Jean-Luc Marion: D’Ailleurs, la révélation

D'ailleurs, la révélation Book Cover D'ailleurs, la révélation
Jean-Luc Marion
Paperback 29,00 €

Reviewed by:  André Geske

Before starting reviewing D’ailleurs, la révélation, I would like to introduce some key features that form the frame of this book concerning its author and the context that is issued. Jean-Luc Marion’s D’Ailleurs, la révélation is a masterpiece of philosophical thought and literary beauty. Without any doubt, the author is one of the greatest philosophers of this century. Besides being a recognized expert in the philosophy of Descartes, he has made many contributions to the philosophies of Husserl and Heidegger. Furthermore, we observe his influence in many other scholars inspired by his thought. In Christian theology, we are used to identifying the Church Fathers in two classes: those who consecrated themselves to defend the Christian faith through apologetics and those who deepened Christian theology. These last ones we call Polemists. Marion is a polemical thinker in a Christian sense of the word. He has brought to the debate a Christian reflection showing its pertinence to philosophy today. Moreover, he is one of the most important representatives of the renowned movement of renewing phenomenology in France besides great philosophers and theologians such as Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Louis Chrétien, Philippe Capelle-Dumont, Michel Henry, Paul Ricœur, and others. It is also worthy to note that Marion displays acuteness both in philosophy and theology, something that starts becoming rare in our days. Many philosophers have not enough theological training. In this way, they misinterpret some Christian theological concepts. Moreover, we have to mention the elegance of using the French language marking his literary style. Both the content and the writing style are well-conceived enhancing the experience of reading. We cannot expect less from a member of the Académie Française (The French Academy of literature). A well-built philosophical theology or a well-built theological philosophy, it is up to the reader to decide. However, Marion walks in the path of most prominent Christian philosophers such as Augustin of Hippo or Thomas Aquinas. We will notice that the main discussion of the book is the possibility of overcoming the opposition between faith and reason through a new way, that is, a phenomenological way. Marion will regroup some themes such as revelation, the distinction between Greek Aletheia and Biblical Apocalupsis, witness, love, the phenomenological reduction of the givenness, saturated phenomenon, anamorphosis, paradox in the book. Some of them already present in other books, however in D’ailleurs, la révélation, he organizes them in a way to show the coherence of his entire philosophical-theological thought. Therefore, D’Ailleurs, la Révélation is an invitation for thinking. We are sure that its reception will trigger some discussions concerning revelation and its status in philosophical thinking. We will go further into the provocative character of the book later in this book review.

Marion has presented innovative and profound ideas in this book, but we should consider its symmetric format, too. A discussion of each part will follow in this review, nevertheless, as an introduction, I think it would be worthy of noting the internal arrangement of the book in six parts with four chapters each, excepting the first and the last parts containing two chapters each. The first part (The sending) deals with the problem of the revelation. It starts with the notion of revelation as a general phenomenon in philosophy and not a religious concept only, the Revelation.

The second part (The constitution of the aporia) concerns a discussion of the theme in medieval philosophical theology. In the third part (The restitution of a theological concept), Marion exposes the differences between two concepts of truth — Apocalupsis and Aletheia. He aims at showing the contrast between the Greek notion and the Judeo-Christian. Especially in this part, Marion introduces the idea of anamorphosis borrowed from art and optics to use it in philosophy to question the role of the subject as a critical observer of reality. In this way, Marion illustrates that reality can appear otherwise before the eyes of the observer. Then he should become a witness guided by the saturation of the phenomenon that arrives before him.

In the fourth part (Christ as a phenomenon), we consider how the revelation phenomenalizes itself. Revelation is not a saturated phenomenon, but it reveals Christ, the saturated phenomenon par excellence. From this point, the content starts becoming more theological. In the fifth part (The icon of the invisible), Marion starts dealing with the divine Trinity and all its conundrums to human reason. Finally, in the sixth part (The opening), Marion proposes a reflection concerning being and time from a revelational perspective.

At the end of the book, we find an index nominum with the names mentioned with whom Marion has dialogued, however, the entry of Hegel is missing. A second index presents all biblical references that Marion uses throughout the book. It helps a lot when we need to verify the interpretation of the text made by the author to support a given argumentation. However, an important biblical text — Psalm 19 — generally present in discussions about revelation, does not appear in the book, unfortunately.

Through this review, we would like to emphasize the main lines drawn by the author to establish his thesis. Therefore, we intend to identify the major contributions of the author, however, due to the length of the book (600 pages) and its density, it will become the subject of many academic articles for critical analysis. For this task, I would like to start presenting this work.

In part 1, « The Sending », Marion proposes to think of the world, not as an opened space but something which shows itself in a continuous flow as a river. This notion highlights that the phenomena that we perceive in our daily life show themselves by themselves. They reveal themselves to us. Thus, revelation is something common to our everyday experience. He gives us two examples, one more ordinary than the other, in a very poetic way, the act of skiing and the act of love or using an expression from the author as an erotic act. Both of them have three dimensions — it reveals itself, it reveals a world where this act takes place, and it reveals myself to myself (il me révèle à moi-même). By referencing the act of skiing, Marion intends to show that an ordinary act can always reveal something from itself. However, in the second example, the act of love, Marion shows that even complex phenomena reveal deep structures of reality as time, space, and relation. The relation here is not a simple relation of cause and effect but a personal relationship between myself and somebody else. We can see a strong influence of Hans Urs Von Balthasar here. In part 3, we find a deployment of this topic because, following the thought of St. Augustine, love is a prerequisite to search for truth. Marion starts leading us to not consider epistemology as something deprived of personal relation. Through an Augustinian path, Marion will demonstrate that truth demands love.

The reader accustomed to Marion will notice from the beginning that his ideas such as the donation (la donation) as a third phenomenological reduction, the saturated phenomenon, the erotic reduction, and the concept of revelation are present in this book. However, all of his contributions seem to find their achievement. The idea of revelation is a kind of fil d’Ariane that guides us through the labyrinth of Marion’s thought. Furthermore, in chapter 2 of part 1, we find the main structure for this idea of revelation that englobes a triad consisting of the witness, the resistance, and the paradox. By these concepts, the phenomenality of the revelation can be perceived and understood. However, an expression that will drive the thought of Marion concerning the revelation is its character elsewhere (d’ailleurs). Even though d’ailleurs gives the idea of something coming from somewhere else or from someone else, it can indicate a change in the logical plan and allow us to add a new element without necessary relation with what we have just said. Therefore, the notion of revelation from elsewhere (d’ailleurs) enables us to have a new way of interpreting reality. He introduces another rationality concerning philosophical thought. In this way, he plays with these two significations of the French expression at the same time.

Part 2 provides a route to a discussion in medieval thought. This second part, called « The constitution of the aporia », retraces the concept of revelation to interrogate if it is possible to consider it as a propositional communication of knowledge of God. Even though this discussion alludes to The Middle Ages, it has implications in our days, for example, the status of theology as a science. In this way, Marion brings into the discussion two exponents — Thomas Aquinas and Francisco Suarez.

Firstly, he starts through a discussion regarding Thomas’s comprehension of the scientificity of theology about revelation. Afterwards, he develops Suarez’s propositionality of the revealed truths. According to Marion, the propositionality of the revealed truths would steer us to the possibility of a scientific theology without faith because it would disconnect the apprehension (apprehensio) of things to be believed and the consent (assentio) given to proposed things. Since consent consists of faith (p.88), the propositionality of the revealed truths would permit theological thinking without it. This discussion gravitates around the notion of sufficient proposition (propositio sufficiens) that carries the revelation, that is, the sufficient proposition is the knowledge of the content of the revelation per se. Thus, the revelation could be detached from the consent of faith and assimilated into a scientific method. In the theology of Thomas, we can see a connexion between the revealed and the science. Suarez’s proposition reverses Thomas’ conception of the scientificity of theology.

Marion follows Thomas Aquinas to avoid this disconnection between the revelation and the faith caused by the sufficient proposition. We can observe at this moment how the philosophy of Jean-Luc Marion demands theological training. He understands revelation as englobing even the Church doctrine ordained in tradition, not only the Biblical Scriptures as the Protestant understanding. However, if the sufficient proposition comes only from Holy Scriptures as an original form of revelation, it will give birth to the pretended absolute primacy of the Bible as the criterion of thinking (Sola Scriptura) (p. 106). It would be an unbearable reversal of the metaphysical foundation of theology into the biblical text. Therefore, the Bible would become a collection of propositions. According to Marion, the implication of this reasoning would be a kind of scriptural fundamentalism that is present even in our days. It is an inversion of the epistemological interpretation of the revelation passing by the sufficient proposition towards the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures. Marion affirms that it will be a Biblical literalism or a Biblism (p.106). This conclusion demands a new step in the arguments to avoid this extreme. Then, Marion provides the source for theological thinking: the Magisterium of the Church.

As Marion points out about the Concile of Trent of 1546, the idea of revelation is absent, although the debate concerned the relation between tradition and Holy Scripture. Indeed, this concept will appear only in 1870 in the First Council of the Vatican. Then, the Magisterium will start discussing this concept recently through the influence of the Protestant theologian Karl Barth who identified revelation not just as a communication of knowledge but manifesting God himself by himself (Dieu lui-même par lui-même). It is this change of perspective that drives Marion to the reflection concerning the revelation. He affirms: « correctly conceive revelation demands the motivation for that and the motivation from God’s perspective. Which divine motivation could justify that God reveals himself in person? Without making this first and last question, no research concerning the concept of revelation has neither significance nor legitimacy. » (p.122,123).

Marion knows the impasse of this conclusion that is all revelation comes from somewhere else, out of this reality (d’ailleurs). And, to conceptualize it is impossible because a human conception of revelation will not embrace this reality from elsewhere (p.123). « Revelation has the concept, formally speaking, of having none. » (p.123).

Thus, revelation is in the same category as God. So both God and revelation have a half concept (quasi-concept) due to the impossibility of having a whole concept, because according to Saint Augustine if we can describe God, it is not God who reveals himself and transcends this reality. Therefore, the Magisterium played a critical role to establish by the encyclical Dei Verbum a balance between the natural and the supernatural knowledge of God. It acknowledged the transcendent character of God and revelation that metaphysics has imposed on Christian theology. So, the Magisterium has the function of making intelligible the propositional content of revelation. Then, Marion explains the origin of the doctrines of the natural and supernatural knowledge of God. He assessed the modern perspectives of revelation through intuition, imagination, will, and concept. However, this aporia has not been closed until today.

Knowing this openness of the discussion concerning revelation (both in philosophy or in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theology), Marion proposes in part 3 to deal with « The restitution of a theological concept ». Following the advice of the Magisterium of a more theological concept of revelation with less metaphysical influence, Marion opens this third part with a discussion about the possibilities and the impasses of a concept of revelation. Thus, he supports a more Barthian idea of revelation as the openness of God personally, not a simple communication of predications about God. It implies a relation between man and God coming from elsewhere (d’ailleurs). Then, the Word of God is a declaration (énoncement) from God to man. Marion draws from more Liberal and Neo-Orthodox traditions of Protestant theology to start constructing the understanding of revelation that he proposes. Indeed, Marion starts preparing the way for advancing his arguments. He argues for a comprehension of revelation that must be without an a priori that could establish the conditions of its possibility (this is Karl Barth’s argument). However, without the determinations of the conditions of reception (this is Rudolf Bultmann’s argument), this revelation becomes empty. Then, the inevitable reestablishment of certain conditions (this is Tillich’s, Rahner’s, and Pannenberg’s argument) (p.177) would enable a less metaphysical influence in the idea of revelation. At this point, we could wait for a resort to the theory of a saturated phenomenon, but Marion goes further and affirms that this is not the case. Indeed, the phenomenon of revelation is a kind of a given that surpasses the capacity of conceptualizing it. However, the phenomenality of revelation does not have any other law than the (erotic) logic of giving (le don), of loving (agapê). Thus, to understand revelation, we need to look for a phenomenon that gives itself through love. An infinite givenness of unconditional love which only Jesus Christ can succeed infinitely. The saturated phenomenon par excellence. Therefore, we cannot enter into the truth without love, as Saint Augustine has affirmed.

Chapter 8 brings some chief thesis of the whole book. Firstly, the figure of love phenomenalized in Jesus Christ who gives himself to death is a manifestation of the revelation in its summit. Secondly, Marion demonstrates the dematerialization of things. Through a scientific method heir of the Cartesian philosophy, modern science creates objects from things. Two competing notions of truth appear according to Marion — Alêtheia as the Heideggerian analysis has shown as something that lets itself be seen or Apocalupsis as the Judeo-Christian thinking has used as the discovery of something that was covered by something. Marion makes many distinctions regarding the usage of both terms. Thirdly, Marion discusses the priority of the logic of love to know an object through the philosophy of Pascal. However, in Descartes, this logic is inverted to the precedence of knowing the object to love it. Marion explains that it is a « rational distinction between two usages of reason following the researched purpose (the certitude of an object or the phenomenality of elsewhere (d’ailleurs)) and following the hierarchy of the modes of thinking (primacy of understanding or the primacy of will, then of love) » (p.198). Fourthly and finally, all these steps prepare the reader for the idea of anamorphosis. At this point, the French philosopher introduces it in a facile way to develop it further in the book. So anamorphosis means the decentralization of the Ego (maybe as Paul Ricœur proposed as the ego brisé?) who becomes a witness of something that cannot reduce the description of an event to a concept. This anamorphosis happens when the subject face this elsewhere reversing his intentionality.

Marion continues through a deep thought about these four theses and their implications along with the chapters of this third part of the book. However, in chapter 10 we find the real motivation to understand the effort of the author. He states « This common logic does not succeed because of «the world», that is we who boast ourselves on remaining Greeks in our understanding of logic, «seeking its wisdom» (I Corinthians 1:24), just as Aristotle sought it in being (étant) as being (étant); and above all, because we have never seriously asked ourselves why this «always searched science» also always remains «aporetic» to us; and finally, because we have never seriously questioned the evidence of our conception of wisdom, however long devalued in the science of beings, and today in the production of objects, according to a limited logic, but still supposedly obvious. » The motivation of the author is to invite us to a deep reflection about human intelligence itself that tries to filter everything according to its method and logic. Therefore, Marion proposes the notion of apocalupsis, the uncovering, that is not irrational, but it does not follow « the logic » of the Greeks that we use every day. This invitation is relevant to many discussions concerning the definition of science and what kind of science philosophy, theology would be, following the path of Dilthey, Ricœur, and Karl-Otto Apel.

To finish this third part, Marion delineates more precisely the articulation of revelation. Firstly, he proposes to understand it as uncovering. Afterwards, he presents three concepts that form this articulation: the witness, the resistance, and the paradox. If, we realize that what reveals itself surpasses our capacity of knowing. Then it is not just a relation of subject-object that takes place. However, a « witness » of this revelation can tell us what happened even though he cannot explain it precisely. There is a « resistance » before the phenomenon because it faces a paradox that pushes logic to its limits. As Marion has delineated: « The resistance comes from the fact that no one is ever immediately prepared, favourable or acquired for a Revelation, but that everyone is opposed to it, initially at least, because it redefines the entire field of possibility. » (p. 44). It is worthy to note that these three concepts concerning anamorphosis point to the notion that the phenomenon itself guides our apprehension of it by the conditions of its appearance.

The articulation of these three concepts was possible only after pointing out four tenets of the uncovering (apocalupsis), namely the epistemological heterogeneity of the thing and its sight, the ad extra phenomenological transcendence of interloqué, the possibility of refusal, and the indirect verification by transfer of visibility. These four tenets lead us to the fourth part of the book to explain how revelation phenomenalizes.

In part 4, Marion proposes a reflection about Christ as the phenomenalization of the revelation. However, we should observe that Marion does not examine Jesus as the phenomenalization of the revelation but Christ. We can perceive that Jesus was a person, but if he was the second person of the Trinity as he has pleaded, it requires some proofs and demonstrations. Thus, Marion starts this fourth part entitled « Christ as a phenomenon » with an enthralling, beautiful, and tricky analysis concerning the phenomenalization of the Greek gods. He shows us the evidence of the gods through their manifestation described by the poets. But it never occurs through a veridical body. Indeed, they assume a visible image to hide their real identity. However, this identity is not attached to the body which they have adopted. When discovered, they transform themselves into their original form to disappear. No one can see the original form of a god and survive. Therefore, there is no authentic relationship between a Greek god and man because a vis-à-vis is impossible. As Marion resumes in one sentence — « the Greek gods are not invisible, rather they are unseenable (invisables), because they have no body, no face. » (p. 280). Then, Marion elucidates why the Greek gods are not true, because they cannot happen in person from elsewhere before us. A contrario, the God of the Bible reveals himself. He can make the invisible visible. Then, Marion proponds a comparison to show the difference when he declares that « The pagan gods manifestly show themselves under their borrowing faces, because they never give themselves in person; Yahweh never manifests his glory as a phenomenon of the world, because he gives his face only in person, as his person, in his word which he speaks, keeps and gives. He gives himself in person (in his face) by giving his word. » (p.287). Therefore, the phenomenalization happens not when a person presents himself before me, because this visibility can be masked or be a lie. A person phenomenalizes his presence not only showing himself to me, but speaking to me, addressing to me. Even if this presence is not from this world (invisible), it really looks at me and it speaks to me, it concerns me. In the person of Jesus, we find this relation as the Christ who came from God.

Evidently, in the time of Jesus, there were doubts about his identity. On one side, the disciples and many others assigned to him the identity as the child of God, the promised Messiah. On the other side, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others refused this idea. The second group tried many times to prove that Jesus was not Christ. The same emerged when Paul preached the Gospel in many villages of the Roman Empire, and many intellectuals and philosophers refused to believe in a bodily resurrection, something inconceivable by Greek philosophy. However, we can see through these examples a conflict of two kinds of rationalities. A conflict of two logoi. As Marion explains, one logos from the Cross and another from the culture. Although the apparent opposition, there is no true conflict. Because the genuine difference between both logoi is the power of the logos of the Cross that is opposed to the convincing logos of the wisdom of the Greeks. The logos of the cross is empowered not only by an announcement of happiness but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Then, Marion asks the inevitable question — from where comes this power? This power comes from the shifting of the intentionality by anamorphosis, from the conversion of the heart to this logos, the sight sees the mystery uncovering (apocalupsis) itself. At this moment of the book, we can verify that Marion highlights these two existent ways of rationality that we must acknowledge because both are sources of thinking (p. 313). However, through centuries we have ignored it despite a methodic knowledge through philosophical reasoning emancipated of everything that our reasons cannot fully understand.

Marion shows that we have missed something. We have missed another way of thinking and Marion tries to retrieve it. Saint Augustine has affirmed, we do not access the truth without love and Marion wants to recuperate this love for wisdom. The mystery of Christ is phenomenalized by the incarnation of Jesus who lived a life of love giving himself entirely for his enemies — real proof of love. In the death of Jesus Christ, we can manifestly see the mystery of God who reveals himself to us.

Through chapters 13 and 14, Marion explains how we can shift from one paradigm to another. This shift of perspective works by the principle of the more mystery (mustêrion), the more revelation (apocalupsis) that recalls the phenomenological tenet that is a mark of Marion’s phenomenology « the more reduction, the more donation. » By anamorphosis, we can understand not only the phenomenon before us: the revelation itself makes us understand ourselves through the phenomenon that happens before us. The revelation of the mystery of Christ opens new rationality where the subject is decentralized as describe before to become a witness of the paradox of the limitation of our human capacity of thinking.

If we follow the reasoning of Marion about the logic of revelation in the saturated phenomenon, we have to ask what exactly the figure of Jesus Christ reveals. To answer this question, Marion will engage in a discussion about a chief doctrine in Christian thought — the Trinity. The problem of the Trinity is its dependence on metaphysical thought that was criticized through history, mainly in modern times. According to Descartes, we cannot have any certitude from this kind of theological reasoning. Theology deals with faith, and we only accept it. Therefore, the Trinity is not a case of philosophical reflection. It does not mean that the Trinity does not exist or it is something false, but we cannot prove it by reason because it does not submit itself to human rationality. Marion suggests that the problem we have to understand something like the Trinity is that we try to understand it not according to the rationality it demands, but through the rationality established by philosophy since Descartes.

Marion tries to show how the invisible can phenomenalize itself. However, it should be perceived and thought by another rationality. This rationality of the giving becomes the rationality of the revelation. As follows, part 5, « The icon of the invisible », will deal heavily with the conceptions of the Trinity. As we have mentioned at the beginning of this review, since part 4, the book becomes more theological. Hence, part 5 will plunge into a deep theological investigation concerning a controversial topic throughout the history of theology. Marion will discuss the aporias of the two models of the Trinity that we have in Christian theology. Firstly, the ontological Trinity or immanent Trinity (the Trinity in itself) and secondly, the economic Trinity (the Trinity as it reveals itself in history). Marion will show that both conceptions of the Trinity are intertwined. In effect, there is a mutual dependence of both models. Discussing this subject, Marion revisits concepts such as substance, essence, and person (ousia/substantia/essentia — hupostasis/prosopôn/persona) in dialogue with Barth, Schelling, Rahner, Bultmann, Balthasar. However, Marion does not set the limits of the debate only concerning the Father and the Son as we could expect. He brings into it the third person of the Trinity — the Holy Spirit. He intends to show the phenomenality of the Trinity by givenness through the power of transformation of the subject into a witness of this revelation from elsewhere (d’ailleurs), although (d’ailleurs) following another logic of thinking. The logic of the Holy Ghost.

In part 6, The Opening, Marion guides us through two reflections to retrieve two ideas of paramount importance to our days, namely, Being and Time, recalling Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit. However, to accomplish this task, he invites us to conceive it by the perspective of anamorphosis that shifts the intentionality of the logic of a subject-object relation into the standpoint of the witness who sees the phenomenalization from elsewhere. Even though this discussion seems philosophical, the theological themes and the analysis of biblical texts are abundant. Therefore chapter 19 treats the incarnation, more precisely the kenosis theory to discuss «the real being», «the being of God» that phenomenalizes in Jesus-Christ who gives himself from elsewhere until death. The comprehension of this phenomenon inverts the logic of «the being» from the Greeks that it is something that we possess, the logic of this phenomenalization through the incarnation and the death of Jesus is one of dispossession as something that gives itself. Marion tries to save the Being from the attack that it has received from Nietzsche and others who identified the failure of Being conceived by metaphysics. As Marion puts it « this being, thus thought to be pure thinkable, no longer thinks of anything of the being, which itself reduces itself to the rank of an idol, to the waste of itself (déchet de lui-même). Thus, «the highest concept», namely the most universal, the most empty of concepts, the last breath of vanishing reality. » (p. 545). This reality « is exhausted from having wanted to seize it by apprehending it as a booty to be possessed, preserved and reproduced. »(p. 545)

Being has lost its place due to the critical thinking of modernity. Likewise, time is another theme that requests an analysis from an elsewhere (d’ailleurs) perspective. In the last chapter, Marion proposes to think about the time coming from elsewhere on the horizon of death. Death gives the limits to identify the time of now that characterizes human finitude. Moreover, Marion refers to the Last Judgement as the vertical crisis of our horizontal history to trace the diagonal of the « now » to let us live each instant of life as the last one. Jesus Christ is the model of someone who lived in such a perspective and this is the most liberating perspective for someone who wants to live forever.

To conclude this review, I would like to sketch some major points about D’ailleurs, la Révélation. Unfortunately, we were not able to probe every argumentation of the book. We tried to outline the main arguments, but Marion thinks by an association of several ideas. This manner of thinking results in a very complex and imbricated argumentation. Moreover, Marion demonstrates the need to know theology to understand philosophy, because many of the arguments he used in the book and many of his arguments are the results of theological thinking. Consequently, we can understand that the religious concept of revelation gives us the possibility to think about a form of rationality lost since The Enlightenment due to its ideal of objective knowledge ripped off all metaphysics.

Maybe the book can be understood as a response to this Cartesian philosophy that concentrates on reason despite theology. Marion shows us that both can walk together. We can find certitude in theology because there is rationality in the revelation. In other words, Marion provides us with the foundation to understand that revelation can be verified, however, through another rationality besides the scientific rationality of science and philosophy as proposed by Descartes, Kant, and Hegel et al.

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