The Essential Caputo: Selected Writings

The Essential Caputo: Selected Writings

by B. KEITH PUTT (Editor)


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This landmark collection features selected writings by John D. Caputo, one of the most creative and influential thinkers working in the philosophy of religion today. B Keith Putt presents 21 of Caputo’s most significant contributions from his distinguished 40-year career. Putt’s thoughtful editing and arrangement highlights how Caputo's multidimensional thought has evolved from radical hermeneutics to radical theology. A guiding introduction situates Caputo's corpus within the context of debates in the Continental philosophy of religion and exclusive interview with him adds valuable information about his own views of his work.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253032225
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 01/08/2018
Pages: 504
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

B. Keith Putt is Professor of Philosophy at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He is editor (with Clayton Crockett and Jeffrey W. Robbins) of The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion.

John D. Caputo is Thomas J. Watson Professor Emeritus of Religion and Humanities at Syracuse University and the David R. Cook Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Villanova University. He is author of many books, including The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event , The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps , Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim , and Truth: Philosophy in Transit.

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The Repetition of Sacred Anarchy: Risking a Reading of Radical Hermeneutics


In February 1990, a good friend and I decided to journey to Conception Seminary in northwest Missouri in order to attend a conference on Catholic philosophy and deconstruction. Little did I realize how consequential those three days at that Benedictine monastery would be for me, personally and professionally. It was there and then that I first met and began to read John D. (Jack) Caputo. Jack initiated the weekend conference by delivering the first keynote address, a lecture entitled "Sacred Anarchy: Fragments of a Postmodern Ethics." Although I did not know it at the time, I later realized that the essay actually reprises various significant themes that he first articulates in the final chapter of his 1987 book, Radical Hermeneutics, themes that continue to direct his thought decades later. For example, "Sacred Anarchy" offers another commentary on his distinction between responsible postmodernism and irresponsible postmodernism, a distinction that comes in tandem with the tension that develops when the religious perspective confronts the tragic perspective with reference to the issue of suffering. In Radical Hermeneutics, he raises the issue of how the religious perspective on suffering evokes a certain theology, a certain way of talking about God as always siding with those who suffer, with the victims of oppression, hunger, injustice, and disregard. For him, responsible postmodernism adopts the religious perspective and embraces, in one way or another and in one vocabulary or another, the theological position of joining God in the desire to alleviate the suffering of wounded flesh. This religio-theological sensitivity to the problem of suffering constitutes part of the mystery of existence — with "mystery" functioning as a legislating theme in that final chapter.

Just a year after the publication of Radical Hermeneutics, in the 1988 essay "Beyond Aestheticism: Derrida's Responsible Anarchy" (chapter 11 in this reader), Jack obviously transfers the adjective "responsible" from qualifying "postmodernism" to qualifying "anarchy" in order to maintain the ethical dynamic of his thought while simultaneously acknowledging the necessity for avoiding the hierarchical closure of any ersatz rational absolute. Then, two years later, "responsible" is itself replaced with "sacred" in the lecture "Sacred Anarchy," in which Jack amplifies aspects of "Beyond Aestheticism" and carries the themes of religion, suffering, God, and ethical responsibility into new directions. First, instead of contrasting responsible, religious postmodernism with irresponsible, tragic postmodernism, he writes as something of a contemporary Matthew Arnold and distinguishes between a Hebraic approach and a Hellenistic approach. The latter approach he identifies with Martin Heidegger, who tends to write rather elitist texts about Greek temples and strong bodies; consequently, there appears to be little Heideggerian attention paid to the weakness of flesh and to the vulnerability of suffering. In contradistinction to this inattention, the Hebraic, or Jewish, perspective focuses significantly on the issue of the vulnerability of flesh — that is, that which can be wounded, torn, subjected to death, but also that which can be vulnerable to therapy, to healing, and to renewed life. Eventually, Jack personifies the Jewish perspective in a particular individual who is not quite Jewish and not quite Christian, someone whom he names Yeshua, preferring his Aramaic name to the more typical Christian name, Jesus. He contends that Yeshua reveals a certain ethical sensitivity to the weakness of flesh and to the need for the alleviation of suffering. In his declarations, his deeds, and even in his death, Yeshua manifests a morality that Jack terms an "ethics of the cross." In other words, Jack moves from the more general categories of mystery and God to a more specific analysis of the "sacred" under the factical rubric of Christianity.

Quite surprisingly, at least to me, Jack never published the complete text of "Sacred Anarchy: Fragments of a Postmodern Ethics." Of course, one may find brief references to the text in various publications, such as the 1993 volume entitled Against Ethics, where it makes up the substance of one of Magdalena de la Cruz's philosophical-lyrical discourses. Furthermore, one finds certain aspects of its content in Caputo's 1997 work The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida. Still, the phrase "sacred anarchy" itself does not appear overtly in either book. That is not the case a decade later if one examines what could be called Caputo's "discovered trilogy." Both the content of the keynote address and its title are found throughout The Weakness of God (2006), The Insistence of God (2013), and The Folly of God (2015). Both are also central to What Would Jesus Deconstruct? (2007) and Hoping Against Hope (2015). One might correctly claim, therefore, that all of these major works are creative extrapolations of what Jack lays out in nuce in "Sacred Anarchy." If so, then that keynote address may well be considered a textual synecdoche that encapsulates the primary motifs of Jack's literary production. I certainly interpret the essay as a uniquely compelling work for comprehending the nuances of Jack's thought over the past four decades. Not surprisingly, then, "Sacred Anarchy: Fragments of a Postmodern Ethics" has now been published as the fifteenth selection in the group of radical readings that compose this Caputo reader. I simply could not envision a Caputo reader without it.


If you are reading this sentence, then you are, indeed, reading a Caputo reader — with "Caputo reader" functioning as a decidedly polysemic nominal phrase. Obviously, if you took the time to scan the table of contents before you turned to this introductory chapter, you would recognize the first meaning inherent in that overdetermined expression. This book is, indeed, a "Caputo reader" in the sense that it incorporates into one volume twenty-one full or partial texts — that is, "readings" — from the rather vast Caputoan corpus. The publication lying open before you may, therefore, be considered an anthology of selected works authored by Jack over a period of four decades, an anthology offering an easy guide for getting a "read" on his multidimensional philosophy. As an anthology, it collects or gathers together a representative assortment of texts that exemplify the continuities and discontinuities marking the evolution of various philosophical perspectives that he has typically denominated as "radical hermeneutics."

"Anthology" certainly operates here as an appropriate synonym for "reader," given that the term derives from the Greek anthologia, which literally means a "gathering of flowers," or a "bouquet." Quite often, the term refers bibliographically to a collection of "literary" flowers, that is to say, poems. Of course, Jack does not write poetry, at least not in the typical senses of that genre. Yet, if you do continue on and read some of the selections collected in this volume, you will discover, perhaps unexpectedly, that he does, indeed, write as a "poet." He creates (in the Greek, poiein) what he calls various "poetics" — ranging, for example, from the "poetics of obligation" in 1993 to the "poetics of God" or "theopoetics" in 2015. Scattered across the two decades separating those two expressions of poetics one may also find the "poetics of the impossible," the "poetics of the event," the "poetics of the cosmos" or "cosmopoetics," and the "poetics of the kingdom," just to name a few. Ironically, one might well conclude, after a broader reading of Caputo, that all of these "poetics" manifest various perspectives on what I would call a "poetics of the rose." Jack has consistently been a "cherubinic wanderer" preferring roses as the primary blossoms in his philosophical anthologias, specifically because they bloom ohne warum, sans pourquoi, "without why," thereby calling for a certain Gelassenheit, or "letting-be," that avoids the princely demands of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. For this reason, he has developed his own unique philosophically poetic or poetically philosophical voice in order to speak constantly from and at the limits of metaphysical reason alone.

Of course, one might infer from his article "Demythologizing Heidegger: Aletheia and the History of Being" (chapter 7 in this reader) that Jack's dismissal of the pretentious claims made by any recital of epic plots about definitive movements of capitalized words, such as Being, Spirit, Truth, Providence, or Destiny, manifests a genuine disdain for muthos, for the efficacy of narrative, or the poetic, or any symbolic genres of discourse. But such an inference would simply be mistaken. Jack only criticizes literary attempts that arrogantly presume to establish metanarratives privileging the one over the many, subsuming the plurality of subplots under some grand totalizing yarn that seeks to weave together a unified pattern having no loose ends. He believes, to the contrary, that a genuine poetics will emphasize the limits of such closed systems of thought, accentuate the porous nature of rational discourse, and celebrate the competitive profusion of multiple stories that demand the repetition of hermeneutics," with "repetition," according to "Hermeneutics as the Recovery of Man" (chapter 8 in this reader) being a transformative asymptotic process of creative meaning." He summarizes this position quite well in a recent expression of his "poetics" manifesto: "We defer all absolute knowledge, absolute concepts, absolute spirits; we call for adjourning the meeting of the Department of Absolute Knowledge, sine die. In the place of the pretensions of metaphysics we put an unpretentious poetics, the various and irreducibly plural ways we have of giving figure and form to our experience of the unconditional, of giving it narratival and pictorial form, in words and images, striking sayings and dramatic scenes."

One can determine, from the above confession, that Jack's philosophical poetics inculcate both an aporetics and an apophatics. As one travels near the limits of metaphysics, one desires to move beyond those limits, yet discovers that such transcendence is impossible. One may never totally escape the flux of existence and the limitations and uncertainties that the flux ensures. Poetics, then, is always un pas au-dela, "a step (not) beyond," a movement — always a kinesis, never a stasis — that remains messianic, heading toward a destination always "to come." As a result, discourse remains within the embrace of the negative, wrestling constantly with the inability to articulate certainty and truth without tapping out and conceding to the functional ineffability of such articulations. Poetics, therefore, constantly speaks about how to avoid speaking, thereby remaining both apophatic and loquacious.

One encounters an early expression of the aporetic/apophatic nature of Jack's developing poetics simply by reading the first two selections in the current anthology, the two parts of "Meister Eckhart and the Later Heidegger." I consider it quite appropriate to begin a Caputo reader with textual evidence of the centrality of Christian mysticism and Meister Eckhart for his radical hermeneutics. During the forty years since the publication of these essays, he has continually extrapolated the critical implications of mystery and negative theology for developing an alternative discourse to the traditional philosophical language of foundationalism and its craving for certainty. Furthermore, the specific context of Eckhartian mysticism emphasizes the theological sensitivity that has consistently characterized his thought. Although he has openly been identified as a "theologian" only for the past decade or so, he has effectively been doing theology throughout his career. He concedes as much on a couple of occasions: first when he testifies that God has been "a lifelong task" and second when he acknowledges "a weakness for theology." may well say of Caputo what he says of Heidegger, that he "has been interested in theological issues from the very beginning of his studies" and for decades has been "transforming the ideas and the language of the Western religious tradition."

Ironically, Jack's obsession with theology leads to a certain subversion of Derrida, who early on in his work identifies the totalizing dynamic of metaphysics as specifically "theological," with "God" serving as the "transcendental signified" that ensures a closure to meaning and truth. Jack, on the other hand, develops an understanding of "God" as precisely a name for the event that keeps reality open to mystery and preempts every attempt at reconstructing some type of Cartesian certainty. "God" names the ateleological interruptive spirit that acts as a quasi-transcendental for the continuation of poetics. Poetics can now be theological (theopoetics) and religious in the more radical sense of the anonymity of the call to something impossible, something unprogrammable, something that respects ethical alterity, and something that deconstructs every status quo — for example, something like a poetics of the Kingdom of God. In the interest of full disclosure, therefore, I must now complete the quotation above referencing Jack's manifesto of poetics:

In the place of the pretensions of metaphysics we put an unpretentious poetics, the various and irreducibly plural ways we have of giving figure and form to our experience of the unconditional, of giving it narratival and pictorial form, in words and images, striking sayings and dramatic scenes, which is what we mean by a theopoetics of the folly of God. Religion is a song to the unconditional, a way to sing what lays claim to us unconditionally. But as to identifying what the unconditional is, if it is, we beg to be excused. This is a hermeneutics where nobody has the key, the code, the legendum (emphasis added).

For Jack, a "theopoetics of the folly of God" translates quite easily into a theology of the event, which is, in itself, a theology of the "perhaps." Indeed, he clearly distinguishes logic from poetics at this very point, insisting that "[l]ogic addresses the modally possible, whereas a poetics is always a grammar of the 'perhaps,' which is the prime modality of the event. ... [I]n a poetics the possible belongs to the humble sphere of what Derrida calls the 'perhaps,' the peut-être. The peut-être threatens to irrupt from within and to disturb the conditions of être, supplying the dangerous perhaps of the possibility of the impossible that solicits us from afar."


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Table of Contents


Part One. Radical Hermeneutics: Reflections
1. The Repetition of Sacred Anarchy: Risking a Reading of Radical Hermeneutics / B. Keith Putt
2. From Sacred Anarchy to Political Theology: An Interview with John D. Caputo / Clayton Crockett
3. The Becoming Possible of the Impossible: An Interview with Jacques Derrida / Mark Dooley

Part Two. Radical Hermeneutics: Selections
§ 1 Pious Hermeneutics: From Aquinas to Heidegger
4. Meister Eckhart and the Later Heidegger: The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought, Part One
5. Meister Eckhart and the Later Heidegger: The Mystical Element in Heidegger's Thought,
Part Two
6. Heidegger's "Dif-ference" and the Distinction Between Esse and Ens in St. Thomas
7. Demythologizing Heidegger: Altheia and the History of Being

§ 2 Cold Hermeneutics: From Phenomenology to Deconstruction
8. Hermeneutics as the Recovery of Man
9. Heidegger and Derrida: Cold Hermeneutics
10. On Not Knowing Who We Are: Madness, Hermeneutics, and the Night of Truth in Foucault
11. Beyond Aestheticism: Derrida's Responsible Anarchy
12. On Not Circumventing the/Quasi-Transcendental: The Case of Rorty and Derrida

§ 3 Devilish Hermeneutics: From Augustine to Derrida
13. Shedding Tears Beyond Being: Derrida’s Confession of Prayer
14. The Good News About Alterity: Derrida and Theology
15. The Gift
16. Toward a Postmodern Theology of the Cross: Augustine, Heidegger, Derrida
17. Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)

§ 4 Impossible Hermeneutics: From Sacred Anarchy to Radical Theology
18. Sacred Anarchy: Fragments of a Postmodern Ethics
19. In Search of a Sacred Anarchy: An Experiment in Danish Deconstruction
20. The Experience of God and the Axiology of the Impossible
21. Without Sovereignty, Without Being: Unconditionality, the Coming God, and Derrida’s Democracy to Come
22. "Lazarus, Come Out": Rebirth and Resurrection
23. A Prayer for the Impossible: A C

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