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.