Book Plug: Heidegger’s Confessions by Ryan Coyne

Countering a Significant Omission: Heidegger’s ConfessionsHeidegger's Confessions

Reviewed by Dr. Gary R. Brown, University of Dallas

It is well-known that the compelling breadth and depth of Heidegger’s thought is due in large measure to how much of the Western philosophical tradition it encompasses. He has ferreted out, rethought, and retrieved significant themes from everybody’s favorite thinkers. We can find echoes in Heidegger’s work of Kant, Nietzsche, Husserl, Kierkegaard, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Eckhart, Aquinas, Dilthey, Jaspers, Lask, Scheler, St. Paul, Luther—a list that can be further extended even without including poets and dramatists. But, according to Ryan Coyne, there is another, perhaps equally significant, thinker whose longtime influence on Heidegger has been sorely overlooked, and that is St. Augustine.

The first reaction by many Heidegger scholars to such a claim is surprised denial. It is widely assumed that after The Phenomenology of Religious life, Heidegger moved progressively further away from Augustine as he set about de-theologizing philosophy. Heidegger’s supposed incompatibility with Augustine might seem even more pronounced after Phillip Cary’s Augustine’s Invention of the Inner Self. Cary shifts the blame for modern subjectivity from Descartes’ shoulders to Augustine’s—its true originator. If we can claim anything with certainty about Heidegger’s work, it is that he has labored mightily against Descartes’ subjective metaphysics. So why would Augustine’s abiding influence on Heidegger be something to consider as possible?

Coyne argues that Heidegger’s reading of Augustine’s Confessions for his 1921 seminar allowed him to see Augustine as a predecessor in his battle against Cartesian metaphysics. Having Augustine as an ally in his exploration of the concrete facticity of life had greater influence on Heidegger’s future work, according to Coyne, than his study of the Pauline epistles during the same period. Heidegger’s ongoing de-theologizing of theological concepts hid Augustine’s influence on Being and Time, but after the Kehre Heidegger returned to his early reworking of Augustine’s thought in order to find ways to move forward. Coyne finds echoes in the Contributions to Philosophy (1936-1938) of Augustine in Heidegger’s rethinking of Dasein in terms of displacement and “restraint.” He points to Heidegger’s reference to Augustine in the 1946 study, “Anaximander’s Saying” while trying to interpret the early understanding of being. Coyne also presents textual evidence for a “muted resurgence of resignified Augustinian terms” in Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche’s completion of Descartes’ metaphysical project (1944-1946). This twenty-five year span of Augustine’s influence, which surfaced during significant periods of crisis in Heidegger’s work, brings clarity to the tension in Heidegger between the secular and the religious contributions to the meaning of being. Coyne’s presentation is a pleasure to read due to the clarity of his argument, his impressive knowledge of the stages of Heidegger’s development, and the rich selection of supportive textual details.

Book Plug: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought by Jennifer Newsome Martin

By Robert Saler

Robert Saler is Research Professor of Lutheran Studies and Executive Director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN.

In this study, Jennifer Newsome Martin offers far more than a relatively esoteric consideration of the influence of the 19th-century “Russian School” (particularly Vladimir Soloviev, Nikolai Berdyaev, and Sergei Bulgakov) on Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theology, as interesting as such genealogy might be to theologians. Instead, by considering how Balthasar incorporates and rejects the fruits of a uniquely daring and speculative period within Russian theology (and Eastern Orthodox systematic theology in general), Martin is able to provide one of the more lucid introductions to the speculative yet ultimately disciplined character of Balthasar’s own theology. Indeed, given that von Balthasar has come under attack in recent years particularly by Roman Catholic theologians who regard some of his more daring theological formulations (e.g. his subjunctive universalism, his account of Christ’s descent into hell as one of suffering rather than triumph), Martin’s careful exegesis of where Balthasar follows the lead of his Russian interlocutors (as well as that of their mutual textual foil, Schelling) and where he demurs from their more radical conclusions in the name of Catholic doctrine and/or Christocentric theology serves a more subterranean yet compelling purpose: to demonstrate that Balthasar, whose capacious appreciation for intellectual sources outside of Roman Catholicism and indeed outside the orbit of Christian theology altogether, nonetheless was creatively orthodox in his interweaving of these disparate strands into a sustained theological vision of the fulfillment of all human endeavors – artistic, philosophical, and religious – in the resurrected life of Christ.

The result of this is a marvelously scholarly and non-polemical survey of some key themes in Balthasar’s theology, particularly in relation to eschatology, biblical hermeneutics, and the role of myth in theology. For instance, regarding the role of myth, Balthasar shared with both his Russian interlocutors and Schelling a suspicion of the seemingly deadening impact of unchecked Enlightenment rationality in describing the human condition (as well as the subsequent impact of such anemic understandings of revelation and the apocalyptic upon Christian theology). However, Balthasar saw in his Russian counterparts’ reception of both Schelling and Schelling’s ideological predecessor Jakob Böhme an object lesson in how to critically appropriate mythic hermeneutics both within and cognate to Christian scriptures in both unhelpful (as in his firm dismissal of Berdyaev on this score) and in evocative ways (as in his greater sympathy for Bulgakov).

In reading Martin’s account, the principal of “resonant, not relevant” comes to mind – because these Russian thinkers in diaspora, as heterogeneous as they were, all were confronted with the challenge of reconciling aesthetic and philosophical currents of modernity with biblical and patristic sources (a task that was arguably mostly eschewed by the subsequent neo-pastristic Renaissance brought to fruition by figures such as Florovsky, despite that movement’s ostensible program of synthesis) but from a wildly different cultural and ecclesial location than that of von Balthasar, their consideration of sources common to both East and West from the standpoint of ecclesial fidelity could inform Balthasar’s speculative imagination while also modeling epistemological and/or doctrinal restraint at key junctures. As Balthasar himself said about that tensions in inherent in that task (as quoted by Martin),

Being faithful to tradition most definitely does not consist…of a literal repetition and transmission of the philosophical and theological theses that one imagines lie hidden in time and in the contingencies of history. Rather, being faithful to tradition consists much more of imitating our Fathers in the faith with respect to their attitude of intimate reflection and their effort of audacious creation, which are necessary preludes to true spiritual fidelity. (14-15).

One of Martin’s most significant contributions in showcasing Balthasar’s “true fidelity” on this score is to demonstrate how, when all was said and done, for him the key theological loci of bodily resurrection and eschatological redemption as construed by the Catholic tradition are absolutely necessary for doing justice to the strivings of the human condition as reflected in art, philosophy, and other modes of cultural aesthetics. Indeed, Martin demonstrates convincingly that the moments in Balthasar’s corpus where he is most severe and epistemologically restrictive in his willingness to speculate apart from received Catholic doctrine is when he feels that the centrality of the resurrection (with its theological approbation of the material body as a site of God’s redemption) is in danger of being subsumed by quasi-gnostic mythos.

As a scholarly monograph (indeed, a dissertation revision) and as a sympathetic rendition of Balthasar’s major themes, Martin’s book succeeds well. Indeed, the only significant frustration that I had with the book was that, in this case, those two genres exist in some tension: because Martin stays on task of assessing Balthasar’s corpus in light of his Russian and German idealist interlocutors, the book – though clearly written – will largely be inaccessible for those seeking a more general introduction to Balthasar as well as a more sustained response to his more vociferous critics (whom Martin introduces and summarizes fairly but mostly rebuts, if at all, via indirect demonstration rather than direct response). If this book is any indication, Martin has quite a bit more to add to consideration of Balthasar’s legacy, and we can hope that her future contributions will help those of us who are sympathetic both to Balthasar’s theology and the larger theo-aesthetic tasks to which he addresses himself to draw some more pointed lines in the sand against those who would discount his impact or his legacy. But in the meantime, this book is a solid foundation on which to begin to build that case as well as a study that will be of interest not only to Balthasar scholars but also Eastern Orthodox scholars looking to see how a theologically astute Westerner “looks in” on a fraught and heavily contested moment in their theological heritage. Martin makes a convincing case that such resonant readings across traditions is all to the benefit of theology.

Book Plug: Unfinished Worlds: Hermeneutics, Aesthetics, and Gadamer by Nicholas Davey

Unfinished Worlds by Nicholas DaveyNicholas Davey’s book, Unfinished Worlds: Hermeneutics, Aesthetics, and Gadamer, is a thought-provoking study of Gadamer’s integration of hermeneutics and aesthetics. Importantly, Gadamer’s fusion of hermeneutics and aesthetics reverses traditional conceptions of both disciplines. For example, hermeneutics is typically understood as focusing on meaning, whereas aesthetics is concerned with the particularities of visual, auditory, and related sensual experience. Davey, however, shows both how Gadamer challenges traditional accounts and the resultant consequences, which include: (1) an anti-essentialist account of the artwork as dynamic and relationally constituted, (2) a significant revision of the theory-practice relationship in art and the humanities, (3) a hermeneutics of transformative experience, and (4) a redefinition of the nature of aesthetic attentiveness (2). Davey not only helps us to better understand Gadamer’s reorientation of aesthetics (chapter 2) and his philosophically robust account of the artwork, but he also advances Gadamer’s insights, bringing them to bear on central issues in contemporary hermeneutics, philosophy of art, and aesthetics.

Davey’s analysis and constructive development of Gadamer’s contributions intersect with broader philosophical concerns of interest to the Continental philosophical tradition. For example, is an excess of meaning a problem that constricts one’s understanding of the aesthetic or does it enlarge one’s understanding? Is ambiguity and multiplicity of meaning something to be embraced (as Derrida and other contemporary thinkers claim) or avoided? Given certain readings of Gadamer as a traditionalist averse to ambiguity and fluidity, some might be surprised that his hermeneutical aesthetics is quite at home with polysemy, excess of meaning, and  ever-open “unfinished” worlds.

One of the central claims with which Davey dwells is Gadamer’s proposal that artworks address us. That is, hermeneutical aesthetics maintains that artworks possess a meaningful content and such meaning is relational. In the experience of art’s address, the viewer or auditor is both drawn in by the work and actively participates in its occurrence or event-ful character. Art’s address has the capacity to transform one’s horizon. As Davey’s explains, such a transformative experience “entails the cognitive relations within a spectator’s outlook being transformed by those which constitute the work. This is made possible because of the surplus of meaning attached to visual signs and symbols as well as to the images of literature and poetry” (2). Such symbols and literary ideas have the ability to function as placeholders in multiple discourses. This “transactional capacity” of symbols and poetic and literary ideas, and what Gadamer calls “subject-matters” (Sachen) allows a key term in one’s home horizon to be “transformed when that term meets different deployments within a foreign horizon” (2). In such an encounter, one’s horizon is not superseded but rather acquires a significantly expanded, enriched form. This account of the transactional or placeholder capacity of symbols and subject-matters to operate across different horizons or frameworks of meaning not only provides an explanation of the structure of transformative experiences in art, but it also clarifies how “the transformative capacity of interdisciplinary study depends precisely upon the movement of shared placeholder terms between different practices” (3). Here we encounter one of Gadamer’s innovative contributions, viz. an articulation of an active, participatory aesthetic attentiveness as a practice, which Davey discusses in detail in chapters 3 and 4. In contrast to traditional accounts of aesthetics wherein one passively receives a work and relishes in its aesthetic qualities, in a Gadamerian practice of aesthetic attentiveness the spectator lingers with the work, allowing its complexities to emerge and actively facilitates movement between the placeholders in her own horizon and that of the artwork (3). Such lingering or tarrying with the artwork is necessary for a transformative experience to occur. In short, Davey shows how Gadamer successfully reconciles the “alleged disinterestedness of aesthetics with the cognitive interests” attendant to a phenomenological examination of our experience of art” (16). As Davey puts it, “Aesthetic attentiveness is no unthinking receptiveness but a complex reflective practice capable of transforming understanding” (ibid.) Moreover, this reconfiguration of our experience of art as participatory adds a new dimension to the hermeneutical part-whole relationship. Such part-whole structures can only be understood via participatory engagement. Thus, given Gadamer’s emphasis on the dynamism of aesthetic experience, the idea of a “detached aesthetic observer” must be discarded and replaced with an engaged spectatorial (or auditoral) participant (ibid.)

For Gadamer, profound aesthetic experience involves the ineffable and thus serves as a challenge to philosophy’s predilection to clarify and even master the “objects” of its study. Although Gadamer agrees with the artist and practitioner that the complexity of aesthetic experience transcends linguistic capture, he nonetheless contends that striving to find new words and a new language that more adequately approximates the intricacies of such experience is a worthwhile endeavour. Here Gadamer’s hermeneutical aesthetics unites practitioner and theorist as mutually beneficial dialogue partners who facilitate a greater understanding of aesthetic experience.

Other significant topics addressed in Davey’s study are as follows: appearance as ontologically significant (chapter 5), aesthetics attentiveness and distanciation (chapter 3), the disjunctive image (chapter 3), art’s language and Gadamer’s rich yet often misunderstood notion of Sprachlichkeit or linguisticality (chapter 6). Lastly, chapter 7 provides a helpful summary of Davey’s principle arguments.

I highly recommend Davey’s study for those interested in Gadamer’s hermeneutical aesthetics, as well as anyone interested in a defence of the value of aesthetic education and the humanities in general. Not only does he accomplish the noteworthy task of lucidly explaining the key moments of Gadamer’s hermeneutical aesthetics, but he also makes a compelling case for applying a Gadamerian “poetics” of aesthetic experience to our understanding of interdisciplinary study and in so doing urges us to reconsider the social and cultural significance of the humanities. In light of its transformative possibilities, aesthetic education takes on new urgency in our fragile, violence-ridden, and ever-changing world. “Not to invest in the attentive practices of the humanities, not to nurture the ability to dwell within spaces of hermeneutical challenge and not to teach how to be patient in developing as yet unknown but wished for responses to such provocations is to disinvest in our collective ability to respond creatively to the inevitable challenges of the future” (171).

[Unfinished Worlds is part of Edinburgh University Press’s excellent Crosscurrents series, edited by Christopher Watkin, Monash University, Australia. This series explores the development of European thought through engagements with the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences.]

 

 

Pomegranates and Falling Leaves: On Derrida (by Peter Kline)

The following is a guest post by Peter Kline. Peter is an Ph.D. candidate at Vanderbilt University in Theology and Philosophy. Peter is also a practicing artist, and his work can be found at: http://peterklineart.virb.com/. – See more at: http://percaritatem.com/posts/#sthash.CeIzxv0v.dpufDerrida Drawing by Peter Kline

A reflection on Jacques Derrida, whom I love.

Derrida’s point across all of his writing is actually pretty simple, even if its articulation and implications must—to understand this “must” is to understand Derrida—be irreducibly complex and difficult.

The point: temporality is deconstruction; language is deconstruction. To be in time and within language is always already to be undergoing deconstruction. Deconstruction is not anything anybody does. It is what happens, something that happens, the trembling of existence.

The irreducibly complex implication of this, traced and tracked down in so many corners and alleys and byways by Derrida, is that self-identity, or “ipseity,” is impossible. One cannot simple be what one is. Every “one,” insofar as it exists in time and within language, is always already doubled into (at least) two. In his essay “Faith and Knowledge,” Derrida uses the image of a pomegranate: to cut open any supposed self-identical “one”—which is simply what time and language do, they are nothing but this cutting—is to release an unstable spilling out or dissemination of non-identical doubles, of seeds, that spill out everywhere, making a mess, as anyone who has tried to open and enjoy a pomegranate knows well.

If you were to gather together all the interpretations of any single text, say, the Bible, or any concept, say, justice, it would look like the carnage of an opened pomegranate. If you were to gather together all the speech a patient pours out to his or her therapist in attempt after attempt at self-presence and self-knowing—again, the carnage of an opened pomegranate. (Which is why Derrida resists any comprehensive psychoanalytic theory. At best, a therapist is a fellow traveler and companion who helps us feel our way through the very dark night of existence).

The self-identity of the self, of sovereignty, of responsibility, of religion, of philosophy, of literature, of anything and everything, is impossible. Everything, every “one,” is full of the seeds of is own deconstruction. Even the self-identity of a text that would announce deconstruction as a theme or topic is impossible. This is why Derrida is always annoyingly saying something like: deconstruction is not a theme or a topic, neither this nor that, not anything at all. It is nothing, nothing but a silent operation that one could only haltingly trace.

Like leaves falling at midnight, dancing and playing and trembling in midair, unseen, unheard, traced in the light of day only by bare branches. Derrida’s texts are the tracings of bare branches, spindly and winding and awkwardly complex across an open sky, across the blank page.

If one were to speak (and the question must always announce itself and remain unanswered: can one?) of Derrida’s passion, one would speak of a passion for the impossible. This is not a passion that the impossible would become possible. It is a passion that the impossible, that self-identity, would remain impossible. Derrida’s texts pray that the gap between me and myself, or between myself and the other, or between every one and every other, would never be closed, that the pomegranate would never stop spilling out seeds, that the leaves would never stop falling at midnight and dancing as they do, that time and language and the longing they open, in which mourning and hope hold hands and walk together into a dark night, would never cease opening.

This is why Derrida’s texts do not announce an ethics. They always already are an ethics. I would call it an ethics of hesitation. Derrida does nothing but hesitate. He stutters and stammers before the impossibility of self-identity, and in so doing he attempts to make room for the other, for what cannot be given a name, an identity, or a present without an impossible future, the future of the impossible, which is arriving every instant beyond any anticipation or appropriation. It is a kind of prayer, a speaking in tongues.

Book Plug: Interstitial Soundings. Philosophical Reflections on Improvisation, Practice, and Self-Making

Interstitial SoundingsMy new book, Interstitial Soundings. Philosophical Reflections on Improvisation, Practice, and Self-Making, is now available for purchase. Below I have included a brief description of the book. Also, Cascade/Wipf & Stock has put together a very nice promotional flyer with lengthy excerpts from the first two chapters. Those interested may download this document via this link.*

In the present work, Cynthia R. Nielsen brings music and philosophy into a fruitful and mutually illuminating dialogue. Topics discussed include the following: music’s dynamic ontology, performers and improvisers as co-composers, the communal character of music, jazz as hybrid and socially constructed, the sociopolitical import of bebop, Afro-modernism and its strategic deployments, jazz and racialized practices, continuities between Michel Foucault’s discussion of self-making and creating one’s musical voice, Alasdair MacIntyre on practice, and how one might harmonize MacIntyre’s notion of virtue development with Foucauldian resistance strategies.

*Used with permission of Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Passion for Nothing: Kierkegaard’s Apophatic Theology

The following is a guest post by Peter Kline. Peter is an Ph.D. candidate at Vanderbilt University in Theology and Philosophy. In addition to Kierkegaard and apophatic thought, Peter has interests in psychoanalysis, mysticism, art, and aesthetics. He is also a practicing artist, and his work can be found at: http://peterklineart.virb.com/.Kierkegaard by Peter Kline

This is one of the pieces of art that I plan on submitting as part of my dissertation, “Passion for Nothing: Kierkegaard’s Apophatic Theology.” And here is an excerpt from the dissertation that can be read as a bit of commentary on the painting. I’m interested in exploring what it would mean to inhabit a space between the word and the image, painting and writing toward “nothing,” toward the apophatic space and time that keeps everything in motion, that releases the word, the image, the self with its projects off itself into a temporality timed by the rhythm, the “repetition,” of eternity.

***

Like Foucault, Kierkegaard “writes in order to have no face.”[1] He writes in order to face the “divine nothing” and in that (de)facing he yearns to become nothing, nothing to be hawked by theory retailers or put to use by purveyors of any Christendom, old or new. What marks apophatic discourses as apophatic is their limitless self-critique, their willingness to take back and negate everything that is given in speech, even negations, or to take back as the manner of giving. This breathes into discourse an elusiveness, often quite subtle, that the commentator must become attuned to, with a patience, humility, and artistic ear that work against the scientific desire to “master” texts.

The simultaneity of giving and taking back is what Kierkegaard practices as “indirect communication” and “double-reflection.”[2] This simultaneity, which requires that one write at a slant or with a swerve, is how he lets discourse perform the paradoxical simultaneity of time and eternity—Øieblikket [“the instant,” or “the glance of the eye”]—in which time is thrown off center, off itself, forward. Kierkegaard’s authorship throws language off center, off itself. It lets the outside of speech into speech and so writes itself around and toward what cannot be named or gathered into definitive and stabilized meanings. Kierkegaard writes in the tension of passion between time and eternity, with one eye looking into time, the other looking into eternity. He winks at his reader, disrupting his own discourse even as he writes it, the way a wink disrupts the gaze even as it performs it. This is exactly the sense of Øieblikket, the glance of the eye, in which eternity approaches and withdraws in the same instant, opening time forward. An approach that withdraws as it approaches is one that makes room. Kierkegaard writes in order to make room for his reader, to release the reader forward into the roominess of eternity, rather than suffocate them with a smothering, tightly determined discourse.

Kierkegaard writes beyond the concept, beyond even his own concepts, or he allows a beyond, a rupture, a fragmenting, into the writing of concepts. He writes to release and revitalize an energy, a passion, a sense, an anger, a tenderness, a sorrow, a joy, a laughter that concepts cannot allow to burst forth. Hiin Enkelte, “that single individual,” is the limit concept of Kierkegaard’s writing, the limit of the concept, the stumbling block on which every concept trips and falls, or else learns to dance, to get off itself. Hiin—“that”—pushes Enkelte beyond the concept, beyond the abstraction of “the” individual to that one, right here—hello! Hiin indicates the movement of an address—“My dear reader!”—an address that is already a response to what opens, to what is given, prior to thought and prior to speech, the sheer thatness of that other, the shock of relation and responsibility that elicits a joy (and terror) that arrives before language and outlasts it. One might think of the joy of babies (in-fants, non-speakies) who learn to smile in the presence of the other before they learn to speak, who beam with the joy (and terror) of existence before learning the “ambiguous art”[3] of language. Kierkegaard writes in order to return his reader to, to repeat forward, this smile older (and newer) than speech:

Thus the upbuilding address is fighting in many ways for the eternal to be victorious in a person, but in the appropriate place and with the aid of the lily and the bird, it does not forget first and foremost to relax into a smile. Relax, you struggling one! One can forget how to laugh, but God keep a person from ever forgetting how to smile![4]

Kierkegaard’s wink always comes with a smile, an apophatic smile, with the joy of relating and communicating outside of, beyond, prior to, along the edge of, or simply without the concept. Academics, as a rule, are trained to forget how to smile, especially in their writing. To read Kierkegaard well, however, one must be able to smile, and wink, and dance—to let the outside in.

Notes

[1] Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge

[2] Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 73ff.

[3] Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, 231.

[4] Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses, 12.