Deconstructing Theology by Mark C. Taylor, and: Deconstruction and Theology by Thomas J. J. Altizer, Max A. Myers, Carl A. Raschke, Robert P. Scharlemann, Mark C. Taylor, and Charles E. Winquist (review)
- The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 48, Number 3, July 1984
- pp. 461-463
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS Deconstructing Theology. By MARK C. TAYLOR. Introduction by Thomas J. J. Altizer. New York: The Crosstoad Publishing Company, 1982. Pp. xxii + 129. $12.95. Deconstruction and Theology. By THOMAS J. J. ALTIZER, MAX A. MYERS, CARL A. RASCHKE, ROBERT P. ScHARLEMANN, MARK C. TAYLOR, and CHARLES E. WINQUIST. Preface by Carl A. Raschke. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1982. Pp. ix + 178. $14.95. For the last several years, it has been hard to go among philosophers or literary critics in the United States without hearing talk of deconstructionism . Much of the talk has one group of people proclaiming the good news to another group which can make little sense of it. On one level, deconstructionism presents itself as a general method for destabilizing all the standard philosophical positions from Platonism to phenomenology and structuralism by pressing them to and beyond their limits. Unlike the maneuvers of Hegel or Marx, the deconstructionist strategy refuses any retrieval of the exploded systems in a dialectical synthesis. The method is thus essentially negative, but it tends to be associated with a set of particular claims arising in the work of Jacques Derrida: that every sign has significance only in a set of infinitely receding " differences"; that these differences, known collectively as la difference, have as their point of reference a " trace " which remains forever outside the system; that presence is therefore always grounded in absence and consequently that all theories based on intuition, perception, or vision must be unstable ; that writing considered as trace-making is prior to speech ; that self-contained books are a cultural illusion and should be reconceived as texts pointing backwards and forwards; that authors and authority, indeed subjects generally, are secondary to the network of differenees from which they spring; that every text is subject to infinite interpretation beyond the control of the author; that history is it~elf a text without predefined unity or direction. Among Derrida's many forebears are Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Saussure, Levi-Strauss, and Levinasall of them both inspiration and challenge and duly cited by him. As one might expect, the biggest secondary impact of Derrida and deconstructionism has so far been within literary criticism, particularly in the United States, where younger scholars have been attacking the orthodoxy of the New Criticism. However, Deconstructing Theology and Deconstructionism and Theology advertise that the theologians have now '~ol 462 BOOK REVIEWS seized the baton. It should be noted, though, that the first title is somewhat of a misnomer since not all Taylor's loosely connected essays seem to fit the title. Half the book consists of fairly creative and thought-provoking considerations of Hegel and Kierkegaard on Abraham and of Hegel's proofs for the existence of God. The remainder is more properly dec~nstructionist as the essays probe " the ontology of relativism," " interpreting interpretation," and the " empty mirror" left after the loss of the subject. The. title still seems contrived, however, and Altizer's introduction is an excellent model for literary hyperbole. Deconstructionism and Theology, in contrast, assembles six voices in the closest thing yet to a unified statement of the deconstructionist project in theology. The continuity of the project with philosophical deconstructionism becomes evident not only from the repetition of themes but also from the reverent citation of Derrida and nearly everyone in his intellectual pantheon. Only Richard Rorty's dismantling of philosophy provides an additional source. That Derrida might be taken up by theologians should not be surprising since he often toys with religious images and since the Derridian critique of culture has had plenty of parallel among theologians over the past two decades. But the men writing in these two collections strive to do more than toy with images. They are firing the opening salvos in what they take to be a novel and urgent theological campaign of great proportions. Their work is deconstructionist, first of all, in the broad sense of a selfconscious effort to shake the reigning tradition. However, all the specific points of the first paragraph enter into the destabilizing. For all of the writers, the premise of deconstructionist theology is that the God of yore is dead, that is, that no total presence...