- The Divine Manifold by Roland Faber
Over the last fifteen years, the largely American tradition of process theology has moved in new directions as it has been lured into sustained engagements with French poststructuralism. Roland Faber’s The Divine Manifold is perhaps the most impressive example of this new shape that process thought is taking on in the twenty-first century. For those who would dismiss Whitehead’s philosophy as outdated or irrelevant to our present context, Faber’s Manifold offers a startlingly novel interpretation of the great metaphysician and a series of complex arguments for his continuing importance. By entangling Whitehead’s metaphysics with the poststructuralism of Gilles Deleuze, Faber reveals what process thought could become. I am tempted to declare that what Slavoj Žižek has done to renew interest in Hegel by reading him through Lacan, Faber might do for Whitehead by reading him through Deleuze.
Before discussing the Manifold any further, it will be helpful to situate it within process-poststructuralist discussions. Until recently, most Whiteheadians were critical of what they labeled “deconstructive postmodernism,” which includes the work of Derrida, Levinas, and others. While these thinkers rejected metaphysics as totalizing projects that do violence to differences, many Whiteheadians argued that refusing metaphysics often leads to nihilistic relativism. Thus process thinkers like David Griffin proposed “constructive postmodernism” as a Whiteheadian alternative to deconstruction, arguing for post-foundationalism over antifoundationalism, relational realism over relativistic antirealism, panentheism over atheism, and a greater emphasis on ecology after the linguistic turn.
Yet in 2002, contributors to the edited volume Process and Difference: Between Cosmological and Poststructuralist Postmodernism questioned the opposition of “constructive” and “deconstructive” postmodernism. Featuring essays by process theologians like Catherine Keller and Faber, the contributors argued that a closer reading of many poststructuralists reveals more common ground with process thought than had been previously explored. For example, both styles of philosophy reject essentialism and substance thinking while often emphasizing notions of becoming, events, and multiplicity. As these connections were noted, the possibility of a mutually enriching process-poststructuralist conversation was opened up and a new form of process theology began to emerge. [End Page 86]
That same year, Keller published her Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming, and Faber went on to publish his God as Poet of the World: Exploring Process Theologies in the original German in 2004 (translated to English in 2008). Both were inspired by Whitehead, Derrida, and Deleuze, along with mystical theologians like Eckhart and Cusa. In the Poet, Faber argued for a process-poststructuralist “theopoetics,” and like Keller, he took a more apophatic approach than most process theologians ever had. Unlike theo-logy, Faber’s theo-poetics avoids any sense of rationalism that tries to identify eternal truths. With its sensitivity to a multiplicity of perspectives, theopoetics alternatively takes a more open-ended and creative approach to concepts of divinity and cosmos. While theopoetics does not claim a purity that frees it from potentially becoming a unifying “theological power discourse” (22), Faber nevertheless aims to construct his concepts with a counterlogic of multiplicity in mind.
The Divine Manifold further develops the process theopoetics of the Poet. Appreciating aspects of both constructive and deconstructive postmodernism, Faber describes his method as “de/constructive,” which entails the “deconstruction of false unifications into the One” and the “construction of divine reality through language” (29). While employing similar sources as the Poet, Faber’s theopoetic position is deepened through engagements with such continental thinkers as Judith Butler, Alain Badiou, and Žižek. Even so, his creative synthesis of Whitehead and Deleuze drives this text. While there are many thematic layers in the Manifold, nearly every chapter includes comparative readings of the two philosophers in order to explicate their connections and differences. As such, the Manifold is a demanding text, rendered even more challenging by Faber’s numerous neologisms (e.g., polyphilia, theoplicity, chaosmetics). Thus without a strong grounding in either Whitehead or Deleuze, this text could frustrate readers. Faber’s creative vision in the Manifold is nevertheless astonishing.
A notable difference between the Poet and the Manifold...