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 ‘‘Effects of Grace’’: Detranscendentalizing E R I N R U N I O N S Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s writing is nothing if not challenging. Somewhat daunted, I console myself with the fact that every reading is necessarily, and sometimes deliberately, a misreading, and proceed on those grounds. Perhaps the most important thing to grasp when reading Spivak on religion is her insistence on detranscendentalizing. She insists on it as the secular work of the humanities. I would like to explore this insistence on detranscendentalizing , as it relates to a much larger theme in her work: that is, ethical singularity. In other terms, the theory compressed into the phrase detranscendentalizing alterity helps us think about what she means by love. I would like to take up these ideas by reading one instance of alterity—the myth of the antichrist—in order to trouble the political calculations that are made in the name of Christ. This troubling is a kind of queering. DETRANSCENDENTALIZING In the published version of a talk on terror that Spivak gave at Columbia University not long after 9/11, she uses the tools of deconstruction on Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, in order to imagine how religion might be used to interrupt political calculation.1 In particular, she is concerned with questioning the kinds of calculations posing as ethical action that have taken over in the U.S. war on terror. She gives as an example the U.S.’s self-proclaimed role of world police, ‘‘ethically’’ enforcing human rights and at the same time condoning the right to kill.2 In looking at religion, she does not want to think about transcendent truths (higher powers, moral wills) as much as about the possibilities that religious metaphors open up PAGE 225 ................. 17764$ CH13 10-28-10 12:07:53 PS 226 兩 e r in r u ni o n s for the ethical interruption of calculation. She wants to ‘‘work for a world where religion can shrink to [the] mundane normality’’ of ‘‘the weave of permissible narratives.’’3 In this world, religion would be understood as ‘‘idiom rather than ground of belief.’’4 Such an insight is familiar to scholars of religion thinking within a Foucauldian paradigm of discursive construction, or thinking beyond a sui generis view of religion.5 What is theoretically challenging about Spivak’s work, however, is the precise way in which she reconceptualizes the transcendent , as radical alterity, and then proceeds to detranscendentalize it. She writes: ‘‘Radical alterity, an otherness that reason needs but which reason cannot grasp, can be given many names. God in many languages is its most recognizable name.’’6 Kant, she notes, gave it the name of the transcendental.7 Some might call it terror. Spivak insists on the need to detranscendentalize radical alterity in order to interrupt the calculative.8 I take her to mean that she wishes to criticize the notion of radical alterity (in its guise of either terror or transcendence) as a kind of self-contained goodness or evil that acts as a kind of independent a priori. She wants to move away from any conception of radical alterity as a kind of causeless cause that grounds reason within a given culture.9 Spivak seems to play with the slippage in the way that radical alterity is sometimes understood as an omniscient power outside of knowledge (the transcendent), and sometimes as the condition of possibility for knowledge (Kant’s transcendental).10 Indeed, it is in this elision between the transcendent and the transcendental that religion (as belief in the transcendent, or God) can come to provide the terms, or create a condition of possibility, in which a ‘‘cultural imaginary produc[es] reason.’’11 To help her conceptualize a detranscendentalized radical alterity, she turns to a very dense and compact deconstructive reading of Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason—perhaps because Kant explores the question of human goodness and evil in this text, or perhaps because Kant acts, to some degree, as a model for her own insistence on reason, secularity, and ethics. She borrows from his attempt to think through the relation of reason, morality, the transcendental, and secularity. In her words, ‘‘Because Kant was deeply aware of the limits of reason, he asked himself if it was possible to forge a species of what we might as well call secularism, which would incorporate intuitions of the transcendental. Let us see how he solved his problem and what we, who...


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