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ROSEMANN, Philipp W.: Charred Root of Meaning: Continuity, Transgression, and the Other in Christian Tradition.

ROSEMANN, Philipp W. Charred Root of Meaning: Continuity, Transgression, and the Other in Christian Tradition. Forward by John Milbank. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William Eerdmanns Publishing Company, 2018. Xxii + 237. Cloth. $50.00--Written on the boundary of philosophy and theology and adapting Foucault's insights about the epiphanic quality of transgression, Rosemann interprets the history of Christianity in which transgression and tradition are coconstitutive from inception onward. The phrase "charred root of meaning" comes from Foucault. Rosemann explains it with a story at the outset. When fire has burnt all that can be seen above ground, there remain roots hidden in the soil that, despite having been charred by fire, send up new life into the light.

Charred Root of Meaning is a landmark achievement, in both method and content. First, philosophy has long been known as the handmaiden to theology, but in practice that has usually meant historical or systemic theology. Here, Rosemann shows how philosophy is handmaiden to biblical theology as well. His control both of the original texts of the Old and New Testaments and of the secondary literature is masterful. Rosemann deploys incisively the same tools of textual exegesis to the theological and philosophical texts alike.

Second, this volume is a superb example of history of philosophy as philosophical method. Too often in the Catholic philosophical community, Michel Foucault is treated as a pariah; among many Continental philosophers, as the prophet of atheism. In a sense, both communities agree, and both are wrong. Rosemann makes incontrovertibly clear that Foucault cannot be fully understood apart from his relationship to Neoplatonism, Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. In a word, those who are committed to the philosophical tradition from Thales onward must include Foucault as well in order to be faithful to their commitments.

Third, as St. Augustine observes in De doctrina Christiana, every text is read through the lens of some orthodoxy. Among academic philosophers, there is often a pose of objectivity, rather than the more truthful stance of honest and critical (including self-critical) subjectivity. Rosemann courageously takes the latter stance as a Catholic. Far from offering a slavish apologetic for Catholicism, Rosemann's writing about the correlativity of tradition and transgression is itself transgressive. It is, in his own words from another context, "faithful [and] provocative at the same time."

He clarifies the relationships of tradition and transgression. In the positive sense, transgression is the originary of tradition: Immaterial God creating material world, ten divine words etched in stone and heart, Word made flesh. In the negative sense, transgression sharpens the definition of tradition: the forbidden is the negative exemplification of the commanded.

The irony is that once transgression becomes normalized, it ceases to be transgression. Irreverence needs God to be meaningful. If God is dead, then what possible meaning can "irreverent" have? The initial tragedy and subsequent farce is that through commodification the formerly transgressive becomes part of our household furniture. In an operatic metaphor, consider the journey of Orpheus from Monteverdi to Offenbach.

The book's volta comes late, in the last thirty-five pages, when Rosemann discusses first "The Genesis Narrative of the UrTransgression," which is to say "the Fall," and "Kant's Transvaluation of the Ur-Transgression." Kant, in his "Conjectural Beginning of Human History," de-evils (Entubelung) the Fall and finds in this Ur-event the beginning of the humanization of the human being as the occasion of privileging reason over instinct and thus activating that freedom that characterizes human life. "The Fall" is for Kant the beginning of progress.

If the reviewer for a philosophical journal were tempted at times to ask whether Charred Root of Meaning can be properly considered "philosophy," the author could, in turn, point to Kant's "Conjectural Beginning of Human History" as his precedent. Though Kant himself refers to his essay as a Lustreise, in it he provides effectively a mythological undergirding for his anthropology of the human as rationally autonomous, which is to say the undergirding ultimately for his entire system.

Charred Root of Meaning is a postmodern text insofar as its method is adapted substantially from the insights of Foucault. The reader, accustomed to a more strictly modern text, might wish for the author to connect the dots a little more. The text invites the reader to map various points of biblical insight, philosophical, and historical analysis. Thereby, at the end, I, the reader, had some ownership in the text, and the text also had some ownership in me.

There are moments in history when there is nothing more radical, that is, "more rootful," than tradition. The avant garde, having drawn even the most timid into its transgression, exhausts itself in the frenzied and persistent bonfire of vanities, tradition consumed along the way. Rosemann distributes spades to clear the debris for new growth of the now charred root of Christian tradition. Given the dialectic of remembering and forgetting, however, one is obliged to ask, with a nod toward Maclntyre, "whose spade, which tradition?"--Jeffrey Dirk Wilson, The Catholic University of America
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Author:Wilson, Jeffrey Dirk
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2019
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