In the previous post I explored Nancy’s reading of Badiou’s interruption of the mytheme by the matheme as a theological moment in Badiou’s thought. But what about Nancy himself? Does his own atheism—for atheist he indeed professes to be, providing that atheism is understood in a way that avoids the Christmas projection—avoid theological concepts? In this post I want to suggest one moment in Nancy’s thought that could well be considered theological. As with Badiou’s interruption of the mytheme by the matheme, my aim in these early posts in the series is not to adjudicate in any definitive way whether these philosophical moves are or are not ‘theological’; my concern here is to sketch some contours of the territory we shall be surveying in more detail in future posts, and to consider what sorts of philosophical concepts, moments and moves are liable to be called ‘theological’.
Nancy himself does not see atheism as a decision that ruptures from theistic thought, but as contemporaneous with—as well as the consummation of—monotheism: monotheism is an atheism (La Déclosion 27/Dis-Enclosure 14). The trajectory of atheistic thought for Nancy begins as far back as Xenophanes and his tirades against the anthropomorphic gods, a rejection of immanent deity that is only accelerated by the singular theos of Plato which replaces the paradigm of gods and mortals inhabiting the same space with the ontological distance that the name ‘God’ will henceforth measure (DDC 29/DisDC 16). The invention of atheism and the invention of theism are contemporaneous and correlative, because they both rely on what Nancy calls ‘le paradigme principiel’ (DDC 29/DisDC 16), the principial paradigm, which seeks to establish, or to put into question, the principle or archē of the world, the axiological reason for what is given. Theism and atheism are bound by their complicity in this principial paradigm in a way that the assertion of atheism and the denial of theism simply reinforces. Here, theism and atheism stand or fall together; neither can survive the other.
Nancy critiques this logic of the principle, shared by theism and atheism alike, as being either inconsistent or incomplete. Its great weakness is at the moment of the positing of the principle itself, the ‘in the beginning there was (not)…’ Whether it is affirmed or denied, this originary moment can only ever collapse into its own affirmation or denial (DDC 37/DisDC 22). Either 1) a principle must make itself an exception to its own ‘principiality’ in an ever-repeated (bad infinite) gesture, or 2) it must confirm itself as an equally recurring bad infinite. It must except itself from its own ‘principiality’ in the sense that, while everything that follows it must be accounted for in its terms (in terms of ‘In the beginning was the Word…’ or ‘All is matter…’ or ‘All is history…’ etc.), no such constraint is demanded (or indeed possible) in the case of the principle itself. Or it must confirm itself infinitely in the sense of an infinite regress: it must account for its own principle, and the principle of that principle, and so on to infinity… If the principle is complete, it is not consistent, and if it is consistent, it is not complete.
Nancy’s own position is framed by the need to, and impossibility of, escaping this theo-logic of parasitic imitation, as Derrida warns in On Touching: ‘This is not about being free from harm, safe, and saved, seeking one’s salvation or immunity outside of Christianity. These values would still be Christian’ (On Touching 220).
Nancy is aware of this danger of seeking to bootstrap his way to post-theological thinking, and in L’Adoration he articulates his own position not in terms of a rupture with Christianity but rather as a claim to be faithful to something in Christianity deeper than Christianity itself, for which God is only the ‘front man’ (Adoration 31-2):
Whereas the Qu’ran states that God created mankind in order to be adored, modern man is ready to condemn the nullity of this vain operation, the exorbitant presumptuousness of such a Narcissus. But what if we were called upon to understand the Qu’ran’s statement altogether differently? What if it meant that “God” is only the name adopted by a pure excess—indeed vain, indeed exorbitant—of the world and existence over themselves, in themselves? Of a purely and simply infinite relationship to infinity? (ADC 20)
If my brain is damaged, do I become a different person? Catherine Malabou and neuro-identity
A couple of years ago I had the privilege of teaching in a joint Monash-Warwick … Continue reading If my brain is damaged, do I become a different person? Catherine Malabou and neuro-identity
French Philosophy Today paperback now shipping
I just received my copy of French Philosophy Today in paperback. You can find it … Continue reading French Philosophy Today paperback now shipping
Download the handout for my live-streamed paper on Serres and alterity this coming Tuesday
If you are planning to follow my live-streamed paper on Michel Serres and alterity on Periscope … Continue reading Download the handout for my live-streamed paper on Serres and alterity this coming Tuesday
Reflections on live streaming academic papers with remote Q&A
First of all, some good news: Deakin have given me the go-ahead to live stream … Continue reading Reflections on live streaming academic papers with remote Q&A
I’m planning to tweet live video of my research seminar on Michel Serres and the Question of Alterity next Tuesday
Next Tuesday I will be giving a seminar at Deakin Univesity, Melbourne, on Michel Serres’s … Continue reading I’m planning to tweet live video of my research seminar on Michel Serres and the Question of Alterity next Tuesday
Research Hacks #23: Three Microsoft Word macros for quick mark-up of articles, essays and thesis chapters
I have the pleasure of reading a lot of student essays and supervising a number … Continue reading Research Hacks #23: Three Microsoft Word macros for quick mark-up of articles, essays and thesis chapters
Research hacks #22: Come to terms with a new theory or thinker by using an ‘assumptions pyramid’
After a few posts on planning and presenting research findings, it’s time to return to … Continue reading Research hacks #22: Come to terms with a new theory or thinker by using an ‘assumptions pyramid’
Guest Post: Albert Camus and Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree
By Jess Phillips, Honours Candidate in Literary Studies, Monash University. Jess’s thesis explores the use of … Continue reading Guest Post: Albert Camus and Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree
French Philosophy Today paperback now on Amazon pre-order
I am delighted to announce that the paperback edition of French Philosophy Today is now … Continue reading French Philosophy Today paperback now on Amazon pre-order
Research hacks #21: One to-do list to rule them all
In a previous post I commended the virtues of planning your research, but one problem … Continue reading Research hacks #21: One to-do list to rule them all
What is a theological concept? Part 5: Quentin Meillassoux, reason, and hyperchaos
This is the final post summarizing some conclusions from Difficult Atheism, before this series launches … Continue reading What is a theological concept? Part 5: Quentin Meillassoux, reason, and hyperchaos
What is a theological concept? Part 3: Alain Badiou’s interruption of the mytheme by the matheme and Jean-Luc Nancy’s “Christmas Projection”
In this third post in the “what is a theological concept?” series I focus for … Continue reading What is a theological concept? Part 3: Alain Badiou’s interruption of the mytheme by the matheme and Jean-Luc Nancy’s “Christmas Projection”