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A Genealogy of Marion's Philosophy of Religion: Apparent Darkness

A Genealogy of Marion's Philosophy of Religion: Apparent Darkness

by Tamsin Jones Farmer
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ISBN-13: 9780253222862
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 02/01/2011
Series: Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion Series
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Tamsin Jones is Director of Undergraduate Studies and Lecturer on Religion for the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University.

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A Genealogy of Marion's Philosophy of Religion

Apparent Darkness

By Tamsin Jones

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2011 Tamsin Jones
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35594-2


Sightings: The Location and Function of Patristic Citation in Jean-Luc Marion's Writing

The purpose of this first chapter is to ascertain the places and the ways in which Jean-Luc Marion cites the church fathers, particularly with an eye to the Greek apophatic tradition and, most specifically, to Dionysius and Gregory of Nyssa. The task is quite discrete: Whom does Marion cite? How frequently? In what works? And most importantly, why? What work do these citations and retrievals accomplish for Marion? The chapter will begin with some general comments and then will proceed chronologically through the various stages of Marion's writing: from his earliest articles, to the groundbreaking theological works, The Idol and Distance: Five Studies and God Without Being, to his debate with Derrida concerning the status of "negative theology," and finally to his most recent meditations on Augustine in Au lieu de soi.

The chapter puts forth both a stronger and a "softer" thesis. The latter, easier to prove, is simply that Marion retrieves these "orthodox" patristic sources univocally and shows little interest in parsing differences between individual thinkers. In this vein, it becomes clear how "orthodoxy" functions as a validating source for the contemporary debates in which Marion is engaged. Within this strategy of a retrieval of "orthodoxy," it is no surprise that Gregory and Dionysius are retrieved univocally. However, the second, stronger claim is more specific — Marion actually allows Gregory to "speak" in the place of Dionysius in crucial moments of exposition of the latter.

In this chapter, I will chart patristic citation practices in Marion diachronically in order to demonstrate that, while the substance of Marion's central insights remains the same, there is a shift in rhetorical emphases. Such a sweep will show how Marion initially retrieves the Fathers broadly as a homogeneous and authoritative unit. Nevertheless, fairly early on in his writings, Dionysius gets singled out as particularly helpful to Marion for articulating and conceptualizing certain themes: the play of visibility and invisibility, manifestation and concealment; the notion of "distance"; and the "hymnic" mode of discourse. Indeed, Dionysius proves so crucial to Marion's thought in his formative writings that, I will argue, he turns Dionysius into a kind of "shorthand" for many of the apophatic strains of his phenomenology without recognizing when Dionysius is of less use within a changed rhetorical landscape. Specifically, as Marion begins to emphasize the "pragmatic" quality of discourse, he still calls this a "Dionysian" discourse without recognizing that he no longer cites Dionysius, but must instead turn to other more suitable patristic sources such as Gregory of Nyssa.

General Comments

Given Marion's primary intellectual interests in phenomenology and the modern history of philosophy, one may be surprised by the prevalence and frequency of patristic citation in his writings. While most of these citations are found in his earlier theological works and again, more recently, in his writing on "negative" and "mystical" theology, even his works on Descartes and his phenomenological writing still contain some references to the Fathers. In other words, almost without exception, every major work of Marion's has some reference to the church fathers.

He cites some of the earliest Christian figures and apologists — Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, and Justin Martyr — as well as the Alexandrians — Clement, Origen, and Athanasius. He is clearly familiar with all three of the Cappadocians, and they appear throughout his writings. He cites Ambrose and Augustine, the formative ecumenical councils of the fourth and fifth centuries, John of Damascus, Theodore the Studite, and Maximus the Confessor. However, the influence most frequently present to Marion's thought is found in the writings collected under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite. Gregory of Nyssa, on the other hand, appears (in name, at least) less frequently.

Thus, while the reasons for choosing to look at Dionysius are obvious, the case is not so clear with Gregory. Nevertheless, that Gregory wields a significant influence on Marion can be seen in the way he cites him in those few places. Gregory's words occupy crucial positions within Marion's arguments, even when those arguments concern Dionysius explicitly. Gregory's words often provide the proof text for the most foundational of Marion's concepts.

Furthermore, tracking Marion's use of Gregory and Dionysius nicely demonstrates a broader trend in his retrieval: his approach to the Fathers is characterized by a lack of discrimination. Marion is not interested in discerning differences or parsing out the discrete positions of these writings. Instead, they are treated almost monolithically as a source of "truth" or "orthodoxy" with which to bolster Marion's own contemporary theses. The Fathers, then, offer a homogeneous unit of authoritative source material for Marion to mine — a continuous tradition of an orthodoxy in which Marion would also like to be placed.

Such a retrieval of the Fathers for apologetic purposes is not a unique or even infrequent approach to these writings. Nevertheless, Marion is equipped for a more discerning retrieval. Marion's knowledge of the early Christian tradition in general, and more specifically its apophatic strand, is tremendously impressive. He is fluent in broad swathes of patristic thought, reads these texts in the original language, and is knowledgeable of the broader philosophical schools of thought, terms, and issues contemporaneous to the Fathers. He is perfectly capable, then, of determining difference amongst the various sources he cites. In other words, Marion knows the Fathers in a more nuanced way than he allows them to function in his writing. This is clearest in his earliest writings, many of which are straight expositions or meditations on debates occurring in the early church. It is to these writings that we now turn.

Earliest Publications

"I don't understand myself as a theologian. I'm not theologically trained," Marion said in an interview. While this may be true, there is no question that theology (of a particular stripe) imbues Marion's world from the earliest stages of his intellectual development. Indeed, his little-known earliest essays are astonishingly pietistic. They are either preoccupied with fairly straightforward theological themes (Christology, the contemplation of the Eucharist, the incarnation, and the resurrection), or they are expositions of a particular early Christian figure (Dionysius, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor). Furthermore, it is in these writings that Marion's theological influences are most apparent.

Many of Marion's teachers were propagators of "la nouvelle théologie," so to understand Marion's earliest work their influence needs to be recognized. One of the primary characteristics of this movement was a renewed interest in intensive study of patristic theologians as sources with which one might combat the dominance of Neo-Scholasticism in Catholicism. Despite Neo-Scholasticism's fight against the central tenets of modernity and the Enlightenment, the very character of its reaction resulted in the unconscious acquisition of those very same tenets. Thus, a critique of Neo-Scholasticism by "la nouvelle théologie" was bolstered by a return to premodern sources, specifically the retrieval of the church fathers as resources against the curiously "modern" anti-modernism of Neo-Scholasticism.

In an article intending to situate Marion's writing in its "field of cultural production," Graham Ward firmly places Marion within the "conservative" movement of French Catholicism in the latter half of the twentieth century. Ward contrasts the influence of Catholicism on Marion to its influence on other French postmodern figures such as Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, and Luce Irigaray for whom Catholicism exercises a less "profound and conservative" impact. Though I will problematize the straightforward application of the label "conservative," it is not difficult to understand the initial designation upon reading these early articles.

Certain characteristics of Marion's early writing can be noted: first, they are products of extensive work in the original language of these patristic writings, and secondly, there is an apologetic tenor in which the categories of "orthodoxy" and "heresy" arising out of debates in Late Antiquity are treated as illuminative for contemporary discussions. With this latter characteristic one already can see Marion's interest in the proper "starting place" of all thought, something that, according to him, the Fathers repeatedly insisted upon and the "heretics" repeatedly misunderstood, ignored, or countered.

The first characteristic requires little elucidation. Marion cites the critical editions of the patristic texts almost exclusively. If upon occasion he does reference a French translation, this is never the case with either Dionysius or Gregory of Nyssa. Marion's translations of patristic pericopes appear to be fairly independent of any prior French translation and provide evidence of a high degree of familiarity and depth of study in the Fathers. Marion does not rely on secondary sources primarily — as he himself acknowledges — but works through the primary sources himself. The second characteristic requires a little more attention.

Marion's earliest essays are shot through with patristic references, so much so that rather than refer to the Fathers, they are about them. For instance, the following articles published in the journal Résurrection rehearse the fundamental tenets of Catholic faith as they are articulated by their primary patristic progenitors: "Penser juste ou trahir le mystère: Notes sur l'elaboration patristique du dogme de l'Incarnation" surveys and defends the "orthodox" doctrine of Christ against both the Arian and Monophysite "heresies"; "Les deux volontés du Christ selon saint Maxime le Confesseur" continues this orthodox articulation of Christ's nature, specifically as it is expounded by Maximus; "Presence et distance: Remarque sur l'implication reciproque de la contemplation eucharistique et de la presence reelle" and "Le splendeur de la contemplation eucharistique" both frame a "realist" approach to liturgy, contemplation of the sacraments, and the possibility of worship, at least in part, through a retrieval of Dionysius. One can observe the influence of Louis Bouyer in these articles. Significantly, we might note that Marion's first retrieval of Dionysius was not in the service of apophasis primarily, but was intended as an apologetics for the possibility and necessity of "real presence" in the sacraments in a post-Vatican II liturgical context.

In all of these articles the "orthodoxy" Marion is defending has a specific identity: it begins with the acceptance of the gift of revelation, precisely as a gift, something received rather than possessed. One can already identify a central methodological tenet of Marion's thought: treatment (including judgment, analysis, description) of something must not begin from our own preconceptions of it, but rather as the thing in question presents itself. For instance, in "Ce mystère qui Juge celui qui le juge" Marion argues that one can judge the appearances of the resurrected Christ only properly in faith, which he glosses as what happens when one lets go of the need for a certain type of "judgment" and rather receives as gift "the unthinkable fact of the Resurrection." Only then does one learn "not to judge the resurrection but to be judged by the One who 'will come in glory to judge the living and the dead.' "With this stance, Marion draws a distinction between "natural" and "revealed" theology and locates himself, along with Barth and Balthasar, in the latter category.

In these early essays, Marion less argues this point than stridently insists upon its necessity. The Fathers are trotted out in defense of his thesis; he cites the Nicene Creed, Augustine, Origen, Irenaeus, and Gregory of Nyssa amongst others. According to Marion, all agree: "The Fathers, from Athenagoras to Gregory of Nyssa, are not deceived on this point, which grounds their good right to believe in the Resurrection only on the sovereign right of God, as creator, to fashion men and to transform their history." The Fathers are "not deceived" ensemble. Throughout these articles, all of which have an explicitly apologetic tone, the Fathers are cited as proof texts in one voice. They all agree and, especially in contradistinction from the "heretics," they see things from the right perspective, that is, they wait to receive properly what is to be received from God instead of starting from human reason. This methodological orientation guarantees their "rightness" — their orthodoxy. It is worth noting that Marion has a particularly apophatic notion of orthodoxy: it is this patristic displacement from the human to the only appropriate theological authority that separates the Fathers from the "heretics."

The "heretics," conversely, do not begin from the right place. Rather, they begin with a need for "accounting," a "logic" or "an explication which begins by submission to arithmetic" rather than the gift of the event and the logic proper to, in this particular case, the incarnation. Thus, in the same way that the Fathers are retrieved in one voice for a contemporary apologetic purpose, so too the "heretics" inevitably function as a foil against which Marion's present questions and concerns are sharpened.

Before I discuss Marion's more familiar works, one other article among Marion's earliest writings ought to be mentioned as pertinent to this discussion. "Distance et louange: Du concept de Réquisit (aitia) au statut trinitaire de langage théologique selon Denys le mystique" marks the beginning of Marion's interest in Dionysius and different sorts of discourse or language. In this article Marion already identifies the basic principle that will hold true for all of his "theological" writing (and by extension, and with different formulation, also to his phenomenological writings): "God cannot be named starting from any language other than [God's], not as a referent among others; but [as] an absolute referent, He holds language to the interiority of the distance of Goodness. "From this, various consequences follow, not least of which is the fact that language is understood as "given." We shall return to Marion's understanding of language in Dionysius in chapter 3.

In this article we can also observe one citation practice that establishes a pattern that Marion will continue throughout his retrieval of Gregory and Dionysius. Specifically, when Marion is tracing the contours of his notion of the "icon of the invisible" or the "icon without resemblance," he conflates the two writers. In this context, Marion writes that "of God no investigation is possible because no vestige is left, nor any part of the trace." This sentence is supported with a reference to Dionysius' Divine Names I, 2, 588c, but the only direct quotation he supplies is from Gregory's commentary On the Beatitudes 6 (PG 44, 1268 b): "... the way of the essence of God cannot be followed and its route is 'practicable' to no one." Briefly, then, already we see an instance where a crucial point in an article about Dionysius is backed up with a quotation of Gregory rather than Dionysius.

From this brief glance over these neglected early essays we have discovered several trends. First, we can find incipient versions of major themes of Marion's thought borrowed from the corpus of Dionysius: givenness as a methodological starting point, and the shifting play between visibility and invisibility. Secondly, we have seen how the category of "orthodoxy" functions both authoritatively and at the same time, ironically, apophatically. Finally, Marions univocal retrieval of the Fathers extends to his citation of Gregory as a proof text for Dionysius.

The Idol and Distance and God Without Being

Two major works of Marion, The Idol and Distance: Five Studies (ID) and God Without Being (GWB), lend themselves to simultaneous treatment. Although we shall need to examine The Idol and Distance in greater detail (since it contains a sustained conversation with the Dionysian corpus), both works stem from a similar context — Marion's initial response to Heidegger, his critique of onto-theology, and the so-called "death of God." This response to Heidegger, part critique and part expansion (because it still leaves the basic Heideggerian critique of onto-theology uninterrogated), in many ways dictates Marion's reasoning. Most notably it leads him to find in Dionysius a counterpart in the Christian tradition to Thomas Aquinas (who, at this point in his writing, is understood by Marion to be the bête noire of onto-theological thinking). Thus, in both works Marion attempts to uproot "the question of God not only from metaphysics (and the fate of the 'Death of God'), but also from what made possible an investigation that had become as obsessive as imprecise into the 'existence of God,' namely, the unquestioned horizon of Being as supposedly the sole frame of his presence. "These two works were written within a single period of Marion's intellectual development (ID was published in France in 1977, and GWB in 1982) when he was still primarily known as a scholar of Descartes. These were his first book-length forays dealing directly with Heidegger's critique of onto-theology, specifically with a theological response.

The Idol and Distance

The project of The Idol and Distance is to follow where the "death of God" leads in order to discover a different sort of discourse, one in which "distance" is preserved rather than eradicated by the "marches of metaphysics." Marion summarizes the goal of the book to establish his central concept of "distance": "a distance outside of onto-theology for Nietzsche, a filially received distance of the presence of God who is paternally in withdrawal from Hölderlin, and a distance traversed liturgically toward the Requisite by the discourse of requestants for Denys." In other words, in this book Marion brings together a number of studies on Nietzsche, Hölderlin and, finally, Dionysius in order to fill out a sketch of the idea of "distance" and the only discourse proper to it, "praise."


Excerpted from A Genealogy of Marion's Philosophy of Religion by Tamsin Jones. Copyright © 2011 Tamsin Jones. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements vii

Introduction 1

1 Sightings: The Location and Function of Patristic Citation in Jean-Luc Marion's Writing 13

2 How to Avoid Idolatry: A Comparison of "Apophasis" in Gregory of Nyssa and Dionysius the Areopagite 44

3 Giving a Method: Securing Phenomenology's Place as "First Philosophy" 79

4 Interpreting "Saturated Phenomenality": Marion's Hermeneutical Turn? 109

5 The Apparent in the Darkness: Evaluating Marion's Apophatic Phenomenology 130

Conclusion 155

Notes 161

Select Bibliography 209

Index 229

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