restricted access Inconclusion
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326 Inconclusion Elected Silence, sing to me . . . Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb: . . . Which only makes you eloquent. —Gerard Manley Hopkins, from “The Habit of Perfection” 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 possibility for which the divine name stands is held secure by whoever does not believe. [Wer an Gott glaubt, kann deshalb an ihn nicht glauben. Die Möglichkeit, für welche der göttliche Name steht, wird festgehalten von dem, der nicht glaubt.] The second is from Emmanuel Levinas’s Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence: To bear witness to God is precisely not to enunciate this extra-­ ordinary word. [Témoigner de Dieu, ce n’est précisément pas énoncer ce mot extra-ordinaire.] Having dealt with what can and especially with what cannot be said according to apophatic thought, there is, then, for us finally the question of what, if anything, the apophatic thinker as such needs or is allowed consistently to believe. Inconclusion 327 On the one hand, apophatic thinkers appear to be those among all types of adherents to belief in religion or ideas of philosophy or commitments in ethics who least believe, those who really do not believe in anything . They alone have the matchless audacity to make profession of believing in nothing. Atheism itself is not unbelieving enough for them. They object to (or at least eschew) the atheist’s stance in holding a definite conviction and defining a norm of (un)belief rather than evading or evacuating any fixed form of belief whatsoever. Not surprisingly, then, certain proponents of apophaticism have often been taxed with nihilism and other associated taints. But here again, it is necessary to insist on distinguishing between belief simply in nothing and actively believing ­nothing— where the latter does not consolidate its belief into the form of an object but maintains the openness of belief as a believing—even a tenacious and unshakeable believing—yet a believing, nonetheless, in nothing that can be defined or said. Such believing remains infinite and indeterminate, and yet infinitely determinable. On the other hand, apophaticism is often suspected of being a way of smuggling religious belief back into forms of thought and culture that had ostensibly advanced beyond it: long after its banishment by logos, myth returns as a potential vehicle of truth. This move is patent among certain Neoplatonic thinkers, such as Porphyry in his exegeses of Homer. Apophatic thinkers, furthermore, beyond all their uncompromising negations, are prone to be secretly knights of faith, believing, after all, in a Dionysian night of luminous darkness. Contemporary philosophers of an apophatic bent sometimes seem to confound philosophy and theology and to propose a sort of hyperbole of belief. Free from determinate, limiting, articulated belief, the engaged apophatic can emerge as free to believe in all things in a nonlimiting or nonexclusionary manner. Such is the mode of belief suggested by the Pauline hymn to love: “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). It can and must express itself in a variety of active engagements, which nevertheless remain always open to revision as to the determination of their ends. Gianni Vattimo explains his position as a form of believing that he believes . This acknowledges that one is already inevitably within a position of belief, even in first positioning oneself vis-à-vis belief. Rendering explicit this predicament, which precedes our affirmation and its negations, 328 A philosoph y of the unsa y a b le and then embracing it without qualifications (or at least delimiting and relativizing all qualified forms of it), is characteristic of the strategy of apophatic thought. Apophaticism must be ambiguously philosophical and theological, to the extent that it refuses to definitively reject all beliefs that it nevertheless questions. It retains the beliefs that it questions and even affirms them as opening to questions pointing beyond its own powers of conception. We have seen it doing so throughout this book, exemplarily by means of poetic imagination. The amphiboly of believing and unbelieving moments of apophasis belongs simply to the nature of this way of thought and relation to life. It first disbelieves whatever it believes and then believes in this disbelief itself as the path leading...