Fausto Fraisopi (Hrsg.): Mathesis, Grund, Vernunft: Die philosophische Identität Europas zwischen Deutschem Idealismus und Phänomenologie, Nomos – Ergon Verlag, 2019

Mathesis, Grund, Vernunft: Die philosophische Identität Europas zwischen Deutschem Idealismus und Phänomenologie Book Cover Mathesis, Grund, Vernunft: Die philosophische Identität Europas zwischen Deutschem Idealismus und Phänomenologie
Studien zur Phänomenologie und praktischen Philosophie, Band 50
Fausto Fraisopi (Hrsg.)
Nomos-Ergon Verlag
2019
Hardback 58,00 €
319

Alexandre Kojève: The Religious Metaphysics of Vladimir Solovyov

The Religious Metaphysics of Vladimir Solovyov Book Cover The Religious Metaphysics of Vladimir Solovyov
Alexandre Kojève. Translated by Merlin, I., Pozdniakov, M.
Palgrave Pivot
2019
Hardback 58,84 €
VII, 81

Reviewed by: María D. García-Arnaldos (Universidad CEU-San Pablo, Spain)

Alexandre Kojève fue un filósofo francés conocido principalmente por su influyente seminario sobre Hegel en la École Pratique des Hautes Études en los años 30. Estas conferencias ejercieron una influencia en intelectuales franceses difícil de medir. Es conocido también por su teoría del “fin de la historia” (teoría que F. Fukuyama más tarde desarrolló y divulgó: The End of History and the Last Man, 1992) y por su marxismo existencial. A partir de 1945 pasó a ser un alto funcionario del Estado francés, ocupación que no le impidió continuar con el trabajo filosófico, publicado buena parte de él, tras su muerte en 1968.

Alexandre Kojernikoff nació en Moscú el 11 de mayo de 1902. Poco antes de 1920 decidió dejar Rusia y acabó estudiando filosofía en Alemania. Durante su formación frecuentó tanto Heidelberg como Berlín. Aunque el neokantismo era una de las escuelas en boga con H. Rickert a la cabeza, Kojève eligió otra figura de referencia como Karl Jaspers para la realización de su tesis centrada en el filósofo ruso Vladimir Soloviev. Precisamente, en Heidelberg bajo la supervisión de Karl Jaspers completó su disertación en lengua alemana (Die religiöse Philosophie Wladimir Solowjews) en 1926. Esta disertación se adaptó al francés (La métaphysique religieuse de Vladimir Soloviev) y se publicó como ensayo en dos partes, en 1934 y 1935, mientras Kojève dirigía sus famosos seminarios sobre Hegel. El ensayo fue publicado en la revista francesa Revue d’Historie et de Philosophie Religieuses XIV, 1934, n.6, 534-54 (primera parte) y XV, 1935, n. 1-2, 110-152 (segunda parte).

Traducida ahora al inglés, The Religious Metaphysics of Vladimir Solovyov, es una obra que presenta el esfuerzo de Kojève de unificar la filosofía de la religión de Vladimir Soloviev. En la edición inglesa, el libro se encuentra dividido en tres apartados: una introducción de los traductores y las dos partes en que se compone la obra. En la introducción se aclara la exigente tarea de interpretación de algunos pasajes y términos del texto, así como del método seguido por Kojève. En cuanto a la obra, contiene dos secciones: la Doctrina de Dios (dividida a su vez en tres partes) y la Doctrina del Mundo.

En este breve ensayo, Kojève se propone la sistematización de la metafísica –sistematización en la que Soloviev trabajó durante años, pero que no fue capaz de articular completamente en su corta vida– aunque con un objetivo diferente. Para Kojève, se trataría de un sistema metafísico que explique el libre obrar humano enraizado en su propia historia, pero sin recurrir a Dios. La relación del ser humano con Dios y consigo mismo a través de Dios, aunque sin el concurso de Dios, será un tema constante en su pensamiento. Qué pudo haber llevado a un exponente del marxismo existencial al análisis de una metafísica religiosa; en qué medida impulsó ese acercamiento de autores pertenecientes a otras corrientes, el afán incesante de Soloviev de presentar el cristianismo en forma de sistema filosófico, como una cosmovisión en donde la fe, la filosofía y el pensamiento social se entretejen, son preguntas pertinentes si queremos conocer a dos pensadores inusuales.

Comenzamos por la primera cuestión: cómo el área de la metafísica religiosa pudo atraer a pensadores que se sumaron al marxismo. Si bien por una parte escritores de la talla de Dostoievsky y Tolstoi ejercieron una cierta influencia, dado que no eran filósofos profesionales, su alcance fue parcial. Copleston en su Historia de la Filosofía, en el volumen dedicado a los pensadores rusos, (Russian Philosophy, Vol. X, 2003, pp. 200 y ss) sugiere que, en parte, el que hubiese un espacio abierto a una nueva atmósfera intelectual distinta al materialismo y positivismo, se debió a la obra de Soloviev. A modo de esbozo, Vladímir S. Soloviev (1853-1900) fue una figura poliédrica que impulsó el desarrollo de la filosofía rusa de finales del XIX. Fue amigo de Dostoievsky e influyó en pensadores como N. Lossky, P. Florensky o S. Bulgákov. Algunas de sus obras son: Crisis de la filosofía occidental, 1874; Crítica de los principios abstractos, 1880; El sentido del amor, 1892-1894 y La justificación del Bien, 1897.

En The Religious Metaphysics of Vladimir Solovyov, Kojève presenta la metafísica de este pensador ruso en el conjunto de su obra, como núcleo de su pensamiento y punto de partida necesario para comprender su recorrido intelectual. Introduce dicha obra cronológicamente diferenciando tres periodos. En el primero, los escritos de Soloviev ofrecen una introducción histórica y crítica a su sistema filosófico, con el objetivo de demostrar la necesidad de una nueva metafísica que sea síntesis y superación de las metafísicas precedentes (The Religious Metaphysics of Vladimir Solovyov [en adelante RM], p. 15). En el segundo periodo, más breve, el pensador ruso elabora su nueva metafísica. El tercer periodo se caracteriza por un alejamiento del deseo de sistematizar esa metafísica y por abrir espacio al desarrollo de diferentes temas, todos con la característica en común de ser una aplicación de su metafísica. Soloviev murió sin haber llegado a precisar y sistematizar su metafísica en la que seguía trabajando.

Según Kojeve, la teoría metafísica de Soloviev se encuentra recogida fundamentalmente en cuatro libros: Critique of Abstract Principles (1877–1880), Philosophical Principles of Integral Knowledge (1877, inacabado), y Lectures on Divine Humanity (1887–1890), que originalmente fueron escritos en ruso y, Russia and the Universal Church (1889), que originalmente fue escrito en francés. A partir de estos cuatro textos, Kojève desarrolla lo que considera que son las características de la metafísica del pensador ruso, con el objetivo de llegar a exponer un sistema de metafísica completo y autónomo (RM, p. 18). En primer lugar, es una metafísica que tiene un carácter místico y religioso; se podría considerar metafísica teológica, ya que el objetivo de Soloviev es otorgar una formulación sistemática y racional a la revelación cristiana. Para el pensador ruso, el contenido de la metafísica proviene de la experiencia mística y el trabajo filosófico consistiría en la exposición o análisis de los elementos abstractos de su presentación. Sin embargo, aunque el conocimiento religioso tradicional y la experiencia mística individual fundamentan la doctrina de Soloviev, ambas no le resultan suficientes. A la fe y la experiencia religiosa o mística hay que unirle el pensamiento. Estos tres elementos, fe, pensamiento y experiencia mística, conforman la filosofía de la religión de Soloviev. Precisamente, el pensador ruso mantuvo hasta el final la idea de que la tarea de la filosofía no solo consiste en clarificar y enriquecer los conceptos provenientes de la experiencia mística, sino que el filósofo debe examinar sus presuposiciones y no darlas por sentado.

Además de la tradición teológica cristiana, Soloviev se nutre del Idealismo alemán (RM, p. 19); la metafísica de Schelling resuena en sus escritos, señala Kojève, aunque apenas aparece mencionado. Hay, sobre todo, profundas consonancias con el último Schelling (Investigaciones filosóficas sobre la esencia de la libertad humana y los objetos con ella relacionados, 1809).

La primera sección del libro, “La doctrina de Dios”, se encuentra dividida a su vez en tres partes. En la primera, Kojève presenta una primera etapa de Soloviev en la que este articula la noción de Absoluto en general. En la segunda etapa, lo identifica con un Dios personal y la Trinidad y en la tercera, la idea cristiana de Dios hecho hombre que completa la etapa inicial. La realidad objetiva de la idea de Absoluto, para Soloviev, se justifica solo a través de la experiencia o intuición mística que es la que aporta el contenido de esta idea. Esta intuición mística es un contacto directo con el Ser en sí mismo; es la que funda toda metafísica, pero es necesario expresarla en conceptos racionales. A la hora de sistematizar esta intuición mística (en Soloviev la idea de intuición está basada en Schelling, se trata de una percepción inmediata connatural), Kojève observa que el pensador ruso toma prestado efectivamente de otras teorías, asumiendo ciertas deducciones en forma simplificada, en vez de elaborar un profundo análisis metafísico que vaya más allá de ellas. Esta carencia aparece en la obra de Soloviev desde sus primeras afirmaciones acerca del Absoluto al que define como Omniunidad, es decir, la unidad de sí mismo y lo “Otro” distinto de sí, una unidad que abarca al ser humano, el mundo y Dios; idea que de modo análogo encontramos en Spinoza, cuya filosofía leyó de joven y del que pudo estar influenciado. En esta Omniunidad se distinguen dos polos: la unidad y la multiplicidad o totalidad. El primero es el Absoluto como tal; el segundo, es la materia prima o anima mundi, como encontramos en la Doctrina del Mundo (RM, p. 22).

Para Kojève, esta parte de la metafísica de Soloviev es una versión simplificada de la teoría del último Schelling y Jakob Böhme. El problema que tiene que solucionar no solo el pensador ruso, a su juicio, sino cualquier otra doctrina semejante, es cómo lidiar con el dualismo por una parte y el panteísmo por otra. Para evitar estos extremos, el recurso de Soloviev es adoptar la dialéctica de Schelling, lo cual le lleva a plantear como solución la identificación del “Otro” con el “Alma del mundo”, “Sophia”, o la “Humanidad Ideal” (RM, p. 24), y no con el mundo empírico. Kojève insiste en aclarar este concepto pues, aunque el pensador ruso parte del mundo empírico, lo hace sólo metodológicamente, siguiendo un método inductivo y no debe ser confundido con el materialismo. Kojève va trazando paralelismos entre Soloviev y Leibniz o Hegel. Si bien, por una parte, sostiene que hay una mayor cercanía del pensador ruso a Hegel (Lecciones sobre Filosofía de la Religión) que a Schelling; por otra, subraya que la finalidad de la doctrina de Soloviev es la de llegar a la idea de un Dios personal a partir de la noción abstracta de Absoluto. En este sentido, indica que la metafísica de Soloviev pretende ser una racionalización de las verdades religiosas dadas en la revelación pre-cristiana y es posible sistematizar tales verdades de modo independiente a los dogmas cristianos; pero, según Kojève, el pensador ruso no llega a desprenderse del cristianismo, como explica en el siguiente apartado dedicado a Teandria o Sophia.

En efecto, como Kojève aclara, el cristianismo no es solo una síntesis de verdades previamente reveladas en otras religiones, sino que aporta verdades nuevas que toman su forma completa en el Dios-hecho-hombre (Théandrie) o Segundo Absoluto. Esta es la idea en la que culmina su metafísica y es la idea bisagra entre la doctrina de Dios y la doctrina del Mundo. El problema, según Kojève, es la contradicción clara en la que Soloviev incurre y no parece haber advertido; esto es, deduce a priori el futuro del Absoluto (el Segundo Absoluto) a la vez que sostiene la contingencia y libertad de éste, sin intento de reconciliación entre la necesidad y la contingencia. Kojève indica que estas mismas características del análisis a priori atribuidas al Segundo Absoluto, se pueden aplicar al ser humano empírico (RM, p. 35). Es importante señalar que, para Kojève, la idea del ser humano así entendida en la doctrina de Dios coincide con el “contenido” del Absoluto, la materia prima, y esto no altera la idea de Omniunidad en Dios.

Kojève analiza, por una parte, en qué sentido se entiende la idea de libertad tanto en el caso del ser humano empírico como respecto de Dios, y, por otra, la centralidad de Sophia en la obra de Soloviev, quizás el aspecto más importante de su obra y de su vida (RM, p 39). Precisamente, la complejidad del pensamiento de Soloviev se puede percibir cuando tratamos de comprender el lugar que ocupa Sophia en su doctrina. Si bien es entendida como la Humanidad Ideal, por otra parte, es la humanidad “caída” en el mundo empírico, el anima mundi, como veremos en la doctrina del mundo (recordemos que para Schelling, la “Caída” es la idea de la pérdida de la unidad original). Para Kojève, podríamos entender Sophia como el nombre para el “contenido” divino concebido como Idea personal o Humanidad unitotal (RM, p. 40) pero subrayando, además, el carácter femenino de Sophia, que pone de relieve la noción de lo “femenino en Dios”. Aunque este es un aspecto altamente relevante, Soloviev solo lo usa como la determinación ontológica más general de lo femenino (RM, p. 41). Tampoco Kojève hace un análisis de este aspecto más detallado. Sin embargo, sí individualiza posibles influencias que Soloviev podría haber recibido en estos aspectos de su doctrina, fundamentalmente de Comte, Böhme y Schelling. Aquello que diferencia la obra de Soloviev de estos dos últimos, a juicio de Kojève, es la importancia que le concede Soloviev a la idea de Hombre, en cuanto ser humano coeterno con Dios y absolutamente libre respecto de Él (RM, p. 42), la Divinohumanidad. Esta idea de ser humano no se encuentra ni en Schelling ni en Böhme, pero sí en Hegel y Comte (RM, p. 43). Aunque en Comte, el ser humano no solo es igual a Dios, sino que lo reemplaza. Del mismo modo en Hegel, el ser humano se puede entender como absoluto en la medida en que no hay otro Absoluto más que el ser humano. En cambio, la antropología de Soloviev es manifiestamente cristiana, por lo que el ser humano es absoluto pero un Segundo Absoluto en virtud del primer Absoluto o Dios. Kojève lo resume así: para Soloviev, el ser humano es más absoluto que para Schelling y Böhme pero menos absoluto que el hombre para Comte o Hegel (RM, p. 43). En cualquier caso, para Kojève esta Sofiología basada en la propia intuición mística de Soloviev, es la parte más personal y original de su obra. El aspecto sobre todo original –como los traductores también subrayan en los últimos párrafos de su introducción– es que para Soloviev, el acto de pensar no es en sí mismo una acción mental, porque tampoco es una acción personal o individual, sino que el pensamiento es el nombre que damos al encuentro con lo divino; es una forma de comunicación.

En la sección dedicada a la Doctrina del Mundo (RM, p. 51), Kojève sostiene que, aunque distinta de la doctrina de Dios, el estudio de la doctrina metafísica del mundo no puede realizarse al margen de aquella. La idea que diferencia una de otra, es la noción de la “caída” de Sophia, idea que no se encuentra en la doctrina de Dios. Dicha noción, se refiere a la potencial, posibilidad ideal de separación, el llegar a la Divinohumanidad (RM, p. 52). Aunque Kojève trata de identificar nuevas contradicciones entre la doctrina de Dios y la doctrina del mundo (RM, p. 52), acaba por admitir que tomadas en sí mismas, ambas doctrinas metafísicas conforme aparecen en el sistema de Soloviev se pueden presentar sin contradicción entre ellas (RM, p. 53). Aún así, pone en evidencia una antinomia que parece habérsele escapado a Soloviev: “the antinomy implied by the notion of the becoming of a being that is eternally what it is, the progressive union in time of what is already, for all eternity, united” (RM, p. 53). Soloviev no lo aclara y Kojève tampoco, pero a partir de este punto, éste último introduce las características distintivas de las dos doctrinas: la doctrina del mundo se distingue de la de Dios por tres cosas: por el carácter de su investigación que es de orden temporal; en segundo lugar, por el objeto de investigación –la “caída”, el llegar a ser o realización de Sophia– y, finalmente, por el método.

El método de la doctrina de Dios es deductivo a priori, ya que las conclusiones a las que se llega proceden del análisis de la noción dialéctica de Absoluto, la cual es innata, inmanente o la expresión racional de la intuición mística de Dios-Amor (RM, p. 54). El método de la doctrina del mundo, en cambio, es un método inductivo, empírico y a posteriori, dada la naturaleza libre de la caída de Sophia o el Alma del mundo. Sin embargo, esta distinción metodológica según Kojève, no siempre se mantiene con rigor y aquí nuevamente aparece una cierta contradicción relacionada con la antinomia señalada antes. Para Kojève, la fuente tanto de la contradicción como de la antinomia es la idea de libertad ya que está fundada o se basa en la doctrina del Absoluto (RM, p. 56). En definitiva, la cuestión es cómo se concilia la libertad de Dios con la libertad humana. Kojève encuentra dificultades implícitas en el sistema de Soloviev de las que este último no se ha percatado ni ha aclarado, y tratará de salvar alguna de estas aparentes contradicciones. Para ello, se propone sistematizar su metafísica, como ya dijimos, pero él mismo reconoce al final que no es fácil encontrar soluciones definitivas. En qué grado consigue aclarar y avanzar los puntos discutibles del sistema de Soloviev, dejamos que el lector lo valore.

En la parte final del ensayo, Kojève indica que la filosofía de Soloviev es, en definitiva, una respuesta a la pregunta: qué debe hacer la humanidad para prepararse para el encuentro final del Alma del mundo con Dios. La solución propuesta por el pensador ruso comprende aplicaciones en aspectos, como el ético y el político, que se derivan de la metafísica, especificando el lugar del amor como camino de realización o ideal de “vida plena” (RM, p. 70); el Amor como lugar de encuentro y trasformación entre el Alma del mundo y Dios.

También hay otros aspectos derivados de su metafísica de calado social y ecuménico. Si, por una parte, la metafísica de Soloviev busca entender la realidad como una unidad, desde el punto de vista práctico, la ética y la filosofía social muestran cómo se puede superar el egoísmo de los individuos y restablecer la unidad. Soloviev trabajó, sobre todo en la década de 1880, en la unión de las Iglesias orientales y occidentales y un elemento imprescindible para ello era el entendimiento mutuo y la concordia o amor fraterno. Este aspecto a nuestro juicio es relevante, aunque Kojève no lo menciona. Soloviev nunca abandonó su interés en la transformación de la sociedad. Por eso, además de la necesidad del pensamiento se hace necesaria una acción y una política que definan el método para interceder en la vida del ser humano. Pero a Kojève, le resultan insuficientes las aclaraciones del pensador ruso en este sentido.

Al final del análisis de la metafísica de Soloviev, Kojève sostiene que la obra de este no es del todo original puesto que es, prácticamente, una simplificación de las doctrinas del último Schelling (1802-1809) (RM, p. 71). Aunque sería adecuado, Kojève no realiza una comparación en detalle pues, asevera él, sería repetir en buena parte muchas de las ideas que ya ha presentado. Además, indica que las diferencias que se podrían encontrar entre ambos no tienen relevancia filosófica, sino que obedecen sobre todo a divergencias teológicas (RM, p. 72). En las dos últimas páginas, señala que las diferencias fundamentales entre ambos son el carácter deductivo de la doctrina de Soloviev y el hecho de que este no afirma en ningún momento la posibilidad de una separación completa y final entre el hombre y Dios (RM, p. 73). En cualquier caso, Kojève subraya que la tendencia de atribuir al ser humano una libertad e independencia es mayor en Soloviev que en otros autores incluido Schelling. Pero en ambos autores, la noción de libertad plantea problemas, según Kojève. La dificultad mayor en este sentido, para Soloviev, es haber tratado de dar una solución a partir de los elementos que ha tomado prestados de Schelling.

En conclusión, Kojève se propone recrear el sistema metafísico que Soloviev no logró consumar. Hacia el final de su tratado establece una comparación fugaz entre Schelling y Soloviev. Como hemos dicho, hay muchos puntos de contacto entre ambos autores, particularmente, con el último Schelling (Investigaciones filosóficas sobre la esencia de la libertad humana), obra que Kojève señala en las notas y aunque hubiese sido oportuno, no examina con más detalle. Por otra parte, es de subrayar la importancia que tuvo para Soloviev el aspecto ecuménico, es decir, el diálogo entre las diversas denominaciones cristianas. Aunque Kojève distingue las etapas ortodoxa y católica de Soloviev, no alcanza a ver en la metafísica religiosa de éste, el espacio vital que ocupa dicho aspecto ecuménico y cuánto luchó Soloviev para llegar a ver realizada la unión entre las diversas Iglesias. No estaban los tiempos maduros.

Por último, si bien para aquellos que tienen una formación filosófica poco cercana a la dimensión mística o religiosa puede llegar a ser, cuando menos, una lectura ardua, para aquellos interesados en introducirse en la filosofía de la religión, en una mirada oriental de la metafísica religiosa o en las inquietudes filosóficas de un joven Kojève antes de su salto a la fama con las lecciones sobre Hegel, es una provechosa lectura. En efecto, la contribución de Kojève a través este pequeño volumen en número de páginas, pero de extensa temática, no solo ayuda a nuestra comprensión del pueblo ruso, sino que introduce en el debate occidental a un notable autor como Soloviev. Si apostamos por una visión filosófica multicultural, apuesta cada vez más apremiante entrado el siglo XXI, es acertado ir abriendo espacio a un pensamiento sin fronteras.

Sebastian Luft: Philosophie lehren: Ein Buch zur philosophischen Hochschuldidaktik, Meiner, 2019

Philosophie lehren: Ein Buch zur philosophischen Hochschuldidaktik Book Cover Philosophie lehren: Ein Buch zur philosophischen Hochschuldidaktik
Sebastian Luft
Meiner
2019
Paperback 19,90 €
214

Raymond Ruyer: The Genesis of Living Forms, Rowman & Littlefield, 2019

The Genesis of Living Forms Book Cover The Genesis of Living Forms
Groundworks
Raymond Ruyer. Translated by Jon Roffe, and Nicholas B. de Weydenthal
Rowman & Littlefield International
2019
Hardback £60.00
226

Theodor W. Adorno: Philosophy of New Music, University of Minnesota Press, 2019

Philosophy of New Music Book Cover Philosophy of New Music
Theodor W. Adorno. Translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor. Robert Hullot-Kentor, Editor.
University of Minnesota Press
2019
Cloth $34.95
248

Leo Strauss: Leo Strauss on Hegel, University of Chicago Press, 2019

Leo Strauss on Hegel Book Cover Leo Strauss on Hegel
The Leo Strauss Transcript Series
Leo Strauss. Edited by Paul Franco
University of Chicago Press
2019
Cloth $45.00
384

Christophe Bident: Maurice Blanchot: A Critical Biography

Maurice Blanchot: A Critical Biography Book Cover Maurice Blanchot: A Critical Biography
Christophe Bident. Translated by John McKeane
Fordham University Press
2018
Paperback $40.00
632

Reviewed by: Tyler Correia (York University, Toronto, Canada)

A dubious undertaking would be to propose a biography of an author who attends to the demand that a text might bear witness to itself and of its own accord. This is the legacy of Maurice Blanchot, whose testimony is that of the vanishing author—a text addressed to other texts and not, perhaps, an author to their audience. This is so much so that between what is called literature and the problematic of its very possibility, a dialogue appears only by the instrument of death, under condition of its undoing. We might, then, express concern over such an undertaking were it not for Christophe Bident’s tireless sensitivity in Maurice Blanchot: A Critical Biography, translated by John McKeane from the original Maurice Blanchot: Partenaire Invisible. Reading Bident, one is almost confronted by such lucidity and knowledge—almost insofar as confrontation gives way to the uncanny feeling of mentorship. Bident’s text balances the demands of biography, which draws on official accounts and established readings. Yet, one who wishes to gain a furtive glance into the other life of Maurice Blanchot will be satisfied by how record-keeping is balanced by careful exegesis of his works.

On the other hand, those chapters that begin and end with the biographical, or the historical, seem also to give way to the implosion of what they recount—from Blanchot’s controversial engagement with right-wing journals in the 1930’s and 40’s, to his later political refusals (the „Manifesto of the 121“ and his speeches of May ‘68)—often ending (albeit in a very different way) as they began: the termination of Blanchot’s political projects. This is no critique of Bident’s writing; he deals with these instances, too, with patient sensitivity. There is much to be learned, though, regarding the ever-present possibility of failure in confronting the ‚risk of public life‘ Blanchot espouses.

Some housekeeping: when it appears as the title of the twenty-second chapter, and on the one-hundred-forty-fifth page, Blanchot’s emerging style of literary criticism in the name of the other—as Bident terms—may create confusion, if one has forgotten the French subtitle’s reference to an invisible partner. In fact, in this chapter, it will not yet be fully disclosed what these mysterious terms indicate—and certainly purposefully given that Blanchot would only be on the cusp of a literary project that would give flesh to them. The first glimpse of this thematic is to be found in that section which captures such a critical (re)turn in Blanchot’s work: the events at his family home in Quain in June 1944 where Blanchot is confronted with imminent execution. This reinvigorates his lasting concern with death, which will spill into his work on writing, friendship, literature, the impossible, always, as Bident argues, such that it “provides a model for inner experience, an experience lived, but lived by the invisible partner within us” (197).

Bident also weaves into the text the return of a peculiar piece of Blanchot’s writing on the primal scene: a child confronting the nothingness of being, the il y a (there is). This takes place when a child stares from the window out into the garden of their home, filling the space with impressions of play and the familiar, until the sky above opens onto absolute emptiness, and they begin to cry. This coincides with a feeling of „ravaging joy“ which their parents confuse for sorrow (7). This scene runs continuously through Bident’s work. He mentions that Blanchot is not often accessible to, nor concerned for ‚childhood.‘ However, between these two extended thematics—the invisible partner and the primal scene—Bident has framed much of his critical engagement with Blanchot’s most pressing concerns.

Part I (1907-1923) introduces Blanchot’s life in a way consistent with biographical stricture, from a short genealogy of his family’s lineage, to an introduction of the ‘Chateau’ in Quain referenced in The Instant of my Death. Relations are outlined and grand, controversial events are prefigured. It is in the interstices of the exigencies of biography, however, that Bident’s text almost immediately distinguishes itself. Bident’s deep involvement with Blanchot’s thought—and the singular demand not to rely on the logic of biography as a genre—appears as an appendage to each chapter in which we  are greeted by an aesthetic of storytelling, and direct engagement with pertinent writings of Blanchot’s. So we find in the opening chapter also certain phenomenal passages on his birth—2:00 a.m, September 22, 1907—in a time of exilic and (busy) night, the “other night” of writing (12), which will be the condition for much of his works to extend beyond the self of day; when Kafka pens, at the same time, five years and one day later, the entirety of The Judgment (8-9).

This is the beginning of a kind of mythology surrounding Blanchot’s search for solitude: from his home in Quain to his residence in Èze. Bident supplies a composite of motifs that will guide the work from biography into the realm of the literary in this section, in which one can imagine—veritably to fantasize—their own sleeplessness, troubled by the demand of writing; solitude, childhood, night, writing, insomnia. The theme and the mofit, in Blanchot, might be inseparable; between meaning and matter only the regulatory power of the term, ‘fiction,’ can sustain such a barrier. If one were faithful to Blanchot, the boundary would be lost; Bident, then, is faithful to Blanchot. We are not in the realm of literary ornament, but an image sharing in an equally justifiable claim to truth, and one that is shared amongst us.

The third chapter of this section provides a panoptic of Blanchot from the perspectives opened in later sections of the book: his peers in right-wing circles in the 1930s describe him as deathly; his friends admire his kindness, his soft-spokenness, and his grace; many are concerned by how ill his countenance seems and yet how he endures; Bataille pays the homage only a great friend and thinker can (16-18).

For even those somewhat familiar with Blanchot, it will be clear that the horizon of Part II (1920s-1940) suggests a gathering storm. In the first three chapters, we are introduced to Emmanuel Levinas, and the philosophical partnership shared between the two, until Levinas quickly dissolves from view. from chapters seven to fifteen, Bident presents Blanchot’s movements in right-wing circles, and among the children of Charles Maurras, including Thierry Maulnier, Paul Lévy, Jean-Pierre Maxence, Maurice Bardèche, Robert Brasillach, Jean de Fabrègues, Daniel Halévy, Georges Bernanos, Henri Massis, and Paul Bourget.  Blanchot contributes, in the 1930s and early 40s, to Action Française, Combat, L’Insurgé, La Revue Française, Réaction, La Revue du Siècle, Ordre Nouveau, Le Journal des Débats, Le Rempart, Aux Écoutes, and La Revue du Vingtième Siècle. He was clearly Germanophobic, and anti-Bolshevist, anti-democrat, a French nationalist, and willing to espouse a view of violent rebellion under the shadow of emergent monolithic powers, particularly the materialist-capitalist degradation of spirit. The circles he frequents cleave undeniably closely to the language of anti-Semitism, as does he in certain writings: the international and internationalist conspiracy, the spectre of capitalism, the foreigner and Other, behind which is the hated image of the Jew (75). Bident notes that anti-Semitism is one element within a logic of purification first articulated in Blanchot’s piece Mahatma Gandhi, but perhaps also goes too far to exculpate his subject, in saying that such anti-Semitism is a tool used for „eloquent oratory and insidious punches“ (loc. cit.). None of this should obscure the public and consistent statements condemning Hitler’s anti-Semitism, which Blanchot declares to be the sour testimony of a pan-German barbarity reliant on a demagogue and the need to persecute (55-56). However, it cannot also merely be forgotten.

As such, Bident is fair to uphold the ‚role‘ of the biographer, or as he says, to „follow the movements of conviction“ of the Blanchot of the time (40, italics in original). This must include displacements and transformations, as well as the „real substance of intellectual experience“ (loc. cit.). However, we should be critical of the subtle establishment of a boundary between the ‚fictional‘ and the ‚real substance‘ if one’s expectation is that we may dismiss Blanchot’s own framing of an anxious energy around anti-Semitic invectives. Frankly, he does not attempt to speak a truth separated from positioning within an increasingly extremophilic political web, and an epoch hurtling toward madness. At the moment that Bident proclaims his ’sound judgment‘ for rejecting all policies of disarmament—for on 14 October, 1933, Germany leaves the League of Nations negotiations on the matter (53)—we are likely to share in a certain discomfort. Was Blanchot exercising sound judgment? Was he exercising judgment at all? Certainly, Blanchot identifies the gathering of arms, and forging of Germany’s ‚warrior spirit,‘ around an origin and destiny (56). And yet it would still seem both a betrayal of friendship with Blanchot, and a clear misstep, to proclaim his suspicions ‚confirmed‘ if only in the hindsight of history. The point is not that Bident is wrong. It is rather that the matter should not be submitted to such judgments at all, giving the impression that all positions taken up by Blanchot must be found consistent and free of disdain, or that they can be disproven—both as fact and personal conviction—as the “failings of thought” of a young political pundit (90).

In parallel, Bident marks the near-unbelievable plurivocality of Blanchot at this time; between his work as a political commentator whose call for action are escalating toward ‚terrorism‘ in favour of public safety, separated from to his literary criticism, while his personal experiences remain on the fringes of these overwhelming spheres, still contained within that ‚other night‘ of solitary writing. There is a way that this part of Bident’s text is, like Blanchot’s life, veritably disrupted. Rather than offering a final sentence of his own on Blanchot’s controversial involvement with the French right-wing preceding the war, Bident finds another sentence already proclaimed in his récit of 1937. Between chapter 14 and the end of the section, Bident will give full focus to Blanchot’s public criticism (where notably he discussed even-handedly authors both censured and acclaimed by the French right-wing), and to his early récits: Death Sentence, and Thomas the Obscure as well as smaller pieces The Last Words, The Idyll. Bident’s exposition of Thomas the Obscure in particular reads like a lucid subject watching, horrified, the comforting borders of their life dissolve into the convulsive death-throes of body and soul.

Part III (1940-1949) opens on the cusp of Germany’s occupation of France and the establishment of the Vichy Government under Marshall Philippe Pétain, and thus the horizon of a great change in Blanchot. Bident notes that his slow political withdrawal in the late 1930’s, and increasing interest in literary rather than polemical endeavours, are exacerbated by his silence during the occupation within which another ‚death‘ overcomes him; fragmenting into the need to rearrange his professional dealings, his declared convictions and his writing (124). At this time, Blanchot’s ties to the French resistance are stressed, as well as his assistance of Jewish friends—he and his sister save Paul Lévy’s life when they warn him of arrest, and he aids Emmanuel Levinas‘ wife, Raissa, and their daughter in hiding (125).

Around the same time Blanchot attempts to „use Vichy against Vichy“ through its funding of Jeune France—an association for the arts formally impolitical, and under such a guise, working relatively autonomously. Blanchot’s plan is unsuccessful, ultimately leading to the dissolution of Jeune France at the moment collaboration becomes overt. His disillusionment is so engrossing that Jean Paulhan’s similar strategic attempt to have Blanchot sit on the steering committee of the Nouvelle Revue Française is rejected (174). Contemporaneously, Blanchot meets Georges Bataille, with whom a personal and intimate friendship would persist, opening Blanchot to what Bident terms ‚atheological mysticism,‘ to the shock of eroticism, and the philosophico-political engagement of the absence of self and book, absence of authority, and writing on friendship.

Blanchot’s shift is, from our vantage point, coming into view. Bident notes that his ‚Chronicles of Intellectual Life‘ at the Journal des Débats demonstrates not yet so much a movement from left to right-wing politics (which he does mention in terms of a growing discontent with nationalism and reappraisal of communism), but a receptiveness to a wide body of literature—praise of Freud, French Surrealism, Breton, Gide comes on the heels of scorn for Pierre Drieu la Rochelle and Georges Bernanos, while still under the purview of Vichy (147). The collaborationist government positions Blanchot to be their new scribe—in Jeune France and at the Journal des Débats—and his response is to uphold, contest, and evade these responsibilities all at once (149). This response, Bident argues, is in the name of the other. It is a matter first of all of self-evacuation, and then of critique (often, following Jean Paulhan and Stéphane Mallarmé, of the edifice of literary criticism), play, chance, resistance at the level of language itself (151-57). It is also here where the invisible partner appears; as the text’s other, sometimes the ‚character,‘ who carries the speech of the author only capable of speaking through them, at other times the hidden interlocutor (Levinas, Bataille, Paulhan) who may receive a deceptively beautiful dedication, or perhaps simply a ‚wink‘ within the text (156; see also 171). Bident is exciting to read for his recognition that Blanchot’s (auto)biographical demands are high, but certainly not impossible; a self-reflexive problematization of the role of biography plays out in the name of the other, amongst the récits, such that it is always „disseminated, displaced, altered“ (158).

There are moments here too, however, where sensitivity is overtaken by an apprentice’s defense of their mentor. Opening the chapter on Blanchot’s “Chronicles of Intellectual Life” in the Journal des Débats, he notes: “Blanchot’s elegant, arrogantly indifferent articles were printed alongside intolerable propaganda, whether in the form of articles or advertisements,” (145) which we are wont to expect from his writings in 1941-44. Bident in the same passage performs inscrutability: “This was a strange object, a conciliatory invective, which seemed to lack any feeling for history: how was this column possible?… Did he badly need to money, as he would later say to Roger Laporte? That is not entirely true: he was receiving a salary from Jeune France” (145). These questions are crucial, and their pointed honesty are compelling; they are exactly those that would be necessary for holding to account a subject embroiled in this controversy, and to exceed the bashful apologetics of an admirer. It is because of these questions that it is also unsatisfying to see Bident turn away from the possibility they open. Blanchot, throughout the text, seems to be conveniently at a distance to those repugnant organizations that cause such controversy around his legacy even today, whilst playing an equally muted, but somehow more expansive role in reputable projects (in this case, Jeune France). We should not clamour for a sacrifice, and Bident is right to direct us to a number of contestations and evasions that constitute Blanchot’s refusal wholeheartedly of Pétain and Hitler. This does not bring Blanchot out of the constellation of right-wing thought for his time, in which he will continue to pit French nationalism against German, and in such ways that—having rejected ‘blood and soil’—will continue to speak of an essentialist mythology: a France of “order and style” (121).

These concerns are a stark contrast to the récits. From Thomas the Obscure, to Aminadab, and after the war The Most High, The Madness of the Day, Death Sentence and a second edition of Thomas, the chapters dealing respectively with Blanchot’s récits provide some of the most intriguing reading. Bident is careful with his exigesis; under the heading of a critical biography, it would not be fair to expect that an author’s texts have been read, and he offers summaries of what loose plot-points a récit may offer. These are weaved deftly amongst considerations of Blanchot’s changing personal life and political convictions. Do the récits mark out singularly such shifting ground? Bident notes that „perhaps his political past was becoming something akin to a dream“ (168). In any case, they do entangle with those philosophical, literary and personal concerns that will culminate in Blanchot’s near-execution around the close of the war. Famously, The Instant of my Death (published in 1994) tells of a semi-autobiographical situation in which a narrator and their family is confronted in front of their ‚Chateau‘ by imminent death at the hands of a German firing squad (later revealed to be part of the Russian Vlasov Division fighting for the Nazis). He is released instead, and takes refuge in the nearby forest where he watches as his village is burned down, his own home to be saved by a peculiar sentiment of the invaders toward its „noble appearance“ (183-84). This episode had a strong impact on Blanchot—as such an experience might—reinforcing his explorations of writing, literature, and death, and granting him a sort of ‚lightness.‘ Blanchot becomes “a nomad moving from demourrance to demourrance” (dwelling to dwelling), following this experience (184).

The period of writing in the immediate post-war era is concomitant with Blanchot’s increasing melancholy, however, and withdrawal from French literary circles that seem keen on the ‚purification‘ of their ranks (188). He writes for, and edits Bataille’s journal Actualité, as well as publishing more frequently in Maulnier’s Cahier’s de la Table Ronde, founded for those rejected by the leftist Comité National des Ecrivains. This was followed by further writing for L’Arche, Les Temps Modernes, and Critique.

Part IV (1949-1959) opens in a way characteristic of Blanchot, who initiated many rescissions in the summer of 1944, escaping to Quain around the end of the war, and to Èze starting in 1946. From 1949-57 he remains in Èze, where literature will overtake him. In this same way, Bident allows for a reversal of the structure of his biography consistent with Blanchot’s movement: his récits and critical essays, their contexts, will be placed at the forefront and all other material will be displaced. Blanchot himself is slowly fading in order to open the space of literature, where Bident’s refrain of a literature in the name of the other takes place under the condition of an ‚essential solitude.‘ During this time, Blanchot publishes the récits When the Time Comes, The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me, and The Last Man, as well as, through his contributions in particular to Jean Paulhan’s resuscitated Nouvelle Nouvelle Revue Française, what would become the core of The Space of Literature and The Book to Come (as well as Friendship and The Infinite Conversation) (271-72).

Again Bident demonstrates such electrifying acuity in his discussion of Blanchot’s texts. When the Time Comes tracks Blanchot’s ’nocturnal capacity‘ to attend to even his fictional interlocutors, opening the rupturous space of a resistant partner—a character who cannot, by the ‚authority‘ of the author, be ordered to relinquish their secrets (257-59). This will be expanded in The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me, where the neuter begins to take shape in a crepuscular adventure, a conversation with an unnamable interlocutor, and within a space that is both sheltered from the world and where a world of shelter can arise (263-64). The question as to how writing is possible appears alongside such a solitary wandering, to which Blanchot’s essay collections respond—which is to say, they continue to reopen these questions in multifarious ways. Selections in The Space of Literature and The Book to Come are marked out for their contributions to the neuter: as reserve and prophecy in what escapes and threatens, but also opens the space for, the work; as autobiography and the abandonment of autobiography in the authority of the author; as an interruption of thought, a cruel act of refusal of certainty (276-78, 280-82).

Alongside his literary production, this section marks three large shifts in Blanchot’s life that will prefigure his future endeavours and return to political publication. First, his mother passes away in 1957 prompting a return to Paris and proximity to emerging political events—especially the imminent presidency of Charles De Gaulle. Second, Blanchot encounters for the first time in 1958, Robert Antelme, whose work he read and appreciated, and whose friendship, Bident notes, „was already certain“ (297). Third, and completing this section, Blanchot, alongside Dionys Mascolo and Antelme, initiate the 14 Juillet project. The journal, intended to respond to De Gaulle and the French post-war political landscape, was founded on a manifesto of faith to revolution, return to resistance and refusal of providential power, as well as the fear of fascism and opposition to a politic of salvation in a leader (304). Although it would publish few issues, the journal seemed to be a culmination of the change that had taken place in the last decade: Blanchot returns to the ‚risk of public life,‘ forges critical bonds with Mascolo and Antelme as well as René Char, and concentrates his political project, as Bident notes, around action „in the name of the anonymous“ (308). 14 Juillet would pre-figure a project of opposition to a sedimenting civic-society in favour of the self-effacement explored in the récits, and a staple of Blanchot’s literary theoretical approach.

It would be inaccurate to say that certain aspects of Blanchot’s strategy of writing is completely unrecognizeable upon his return to public life. He demonstrates a distinctive concern for the importance of writing as the act of political involvement par excellence. Part V (1960-1968) opens with an extended chapter on the „Declaration on the Right to Insubordination in the Algerian War,“ penned primarily by Mascolo, Jean Schuster, and himself, under the backdrop of an ambiguous socio-political situation in which political indifference allows for the unabated use of torture, and the entwining of the political with the military (315-16). The „Manifesto of the 121,“ referencing the signatories approached during the summer of 1960, was circulated on September 1, to immediate controversy. It was denounced by right-wing publications (including Thierry Maulnier in Le Figaro), submitted as evidence in the trial of Francis Jeanson for high treason (who had organized a network of militants in support of the FLN), and initiated a wave of arrests of prominent intellectuals which gave rise to protests and international outcry in defense of the signatories (321-22).

Bident mentions some of the most crucial features of the document in terms both of its relation to Blanchot’s intellectual attitude, and as a politico-historical event. Of the latter, it marked (perhaps for the first time) the right—beyond duty—not to oppress. This involves an expansion of responsibility rather than its contraction consistent with the affirmation of a freedom to act inhering in the concept of ‚right,‘ where previous texts concluded on the right not to suffer oppression (318). Further, it was an important instance of such a document calling for illegal action in support of deserters and insubordination. Of the former, it seems that much of the grounding of these positions flowed from ‚essential solitude,‘ not merely as refusal or reclusion from the world, but the abyss from which no author may singularly emerge, no singular signature can mark ownership—from the neuter, from the there is itself (loc. cit.). The success of the „Manifesto“ would lead to an attempt to extend the project of an anonymous and plurivocal space responding to the most urgent issues of the time. Named the International Review, the subsequent journal would bring together a multiplicity of voices in the shared truth of being a writer, and welcoming the speech of the Other (320).  In light of the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, Algerian Independence in 1962, and Georges Bataille’s death, the journal would not see a first issue, and the project was abandoned by 1963 (328-32).

This precipitates in Blanchot another change, and a consistent disillusionment with the possibility of politics that upheld even in his revived action during the May ’68 protests. In the meantime, he would devote himself to friendships, and to writing Awaiting Oblivion, as well as the pieces comprising the Entretien. The neuter emerges in many places in Bident’s text in multiple forms, but always with uncanny familiarity, in these chapters. Variously, Bident mentions that the neuter may be conceived as wandering into estrangement, the extremity of thought, self-extrication from the ‚completion of metaphysics‘ as an anti-Heideggerian position, the unfinished response to the impossible, an anonymous biography of a faceless someone, the stirring of indifference, and the overtaking of ‚the book to come‘ with ‚the absent book‘ (351-59). The Entretien persists as one of the best exemplifications of fragmentary writing, the interruptive conversation, which, like Awaiting Oblivion, imbues speech with vitality without allowing it to manifest; a conversation that demands community.

May ’68 is preceded by the ‚Beaufret Affair.‘ François Fédier, compiling a volume in honour of Beaufret entitled L’endurance de la pensée, enjoins a number of writers, including Blanchot, Char, and Derrida, to contribute. After allegations of Beaufret’s anti-Semitism emerge (likely from Roger Laporte), a number of private meetings are held in Derrida’s office at the École Normale Supérieure (371-72). Blanchot is notified of the allegations, and begins meeting with Derrida to deliberate on their course of action—which incidentally opens a dialogue that will continue after the affair—and Blanchot resolves to publish „The Fragment Word“ on two conditions: that it be accompanied by a dedication to Emmanuel Levinas (who may have personally been affected by Beaufret), and that all authors are informed of what has transpired (372). He then meets, alongside Derrida, with Levinas who had not been informed, but who invites subtlety on the matter (374).

The conditions preceding, and initially surrounding May ’68, then, are piqued by Blanchot’s disillusionment and melancholy, which seems somewhat to give way to a renewed vigor; he is a consistent speaker at protests and meetings, and establishes—with Mascolo—a writer’s union intent on relinquishing authorial authority, support of the protests, and recognition of the anonymous textual production of the period not captured by ‚the book‘: from banners, to graffiti, chanting, and pamphlets (379-79). The writer’s union gives rise to a bulletin, named simply Committee, which quickly succumbs—similarly to the International Review—to internal divisions stemming from international events, this time the invasion of Prague by the USSR (384-85). Blanchot leaves in agitation, and due to problems with his health.

Part VI (1969-1997) documents the latter years of Blanchot’s career—not until his death in 2003, as Bident published the original French text of the critical biography in 1998. This will include the publication of his final works, The Step Not Beyond, The Writing of the Disaster, The Unavowable Community, as well as works discussed briefly: Vicious Circles, A Voice From Elsewhere, and The Instant of my Death. In this lengthy stretch, Blanchot’s commitment to explorations of Judaism and Hasidic mysticism, his vigilance against anti-Semitism, his perseverance in friendship, and his experimentation with margins, boundaries, and the outside of thinking converge with Bident’s account of various responses to his work. Blanchot once again rescinds, this time into the suburbs of Paris with his brother René, in increasing secrecy that will give rise to one of the most dubious and enduring features of his legacy; of the responses to Blanchot, one seems to be a popular fixation on the image of the person, and violation of his solitude. This is such that a living myth emerges, and is propelled by a photo taken of him for the magazine Lire in 1985. The photo will be republished variously and frequently (423). It is also around this time that right-wing articles Blanchot wrote preceding and during the Second World War re-emerge, of which he takes full responsibility so many years later, referring to them as „detestable and inexcusable“ (455).

Some truly fantastic commentary on Blanchot’s works are published by Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Sarah Kofman, Edmond Jabès, and others, as well. It is at times a shock, and at others a relief, to note both the rarity of commentary on his works—which today has amassed to a sizeable amount nonetheless—alongside what Maurice Nadeau underscores as the challenge of commenting on his works (417). Bident seems—and John McKeane echoes this sentiment in his afterword on Blanchot’s legacy and the evolution of studies of his works—that scholarship on Blanchot is fraught with missteps, and false confrontations.

McKeane’s translation of Bident’s critical biography is undoubtedly an important contribution to scholarship on Maurice Blanchot, provides a new opening particularly for English-speaking readers into his decidedly complex texts and their contexts. With this in mind, Blanchot’s legacy will remain an open-ended question. Bident provides particularly magnificent commentaries on Blanchot’s texts, and is deeply sensitive to his life—if admittedly one may take issue with his having done so too handily. It is in light of the more vociferous contemporary scholarship on Blanchot that the claim that one is misguided in mounting such an attack rings with a certain genuineness impossible to deny, and might be taken insofar as the re-emergence of a politic of writing seems to obscure engagement with his works. In any case, It will be a stimulating sight as Blanchot studies progress to open a space to contend with some of the most compelling and difficult concerns posed to us by existence and nothingness, the book to come and the book of absences, and the work or worklessness of community.

[1] Christophe Bident, Maurice Blanchot: A Critical Biography, trans. John McKeane (New York: Fordham University Press, 2019).

Michel Foucault: „Discourse and Truth“ and „Parresia“, University of Chicago Press, 2019

"Discourse and Truth" and "Parresia" Book Cover "Discourse and Truth" and "Parresia"
The Chicago Foucault Project
Michel Foucault. Edited by Henri-Paul Fruchaud and Daniele Lorenzini. With an Introduction by Frédéric Gros. English edition established by Nancy Luxon
University of Chicago Press
2019
Cloth $35.00
295

Thomas von Bedorf, Selin Gerlek (Hg.): Philosophien der Praxis. Ein Handbuch, UTB, 2019

Philosophien der Praxis. Ein Handbuch Book Cover Philosophien der Praxis. Ein Handbuch
Thomas von Bedorf, Selin Gerlek (Hg.)
UTB
2019
Paperback 29,99 €
355

Jean-Yves Lacoste: The Appearing of God

The Appearing of God Book Cover The Appearing of God
Jean-Yves Lacoste. Translated by Oliver O'Donovan
Oxford University Press
2018
Hardback £50.00

Reviewed by: Nikolaas Deketelaere (Balliol College, University of Oxford)

Kenosis and Transcendence

Below and Beyond the Appearing of God

Oliver O’Donovan deserves great credit for undertaking the painstaking work of translating Jean-Yves Lacoste’s La phénoménalité de Dieu: not only has relatively little of Lacoste’s work been translated into English compared to that of the other contemporary French authors working within the field of phenomenology of religion (e.g. Jean-Luc Marion, Michel Henry, even Jean-Louis Chrétien); it also appears that the French edition is currently out of print, making this translation the only way most of us can access Lacoste’s nine essays on the way in which God can be brought within the scope of phenomenology. The project Lacoste sets out in these pages can perhaps most easily be understood as an attempt at correlating (paradoxically) God’s divinity with his phenomenality, or indeed his mode of being with his mode of appearing, and is in turn executed by correlating four pairs of related notions: (1) philosophy and theology; (2) transcendence and reduction; (3) experience and eschatology; and, finally, (4) love and knowledge.

Starting with the issue of philosophy and theology. Much ink has been spilled over whether the developments within French phenomenology at the end of the last century constitute an unwarranted theologisation of phenomenology, or rather its careful execution; indeed, the polemic is well-known and still ongoing. In this regard, however, it is worth noting that we are dealing here with a somewhat sui generis figure: at the time of his initial diagnosis of French phenomenology as having taken a ‘theological turn’, Dominique Janicaud explicitly excluded Lacoste from the group of authors who allowed phenomenology to swerve off the road of philosophy until it ended up in the ditch of theology.[1] Nevertheless, Lacoste is not coy about the fact that his reflections do at least attempt “to surmount the division between philosophy and theology” (xi), or “to remove the boundary that has classically divided faith and reason, since its existence was always highly arbitrary” (82). Indeed, upon closer examination—one that is carried out in a sustained dialogue with Kierkegaard throughout the book—, that frontier appears to be missing altogether. As a result, Lacoste seeks to expose “the fluid character of philosophical work” (16), which it has in virtue of the fact that it can ask questions about anything, including divine realities. The point here is not, as Janicaud might put it, that philosophy is colonised or superseded by theology, for Lacoste too is weary of the ditch we risk ending up in if we leave behind philosophy altogether: “Disciplined conceptualization or description from which the philosophical element was eliminated would be bound to run aground” (16), he warns us. However, when a philosophical text, such as Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments, deals with divine realities, such as salvation and sin, “we are not,” or no longer at least, “dealing with a philosophy that is merely philosophy, but with a philosophy pushed to the limit of its range, making sense of an eclectic mix of descriptions, hypotheses, and games that make it impossible to say precisely what is going on” (17), whether it is philosophy or indeed theology. It is often in extreme situations, where we are pushed to our limits, that we gain an awareness of what exactly the limits are, and thus only as such do we fully come into our own. Such is equally the case for philosophy and theology, Lacoste suggests: “In the Fragments we find ourselves on the frontiers of philosophy, not only of theology. Precise labelling is simply not allowed at this point, and we had better make up our minds that it doesn’t matter very much. The fluidity of philosophy can be a theoretical advantage as well as a drawback. It is on the frontiers of philosophy, perhaps, that we can learn what is finally at issue in philosophy, and may we not say the same for the frontiers of theology, too?” (18).[2]

Despite Lacoste’s great emphasis on the question of the frontier demarcating philosophy from theology, he also declares that it ultimately does not matter. This is not as unintuitive as it may at first appear: precisely because the frontier is missing, the question of demarcation does not matter. We are simply free to proceed with thinking in all its fluidity, unencumbered by this methodological pseudo-question:

Here and there at the same time, or perhaps still here or already there, we can never be precise about our location. Dare we say that that is not a bad thing? (…) The present enquiries, pursued in ignorance of whether they are philosophical or theological, do not define themselves apart from the two methodological requirements of letting-appear and making-appear. (…) Whether philosophy or theology or both, our enquiry would not deserve the name of enquiry at all, if it did not make up its mind to ignore the frontiers and elicit appearances without prescribing them. To make frontiers is to break things up, and we do better not knowing where we are (x-xi).

This honesty is refreshing and certainly more dignified than, for example, Marion’s frantic but inevitably unsuccessful attempts at securing the exclusively philosophical status of his phenomenology. Essentially, the question of whether he is doing philosophy or theology is uninteresting to Lacoste; the point, rather, is that he is doing phenomenology: “From a phenomenological point of view there is no way of telling,” on what side of the frontier between philosophy and theology these studies fall, precisely because that frontier appears to be missing; yet, there is “probably no need to tell,” for, as phenomenologists, “all we want is a concept fit for the appearance” (ix). Whatever appears deserves to be described as such, without this being framed beforehand according to a frontier that itself does not. Hence, Lacoste concludes: “Phenomenology is frontier-free—it is one of its advantages” (xi).

So, the question for Lacoste then concerns the phenomenality of God, that is to say, the mode of his appearance. This brings us to our second pair of concepts in need of correlation: transcendence and reduction. Whenever one asks how God may be made the theme of phenomenology, someone is bound to pipe up and answer that he simply cannot be, precisely because the divine, as transcendent reality, falls under the reduction, and must thus be excluded from the phenomenologist’s field of view. The phenomenologist would be out of bounds, would have veered off the road and ended up in some kind of ditch, if he were to depend on anything that is not contained within the immanence of consciousness as delivered by phenomenological reduction. Lacoste tackles this challenge by starting from the observation that “a comprehensive experience of an object is possible only if an infinite experience is possible” (21), which of course means that a comprehensive experience is impossible since experience is precisely a function of finitude. It is the adumbrational character of sensory perception that Lacoste uses to argue that there is always already transcendence at the heart of every experience, namely the transcendence of what is not experienced in experience precisely in virtue of its character as experience: “Every perceptual experience,” he says, “invites us to recognize that it is fragmentary, and that what is presented here and now is transcended” (25). Indeed, this is not only true in exceptional cases, but forms a general “law of the logic of experience. Stated briefly, perceptual experience has to do with phenomena and non-phenomena at the same time. More economically still, perception has to do with the unperceived” (22-23). So, God’s transcendence need not, at least not a priori, exclude his phenomenality; for transcendence appears to be a characteristic of all appearing, which always transcends itself as appearance insofar as it appears. As such, “the appearing of God,” especially, “can only be understood in the light of his transcendence of appearing” (38). His mode of appearing involves a movement beyond appearing as such. As a result, Lacoste puts forward the concept of the irreducible, of which phenomenology “can offer no correct description (…) without recognizing its radical externality” (58), without knowing “that it cannot exclude the transcendent reality of what it describes” (60). In short, it forms “an experience that could not be described without acknowledging the irreducibility of everything to do with it: that is the sort of experience which the advent of God to consciousness would need to be” (63). God is such an experience, for he cannot be experienced without this experience being co-extensive with a belief in his existence, he cannot appear without this appearing being co-extensive with a love of God. As such, Lacoste tries to correlate divinity with phenomenality, God’s mode of being with his mode of appearing, and precisely this is a phenomenological question (indeed, strictly so). Hence, he concludes that “phenomenology cannot be faithful to its project without recognizing the irreducible” (58).

Precisely because a comprehensive experience is not possible in virtue of the fact that transcendence characterises all experience, because God transcends his appearing precisely insofar as he comes to appearance, because “experience is tied to inexperience” at all times (118); “we should be satisfied with a radically non-eschatological presence,” or, put differently, “presence is not parousia” (36).[3] This, Lacoste suggests, means we need to correlate experience to eschatology: for it implies, first of all, that the eschaton is not a question of experience, since experience cannot be completely realised by definition (“no experience is comprehensive, no presence can be taken for a parousia, enjoyment must not suppose itself in total possession” (131)); and, secondly, that phenomenology cannot be limited to the present now, for we do have meaningful experiences even if they are only partial (“experience may be wholly truthful without being whole and entire” (150)). The first is a crucial insight, according to Lacoste, for it leads us to “a conclusion of the greatest importance, implying an equally important imperative,” namely, that “God is never ‘given’” (150). It is hard not to read this as a profound critique of Marion’s “realized eschatology” (37) of intuitive givenness and it is worth quoting him at length on this: “But can the infinite be given? The suggestion seems preposterous,” for “‘seeing’ the infinite can only refer to vision of an inchoate character. No act of intuition could focus on infinity entire. Whatever we see, we know that our sight is at the same time and inescapably non-sight. Whatever is given us, we perceive only partially. But the interplay between sight and non-sight implies the promise of one day seeing differently and better. Perception may become richer, nearer to completion, but on no terms can a ‘vision’ of the infinite be thought of as actually complete. (…) Whatever the sense in which we ‘see’ the divine essence, it remains infinitely beyond sight” (148-149). Moreover, Lacoste continues, this thus means the following:

God cannot be given this side of death. If we are minded to stay with the language of vision, we can say that God ‘appears’ in the world without our intuition. There is nothing to be ‘seen.’ Giving makes its gift to faith, and faith cannot have the status of conclusive experience. Within the range of intuition visible things such as Christ’s historical body and his Eucharistic body are known as God’s self-giving only as we distinguish sensory intuition from the acquired intuition of faith. Sensory intuition on its own is misleading. Even when we have trained it to the evidences proper to objects of faith (which are not evidences of a theophany) the gift we perceive has the form of a promise, not to be taken as a last word. The appearance of the risen Christ to his disciples is a gift to sight, but not put at their disposal; it keeps its distance in conjunction with the promise of a definitive return. In the Eucharist Christ is seen through the medium of bread and wine, a medium that leaves us inevitably dissatisfied, desiring eschatological satisfaction which has no place in the world. (…) The infinite can be seen only in finite guise. But finite intuition of the infinite is no mere disappointment, and if we hold our experience of the gracious gift together with our experience of promise, we shall see why (149-150).[4]

This is not a disappointment for there is always the promise of fulfilment, and with promise comes anticipation. Moving on to the second point to be made in relation to eschatology and experience, Lacoste explains that anticipation does not give the eschaton, nor does it bring it to experience; rather, it “merely announces or adumbrates it, giving us no more than a predonation or pre-experience of it” (128). For, even though “experience of the end is ruled out,” since such an experience transcends itself; it is nevertheless as that transcending that “pre-experiences of the end are not. Everyone will agree that God cannot be known in history as he will be known finally, since the eschaton suspends the logic of sacramental presence. But eschatological desire and expectation may take on ‘pre-eschatological’ forms within the limits of the world, which is simply to say that they point us beyond the limits of being-in-the-world while making no pretence to be more than pre-eschatological. The sacrament does not bring the eschaton about; it does serve as a predonation of it” (132). In this context, “anticipation appears without the pretence of a fulfilment, and puts no end within our grasp. Yet it appears as anticipation, as experience uncompleted and promise that draws us on to further experience. So all talk of anticipation must have in view the horizon of an end. The end may be given, the event take place as we anticipated, or it may not; the eschaton is distant” (133). Since “we cannot attribute an eschatological character to any of our present experiences” (168), Lacoste uses his notion of anticipation to develop a reworked phenomenology of time-consciousness. This framework he subsequently applies, in an impressive dialogue with analytic philosophy, to the problem of personal identity, correctly removing it from the metaphysical questioning of substance and placing it firmly within the context of a phenomenological enquiry concerning time.

How must we then deal with this “eschatological reserve” (150), inhibiting us from having an actual and clear experience of God, leaving us with the pre-experience delivered by anticipation? Here, Lacoste suggests, faith comes in; or, for it is coextensive with it, this is where love plays its role. This brings us to our final pair of concepts in need of correlation: knowledge and love, which in this case refers to the knowledge and love of God. In particular, Lacoste wants to expose what he calls “the logic of love,” or its “paradoxical priority over knowledge” (37), when it comes to divine realities. Phenomenology, Lacoste suggests, has traditionally had a bias in favour for what we might call ‘objects of knowledge’, which he describes as “compelling phenomena” (78). These are phenomena that give themselves, and thus impose themselves intuitively: “the object of sight, the intelligible proposition, the reality that cannot be ignored.” However, God is not given, he does not appear as such, and therefore also does not impose himself. Thus, Lacoste suggests, “if there is one thing the object of belief and the object of love have in common, it is the power to go unnoticed” (78). When it comes to divine realities, which are “intelligible only as open to love,” their “appearance takes the form of solicitation or invitation, not coercion. (…) Love would contradict its essence or intention if it used constraint in making its appearance” (75). The phenomenality of love makes an appeal to our freedom: it does not dictate its meaning through the violent imposition of intuition, but instead demands to be loved, inviting us to take a position for or against. What is at stake is “a reality that offers itself without imposing itself, an experience formed in the element of non-self-evidence,” precisely because it requires “a decision to see it” in order to be perceived at all (79). Lacoste illustrates this elegantly as follows: “Nothing is more common than perceiving or understanding without making up our mind. I perceive the ashtray on my desk without making up my mind, I see the conclusion of a logical argument without making up my mind, except that the logic is valid. But when the absolute intervenes, we have to make up our minds,” precisely because its intervention is not of the order of an ordinary appearance, which it always transcends in intervening. Indeed, Lacoste continues, “God does not appear like the Alps, huge and undeniable. He does not appear as the conclusion of an argument we are compelled to admit (…). God appears in such a way that we can make up our mind about him, for or against” (87).

God, that is to say his divinity, does not appear except in love and indeed as love: “He does not appear to be described, since there is nothing to describe, only a man like other men. He does not appear to be thought about, since the aim of his appearance is simply and solely to win man’s love. To make an appearance in order to win love, and for no other reason, the god must be present kenotically. He wills to be loved, not to dazzle. There is appearance, for there is presence, but this is not presence for thought, or even belief” (72). The phenomenality of God is a kenotic phenomenality, one that empties itself out of appearing as appearing. God’s phenomenality is not a question of appearing, but of the decision that sits below (kenosis) and thus its movement beyond (transcendence) appearing. Precisely in this way does Lacoste correlate God’s mode of being (transcendence) with his mode of appearing (inexperience): “God appears in presenting himself to be loved; God appears among the phenomena not subject to Husserl’s ‘eidetic reduction’” (ix).

Before ending this review, a word needs to be said about O’Donovan’s English language rendering of Lacoste’s book, for some of the choices he has made in translating it seem at least worth questioning. I wonder, in particular, whether the phenomenological force of Lacoste’s argument is not somewhat blunted by this translation. To be fair to him, O’Donovan admits at the outset that “every translation must have its priorities, and I had better admit that tenderness towards the conventions of the phenomenological school has not been high among mine” (vii). As a result, he does not, for example, reprise the distinct adjectives which English translators of Heidegger have rendered as existential and existentiell, the French equivalents of which Lacoste uses, for he considers it “an inaudible distinction I take to be no more than a mark on paper, not language” (vii). As inelegant as these renderings may be, these concepts nevertheless circulate and are in use as such (as Jean-Luc Nancy might say, they make sense). O’Donovan’s refusal to stick to this convention for the sake of not letting phenomenological terminology get into the way of argumentative clarity then seems to fall over itself at times, for example in the following passage: “Since theology is an ontic science, the relation of man to God will be ontic/idiomorphic (existentiel), not ontological/existential” (98). Does the clarity of Lacoste’s summary of Heidegger’s position benefit from the choice for idiomorphic rather than the more commonplace existentiell? I highly doubt it. It could, perhaps, only do so to a reader who is entirely unfamiliar with Heidegger and thus with this conceptual (not merely semantic) distinction. However, that this book would have many such readers seems unlikely. Especially in this case, where the passage at issue comes from an essay on Heidegger, the Heideggerian terminology is not incidental to the argument, and thus abstracting from that terminology does not serve that argument. The same goes for the general phenomenological terminology found throughout the book: as I explained, Lacoste himself suggests that he is not concerned with classifying these essays as either philosophy or theology; the point, for him, is that they are works of phenomenology. As such, neither is the phenomenological vocabulary incidental to argument, for the argument is a distinctly and explicitly phenomenological one. O’Donovan’s choice not to prioritise this vocabulary in his translation therefore seems odd, not to say entirely unjustified. Perhaps the most significant example of what is lost when we pay insufficient attention to phenomenological terminology is the title: the phrase the appearing of God is by no means the most obvious translation of la phénoménalité de Dieu. The English language has a word for phénoménalité, it is phenomenality. This is, indeed, a piece of phenomenological jargon, but like all subject-specific terminology, it carries a very precise meaning: in this case, phenomenality denotes not so much appearing, but rather the mode of appearing; not the fact or the content, but the how of appearing. Or, as Lacoste puts it himself in the preliminary to the nine essays: “Our problem is simply to describe and distinguish their different ways of appearing” (ix, original emphasis). As such, the choice to present this book as a work on the appearing of God out of a noble desire to avoid overly technical language, does not allow the argument to shine with its true brilliance; rather, it obscures it.[5] In any case, this book is not so much about the appearing of God, for God cannot be said to appear but in a highly qualified sense; rather, it is about the way or the mode of his appearing, namely, kenotically, in and as love.


[1] Dominique Janicaud, ‘The Theological Turn in French Phenomenology’, trans. by B.G. Prusak in Phenomenology and the ‘Theological Turn’: The French Debate (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), 1-103.

[2] The influence of Lacoste’s emphasis on the fluidity of thought when it comes to the missing frontier between philosophy and theology on Emmanuel Falque’s dictum that ‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’ seems unmistakable here. On this, see Falque’s Passer le Rubicon—Philosophie et théologie: Essai sur les frontiers (Bruxelles: Lessius, 2013); as well as his ‘Phénoménologie et théologie: Nouvelles frontières’ in Études, 404.2 (2006), 201-210.

[3] See also Jean-Yves Lacoste, Présence et parousie (Paris: Ad Solem, 2006).

[4] It is worth noting here that a similar critique of Marion is articulated by Falque and John Caputo. On this, see: Emmanuel Falque, ‘Phénoménologie de l’extraordinaire (J.-L. Marion)’ in Le Combat amoureux (Paris: Hermann, 2014), 137-193; John D. Caputo, ‘The Hyperbolization of Phenomenology: Two Possibilities for Religion in Recent Continental Philosophy’ in Counter-Experiences: Reading Jean-Luc Marion (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 67-93. For a commentary on these critiques, see my ‘Givenness and Existence: On the Possibility of a Phenomenological Philosophy of Religion’ in Palgrave Communications 4, Article number 127 (2018), 1-13.

[5] It is entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that the choice for appearing rather than phenomenality was motivated by concerns of the publisher, rather than the translator. One can indeed imagine that this version would sell better and be of interest to a wider audience (particularly in Britain, where phenomenology, insofar as it is practiced here at all today, bears little resemblance to contemporary styles, interests and debates in France). However, if this is indeed the case, one would expect the translator to make the reader aware of the crucial importance of this distinction in his foreword. However, O’Donovan does not do this and indeed seems to simply wash his hands of the entire issue by declaring phenomenological precision not to be a priority in this case.