- Series: Routledge Radical Orthodoxy
- Paperback: 200 pages
- Publisher: Routledge (September 29, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415276969
- ISBN-13: 978-0415276962
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,398,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Speech and Theology: Language and the Logic of Incarnation (Routledge Radical Orthodoxy)
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About the Author
James K.A. Smith is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in California.
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Concept and Violence
In modernity the concept becomes a means of dominating and seizure (5). Absolute knowledge erases differance.
“If the object of theoretical articulation is in some way radically exterior to language (God, differance, pretheoretical experience), then every unveiling of it in language will fail to produce the object” (6). “Concepts” make claims to totalization. In modernity one who has the concept of “a thing” has the thing. Concept is domination. Knowledge is knowledge only insofar as it “seizes” the thing and has complete certainty.
Violence of Immanence: The French Critique
Husserl and Heidegger had privileged immanence over transcendence. If the phenomenon has to appear within these horizons of knowing, it can never give itself from itself. Marion suggests, rather, reducing it to pure givenness and opening the space for revelation.
The violence of the concept: revisited
problem: how can transcendence appear and how can we speak of that which defies description? “Factical lived experience, the Other’s consciousness, and God all point to sites where description is at a loss” (43). Factical lived experience is always pretheoretical. The only way for the transcendent to appear is for it to take the properties of phenomena.
Praise and Confession: How (not) to speak in Augustine
signs and things: Signs are words; things are other than words. Smith and Augustine say words are not things (114), but in Hebrew debar also means thing. Augustine does allow that words can become things when understood iconically (123). Interior transcendence: self (also unbridgeable to the Other); metaphor is of depth, not height.
Praise bridges the verbal gap. Does not reduce God to concept, but maintains his alterity (128).
Can truth be learned? No, per Plato, it can only be recollected. Truth on this account is timeless and cannot enter the particularities of history. Platonism is a theologia gloria. Writing as image of speech (cf Derrida on mediation and signs). But even speech is mediated at the origin
Scale of being
*images are appearances; “fall from being”
*Participation (ascent) and Incarnation (descent) are antithetical
*Salvation as achieving dis-embodiment (Laws 12.959a-d)
The Logic of Incarnation is a logic of don-nation, of giving (receiving from the outside). Contrast with Platonic recollection (Republic 518b-c).
Observations: Smith critiques Jean-Luc Marion as remaining within the ontology of estrangement. Grace perfects/completes nature = revealed theology (eucharist?) completes phenomenology. This might correlate with jlm’s emphasis on the icon (points beyond). Same as pagan magic, though.
Criticism: Smith’s solution to the problem is simple enough: God must condescend to us and in order to maintain the bounds of phenomenology, must meet us as phenomenon. Easy enough and no argument here. Something bugs me, though, in that he seems to think that God needs a mediating concept. Not saying that is wrong, but..
His appeal to Levinas and Marion in support of his thesis is severely problematic, even after he critiques their notion of revelation. Those critiques somewhat miss the point, in that it amounts to positing the need for `conditions of reception' for revelation. Smith writes after quoting Levinas: *But still we must ask: in what way can the Wholly Other be revealed? Must not every revelation be received? (159)* In this whole paragraph, Smith confuses the event of the other in Levinas as an `appearance', delivering a content that requires conditions of reception, intelligibility, and so forth. For Levinas, the other precisely does not appear: the other appears as non-appearing, as enigma, as trace. The event of the face does not *reveal* information, or content to be assimilated within a structure of comprehension. (Levinas does not in fact regress to pre-critical metaphysics.) The relation is one of non relation: the other resists determination in that its content overflows its concept: this overflowing, taken with the trace, inscribes, elects, and constitutes ethical subjectivity; it signals an absolute passivity prior to even the minimal spontaneity, or merely relative passivity, implied by `conditions of reception'.
Smith forgets or ignores Levinas's theme of the TRACE. This is why Levinas is not a good resource for Smith's project. The alterity that irrupts in the face (in TI) and in Saying (OB) appears as trace of a past that was never present, i.e. a trace that (in principle) cannot be INCARNATED. The ethical trauma Levinas thematizes does not require a structure of reception beyond the jouissance of the existent, its affective being in its self-sameness. The relation to the other is traumatic precisely in that it `elects', it opens the same to responsibility precisely against its own inclinations. It constitutes the self's very singularity! The height and destitution of the other are the tropes for the passing of the trace. I am not as familiar with Marion, the description of the *religious phenomenon* as displacing and overwhelming the conditions of appearance bears the Levinasian influence. We should ask: do we really want God to `appear' in the specific phenomenological sense? Smith's appeal to Kierkegaard's paradox is a bit problematic too. The incarnation, for Kierk, does not appear in the phenomenological sense, but precisely burst the bounds of appearing and comprehension, it defies assimilation into Hegelian (or Husserlian) intelligibility. It would seem to me that the Incarnation must remain an offense, Christ must remain `incognito' to the lights of Reason or a (putatively) neutral epistemology. Or else faith would not be needed.
Of course: Smith's point is that in the Incarnation, God *condescends* to man in Christ. But this condescension will only ever appear as idolatrous and mythic to the neutral philosophical eye; which is why to that eye, God will only ever `appear' as an opening or irruption, as a whisper or shudder. Any more, and we're in the region of faith and the undecidability it presupposes. The theological opposition he seeks to mediate - immanence/transcendence - is aporetic and should remain so.
This touches on another confusion I had: Smith makes the claim that Christian theology needs Christian philosophy, i.e. reflection on method that exceed the regional specificity of theology. If this philosophy is indeed `Christian', i.e. post-faith philosophy, what need does it have of phenomenology? Why critique Marion and Levinas if one is already out over the abyss, and when this is precisely what the seek to effect (rather than regress to onto-theology)? Indeed, the critique seems to beg the question, in that Lev and Marion are operating on the terrain of the phenomenological tradition that brackets the position Smith assumes.
All in all, in spite (or perhaps because) of my critical questions, I love this book. This is a book that's worth reading, worth arguing with, and worth critiquing; a book that demonstrates that broadly orthodox theology can do more than incessantly recite the same slogans and oppositions. Smith is asking the right questions, pointing us in essential trajectories, and opening a site for theological reflection that moves beyond the Biblicism and positivism of so much Evangelical theology. From *Fall of Interpretation* to this book, Smith is trailblazing a new mood of inquiry and questioning. We hope that his work gains a wide reading!!! God knows, Evangelicalism is in need of legible, creative, effective, insightful thinking. Thanks Jamie!