make a strong connection between the unconditional and that which is undeconstructible.

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    1. It's not, of course that *I* am saying it, but that Caputo understands Derrida (e.g., his "The Force of Law") in this way. Caputo would say that *Justice* is unconditional, and perhaps even 'without sovereignty,' because it *insists* that the Law bring it into *existence*. If not, then Justice remains pure essence. Who in their right mind would say that what we today call the Law is itself *Justice*? Insistence, then, is not ''transcendence' but a 'pure call.' Caputo would likely say that your formula, "justice is a state of the law" is incoherent. He might say that the law is a state of what a particular time and place might deem to be *justice*, but that is as far as he'd go, if I read him correctly.

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    3. I know full well precisely what you precisely said and meant. It is cynical and hopeless and does not account for a future. I do not so much believe that there is a greater justice coming in the future, as hope for it. Justice is not now contained in the law. Someday it will fill more of what we will call law.

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    5. Apart from the dark humor here, what shall I make of a point of view that places as much hope in greater justice as in humans growing wings?

      But if you're really talking about 'personal flying apparatus' I do not hope for it; I expect it. Soon hover-boards will actually 'hover.' Who knows what's next.

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    1. The problem here might be that sometimes 'faith' refers to a particular belief system, a religion itself. I am using 'faith' as the trace beneath which religion gets written. Caputo wants to characterize this idea of faith as a 'religion without religion' which for me can only be the experience of *something* that is unthematic.

      I have some hope that Rahner can be re-read within a phenomenological method, where his *Vorgriff* is not already constituted by a constituting subject, but effects the subject. For Christians, then, this unthematic *something* becomes thematic in the historical event of Christ.

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    3. Well, you certainly can't get *there* from Caputo. But if Catholicism is not dead, it's life is in what haunts dogma. A living faith lives in the trace, and on this point I whole-heartedly agree with Caputo. That's not a detour; it's a search for life signs.

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    1. Interesting take. Caputo might agree in some way: we are born into a world we did not choose, and we did not choose to be born. If facticity can be thought of as an enslaving reality, then, I suppose we enslave ourselves when we embrace our faciticity and finitude. But that's a strange notion of 'enslave.'

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  6. Phenomenology doesn't throw away the natural attitude or negate the actual. It brings both actuality and possibility to life; phenomenologists embrace the natural attitude when they're not doing phenomenology. There is no disparaging of the actualities of everyday life. Why would you think that.

    You might recall that as a physician, I am a professional scientist, and I will not be abandoning the 'scientific' method any time soon. Why must I abandon the phenomenological method?

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  7. I will grant you, at least for the moment, that when I think religion phenomenologically, I am not thinking of it 'scientifically;' but why not 'rationally or critically?' I am certainly willing to accept a critique of my own phenomenological deployments that views them as irrational and uncritical, but that critique is prima facie incoherent if directed at Marion or Falque (a new-comer on this blog scene).

    Where is phenomenology irrational or uncritical? Or is it simply the 'theological turn' that you define with these terms?

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  8. Phenomenology is a method designed to interrogate how we experience things, how things, external to the mind and consciousness, enter it. "Religion" calls for a different epistemological mode to show itself, and I mean by "religion" specific kinds of religious events or objects.

    Would I approach a patient phenomenologically? Why not, if that kind approach is called for? Diagnosis tends not to lend itself to a phenomenological approach, but "caring" certainly does.

    There is a quantitative and qualitative difference in what Marion experiences of a painting, and what he writes about that experience, than, let's say, an art historian applying a historical critical method, or a materials engineer applying another 'empirical method.'

    Why does 'religion' call for another method? Probably because some methods cannot isolate phenomenality.

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