Monday, February 29, 2016
What can a miracle do
but bring you back to me?
Miracles return us to memory, our own, our faith's, our religion's; miracles orient us toward the past made present, and protend to the advent of the miracle-for-us awaiting through hope for a future. Beyond any horizon of expectation, miracles surprise us by jarring the predictions of the natural world, or through uncanny synchronicity of events, those meaningful concurrences of the unexpected with presence.
Meillassoux's spectral dilemma compels him to remain open to the advent of [a] God, heretofore inexistent, now existent, whose effect instaurates past and present, resolves all death into life, all injustice into justice. Such a dilemma calls for a 'miracle' of sorts, one quite different from the Incarnation, which by Meillassoux's standard, accomplishes little more that a wrinkle in time that fails to point to anything. Incarnation as instauration: that would be something Meillassoux could sign on to; but that would be no miracle, but a mere prestige, a return to Eden on a magic carpet that whisks Eden to-us and for-us that's all a pocus which never knew a corpus. Eden brought back from the ruins would certainly make the past present, wiping away every injustice that occurred since its heyday; but how would that be real-for-us?
An all-immanent incarnation would not require a divine logos to unite to the human; the return of everything to immanence solves the spectral dilemma by simply starting again, ricorso. It fulfills a hope grounded in immanence and in a materialism that undermines and overmines the real object. Miracles simply do not happen that way. A miracle marries immanence with the wholly other. A miracle cuts a gap in immanence with an edge of reality that withdraws from its entry; it itself is tout autre. And if tout autre est tout autre, then the gift of death visited upon us in the Incarnation must go beyond immanence, perhaps to the transformation of immanence.
If we finally find God, we find him in the transformation of immanent existence, in the death of finitude as such, which is the gift of the death of death offered in the miracle of the Incarnation, the miracle of miracles that ground all miracles not within the horizon of being, but in the horizons of hope and love, in hoping and loving. Miracles provide the givenness of hope and love: a miracle is where hope and love are real.
The Incarnation is not the virtual god proffered in expectation of the solution to the spectral dilemma. The Incarnation does not eradicate all misery, suffering and injustice in an instauration of a decrepit 'justice.' Instead, the Incarnation is the inauguration of the advent of the justice to come. Christ comes to witness to injustice, to experience every injustice, not to eradicate finitude but to validate it, and open it up to transformation.
The miracles of Christ are the signs of the in-breaking of transformation of creation, not the transformation of the Creator. They open us up to metanoia, a change of heart, but do not alter us by fiat. For every miracle accomplished, a million miracles are left undone. But hope and love encounter us in the countless, nearly invisible miracles that occur in every moment where hope and love give themselves, grounded as they are in the other, the interpersonal and inter-Personal, which authenticates them on their own terms of vertical experience.
All miracles are saturated phenomena, and they are as banal and as precious and unique as there are encounters of the reversibility of the visible and the invisible. Now you see them; now you don't. Hocus Pocus? Hocus Pocus declares verticality null and void in its idolatrous delimitation of the real. Is there any place in horizontal experience where the miraculous encounters the willful idolater? How broadly must horizontal experience spread before it discovers a productive, that is generative, synechism? How far down the horizontal plane must one go, how many metonymic signifiers down the road does it take to move, finally, paradigmatically, to the vertical? What syntagmatic occurrence loosens idolatry from the grip of delimitation, freeing into the vertical? Answer: a miracle. An impossible miracle made possible at the intersection of metonymy and metaphor, where a bump in the road calls the vehicle into being, and awakens idolatry from its ennui.
Monday, February 15, 2016
Lately I have referred to the Realism that pertains to Christianity rooted in the Cross as 'Catholic' or 'Christian' Realism. These terms are interchangeable in the tradition but I will henceforth refer only to Christian Realism to avert any confusion and to confirm that this particular kind of realism does indeed have its roots the Gospels (certainly in their literary realism) and certainly in Aquinas, in the thought of Karl Rahner, in Karl Barth and in Bernard Lonergan's critical realism which itself is within the notion of Christian Realism. While Lonergan, and the like-minded Gilson, could not be mistaken for phenomenologists, the phenomenology considered in this blog is certainly rooted in Christian Realism, and offers its own kind realism; and Marion's vision of rationality is not foreign to the rational, intelligible universe of critical realism. At the center of this deployment of phenomenology is the flesh of Christ and the mystery of the Trinity.
Whatever suffers is redeemed. Because the endurance of the hypostatic union is fundamental for Christian realism, however 'mysterious' that is, the flesh that has taken upon itself all the capriciousness of the universe, all sources of suffering, is in turn taken into the Trinity itself, where it is 'cashed in', 'redeemed', for the absolute love that is the simplicity of God, the simplicity of the processions and relations within the Godhead. Capriciousness as suffering of the flesh is suffered by the Father in the Spirit as the Logos-sarx-Anthropos suffers it--- in the flesh--- 'once and for all' on the Cross. In a sense, there is nothing left of capriciousness in the Cross; it finally disintegrates in the Father's witness of the Son's flesh. The secular theme of 'redemption through love' as it courses through Goethe, Wagner and Mahler among other perhaps equally powerful currents, has this basis of its reality, its ground in the divine simplicity of love, in this analogy from 'above.'
No horizon searches with more urgency and immediacy for the horizon of meaning than the horizon of suffering. Suffering without meaning, or the hope for meaning, is not merely hopeless; it is absurd. A world of absurdity would have it that the words 'meaningful' and 'meaningless' mean the same thing. Not that the words would be synonymous, but that the thing would be either meaningful or meaningless willy-nilly in a world constituted by something other than meaning. For Christian thinking, the world is intelligible, imbued with a real rationality, and as such commands a posture of realism. For Christianity, the world makes sense.
The horizon of suffering seems to recede, withdraw endlessly into the deepest corners of reality as if it were constituted by receding and withdrawing. Because meaning is elusive, suffering become reflective, reduplicative, overwhelmed by the aporia of distance. The elusiveness of meaning holds suffering up to a mirror, and all it can see, it seems, is itself, its blinding self, its multiplying self, a self of pure suffering, unbearable and uncontainable. The horizon of meaning, just as powerfully real, also recedes and withdraws from the reality of suffering, at least from the perspective of a receding and withdrawing suffering.
Hope, oriented toward the future, envisions the intersection of the horizons of suffering and meaning at the infinite. For Christians, this infinite becomes historical in the Cross, the instantiation of suffering and meaning, the instantiation of the union of the human and the divine in the Incarnation whose purpose takes on and dissolves suffering in itself. The horizon of meaning is always on the threshold of the multi-layered chiasmus of the reality of the Trinity, where the logos-sarx-anthropos finds its nexus with the Father-Son-Spirit. Such chiasm defies articulation, but analogy can approach its description---logos-flesh/human::logos-father:/:spirit. As suggested above, the unity of the Logos provides the nexus for the entry of the flesh into the divine oikos. The inadequacy of this model, however, is at least partially addressed, and insightfully so, by Jean-Luc Marion, for whom the intersection of horizons might involve their dissolution, or perhaps their solubility, in faith, hope and charity.
Nonetheless, the union of all suffering in the Cross as enfolded within the Incarnation and the Trinity is the paradox of Christian faith itself. If a 'lesson' emerges from the experiences of the Christian mystics, it is that while one might initially strive to unite human suffering with the Cross, one discovers that the suffering flesh is already united to Cross of Christ. To seek union is therefore to find it already accomplished. The receding horizon of suffering finds its way forward, into the future foreseen by hope, by 'backing into' signification, into meaning.
Because hope (and love, too) orients itself toward the other, its motion is interpersonal and inter-Personal, as Steinbock has noted both in his Phenomenology and Mysticism and Moral Emotions. Because, as Steinbock has explicated, the Myself is not self-grounded, the suffering in the flesh (which itself is inseparable from the Myself) cannot rest in the idol as a self-reflexive suffering might indicate as noted above. The mirror held up by elusive meaning becomes translucent as the gaze catches a glimmer of the icon whose translucency refracts the gaze to what can be found beyond the reflective surface of the idolic mirror. In order, though, to find what already rests in the icon, the flesh must discover its porosity, the points where it bleeds. This uncontainability is the event of the flesh and the event of the redemption of the flesh, both saturated phenomena par excellence.
We experience this saturation and verticality in the experience of the Church as the body of Christ. This unity of our flesh with the flesh of Christ gives the flesh its meaning at the nexus of the horizons of suffering and meaning. There is no meaning of salvation beyond this: being 'saved' is finding our flesh united in the Cross and received into divinity itself. Phenomenologically, I hope with great effort to unite the suffering of my flesh to the Cross. At first, I experience the saturated phenomenon of the idol: I am reflected back upon my self and the horizon of meaning recedes as my hope is disappointed; and I as 'subject' attempt but fail to constitute the meaning of my own suffering. Then I experience the icon: I hope for the givenness of the Cross as it gives itself as pure gift. I become the gifted when I find the Myself (as not self-grounded) in the flesh already there in the crucified Christ, who suffered the flesh once and for all. My flesh, subsumed into the flesh of Christ, discovers its meaning in the logos-sarx-anthropos, and therefore enters into the receiving breast of the mystery of the Trinity in its ever-dancing perichoresis.
The giving way of the idol to the icon perhaps play out in the phenomenal field of the body and flesh in the temptation of Christ in the desert, the pericope that traditionally opens the Lenten season.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
and:With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time. [Luke 4:1-13; NAB]
At each invitation to sovereignty in this world, Jesus responds with the unconditional call of God. This rejection of sovereignty presented in Christ's rejection of temptation underscores his being in the world and his not being of the world. The turning from the idol toward the icon, as the flesh suffers the thirst of the body through its mortification in the desert, structures metanoia and the turn from worldly sovereignty toward the unconditional call. This call for us comes from the completed work of Christ, from the Cross where the experience of the call does not locate a God who chooses omnipotence's flexing the power of sovereignty, but the unconditional: the saturation of divine love in the erotic reduction. All temptation offers the idol of sovereignty; in the change of heart commanded by the Lenten season that anticipates the Passion-Resurrection of Christ, Christians hearken to the pure call, to the starkly different invitation of the divine insistence to love, to redemption of the flesh and the resurrection of the body.
Such an invitation is also found in Matthew's goats and sheep, where the evangelist offers the possibility that the invisible Christ is made visible in acts of hope and love. Such transitions from the invisible to the visible share the grammar of the shift from one saturated phenomenon to another (idol to icon), as the flesh, the Myself, not grounded in the self, finds itself already grounded in the experience of the other. In this sense, the version of intertextuality finds its analogue in the Myself whose play as object and subject in its grounding in the interpersonal and inter-Personal, reveals a strange intersubjectivity, where subjects are now objects, at once recipients of givenness, hearers of the call, accused and chosen.
Sunday, February 7, 2016
Catholic Realism traces itself through the theological thought of Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan, through transcendental Thomism and back to the Angelic Doctor himself. Deeply rooted in the Incarnation, Catholic Realism rests in the goodness of the reality of creation, the goodness of the cosmos and upon the fundamental trust in God's judgment that matter is good. As would any philosophical realism, Catholic Realism understands the origin of a world before the emergence of the human creature, and the priority of 'objects' to human consciousness. God did not divide Creation between man and the universe, but saw that all of creation was good, before the man was, and after. The extinction of man negates nothing of the truth of the goodness of non-human creation. That reality is the reality of everything. God is no 'correlationist.' Catholic Realism, not a philosophy unto itself, but more posture toward the real, seeks Truth wherever it resides, and in whatever system of thought that addresses truth comprehensively.
It is no accident that phenomenology, as the philosophy of experience, the philosophy of the experiencing object or entity, has entered the Catholic imagination with such power and grace. Phenomenology offers the kind of realism discussed here a footing, a language and a method for understanding the love for things, for objects, and for how such objects interact with that special instance of objects, consciousness. It provides a way to explain how things declare themselves in their real presence, their reality, and how such presences and realities appear to human real presence and actuality.
Anthony Steinbock, Jean-Luc Marion and Graham Harman each in his own manner offer intense critiques of the phenomenologies of Husserl and Heidegger. Steinbock's 'generative' phenomenology of 'vertical experience' emerges from his rhizomatic critique of Husserliana; Jean-Luc Marion's critique of Both Husserl and Heidegger results in the discoveries of the saturated phenomenon, negative certainty and a phenomenology of givenness; Graham Harman's relentless and magnanimous critique of Husserl and Heidegger's results in something other than phenomenology properly so called, in what he calls object-oriented philosophy---a 'speculative' realism.
Harman's The Quadruple Object (Zero Books: Winchester, 2011) provides a succinct critique of both Husserl and Heidegger, whom Harman identifies as object-oriented idealist, and object-oriented realist, respectively. In fact, his project appropriates Husserl's 'intentional object' and Heidegger's real-present object (through an elegant critique of the 'tool analysis') into his own 'sensual' and 'real' objects, respectively (26; 35ff). Though he identifies a certain 'realist flavor' (20) to the work of the pioneering thinkers, Harman maintains that phenomenology remains 'idealist to the core' because, in his view, it does not adequately, if at all, address real objects (139). Instead of this inherent idealism, Harman wants to offer a metaphysics with refreshed categories, and he succeeds beyond his own intent; for what seems to emerge from his thought is the very 'inverted' metaphysics that so far has eluded Marion, that inversion of metaphysics that reverses the analogia entis from 'below' to 'above.' Indeed, Harman's metaphysics seems to be the metaphysics of absence that the postmodern turn has posited, like a hypothetical particle, but has not yet identified or elucidated.
Harman's metaphysics of objects presents a robust philosophy of the tensions between real and sensual objects and their real and sensual qualities, and it holds out the promise of being productive and advancing truth. In a series of ingenious diagrams depicting the interactions among objects and qualities, he lands upon the delightful analogy of a deck of cards. As an amateur cardist myself, I was certainly prepare to be delighted. Harman designates each suit ontographically (124ff.): there are always 10 permutations (4 tensions, 3 each of radiations and junctions; p.114) in a field of four basic poles of reality (78). In Harman's system of card-counting, there is no trump, no privilege of one suit over another: his ontography has a flat ontology. Despite all the counting and interacting of suits in the play of this realism, I take Harman at his word that we cannot count into his deck a reduction to mathematics. Harman's polarities play out not only in the fourfold structure of the quadruple object, but in the fourfold of his resurrection of Heidegger's Das Geviert: no longer earth, sky, gods and mortals, no longer 'something at all' and 'something specific' as event and as occurrence (87-91) but now space, time, essence and eidos, which now constitute the four tensions of the four poles of reality (99ff.).
Obviously, a complete analysis of Harman's system cannot occupy this piece. I offer it, though, as a productive system that seeks to unveil the truth of reality. The very uncontainability of the essences of real objects, and their indolent withdrawal from experience, suggests a sympathy to the saturation of phenomena and givenness as Marion describes it, and even Steinbock's verticality, though verticality describes 'vertical' experiences. Steinbock's rigorous descriptions of the tensions between the moral emotions, and even mystical experience, and their qualities also seems at home in the speculative realism of the quadruple/fourfold object as the center of Harman's project. Because Catholic Realism commands the most comprehensive account of truth that all these post-Husserlian, post-Heideggerian philosophies of reality offer, it should not surprise that Catholicism has gravitated in this general direction.
Marion's description of the disappearing object (181-88) as it follows from his own 'tool analysis'(197-200) in Negative Certainties reflects the phenomenality of two real objects approaching one another as described by Harman. The mutual withdrawal of each polarity is 'known' as withdrawal even if its 'content' remains unarticulated. Such 'knowledge' has a negative certainty as it plays out in counter-experience. Similarly, the moral emotions that play out against the question of pride in Steinbeck's work also play out as the interface of 'real objects' in their withdrawal. Indeed, the generativity of both Steinbeck's verticality and Marion's saturation and phenomenology of givenness stand (favorably) against the generativity of Harman's fourfold, even as they stand against his indictment of the false, inadequate, less than 'full blown' realism of phenomenology in general. Harman has not yet accounted for phenomenologies that describe phenomena that side-step noema and noesis---generative phenomenologies of givenness and verticality. For in these phenomenologies the objects on either side of the phenomenological moment are real, and give themselves to themselves prior to any other kind of givenness; and they give to themselves their own selves, each their own Myself in a way that is anterior to any givenness of or to an 'other.' In short, Marion's 'third reduction' has postulated a truly autonomous phenomenal object, whose self-sufficient givenness prefigures the inexhaustibility of phenomenality that Harman jealously guards.
Self-givenness supplies real objects with the autonomy of their very nature, their very essence. No other self is required for this self-givenness. No reception validates such a robust givenness; instead, the givenness of things is simply and purely given into reality, regardless of any real or sensual qualities that might inhere in such a moment. That there might be a special kind of object in the vicinity that might experience the reality of another object as a counter-experience of its withdrawal, is an interesting phenomenon in and of itself, but does not distort any reality of any qualities or essences (e.g., withdrawal).
While Catholic Realism, at least in the hands of the discourse of this blog, places a premium on relationality as anterior to the being of a self, it can withstand the reification of such relation as the birth of another object within which objects, real and sensual, interact in a knowledge verified by negative certainty. Such a realism does not restrict saturation to real, withdrawing objects. Sensual objects, as they enter consciousness, have a saturation all their own. Yet the generativity, the productivity of all object oriented philosophies, whether phenomenologies of verticality, or of givenness and saturation and negative certainty, or the counter-experience of the speculation of the tensions, radiations and junctions of a fourfold structure of reality, find great favor in the special kind of realism I have called Catholic Realism. Whether the objects are real or sensual, whether they withdraw or find presence, whether they take the form of the sacraments, liturgies, morality, social justice, solidarity, subsidiarity, whether we can know them with positive or negative certainty, they either come before us as they present or as they withdraw in a vibrant reality. An example might suffice to illustrate the problems confronted by Catholic Realism.
The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist no longer finds adequate representation in a metaphysics of transubstantiation. Instead, the reality of the Eucharistic presence finds its better accounting in the saturated phenomenon, givenness, vertical experience, and in the tension between real and sensual objects and their qualities. Only among such approaches can the claims made for the Real Presence by Catholic Realism find full expression; for Christ in the Eucharist is no mere impanation or consubstantiation, but in the event of a real and sensual object in tension with its real and sensual accidents, and in the space, time, essence and eidos at play in this reality. Speculatively, the Eucharistic experience involves the withdrawal of the real object into the saturated phenomenon recollected in a counter-experience, which is none other that the stark confrontation with sacramentality itself, further enfolded in the verticality of love and hope.
Only the onslaught of an idolatrous materialism, the materialism of empiricism, scientism and naturalism, threatens to reduce all of reality to its own narrow gaze. Catholic Realism asks then this question: since such a materialism is inimical to all object-oriented philosophies, whether generative phenomenology or generative speculative realism, is the enemy of my enemy my friend? Catholic Realism seeks no synthesis of the object-oriented philosophies. If it asks Harman for real objects, he will respond in spades and a robust metaphysics; if it asks Marion for an account of the icon, or the idol or the flesh, he will respond with the saturated phenomenon and his philosophy of givenness; if it asks Steinbock for an account of hope, he will respond with the verticality of the self, the Myself and the tensions between these and pride, and their qualities. It might turn out that any one of these approaches to the Truth is ill-suited to the task; but in its self-understanding and self-givenness, the realism that inheres in Catholicism knows that it plays on the field of facticity and finitude, and play this hand at no-trump.
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν
The Word become flesh and dwelt among us [John 1:15]
We live in the body and suffer in the flesh. Our bodies can be broken, maimed, dismembered, but our flesh is the modality of our very selves that takes upon it the weight of the of inflicted body. One need go no further than deafferentation pain, for example, phantom limb pain, to appreciate the distinction between the body and the flesh ( I discern no clear relationship between this observation and Merleau-Ponty's discussion of the "phantom limb" and the "habitual body" however provocative the similar language). No body/flesh dualism inheres in this reality of a fixed tension within our diremptive experience of our lived bodies and our flesh; they are the obverses of the coinage of our finitude, and the flesh can suffer even where the body is not. The body is always in the present and the here; the flesh experiences not only the present, but the past and the future, in the here and there.
The flesh is redeemed and the body is resurrected in the transformation of finitude. The modalities of redemption and resurrection are suffering and death, respectively; for the flesh suffers death, and the body dies. The flesh suffers in the wholeness and integrity of the body, but the body might die in the absence of organs and appendages. Many discourses distinguish pain and suffering: legal remedies might compensate for both; medical treatments might be directed against both physical pain of the body and existential suffering of the flesh even without making such distinctions concretely.
The saturated phenomenon of the flesh is so because the self cannot be tweezed apart from the flesh. The relationship is one of immediacy, not necessarily one of identity, though thinking the flesh and the self as one and the same makes both intuitive and practical sense in a way that thinking the flesh and the body as the same does not. The flesh does not merely 'remember' the body; it lives the body as if it remembers the body. The flesh and the self live each other as if they were one and the same, though neither is reducible to the other.
Does the Incarnation give us a window upon the body, flesh and self through which the gaze approaches their givenness? Logos-sarx/logos- anthropos configurations do not reduce to, for example, the extremes of heterodox views, but can work in tandem to place the human creature within the relation to the Incarnation. As Emmanuel Falque has noted in The Metamorphosis of Finitude (NY: Fordham Univ. Pr., 2012), God the Father suffers in the Spirit what The Son suffers in the flesh through a process analogous to apperceptive transposition. The human creature lives this process out in the body and the flesh. Logos-flesh and logos-body open into a 'self' given to itself (the Myself), a self-givenness given through the flesh and the body.
The 'interpersonal,' and even the 'inter-Personal' (as Anthony Steinbock deploys these terms), orients the self, the flesh and the body toward the 'other.' The Incarnation, as religiously understood in Christianity, involves the union of the divine and the human in the unique person of Christ. If Falque has given us a valid point of departure, then the Logos-human union is already within the Father-Son-Spirit of the divine Godhead in the transpositions of the experience of suffering. I have suggested that the unique union of the Logos-Human, the 'hypstatic union', is chiasmic in its structure, and in this sense, I do want to connect with Merleau-Ponty's fascinating notion of the chiasmus of 'reversibility' in his Phenomenology of Perception ( trans. C. Smith, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962, 93-108). Without diverting to a discussion of that work, I want to connect this 'reversibility' with chiasmic structures as noted in this blog, and certainly in John Caputo's work (cited elsewhere), and with the overall concept of 'porosity.'
If we take as analogy from above the suffering of the Father in the flesh of the Son through the Spirit, then the aperture of the gaze upon the human self, flesh and body widens (through an inversion of 'metaphysics') to free givenness to present in verticality and upon the 'personal' and personhood. Porosity speaks to the uncontainability of the event within categorical reality, and so it is only off the plane of the horizontal, 'natural' attitude, where such saturated phenomena appear--within vertical experience. The self-givenness within the flesh occurs then in an immediacy of saturation. The body, the lived body inhabited in and by the flesh, presents on the horizontal, and the flesh appears as a saturated phenomenon, in verticality, yet unified with the wholeness of the reality of life of the human person. It would appear that a surmise is in order: the resurrection of the body is a phenomenon of the horizontal, natural attitude; and the redemption of the flesh, one of vertical experience.
Another surmise is in order: these thoughts are unfinished, these reflections insufficiently reflected, these concepts inadequately mastered. A blog entry is not a publication in a peer-reviewed journal, and they are made provisionally, open to critique that might bring them along, or steer them down another avenue. These are mere currents is a sea of religious thought and experience. I remind myself of this (my) predicament from time to time.