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Through the eyes of Le Tout Autre

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Through the eyes of Le Tout Autre identity and the dialectic of God at the ragged edge of reason
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Olson, Bradley Edward
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English
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viii, 83 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Postmodernism -- Religious aspects -- Christianity ( lcsh )
God (Christianity) ( lcsh )
Dialectical theology ( lcsh )
Dialectical theology ( fast )
God (Christianity) ( fast )
Postmodernism -- Religious aspects -- Christianity ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Includes bibliographical references (leaf 83).
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Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
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by Bradley Edward Olson.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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Full Text
THROUGH THE EYES OF LE TOUT AUTRE:
Identity and the Dialectic of God
at the Ragged Edge of Reason
By
Bradley Edward Olson
B.A., University of Utah, 1998
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities (M.H.)
2007


Bradley Edward Olson
2007
All rights reserved
The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible,
Copyright 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National council of the
Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission, All rights reserved


This thesis for the Master of Humanities
Degree by
Bradley Edward Olson
Has been approved
by
/ ^ 'Rob^'Metcalf //
Constance Wise
Michael Boring


Olson, Bradley E. (M.H., Humanities, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences)
THROUGH THE EYES OF LE TOUT AUTRE:
Identity and the Dialectic of God at the Ragged Edge of Reason
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Robert Metcalf
ABSTRACT
Modem Theo-Philosophy, with its emphasis on rationality and reason, made
God obsolete; limiting and confining Gods significance within Being. Western
Christianity was left destitute, supposedly delusional in its belief in God. However,
within the postmodern era, where meta-narratives are continually being questioned,
there is a wounding of reason which opens a space for a new dialectic of God. There
is, therefore, a need within Western Christianity for a way in which to speak of,
approach and engage God. There is a desperate requirement for a turn in the way in
which Western Christians approach the world and God. Though much of Modem
Christianity spurns the ideas of Postmodemity, I argue that many of the concepts
which are found therein are not only helpful in regaining a significant dialectic of God,
but are, in fact, at the very core of Western Christianity. Examining the works of
Derrida, Levinas, Marion and Volf four of the major Postmodern theo-philosophers
I attempt to elucidate a new dialectic of God that forms the basis of a shift in
loyalties, a shift in the gaze of Western Christians. Examining core concepts of
Postmodern philosophy such as the I, the other, le tout autre and the consequential


formation of Identity we find that whereas Modernity made God obsolete,
Postmodern Phenomenology wounds the situated existent in such a way that dialectic
of God becomes relevant to that situated existent. Through the imitation of an act of
Love acted out by God, within Being Western Christianity regains a hope of peace
with the other. Through the imitation of this act with God, the identity of the situated
existent is formed in such a way that they are able to see the realm of Being through
the eyes of le tout Aautre through the eyes of God. It is this new gaze, this new
perspective of Love which allows for the hope of peace, the hope of faith and Love.
This, however, is only the foundation of the larger project of action within this new
perspective. From this starting point, there must then be a an examination of how
exactly this new gaze is played out within the subjective existents life.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
it publication


DEDICATION
To my wife Katie and my son Rowan .Alexander Tyler, for their support and
love through the process of writing this work. This work is also dedicated to Brian
who has not only mentored and encouraged me in my writing, but also spent many
hours helping to hone my ideas. And to my parents. Thank you.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I would like to acknowledge the many people who have helped me in the
writing of this work. My committee: Michael Boring for introducing me to Jean-Luc
Marion, and for listening to my ramblings as I condensed my ideas. Robert Metcalf,
for his patience in the extended writing process, and Constance Wise for her close
reading of the many drafts of this paper. I would also like to acknowledge my
wonderful sister Amy Borjas for being a sounding board for my ideas. Finally, Brian
and Sally Seim must be acknowledged and thanked; this work has been many years in
the making and could not have been accomplished without their support, hospitality
encouragement, and love.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. DIALECTICS OF GOD: INTERSECTIONS OF
THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY...........................................1
Introduction: Why (Not) Atheism Today.........................1
Dispersing the Wisps of Shadow: Modernity
and the Dialectic of God.......... ...........................5
Quest-ioning: Subjectivity and the Failings of the
Meta-narrative of Reason.......................................9
The I and the Other...........................................12
2. AT THE RAGGED EDGE OF REASON.....................................16
A Nen> Theology on the Cusp of Uncertainty..................16
The Possibility of a Hope: Derrida, Deconstruction
and Le Tout Autre................................................18
Nope in the Torn of the Wholly Other..........................18
Deconstruction the Believer and the Non-Believer..........22
The Eternal Call: Vien! Vien..................................29
The Infinite in the Finite: Relations,
God and the Human Other in Levinas...............................32
The Encounter of the Human Other..............................32
The Infinite within the Finite................................34
Identity and the Wound........................................38
Desire and the Wound..........................................39
The Problem of Being..........................................40
Too Litde, Too Much: Derrida, Levinas and the Trap of Humanity...43
viii


The Deliverance of Being/beings: Marion,
Love and the Saturation of Meaning................................47
God Beyond Being...............................................47
The Gifting of the Self........................................49
The Crossing of Being........................................ 50
Christ and the Absorption of Evil..............................52
Identifying with hove..........................................54
The New Light of Love..........................................56
The Embrace: Volf and the Act of Love.............................58
The Response of the 1 to the Other.............................58
Answers in the Nature of God...................................59
The Act and Acts of The Embrace................................61
The Continuum of Action........................................65
Embrace ofLe. Tout Autre.......................................67
3. AN ATTEMPT AT PEACE: HUMANITY
THROUGH THE EYES OF GOD............................................70
The Embrace Incarnate..............................................70
The Crossing of Being..........................................71
The Crossing of Christ.........................................72
The Resurrection...............................................73
TbeAscenion....................................................75
Through the Eyes of Le Tout Autre: Postmodern Theology
a (Not So) New Dialectic..........................................78
WORKS CITED...........................................................83
IX


CHAPTER 1
DIALECTICS OF GOD: INTERSECTIONS OF
THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY
Introduction: Why (Not) Atheism Today
Suppose we posit the question: Why atheism today? Nietzsches answer is
simple: The Father in God has been thoroughly refuted; ditto, the judge, the
rewarder. (Nietzsche, 1992, p. 252) Simply stated, the Christian God cannot be encountered
through the numerous intellectual arguments and reasoning of philosophers and
theologians. The Father, the judge, and the the rewarder, all of the various
conceptions of the Judeo-Christian God are broken down. The attributes and
qualities of God, which are so important to the Christian concept thereof, seem an
insignificant and impossible fairytale. Accordingly Nietzsche declares God as no
longer a viable concept. Not only are there numerous counter arguments that God
does not exist, there is also the critical fact that attempts to prove the existence,
power, authority, or any other attributes of God, are undercut by these self-same
attempts, which relegate God to a space where Gods impact on an individuals life is
nil. In fact, within a belief system based on rational process and objective truth found
through human intelligence, there is no longer any need to even reference this higher
being. Human reason can discover all truth, and thus determine on its own its
l


paths, directions and morality. Thus, the rationally explained, hilly understandably
being named God within that system is merely a dream, a creation, not the
creator, of man. This is the state of the dialectic of God which is encounter in much
of the Judeo-Christian world today.
Though there were many attempts throughout the history of theology and
philosophy to prove and justify the existence and attributes of God, in the end these
attempts not only failed, but were doomed to backfire. As concepts of God became
ever more dependent upon rationalized, objectified knowledge, as attempts were made
to bring faith and God into alignment with Modem rationality, God became more and
more, merely a conception of man: an image created and clothed by humanity. God
was made into an existent within the material world which could be objectively
known; thus limiting and containing any attributes that might be assigned. God was
clothed in the ideas and wishes of the culture.
This also removed God from the experiential life of humanity. Created and
confined as a purely rational conceptual object, God could no longer be experienced
by a subjective individual. The subjective situated experience of God by the human
being was closed off. Within a system based on reasoning and intelligence God was
now an idea. Subjectivity and experiential life are anathema to rational discourse;
consequently, all material experience of God became an imperfection which must be
overcome in order to find the absolute truth through human reasoning.
2


The delusion of God was cast aside. Thus, it was that reason became the highest
objective. In fact, reason took the place of God and became the pathway to
knowledge and power. God was no longer needed by a culture which centered itself
on the light of human intelligence alone. God was no longer Le tout autre the wholly
other rather God became merely humanity, or, more importandy, humanity created
themselves as gods. In the end at the height of modernity it was only reasonable
for Nietzsche to proclaim that We deny God. We deny the responsibility in God:
only thereby do we redeem the world. (Nietzsche, 1992, p. sot)
This is the terminus of any dialectic of God within Modernity. A desert of
signification, where the concept God has no meaning, no import for the life of an
individual existent This is not, however, the terminus of any dialectic of God. In this
work, I will set out to show that though the light of reason dispersed the supposed
shadow of God from humanitys concern, there is another light a light which is
found at the ragged edge of reason where faith, hope and love are encountered that
does not disperse a shadow, but rather reveals a concrete new dialectic of God.
Specifically, I will explore the works of four theo-philosophers: Jacques Derrida,
Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Marion, and Miroslav Volf. Each of these authors can
be described as working in the realm of Post Modernity a realm in which meta-
narratives are questioned, especially the meta-narrative of rationalism. However,
before broaching the ideas explored by these authors, I will first quickly sketch the
3


landscape against which they argue. From that point, I will lay out some of the basic
concepts which form an, admittedly, very loose and shaky foundation of thought for
these four authors.1 This then, will lead directly into an exploration of the actual ideas
of these theo-philosophers as I have chosen to call them. The logic of the ordering
of these explorations is simple. I begin with a proclaimed atheist, move on to a Jewish
thinker, and from there move into specifically Christian thinkers one Catholic, and
one Protestant; each building upon the work of the other. From this point, I then take
some of the core concepts extracted from these authors and weave them into a new
conception of the dialectic of God, a new way to approach, encounter, and possibly
embrace God. We are thus left with posing the question, against Nietzsche, why not
atheism today?
1 Though I choose to call these ideas a foundation, this is a loose term, as these concepts are merely
a few among dozens which are explored by postmodern thinkers.
4


Dispersing the Wisps of Shadow: Modernity and
the Dialectic of God
Freud, writing from a background in psychology, reduces the concept of God
to a cultural, psychological phenomenon. An illusion created by humanity in an
attempt to protect its psyche from the forces of nature surrounding it which it did not
understand at the time. Mans self-regard, seriously menaced, calls for consolation;
life and the universe must be robbed of their terrors; moreover, his curiosity, moved, it
is true, by the strongest practical interest, demands an answer. (Freud, 1961, p. 20) The
forces of nature surrounding a culture are, according to Freud, clothed in the raiment
of not just a mere person, but rather in the costume of a father: a man makes the
forces of nature not simply into persons with whom he can associate as he would with
his equals that would not do justice to the overpowering impression which those
forces make on him he gives them the character of a father. (Freud, 1961, p. 21) The
character of a father, for Freud is one which is as mysterious and incomprehensible as
it is powerful. An other that is not, and cannot be known; the father has powers and
abilities beyond the comprehension of the person. As a culture progresses in its
understanding however, and reason and intellect begin to reign, those forces become
better understood and the need for the father, for God, is shed. Supposedly, in the
shining glory of human reason, the illusory clothing of the forces of nature are
discarded like clothes in the summer sun.
5


In fact, for Freud, religious ideas are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest,
strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind .... In this respect they come near to
psychiatric delusions. (Freud, 1961, pp. 38-9) And in the end, this delusion must be shaken
off because it is possible for scientific work to gain some knowledge about the reality
of the world, by means of which we can increase our power and in accordance with
which we can arrange our life.......science has given us evidence by its numerous and
important successes that it is no illusion. (Freud, 1961, p. 70) This statement sums up the
credo of Modernity: science and human reason will in the end, give humanity all
knowledge and power; unlike the concept of God, science is evidential and
concrete. The light of human reason reveals the true nature of the material world
and thus the needs for delusional costumes of a higher power are no longer necessary.
The shadow of the father, looming over humanity is dispersed in the light of reason.
This conception then leads direcdy into the writings of Nietzsche. If God is a
delusion, created by the wishes of humanity to tame the natural forces around him,
and if human intellect and reason is seen as being able to shed the taming light of full
understanding on these forces, and thus fulfill these wishes then it is only reasonable
for Nietzsche to claim that
God is a conjecture; but I desire that your conjectures should be
limited by what is thinkable. . that everything be changed into
what is thinkable for man, visible for man, feelable by man.. .And
what you have called world, that shall be created only by you: your
reason, your image, your will. ... if there were gods, how could I
endure not to be a god! Hence there are no gods. . .God is a
6


thought that makes crooked all that is straight, and makes turn
whatever stands. How? Should time be gone, and all that is
impermanent a mere lie? To think this is a dizzy whirl for human
bones, and a vomit for the stomach; verily, I call it the turning
sickness to conjecture thus. Evil I call it, and misanthropic.
(Nietzsche, 1992, p. 198)
For Nietzsche, to retain the clothing of the father on (he forces of nature is utterly
repugnant. The illusion of the incomprehensible tout autre the wholly other that
controls the material world is utterly antithetical to a conceptual perspective which is
centered on human reason and intellect. Indeed, according to Nietzsche, to hold on
to the conception of God is physically sickening.
This may be one of the most vitriolic rants against the concept of God within the
whole of philosophy; however, that does not diminish the importance of what
Nietzsche is saying. Speaking as Zarathustra, Nietzsche calls upon humanity to turn
away from any concept of God because these concepts specifically the sort of
conception of God exemplified by strictly rational arguments are simply not
thinkable, feel-able or sensible for humanity. There is no ability within human
reasoning to process that which is beyond the senses, beyond feeling, and beyond
intellect The father, God as Freud imagines God, is just this, beyond the senses,
beyond feeling, beyond intellect.
Thus, Nietzsche asks that everything be changed into what is thinkable for man,
visible for man, feelable by man. Any dialectic of import cannot be centered on that
which is beyond human capabilities. Consequently, God is done away with. God is
7


incomprehensible and beyond human capacity, therefore, any dialectic concerning
God is moot. With this turn away from God, and a consequent embracing of human
reason as the ultimate path to knowledge and power, intelligent beings can thus make
themselves gods, finding and creating the understanding and knowledge which will fulfill
the deepest wishes and desires of humanity.
Even if this were not the case, the numerous arguments for the existence and
attributes of God are problematic in and of themselves.2 These arguments, positing
God as understandable to human reasoning, inevitably succeeded only in limiting the
conception of God. First, by assigning God being within the material realm, Gods
entire existence was confined. This God was, in some sense or another, a being
which was governed and limited by the way in which the material realm operates and
more importandy, by the ways humanity understands that operation. Second, as a
being within Being, defined by abstraction from human qualities, the qualities assigned
to God were necessarily only those which were valued or understood by the culture
doing the conceptualizing. Thus, God that which was supposed to be wholly other
than humanity became nothing but an idealized human. God was limited and
constrained by human understanding. Idealized and better than humanity in general,
but human none-the-less, by any conception.
2 For further study of such arguments for the existence and attributes of God I would suggest the
works of St. Thomas Aquinas, or Samuel Clarkes A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of
God.
8


Consequently, it is not difficult to understand why it seemed so easy, even
reasonable to cast aside a God such as this. Even if one were to grant the existence
of this God, what need did or could God fulfill? No longer was God needed to explain
away the frightening and mystifying forces of nature, human intelligence was doing
that No longer was God needed to regulate human behavior, to be the judge and
rewarder, human intelligence was doing that as well. Un-feelable, un-sensible, un-
thinkable; all too human was this God. Humanity had reduced God to a shadow of
Gods former self, and the light of human reason was quickly dispersing even that.
Not only were the supposedly intellectual arguments for God moot, but they were
fraught with inconsistencies and problems. Any dialectic of God had become
meaningless for beings within Being, for the living of life. Truly, standing in the
dawning light of reason, mere belief in this Western Christian God did seem to make a
reasonable case for ones psychological delusionment.
Quest-ioning: Subjectivity and the Failings of the
Meta-narrative of Reason
As science and human reasoning progressed a new undercurrent was developing
though, both within Western culture and scholarship itself. The pure objectification
of life was beginning to frustrate and irritate. Just as the cloth of the conception of
God as the ultimate had scratched at the skin of rational thinkers, so to the clothing of
9


reason as the ultimate began to itch. Consequently, the subjectivity of humanity began
to truly be explored. Philosophy took up the investigation of the life of the existent
being and the phenomena experienced within that life.
With this investigation, rationality was found wanting in explanations and
regulations of human subjective experience. This was a critical foundation of the turn
away from the Modernist pathway with its utter dependence on reason as the only
access to knowledge. This turn towards phenomenology, towards the subjective,
situated experience of the individual re-opened the door to a meaningful dialectic of
God. A dialectic which, necessarily, was experiential. God as a created, objective idea
held no import for the human intellect God as experienced by the subjective
individual, God as thinkable for man, visible for man, feelable by man however,
holds incredible import for the explanation and regulation of subjective human life.
In the postmodern turn away from the meta-narrative of human reasoning as the
only access to knowledge, an experience of God by a subjective individual may lead to
knowledge which is just as valid if not more so, in that it directly relates to the living
of life as knowledge discovered through human reasoning and intellect This move
away from reason, however, is also a movement away from certainties, a movement
away from absolutes. It is a journey into a shadowy world of uncertainty and resdess
questing and quest-ioning. It is a movement towards a knowledge which walks a
sword-edge of uncertainty.
to


The move away from meta-narratives of knowledge in general, and the meta-
narrative of reason in particular, has fairly recently been loosely defined as
postmodernism. I am not here interested in the specifics of when or where
postmodern conceptions began, but rather in the ability of these conceptions to open
the door to new conceptions of the world and a new and important dialectic of God
which is discovered at the ragged edge of reason. A dialectic of God that brings focus
to the actions and interactions of subjective existents within the material realm.
The question What is human reason? underpins much of postmodemity and its
continual questioning of meta-narratives. There seem to be three answers. First,
human reason is now and always has been the ultimate standard of the good and the
right; second, it is now, but has not always been such a standard; and third it is not
now and never has been such a standard. (WestphaL, 1996, p. 29) If I cannot answer with
full assurance that the first proposition is true then a gap opens within the intelligibility
of the world. Also, if I cannot answer with full assurance that the second proposition
is true, then it becomes possible to believe the third proposition. It becomes possible
to believe that the pure objectivity which human reason strives for, the gods eye view
of the material realm of Being is unattainable and that reason is always colored; always
a view through a glass darkly. The question remains then: What is it that darkens this
glass. Much of postmodemity argues that it is ones own culture, ones subjective
perspective. If this is so then human reason the replacement god of modernity -
n


is merely a mask worn by ones culture. Reason is a mask worn specifically to provide
authority and authenticity to that perspective. A mask which just as Freud accuses
of the conception of God re-enforces the dominant mores and conceptions of the
culture.
If this is the case, if this door, this gap within human understanding is believed to
be possible, then an investigation into the phenomenology of the situated existent is
necessitated. If knowledge is always colored by the light of ones own subjective
experience, then that experience deserves to be explored. If there is that gap where
intelligibility can be surprised, then it is not merely the objective which deserves
attention; but rather, subjective, situated, perspectival existence becomes important
once more. Within this turn towards subjective phenomenology there are four main
areas of interest
The I and the Other
First there is the question of the I, the existent itself. If I am exploring
subjective existence then I obviously must assume the possibility of the existence of
the self: the I. If there is the possibility of the existence of the I, however, there is
then also the possibility of the existence of other Is as well. This is not an
imposition of the I upon an other possible existent, but rather, is merely the
12


supposition of an other based on the existent of the self. This is not the self imposing
itself on the other. Consequently, we have come to the point of positing both the
existence of the I of the self, as well as the other of an other I. Through this
then, one can posit that there is also the possibility of an approach of the other to the
self, and the self to the other.
This possibility of the existence of the self and the other two or more situated
existents and their proximity to the self leads to a second area of interest, another
area of quest-ioning. Namely, a new examination of the ancient philosophical
question: why is there something rather than nothing? Why do the I and the other
exist and what is/should be the relations between them. This then, is really the
question of the creation of the situated, subjective existents identity within Being,
within the material realm. The question of the role, the action and the interaction of
the being within Being.
The dominant answer within phenomenological postmodern thought is that the
identity of the self is created within that seifs specific culture, within the movement
towards and away from the other: identities are essentially related and therefore the
specific wholeness of each can be achieved only through the relation to the other, a
relation that neither neutralizes nor synthesizes the two, but negotiates the identity of
each by readjusting it to the identity of the other. (Volf, 1996, p. 186) As the proximity of
the other to the self changes, the boundaries of the I shift the borders of what is
13


defined as the self are affected. They are either challenged and pushed inward by the
other drawing nearer, or they are released and allowed to expand by retreat of the
other. Neither the expansion nor contraction of the boundaries of the I are
necessarily good or bad; however, this proximity, this encounter with the other, does
lead to the third question which postmodemity poses.
What should be the response of the I to the other? In other words, with the
encounter of the other, what is the ethical reaction of a situated subjective existent
within a social arena? This question poses numerous variables when the concept of
proximity is introduced. One must ask what the response of the I should be, not only
to the neighbor who is direcdy next to me, but one must also discover what the
response should be to a countryman, to an other who exists within my culture, to an
other within a proximate culture, and even to an other within a culture which is
opposed to my own. As the relationships and proximity become more distant there is
a greater questioning of ethical response to that other. The other in fact, becomes
more other, with greater distance.
Finally, if there is such an existent as I and such an existent as the other, and
such a thing as the stratified classification of otherness with less proximity, then the
question remains: is there a wholly other, a tout autre. This is a natural question
raised by the other which is somehow familiar and the other which becomes more
other. The stratification of otherness through proximity leads essentially to a quest-
14


ioning for/of that which may be tout autre. Thus: is there some thing of which I
cannot even have a comprehension of my incomprehension of it. This is the door
to a dialectic of God which is unlocked and thrown open by phenomenological
postmodemity. The possibility of the existence of le tout autre. A wholly other which
may be so wholly other as to be outside of and thus, just possibly sustain the Being
of the material realm. The possibility of le tout autre opens up a space, a gap where it
could be not only the source of Being but also the source of the dream of justice and
non-violence. Concepts that are at once both extremely familiar and at the same
moment wholly different then subjective experience has taught. This is a hope which
phenomenology gestures towards and which I assert that a Christian theology based
upon that phenomenology may fulfill.
15


CHAPTER 2
AT THE RAGGED EDGE OF REASON
A New Theology on the Cusp of Uncertainty
Though it is often claimed by Western theists as well as atheists that
postmodemity, with its emphasis on uncertainty, should and could have no bearing on
religion, I intend to show that not only are postmodern concepts and the
phenomenological turn not against religion, not even something which can be
somewhat violently appropriated by a Christian theology, but rather is, and has been, a
foundational aspect of Western Christianity. For with an emphasis on uncertainty, an
emphasis on possibility created by that uncertainty and the gift that surprises the
materiality of Being, that goes beyond being, there comes also an emphasis on hope.
In the end, it is an emphasis on faith. Our question is whether, beyond being, a
meaning might not show itself whose priority, translated into ontological language, will
be called prior to being. (Levinas, Of God Who Comes to Mind, 1998, p. 57) I argue,
consequendy, that phenomenological postmodern concepts are nothing new, but
rather are some of the core ideas which allow for a Christian theology grounded in
faith, hope and love
In opposition to modernist philosophy, which emphasized the objectivity of
reason and its ability to define absolute rules of social interaction without reference to
16


subjective experience, postmodern philosophers have turned towards a
phenomenological approach to these serious questions which places great importance
on the both the individual and society. This approach opens up the possibility of a
new type of [knowledge]. A new [understanding] that is not encompassed solely by
human intelligence. It is an approach which John D. Caputo describes as seeing itself
as a pact with le tout autre, with the promise of the different, an alliance with the advent,
the event, of the invention of alterity. (Caputo, 1997, p. 15) This is an approach to
knowledge which walks the sword-edge of uncertainty, an approach which clasps
hands with the unknown of le tout autre and quests with hope along a path of surprise.
Through an examination of the writing of four postmodern thinkers I intend to
show that this pact with le tout autre which opens a gap in human intelligibility and thus
opens the door to a new dialectic a new exploration of the relation to God is a
theme which in the end may lead to a new theology built upon the foundation of the
relationship, interaction and interconnectedness of the subjective, situated I to the
other. A theology of surprise, of possibility of faith, hope and of love.
17


The Possibility of a Hope: Derrida,
Deconstruction and Le Tout Autre
Hope in the Form of the Wholly Other
In The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida. John D. Caputo examines the
writing of one of the foremost postmodern philosophers. Within a wide scope of
works, Caputo attempts to elucidate Derridas affinity with a dialectic of God which
embraces this possibility and hope. According to Caputo, Derrida the oft
reviled/reveled father of deconstruction holds to a strong emphasis on the other and
the approach and proximity thereof; specifically an emphasis on le tout autre the
wholly other. Though Caputo attempts to argue that Derrida does not leave one
hanging an argument most often given by theists against deconstruction
unfortunately it seems that, though he is desirous of hope and possibility, Derrida is
unable to go so far as to have a real hope, a real faith in the presence or encounter
of le tout autre. For Derrida, le tout autre never arrives, never presents itself, is never
encountered. Consequently, as I argue, he is left with the mere proximity of the
human other, while the possibility and hope are left to a continual, anxious quest-
ioning. Derrida seems to be left with merely the hope of a possibility, or the
possibility of hope. Though Derrida argues that it is the paradoxical possibility of a
content-less messiah which allows for hope in justicejie does not leave himself with
18


anything on which to hang a real hope, or actual possibility. For, in the end, the
discontented becomes content-ed, the messiah that is always, only a possibility
becomes less by having more.
Deconstruction, states Caputo, is rather the thought, if it is a thought, of an
absolute heterogeneity that unsetdes all the assurance of the same within which we
comfortably ensconce ourselves. That is the desire by which it is moved, which
moves and impassions it, which sets it into motion, toward which it extends itself.
(Caputo, 1997, p. 5) This statement contains four key points of Derridas over all philosophy
of deconstruction. The first is the un/certainty of knowing which phenomenology
leads to. There is a sort of certainty of the uncertainty of any knowing gained through
deconstruction: an unknow-ed knowing. This is first indicated by Caputos wavering
on the question of deconstruction even being a thought, as well as the unsettling of
assurance which occurs. Certainty of knowledge, an assurance that one is correct is
something which is completely antithetical to deconstruction. This comes to the
forefront of Derridas thought in the concept of difference.
Within Derridas exploration of this coined word which is different yet not
different, spoken the same, yet written different-ly there is a wavering, a purposeful
and, at least according to Derrida, necessary paradox. Difference which is at the
heart of deconstruction, [is] deconstruction itself never presents itself as such. It is
never given in the present or to anyone. Holding back and not exposing itself ....
19


Any exposition would expose it to disappearing as a disappearance. It would risk
appearing, thus disappearing. (Derrida, Speech and Phenomena, 1973, p. 134) Deconstruction [is]
deconstruction of knowing, not being certain if one is speaking of difference or
difference: the origin or production of differences and the differences between
differences. (Derrida, Speech and Phenomena, 1973, p. 134) It is an opening up of, a freedom of
different contents, readings, an opening up of possibilities. Beyond this, even, it is a
deconstruction of being and presence. It attempts to put in question even the seifs
understanding of [its?] being and being present. It questions the presentation which is
situated in time.
There is also recognition of the conceptions of the same and the other in Caputos
statement, which comes out in the heterogeneity that deconstruction introduces.
This heterogeneity is difference exactly, in fact is what is produced in the play of
difference: the different from, the other than. This heterogeneity is unsettling to the
same. It is an opening up of a possibility of there being something [out there] that is
like nothing which can even be conceptualized within the framework of the same.
It is this possibility, of something other, which is the unsettling factor in
deconstruction; the mere chance that something doesnt fit within the meta-narrative
which governs the same is disturbing, uncomfortable and a challenge to certainty, it
paves the way for possibilities. There must be disjunction, interruption, the
heterogeneous if at least there must be if there must be a chance given to any there must
20


be whatsoever . (Derrida, 1994, p. 42) For Derrida, then, this heterogeneity, this
differing from, is a necessary pre-given, an a priori even for there to be a must be.
The disjunction, the unsetded, unsettling disturbance of the presupposed, previous
heterogeneity is, when considered under the disturbing banner of difference, a chance, a
possibility which not only allows for and is the other, but also what allows for the
same. This other, though, is no mere slightly different, not a partial other, but is rather
an absolute other, differing absolutely from the same, differing to such a degree that it is
unable to be thought, unable to be catagorized. he tout autre, that which is absolutely
different from the I, which is beyond the Being in which the I is ensconced, which is
previous, presupposed, pre-given yet always and already future, to come. It is this
absoluteness, this radicality of diffenmce which is the driving force of difference. It
quickly becomes clear that le tout autre, is critical to Derridas thought
In the above quotation from Caputo, there is, finally, an implication of the
question of action towards the other; the impassioning of the thought. It is this
question-ing of action where le tout autres import, for Derrida, becomes obvious. If
there is a chance of something other, and the chance of an encounter with that other,
then necessarily, I as the thinker of this thought am moved to consider how I
might interact with that other. I am impassioned to consider my actions within a
phenomenology which just might contain something tout autre. According to Derrida, I
am called, enjoined by the singularity of the possibility of le tout autre to, if nothing
21


else, a responsibility, beginning at birth. (Derrida, 1994, p. 25) This action, this movement
with in moments of presence, moments of being, is, for Derrida, justice.
This idea of the wholly other is both the mover, the impassioner, and the point
towards which deconstruction is striving. In this striving, special skills [are] cultivated
in awakening us to the demands made by the other. (Caputo, 1997, p. 15) This is the
development of the thoughts of actions and interactions with that absolute
heterogeneity. It [is] beyond right, and still more, beyond juridicism, beyond morality,
and still more beyond moralism, does not justice as relation to the other suppose on
the contrary the irreducible excess of a disjointure or an anachrony . dislocation in
Being and in time itself. (Derrida, 1994, p. 32) In the end, it is these skills these new
thoughts of interaction and action beyond moralism, juridicism and morality itself -
which are the new form of [knowledge] cultivated within a postmodern view.
Deconstruction the Believer and the Non-Believer
Let us return to difference, and flesh out more definitively, though, what this
thought entails, for in this, there seem to arise some problems with the working out
of this justice. The coinage of this word difference came about in order for
Derrida to gesture towards the two definitions of the French verb to differ from
which difference stems. On the one hand, states Derrida, it indicates difference as
22


distinction, inequality, or discemability; on the other, it expresses the imposition of
delay, the interval of a spacing and temporali^tng that puts off until later what is
presently denied, possible that is presently impossible. (Derrida, 1973, p. 129) Thus,
difference is not just a difference but also a delay, a suspension of presence. In this
then, Derrida produces a word that is not a word, a concept which not only differs
from itself but also differs itself. This paradoxical play of differences (Derrida, 1973, p.
130) is crucial for Derrida. In fact, this play is caught up within paradox.
First, as mentioned earlier, difference, is not only le tout autre the possibility of le
tout autre, but also what makes le tout autre possible. Thus, the wholly other is, and is
made a possibility by that very is-ness. Yet, because it differs from itself, le tout autre
according to Derrida also is not and is not made an (im)possible by its very is not-
ness. Simultaneously, paradoxically, le tout autre is traced and effaced, simultaneously
alive and dead. (Derrida, 1973, p. 156) Beyond even this differing from itself, le tout autre
also differs itself. It delays, and is delay. It is always a to-come, a future event, he tout
autre is always and already differing its own presence, its own coming.
At the very heart of this thought of the le tout autre is the paradoxical nature
which makes it both possible and impossible, always to-come but never coming: A
desert-like messianism (without content and without identifiable messiah). (Derrida,
1994, p. 33) It is just this content-less nature of the other which is and produces the dis-
content within the same within the self that leads to a justice beyond right . .
23


juridicism . morality, and .. moralism. It is thought of le tout autre beyond the
opposition between presence and non-presence, actuality and inactuality, life and non-
life (Derrida, 1994, p. 13) which shakes and shocks the self out of the meta-narrative of
the right and morality. Yet it is exacdy here that Derrida faces a problem; not with the
idea that it takes an alterity beyond Being to shake the self loose from meta-narratives,
but rather with the insistence on this content-less, desertification of the messianic.
Paradoxically, it is in speaking of the absolutely other and deconstructions
relationship to justice, that Derrida is tripped up:
the relation of deconstruction ... to what must... be rendered to
the singularity of the other, to his or her absolute precedence or to
his or her absolute pmdousness, to the heterogeneity of a pre-,
which, to be sure, means what comes before me, before any
present, thus before any past present, but also what, for that very
reason, comes from the future or as future: as the very coming of
the event (Derrida, 1994, p. 33)
At first glance, and even in most ways, this statement would seem to in no way cause
problems for Derrida. However, there are two words, each of them repeated, here
which are key to exposing the problem which he faces. The force which impassions,
enjoins, and entreats the self to justice is the absolute other absolutely without
content, Derrida insists. It is a heterogeneity of a pre-, prior to the self a well as
being prior to content and categorization. Yet, already, within a passage specifically
discussing this priority, Derrida has categorized the other. He speaks of his or her
absolute pre. .. . Derrida, always so careful with regard to the connotation of words
24


and wordings, uses these words, not once but twice, within one grammatical phrase.
This cannot be seen as a mistake, rather, it must be seen as a critical assumption. With
this, Le tout autre is no longer beyond the opposition, rather, it has been placed
squarely within a context of a gendered space. Derrida assumes that the other is
gendered in some way, and with this assumption, this is no longer a desert-like
messianism (without content and without identifiable messiah). The messiah is
identifiable as gendered, as either male or female. From this passage a few more
assumption can be drawn. The other is first categorized within gender, and is then,
almost immediately, placed in contrast to a being namely me. This relation both
linguistical and phenomenological implies, however it must be noted that it in no way
necessitates the being-ness of the other: that the other is within Being is a being.
Furthermore, since this being me is assumed to be human (one assumes that
Derrida speaks of at least a generalized notion of the human reader, if not himself
direcdy) it is also a fair assumption that this other is also human. Consequently
under these implications no longer content-less, this other is content, is content to
be, is content to be human. What Derrida originally posits as absolutely alterity has
quickly collapsed into an other which is not so other as he wished. Though these are
only implications, and it could be argued that Derrida did not mean for them to exist,
as he himself argues texts are not static, they do not retain only the meanings which an
author intends. In fact Derrida often insists that We are going to have to complicate
25


this outline in a moment We will have to put forth another reading. (Demda, 1994, p. 17)
With this reading, it seems then, that this other no longer has enough alterity to
disturb the self and call it to a justice beyond morality.
Though Derrida is a believer in the other, and a believer in the hope of the
other, through a close reading, it can be seen that the other is eventually limited. In
the end, there is an inevitable collapse, the other is only the other of another human.
Though he argues that this is not the case, the other, within Derridas work, is
confined within the space of Being, beings and humanity: categorized and
catagorizable. Le tout autre does not come, is not a possibility because it holds too
much actuality; gendered and categorized, the other is too easily defined.
The infinitely other, is, according to Derrida, unthinkable, impossible,
unutterable (Caputo, 1997, p. 20) this, unfortunately, has a not so strange resonance with
what Nietzsche says about God. According to Caputo
What Derrida shows then is that the tout autre comes but it comes
relative to a horizon of expectation which it shocks and sets back
on its heels .... The alter ego comes with a certain optimal alterity,
neither too great (positively infinite) not too small (more of the
same); the tout autre is tout autre only up to a point; there are limits! .
. Its transcendence is the transcendence of the other person,
different from me, let us say, but not different than me, a field of
novelty and surprise within a pre-given horizon of perception.
(Caputo, 1997, p. 22)
Though Caputo argues that le tout autre comes relative to a horizon which it shocks, this
simply doesnt work. Always and already, for Derrida, le tout autre is supposed to go
26


beyond the given, beyond humanity, yet the other is confined, limited to the human
other; a him or her. The other is referred to and describes as if it were a being, a
human being the other person and consequendy it becomes catagorizable,
definable: exacdy what is not supposed to be able to be done with le tout autre. With
this catagorizaton, the otherness of the other collapses; it is merely the alter ego of
the same. Thus Derridas own conception of deconstruction is limited within the field
of a meta-narrative of phenomenological experience; in some way he is still attached to
Being, even though what supposedly impassions deconstruction is absolute
heterogeneity, beyond opposition of being and non-being. The absolute heterogeneity
of something beyond the meta-narrative of the same is something which it seems
Derrida cannot get to. At the point that he is exhorting the demand to recognize the
otherness, the content-less-ness of the pre-given, he is already giving it content, thus
already delimitating the other. He questions that content; he hopes in the possibility
of something wholly other, but in the end, he leaves himself nothing to hang this hope
on. Consequendy, he is left with the mere human other. Though Derrida places his
hope for justice in something which transcends humanity, at the moment of
transcendence, there is collapse back into the catagorizable. The possibility of the
impossible is made impossible by the actuality of the other. He depends on the light
of human understanding within Being, which limits his gaze. It may not be a fully
rational understanding, but it is still a human perception a pre-given horizon of
27


perception which he is depending on. A human apperception which to narrowly
delimits the possibility of the other.
Though le tout autre is supposed to shock and break the horizon of the same, if the
other is only that of the human other, then Derrida has a problem. He is left to hang
out to dry, twisting slowly in the winds of indecision (Caputo, 1997, p. 26) For if there is
only Being, if there is only a human understanding, only a phenomenological world and
encounters therein, then le tout autre is not the impossible possibility which gives hope
for justice, but is rather a mundane impossibility. The mundane otherness of
humanity which does not gesture beyond itself. By being referred to and described as
a gendered being, through being given content and being, le tout autre becomes a
concept with too little meaning, too litde Being to be encountered.
For Derrida, le tout autre is always outside, out of place, out of power, im-possible,
to-come. If le tout autre ever won the revolution, if the Messiah ever actually showed
up, if you ever thought that justice would come that would ruin everything. (Caputo,
1997, p. 74) It is the eternal hope, the continual faith in the utterly different, which drives
the possibility for faith in justice justice that transcends humanity. According to
Derrida, it is this continual quest-ioning which keeps the self in a discontented state, a
state of shock, and it is this discontent which allows for one to step beyond cultural
juridicism and morality. However, when le tout autre is gendered, is given content, then
the dis-content is relieved. One is returned to the comfort of the same. The shock of
28


the human other alone is never enough to break the horizon of the same for, always
and already, the human other is human, is still a being, is still within the realm of the
same and thus is just more of the same. The human other, confined within being,
can never be enough of a shock to fully unsetde the meta-narrative of the same in
which the I is ensconced. So, if le tout autre has too little meaning, to little Being
exacdy by being given meaning and being to be hoped for, then the I is never truly
shaken out of the comforting cocoon of its meta-narrative. The I is never moved to
seek out new skills new ways of acting and interacting. A new mode of operation,
new values to govern life, are never found
The 'Eternal Call: Vien! Vien!
Thus, deconstruction is a movement of an experience open to the absolute future
of what is coming, that is to say, a necessarily indeterminate, abstract, desert-like
experience that is confided, exposed, given up to its waiting for the other and for the
event. (Caputo, 1997. p. 131) Deconstruction then is a hope, a hope in a possibility of the
coming of le tout autre. Yet, what is confided, exposed, given up is that there is no
place to hang that hope. It is an eternal calling of vien! vien! without cease; the gift of le
tout autre never comes, the Messiah never shows up.
For finally, if the gift is another name of the impossible, we still
think it, we name it, we desire it. We intend it. And this even if or
because or to the extent that we never encounter it, we never know it,
29


we never verify it, we never experience it in its present existence of
its phenomenon. (Caputo, 1997, p. \69j
Thus, as Caputo states, what is confided, exposed by deconstruction is the absolute
secret that there is no secret to be learned. (Caputo, 1997, p. 160) There is no tout autre,
merely the desire for a hopeful calling for the possibility of an impossibility which
never comes. But it is not an impossibility that never comes because it stays always
possible, but rather it never comes because it is made impossible by the coming of the
genedered, categorized human other. Consequently, the new skills, the new mode of
thinking, which should be developed by the coming proximity of the absolute
heterogeneity, are never developed, because the same is never shocked and disturbed
out of its own meta-narrative. The justice beyond morality and moralism never comes
because the absolutely heterogeneous other never comes rather, what comes is an
other that is already classified, categorized, gendered; the discontent which leads to
faith in the possibility is relieved by the coming of the content-ed other.
Through deconstruction, Derrida does open the door to a pathway to a new form
of knowledge, new skills cultivated by the demands of the other. Unfortunately,
through the way in which deconstruction works, he does not allow for the hope of the
actual, present encounter of the other. And without this hope there can be no
c
[meaningful] discussion of God. Derrida opens the door to a new knowledge of God
through the demands made by the possibility of the approach of the other but he
comes to the door and neither sees nor hears anything. Le tout autre can never arrive,
30


even its possibility is blocked by the coming of the merely human other. Consequently
there are no demands to which the same must adjust. No knew paradigm is offered.
One neither encounters the human other, nor even the possibility of le tout autre. In
the end, all one sees is the same, the meta-narrative is never shaken, never shocked.
In the end it is only the horizon of perception that is pre-given, the other is
always the human other, which is to say, the other is always, in some way, the same.
He is trapped within the same of phenomenology, within Being. And The gift must
happen below the plane of phenomenality, too low for the radar of conscious
intentionality. (Caputo, 1997, p. 163) Derrida, however, remains within the identity of the
I of subjectivity, of die phenomenology of Being where the other is gendered and
catagorized. Consequently, he is unable to cultivate the new skills which lead to a new
knowledge driven by an encounter of the other, because for him, the other collapses,
eventually, always, already in to the same. In the end, the hope in the possibility of the
impossible within Being, is hopeless.
31


The Infinite in the Finite: Relations, God and
the Human Other in Levinas
The Encounter of the Human Other
Emmanuel Levinas is left in a position similar to Derrida, though he, at least,
allows for more hope. Through a much more systematic development of the
relationship of the I to the other, which allows for and elucidates the intricacies of the
encounter, Levinas is able to propose a philosophy which depends on the actuality of
the human other to lead to the new skills which might bring about a new thinking of
God and the consequences thereof. Levinas comes to the same door and is able to
see and hear more than Derrida, but in the end, he has the same problem: the other,
eventually, collapses into the same. For Levinas it is the face of the other, the human
other which is k tout autre itself, thus, he attempts to skirt the problem which I outlined
in regard to Derrida above. Unfortunately, no matter the strength of the theorizing, it
seems that, the human other too often within phenomenological experience itself
is not seen as wholly other. Too often, what is supposed to be k tout autre, is seen as
merely human; and as such, there is a loss of alterity, not all of it to be sure, but within
the context of phenomenological experience, it is too easy to see and thus grasp the
sameness of the other, rather than recognizing and upholding the alterity.
32


Levinas hope is a hope based in humanity. It is a hope based on the encounter
with the face of the other and the absolute responsibility which that entails.
My responsibility for the other man; the paradoxical and
contradictory responsibility for a foreign freedom going,
according to an expression of the Talmudic tractate {Sota 37 B), to
the point of responsibility for his responsibility does not arise
from a respect destined to have universality of a principle, nor
from a moral evidence. My responsibility is the exceptional
relationship in which die Same can be concerned by the Other
without the Other being assimilated to the Same. ... A rupture of
the Same without being taken up again by the Same into his
customs .... the meaning prior to things said. (Levinas, of God Who
Comes to Mind, 1998, p. 13)
Levinas argues for a [meaning,] a [knowledge,] which is prior to reason, prior to
rationality and human understanding which comes direcdy immediately, even before
immediacy from the proximity of the subjective, situated identity and the face of the
other. For Levinas this is an encounter where die other concerns the same, where the
I concentrates and focuses on the other, while at the same time not appropriating the
other into the self, a concern prior to and beyond intentionality. It is an interest
without self-interest; a call by the other which is previous to the interest of the self, a
calling for seeing without grasping, seeing without recognition and without taking
hold. This is a communication, implying, beyond a simple exchange of signs, the
gift, the open house. (Levinas, of God who Comes to Mind, 1998, p. 14) This is a communication
between a human self and a human other, where the self throws open the doors to the
citadel of the self and answers the call of the face of the other with absolute
33


hospitality,. That the other [Iautre] qua other [is not] an intelligible form tied to other
forms in the process of intentional disclosure, but a face, proletarian nakedness,
destitution; that the other [lautre\ be another [autrui\ (Levinas, Of God who Comes to Mind, 1998, p.
13) that the other be acknowledged without cognition, without re-cognition, is the
important aspect of the encounter. What is important within proximity, then, is the
wholly human nature of the other, a face, to which the self responds with generosity,
with openness. For Levinas then, this acknowledgement of the naked and destitute
face of the other, is also an acknowledgement of the responsibility for that other.
The Infinite within the Finite
The face, the proximity and possible encounter of the face of the other, in the end,
is the expression of a relationship, and this relationship is a call to an inescapable
responsibility to, responsibility for the other that is prior to the intentions of the self.
The proximity of the face is an expression, a demonstration, remonstration. The finite
form of the face, according to Levinas, is a vessel in which infinity presents itself as a
face in the ethical resistance that paralyzes my powers and from the depths of
defenseless eyes rises firm and absolute in its nudity and destitution. (Levinas, 1969, pp.
199-200) The face is in fact a monstrance: a vessel of residence, display and presentation
of the infinite, for the face, still a thing among things, breaks through the form that
34


nevertheless delimits it (Levinas, 1969, p. 198) In other words, the face is the
phenomenological point where phenomenology is transcended and the infinite, le tout
autre, is expressed. The face is an expression of the relation with the existent that
expresses himself; preexisting the plane of ontology is the ethical plane. (Levinas, 1969, p.
201) This preexisting, pre-intentional ethical plane revealed in the face, revealed in and
by and as le tout autre within the visage of the human other is the establishment of a
relationship. A relationship, according to Levinas which is prior to and takes priority
over the self. A responsibility which cannot be escaped, cannot be ignored and cannot
be said no to, an imposition and an appeal without my being able to deaf to that
appeal. (Levinas, 1969, p. 200) Through its priority to intentionality, one is not given a
choice in the responsibility
Thus, within the face of the finite human other, Levinas sees the expression of the
infinite, le tout autre. And this expression is a call, an appeal to responsibility and an
ethical plane of thinking towards that other. It is a call to a responsibility that rests
on no free commitment, a responsibility whose entry into being could be effected only
without any choice. (Levinas, 1981, p. 116) The self is called to respond to the other, to le
tout autre within the naked, destitute and wretched human other. In fact, for Levinas,
to be oneself, otherwise than being ... is to bear the wretchedness
and bankruptcy of the other . through and through a hostage ...
. What is at stake for the self, in its being, is not to be. ... It is
through the condition of being hostage that there can be in the
world, pity, compassion, pardon and proximity. (Levinas, 1981, p. 117)
35


Levinas is arguing that in order for a self to be it must be in relationship with the
other that calls it to responsibility, to pity, compassion, pardon. Ethics then is the
expression, the showing and opening of the seif to tie other, opening oneself to
accountability and authority. To take the place of the other.
It is this openness, this gifting of the I to the other, which leads Levinas to believe
that a [meaningful] discussion of God can be found within the encounters and
relationships of individual existents within the material realm of Being. In the human
there is an intelligibility older than what is as a comprehension of being, embraceable,
and thus constitutable by consciousness, and which reigns as world. ... In terms of
knowledge, it would signify the infinite in the finite. (Levinas, Of God who Comes to Mind, 1998, p.
i2t) For Levinas, the trace of le tout autre is found within the human other. A trace, a
gesture of the wholly other infinite is contained within the finite human other.
This is the (intelligibility] of a new [knowledge] found in communication and relation
to a human other, a skill set cultivated by the responsibility for the other. According
to Levinas, that responsibility for the other comes from the fact of the infinite in the
finite; le tout autre of God is found in and through the encounter of the human other.
It is not, of course, that the other man must be taken for God or
that God, the Eternal Thou, be found simply in some extension of
the You. What counts here is that from out of the relation to the
other, from the depths of Dialogue, this immeasurable word
signifies for thought, and not the .reverse. (Levinas, Of God Who Comes to
Mind, 1998, p. 151)
36


Within dialogue, communication, the encounter of the other, there is a [knowledge] of
God, an encounter of the infinite within Being, according to Levinas.
In other words, the encounter of the other is, according to Levinas, an
encounter with Gods self. And one should conduct oneself towards the other
accordingly. The other, and the responsibility one should feel towards the other, is a
gesture towards God, it comes from and goes towards the relationship and dialogue
which is precursive to any meaning or understand.. It is a gesture which displays the
desire for le tout autre of God that is the Desirable that is the ethical plane. For the
Desirable commands me [mordonne] to what is the nondesirable, to the undesirable
par excellence-, to another. (Levinas, Of God who Comes to Mind, 1998, p. 68) Thus the desire for the
encounter of God the preceding desire for compassion, for ethics leads to the
desire of the encounter of the nondesirable, the human other which is the encounter
of le tout autre. Or, responsibility for the other comes from the responsibility felt
towards God. A responsibility to the ethical. Thus the same acts towards the human
other in a way which reflects the ethical plane, the same acts with utter responsibility
towards the human other as the wholly other that is God. Consequently, according to
Levinas, the new skill sets, the new mode of operation in life, is found by giving over
of the self to the human other.
37


Identity and the Wound
As the I encounters the other it feels a responsibility towards it, an indebtedness to
it so much so that it is a resdessness, a deepening or shaking of every foundation, and
thus of presence or simultaneity (by which origin and ultimacy are fixed in time) into a
dia-chrony, into an exposition to the other in the form of a wound or of vulnerability
(Levinas, Of God Who Comes to Mind, 1998, p. 31) When one encounters the other, the identity
is shaken, vulnerable and wounded. The exposition of the wholly other to the self,
leads to an expressing of the self to the other. With this wounding one is open to the
other and is given, or gives oneself over to the other in a relationship of utter
responsibility. However,
this is not the identitys extinction but its substitution for the neighbor.
Substitution is .an order or disorder in which reason is no longer -either
knowledge or action but in which, unseated in its state by the other unseated
from the same and from being reason is in ethical relationship with another,
it is proximity of the neighbor. (Levinas, Of God Who Comes to Mind; 1998, pp. 31-2)
The proximity of the neighbor, the encounter of the other, reveals an ethical
relationship which supersedes knowledge and reason. However, this ethical
relationship, this wounding and giving, only occurs if there is proximity of le tout autre
which would shake and wound the self, a proximity of something so absolutely other,
that it causes the self to comfort of ones assumptions, to cause discontent with/in ones self
38


Desire and the Wound
The responsibility towards the other, which Levinas posits, would be a new form
of human understanding which transcends intelligibility. The dis-quieting of the
Same by the Other is the Desire (Levinas, of God who Comes to Mind, 1998, p. 81) states Levinas. It
is this dis-quieting, which is necessary for and which is the desire for God, the fear of
God, and which is ethical responsibility, according to Levinas.
Need one recall the perhaps less celebrated pages of the
Pentateuch? In a significant way, the formula fear of God
appears there in a series of verses that especially enjoin respect for
man and concern for the neighbor; as if the order to fear God was
not only added to enforce the orders .... Yet it is as though the
fear of God were defined by these ethical injunctions; as though
the fear of God, were this fear for another. (Levinas, of God who Comes to
Mind, 1998, p. 149)
In other words, for this new form of human understanding to occur, there is, inherent
within Levinas philosophy, an expectation of desire for God, a pre-existent state of
discontent which situates the self in a space where questioning is already occurring,
where the self is restless and change is desired. And not just desire, but fear of God.
Levinas has the expectation, it seems, that subjective, situated existents will have -
inherent within them the necessary feeling of desire, responsibility towards, and fear
of le tout autre. Responsibility for the other, is fear of God, fear of God is desire for 3
31 would like to acknowledge the fact that the terms wound and desire by themselves, let alone
when one situates them together, have great signification within postmodemity and Feminist Theory
specifically. However, the consideration of these significations and their direct impact on Levinas,
and my own theories, are unfortunately outside the scope of this document and must be addressed at
a later time.
39


God, desire is, is caused by and causes discontent. Disquietude is desire and
responsibility, yet to in order to have desire, one must already be discontent Always
and already, according to Levinas there must he something which, prior to the
encounter of the human other, draws the same beyond the phenomenological world,
beyond just the human other, and towards an ultimate, absolute responsibility towards
the wholly other. In other words, for the proximity of the naked and destitute face of
the other to disturb the foundations, to dis-quiet the self, there must always and
already be a state of disquietude. In order to be able to desire, to be called to die
ethical plane, one must already be in a place where one is willing to quest and in the
questing question the foundations.
The Problem of Being
Unfortunately it seems that this initial presupposition is a disturbing and
disquieting problem for Levinas. Le tout autre is, according to Levinas, expressed in the
proximity and encounter of the face of the other. A face which though it is still a
thing among things, breaks through the form. And the entirety of the relationship,
responsibility and even the ethical plane hang on this encounter. If the face of the
human other is just the face of the human other, the responsibility which is the true
heart of Levinas ethical plane is never called for. For justice to be served, fat the
40


ethical plane to be reached, the face of the other must disquiet and disturb the self
the face must be the face of le tout autre yet for this to be the case, the self must
already be discontent
Within the course of a self acting within being, within phenomenological
experience, the identity is shaped by the push and pull of the others who surround it
Though not always, it is often the case that this push and pull is seen as a threat to the
identity, something which must be guarded against Consequently, the approach and
proximity of the naked and destitute face is less likely to be met with pity,
compassion, pardon and proximity. For this to be the response of the self to the
other which is the ethical response which Levinas advocates one must already be
in the process of being divesting itself, emptying itself of its being, turning itself
inside out, and if it can be put thus the fact of otherwise than being. (Levinas, 1981, p.
117) In order to encounter the face as le tout autre one must already be in a state that is
otherwise than being, yet, according to Levinas himself, one can only get to this
state by the disturbance of ones foundations by the face as le tout autre. Paradoxically,
for The dis-quieting of the Same to occur, the same must already be dis-quieted and
discontent. In the end, within B/being the I is unable to encounter the other as tout
autre as God because the I is unable to move past the Being of beings.
The essential point once thematized, an other {autrui\ is without
uniqueness. He is returned to the social community, to the
community of dressed beings wherein the priorities of rank impede
justice. The faculties of intuition, in which the entire body
41


participates, are precisely what blocks the view, screens off the
plasticity of the perceived, and absorbs the alterity of the other.
(Levinas, Of God Who Comes to Mind, 1998, p. 11)
Without the I already emptying itself of its being The Being in which the being of
the I is situated is impassable. The entire body participates in reducing the alterity
of the other to the same of a dressed being. The knowledge of the other which is
offered by the familiarity of being, in the end, reduces the other to a category of the
same. The responsibility towards the other can never be achieved because the
necessary desire towards something truly beyond the meta-narrative of materiality is
blocked by the fact that the only encounter is with the human other an other which
is eventually reduced to the same. If the identity is not operating otherwise than
being then the face of the human other is the human face of another, another one
like me. This thematized and dressed face, though it may be that of a stranger, is still
recognizable, it is still catagorizable, its alterity is absorbed by being. Thus the
openness of the wounded self to the other never occurs.
Though Levinas argues that the face does break through that which already
delimits it, it is difficult to see how the proximity of the face can transcend being when
the identity must already be disturbed in order to see that which is supposed to do the
disturbing. As Levinas states, one cannot break through the trap of being without the
Being of being being smashed; The I is in itself, and in itself it is here and here it is in
the world. It must be tom out of this rootedness. (Levinas, Of God Who Comes to Mind, 1998, p. 26)
42


However, the only way for it to be tom out is by an encounter with an other, and all
others are reduced to the same within Being. If it is not already otherwise than being
the I encounters only others who are similar or familiar to it in many ways. It never
truly encounters something which is not a dressed being and thus never truly
encounters something which can tear it out of its rootedness within Being.
Consequently the I, the identity of the social agent is never able to step out of its own
socio-cultural systems and gaze at the world through the eyes of the other, substitute
itself for the other which is the way to justice, to the ethical plane, to love: Dialogue
is the non-indifference of the,you to the /, a dis-inter-ested sentiment certainly capable
of degenerating into hatred, but a chance for what we must perhaps with prudence
call love and resemblance in love. (Levinas, Of God Who Comes to Mind, 1998, p. 147)
Unfortunately, the I is in itself, trapped within a self-referential loop. In the
encounter with the human other, there is nothing so other as to shake and shock the
I out of its meta-narrative of being; without already turning itself inside out there is
nothing which moves and impassions the I to a desire for and fear of le tout autre.
Too Little, Too Much: Derrida, Levinas
and the Trap of Humanity
The consequences of this self-referential trap for both Levinas and Derrida could
be enormous. First and foremost, by insisting on a human other as the first/only
43


encounter, they are effectively cutting God out of the equation. Though Derrida may
not be specifically addressing a discourse of God, Levinas is. However, if there is at
first only the the encounter or approach of a human with/in phenomenology, no
matter how much it may gesture towards a possible [meaning] beyond that
phenomenology, it seems that there is no encounter beyond that, an encounter with
some thing which is wholly other: God. According to both philosophers, it is only le
tout autre which can so radically disturb the boundaries of the identity, of the I, that it is
broken out of the meta-narrative of the same, yet, in both cases, as I have argued, the
experience of the human other which is supposed to be the experience of le tout autre
- actually blocks an experience of le tout autre. There is simply too litde difference
between the human I and the human other to allow for the human other to be le tout
autre-, there is an inevitable collapse into the same.
Second, even if the above were not the case, and the experience of the human
other was an experience of le tout autre, both arguments have another crucial flaw
which resonates too much with modernity: namely they have too much hope in
humanity. Not necessarily, as with modernity, in humanitys rational ability to
progress, but rather in humanitys natural conduct towards one another. In the natural
conduct of the I to the other. For Derrida and Levinas, there seems to be an
expectation that justice or ethics would be the initial response, the fall back position, if
it werent for cultural meta-narratives which promote aggresive opposition. If one is
44


tom out of this rootedness, then it seems that both philosophers believe that pity,
compassion, pardon are the immediate choice. However, as Levinas states, even
when disturbed by the other the self remains separated and capable of shutting itself
up against the very appeal that has aroused it, but also capable of welcoming this face.
. . (Levinas, 1969, p. 216) Levinas may argue here that the self is capable of welcoming
the face, but what is important is the fact that the I also remains separated and able to
resist the appeal of the other. This, it seems would be the true fall back position of a
humanity whose history is shot through with violence and vengeance.
While mankind has made continual advances in its control over nature and may
expect to make greater ones, it is not possible to establish with certainty that a similar
advance has been made in the management of human affairs. (Freud, 1961, p. 7) Freud
makes this euphemistic declaration not only at the height of modernity, but also at a
time when war had ravaged Europe, and would soon do so again. Thus it was not
without reason that he would argue that One has, I think, to reckon with the fact that
there are present in all men destructive, and therefore anti-social and anti-cultural,
trends. (Freud, 1961, p. 8) It was necessary for mundane force to come, in the form of
civilization, in order for these anti-social instincts to be suppressed and for humanity
to live in relative peace together. In other words, each individual, inherently is looking
out for oneself, is seeking to protect ones own identity, and to preserve ones life in
general
45


The I is in itself, and in itself it seeks its own power. We colonize the life-space
of others and drive them out; we penetrate in order to exclude, and we exclude in
order to control if possible everything, alone. (Volf, 19%, p. 79) Whether this we is a
personal identity, a family or tribal identity, or even a socio-cultural identity, history
has shown that humanity does not, naturally, come to an encounter with the other
with charity in its heart, rather it is certainly capable of degenerating into hatred.
The general and immediate response of an I encountering an other is one that is, at the
very least, defensive if not offensive in nature. With reference only to phenomenology
then, a philosophy which attempts to argue for a proximity or an approach of the
other which is welcoming and charitable let alone an encounter which is accepting
and inclusive is not likely. This is critically important to both Levinas and Derridas
philosophy. Whereas Derrida argues that there is a continual call of men! vien! by the I
to the other, Levinas argues that the encounter of the human other holds a desire for
and responsibility towards the other because the same acts as if the human other were
God, le tout autre. In this, both philosophers seem to have set the bar too high for
humanity in its material meta-narrative.
46


The Deliverance of Being/beings:
Marion, Love and the Saturation of Meaning
God Beyond Being
These flaws however, do not necessarily extend to all of postmodern thinking.
Jean-Luc Marion, in fact argues for a new way altogether of viewing God as truly tout
autre which offers the possibility of overcoming these consequences. Marion offers a
tout autre which is not limited, is not merely a physical, human other, nor a God which
has too litde presence too litde meaning to be comprehensible. Marions most critical
argument is that God is not with/in Being, nor is God a being. Rather, God in fact,
precedes Being/beings, and more importantly, by this is the giver of the gift of
Being/beings.
An important difference to note between Marion and the previous two
philosophers is that Marions is a theo-philosophy which is a strictly Christian theo-
philosophy. His conception, if it can be called a conception, of God is based fully on
a Christie conception and not on the philosophers God of modernity. This means
that his project to free God from his quotation marks would require nothing less
than to free him from metaphysics, hence from the Being of beings. (Marion, 1995, p. 60)
For Marion a Christie conception of God requires that God be free of metaphysics,
and beyond the meta-narrative of materiality.
Marions jumping off point for this argument is a quotation of Heidegger:
47


Being and God are not identical and I would never attempt to
think the essence of God by means of Being ... I believe that
Being can never be thought as the ground and essence of God, but
that nevertheless the experience of God and of his manifestedness,
to the extent that the latter can indeed meet man, flashes in the
dimension of Being. (Marion, 1995, p. 61)
From here, Marion goes on to outline three key points in Heideggers thought (a) the
nonidentity of God with Being; (b) the nonpertinence of the word Being in theology;
(c) the pertinence of the dimension of Being for experience God. (Marion, 1995, p. 62) In
other words, a de-limited God is not a God which is with/in the phenomenological
realm of Being, yet, for beings to experience God, the experience must come with/in
that self-same realm. Thus Marion is speaking of a God who is beyond Being, yet can
be experienced by beings within the realm of Being.
This can occur because God, according to Marion comprehends our Being of
beings, in the sense that the exterior exceeds the interior, and also that the
understanding is not confused with the understood. (Marion, 1995, p. 101) God is exterior
to, beyond Being, and in fact gives Being to beings. God understands beings because
God exceeds Being/beings.
Because he precedes not only these beings, but also the gift that he
delivers to them to be. In this way the precedence of Being over
beings itself refers to the precedence of the gift over Being, hence
finally of the one who delivers the gift over Being. (Marion, 1995, p. 101)
This then, is truly le tout autre, the complete and wholly other, so other in fact, that it
does not have, but rather gives Being. An other, inconceivable, not for lack of
48


meaning but for the sheer overwhelming saturation of meaning. This is a tout autre
which is beyond the phenomenological realm, yet can be encountered within that
realm because it exceeds and gives that realm.
The Gifting of the Self
What then is God, if not Being or being? Marions answer is simple: Charity.
Agape: A love that goes beyond even selflessness to complete self-giving: that which
gives and expresses itself as gift, charity itself. Charity delivers Being/being. (Marion, 1995,
p. 102) If it is charity which delivers Being/being to beings, then it is Charity itself,
selfless giving, which is le tout autre. Since the heart of this wholly other is the giving
of the phenomenological realm then that gift and the giver can be encountered within
that realm. According to Marion, Love does not suffer from the unthinkable or from
the absence of conditions but is reinforced by them. (Marion, 1995, p. 47) In other words,
love is just that which is inconceivable and unconditioned, wholly de-limited. Only
agape can put every thing on earth, in heaven and in hell, in giving, because only agape
alone, by definition, is not known, is not but gives (itself). (Marion, 1995, p. 106) This love
gives not only by giving Being to beings, but also by crossing from beyond Being, into
Being, and out again.
49


The Crossing of Being
It is this crossing which is the truest form of this self-giving love, as well as what
allows for beings to encounter it within Being. Namely, this crossing is the
incarnation of God who is crossed by a cross because he reveals himself by his
placement on a cross, the God revealed by in, and as the Christ. (Marion, 1995, p. 71) The
ultimate gift given by Charity given by that which is self-giving is the giving of
itself into Being, as a being, for beings, and then withdrawing from Being.
The incarnation of God as Christ then allows for the encounter of God by beings
within the material realm. As Heidegger argues nevertheless the experience of God
and of his manifestedness, to the extent that the latter can indeed meet man, flashes in
the dimension of Being. A being, situated within Being is only able to encounter that
which is also within Being. If Christ had not crossed from beyond Being into Being,
in the form of a human, then no encounter with God would be possible. Thus it is
that, through the crossing of Christ, le tout autre is truly encountered within the form of
the incarnate Christ The unthinkable enters into the field of our thought only by
rendering itself unthinkable there by excess. (Marion, 1995, P. 46) Christ as God the truly
tout autre entered into the realm of Being, and as a being was filled excessively, to
overflowing, by the beyond Being of God, of Love, of Charity. As an incarnate
human, Christ as God within being, as Love gives itself only in abandoning itself,
transgressing the limits of its own gift so as to be transplanted outside itself, (Marion,
50


1995, p. 48) always and already overflowing the limits of Being, even within being.
Consequently, the human other of Christ is at the same time le tout autre, the (w)holy
other of God. An other encountered in the approach of a human form, but which
form is overflowed by the otherness of God, the love that is God.
For Marion, arguing from a statement from the Gospel of John, God can only be
Love, because love is not comprehended, it is not thought, it is not said, rather it is
action. Just as Derrida and Levinas claim that le tout autre is the only thing which can
shake and shock the same into new actions and interactions, Marion claims that, in the
end, le tout autre is itself action. Thus
Agape surpasses all knowledge with a hyperbole that defines it and
indissolubly, prohibits access to it. The crossing of Being is played
in our hoti2on, first because Being alone opens up the space where
beings can appear and then because agape does not belong to us in
itself. (Marion, 1995, p. 108)
The wholly other surpasses human knowledge through action; it brings a new type of
knowledge and a new governance of life through action. The question then remains,
how is this crossing of Being by Agape, by God, played out in the incarnation of
Christ? How does the now possible encounter of God, le tout autre, within Being,
affect the human self? How does, in the end, the crossing of Love into Being, into
beings, effect the response of the I to the other?
51


Christ and the Absorption of Evil
In the normal course of the world, iniquity, according to Marion
spreads forth a rigorous injustice, ordered and irremediably logical.
Evil would not destroy us so thoroughly if it did not destroy us
with such logic. . Before all else, evil hurts. Whether suffering
affects me physically or morally, it imposes itself with pain, as a
pain.. . This pain, as I undergo it, necessitates my reacting to it in
order to free myself from it. (Marion, 2002, p. 1)
It is this reaction, this attempt to suppress the suffering which leads to the
continuation of Evil. For what the human self does, in reaction is attempt to take
revenge and attack the attacker, even before the attacker is known. Before the cause
of the hurt is exposed, the human reaction is to attack.
[I]t is in wanting to deliver myself from evil that I perpetuate it and
universalize it The logic of evil triumphs again, and always in the
same manner: accuse them all for evil will always find its own,
since everyone in fact makes use of evils unique logic. Revenge: a
so-called innocent becomes, justly, an unjust culprit by transferring
his suffering onto a presumed innocent, who, at once, in wanting
to revenge himself becomes a culprit in turn. (Marion, 2002, p. 7)
Evil is perpetuated by the constant call for revenge against a hurt In other words, as
my identity is attacked, intruded upon, my natural instinct is to fight back against the
other. For Marion, without Christ, this can only lead to a vicious circle, a downward
spiral of revenge, hatred and eviL As soon as I suppress the hurt that I have received
by transferring it to an other, I realize that the relation with the other has not been
made whole, but rather that I have destroyed any chance of relation with that other.
52


The natural inclination of the I is to protect and defend ones own identity, ones own
space. Thus it is this natural inclination which leads to the destruction of relation, not
the creation of it as Derrida and Levinas hope.
However, in an interesting turn, Marion argues that Gods ultimate service, his4
ultimate self-giving was to give himself as a universal and absolute neighbor
universally and silently guilty, without defense or rejoinder, evil without counter-evil.
(Marion, 2002, p. io) This is necessary because the only possible way to halt the downward
spiral of evil is for one to not attempt to rid ones self of that evil, not to attempt to
suppress it by placing it on an other. For Marion, this is an impossibility for a human
other who has not encountered k tout autre that is the crossed Christ. The Christ of
Marions Christianity does just this: he endures the evil, absorbs it, admits an entire
loss, and in the end dies for it. This is the ultimate of Love, the utter self-sacrifice of
Charity, and it is this example, this possibility, which Christ as God crossed in/to
Being gives to humanity. Christ as Charity crossed into the phenomenological realm
takes on all the guilt which humanity is attempting to pass on. He takes it and absorbs
it Christ does not attempt to defend himself, he does not attempt to pass on the evil
put upon him, but rather as he dies for it he calls out for forgiveness, for charity to be
given to those who passed their evil onto him.
4 Though I have used gender neutral terminology when referring to God in general, in instances
where there is direct reference to Christ, I will use masculine terminology.
53


Identifying with Love
Yet as Marion states, to make God known to reason, if the will does not want
to acknowledge him, serves no purpose .... [one] must admit that the love of God,
God as love, is to be loved voluntarily or refused. (Marion, 2002, p. 60) The key:
knowledge, reason, human intellect, whatever one wishes to call it, does not in the end
make a whit of difference, for the true encounter of God is an encounter with love
and by love. And love is the unthinkable, the unknowable, it is action. Specifically,
the action of self-giving.
God is approached only by he who jettisons all that does not befit
love; God, who gives himself as Love only through love, can be
reached only so long as one receives him by love and to receive
him by love becomes possible only for he who gives himself to
him. Surrendering oneself to love, not surrendering oneself to
evidence. (Marion, 2002, p. 60)
This surrender of the self over to God is the ultimate imitation of God; the imitation
of the ultimate name and aspect of God: love. The imitation of the self-giving of
Christ himself.
In this imitation is found the responsibility to the other, which Derrida and
Levinas were not quite able to hope for. For when one loves to the point of self-
giving, of giving the self to the other, then one is no longer concerned for the welfare
and power of ones own identity. Ultimately, when one gives oneself over to God in
love, ones identity is de-centered because now, no longer is the self turned inwards.
Rather the rights of the I collapse beneath the infinite obligations that come down to
54


mf (Marion, 2002, p. 86) from the other, from le tout autre. Thus, ones identity is no longer
only the identity of the self, but the seifs identity is also found within the other, found
within the wholly other. Yet, this can only be accomplished because of the example
the encounter with the wholly other as Love that is given through the crossing of
Being/beings by Christ
Specifically, the identity of the human self, when God is encountered and
surrendered to, is formed by the identity of God. It is this reformation of the identity
which is what allows for the human I to encounter the human other with the same
love which Christ gives. From now on, they themselves bless, as Christ blessed; they
succeed in doing so only insofar as, hereafter, Christ blesses the Father in them. Like
the body of Christ, his gesture becomes interior to them constitutes them and
creates them anew (Marion, 2002, p. 136) Thus, to follow the instructions of Christ, to take
up the mission which he asked his disciples to take up, means to imitate the gesture
he as a being overflowing Being with love, continually and perfecdy accomplished
within Being. With their faces modeled on the face of the invisible glory (invisible to
the world) they come to the very performance of charity. (Marion, 2002, p. 136) By
following the example of the self-giving Christ, and giving the self over to the wholly
other, the same is shaken out of its meta-narrative of materiality and is driven into a
new mode of action and interaction.
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The New Light of hove
By conceiving of God as Gods highest name Agape Marion is able to
conceive of a God that not only is not a being, but is not Being. In fact, through this
conception, Marion is able to argue for a God that is wholly tout autre, de-limited and
preceding Being. A tout autre which actually gives Being to being because of and
through Love. But Marion must take it one step further, for by his own admission,
the experience of God can only occur within the realm of Being. Thus, Love crosses
into Being, as a being; revealing himself in the form of a man overflowing with the
beyond of Love. This revelation is taken to the ultimate gesture of self-giving love
with the crossing of Christ
The death of Christ according to Marion, was the giving of God himself, to
the world in order to break the downward spiral of suffering. Through allowing
himself to be charged as guilty, God, as Christ, absorbs the suffering in which
humanity is caught God, as a being within Being can be experienced and
encountered, and he is encountered as le tout autre overflowing with the meaning of
Love. Thus, God as love, as the unthinkable, unknowable, is outside of reason;
human intelligence has no place in the knowledge of God, because that knowledge is
wholly other than human intelligence. It is a knowledge of utter and complete love for
the other, for the enemy, revealed through the self-giving of Christ. This knowledge
of the world is a new light shining in the darkness. It is a light revealed when the
56


human other encounters Christ and repeats Christs own gesture of love, by a giving
over of the self to le tout autre.
By this surrender, the human identity is de-centered and is made anew in the
identity of God. Thus, the newly formed human I looks out upon the material realm
of Being/beings through the gaze of God. Derrida and Levinas are unable to think or
speak of a God who is truly tout autre, and thus who truly uproots the I from itself, nor
are they able to have hope in humanitys ability to overcome this rootedness on its
own. Through the intervention and incarnation of a tout autre, which overflows itself
with meaning and love, Marion is able to come to the door which was opened by
Levinas and Derrida and see the hope for justice, for peace, for the end of suffering.
He sees this hope in the outstretched arms of the Messiah, the Christ on the cross,
giving himself in a call to the I to surrender in love, and to love.
This hope, however, must within the realm of Being be limited. It is only
beyond Being that absolute love can reside holly, thus only in a being who does not
exist fully within Being, but rather crosses Being. It is only God, as tout autre, who can
fully express this love, who is this love. Thus, within Being, the hope for final justice,
for a final peace, the hope for the true end of suffering, is hopeless. However, for
the Christian faith to give up the hope for the final reconciliation .... would be to give
up itself. (Volf, 1996, p. no) Consequently, for this hope to be held onto, the new gaze
upon Being, acquired by an identity found in God must be continually renewed from
57


beyond Being. For this knowledge gained through the new light of Gods love is not a
knowledge which can ever be fully grasped, ever fully understood, or ever fully
reali2ed within Being/beings.
The Embrace: Volf and the Act of Love
The Response of the I to the Other
Instead of the downward spiral of evil and suffering, there must rather be an
upward continuum of embrace of le tout autre. This embrace of the other is a
metonym which Miroslav Volf uses in his writings to describe what should be the
response of the I to the other within a Christian dialectic of God. It is the metonym
which Volf uses to answer the question posed with the proximity of the other how
should they think of their identity? How should they relate to the other? How should
they go about making peace with the other? (Volf, 1996, p. 21) In the end these questions
are the key to any new knowledge which is not based in human understanding. For it
is these questions which can define a new mode of operation, a new governance of
action and interaction between the same and the other. These questions can define
the core values which determine the actions of the I towards the other.
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Answers in the Nature of God
The answer to these questions, according to Volf, is found in the nature of
God. Though Volf does not involve himself direcdy in any of the ongoing debates
regarding varied conceptions of the Trinitarian view of God, he does situate himself
firmly as a believer in the Trinity and its critical importance to the overall nature of
God. Specifically, he argues for the idea of divine perichoresis where each Trinitarian
identity is unable to be defined in separation from the other identities a community
of being, co-indwelling and co-inhering.5 It is this critical point of the nature of God
which allows for Volf to answer the above questions. This nature, shown by Christ in
the crossing of Being/beings is the example which the I is called to emulate.
The identities of the Trinity are nothing like the human identities, situated
within Being, that I have been discussing to this point; where the identity is enclosed,
and guarded by towering walls which exclude the other. Rather, these are non-self-
enclosed identities. Identities which are not transparent to one another, merely
bleeding into sameness, but rather are opened up/onto each other.
The Johannine Jesus says: The Father is in me and I am in the
Father.(John 10:38) The one divine person is not that person
only, but includes the other divine persons in itself; it is what it is
only through the indwelling of the others. The Son is the Son
because the Father and the Spirit indwell him. Without this
interiority of the Father and the Spirit, there would be no Son.
5 For farther discussion on the concept of perichoresis see Jurgen Moltmanns The Trinity and the
Kingdom: the Doctrine of God. (Moltmann, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1981)
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Every divine person is the other persons, but he is the other
persons in his own particular way. (Volf, 19%, p. 128)
With his own attributes, his own personality Christ reveals the Father and the Spirit
indwelt within him. Just as the Spirit with his own attributes and personality reveals
the Son and the Father. This non-exclusion, this non-self-enclosure of the identities
of the trinity is nothing other than nothing less than love. The same love which
Marion says is God, is le tout autre. This is the self-same example given by the crossing
of Christ.
Volf, however, expands on this conception of love through this perichoretical
view of the Trinity. Namely: love does not merely consist in the self-giving which
Marion describes, but rather it also includes, just as crucially, the flip side of this self-
giving other-receiving. Love cannot be fully complete, fully whole, without both of
these expressions. If there is merely the expression of self-giving as described by
Marion, then it would seem to be the case that this becomes a form of identity suicide,
a complete self-emptying. If, on the other hand, there is merely other-receiving, then
the case would seem to turn into a form of colonization of the other. However, if
there is a giving of the self and a receiving of the other, from both players in the
encounter, then there can be the reciprocal relationship Volf refers to. This mutual
self-giving and other-receiving, this reciprocal inferiority a according to Volf -
defines the love which is God in the Trinity.
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The Act and Acts of The Embrace
With these two characteristics of Trinitarian love as his foundation, Volf then
details the structure of an embrace as a metonym for the relation of the Christian I to
the other. Volf argues that he is not interested in the physical act of the embrace; so
much as he is in the dynamics signified therein. However, first and foremost, the
embrace as an imitation of Love which is action is an act: both a drama that is
played out in the realm of signification, and a physical act of one sort or another. This
is a key point when compared with Marions vision of Agape as more then thought,
more than feeling, as truly and ultimately an action
The four structural elements in the movement of embrace are
opening the arms, waiting, closing the arms, and opening them
again. For embrace to happen, all four must be there and they
must follow one another on an unbroken timeline-, stopping with the
first two (opening the arms and waiting) would abort the embrace,
and stopping with the third (closing the arms) would pervert it
from an act of love to an act of oppression and, paradoxically,
exclusion. The four elements are then the four essential steps of
an integrated movement, [emphasis mine] (Volf, 1996, p. 141)
The action of embracing an other is a movement then an action which, though it
has four elements, flows naturally, with only a brief and inherent pause from one
movement to the next; a drama in four acts. The drama which is played out in
signification by these movements is the drama of Love which is played out within le
tout autre of the Trinitarian God; and consequently, is the drama which is given to be
surrendered to and emulated by the human I.
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First, there is the opening of the arms by the I to the other. This act is a
signification of desire for the other. A message that the proximity of the other has
caused an actual desire for the encounter to rise up within the self. This act signifies
to the other that I am dis-satisfied with my position behind the walls of my casde, that
I am dis-satisfied with my condition of self-imposed, self-enclosure. I do not want to
be myself only; I want the other to be part of who I am and I want to be part of the
other. (Volf, 1996, p. 141) In opening the arms to the other, the self sets forth on a
journey outside of itself, opening the doors of the citadel of its identity to allow room
for the other to come in, and journeying forth from those doors to enter into the
encampment of the other. With the open arms the desire for the other can be
fulfilled and the space for the other created by self-emptying occupied [because] the
boundaries are passable. (Volf, 1996, p. 141) By opening his arms the self gestures towards
the other in invitation, saying Here, I am coming! Vienl Vien! In accordance with
Levinas and Derrida, this desire, this dissatisfaction can only come from the shock of
the encounter of the wholly other, the encounter with God through Christ Thus,
within the framework that I have set forth to this point, the embrace must first be an
action towards le tout autre of Christ
The second movement is the waiting. The self cannot charge suddenly from
the doors of its own boundaries into the territory of the other. This would be an
invasion, a colonization of the other. Rather, a movement towards the other has been
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initiated by the open arms, an invitation granted, a desire spoken, but this desire must
be held in check. Before it can proceed, it must wait for desire to arise in the other
and for the arms of the other to open. (Volf, 1996, p. 142) This waiting this one sided
action cannot coerce the other into desire, it cannot force the other into embrace.
But the waiting self can move the other to make the movement toward the self, but
its power to do so is the power of signaled desire, of created space, (Volf, 1996, p. 142) of
self-giving before any thought of reciprocity from the other. This is the action which
Christ performs on the cross. By taking on the evil of the world and absorbing it, he
opens his arms in forgiveness and invitation to relationship. The waiting is the call of
the self to the other, the free giving of the self which is a call for the other to open
their arms to embrace.
The goal of the embrace the embrace proper, which is unthinkable without
reciprocity is act three: the closing of the arms of the self around the other, and the
other around the self. This is the relationship proper, the indwelling of the other in
the self. However,
in an embrace a host is a guest and a guest is a host Though one
self may receive or give more than the other, each must enter the
space of the other, feel the presence of the other in the self, and
make its own presence felt. Without such reciprocity, there is no
embrace. (Volf, 1996, p. 142)
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In other words, the closing of the arms is still a continuation of the invitation. In the
first embrace, Christ makes room for the other, for the enemy within himself, and in
return gives himself into the space opened up by the other in reciprocity.
This, then is the reason for the pause, the gap in the action that is the waiting.
If the self were not to wait, and were to wrap the other tighdy in ones arms, there
would be no respect for the other; it would be an act of invasion, penetration and
colonization, not an act of love. It would be the expression of other-receiving,
without the expression of self-giving. However, since both parties have opened their
arms, both parties have signified the giving of themselves to the other, and with the
enclosure of their arms around each other have signified the reception of the other
within them
a free and mutual giving and receiving [occurs and] ... In an
embrace the identity of the self is both preserved and transformed,
and the alterity of the other is both affirmed as alterity and partly
received in to the ever changing identity of the self. (Volf, 1996, p. 143)
Crucially, within the height of the embrace, within the enclosure of the arms where
the self is given and the other received there are possibilities of new and better
understanding; the self sees both itself and the other in a new light (Voi£ 1996, p. 144) A
new light, provided by the action of embrace which is love that encompasses some
of the perspective, the alterity of the other. This is the development of new skills, a
new form of knowledge which then develops new values which govern the actions of
the self.
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Finally(?) act four: the opening of the arms of both the self and the other.
Embrace cannot end with the self and the other in bondage to each other. The I
cannot become wholly you, nor the you wholly I, nor can the self merge into an
undifferentiated we. The self, must in love, release the other from the embrace, just as
the other, in love releases the self. If this were not to occur the embrace would not be
characteristic of love and respect for the other, rather it would be characteristic not
only of totalitarian regimes but of many cultural movements and family relations. (Volf,
1996, p. 144) With the opening of the arms, the doors of the citadels of both the self and
the other have been opened, the self has gone into the other, and the other into the
self, but this does not mean that the walls of the citadels have been breached or tom
down. The boundaries of the identity remain, but a gap has opened for the free
exchange. Thus, the arms must be opened again.
The other must be let go so that her alterity her genuine dynamic
identity may be preserve; and the self must take itself back into
itself so that its own identity, enriched by the traces that the
presence of the other has left, may be preserved. (Volf, 1996, pp. 144-5)
As the arms are re-opened the boundaries of the identities are allowed to remain.
The Continuum of Action
However, this does not lead back to self-enclosure and exclusion. Rather, as I
emphasized in the first passage on the embrace, the embrace happens on an
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unbroken timeline ... [and is] an integrated movement. Thus, the re-opened arms of
the fourth act are not a finale. They are not an exaggeration of the final bow. Instead
they are the beginnings of a new embrace. They are a re-invitation to embrace. The
fourth act then is also the first act. A renewing of the calk Here, I am coming! Vien!
Vien! The end of an embrace is, in a sense, already a beginning of an embrace, even
if that other embrace will take place only after both selves have gone about their own
business for a while. (Volf, 1996, p. 145) Love is action, according to Marion, and
consequently, the fourth act cannot be the end, there must be a continuation of the
action. Thus the fourth act leads only towards a re-encounter of the other, a re-
invitation to relationship.
The embrace then, is a continuum, inscribed by the self-giving and other-
receiving love. The self cannot be given without the desire to receive the other, nor
can the desire to receive the other appear without the self being given. Each of the
four movements of the embrace signify this love, this desire for the other in the self,
and the self in the other. This is nothing other than nothing less than
This same giving of the self and receiving of the other [that] are the
two essential moments in the internal life of the Trinity; indeed,
with the triune God of perfect love they are identical.... the life
of God is a life of self-giving and other-receiving love. (Volf, 1996, p.
127)
And yet, Volf would be no further along than Derrida and Levinas without the
incarnation of Christ, which he argues for. It would be only yet another great idea
66


with much hope, but little chance of success. For it is only with the crossing of Christ
into Being/being, into the realm of the phenomenological that the encounter of the
Christ as tout autre can occur. And it is only with this encounter that the embrace
which allows for a new form of knowledge to develop takes place.
Embrace of Le Tout Autre
If the fate of the Crucified and his demand to walk in his footsteps disturb us,
then we will also be disturbed by the God of the Crucified. For the very nature of the
triune God is reflected on the cross of Christ. (Volf, 1996, p. 126) In other words, Christ,
crossed on the cross, while crossing Being as a being exemplifies the nature of the
triune God, which is nothing less than other-receiving, self-giving love. A love
exemplified by the ultimate self-giving of life and which is his demand to walk in his
footsteps. To take up ones cross and follow him.
But this demand is made with open arms. In other words, this demand is the
call Here, I am coming! Vien! Vien! The goal of the cross is the dwelling of human
beings in the Spirit, In Christ, and In God. . the arms of the crucified are open -
a sign of space in Gods self and an invitation for the enemy to come in. (Volf, 1996, p. 126)
On the cross, the open arms of Christ, taking on the evil of the world and forgiving it,
absorbing it, is the actual phenomenological expression of le tout autre. It is here, in
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this space where humanity is invited to an encounter with that which is absolutely
heterogeneous to the meta-narrative of materiality.
Yet, Volf is also quick to recognize the self-enclosure of the human self, the
situated identity, within Being. Self-giving is not met with self-giving, but with
exploitation and brutality .... you give yourself for the other and violence does not
stop but destroys you; you sacrifice your life and stabilize the power of the
perpetrator. (Volf, 1996, p. 26) Thus, the open arms of the embrace are met with violence.
As the door to the citadel is opened, the identity is raided, penetrated, destroyed.
Thus it is that he can argue that
we exclude not simply because we like the way things are (stable
identities outside), or because we hate the way we are (shadows of
our own identities), but because we desire what others have. More
often than not, we exclude because in a world of scarce resources
and contested power we want to secure possessions and wrest the
power from others. (Volf, 1996, p. 78)
If I am hurt, met with brutality and violence when I attempt to give, then, for the sake
of the protection of my identity, my best option is to have more power, more
possessions than the other. In other words, within the normal scheme of life within
Being, the perfect love of the embrace is rarely if ever achieved. If it comes close, it
most often resembles the oppressive appropriation of family dynamics. Humanity, in
other words, cannot and does not practice the embrace. When wholly situated within
the meta-narrative of materiality the embrace is an impossibility.
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For Volf, the practice of embrace/. ... is for Christians possible only if, in
the name of Gods crucified Messiah, we distance ourselves from ourselves and our
cultures in order to create a space for the other. (Volf, 19%, p. 30) Unfortunately, this
distancing, this opening of the arms, opening of the door of the citadel of the identity,
must have reciprocity for the embrace to be fully achieved. And the conditions for
this reciprocity are lacking within the boundaries of the material realm of Being. It is
only in the name of Gods crucified Messiah that distance from the self, the
condition for reciprocity, can be achieved. Consequendy, Volf argues in a fully
postmodern turn that the perfection of embrace with its concomitant struggle
against deception, injustice and violence (Volf, 1996, p. 30) is unobtainable and un-
accomplishable, and in fact, undesirable.
The crucial question, therefore, is not how to accomplish the final
reconciliation. That messianic problem ought not to be taken out
of Gods hands. The only thing worse than the failure of some
modem grand narratives of emancipation would have been their
success .... But what resources do we need to live in peace in the absence of
the final reconciliation. (Volf, 1996, p. 109)
In other words, what will allow for an attempt at peace with the other a hope of
peace in the absence of the project of final reconciliation, while maintaining a hope
for the final reconciliation? What allows for Faith, Hope, and Love in God and
through God who is Love?
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CHAPTER 3
AN ATTEMPT AT PEACE: HUMANITY
THROUGH THE EYES OF GOD
Though Volf uses the metonym of embrace in order to reveal an important
new view of the life of the Christ follower, he does not take full advantage of either
postmodern philosophy or the metonym itself in order to answer this final question of
allowing for Faith Hope and Love. In order to do that, the relationship of the human
self to God, and thus to the human other, through God, must be further detailed.
This fuller elucidation of the intertwined relationships is crucial to answering some of
the theological criticisms against postmodern philosophy as well as bringing greater
emphasis and focus onto the importance of the concept of first encountering and
relating to le tout autre before attempting relation to the human other. Through many
of the concepts I have already discussed I intend to briefly detail these relationships
and how they inform one another, as well as attempt to show that much of
postmodern thought can be seen to be at the heart of theology and not the antithesis
thereof.
The Embrace Incarnate
To begin with, the metonym of the embrace as it applies to Christ himself
must be fleshed out in greater detail. This more complete view of the embrace as lived
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and revealed by Christ will involve not only Volfs conception of the life of the Trinity,
but will also pull in key elements of Marions view of God crossing Being in the form
of Christ. In the end, I will show that the life, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension
what I intend to call the incarnation of Christ, not only follows the structural
movements of the embrace, but also fulfills the qualities of an encounter with the
other as described by Derrida and Levinas.
The Crossing of being
Though there are many times throughout the Bible where God intervenes
with/in the material world, there is no time which comes close to the singularity of
God crossing into Being as an incarnate, human, being. This is truly the singularity of
the appearance of le tout autre of which Derrida speaks which shakes and troubles the
boundaries of the same. This is also total, radical action upon the part of God. It is
an action taken within the inscription of love. The crossing into Being, as a being, of
the Son of God is the first act of the embrace: God opening his6 arms, opening
himself, giving himself to humanity as a being to be encountered with/in Being. It is
the invitation, the invocation: Here, I am coming, Vienl Vien! It is nothing short of
God acting on the desire for the other of humanity to be a part of him. It is God,
beyond Being, inserting himself into Being, in order that beings could have the
6 As previously stated, I am using masculine terms in reference to God here because they are
specific references to Christ.
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possibility of an encounter with him. For as Heidegger states: the experience of God
and of his manifestedness, to the extent that the latter can indeed meet va&n, flashes in
the dimension of Being. In the opening of the arms the crossing of Being God not
only reveals himself as loving but reveals that love is first and foremost action. Action
taken, specifically, in order to (re)form relationship, to create the possibility for an
encounter of the other.
The Crossing of Christ
Christ, crucified on the cross, arms opened wide, waiting for death waiting
for the other is the second act of the embrace. The waiting. It is the full and
ultimate self-giving, calling for the other to respond. Christ, waiting, giving his life for
humanity, giving freely without expectation of reciprocity gives a gift to humanity: the
gift of the hope of relationship (re) formed, the gift of the possibility of love, of peace.
On the cross, Christ waits with arms wide open giving himself in and for the desire of
relation with the other. Giving his life, so that the gift of love may be presented to the
other. The cross is the giving up of Gods self in order not to give up on humanity; it
is the consequence of Gods desire to break the power of human enmity without
violence and receive human beings into divine communion. (Volf, 1996, p. 126)
Through the death of God, the enmity of humanity towards God is absorbed.
The suffering, which is the cost of the breached covenant, is absorbed by Christ by
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refusing to transmit it, enduring it to the point of running the risk, in blocking it, of
dying .... [he] endures evil without rendering it, suffers without claiming the right to
make others suffer, suffers as if he were guilty. (Marion, Prolegomena to charity, 2002, p. 9) In the
cross, there is the revelation not only of the second act of the embrace but the
revelation that love, that God, ultimately is self-sacrifidal and in that sacrifice,
ultimately giving, in that God gives the gift of a relationship (re) formed.
The Resurrection
The third act of the embrace which is seen in the incarnation is revealed in the
Resurrection of Christ. Gods arms were opened, an invitation to relation was offered,
the gift of a divine communion (re) formed is given in the self-giving gift of Christs
death; he stands as a being who has taken on the pain of the world and refused to pass
it on; he freely gives a gift of peace. And yet, if there were no resurrection this would
be no gift at all. For if the being of God, within Being were to remain dead within
Being, then the encounter with le tout autre of God would not occur. God, crossed into
Being would be dead within Being, and thus le tout autre would truly be, a secret that
there is no secret and thus we would never encounter it, we [would] never know it,
we [would] never verify it, we [would] never experience it in its present existence or its
phenomenon, (Caputo, 1997, p. 169) and thus no communion, no relation with le tout autre
could be had.
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However, through the resurrection, the gift of suffering absorbed is given, and
the encounter with le tout autre is retained. Jesus came and stood among them and
said, Teace be with you. Then he said to Thomas, Tut your finger here and see my
hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.
Thomas answered him, My Lord and my GocLgohn 20: 26-8) Thus k tout autre, can be
encountered and where the outstretched arms of the crossed God are accepted by the
individual, Gods arms close around the individual, and the individuals around him.
With this encircling of each other, the action of self-giving and other-receiving is
fulfilled.
Perfect, divine love is shared. With this encircling there is seen a multiplicity
of identity within the one. The human self is indwelt with the identity of God, just as
the identity of God is indwelt with the human self. The point of the crucifixion and
the resurrection was to absorb the evil of a humanity that had turned into an enemy of
God, to absorb the evil of a breached covenant. Once this was done, once Christ
finished the work God had given him to do, humanity could be one with God, just as
God was one within the Trinity: individuals indwelt within each other. As the
Johannine Christ prays: As you Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in
us.gohn 17; 2i) Consequendy, inscribed within the divine character of the Trinity, with
the resurrection, the radical multiplicity of love is re-affirmed within the third act of
the embrace.
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The Ascension
The fourth act of the embrace the re-opening of the arms is also inscribed
within the character of the Trinity. Namely, the ascension of Christ, the crossing of
the being of God beyond Being, and the sending of the Spirit, is the (re)opening of the
arms which releases the other and begins again the movement of embrace. As I have
discussed, within a conception of God as beyond Being, the essence if one can call
it that of God, necessarily resides beyond Being. If Christ, as God with/in Being,
were to remain with/in his being then the determinate content of that being would
restrict le tout autre to a determinate time and place. (Caputo, 1997, p. 118) Though, it could be
thought that a resurrected Messiah could have eternal life within Being, it would be
impossible for all beings to encounter this limited and determinate Messiah. The
embrace of God, wholly within Being, is an impossibility. One being cannot reside in
all beings, and vice versa, with/in the realm of Being. Thus, it was necessary that
Christ cross back beyond Being, to go to be with the Father. This was a release of the
first embrace by God. If Christ had remained physically among us, according to the
economy of presence, he would have fixed himself in a place and a time; he tiierefore
would have been inaccessible to men of all ages and all places. (Marion, Prolegomena to Charity,
2002, p. 146) Gods crossing into Being opened the door for being to first experience God
inscribed within the realm of Being, by crossing out of Being, and retaining his own
unique alterity, Christ left traces of himself on Being. However, within this ascension
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that was the end of the first embrace, was inscribed the beginning of the continuum of
embrace through the Trinitarian person of the Spirit For it is only some thing that
is beyond Being, without the singularity of being, that can indwell all who desire in all
ages and all places. The ascension is thus the revelation of God radically beyond
Being through the omega/alpha event of the embrace. The example of the embrace is
given in the incarnation of Christ within Being, and the possibility for the continuum
of embrace is given by the final act of Christ crossing back beyond Being, which
allows for the coming of the Holy Spirit Being therefore exalted at the right hand of
God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has
poured out this that you both see and hear.(Acts2:33)
The coming of the Holy Spirit then, is the renewal of the invitation to
embrace; it is the beginning of the (re)embrace, continuing the expectation, continuing
the call of Christ to Abide in me as I abide in you.(john 15:4) Here I am, coming. Vien!
Vienr This is the renewed call of God through the sending of the Holy Spirit It is
the renewed invitation to come back into embrace with God, a call for continual
indwelling of le tout autre of the Spirit within the I of human identity. Consequendy,
against the Derridian notion that le tout autre the gift of the presence of the other -
the messiah, never comes to presence, and there is only always and already the
expectation of the coming, there is in fact, rather, a continual expectation, a continual
call of vien! vien! Because, as the embrace is finalized with the release of the other
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through the open arms, it is renewed at the same moment. The ascension of Christ as
the final act of the embrace within Being was only the beginning of a call to
(re)embrace beyond being with the Spirit. The incarnation of Christ was an example
of the embrace which is inscribed in love. For I have set you an example, that you
also should do as I have done to you, (John 13:15) the final act of passing beyond Being
and sending the Spirit of God is the continual call and invitation for humanity to
emulate the example of Christ
This example, given through the crossing of Christ, is the embrace of
humanity by God and the reciprocal embrace of God by humanity. The result of this
revelation of le tout autre leading us back to some of the key concepts of
postmodemity is a change in identity, a radical change in loyalty. The encounter of k
tout autre shakes and shocks the self, impassioning it to a new action and interaction
which, in the end is a change in the meta-narrative which governs the actions of the
same.
At the very core of Christian identity lies an all-encompassing
change of loyalty, from a given culture with its gods to the God of
all cultures. A response to a call from God that entails
rearrangement of a whole network of allegiances. (Volf, 1996, p. 40)
The result of the embrace of./? tout autre is that the human identity is no longer wholly
situated within its own particularity. Thus, the change of identity which occurs within
the embracing human is enormous and crucial to the life of the Christ follower.
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Through the Eyes of Le Tout autrer. Postmodern Theology
a (Not So) New Dialectic
Within a postmodern conception, as I have illustrated, the identity of a self is
shaped by those others with whom one is in proximity to. Thus, the identity is shaped
by the press and pull of family, community, culture, country. Consequently, the self,
in order to retain its unique identity, is always pressing and pulling back against these
self same others. If one is in embrace with an other, however, this dynamic changes.
Once the embrace has occurred, and the arms are (re)opened, the self is left unique
and with her own alterity, but it is also left with traces of the other within itself. Yes,
there is a necessary pulling away, taking back of the self, but there is also a necessary
making of space for the other. The perspective of the other enters into the self, and
thus, the perspective of the self is not left unchanged when the other pulls away.
The traces of the other, left behind within the self in(trans)form the identity of
the self. A view from a new perspective, even a small, non-understood glimpse,
widens the perspective through which the self gazes upon the phenomenological
world. If, as Volf argues, the embrace is a continuum, where the last stage of the
embrace becomes the first stage of a new embrace, then with each new or renewed
embrace, more and more of the other begins to accrete within the self. Importantly,
this does not mean that the identity of the self is taken over fully by the other, rather
that the identity of the self is still its own identity, still situated and particular, but it is
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now in(trans) formed by the self of the other. There are now traces of the identity of
the other within the self, and as these traces accrete through (re)embrace, there is a
continual widening of perspective, a larger view, a new light in which to gaze.
Within the arena of the embrace of the triune God, this continual accretion of
the trace of the other within the self leads to a critical change within the self. The
allegiances of self rooted in ones culture begin to shift. The foundational
concepts which inform the actions and reaction of the self are in(trans) formed by the
trace of le tout autre, the trace of love. Specifically, the self, which was originally
focused on protecting or amassing power for myself, begins to now focus on those
traces of God within myself. Namely; the traces of perfect love the self-giving,
other-receiving love which have begun to give an new light through which she gazes
at the phenomenological world. The self, in fact, begins to gaze at the world through
the light of the eyes of le tout autre through the eyes of God, of divine love.
Finally, it is this gaze of God, through which the self begins to see, and which
grows wider and stronger with each re-embracing of le tout autre, which allows for the
true, selfless embrace of the human other. This other-receiving, self-giving embrace
which could lead to non-violence, to peace, to justice. For it is only now, with the
accretion of the trace of God, of love, that the human I sees from the point of view,
not of the world, but of the exteriority of the world between world and God. he
sees the world not, to be sure, as God sees it, but as seen by God as bathed in
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another light, transfixed by exteriority, suspended by another breath. (Marion, God
Without Being, 1995, p. 128) But even more importandy, I do not merely see the world from
the exteriority of a God beyond being, but also through the light of a God who has
crossed Being, and thus in the light of a God who sees not simply from outside but
also from within, not abstracting from peculiarities of individual histories but
concretely, not disinterestedly but seeking the good of all creatiotF (Volf, 1996, P. 25i emphasis added)
I see the human other as seen by God: bathed in the light of love.
The self, in(trans)formed by the traces of a God of perfect love, sees the world
in the new light of love, she sees the human other not as an enemy but as the beloved.
Through the embrace of le tout autre crossed in(to) Being a new view of the world
is received, and thus an allegiance to a new kind of knowledge and new kind of action
is formed. Against the modernist reduction of Gods importance to life, the
importance of God to my daily life is renewed.7
From the time of the Enlightenment up into the Modem period the
importance of God to the life of the subjective, situated identity was slowly eroded.
God became first a being within the realm of material phenomenology, then merely
an idea to be discussed, fixed and determined, and finally an idea which no longer held
any relevance even for philosophical discussion, let alone the actions of a situated self
7 The exploration of this import for the life of the Christian and exactly what actions and
interactions are required is a critical subject, however, it is beyond the scope of this paper; and
thus must be addressed at a later time.
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in proximity to an other. However, in reaction to the crises of the early twentieth
century, a new focus arose in the West. Western art, literature, and finally philosophy
began to focus on the experiences of the subjective being. On what it meant to live as
an existent within the phenomenological world of Being. The rule of [modernity was]
disturbed from within by the anomaly tout autre a singularity that precipitate[d] the
moment of crisis by resisting assimilation into the same [of rational knowledge] (Caputo,
1997, p. 47) The hope of the possibility of k tout autre began to shake the foundations of
modernitys emphasis on human intelligence.
This singularity of postmodern thought, shook and surprised modernity. It
opened a new space for a dialectic of God. A space where God is no longer limited by
B/being. A space where human subjectivity begins to bring in a new knowledge
formed by phenomenological encounters within the material world of Being.
Specifically the formation of the identity of the self began to be explored. This
exploration naturally led to an exploration of the other as well Which led naturally
to an exploration of the interaction of the self with the other, and most importandy
the role of k tout autre, the Messiah, God. This exploration of the unknowable,
unthinkable necessarily leaves a gap, a space, an opening in knowledge. This space is
a place of exploration, of expectation. It is a gap of un-knowing and un-thinking.
Though this is often felt as place of fear by Modem Western Christianity, it
should not be. In fact it is actually a place of hope. Even within the writings of
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Derrida one of the most pessimistic, and presumably atheistic of the postmodern
philosophers, there is a hint of hope. It may be a hope in a hope of nothing, but there
is still hope there. This hope is more prevalent within the writings of Levinas and
much more evident in the pointedly theological writings of Marion and Volf.
Specifically, this hope is a hope in peace, in non-violence, in justice between the
human self and the other whether that other be friend, neighbor or foe. It is a hope
in a Messiah. A Messiah depending on the writer who will never, may possibly, or
has already and is always coming. It is this coming, this hope in possibility, and the
continual call of vien! vienl by the postmodern culture which allows for a new
conception of the interaction of the self with the other. A new dialectic of the
incarnate, triune God in an embrace with humanity, with humanity embracing each
other through the eyes of the wholly other: Love. However, it is necessary to move
forward from this mere jumping off point into an in depth examination of exactly how
this embrace, and the consequent new gaze this continually renewed perspective --
upon the world is played out within the life of the situated, subjective existent
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