Printer Friendly

God Without Being: Hors Texte.

For biblical or more precisely Christian theology the way up and the way down are not one and the same. Christian theology could attempt to avoid this potentially embarrassing impasse and, refusing to speak to the philosophers, retreat to a comfortable interiority were it not for the fact that the founder of Christianity and indeed the theologians' own humanity demand otherwise. Philosophy in turn might have chosen to disregard the claims of a theology emboldened by reason and Revelation were it not for its own desire to be comprehensive. Accordingly, no major philosopher of the last millennium has passed over the Bible in silence. Admittedly, the theologians have been reticent of late, yet it is by no means clear that the philosophers have succeeded in restoring thought to its former state of Greek "innocence." It is no surprise, then, that the crisis it is the fashion to call "postmodernism" should have reawakened the old question, Quid sit deus? Marion's short, demanding, and at times repetitive book, written "at the border between philosophy and theology," meets this question in a provocative way. This careful translation will surely win him both theologically and philosophically minded readers, as did the French original. His formation points to his currency: among his "teachers" we may mention Derrida; Levinas and Balthasar number among his "masters"; and as he himself admits, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger form his "horizon" (cf. p. xix).

The opening chapter introduces the ruling distinction of the book, that between idol and icon. Through a description one might term phenomenological Marion presents idols as artifacts invested with the searching power of the idolater's own gaze. That gaze is the human desire to look through or beyond everything immediate, to "aim," as he puts it, toward the divine. The idol commands reverence by mirroring in a displaced and therefore unreflective embodiment the divine human look. Icons, in contrast, do not mirror, but measure, our looking. They visibly initiate an invisible encounter with the divine. In this way their "look" precedes ours. Marion may be faulted here for an excessively formal account of idolatry. In particular his silence about the human and extrahuman necessities which plainly figure in natural piety is disappointing, especially since a rational assessment of such "powers" has traditionally been a task common to philosophy and theology. Similarly, his iconography would have been more accessible had he made more evident his debt to the theology of the Eastern Church. Nonetheless his comparison of idol and icon is informative and at times elegant.

The second and third chapters trace the history of "conceptual idolatry," which would be a worship of our own inadequate attempts to think God. Marion suggests that the atheistic denial of such conceptions is no less idolatrous because it too is still under the sway of human efforts to limit the devine. The argument is familiar, although his extension of it is somewhat less so; for he claims is familiar, although his extension of it is somewhat less so; for he claims that metaphysics always brings us in the end to the same conceptual idolatry it professes to abhor. Hence the title of the book: inspired by Heidegger he supposes that the "onto-theological" turn to "being" entails a "blasphemous" confinement of the biblical God. In the "Preface to the English Edition" Marion cautiously exempts the Thomistic metaphysics of esse from this critique, but his disclaimer is unconvincing, for the body of the work nowhere essays an extended consideration of Thomas's contribution. Given the utter impossibility of reducing ipsum esse per se subsistens to anything remotely conceptual or "ontic," such a deficit signals a serious shortcoming.

Heidegger himself seems to have toyed with pursuing properly theological investigations, but his resolute engagement with the Seinsfrage never waned. Marion attempts to outflank Heidegger's spoken and unspoken teaching by appealing beyond all thought of being to self-revelatory charity which, precisely as a "gift," cannot be reduced to what is seized conceptually. The category of the gift is, Marion would have us see, more fundamental than ontological difference (here again he might profitably have consulted Thomistic esse). He hazards two strategies for making the notion of the giftedness of being more salient, one negative and one positive. The first is a meditation on vanity, principally as set forth in Ecclesiastes: according to Marion only the experience of the unpredictable excess of love could show us that vanity does not have the last human word. In the second Marion sets forth "in a dogmatic way ... two emblematic figures of the gift," the Christian doctrine of the Eucharist, and the act of confessing the Christian faith. His treatment of the former is particularly helpful insofar as he demonstrates that the Real Presence is in no respect a repetition of the much maligned metaphysics of presence.

Books such as this risk incurring the wrath of both the philosophers and the theologians, with the former appealing to the justice of their objections, the latter to the justice of their replies. It is likely that Marion's dependence upon Heidegger and his destruction of all "metaphysics" has prevented Marion from rendering to each his own. Still, the author's willingness to court odium affords reason enough to applaud his work. After all, we were warned long ago that the truth about such matters could be known rationally only "by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Philosophy Education Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:McCarthy, John C.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Primary 'Ousia': An Essay on Aristotle's Metaphysics Z and H.
Next Article:The Problem of Consciousness.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters