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Monday, September 18, 2006 

faith and différance

(with a little help from Caputo.) Here's how he briefly explained différance in his latest book:

...we must all make our way by way of the differential spacing of signifiers... the structuralists took these signifying chains to be rigoriously systematic and rule-governed... Derrida argued that these chains formed, not closed formalizable systems, but open-ended, uncompletable networks, like the Internet, in which any element could link on anywhere with some other element and in that fashion spread endlessly across the surface. One could no more get to the end of these chains than one could point and click on every link [on the Web]...

By defending the idea of différance, Derrida meant to say that we make sense under conditions that threaten to undo the sense we make, and that our beliefs and practices enjoy only a provisional unity and tentative stability that is in principle liable to unravel at the most inconvenient times.

From a religious point of view, I think this does not undermine faith but explains precisely why we need faith.

Différance... is a quasi-transcendental condition of possibility for distinguishing "secular/sacred," or "theistm/atheism," constituting the slash between them. Différance... exposes the contingency of any constituted order.

There it is, in the bolded text above (emphasis mine).

Caputo goes on to link "Paul and Derrida, First Corinthians and deconstruction -- a scandal to the faithful and a stumbling block to the deconstructors, the central point" of the book I've just quoted, The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event. Which I'd like to get to at some point, but I think I need to read past the first several pages of Chapter One before tackling that.

No, I think the thought this morning leans more towards personal exploration. St. Paul will have to wait.


Let me repeat in paraphrase. Différance does not undermine faith, but reveals why it is necessary. How cool is it that différance was coined for a secular philosophical world by a philosopher who says of himself "I quite rightly pass for an atheist"?

I suppose that Jacques and I have that last part in common.

So, what is différance? What is faith? Am I suggesting they are synonyms? Hardly! I'm saying that they are inextricably connected, that the space between a seeming binary opposition (signified by the slash) can signify both -- particularly when we are talking about "christian/atheist."

The problem here is that Caputo (and I) define faith rather differently than most people I encounter. Their faith seems to be some blind claim to something known as Truth. My faith is in something rather different, an unraveling instability that opens up a vast array of opportunity for Something Different, Something Unknown, Something To Come. Rather than mysteries embedded in fairy tales and myth, I'm passionate about the mystery found in the trace, the unknown miracle of all that is signified by that which cannot be deconstructed: things like justice, love, the gift. (This does not mean that story does not play a big role. On the contrary! Stories, life, context are the very things from which meaning is created.)

What I'm getting at here is that -- and I might be really getting myself in some deep shit here -- I have unofficially added my faith, both in concept and its very personal application -- to that list. Faith can't be deconstructed, nor easily defined. That means that I have faith in faith.


This is very different than saying "I have faith that things written in this book are True." You know, things like sin and the fall and Adam, Eve, resurrection, Hell, etc. That is a very easy thing to explain, especially when others understand your shorthand ("I am a Christian.") to mean this.

I don't believe that that is faith, at least as I am attempting to define it, to defend it.


You know, at first I misunderstood deconstruction. In failing to see the hope that's released when one is at play with language, the trace and what is signified, I mistook it for something nihilistic (and I didn't mind this so much, nor did I find it to be so damn dangerous -- perhaps because I'd already had other, less philosophical reasons to be nihilistic and I didn't quite have it in me to act out any longer). I remember having an engaging discussion with Michael Turner, along with several film and English majors at a party. Theory and deconstruction came up (like it does) and I was arguing that there is no Meaning. Michael said, "Of course there is meaning!" only I couldn't tell he wasn't capitalizing the "m" because this was spoken discourse (don't even get me started. I was utterly baffled when the first text we read in the Lit Theory seminar was the Phaedrus).

Of course there is meaning.

It just took a Catholic scholar's reading of Derrida to get me to understand that.


Which kind of leads us to the blog post below.

First let me say: HEY BABY QUE PASA!

Wishing you had come back through Albuquerque on your way to Tejas, but being the stalker that I am I have found all of your stuff ("all" and "your" including the whole Dan and Shana show). So to couteract the stalker-ish quality of having found your online presence, I wanted to jump--well, hop today--into the fray a bit.

Here's something from your last post that I was excited about:

"You know, at first I misunderstood deconstruction. In failing to see the hope that's released when one is at play with language, the trace and what is signified, I mistook it for something nihilistic "

I went to Glorietta feeling this, wondering about this. My feel for language is so deep it's sometimes debilitating. Sometimes I can't find the explanation or the "just right word" to say what I mean. Writing is a much better medium for me--although as you well know, I can ask a lot of questions!

But I am beginning to really own the idea that--whether we give it a name like deconstruction or just simply work toward greater unity through trying to understand personal meanings--language and its usage can cease to be a barrier. I leave the Gathering with great hope. And here's what's really brilliant to me: I leave with greater faith, largely because of my interaction with you.

Peace, love and blessings! I can't wait to see you again! --Sarah--

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