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Trinity and atheology: the listening self in Romain Rolland's Jean-Christophe.

The French novelist, playwright, biographer, essayist and musicologist Romain Rolland was born on 29 January 1866, in Clamecy, a small town in Burgundy. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915, and became infamous for his pacifist stance during the First World War. He developed an interest in the non-resistance of Mahatma Gandhi and the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism in the 1920s. Although he never became a member of the Communist Party, Rolland visited Russia in 1935 and became an advocate of the Soviet experiment despite his acknowledgement of its shortcomings. He died at the age of seventy-eight on 30 December 1944, in Vezelay, France.

One of the aspects of Rolland's work that has attracted perhaps the most sustained critical attention in past scholarship is his religious thought, which has usually been seen as an eclectic mixture of creeds based on an existential understanding of the divine (e.g., Cruickshank). The foundation of such a religious thinking was laid by what Rolland later described as three spiritual revelations, or eclairs, which provided a vivid, experiential counterpoint to the abstraction of the Catholic Mass that he attended during his childhood years. (1) Rolland gives a detailed account of these flashes of intuition into the nature of existence in Le Voyage interieur: a penetrating vision of the wide expanse of nature on a terrace in the town of Ferney; his reading of "les mots de feu de Spinoza," which provided him with a direct taste of the divine life; and "leclair Tolstoyen," which gave him the sensation of being one with the universe (28). In 1887, Rolland sketched out this new faith in a document he entitled "Credo quia verum," which expressed a philosophy that would later become the "moteur de sa vie et de son ceuvre" (Duchatelet, La Genese 29). In the Credo, Rolland depicts a form of divinity that is not divorced in any way from the material realm but rather is encountered within human experience. As Sipriot clarifies, for Rolland "[l]a vraie religion suit le rythme et les drames de la vie, de notre vie" (29). Such a unity between the divine and the human, and the importance placed on the natural world within his work, has led most scholars to define Rollands religiosity as a form of pantheism (Francis 253; Bonnerot 17), an interpretation that is certainly supported by Rollands own assertions on several occasions (Le Cloitre 75; Chere Sofia 320). This understanding of the divine predominated for most of Rolland's life, until a later re-engagement with the Catholic tradition through his friendship with Paul Claudel and various Catholic priests made a more personalized vision come to prominence within his interior life (see Paul Claudel, Romain Rolland-, Au seuil).

While most critics see a sharp divide between Rollands pantheism and his later rapprochement with the Christian tradition, other critics recognize that such discursive labeling can sometimes risk oversimplifying what was in fact a much more complex stance towards Catholicism from the very beginning of his literary career. (2) Such critical disagreement becomes particularly intense when we turn to his most well-known novel, Jean-Christophe, an "oeuvre de foi" (xiv) which has usually been read as an archetypal example of Rollands pantheistic vision at work in literary form (e.g., Bresky 1053). In this paper, however, we will follow the critical pathway laid out by Bernard Duchatelet, who hints at the possibility of undertaking a more thorough analysis of the numerous Biblical references that are scattered throughout the novel. (3) The purpose of such a study is not to argue for a re-classification of the novel as a "Christian" text, nor to suggest that previous pantheistic definitions should be discarded entirely. Rather, by focusing on the textual representation of God in Jean-Christophe through a utilization of Jean-Luc Nancy's Deconstruction of Christianity (Deconstruction du christianisme), I will seek to exploit the Biblical tradition in order to re-envisage the text as a literary example of the praxis of open existence Nancy identifies at the heart of the Christian doctrinal edifice. In employing Nancy's deconstructive project to read the novel, I suggest that it becomes possible to more easily recognize Rolland as an indirect intellectual participant in not only a long, non-conformist tradition of religious thinking, (4) but also in a contemporary French thought attempting to re-engage with the material and worldly dimension of existence (James New French Philosophy).

Nancy's thinking on the tekhne of body has been utilized to investigate the function of music in Jean-Christophe and the potentiality that it holds for engaging with religious doctrine on a pre-discursive level (Collins), but in this paper we will undertake a more explicit doctrinal engagement with his deconstructive reading of the mystery of the Trinity. This approach will be implemented through an exploration of the narrative development of the novel's central protagonist, the fictional composer Jean-Christophe, who journeys from a loss of faith to a direct experience of the divine. First, I will explore Nancy's vision of the Trinity and determine how such an atheological conception of the divine is suited to an analysis of the representation of God portrayed in the novel. Next, this Trinitarian model will be located in the narrative of Jean-Christophe's life through the concept of listening, which is a crucial marker in both the novel and the Bible. The act of listening will then lead us to an examination of Jean-Christophe's selfhood, which serves as the locus for a representation of the divine that is uniquely positioned in relation to the text in which it takes shape.

The Deconstruction of Christianity and Jean-Christophe's Crisis of Faith

Jean-Luc Nancy is a contemporary French philosopher whose career has involved an engagement with a wide spectrum of topics, from community, art, the body, psychoanalysis, globalization, and German Romanticism, to political thought. One of his major projects is what he names the Deconstruction of Christianity, which is made up of numerous texts but largely consists of two volumes, La Declosion and VAdoration. In The Deconstruction of Christianity, Nancy engages with the key theological underpinnings of the Christian faith and attempts to disassemble its constitutive elements in order to bring back into play "une possibilite d'oU il procede mais que, en tant qu'assemblage, il recouvre" (Dedosion 215). In doing so, he proposes a philosophical re-examination of religion in the modern world which, rather than serving as an attempt "to reconcile secularism and religion in a so-called post-secular society," instead seeks to conceive monotheism and secularization "as views that spring from the same origin and that are intertwined to the point of synonymy" (Alexandrova, et al. 22-23). As we shall see, such a "comportment towards what one can call the relics and the remainder of the Christian culture" (Schrijvers 267-68) is well-suited to a study of the unique religious experience at play within Jean-Christophe. One of the primary targets of Nancy's gesture of deconstruction is what he sees as three fundamental Christian mysteries which speak directly to the heart of God's self-revelation: "[L]a trinite, l'incarnation, [et] la resurrection" (Adoration 74). What Nancy calls an atheology (atheologie), a term he borrows and adapts from Georges Batailles philosophical lexicon, binds these mysteries together (74). Atheology is defined by Nancy as an "atheisme clairement degage du scheme d'un theisme inverse" (Declosion 41) because with it he is positing that even what we know as atheism is in fact motivated by exactly the same search for present meaning that dominates theism. Atheology represents a different pathway out of such a quandary, as Nancy attempts to think "within and against the categories of theism and atheism" (Watkin 121). The way in which Nancy thus seeks to re-evaluate terms such as the "divine," "religion" and "revelation" through an atheological revision of the binary distinction between transcendence and immanence is extremely useful for our purposes. A detailed examination of Nancy's atheology of course lies far beyond the scope of this paper, but what I propose to do is focus on the first of the three mysteries he examines, the Trinity, as it provides an ideal means of understanding the way Rolland attempts to disrupt and displace conventional definitions of the divine in his novel.

The Trinity holds a fundamental importance in Nancy's writing because it allows him to think about what is traditionally termed "God" as both functioning within the Derridean network of signs, and at the same time operating in excess of all signification. The mystery of the Trinity helps us avoid the notion of God as an "'etre au sens d'un etre ou d'un etant consistant en soi, d'un sujet representable comme une personne" (Adoration 75). Nancy manages to escape such onto-theological formulations by capitalizing on one of the most regularly recurring terms within his philosophical project. The notion of sense (sens) stretches much further back in Nancy's thought than the Deconstruction of Christianity, (5) but in this project it is particularly relevant as it allows us to understand the way in which the Trinity exposes a form of meaning operating at the limits of textual language. James perhaps gives the most succinct definition of Nancy's notion of sense as "not meaning or signification, but rather that which, at the outer limit or in excess of signification, makes meaning and signification possible" (Fragmentary Demand 9). Sense therefore grants direct access to the very movement of coming-into-being that makes self-presence possible: "Le sens ... est le mouvement de l'etre-a, ou l'etre en tant que venue en presence" (Sens du monde 25). It is precisely this definition of sense that Nancy uses to read the Trinity, in which the Son opens the Father to the dimension of relation known as the Spirit: "Lesprit est le rapport, ou le sens, selon lequel peuvent se presenter des sujets qui, pour autant, ne subsistent pas independamment du rapport" (Adoration 76). The Trinitarian God means that worldly existence can be thought of as a place in which the very discursive boundaries between the divine and the human, between transcendence and immanence, are displaced. (6) For Nancy, the Trinity launches the eclair in which the world is exposed as its own meaningful sense, without the insertion of any extraneous transcendent factor: "[L]e sens est le rapport lui-meme, le dehors du monde est donc dans le monde sans etre du monde" (77). As I shall argue in this paper, the Trinitarian atheological model holds particularly important implications for Rolland's textual representation of Jean-Christophe's faith, or more precisely, his loss of faith in a transcendent God and his discovery of a new vision of worldly immanence.

Jean-Christophe is a cyclical novel of ten volumes first published in installments in Charles Peguy s Cahiers de la quinzaine between 1904 and 1912. Throughout the novel, the fictional German composer Jean-Christophe struggles to combat the moral and spiritual emptiness of the society around him by proposing a unique vision of artistic endeavor. His chosen art form is music, which not only takes shape as aesthetic form but also involves a process of profound religious transformation that gradually unfolds throughout the narrative. Jean-Christophe's journey takes him to France, Italy and Switzerland, and finally comes to a close with his attainment of a spiritual harmony that is represented as the very pinnacle of divine revelation.

Central to the revelation of God in the novel is Jean-Christophe's profound crisis of faith which, paradoxically, serves as the most important step in his discovery of a direct experience of the divine. From a young age, Jean-Christophe is instilled with an intense fear of God by his piously Catholic mother: "Il se figurait Dieu comme un soleil enorme, qui parlait avec une voix de tonnerre" (56). It immediately becomes clear that the attempt to find an alternative to this onto-theologically phrased God dominates Jean-Christophe's religious itinerary. Perhaps the most vivid example of this is found in an early scene in which Jean-Christophe encounters a young man about to enter the seminary, Leonhard Vogel, who tries to convert him (242-250). Leonhard's reading of the divine, however, repulses Jean-Christophe completely: "Si encore il ne s'agissait que de croire a Dieu! Mais il faut croire a un Dieu, de telles dimensions, de telle forme, de telle couleur et de telle race!" (242) It is during this encounter that Jean-Christophe finally realizes he no longer believes in a purely transcendent God at all, and that instead his own personal experience within the world is the only viable locus for an encounter with the divine: "Au fond, il etait trop religieux pour penser beaucoup a Dieu. Il vivait en Dieu, il riavait pas besoin d'y croire" (242). Jean-Christophe's loss of faith in a divine being who inhabits a purely mystical realm is crucial to understanding the authentic religiosity that subsequently takes shape, and the Christian tradition serves as an essential marker in this unfolding process. By the end of the novel, Jean-Christophe's identity as the Christophorous, or "Christ-bearer," is revealed as the central protagonist traverses the river of life like his namesake (1593-1594). I argue that Nancy's atheological reading of the Trinity can in fact allow us to view this literary conception of the divine as an experience of opening functioning through musical creation.

Listening and the Resonance of Music

In order to further tease open the implications Nancy's Trinitarian God holds for our textual analysis of the novel, it is perhaps useful to turn to another crucial element within his Deconstruction of Christianity. When Nancy reads the progression of revelation, he sees the act of listening as fundamental because it involves both a passive state of receptivity and an active response. His reading of the three Religions of the Book epitomizes this schema: "[La revelation] revele en ce quelle s'adresse et cette adresse fait tout le revele .... L'appel appelle la reponse, qui est un autre appel" (Adoration 62). If the Christian narrative is launched by the Angel's announcement to Mary (Luke 1. 38), it is by virtue of the opening to the movement of sense that her act of listening facilitates. Nancy clarifies that "[l]a parole ouvre dans le vivant ... une alterite [qui] n'est pas a nommer: elle s'indique en exces sur tout nom" (Adoration 14-15). This excess can be referred back to the notion of sense, as listening becomes what Armstrong refers to as the "disposition, in the sense of a mood, an inclination, an attunement or Stimmung" that delineates existence within the world (118). Nancy further examines the act of listening in terms of sense in his A l'ecoute, where he proposes that, in contrast to the act of hearing, it can be posited as an auditory activity that delves into the very movement of coming-into-being: "Si 'entendre,' c'est comprendre le sens ..., ecouter, c'est etre tendu vers un sens possible, et par consequent non immediatement accessible" (19). The act of existing "a l'ecoute" (17) is thus a means of being "en bordure du sens, ou dans un sens de bord et d'extremite" (21). We can also then say that to listen is to position the self in the same movement of opening characterizing the presence of the Trinitarian God within the world, (7) and so it is an event of sense that allows the Christian tradition and the musical creation of the novel's central protagonist to come into contact.

With Jean-Christophe, Rolland aimed to create what he called a "roman musical," a text revolving around the principles of a symphony designed to communicate "la trame poetique du sentiment" (Choix de lettres a M. von M. 28-29). Such a musical expression of the interior life is transmitted through the literary model Rolland employs as his heroic archetype. In his preface to the 1931 edition of the novel, Rolland describes his protagonist as "un Beethoven nouveau, un heros du type beethovenien" (xv-xvi). In a letter to the Director of Radio Moscow, Nina Niemtchenko, Rolland further explains the rationale behind his choice of the Beethovenian model: "Beethoven: le type le plus haut et le plus complet d'un musicien, chez qui tout est expression directe et precise de la vie interieure." The character of Jean-Christophe is oriented towards an ideal form of musical communication that manifests itself from very first moments of his interactions with "la divine musique" (57). Utilizing musical creation, Jean-Christophe must attempt to express his own human nature, a task that finds its fulfillment in the divine harmony that consumes him at the end of the narrative (1593). There is thus an intimate link between the selfhood of the Beethovenian hero and the text of the novel, a link that directly impacts on the representation of God forged through the journey of the Christophorous. Nancy's reading of the Trinity provides an ideal means of unpacking this connection, since the notion of a sensual coming-into-being corresponds to the creative exigency that dominates the very writing of the novel.

It is impossible to conduct a comprehensive study of the role music plays in the novel in this paper, but what I intend to focus on is the notion of sensual resonance that Nancy identifies within the tonalities of music because it allows us to glimpse an interconnection between Jean-Christophe's musical creativity and the Trinity. Nancy claims that the act of listening gives us access to the "sens resonant" (A l'ecoute 21) at the core of musical tonality, the "resonance fondamentale" (19) lying at the very heart of signification. When we turn to the novel, we find a similar depiction of resonance as Jean-Christophe's very existence is defined by the act of listening to the natural environment around him. He is described as possessing "une ame sonore" (1422) which, especially in the earlier passages of the novel, loses itself in an "ocean de musique," a "libre monde des sons" (249). The young Jean-Christophe is overcome by the sound of the natural world, which is described in distinctly musical language: he is held entranced by "les fanfares des moustiques, les notes d'orgue des guepes, les essaims d'abeilles sauvages vibrant comme des cloches" (266). All of these sounds echo through his being to such an extent that Jean-Christophe's whole world comes to be defined by sense resonating in excess of signification: "Tout est musique pour un cceur musicien. Tout ce qui vibre, et s'agite, et palpite. ... Toute cette musique des etres resonnait en Christophe" (82). So we can see that listening as an engagement with resonance is crucial to Jean-Christophe's musical relationship with the world.

The Burning Bush and the Dialogic Self

The development of the skill of listening reaches its climactic point in one particularly crucial scene in the novel, which can be understood in terms of Christian revelation. In the second-last book of the novel cycle, Le Buisson ardent; (8) Jean-Christophe dialogues with a mysterious being referred to as the Living God (1419)- The Living God, a phrasing of the divine which yet again recalls the God of the Biblical tradition, (9) gives him one simple instruction: "Tais-toi et ecoute" (1421). The divine voice speaking through Jean-Christophe's self is marked by the concept of the Holy Spirit, as he finally perceives the origin of the musical creation he has been developing throughout the novel:
   Nul, plus que l'artiste qui cree, ne se sent a [la merci de Dieu]:
   car, s'il est vraiment grand, il ne dit que ce que l'Esprit lui
   dicte. Et Christophe comprit la sagesse du vieux Haydn, se mettant
   a genoux, chaque matin, avant de prendre la plume ... Vigila et
   ora. Veillez et priez. Priez le Dieu, afin qu'il soit avec vous.
   Restez en communion amoureuse et pieuse avec l'Esprit de vie!

Jean-Christophe's musical creation is fundamentally reliant upon the ability to listen, which is in turn equated with an opening to the movement of the Spirit as the divine voice speaks through the Beethovenian hero's being in a gesture that Rolland compares to the act of prayer. (10) The action of the Spirit revises the very notion of linguistic exchange, because Jean-Christophe's conversation with this mysterious being is not actually phrased as a dialogue with an ontological "Other" at all.

The Buisson is the clearest revelation of an entirely different conception of the human self we can observe developing from the earliest passages of the novel. The young Jean-Christophe perceives a fragmented self-identity composed of several different "beings" in relation: "Depuis un an, Christophe etait obsede par des reves, ou il sentait ... qu'il etait a la fois plusieurs etres differents" (366). His experience exposes him to processes beyond his comprehension which seem to tear his self asunder: "Son etre se desagregeait ... : une ame de bete se ruait en lui" (261). The Beethovenian hero's experience of fragmentation is localized in a world of resonance, the "foret des sons" (59) where he perceives the chasm over which his worldly existence is suspended: "Une myriade de petites ames gravitaient obscurement en son ame vers un point fixe ... la face multiforme de l'Etre" (366). Later on in the novel, the process of self-fragmentation is depicted through a reso nant voice in which the ever-shifting sensual network of Jean-Christophe's own coming-into-being is exposed:
   Christophe sentit, dans le silence bourdonnant de son cceur, la
   presence de son Etre eternel.... Christophe entendait battre ses
   arteres, comme une mer interieure; et une voix repetait:--Eternel
   ... Je suis ... Je suis ... [I]l savait quelle etait la, quelle ne
   cessait jamais, pareille a l'Ocean qui gronde dans la nuit. (668)

However, it is only after his mysterious conversation with the Living God in the Buisson that he becomes fully aware of the sensual rhythm governing his selfhood. After this revelation, the Beethovenian hero recognizes that " [i]l porte en son ame deux ames" (1433) and just before the end of the novel, these two souls multiply and consume Jean-Christophe with the echo of their voices: "[N]on plus deux ames, mais dix logeaient en lui. Elles conversaient; plus souvent, elles chantaient" (1584). We can thus read the action of the Spirit as a force engendering a resonant self that inhabits a position of radical openness to sensual relation.

A Trinitarian Relation

Once we have understood the self in such a way, our analysis of listening allows us to journey even deeper into the currents of sense weaving their way through the text of the novel, and thereby move closer to an understanding of the fragmented representation of "God" it produces. In one scene, Jean-Christophe is taken to a neighbors house where his grandfather and his father play chamber music with a group of amateur musicians. As Jean-Christophe dreamily listens to their music, he enters a mysterious form of reverie: "[I]l sentait une infinite de choses. C'est comme s'il y avait une masse de choses tres importantes, qu'on ne pouvait pas dire .... Christophe pensait : 'Oui, c'est ainsi ... ainsi que je ferai plus tard.' Il ne savait pas du tout comment etait ainsi ... mais il sentait qu'il fallait qu'il le dit" (63). Musical resonance pushes Jean-Christophe towards an enunciation that seems to circulate around the limits of signification, remaining in a state of semiarticulated sensual unfolding. It is here, I propose, that the central thrust of all of Jean-Christophe's future musical creativity, and indeed his entire future experience of the divine, can be found. Nancy identifies a similar kernel of expression in the movement of sense that is discerned through the resonance of music, and further builds on this thinking through the introduction of another vital philosophical term:

Cette disposition ... est un rapport au sens, une tension vers lui: mais vers lui tout a fait en amont de la signification, sens a letat naissant, a l'etat de renvoi pour lequel n'est pas donnee la fin de ce renvoi (le concept, l'idee, l'information), et donc a l'etat de renvoi sans fin, comme un echo qui se relance lui-meme. (A l'ecoute 52)

The experience of a fragmented self is governed by an infinite cycle into which the listener is inserted, and Nancy calls this circular process renvoi, which is another way of approaching the passage of sense. This linguistic circularity "sans vision de signification" (53) further uncovers the self-deconstruction inherent in the act of listening. Renvoi is particularly relevant to our analysis because it allows us to further interrogate the self that seeks to express this "infinite de choses" through the sensual network of revelation we have begun to witness emerging in the novel.

In his Deconstruction of Christianity, Nancy identifies the Trinitarian God as an instance of precisely such a renvoi, and I argue that by further building on this reading of revelation we can identify the Beethovenian hero as a unique locus of sensual expression. If the Trinity is configured as pure sense, it is also necessarily held captive in a very particular type of relation: "La generation du fils par le pere [est a comprendre] selon l'identite de nature a l'interieur de laquelle s'ouvre la possibilite du 'rapport' comme tel, c'est-a-dire du renvoi de sens de l'un a l'autre" (Adoration 75-76). We can therefore say that when the Trinitarian renvoi of sense is identified within the novel, the "divine" is disclosed as nothing but pure opening that can never be permanently fixed in signification. I argue that Jean-Christophe's self-fragmentation operates according to the same modality as the "crise de soi" (A l'ecoute 25) Nancy posits at the center of a sensual network in which renvoi is the pivotal deconstructive signpost. Nancy describes how such a relation exists as an alternative form of self-presence that ceaselessly escapes nomination: "Un soi n'est rien d'autre qu'une forme ou une fonction de renvoi: un soi est fait d'un rapport a soi, ou d'une presence a soi" (24). If we turn once again to the Beethovenian hero, we see this movement out of the conventional understanding of presence clearly displayed, as Jean-Christophe even becomes estranged from his own selfhood: "Au milieu de la plaine unie des heures s'ouvraient des trous beants, ou l'etre s'engouffrait.... Tout et tous,--et lui-meme,--lui devenaient etrangers" (261). The relationship between his self-in-fragmentation--or what could also be called a "being-toward-self" (Morin 30) in Nancy's terminology--and his exterior environment is brought into question: "Car il ne savait plus s'il existait. Il parlait, et sa voix lui semblait sortir d'un autre corps" (262). The Trinitarian selfhood is a pure gesture of relation through resonant renvoi, a continual remaking of the self in crisis because, as Nancy affirms, "'Je', c'est un rapport au monde" (Adoration 112). In a passage that testifies to this process in a striking manner, we observe Jean-Christophe's body and soul being repeatedly broken and remade: "Comme on change de corps au courant de la vie, on change d'ame aussi.... Une vie meurt. Une autre est deja nee" (263). Once again, the Beethovenian hero's simple gesture of listening to the resonance that punctuates his world unmasks this unique Trinitarian relationality: "Etre a l'ecoute, c'est donc entrer dans la tension et dans le guet d'un rapport a soi ... le rapport en soi" (A lecoute 30). I argue that the Buisson dialogue can be read as a deconstructive space in which the very meaning of self-presence is repeatedly dismantled via an exposure to the movement of sense, because the self, in Nancy's language, simply becomes "la resonance d'un renvoi" (30). Such a Trinitarian self has radical implications for our understanding of the textual function of the divine within the narrative of Jean-Christophe's life.

The Christophorous loss of a determinable, stable form of selfhood corresponds to the loss of faith in his former conception of God and the stirrings of an alternative religiosity built on sense. This is particularly evident at the end of his conversation with Leonhard, where the resonance of the natural world overcomes him: "Et quand le puissant murmure se fut tu ... Christophe se reveilla. Il regarda, effare, autour de lui.... Il n'y avait plus de Dieu" (249). Despite the complete disappearance of his pre-existing notion of the divine, Jean-Christophe is still paradoxically open to the revelation of God within the vibrating resonance of the world: "Il etait dans l'attente convulsive de choses indicibles, d'un miracle, d'un Dieu" (263-264). The disappearance of God in fact leaves space for a completely different experience of the divine to force its way through the onto-theological structure of his religious understanding:
   A la lueur de l'eclair, il vit, au fond de la nuit, il vit--il fut
   le Dieu. Le Dieu etait en lui: Il brisait le plafond de la chambre,
   les murs de la maison; Il faisait craquer les limites de l'etre; Il
   remplissait le ciel, l'univers, le neant. Le monde se ruait en Lui,
   comme une cataracte. (264)

Jean-Christophe's loss of faith in Leonhard's version of God leads to a surrender to the vastness of a world that dissolves the nominative boundaries between the self and nature. Although this passage could certainly be read as a pantheistic revelation, if we instead understand it as the advent of a Trinitarian God we are perhaps able to penetrate to the core of what is essentially a sensual disruption of signification. For Nancy, Christianity can be read as an atheology precisely because "l'effacement de Dieu est le sens du monde" (Adoration 46). In the resonant renvoi of the Trinity, ontological signification inexorably disintegrates into absence, but Nancy identifies this process as one of the paradoxically crucial features of a disenclosed Christianity because "[l]e christianisme veut plus: non pas rester dans labsence de Dieu ... mais l'affirmer 'parmi nous.' C'est-a-dire, qu'il est 'lui-meme' le parmi: il est l'avec ou l'entre de nous" (46). Trinitarian relation forms what Nancy calls the avec, which consists of a re-reading of the very notion of God: "'Dieu' n'est autre chose--s'il s'agit d'une chose ...--que cet avec luimeme" (61). The avec allows us to position the presence-in-absence of the divine within the tangibility of the world in a way that breaks down the binary distinction between transcendence and immanence, and indeed between atheism and theism: "'Dieu': c'etait un nom pour dire le rapport de tous les etants--pour dire donc le monde dans la force du mot" (46). The process of re-shaping that Jean-Christophe's self undergoes also reveals this dynamic revision of presence, as his participation in the world through listening leaves us in a mode of pure trans-immanent relation that can be equated to the Trinitarian God "qui rapporte, absolument" (46). I argue that this atheological exposure to relation allows us to accurately trace out the contours of Jean-Christophe's final attainment of a sensual inscription of the divine. By the end of the novel, the self-in-relation that is exposed in the Buisson reaches its ultimate destination, as Jean-Christophe's being within the world is again described in Trinitarian imagery: "Seigneur ... Laissemoi prendre haleine dans tes bras paternels.... Et le grondement du fleuve, et la mer bruissante chanterent avec lui:--Tu renaitras.... Hosanna a la vie! Hosanna a la mort!" (1593) The Beethovenian hero makes God present by simply allowing himself to be open to the resonance of the world, just as the Son witnesses to the Father by being open to the sensual movement of the Spirit. When we understand Rolland's "ceuvre de foi" in this way, we find a text that matches Nancy's description of literature as "le frayage des voix de l'avec'" (Adoration 62), a sensual writing of the self in which "les signes renvoient a l'infini" (63). Jean-Christophe's experience of a self-in-opening via the act of listening, when read through the atheology of the Christian Trinity, thus provides us with an ideal means of grappling with a representation of the divine that permeates the entire text of the novel by virtue of the simple fact of the Christophorous existence within the world.


As we have observed throughout our analysis, Nancy's deconstruction of the Christian Trinity allows us to begin to approach Rolland's representation of the religious experience as something lying simultaneously within and outside of textual form, as an opening at the very limit of signification. We have noted how the Trinitarian God consists of an exposure to sense that can be located within experience through the act of listening. This in turn lays bare a self shaped by the movement of resonance and defined by a renvoi of absolute relation. When we use this self to read the divine, we find that all we are left with is a pure form of rapport that is graspable through the "language" of being--since listening is the very means of entering the movement of sense--but at the same time resistant to all discourse founded on signification. The Trinitarian monotheism functioning in the novel makes manifest a God who is also not a "God" at all, but rather what Nancy calls "non-etre" (Adoration 76) or simply put, an absolute relation which forms the very fabric of the world and the most intimate selfhood of the human being within it. Such a dislocated figuration of the divine perhaps allows us to reach an alternative understanding of Rolland's unique literary perspective on a God who both remains suspended in excess of all conceptual limits and consists of nothing but the very open spacing that characterizes human existence within the world. By locating Jean-Luc Nancy's Deconstruction of Christianity within the novel, we thus come to a deeper appreciation of Rolland's own attempt to exit from religion, or in other words, his desire to re-negotiate his Judeo-Christian inheritance in terms which simultaneously permit an exploitation of its internal essence and a movement beyond, or through, its doctrinal form to what lies beneath: an essentially atheological philosophy of existence explored through the resonance of music.

University of Western Australia


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(1.) In his autobiographical spiritual treatise, Le Voyage interieur, Rolland recounts his lack of interest in what he saw as the unintelligible rituals of the Roman Catholic Church (176).

(2.) For example, Barrere proposes that Rolland's religious thought always remained marked by a constant battle with "la tentation du catholicisme" (81). Perhaps the clearest evidence for such an ambivalent relationship to the faith of his youth is given hy Rolland himself in a letter to a Catholic Priest named Abbe Guerle on 22 September 1908: "Il semble que je sois denue de toute possibilite de croire a une revelation.--Et comme je vois tant d'hommes que j'estime et que j'aime, qui y croient sincerement, je voudrais au moins comprendre comment ils sont arrives a cet etat."

(3.) Duchatelet notes that the scene in which God reveals himself in the second-last volume of the cycle, Le Buisson ardent, shares many characteristics with the Christian narrative of "un Dieu qui s'identifie au monde cree" (Au seuil 20). In addition to this pivotal revelation, the novel also contains numerous other references to the Bible (see jc 1586 and Genesis 32. 23-33; /c 609 and Genesis 24.15-21; jc 647-48 and Job 7.1-20).

(4.) Proponents of this tradition include the aforementioned Spinoza and Tolstoy, as well as such figures as Simone Weil and Georges Bataille, among others.

(5.) Le Sens du monde is perhaps Nancy's most in-depth work on the subject.

(6.) Within this interface between the immanent and the transcendent we in fact find Nancy innovatively re-inscribing pantheism in terms of his understanding of the world as sense (see, for example, his references to Spinoza throughout the Deconstruction of Christianity; Declosion, 35; Adoration, 56, 98, 135).

(7.) The words "self" and "selfhood" in this paper are used strictly in terms of Nancy's conception of the human subject based on the ontology of being-with laid out in his Etre singulier pluriel and later extended into the Deconstruction of Christianity via the Trinitarian notion of relation.

(8.) The title of this volume is a direct reference to the bush in which Moses encounters God (Exodus 3.1-6).

(9.) For example, see Joshua 3.10; Jeremiah 10.10; Acts 14.15; Matthew 16.16.

(10.) Interestingly, Nancy also draws a comparison between listening and prayer (Declosion 200).
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Author:Collins, Ashok
Publication:French Forum
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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