- Series: Crosscurrents EUP
- Paperback: 296 pages
- Publisher: Edinburgh University Press; 1 edition (March 31, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0748677267
- ISBN-13: 978-0748677269
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.8 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,131,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Christopher Watkin takes readers on a fascinating journey into contemporary post-theological philosophy. He shows with admirable clarity how each writer articulates a new position beyond the innate problems of parasitism and asceticism, and he sharpens focus on post-theological integration, whether in the form of Badiou's axiomatic atheism, Nancy's deconstructive antheology, or Meillassoux's argument that philosophy believes in God because God does not exist. As Watkin proves quite brilliantly, atheism is not as easy as it seems.(Choice)
About the Author
Christopher Watkin is Senior Lecturer in French Studies at the Monash University
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Watkin's volume provides an outstanding and useful standard for understanding this element of the cutting edge of contemporary French philosophy. I cannot recommend it highly enough to illustrate its excellence.
Those who call themselves "atheist" are on notice that such may be far more difficult to justify than usually assumed. Alain Badiou and Jean-Luc Nancy are contemporary French philosophers, widely recognized, especially in the context of Continental philosophy. In this volume, they are compared and contrasted on the topic of atheism.
"[I]t is a thinking that tries more fully than ever to have done with God, that tries to remake itself fundamentally as `without God', and on this basis moves beyond the simple term `atheism'."--DIFFICULT ATHEISM, p 1.
Watkin's title, DIFFICULT ATHEISM, means that although both are top philosophers (Derrida referred to Nancy as an "exact thinker") neither is able to make the case for a thoroughly coherent atheism. In the second half of the book, Watkin adds another Frenchman, Quentin Meillassoux for additional contrast.
My interest in Nancy drew me to this book. Nancy explains more clearly than most why the old dichotomy of theism/atheism no longer works. Yet he retains some of the traditional vocabulary and his re-interpretation of that interrupts any hope for easy reading.
On first acquaintance, I could make no headway with Nancy's use of the concepts "finite" and "infinite." Nancy insists on an Open (unlike any such offered by Hegel, Rilke, or Heidegger, except for the occasional capital letter) that opens onto infinity. He finds infinity within the finite. No, not as practiced and accepted in math or the physical sciences. The closest I can come is with the image from the Orient of Yin and Yang. Those refer to opposites in such distinctions as between hot and cold, active and passive, etc.
Other thinkers may have also asked then about that line drawn in the image (my comparison) to separate them, but no one has worked it over as has Nancy. The line is the finitude and is just as necessary to understand the twin infinities of Yin and Yang and what they represent. In analogous fashion, Nancy addresses the infinity being within the finite. So far as I am aware, that is a wholly original idea. Do not expect to find that equivalent to anything proposed by others. That makes a colossal difference from our conventional understandings. What does it have to do with atheism? Watkin writes,
"This reading of the in/finite also gives Nancy an understanding of the death of God. The death of God as it has slowly played itself out in the Western tradition is a movement from act to object, from esse to essentia, from the infinite en acte to the closure of the presented infinite. The divine is the opening of signification onto sense, the opening of finite existence to the infinite en acte, and the death of God is the collapse of the infinite en acte into an actual infinite closed within thought, presented as thought. Nancy is not a philosopher of the finite over the infinite; he is a philosopher of the infinite in the finite."--DIFFICULT ATHEISM, p 77.
If that seems to confuse the significance of such attributes as "atheist" and "divine," wait until you read how Nancy intends the word "god." Notice that Watkin writes above of this professed atheist, "The divine is..." since Watkin addresses that "opening" from Nancy's POV. Another commentator writes,
"Nancy redeploys the name "god": "god" names the movement of passing-by, of spacing-out, of inclination, of the opening of the world right at the world. From the delineation of Nancy's thought that I have carried out here, it should be clear that Nancy's deconstruction of Christianity undermines the distinction between theism and atheism to such a degree that these categories cannot be used to assess his deployment of the name "god." In this sense, his "god" is neither theistic nor atheistic; it is truly a-theological."--"Towards A Divine Atheism" by Marie-Eve Morin, available online at Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy 15.1 (Spring 2011): 29-49).
Nancy uses the lower case "g" to defer to the customs of the majority tradition but that's the only important concession he gives.
"`[I]mitative atheism', merely replaces `God' with a supposedly atheistic placeholder such as `Man' or `Reason', explicitly rejecting but implicitly imitating theology's categories of thinking, changing merely the terms in which those categories are articulated.
"This call to systematic renunciation exempliﬁes the second tendency in post-Enlightenment atheism, a tendency that we shall call `residual atheism', an atheism that seeks, with a heroic or despairing asceticism, to make do with the meagre residue left over after the departure of God, Truth, Justice, Beauty and so on. Residual atheism traces its genealogy through Heidegger's Dasein to Nietzsche's pronouncements of the death of God." DA, pp 4-5
The issue is that a thorough-going atheism would have neither characteristics that are simply disguised religious formulations (e.g., relying on a first cause that must be hypostasized to explain how things got going; in such a case it is identified as "parasitic" of religion with a God-principle) nor "residual ascetic" that simply avoids traditional conceptuality.
It may well be that additional developments since the publication of this book have settled some of these issues, but my guess is that they will remain alive and well for the indefinite future.