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Apophatic Bodies

Negative Theology, Incarnation, and Relationality

Catherine Keller

Publication Year: 2009

The ancient doctrine of negative theology or apophasis-the attempt to describe God by speaking only of what cannot be said about the divine perfection and goodness-has taken on new life in the concern with language and its limits that preoccupies much postmodern philosophy, theology, and related disciplines. How does this mystical tradition intersect with the concern with material bodies that is simultaneously a focus in these areas? This volume pursues the unlikely conjunction of apophasis and the body, not for the cachet of the cutting edgebut rather out of an ethical passion for the integrity of all creaturely bodies as they are caughtup in various ideological mechanisms-religious, theological, political, economic-that threaten their dignity and material well-being. The contributors, a diverse collection of scholars in theology, philosophy, history, and biblical studies, rethink the relationship between the concrete tradition of negative theology and apophatic discourses widely construed. They further endeavor to link these to the theological theme of incarnation and more general issues of embodiment, sexuality, and cosmology. Along the way, they engage and deploy the resources of contextual and liberation theology, post-structuralism, postcolonialism, process thought, and feminism.The result not only recasts the nature and possibilities of theological discourse but explores the possibilities of academic discussion across and beyond disciplines in concrete engagement with the well-being of bodies, both organic and inorganic. The volume interrogates the complex capacities of religious discourse both to threaten and positively to draw upon the material well-being of creation.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

In a project such as this, which is not simply a volume of essays from a diverse and diversely gifted collection of scholars—a collaborative enough effort in its own right!—but a collection emerging from a colloquium that gathered, housed, and fed a host of...

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pp. 1-21

Apophatic bodies. If the phrase stops the reader short, perplexes, provokes a pause, it will have begun to do its work. Indeed, the modifier ‘‘apophatic’’—that which ‘‘unsays’’ or ‘‘says away’’—presses toward the pause and the silence within...

Negative Theology: Unfolding Traditions

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pp. 23-75

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The Cloud of the Impossible: Embodiment and Apophasis

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pp. 25-44

‘‘Apophatic bodies.’’ for instance. The phrase verges on the oxymoronic, lacking the oppositional elegance of, say, ‘‘languages of unsaying’’ or ‘‘brilliant darkness.’’ Its multiplying bodies obstruct the path of a cleaner deconstruction, let alone...

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Subtle Embodiments: Imagining the Holy in Late Antiquity

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pp. 45-58

From the fourth century through the seventh, late ancient Christianity fostered the development of three remarkable movements—the cult of the saints, the cult of relics, and the production of iconic art—all of which were premised...

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‘‘Being Neither Oneself Nor Someone Else’’: The Apophatic Anthropology of Dionysius the Areopagite

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pp. 59-75

Recent interest in the negative, or apophatic, mystical tradition prompts us to consider that tradition’s foremost late antique spokesman, Dionysius the Areopagite, or, as he is often called, ‘‘Pseudo-Dionysius.’’1 This is not the first time...

Incarnations: Body/Image

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pp. 77-134

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Bodies without Wholes:Apophatic Excess and Fragmentation in Augustine’s City of God

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pp. 79-93

One can easily discover in Augustine ‘‘the elements of a negative theology,’’ as Vladimir Lossky observed in 1954.1 Yet if the North African theologian positively embraces a docta ignorantia,2 this ignorance is not without limit, as Lossky also...

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Bodies Still Unrisen, Events Still Unsaid: A Hermeneutic of Bodies without Flesh

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pp. 94-116

Only those who are unfamiliar with theology would be surprised to hear that theology is all about bodies, very corporeal bodies, mystical bodies, bodies politic, but also what Saint Paul called the soma pneumatikon (1 Cor 15),1 a certain...

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In the Image of the Invisible

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pp. 117-134

Christian theologians often maintain that God is incomprehensible, beyond human powers of positive explication through concepts and speech, because God is without limits or bounds. God is without limits of time, being framed by no beginning...

More Mysterious Bodies: Veils, Voids, Visions

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pp. 135-223

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‘‘The Body Is No Body’’

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pp. 137-146

The problem with the thematic of ‘‘aphophatic bodies’’—even if one could in some way manage to conceptualize the near oxymoronic nature of the phrase—is not the word ‘‘apophasis,’’ which is well known from the tradition of mystical...

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Revisioning the Body Apophatically: Incarnation and the Acosmic Naturalism of Habad Hasidism

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pp. 147-199

The expression ‘‘apophatic body’’ strikes the ear as a pairing of words that do not sit together so easily. What, after all, is it to speak of a body about which nothing can be spoken? From both the commonsense and more erudite...

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Bodies of the Void: Polyphilia and Theoplicity

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pp. 200-223

What is an ‘‘apophatic body’’? Is there a phenomenology of ‘‘apophatic bodies’’? Probably not! Instead of an essentializing definition, let me try this: The ‘‘apophatic body’’ is a paradox that lives from a negation, an ‘‘un-naming’’ or ‘‘un-signifying’’ that is a twofold...

Apophatic Ethics: Whose Body, Whose Speech?

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pp. 225-303

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The Metaphysics of the Body

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pp. 227-250

What I am intending in this essay is to make some moves toward the construction of a metaphysics of the body. I embark on such a venture rejecting the dualism of physical and metaphysical, materiality and spirituality, nature and culture...

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Emptying Apophasis of Deception: Considering a Duplicitous Kierkegaardian Declaration

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pp. 251-272

Beginning a series of supposedly edifying remarks with the declaration that one is always wrong is likely to raise suspicion. Yet this is the central thrust of the text that will be the primary concern of this essay, the sermon of Kierkegaard’s pseudonym...

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Feminist Theology and the Sensible Unsaying of Mysticism

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pp. 273-285

The literary theorist Anne-Marie Priest argues that if poststructural scholars of religion have pointed out the connections between Derridean deconstruction and negative theology, the affinities between feminist theories of sexual difference...

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The Infinite Found in Human Form: Intertwinings of Cosmology and Incarnation

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pp. 286-303

Enough has already been said in praise of the Unsayable that I will not add my voice to the chorus—not that my silence on the merits of the Ineffable reflects any lack of conviction on the topic. In fact, were I to allow myself to write the panegyric...

Love Stories: Unspeakable Relations, Infinite Freedom

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pp. 305-366

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The Apophasis of Divine Freedom: Saving ‘‘the Name’’ and the Neighbor from Human Mastery

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pp. 307-328

The general interest that provides the context for this essay emerges from what is often called, these days, the postmodern ‘‘turn’’ to religion and theology. This ‘‘turn’’ refers to a growing body of theologically minded work centered on the thought...

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Let It Be: Finding Grace with God through the Gelassenheit of the Annunciation

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pp. 329-348

In this essay I read the narrative of the Annunciation as a text that describes a phenomenological event, an event in which there is a manifestation of the divine to an experiencing subject. Using the understanding of releasement that flows...

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Intimate Mysteries: The Apophatics of Sensible Love

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pp. 349-366

‘‘I am a little discouraged,’’ Hélène Cixous laments to her beloved; ‘‘I shall never have the strength nor the time to write something worthy of you. Would I do better to remain silent?’’ For ‘‘to say you, multimillionly of you, that goes beyond...


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pp. 367-463


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pp. 465-468

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247431
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230815
Print-ISBN-10: 0823230813

Page Count: 448
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Negative theology -- Christianity -- Congresses.
  • Human body -- Religious aspects -- Christianity -- Congresses.
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