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A Philosophy of the Unsayable

Human Agency, Intellectual Traditions, and Responsible Knowledge

William Franke

Publication Year: 2014

In A Philosophy of the Unsayable, William Franke argues that the encounter with what exceeds speech has become the crucial philosophical issue of our time. He proposes an original philosophy pivoting on analysis of the limits of language. The book also offers readings of literary texts as poetically performing the philosophical principles it expounds. Franke engages with philosophical theologies and philosophies of religion in the debate over negative theology and shows how apophaticism infiltrates the thinking even of those who attempt to deny or delimit it. In six cohesive essays, Franke explores fundamental aspects of unsayability. In the first and third essays, his philosophical argument is carried through with acute attention to modes of unsayability that are revealed best by literary works, particularly by negativities of poetic language in the oeuvres of Paul Celan and Edmond Jabès. Franke engages in critical discussion of apophatic currents of philosophy both ancient and modern, focusing on Hegel and French post-Hegelianism in his second essay and on Neoplatonism in his fourth essay. He treats Neoplatonic apophatics especially as found in Damascius and as illuminated by postmodern thought, particularly Jean-Luc Nancy’s deconstruction of Christianity. In the last two essays, Franke treats the tension between two contemporary approaches to philosophy of religion—Radical Orthodoxy and radically secular or Death-of-God theologies. A Philosophy of the Unsayable will interest scholars and students of philosophy, literature, religion, and the humanities. This book develops Franke's explicit theory of unsayability, which is informed by his long-standing engagement with major representatives of apophatic thought in the Western tradition.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-10

The present volume sketches a distinctive philosophical outlook that emerges irrepressibly from the predicament of philosophy today. It interprets what are widespread intimations of thinking in the current milieu of critical reflection across disciplines in the arts and sciences and beyond...

Part I: Philosophy and Literature

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Chapter One: Invitatory

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pp. 13-22

Paul Valéry’s famous statement concerning the paramount, indeed the unique importance of the ineffable receives an unlikely and unwitting confirmation from the character of Bottom the Weaver in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream...

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Chapter Two: In the Hollow of Pan’s Pipe

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pp. 23-79

What we most strongly and deeply think and believe, what we passionately love or ardently desire, inevitably escapes adequate articulation. It is always more, if not completely other, than what we are able to say. This common human experience of butting up against the limits of language is...

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Chapter Three: The Writing of Silence in the Post-Holocaust Poetry of Edmond Jabès and Paul Celan

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pp. 80-136

Postmodern writers and artists of all sorts have developed radical new poetics based on the hidden resources of silence. Poets have focused on silences become audible in the tearing of language and the rending of sense. To a significant degree, this is a rediscovery of the oftentimes repressed resources...

Part II: Philosophy and Theology

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Chapter Four: Apophasis and the Predicament of Philosophy of Religion Today

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pp. 139-202

The situation of philosophy today makes it peculiarly receptive to a great variety of apophatic discourses, not only to those devolving from monotheistic traditions concerning the unnameable Name of God, especially in mystical currents, including the Kabbalah and Sufism, but also to those...

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Chapter Five: Radical Orthodoxy’s Critique of Transcendental Philosophy and Its Mistaken Mistrust of Negative Theology

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pp. 203-270

One of the fascinating but perhaps also puzzling aspects of the so-called Radical Orthodoxy movement is that it liberally appropriates poststructuralist theory into its own discourse, finding there the essential tools for relaunching theology in a new, postmodern and specifically postsecular...

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Chapter Six: Apophatic Thought as the Missing Mean between Radically Secular and Radically Orthodox Theology

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pp. 271-325

One of the important gains for the perspective of negative or apophatic theology that I have developed up to this point is its potential for enabling uncircumscribed dialogue among religious faiths and, perhaps even more importantly, between religious faith and secular culture. In order to demonstrate...

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pp. 326-329

Hent De Vries’s Minimal Theologies charts its course between two statements, taken as his book’s epigraphs, of an anti-credo—of the refusal to believe and profess. The first is from Theodor W. Adorno’s Negative Dialectics: One who believes in God therefore cannot believe in Him. The...


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pp. 330-367

Index, About the Author

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pp. 368-384

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780268079772
E-ISBN-10: 0268079773
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268028947
Print-ISBN-10: 026802894X

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2014